What The Koli Tribe Of Purushwadi Has Taught Me

Purushwadi, a village that wakes up to the crowing of a rooster and sleeps soon after the sun has set, was my home last month. I had changed 4 modes of transport from Mumbai to get to this fully sustainable remote hamlet nestled in the Sahyadris. The people of this land are one of the most prosperous tribes in rural Maharashtra – Mahadev Koli. I did not know in the beginning how much I would learn from the simpletons of Purshwadi, but they overwhelmed me with their admirable lifestyle!

Age Is Only A Number (And Old Women Are Pro Farmers)

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Advanced in age, this woman still begins her mornings tending to her field.

Every family in this village owns a small patch of land and almost everyone is a farmer. Children as young as 9 help their parents in the fields when their school is shut for summer. It is more common to see women working away on the farms as compared to men. They head to the fields at about 11 in the morning, after they have finished their housework, and return only after sunset. Their active lifestyle is perhaps the reason why they are so fit even in their golden years. It is not uncommon to find grandmothers toiling in the scorching sun.

Animals Are Not Playthings

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

Cattle are like extended family to the villagers of Purushwadi.

I was moved by the compassion that the Koli tribe shows towards animals. Their cows and goats have plenty of open greens to feed on. Their sheds are cleaned and they are given a bath soon after sunrise. Happy cows also mean tastier milk! It must also be mentioned that each home owns cows, goats and hens for its daily supply of milk and eggs. The self-sufficiency of these people cannot be overstated.

Women Can Carry More Than Their Own Bodyweight

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Hands of steel carry firewood to run the kitchen.

Purushwadi has not seen any of our fancy kitchen gadgets. There are no gas stoves or piped gas connections here. Firewood is used for fuel. It is not unusual to find women along the streets carrying bundles of firewood on their hike up their hilltop homes. What is particularly noteworthy is their superior physical strength that enables them to carry as much as 50 kilos (perhaps more than what they weigh) on their head.

Contentment Is More Precious Than Creature Comforts

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

The typical kitchen in Purushwadi homes.

I was astonished at how hard each woman works to run her home in this village. Not only do they wake up before anyone else in the household, but also sleep after everyone else has slept at night. Right from cleaning the house and the cowshed to cooking and serving meals to all to packing off their kids to school to tending to their fields to serving their families again to washing the dishes, and more… these women work like superheroes, saving the day for all. And they do all of this with such calm and poise! They ask for nothing in return, knowing somewhere within that their truest joy is in contentment.

Family Is A Gift, Not An Inconvenience

My guide, Balu's mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

My guide, Balu’s mother pounds rice to loosen the husk from the kernels as her granddaughter looks on.

During my short stay in Purushwadi, the women tried to teach me a lot of things – hulling rice, grinding it into fine flour, kneading a dough, making flat and round bhakris (roti made of rice flour). I proved to be a poor student, but they were patient and encouraging teachers. While all of this was happening, I observed how close-knit all the families are; also, how well the Koli tribe functions as a community. My guide, Balu, told me that his friend would work in his field for the day that he spent as my guide. And Balu would do the same for his friend when it is his turn to escort a visitor. They don’t compete against one another but work for each one’s benefit. The entire village is like a giant family. In stark contrast, most of us city-dwellers view family as an inconvenience that hinders our personal space and freedom. And despite all that we have, we are neither satisfied nor happy.

Authentic Organic Food Is In Little Villages

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

The ingredients for our meal are laid out.

I would have all of my meals in a village home, and I’d have to walk past several fields of wheat, groundnuts, rice, amaranth and more. Gorak, a young village lad, explained to me how they decide to sow seeds based on what they would like to eat. They don’t do anything in excess. Everything is grown for the family, and only some wheat is stored for emergencies (which can be traded to other villages for money). He also told me that their land is blessed with fertile soil and they also now have proper irrigation, thanks to the dam which brings them the river-water. They don’t use any pesticide or insecticide, and this is where one can have the entire farm-to-plate experience of fully organic food.

Women Are Good Leaders

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

A female goatherd takes her goats back home in the evening.

