Dudhsagar Plantation – A Homestay Hidden Away From Goa’s Beaches

Goa, a place synonymous with beach-life (to the casual traveller), has much more to offer those who seek something different. My friends reading this account will be flabbergasted when they learn that I did not see a single beach all through my recent trip to the ‘party capital of India’. What I saw instead was this:-

Acres Of Greens With No Sand Or Sea In Sight

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

If you are a fan of nature and forests and everything organic, get away from the coastline and drive into Sanvordem, and then further towards Kulem until you reach Karmane Village. There, where the road ends and the boundary of the Mollem National Park begins, you will find Dudhsagar Plantation – a farm-stay that is removed from the smoke of the cities and the noise of the parties. I had a chance to stay at one of the cottages here last month when monsoon was in full swing. This was perhaps the best way to begin my career as a full-time travel writer.

The Cottages At Dudhsagar Plantation

The property has 5 cottages with brick roofs which have 4 glass-patches to let light filter through in the mornings. There’s a nice sit-out area in the front porch of each cottage, with wooden lounging chairs to enjoy the view of the plantation. This eco-stay is basic, but comfortable. Every cottage is spacious and furnished with a double bed and a divan, besides shelves on a wall to store your things. The bathroom is well ventilated with grills, and the exposed brick and cement sections lend a rustic touch to it. The all-out in the room keeps mosquitoes away, but don’t be surprised if some harmless caterpillars, bugs or lizards stop by to say “hi”. 😉

Know Your Host

The Malkarnekar brothers - Ashok (right) runs the property

The Malkarnekar brothers – Ashok (right) runs the property

The plantation was started by the Malkarnekar family in 1985 and their home is built on the farm itself. Today, Ashok Malkarnekar, the eldest son, stays here and looks after the administrative bits of this home-stay. I was fortunate to be here when Ashok’s family and friends were around for a reunion, and we spent some good time chatting over chai and singing along with the guitarists in the house. The Malkarnekar siblings (2 brothers and a sister) are half German and half Goan, and fluent in Konkani, Hindi, German and English. They are all very friendly and warm. Throughout the duration of my stay at Dudhsagar Plantation, Ashok graciously showed me around the estate and took me to some interesting parts of Goa I’d never explored before.

Take A Spice Tour

(Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Every guest here can opt for an hour long guided tour of the spice garden. Spread over 50 acres, the plantation is a tropical paradise! Here, you will find a variety of trees and herbs – coconut, betel nut, starfruit, pepper, cinnamon and cashew, to name a few. Speaking of cashew, you can also learn how cashew feni is made through the fermentation process. A milder version of feni is the urak, which is distilled at an earlier stage. During my stay, I had their distinctive jungle juice – a cocktail they make with urak, limca and some “secret spices”. 😉

Jump Into The Family Well

Dive into the 15 feet natural well

Dive into the 15 feet deep natural well

Water babies will leap at the mention of a pool in a farmstay. Dudhsagar Plantation has something even better – a giant natural water well which is 15 feet deep! It was a lot of fun to swim here, the trees secluding us from the rest of the property. You might spot some friendly frogs and little fishes while you take a dip here. It is not uncommon either to sight snakes. (Yikes!!)

Relish Home-cooked Meals

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

I thoroughly savoured the freshly prepared meals at this homestay. The ingredients are locally sourced and mostly grown on the plantation itself. The food is completely organic as no pesticides or fertilizers are used for farming. Natural composting is practised here and manure is used for the plants. Ashok also showed me the nitrogen-fixing plants which absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and plug it back into the soil to improve its fertility. This reduces the need to add artificial fertilizers for the regular nitrogen-guzzling flora.

 

The food is generally vegetarian, but sometimes, the cook also prepares some fish or meat. You can have egg preparations for breakfast, and these are free range eggs from the domestic chickens on the farm. I had my fill of local vegan Goan curries which have a little bit of coconut in the form of its flesh-shavings or as coconut milk. They also use a lot of mushroom, which are my favourite! 🙂 I particularly loved the dishes for their mild flavours (I’m not a fan of spicy food) and judicious use of oil. Don’t forget to try their pineapple-banana butter, a house-speciality which I fell in love with! You will also like their homemade pickles and puranpoli.

