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Welcome to a world of travel, entertainment and culture, curated from a global collective of writers, photojournalists and artists. Each article of our award-winning magazine is sure to inspire, no matter which of our destinations you call home.
 
 
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The Terracotta Cafe, Varanasi

29 December 2016

Words: Matt Mostyn

In 2012, during a six-month solo charity cycle through India, Australian-born adventurer Matt Brice dreamt up a bold idea to help others. Pedalling through towns and villages on his journey from Delhi to Goa, he was blown away by the random acts of kindness people showed him – and it was this outpouring of generosity that inspired him to do something to “pay it forward”.

His concept aimed to give something back to the people he’d met along his journey, while at the same time helping him to realise a long-cherished personal dream. So, drawing on his many years of hospitality skills working in and managing cafes and restaurants around the globe, Brice began to put a very different set of wheels in motion, for a rooftop cafe in his favourite Indian city, Varanasi.

“Varanasi is one of India’s most spiritual places and that emanates through everything here,” he says. “I was looking for a way I could sustainably stay there, and so the cafe felt like the best logical solution. I could use the hospitality and business skills I’d developed over the past 18 years to contribute to the local economy, while giving me the opportunity to spend a lot more time in India.”

Yet this was to be no ordinary cafe, and as he explored his concept further, the idea began to take clearer form as a fertile hub for the local community. Not only would he develop a permaculture-inspired farm nearby, which would both supply the cafe and also encourage local farmers to grow in a more sustainable way, but the cafe itself would offer on-the-job training and hospitality experience to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, giving them the necessary skills to gain employment and “lift themselves up” from poverty. The Terracotta Café was born.

After working tirelessly back in Australia for many months, while setting up various charity initiatives, dinners and events to help fund the project, Brice finally moved to Varanasi in October.

“It’ll have a communal feel, with shared long tables and cushions,” he says. “And we‘re envisaging it being a sociable place where locals and tourists can together freely mix.”

The cafe itself is set to open this month, and once up and running, the plan is to provide three- to six-month training programmes to three young people at a time from local slum communities. “We’ll be offering full-time salaries, good working conditions, reasonable hours and even accommodation, if required. There’ll also be a heap of opportunities for overseas travellers to come and volunteer on the farm or teach foreign language skills to the cafe workers in exchange for free meals.”

Yet Brice’s aspirations don’t end there. “The money the cafe will generate will be used to support all kinds of local community initiatives, from cleaning up the Ganges and combating poverty, to helping street animals and funding disabled shelters.”

He’s clearly eager to get started. “It’s been a long-held dream of mine to do this, so I’m incredibly excited that, now, it’s finally happening. To tell you the truth, I really can’t wait to see where it all goes from here.”

If you’d like to help fund the birth of the Terracotta Cafe and its sister projects, visit chuffed.org/project/theterracottacafe

Local Knowledge

To eat like a local…
Visit the street vendors down by the river and try uttapam – a tangy dosa pancake sprinkled with spices, coriander, tomato and then fried until it’s crispy.

The best way to spend an afternoon in Varanasi is…
Lazing on the Ganges, floating along in a boat, followed by an evening ceremony on the banks of the river.

A fascinating place to see is…
The old city, which is a rabbit warren of tiny lanes that have remained pretty much unchanged for hundreds of years. Check out the spice markets as you navigate cows, motorbikes and even carts carrying bodies down to the river.

The best advice is to have…
To have a really good local presence to support your idea – someone you trust, who fully understands how things work locally.

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