Sunday, August 28, 2011

Mumbai weekend getaway : Hideout

I guess you have changed your plans said mom over the phone. I looked out, I could barely see the roads from home. It was pouring really hard. I told her I will try and talk Pari out of our plans to spend the weekend at Vikramgadh, our friend Hemant's farmstay called Hideout.

Seriously, I would have chickened out, had I been the key decision maker on this occasion; but T's excitement and Pari's determination did not allow me to. After a quick breakfast, we attempted to travel light. The plans were to spend Saturday there, and drive back by Sunday afternoon. We packed in a few fruits and some biscuits just in case....

Once the drive began, we realised that the rains were not in any way deceptive. They were there to stay. I was grossly uncomfortable, as my mind kept moving back and forth the pages of the daily newsprint - roads caved in, tree falls, potholes galore....yada yada yada. And each time, I attempted to think aloud, Pari reminded me that I need to have a slightly more positive bent of mind.

We drove past the Mumbai- Ahmedabad expressway. I unfortunately don't have a kind word for this highway. It is terribly maintained, no respite from traffic. The containers and tankers slant precariously while attempting to dodge the potholes. After spending ~3 hours on the Mumbai roads, we turned left at the Fountain hotel. Now we were on to better meandering roads, surrounded by lush greens, the rains beating at our window panes, the clouds rolling over the hill tops, and a constant pitter patter on the roof of our car.

The green patch under the trees was not visible on our way back coz of water logging

Closer to the destination, there was another stretch of ~20 kms which was as bad, but the natural beauty around, made the journey passable. Unlike what I had imagined, it was not the kind of farm which had level fields. The owners had purchased a teak cultivation few decades back. Hemant informed us that they had used what he called 'Ahimsa farming'. Barring a few, most trees and plants, had been brought in by the birds and bees. It's a friendly ecosystem, he informed us. When birds and insects realise they can survive in an ecosystem unhindered, without trouble, they frequent such spots and are responsible for seed dispersal and pollination.

Enroute to the waterfalls

Ever since we landed there, we only witnessed rain and more rain. We weathered it to explore Hemant's cultivated lands. We were excited to see teak, 24 species of bananas, Italian lime which in a typical season bears ~1500 fruit per tree. Pineapples, chickoo, jowar, lady's finger, amaranth, bamboo, papaya.... There is also a vegetable patch which was recently planted when a group of school children came in for an educational tour.

With the host
There were cashew plants too. An interesting learning was, freshly sprouted cashew plants (around 3-4 weeks old) when cooked taste like chicken liver. Ah! how does vegetarian liver sound?! While we walked into the thickets, we saw snails, earthworms, frogs, millipedes and loads of mushrooms, toadstools. The plantains offer a fibre which the family uses to make banana fibre bags and other products which they then sell to a leading store in India.

We also saw a tribal home made with jowar plant - woven together and then plastered with mud. The life of such a house is ~2 yrs, after which they need to rebuild it. You can see one such in the pic below.

Outside a tribal home
At Hideout they raise cows to provide manure. This helps them to regenerate the soil that is lost due to erosion. There were 2 wells on the lands.

Gau pooja - these cows are not milked to avoid weakening them

Another interesting quip, if a tube well runs dry, just dig a well next to it and it then flourishes. These are some of the learnings that our host has had over the last few decades of working closely on his land.

There is a resident artist, Dom, who is a jack of all trades. He is talented and has a sense of humor. He took a yoga session for us the next morning, he cooks - he's training to cook health food, he designs homes and he also helps entertain guests. He's trained in Italy at glass blowing and is a product designer for the stores viz Bombay store, Fab India etc..

Dom- seeks his inspiration

Our host has also tied up with a few spirited youngsters, who drop in on weekends and entertain guests, with games, dance, clay & other art/ craft workshop or even accompanying them to interesting spots like the waterfalls, nature trails.