Walk In The Rain

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Dudhsagar Plantation is a nice place to spend an intimate weekend with your significant other. The property feels especially romantic in the monsoon (read: Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains) when the raindrops rhythmically pelt on the brick roofs of the cottages and the thatched central dining gazebo. You may also want to want to laze in the swimming pool while you wait for the sun to set.

Swim In The Infinity Pool

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well (Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Not all visitors like natural wells, so the plantation also has a modern-style swimming pool that looks out to the green foliage. Fortunately, the pool’s water comes from the well, and has no chlorine. The host is building a yoga-shala close to the pool, which will be ready in a few weeks. He has plans to build a large hut which can serve as a dormitory for budget travellers who wish to learn yoga. This place has the potential to be a tranquil yoga retreat. Can you imagine how relaxing it will be to practise yoga in the middle of nature!

Read, Nap Or Do Absolutely Nothing On The Veranda

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Rejuvenating holidays are those where you don’t squeeze too many activities into your itinerary. The best way to spend your time at Dudhsagar Plantation is to read your favourite book or do a little bit of writing. The atmosphere is ripe with inspiration for those who find their joy in composing poems. Bring along a guitar and a mouth-organ, and make some soothing music if you are musically tilted. It really helps that internet connectivity is intermittent and slow here. You have another reason to tune out the world and tune in to your thoughts. The property has a wifi router installed at the common dining area, but that only worked for a few minutes during all the days I was there. No complaints, though. I quite enjoyed playing with the cute toddler (Ashok’s nephew) and the dogs (which guard the estate from trespassers and wild boars).

Things To Do Around Dudhsagar Plantation

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

If you are the restless type of traveller and cannot sit still, there’s plenty you can do around this place. I did the Tambdi Surla waterfall trek (close to the eponymous 12th century temple), peeped into a Portuguese villa, strolled atop the Salaulim dam and checked out 20-thousand-years old petroglyphs at Usgalimal. More on the activities in a separate blog post. 😉

Have you ever lived on a plantation?

Do you know of more non-touristy things to do in Goa?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

 

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to stay updated with pictures and stories of more such interesting hideouts that I keep discovering! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the Goa-fanatics you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by Dudhsagar Plantation. However, all views are entirely my own.

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Diu – The Discoverer’s Favourite

Chilled by the European winds, I wanted my next vacation to keep me warm. I was looking to get away from the noise and crowd of my city. I searched. And I found. Diu was so small, yet so empty – as if it had been waiting to just see me all this while.

Diu's music is in its waves

Diu’s music is in its waves

It’s Nothing Like Daman

I had previously been to Diu’s cousin – Daman (read: How Daman Delighted Me), and I thought this island would be a reminder of that trip. But I was wrong. Diu is more beautiful… in many different ways. Its beaches are cleaner, its streets are lined with a cycling lane (which unfortunately goes unused), and it rewards its admirers with unique places to eat and hide inside.

Ghoghla Beach - the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla Beach – the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla – The Morning Beach

Diu is no Goa. It’s not a wild, party place. It’s a place to nurse your hangover, and find peace amidst nature. Still, it is easy to rent a car, bike or scooty in this ‘Isle of Calm’. I did not find a place to rent a bicycle though. However, if you are a possessed walker or runner, you will enjoy exploring Diu just as much on foot.

My first evening here was spent watching the sun set over Nagoa Beach, close to my hotel – The Hoka Island Villa. The port wine I had that night gave me a nice sleep. This is why I surprised myself when I woke up early the next morning. My little white scooty urged me to cross the bridge and leave the little island.