The Kolis astounded me with their progressive mindsets which were quite unlike those I’ve come across in other Indian villages. They don’t prefer either gender over the other. Their aim is to have equal gender distribution. Women here don’t shy away from talking to men, nor do they cover their faces or heads (as is commonplace in most traditional households). The Koli women smartly take on roles that I have generally seen men perform – herding goats, lifting heavy objects, constructing huts, and more. Here, the leadership potential of women is fully harnessed. And that’s something even modern offices have failed to do.

Entertainment Is Not Drowning In A Sea Of Apps

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha - Purushwadi's highest point.

I enjoy the Sahyadri mountains from Matha – Purushwadi’s highest point.

It was a blessing not to have any cellphone coverage in this village. I did not have a chance to waste my time on social media. Gorak took me to the highest point of Purushwadi when we hiked up for a nice sunset view. That’s when he told me how he loves to spend his free time. He hikes with his best friend. Gorak is only 25, and does not have the time-and-money-zapping addictions (of gaming or clubbing) of the city-boys of his age. The village indeed is beautiful, not only in how it appears but also in how it has shaped its people.

Education Is Only As Valuable As You Perceive

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi's only school.

After a friendly chat with the students of Purushwadi’s only school.

One morning, I went to the only school of this village. On my way, I saw a little boy running towards the school, a notebook in hand. He was late, and did not want to miss his classes. A village kid can only study up to class-7 in this school and will have to travel to another village to study till class-10. If students wish to study further, they’ll have to go to the nearest town. A chat with one of the school teachers revealed how precious education is to all of them. Teachers travel all the way to the nearest town to access internet required to download educational videos for the students. The respect that these students have for their teachers is of another level altogether.

Did you expect that a rural Indian tribe could teach so much?

Write your answers as comments below! 🙂

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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! 🙂

Sula Vineyards: A Fine-Wine Story

The neat rows of grapevines glistered in the afternoon-sun as I slowly rose up the slope towards 4 gabled structures. I was delighted to see that the climbers, albeit only 4 feet in height, extended as far as my eyes could see. I couldn’t help but feel excited. This was, after all, my first trip to a vineyard!

The famed vineyard at the Sula estate

The famed vineyard at the Sula estate

I had picked an opportune time to visit the Sula Vineyards as I not only beat the tourist-rush of Jan-Mar (the harvest season), but also experienced the beauty of Nashik in the light chill of early December. Nashik is about 3 hours from Mumbai, and the cheapest way to get here is by train. There are plenty of buses and cabs too that ply. I stayed at Ginger Hotel which is only 20 minutes from the winery. Sula also has its own resort on the estate.

The bar/lounge at Sula

Entrance to the wine bar at Sula

It was late afternoon when I reached the Sula property and made my way to their exquisite Indian restaurant – Soma. I glanced through the wine list and ordered a Sula Seco with some appetizers. I took in the interiors as I waited for my first wine of the day. The place is elegantly furnished with wood and wrought iron, and Warli-artwork graces the walls.

Soma-The Indian restaurant

Soma-The Indian restaurant

My sparkling wine arrived with my choice of appetizers – cottage cheese balls and papad. This subtly sweet wine paired well with the spicy vegetable dish and tandoori rotis I ordered for the mains. With lunch behind me, I headed to the reception at the tasting room and bought my pass to the wine tour.

Liquid gold? :D

Liquid gold? 😀

A charming young lad sporting a black Sula-tee was our wine-tour-guide. He told us about the history of the vineyards and how the founder, Rajeev Samant, quit his job in Silicon Valley and started up the winery with some help from a Californian winemaker.

Before you decide to quit YOUR day-job and open your own winery, let me tell you some interesting wine-facts:-

  • The grapes used for producing wine are different from the regular grapes (table-grapes) we consume.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the colour of wine has little to do with the colour of grapes it is made from. This means, red wine can be made from green/white grapes, just as whites can be made from red/purple grapes. (Read ahead to find out how!)
  • Wines can be as young as 3 weeks and can also be aged for several decades! (Of course, the age makes A LOT OF difference to the quality of the wine and the price that it can command.)
Inside the tank-hall

Inside the tank-hall

Our tour began at the crushing pad where grape-juice is squeezed out of the harvested grapes. Grape-crushing has gone huge technological changes since the basket-press-days of yore. Popular activities like wine-stomping (with bare feet) have lead many to believe that’s an integral part of winemaking, but one can’t be further from the truth. If the thought of dirty, stinky feet romping about in a basket full of grapes makes you wretch at the wine you’re drinking, you can heave a sigh of relief! Most commercially produced wines have hardly any contact with the human-skin.