At the waterfall, in spate

The kitchen is an open kitchen with an adjoining dining area. There is a dining table for those who like to have a sit down meal, and the more flexible of us could opt to swing while we had our tea or rock ourselves to sleep after one.

Gas-lanterns help conserve electricity

Only healthy foods served here, incl lime shots :)

Wooden chula used for cooking

The meals were served on time and were healthy and tasty. I simply loved the herbal decoction which had a blend of basil, ginger and lime with jaggery syrup. Piping hot, it went very well with the cold damp weather outside. T loved the corn soup with a hint of lemon basil. It had a zing to it. Oh! did I mention the lemon preserve. It was simply yummy.

Lanterns line the path to the individual mud houses

Attempting to play some music with the quaint instrument

We spent the night at the mud house, it is made completely with mud and bricks, and has NO windows. The windows are replaced by some eco friendly jute fibres bordering which is some printed silk. The roof top has mangalore tiles, suited to the rainy weather. Our 4 poster wooden beds were covered with net to make sure we did not get bitten by any insects/ bugs. We urbanites are extra cautious. While we lay with our eyes open on our beds it was pitch dark, with the sound of the rain on the roof top, the leaves and the little puddles; we evidenced a light display. No, nothing man made!!! simple yet beautiful. Only God could have created something as beautiful as that. There were glow worms doing a jig for us :) It was a delight to watch them. What we found exciting was that inspite of not having windows we did not have any intruders - wildbeests, insects/ bugs in our rooms. All we had for company were the natural sounds - the crickets, the pitter patter, lady bugs...oh! to go wild again.

Lil T had a friendly pet (dog) Tuffy for company, a rope ladder to learn her tricks, lil Ayaana who's full of beans.

A few kms away we visited some village folk who raised fowls, rabbits and some cattle. We were surprised to see a fawn colored calf, heavily guarded by the elders (buffalos). We always thought buffaloes were a dark shade of grey- black, not fawn or brown.

It was afternoon the next day, and the rains did not seem to be in any hurry to exit. The dam closeby had overflowed, and the the waters were now on the roads making it impossible for us to drive past. All we could do was wait for the Rain Gods to be kind to us. It was 3:30 pm the next day, and Hemant too had to get back to Mumbai. We decided to leave the farm together. His being a heavier vehicle made it past the overflooded roads, but we were sceptical. He waited at the other end for us, giving us directions and asking us to be patient. He said, given time, as the rain was now a gentle drizzle, we could hope for the waters to recede a bit. Thank God! we managed to get past the floods, with careful manoevering by P.

It was a fun weekend; which lil T termed FUN but too SHORT.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cheese and more...

Close your eyes and are breathing cool crisp air of the hills and vales, so crisp that it goes *crunch* when you attempt to dig your teeth into it,
listen to the tiny swallows flying past, the magpies and bulbuls outdoing each other, the ladybird scratching its back, the grasshopper hopping on the lush green soft blades of grass covered with dew, cows mooing while they graze lazily on the hills, the cackle of the geese and the quack of the ducks, bees buzzing while at work on the zillion blossoms, a distant rooster echoing a cock a doodle doo. Now that you are with me, slowly open your eyes. See what I see ?

Out at a distant farm are a few quaint cottages belonging to a warm hearted farmer (erstwhile Bollywood fraternity, director, producer) Mansoor Khan who runs AcresWild ( As luck would have it we got in touch with him early on when we were still planning our holiday. The farm has 6 cottages - the first where his family resides, the second the dining and entertainment space, the third the Cheese cottage where yummy cheese is made conscientiously by his family and support staff, the other 3 cottages are let out to *starved of nature, eager* urbanites like us. The farm houses a pond full of fish, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, cows and some. A tiny stream of water cuts across most part of Acreswild.

Ours was the Cheddar cottage with the most breathtaking view. Lined by tea plantations and at the edge of a valley.We could not have asked for more.
Our brush with the wild was when we came across a group of bisons involved in a brawl and late in the nights watching wild hares hopping across the beaten path. Every cottage, pond is at a different level of the hills and so it is a lovely nature walk from one avenue to the next. We tried to have at least one meal at the dinning hall which was uphill and that meant we get to work up an appetite as make our way up there.