I was on Ghoghla Beach. It was too early for the tourists to pour in. Too early for the sun to burn my skin. It was just perfect – my tripod agreed. I saw a little kid turn cartwheels on the sand. I stopped fiddling with my camera and ran to the sea, the breeze encouraging my hair to let go. I told myself that day that I would do a beach marathon someday. (And I am doing it this year! 🙂 )

Fortim do Mar - The Fortress of Panikota

Fortim do Mar – The Fortress of Panikota

A Fortress in the Sea

Fortim do Mar is visible from most of Diu’s coastline. It is hard to miss this seafort which seems to stand in the middle of nothing but water. I wonder sometimes if it is possible to rent this place to spend some quiet time with oneself. There’s a lighthouse there which perhaps offers a nice view of Diu from the top.

Baroque beauty - St. Paul's Church

Baroque beauty – St. Paul’s Church

What Portugal Left Behind

Visiting places of historical importance always unsettles me. A part of me wants to marvel at the wonders of the era bygone – the architectural ruins, the fusion cuisines, the stories and the ways of life. At the same time, another part of me fills up with rage at the masterminds of organised slavery. But time teaches us to move on. To forgive. To accept the good. And to make a promise not to repeat the bad.

St. Paul’s Church is a 17th century building, manifested in the Baroque style. One is reminded of Portugal when one observes the artfully decorated windows and doorways, the arched wooden doors and the murals on the ceiling. The church is still in operation, and you will find the 10 commandments framed against each pillar along the aisle.

Chakratirth Beach... guarded by a lighthouse?

Chakratirth Beach… guarded by a lighthouse?

Some Beaches Find You

As the day wore on, I saw people filling up the streets of Diu. I had to escape before my paradise of peace would vanish. So, I took another road and came across an amphitheatre with a sea-view. It was a viewing space for the grand performance by nature! The sea is so vast, it can help you forget all your troubles.

On the other side of the step-amphitheatre is the Chakratirth Beach, so named because of its semicircular shape. In between the two is an elevated perforated rocky patch. This is where I saw the sun go down again.

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Myth or Mystery?

A 5 minute ride from Chakratirth brought me to the Gangeshwar Temple. This one is located underground. The legend goes that the 5 Pandavas (from the Indian epic Mahabharata) spent some time during their exile at this spot, worshiping Lord Shiva. Today, there are 5 shivalingas (one of Shiva’s manifestations) at the same spot. You can climb down the steps to watch the sea wash over the shivalingas at high tide, as if offering its own prayers to the Hindu God.

Naida Caves - where light plays hide and seek

Naida Caves – where light plays hide and seek

Caves that Will Haunt You

Diu is home to another kind of caves – this one, man-made. Naida Caves were formed due to the activities of the ruling Portuguese. They would cut away rocks from here and build monuments on the island. Nevertheless, these hollows and crevices are quite enchanting today. Climbers and creepers have wrapped some parts of the caves. Aerial roots have sheathed some other portions, almost turning this cave into a palace with many rooms. Moss has coloured some walls in shades of surreal green. Sunlight plays wonderful tricks on the human eye when it enters these caves through the rough openings and green canopies. It is poetic how destruction can also be beautiful.

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

The Abandoned Church

What is today known as Diu Museum, once used to be the Church of St. Thomas. Built in 1598, this Gothic white church was abandoned several years ago. It is not used for prayers anymore, but houses relics from the past – sculptures and scriptures carved in stone.

Diu has another old church which has been converted to a hospital now.

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

Diu Fort – Where Warriors Lived

I was saving the best for the last! 🙂 Diu Fort is a large complex that housed soldiers in the barracks, ammunition in underground chambers and canons at every gap in the walls of the mighty structure. This fort is perhaps the largest store of so many canons of different types. Somewhere in this enclosure is a lighthouse – the tallest one in Diu. At every nook and cranny, there is a viewpoint to see the infinite Arabian Sea softly making waves under the sun. Exploring the entire fort takes at least a couple of hours, so plan your day accordingly.

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

Diu is a small union territory in India, but it packs quite a punch! Have you been to similar quaint places that have surprised you with how much they can offer?

