After years of growth, the Houston-area Hindu Heritage Youth Camp aims for a new home

For Namita Pallod, counting down the days to Hindu Heritage Youth Camp was the highlight of her summer – “the best five days of the year”, she said.

Namita Pallod, 27, has been a camper for as long as she can remember. Later, she spent four years as a camp counselor and three as a director.

Now she is part of a brand new project. She is a member of the steering committee of the Texas Hindu Campsite, a non-profit organization dedicated to building a permanent home for her precious childhood camp.

For decades, the camp rented facilities at Ida Gordon’s former site in Richmond. This is where Namita Pallod was both a camper and a first-year counselor.

But when the property was sold, the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp had to find a new location.

In subsequent years, organizers headed to Camp Lantern Creek in Montgomery. At that time, there were two five-day summer sessions to accommodate the growing number of campers.

For more information, visit www.texashinducampsite.org. To learn more about the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp, visit www.hinducamp.net or Hindus of Greater Houston, www.hindusofhouston.org.


But during COVID-19, the site owner closed the camp and put the property up for sale, Namita Pallod said.

“We had to scramble to find another site,” she said.

After a summer of virtual camp, the in-person session returned to the temporary digs at Camp Victory in Alvin in 2021. Then the same thing happened this summer.

“From winter to spring, we were again looking for campsites,” said Namita Pallod. “And we had even fewer options than the year before.”

This summer’s session will take place from Tuesday July 26th to Sunday July 31st at Deer Creek Camp in Medina.

It’s about a five-hour drive for campers, and organizers could only rent facilities for a week, limiting the number of participants, Namita Pallod said.

“Over the past two years, we had to spend so much time figuring out where the camp will be that we didn’t have the energy to focus on the camp itself,” Namita Pallod said.

“We really hope that in the future we will not be homeless,” she continued. “We want to have a permanent base. We already have roots – and now we want to be somewhere where we can grow forever.

Fortunately, said Namita Pallod, there is light at the end of the tunnel – a plot of land ready for a future of fun and sunshine as a Hindu summer camp.

Growing numbers of campers — and Hindus in Houston

Namita Pallod jokes that the Hindu Heritage Youth Camp is “in her blood”.

Both of his parents have been involved from the start. Her mother Sushma Pallod served as chef every summer – and took Namita Pallod out before her daughter was old enough to sign up as a camper.

“She was only 2 years old,” Sushma Pallod said. “She hasn’t missed a single year.”

Her father Vijay Pallod currently sits on the board of Hindus of Greater Houston, which is a camp partner.

“Twenty years ago I would go from temple to temple asking people to send their children to camp,” he said. “Now we have a totally different problem.”

The Hindu Heritage Youth Camp was founded in 1985 by Sharad Amin, who wanted to preserve and celebrate religion and culture for families. The first summer, 40 children signed up. Now there is a waiting list.

“So many kids want to go to the camp that we are unable to accommodate them,” said Subhash Gupta, who has spent nearly 35 years helping the camp since his children attended.

Gupta has long admired Sushma Pallod’s dedication as a cook and in providing emotional care to younger participants, often away from home for the first time.

“Year after year I took all my pans,” Sushma Pallod said. “My full kitchen goes to camp every time.”

One summer a few years ago, he noticed that Sushma Pallod had a pained look on her face.

“Anyone who had kids who weren’t accepted would call her,” he said. “We had limited capacity. It fills up very quickly every year.

His friends were calling begging to let their campers go. “But I couldn’t do anything,” Sushma Pallod said.

When registration opens for camp, the website often crashes. Sessions fill up in minutes.

“He wasn’t just a kid,” Sushma Pallod said. “There were 200 children. And I consider all children as my own children.

She had an idea: “We need our own campsite.

That way, there could be multiple camp sessions throughout the summer – and a place for everyone.

Over the past 20 years, Vijay Pallod explained, the Hindu population in Texas has tripled from 50,000 to over 150,000. He said the number is expected to climb to over 220,000 by 2030.

