Sunday, July 01, 2007

A weekend at Khandala

"And the rains have left the bustling city of Mumbai completely crippled,...Milan subway submerged, low lying areas like Lower Parel, King's circle, Kurla under few feet of water....western express highway affected too...." announced a news reporter. The time was 10.30 am in the morning and we had booked ourselves at The OBs in Khandala. Our trip included a weekend stay there. We hadn't checked out the place before but all that we had heard and read about it sounded quaint.

After an unsuccessful attempt at beginning the journey at 2.00 pm in the afternoon, we settled down to give it one last shot at 4.45 pm. Lucky! that's what we turned out to be. A short pleasant journey of 1hr 45 mins on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, landed us directly at Khandala - thankfully with no traffic jams, water logging or breakdowns. We were greeted by the manager there - Sameer, who had been constantly following up with us since the time we had left Mumbai for Khandala.He reminded us while still on the express way that we should be a little watchful so as not to miss the "exit to Khandala" from the expressway.

We reached the designated spot "The OBs cottages" by 6.30 pm. The place, to say the least, was lovely and the ambience breathtaking. We were escorted by the helper to our cottage - a lovely little place with a Mangalore tile roof top, a bedroom, a kitchen (just incase we thought of cooking up something) and neat restroom. The cottage was equipped with a fridge, Air conditioner and TV, although we didn't need any of it. The interiors were done up mostly in wrought iron and stone with little or no wood. This primarily because the weather is moist for much of the year and wood is likely to decay in that kind of weather. Just outside the cottage was a little sit-out garden with a park bench and the view of Duke's nose.
The OBs are a senior couple who live in a cottage at 'Weekend nursery', and the 4 other cottages are lent out to guests. Each cottage is completely independent with a little garden of its own. After we had warmed up with some great onion pakoras and ginger tea, we opted to sit out at the Ghazebo. This was right in the centre of the property,surrounded by the lush greens. This place too had a Mangalore tile roof top. The Ghazebo had tall pillars supporting the roof. To make the place cozy, there were 2 marble top tables with wrought iron well cushioned chairs to sit out. While we were seated there, we noticed the huge earthern bowls just outside it, which supported a selfsustaining eco system. They were fish ponds with vegetation (lotus, algae) of their own. When enquired, the helper mentioned that they did not need to oxygenate these earthern bowls like an aquarium as it was earthern, and so porous to oxygen.

It was close to 8.00 pm now, and we continued to chat at the Ghazebo while we enjoyed the pleasant sounds made by the bugs, cricket (they were noisier than us!!!) We then walked around, and couldn't help but notice the cottage that the OBs lived in. Although exteriors were no different from the other cottages, the interiors were done up in typical colonial English style. A little peek through the french windows and we noticed a stone mantel, a huge stone arch, beneath which was a largish dining table. A fair haired gentleman remained seated at the head of it, and to his right was an elegantly clad lady. The setting looked simply beautiful.....right from old English (read - British) movie

A while late Mr. OB (the fair haired gentleman we had noticed earlier) came out of his cottage and struck a conversation with us. He informed us that he was a retired Fashion photographer from Mumbai, and had moved here nearly 15 yrs back. He still owned apartments in Mumbai which he had put up on rent, and his son ran the OB studio there. The son, he said was a photographer for the Taj Group and handled their campaigns nationally. That kept him busy most times. He sorrowfully admitted that the son was so busy at times that he didnt turn up to meet his folks - "like today" he mentioned. He also informed us that earlier he would often visit the city - Mumbai for medical and dental needs, but no more he said. He was quite happy with the facilities in this small town and had to make an occasional trip to Pune if some more advanced treatment was required.

He asked us what kind of music we liked, and when Pari mentioned Western Classical, he quickly disappeared in to his den. A while later while we continued our chat at the Ghazebo we heard music emanating from the lush greens, it seemed to be coming from some rocks! Mr. OB then explained that the speakers were installed in the rocks - what he called the "singing rocks". He had managed to sell a few over the past few years. He guaranteed that they were water proof and could be left out in the rains.

Hungry tummies - we had most meals within the premises - either at the Ghazebo, or the little garden bench outside our cottage or within our cottage itself; they were freshly cooked in the OBs kitchen. Since they also run a nursery, we were surrounded by some lovely plants, shrubs and trees - bonsais, lemon, chickoo, mango, palms, crotons, poppies, button roses, colocacaie, asparagus, peepal tree....what a splendour - and the credit goes to the OBs and their efficient staff.

The rains had still not ceased. We walked around with our "head high in the clouds" - quite literally. The clouds floated in and out of our cottage while we had the windows open to the lovely view of the Duke's nose.

"How I love to watch the clouds
Peacefully, peacefully drifting by
Silently upon the breeze
They ease across the clear blue sky.
How they build and roll and tumble
Just like angels out to play
Dancing with the sylphs and fairies
Head o'er heels along the way.
Each new shape is quite amusing:
Puffs to great majestic towers
Building for their loving gift
To bless the earth with vital showers.
By - Craig Nicholson
The next day - Sunday, we rose early. The weather hadn't changed much. It continued to rain incessantly, the clouds had only grown darker. The fog, restricted vision - the view even a few meters away from our cottage was unclear....but it was all so beautiful and romantic.

We drove down to the Lonavala market (~4 kms from Khandala) to pick up some walnut chocolate fudge from Coopers and some chikki from Navratna - both places located near the station. As we reached early (10.00 am), we had an hour to while away before the shops opened, we drove down to Lion's point, Walvan dam- where the Tata's have their Power project, passed quickly by the Bushi dam - no halt. The drive was quite daunting as it was constantly uphill with poor visibility owing to the fog. The view (the little that we managed when the sun occasionally peeked out and the fog cleared) was scenic. Went past INS Shivaji at the cantonment area a little short of Lion's point. Back in the market, we picked our goodies and set back towards the cottage.

On the way back we took a slight detour to check out some of the other resorts and training centres - companies viz L&T, Marico, Hindustan Lever, O&M- North point, HDFC and many others have their training centres in and around Lonavala. Lonavala is a favoured weekend getaway amongst Mumbaikars. Most of the place is dotted with independent homes/ bungalows - of all hues, shapes and sizes. There are some completely grand like Krishna Kunj with three tiered garden extending in to the valleys while some are quaint & old fashioned like the Weekend nursery too.

We were back in time for lunch. After a leisurely lunch, a few pics shot and back we were on the path well travelled. Back home!

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