Camping by the Tungarli Lake

This month last year, I happened to go on my first camping trip. It was a resolution of sorts, and I’ll revisit that weekend today. I had no tent, no sleeping bag and obviously, no experience in the wilderness. So, I went with Let’s Camp Out to tick one thing off my list of resolutions – at Tungarli Lake!

The Tungarli dam stretches over the eponymous lake

The Tungarli dam stretches over the eponymous lake

Getting There

The campsite is located about 5 km from Lonavala, which is a couple of hours’ drive from Mumbai. You can also take a train as I did. Once you reach the Tungarli dam, you’ll have to trek up and cover the rest of the stretch on foot. The dam is quite a charming spot! It was built in the 1930’s for irrigation, but that day, it appeared to be an abandoned watchpost up on the hill.

During the train journey, I met a group of trekkers who were getting ready to do the Rajmachi trek. Tungarli, is a nice stopover before you undertake that one. The view of the lake is refreshing.

Water buffaloes can be spotted cooling themselves in the inviting waters of Tungarli

Water buffaloes can be spotted cooling themselves in the inviting waters of Tungarli

Tungarli Lake

Somewhere in the Sahyadri range of mountains, the quaint village of Tungarli lives undisturbed by the city slickers. The lake is a watering hole for cows and buffaloes herded by the farmers from the village. If you are lucky, you can also spot some wild water buffaloes submerged in the waters of Tungarli Lake. This keeps them cool in hot afternoons. After drinking up the gorgeous view, we headed over to our campsite.

Our little green tents are all set to house us!

Our little green tents are all set to house us!

Camping amidst Nature

Our little green tents were already set up for us when we reached. They were Coleman sundome tents with a capacity of 3 each. When I first thought of camping, I imagined I’d have to endure hardships and sleep on thin tarpaulin sheets which would make me feel the stones and twigs beneath. But I was in for a surprise – a pleasant one.

Our tents were wind and water resistant, with a nice awning at the entrance. We could fully seal our tents with the double zippers. There were even two net-windows which could be zipped open or close a per our requirement for light and air. And some more air vents for cross ventilation. I could barely feel the ground for we had airbeds and inflatable pillows. Finally, there were a couple of pockets on the side-walls of the tent to stash our stuff.

If you are wondering where the washroom was, there was a toilet-tent (with ziplock) with a portable commode seat and a shovel inside. But because this is nature, you have bare earth beneath all this. Eco camping requires that you cover up your waste with earth (which you will have dug up to create a deep pit in the ground). Never forget to carry toilet paper if you are organizing your own camping trip.

From my vantage point, I could see the Tungarli village, Rajmachi, and also some parts of Lonavala

From my vantage point, I could see the Tungarli village, Rajmachi, and also some parts of Lonavala

Evening Trek

We had some tea and biscuits before setting out west on a trek to explore these hills on the Western Ghats. Our trekking guide took us to the very top of our hill and we stood there for a long time, taking in the view of the villages in the valley. From up there, we could also see Rajmachi and perhaps, Lonavala.

I feel treks are rewarding. Not only for the panoramic sights you get to see but also for the interesting plants and insects that you come across. Tungarli’s terrain is arid at places, and this has resulted in the growth of a variety of cacti.

Oh, my! What a giant cactus this one is!

Oh, my! What a giant cactus this one is!

I came across several cactus plants and also some buds which were yet to bloom. Nature gives you a nice lesson in botany if you care to explore and be inquisitive.

Cactus flower buds before bloom

Cactus flower buds before bloom

Not far from all the cacti were ant nests. You can identify these by the circular patterns they have around the burrow. I later found out that those belonged to harvester ants which are common in sandy soils. These ants mainly collect seeds as it is difficult to find honeydew (which the ordinary ant would normally go after). Ant nests are good for the soil as they provide aeration and help in mixing different layers of soil.

An ant-nest hides close to the cactus vegetation

An ant-nest hides close to the cactus vegetation

Sunset in the Sahyadris

The sky turned auburn as the sun signalled it was about to set. We sat on our elevated seats and watched the city pull up its dark blanket. Despite the altitude, the absence of daylight and the winter season, the temperature barely touched 20 degrees Celsius. But it was night, and we had to head back to our camp.