After extracting the grape-juice, your wine (to-be) is stabilized and filtered inside humongous stainless steel wine-tanks installed in a large, cool room called the tank hall. This is where you decide what wine you will produce! White wines are left as they are; for the reds, the grape-skin and twigs are added to the batch; and for rosé (pink wines), very little red wine is added to the white (mostly in 20-80 or 30-70 ratios) depending on the hue that is desired. Tank halls are also used for “blending” of two wines from different regions or grape-varieties (This is where a  Sauvignon Blanc combines with a Chenin Blanc to become a Chenin Sauvignon).

A wine for every barrel!

A wine for every barrel!

The next step is to “barrel” the wine for its storage. Barrels are just as important as the wines that they store. Sula imports its oak barrels for the wine-maturing process. This stage also helps in “clarifying” the wine so the tannins and other insoluble matter can settle at the bottom. The barrel-room is the last area your wine visits before it’s bottled and shipped to  you.

The tasting room

The tasting room

After giving us a wonderful tour of the winery and regaling us with the fascinating story of how a wine is born, our guide took us to the tasting room and handed us each a wine glass. We were taught the art of tasting a wine. Before one tastes wine, one must know the correct way to hold the glass (by the stem or base of the wine glass, and NOT the bowl) as this impacts your view of the colour and the temperature at which you finally taste it (holding the bowl of the glass heats up the wine and affects the flavour).

After you have your grip in place, you must look at the wine and its colour. The colour reveals a lot about the age of the wine. Young reds have a purplish or bluish tint whereas their mature cousins are deep red or orange. Likewise, new whites are green to light yellow, and they age towards a golden hue.

There's a wine for every occasion!

There’s a wine for every occasion!

After observing your wine, swirl it in the glass to let some air mix with it. Aerating the wine enhances its taste so much so that we now have mechanical and battery operated aerators that are used for pouring wines. After aerating, smell the aroma, take a sip and keep it in your mouth for a while for the flavours to reach you. The gulp that you take after doing “all of this”, will make you realize it is worth the effort. Most novices tend to drink their wine like they would their beer or whisky which is why first-timers rarely like their first wines. After you learn the art of drinking wine, you will concede that wine is a superior alcohol and quite deserving of its price-tag.

My wine-tasting ticket entitled me to taste a total of 8 wines:-

  1. Sula Sauvignon Blanc (white)
  2. Dindori Reserve Shiraz (red)
  3. Sula Zinfandel Rosé (rose)
  4. Sula Riesling (white)
  5. Sula Cabernet Shiraz (blended red)
  6. Sula Brut (sparkling)
  7. Sula Late Harvest Chenin Blanc (dessert wine)
  8. Satori Merlot (red)
The amphitheatre

The amphitheatre

The evening was turning dusky when we were done. I stealthily slipped out of the tasting room as the others soaked themselves in conversations, so I could walk over to the lush amphitheatre behind the buildings. This is where music concerts are held every February during the Sula Fest. After sundown, I explored their store and bought a Rasa Shiraz, their finest vintage red which I could take back to my hotel.

A red and a pink, I've got a pair to drink! ;-)

A red and a pink,
I’ve got a pair to drink! 😉

Dinner was an Italian affair at Little Italy, the first restaurant to open at an Indian vineyard. I downed two more wines with a mushroom starter and a plate of ravioli. People will tell you that the best thing about a food-trip is that you taste with your eyes AND your tastebuds. What you discover on your own is that the tasting first comes with your heart. Your sense organs merely act as tools.

* * *

The night sky of Nashik is markedly clear as it isn’t plagued by a metro’s light-pollution. I took this opportunity to indulge in some stargazing before I bid my goodbyes to Sula.