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! 🙂

 

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

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?