The sun sets over Tungarli

The sun sets over Tungarli

Bring Out the Barbecue!

After the trek, it was time to eat, and we had a portable barbecue to get the party started! 🙂 We grilled sliced pineapples, paneer cubes and potato halves on the burning charcoal. I had never had so much fun drizzling oil over starters and coating them with pepper. I realized that day that food tastes better when you have helped prepare it. After a filling meal of appetizers, we tightened our shoelaces again – for the night trek! 😀

It's fun to barbecue your own dinner :-)

It’s fun to barbecue your own dinner 🙂

The Night Trek

I don’t think I can ever get enough of trekking, especially if they’re short and easy. The weather was so lovely that night, that we decided to trek again. This time, to the east. We strapped on a couple of solar-charged torches and set out to explore the hills’ beauty in the night-time. This one was a tad bit difficult as compare to the evening trek, but the moon shone brilliantly and made it worth the effort. We indulged in a lot of stargazing and constellation spotting that night. Wintertime is the best to spot a lot of stars which one will miss in the summers, and also to clearly see the zodiac of the month. If you have a stargazing app, don’t forget to use it on night treks!

Solar lights are handy for night treks

Solar lights are handy for night treks

Campfires are for Singing

When we started getting hungry again, we found our way back to our camp. Our tents were visible in the warm glow of the campfire. The crackling of dried leaves and twigs in the fire made for some nice music in the otherwise silent night. The time was perfect for some old melodies. We sang as our dinner was being unpacked. We were floored by the eclectic mix of home-cooked Maharashtrian dishes from the village below. All that singing, trekking and good food made it very easy to fall asleep. I used to worry I’d never be able to sleep in the wild with the threat of animals attacking me in the middle of the night. But I was so wrong! I slept like a baby.

It's time to sit around the campfire and sing some good old songs! :-)

It’s time to sit around the campfire and sing some good old songs! 🙂

Waking Up In a Tent

I awoke as the sun rose and filled my little green tent with light. I zipped open the door and went out to watch a morning scene I’d never see in the city.

Insects are early risers, and get to work real quick. I spotted ants sucking on the cactus flowers. These harvester ants contribute to seed dispersal and improve cactus population.

A couple of ants suck on a cactus branch

A couple of ants suck on a cactus branch

Desert plants are not limited to cacti. I also came across what looked like wild ground berries.

These cute orange fruits look like physalis or wild ground berries

These cute orange fruits look like physalis or wild ground berries

My overnight camping trip came to an end with a delicious breakfast of poha, bread and jam with tea and biscuits. We helped each other dismantle the tents and fold them back into the portable bags. We carried all the non-biodegradable wastes with us to leave that spot of nature untarnished. I walked away from Tungarli Lake content to have finally camped in a tent.

We left Tungarli Lake just as we found it

We left Tungarli Lake just as we found it

I am hoping to go camping again this year. Have you ever camped out? How has your experience with nature been?

Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains

I can open your eyes

Take you wonder by wonder

Over, sideways and under

On a magic carpet ride 

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

The carpet of smooth road welcomes us to Lavasa

These lines from my favourite song in the Aladdin movie rang in my ears as we zipped through the mountain trail on our first monsoon roadtrip for the year. The road almost sang for me as it curved and split and sloped with alarming swiftness beneath us, almost taking us on a magic carpet ride over the Western Ghats!  I slid the car window down to feel the winds getting stronger as we gained altitude on the road to Lavasa. And after about five hours of playing hide and seek with the rains all along the path, we reached our destination. Hidden somewhere between the hills of the mighty Sahyadri range, a charming little city gleamed in the afternoon sun. I could not believe I was still in Maharashtra!