“In Houston, we have 35 Hindu temples,” he said. “But not a single Hindu campsite.”

Vijay Pallod and Gupta were convinced by Sushma Pallod’s vision.

“With that in mind, four of us went on a journey to find a place,” Gupta said. “And it took us years.”

A journey to find permanent housing

The crew included Gupta, Vijay Pallod and Ashok Danda among others interested in building a camp.

The search began in 2017 – with a number of hits and misses along the way.

Danda, whose children were also campers, spent her evenings and nights researching properties on Google Maps, scheduling visits to those that fit the wish list.

“Finally, I narrowed it down,” he said. “We have to go see this one.”

Everyone agreed that the strip of land, located about 70 miles west of Houston, was “the only one”. Already, a three-bedroom house, a barn and a pond stood on the property. With a little imagination, Gupta, Vijay Pallod and Danda could dream up huts, a basketball court and a dining room. In 2019, Gupta donated most of the cost of the land; others others have pooled their personal resources to pay for the property.

“It’s a very scenic drive, with beautiful ranches and beautiful trees,” Gupta said. “It’s just a lovely place.”

Sushma Pallod said Gupta has been an angel for the project.

“If he hadn’t been there, it wouldn’t have been possible,” she added.

They all set to work clearing the undergrowth and renovating the barn.

“We had a lot of work to do,” Danda said.

Then COVID hit in the early days of the project. “For a year or two it was suspended,” Danda said.

In the meantime, families used the property for small retreats, encampments and receptions.

“But it will become a campsite,” Gupta said.

He described a large kitchen that can serve meals for 200 young people per session, cabins for campers, classrooms, sports facilities and a swimming pool.

Danda said that with a permanent location, more sessions can take place each summer. During the school year, the establishment can host outings, Hindu festivals and retreats.

The Texas Hindu Campsite became a separate non-profit organization. Danda, Gupta and Sushma Pallod now sit on the board.

Already they have been working on a design with Houston architecture firm RDRL, the force behind India House and the Eternal Gandhi Museum, as well as the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion.

“Right now we have the concept layout,” Danda said. “Our idea is to combine the cabins and the dining room. This is our goal.

The mission is to complete construction of the first phase of the Texas Hindu Campground by 2024.

Launch of a fundraising campaign

Funding will be essential to get the project off the ground. The current goal is to raise $5 million.

“We won’t be able to do all the phases, but it will help us get started,” said Vijay Pallod. “Then we will keep adding.”

As the cost of construction continues to rise, he said the investment is worth it.

“We want this property to be used for a long time,” he said. “And the best way to invest in the future of our young people is to build a one-of-a-kind Hindu campsite.”

His wife agreed. “Now the costs are so high, but I have faith,” Sushma Pallod said. “That’s what I want for our kids and grandkids – to have a place. Camp is such a great experience and a way to make lifelong friends.

This will not only benefit campers in grades 4 through 12, but 20-year-old counselors as well.

“The camp is run by young people,” said Vijay Pallod. “That’s the beauty of camp.”

Namita Pallod knows this from experience. Her time as a counselor and as a camper was formative, she explained.

Campers can dive deep into their Indian heritage and culture. They try Indian sports like kho-kho, kabaddi and langri – and learn traditional dances like garba, raas and bhangra. Young people also have their own version of Holi, a Hindu festival of color celebrated in the spring. There are discussions of their religion, as well as yoga and meditation.

Children see counselors as role models, added Namita Pallod. And campers form lasting friendships with other young Hindus from across the state.

“We know a lot of kids who consider their camp friends closer than their school friends,” Namita Pallod said. “They become roommates and bridesmaids.”

Summers at Hindu Heritage Youth Camp can be magical, she added.

“We know what we offer cannot be replicated,” she said. “That’s what drives us to stay.

And that’s what drives the leadership of Texas Hindu Campsite and Hindus of Greater Houston.

“We want to build memories in one place,” Namita Pallod said. “We want this for our community and our young people, to have this safe haven.”

Lindsay Peyton is a freelance writer based in Houston.

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