We did not realise how harsh the sun was until I had a sun burnt nose ,P had his hands all tanned, or should I say burnt.?! The temperatures were clearly only 25 - 15 deg; so the harshness of the UV was evidenced much later. Nonetheless, that still did not take away the charm of the place

The cottage where the family resides has a herb & vegetable garden where our little one sowed beet and beans. Some of the other vegetables that we saw growing - peas, cauliflower, cabbage, radish, knoll coll, amaranth, coriander, spring onions and some herbs - chives, rosemary, fennel, thyme. Farming can be fun! :), when the fruits of the effort are visible.

Sowing beet

Peas in a pod
Fennel for 'indian summer'

Jalapenos, for barbecuing with cheese
the pink radish

Knoll coll - tastes great if stir fried the chinese way

The little one also participated in the milking of cows and her description of it ...
"I milked the cow. It was very sticky (that is because they oil the udder). And it tried to move its rear legs and tail (as they tie it to prevent any injury to the person milking)"

Feeding the ducks and geese
Looking yonder

As there is abundance of milk from the well bred and well fed jersey and holstein cows; cheese making is a choice they have made to put it to good use. The family runs an organic cheese making course on the farms as well. Neither of us is a cheese connoisseur, but we liked what we saw and tasted. There was soft and hard cheese. We preferred the soft variant as it spreads well over the bake. Our personal favourite was the Herb cheese and Indian summer.

Some pics of cheese making - soft cheese follows the shrikhand technique

We spent some lazy hours at the pond feeding the birds and watching the cows graze.

Little did we know that we will be witness to a bison brawl. Whoa! it was scary.
'Spot the bison' - we couldn't go any closer, or we would be part of the brawl

As I always say, with Pari there is never a dull moment. So our few days there were choc-a-bloc. We spent lazy hours at the farm, fed the fowls, milked the cows, spotted some wild life, looked out for some birds, caught up on some reading...
visited the stables at Wellingdon,

In the wee hours of morn
They mix barley in their waters
He was a runner, although he was epileptic

some regular site seeing at Ooty/ Coonoor which included visiting SIMS park and shopping for some home-made chocolates @ Ooty.

The outlet is close to a Dominos and is called Jai's home-made chocolates. Loved the soft centre fills - strawberry, coffee, orange dipped in molten chocolate. Not just met but exceeded expectations. Visited needle craft embroidery at Erin villa- an outfit that sells beautifully hand embroidered, but expensive ware.

Erin villa

We accompanied Pari to his home which he loved and lived in 2 decades ago. He shared with us some of his treasured moments ; which were enjoyable.

The hosts and guests at the farm were warm and nice. It was mostly during meal times that we got to catch up with them. One of them also mentioned that the cook had spotted a leopard in the wee hours of the morning, but we had no such luck :(...tut tut

On our way back, we took the hill train that winds through the hills of Coonoor and reaches Metupalayam,

Thomas - or so T called it

visited the Perrur temple and the Dhyan linga - Isha centre on the outskirts of Coimbatore.

Dhyan -linga we spent 20 mins in a semispherical structure (much like the Auroville meditation centre). The high point was the instruments that were played in those 20 mins while all assembled and kept their mouths mum a la meditation. The first was a wind instrument made out of bamboo - atleast 4 feet in length and the other too was bamboo based and had some seeds or stones inside which when rolled made some amazing sounds....almost like water gurgling in a stream. Magical sounds!
PS : special thanks to Pari for the lovely pics he has contributed to this post.

The trip left us happy to have been a part of sylvan surroundings and met some interesting people. There is nothing like some fun times spent with loved ones in completely serene surroundings........

I leave you with a few words from Wordsworth...

HEARD a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sat reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And 'tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made,
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature's holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?
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