Just before the thunder split the sky

Just before the thunder split the sky

As the car eased into the driveway of our hotel – Mercure Lavasa, I made a mental note to find out why this city looked so Mediterranean. Weary as I was from the long drive, I almost flopped on my bouncy bed, but I realized I hadn’t had lunch. So, off we scurried to Mercure’s Celebration restaurant, and got hold of a table by one of the French windows. A view like that could only be enjoyed with Italian mains! After the appetizing meal of spaghetti and mushroom, we gathered our camera lenses and tightened our shoelaces – it was time for action!

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

Spaghetti with olives and grilled bread

As we walked through Lavasa, I learned that this planned hill station is modeled on the Italian fishing village of Portofino. Orange, yellow and brick red coloured buildings dazzled from afar. This was the Waterfront Shaw which framed the shimmering blue waters of the Wasargaon Lake. These waters are boundless in the scenes they reflect, yet restrained by the Wasargaon Dam. The mountains that guard Lavasa have an appeal of their own – they are gentle in their incline but strong when it comes to carrying entire villages on their backs.

The waterfront at Lavasa

The waterfront at Lavasa

My train of thoughts was broken by a little kid calling out to her father. She insisted on getting on the trackless toy train that chugged along Portofino Street. It was only then that I took my eyes off the mountains and looked around me. The lakefront promenade was lined with a host of counters that let one try everything – from miniature golf to adventure sports. Instantaneously, I broke into a smile as I knew just how I would spend the rest of my evening!

The toy train is coming!

The toy train is coming!

“Burma bridge crossing” was first on my list. This adventure sport can actually mislead people into thinking all bridges in Burma are made of ropes and only luck can help you go across. The operator from XThrill Adventure Sports warned me cheekily not to ask for help if I got stuck on the bridge. He hurriedly plonked a yellow helmet on my ashen face, straightened the harness around my waist and told me he’d see me on the other side. I held on to the rope railings for dear life as I wobbled across the rope bridge, stepping on one knot at a time. Zip lining, the next thing on my list, was a breeze after the Burma bridge ordeal. Zip line is also called Flying Fox, though you don’t quite feel foxy as you fly from one point to another, suspended only by two ropes. We tried our hand at archery and shooting before heading back to our hotel.

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

I tight-rope-walked across the Burma bridge

This hill city has a handful of business hotels and resorts, but not much for the budget traveler. In Lavasa, be prepared to loosen your purse strings! There are some cafes that dot the waterfront. If you love people-watching, you can sit and sip a different coffee under a different awning every time you pass a café by. For visitors who like to “feel” a place as opposed to tick things off a checklist, I recommend alfresco dining. No music is more melodious than the whistle of the wind, and no décor as enchanting as the mood of the sky.

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

The soothing sounds of water against rocks

Back at Mercure, we realized we still had some light before dusk would swallow the place. So, we decided to walk on the other part of Lavasa. Right outside our hotel, we heard a stream gurgling loudly with no other sound adulterating it. We walked past rows of single storey and double story houses which had no occupants but a guard to keep an eye on them. I guessed that many real estate investors have second homes here, but choose to stay in bigger cities. I cannot fathom why one would prefer noisier cities to the tranquil tunes of nature. In some time, the sky darkened with clouds and we strolled back to our hotel. I was a little upset that water-sports was closed in the rains. I just could not get the image of that expanse of hypnotizing blue out of my head.

The sky darkens

The sky darkens

To get my spirits up, we ordered Italian again. We had ravioli with some wine for dinner and then went out one more time to look at the diamonds that had scattered all over the night sky. The best thing about a weekend getaway to the hills is the crisp air and the clear skies. Stargazing is a luxury one cannot afford in big cities where light pollution is rampant. Over a bottle of Bordeaux and under a sheet of stars, we exchanged stories of our past and toasted to a brighter tomorrow.

Washed by the rains, the city gleams again

Washed by the rains, the town gleams again

We were greeted next morning by an intermittent drizzle that kept most of the tourists indoors and left all of Lavasa to us. With no group to trek with, we explored the place further on our own and spotted many a rare blossom and insects crawl out in the rain. Monsoon, I have observed, is more beautiful when you get out there and explore. A warm mug of coffee can only soothe your throat, not your soul. Rains are not for us to sit and watch from the confines of our glass walled homes. Rains are the Earth’s way to communicate with us. And we must reciprocate – by walking, running, driving and dancing in the downpour.

The hill station from the top

The hill station from the top

From where I stood, I saw at a distance, all the touristy cottages perched precariously on the hills. I knew then that I had escaped the tourist trap and wandered where only travellers could! I could then hear the true song of Lavasa.

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Blessed by the heavens, Lavasa is crowned by a tiara of hills

Useful Information:-

  • Arrange your hotel bookings in advance, especially if you plan to visit over a weekend. Tourists start trickling in mostly in the monsoon.
  • Lavasa does not have an airport. The closest international airports are in Pune and Mumbai. There are also no trains or buses that connect Pune / Mumbai to Lavasa. Travelling by car is recommended. Besides, the enthralling views along the route are best enjoyed on a long drive!
  • If you are travelling in a bigger group, do not miss the morning tour conducted by Nature Trails.
  • For running enthusiasts, the Lavasa Hill Run is the cherry on the pie! Even if you are training for another marathon (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad), the hills of Lavasa could be your practice pit!
  • If you have more time on your hands, squeeze in a visit to Bamboosa – the bamboo factory. You can also request for a tour of the entire area, interact with the workers and see how a bamboo product is made – start to finish.

White Water Rafting in Kolad

“Rain, Rain, go away! Come again another day!” This is what most of us mutter under our breath when we are caught in a bad weather on a vacation. There are occasions though when rains bring out the best in the world around us. It is during monsoon earlier this year that my gang of girls and I decided to do something that is best done in the rains – river rafting!

The white waters of Kundalika

The white waters of Kundalika

Few places in Maharashtra have river rafting options, and Kolad happens to be the most popular. After many days of coordinating and searching for rafting-packages, we came across a perfect one offered by Mask Group. For as little as Rs.1700, they would take care of the commute from Mumbai to Kolad, arrange for the rafting activity and provide lunch and snacks.

What to Wear

For water-based activities, you must pick fabrics that don’t get soaked easily. Lycra and nylon are the best. Try to avoid cotton and denim as they tend to become very heavy once they soak up water, and don’t dry easily. You’ll have a higher chance of catching cold if you pick the wrong fabric. Wetsuits are probably the best outfits for white water rafting. You can wear either floaters or sneakers (without socks), but ensure that you wear something which cannot easily slip off your feet (flip flops, for instance). Most of us, however, showed up in whatever we liked. 😛

Our rafting guide briefs us before the adventure

Our rafting guide briefs us before the adventure

Before the Adventure

We started from Mumbai in the wee hours of the morning so we could reach Kolad by 9. It takes about 3-4 hours by road. We were 9 girls, but part of a larger group of 50 odd people in the bus which picked us up. We had our packed tiffins for breakfast in the bus itself and reached hungry for adventure! At the holding area, we saw dozens of air-filled rafts stacked atop one another, and safety-jackets, helmets and paddles arranged about a sheet of tarpaulin.

We pose with our paddles while we're still dry

We pose with our paddles while we’re still dry

Safety First!

The main rafting instructor told us that we were going to float over the Kundalika river. Its water is actually controlled by a dam, and the government allows for some water to be released everyday for rafters.

We were shown how to fasten the life-jackets which have a double-locking system for extra safety. There is an additional pillow-like padding on the jacket to keep your head above the water level when you lie flat on your back on the river. The helmets too are lightweight and help keep your head afloat, besides protecting you from getting hit by boulders. The water’s depth here is no more than 5 to 6 feet. But what makes it dangerous is the presence of rocks. Even though you won’t drown, you will injure yourself if you don’t heed your raft-captain’s commands.

All set to board the raft!

All set to board the raft!

Paddle Talk

One of the most important tools in rafting are the paddles. Made of ultra lightweight material, these not only help you row your way across the river but also come handy in rescuing fellow rafters who might fall off the raft. The paddle has three parts – a flat blade which pushes water, a shaft so light that it pops back up if you push it down the river, and a handle with a “T”-grip.

If you ever fall into the river, never leave your paddle. Hold it by the shaft towards the blade end and point the T away from you. Your rescuer will offer her/his T and lock it with yours. Once you get the locking right, the grip is impossible to break. You will be pulled swiftly to safety! 🙂

We rejoice after crossing our first rapid

We rejoice after crossing our first rapid

All Aboard the Raft

The world can be a little sexist at times. Our group of 9 girls was split into two and some guys were thrown in  for “strength”. Rowing really works up your biceps and triceps, and it is assumed men will be better at that sort of stuff. Anyway, we hauled our raft to the river and got aboard! Our guide sat at the back from where he could see us all and shout his steering commands. The front two rowers have to be the strongest and good rowers, and unsurprisingly two guys were made to sit there. We got in our positions and locked our feet under the air tubes in the front and back.

You might feel a little nervous on your first rafting trip, especially if you don’t know to swim. You are supposed to sit on the edge of the raft with your bum almost hanging out. Only your feet which stay locked under the tubes will keep you balanced. But don’t worry so much. You will enjoy the ride as you keep crossing one rapid after another! 🙂

The rafters jump off their rafts!

The rafters jump off their rafts!

Going Downriver

Along the 13km stretch of Kundalika, we negotiated about 10 rapids, mostly of grades 1 and 2. This is what makes Kolad a good place for beginners. You learn to test the waters before you aim for higher grades of rapids. Rapids are places where the smooth run of the river is broken by some turbulence, usually due to the presence of rocks or when there is a sudden decline in the water level. It is thrilling to cross a rapid as the water splashes aboard and bathes everyone on the raft. Depending on the sort of rapid it is, you will be asked to either row swiftly with a lot of force or “go down”. Going down does not mean jumping into the water, though. 😛 You must duck and crouch on the floor of the raft, holding the safety handle on the outside.

The water is cold! But good enough for frolicking! ;-)

The water is cold! But good enough for frolicking! 😉

Let’s Get Wet!

After about an hour of following our guide’s instructions to “row forward”, “row backward”, “left forward, right back” (to change the direction of the raft) and “stop”, we were treated with some time to gambol in the river! 🙂 Each of us was asked to jump into the water, and we sloshed about, dunking one another and posing for pictures. Note that there will only be one “dry-bag” on your raft for you to store your cameras and phones.

The rafts are taken back upriver on jeeps

The rafts are taken back upriver on jeeps

Hunger Strikes

After some more minutes of rafting on a relatively smooth stretch, we came to the end of our adventure. There were more than a hundred of us that day who rafted at Kolad! We carried our rafts back up the bank to the holding area and watched them being restacked and fastened to jeeps which would take them to the starting point for the next day’s rafters.

With all the fun behind us, we suddenly realized how hungry we were. We gobbled up some vada pavs at the snack shacks on the bank before our trek back to the bus. We were cold, wet and impatient to get out of our soaked clothes. The rafting areas have no changing rooms nearby, so you will have to drive to a resort to freshen up. After a 30 minute ride, we stopped at a farm.

We check into a rustic farm for a quick change of clothes and some warm food

We check into a rustic farm for a quick change of clothes and some warm food

Some Reflections

Glad to finally be able to change into warm and dry clothes, we settled to relish some freshly cooked Maharashtrian food. As we chatted about the day, we all agreed that we had made many new friends. That may not have been the case if all the nine of us had been on the same raft.

After lunch, we explored the farm and clicked away at everything that caught our fancy. I don’t think I have taken so many selfies and groupfies in one day. Only a bunch of girls can make that happen! 😀

After the rafting experience, we relax on a shack by the catchment area of our village

We relax on a shack by the catchment area of our village, planning our next getaway together!

Kolad is a great monsoon weekend getaway from Mumbai. Which is your favourite escape-zone from your city? Have you ever been rafting? Send in your replies! 🙂