Though sad we were leaving too soon, we were humbled and inspired to chase after our dream of our own farm in the future, though it is hazy and distant, we now know its a definite possibility. I hope someday I update this blog about our farming adventures, though by the time that happens, blogging might not even exist.
Our next stop was at Maachli, a home stay in Parule, in the Malvan region, south Maharashtra.
We climbed down the hills from the Farm of happiness and rode south on the NH66 (again!) towards the coast, passing by valleys and rivers and the green green western ghats.
We hit the coast at the massive Vijaydurg fort, overlooking the ocean. This fort was a Maratha stronghold, one of Shivajis outposts and due to its geography it was impregnable despite many attempts. From there we rode south and reached Malvan for lunch. Malvan is famous for its seafood and our host at the Farm of Happiness, Rahul had recommended that we eat at Chaitanya. They have every kind of sea food on the menu cooked every possible way, but they also have a vegetarian thali, which includes soul kadhi, so I was a happy camper.
To digest the meal better we decided to walk down to the malvan beach. It is a beautiful coconut tree lined coastline with plenty of fishing boats. It was a hot afternoon, there was no one at sight, it was almost as if the town was having a siesta and we were interrupting by watching. We lay down in the sand and were about to take a power nap when a little red scooter sped down the beach, making a rude noise. A young man was pressing on the throttle, forcing the scooter to go faster than it should. He slowed down near the waters edge, and pulled out a giant bag of trash. He hurled it into the water and turned around and sped back up the beach. We were aghast, how can people who are lucky enough to live by the ocean treat it with such disdain. When did we as a civilization misplace our priorities, we clean our homes and wash our cars and don’t care about the lakes oceans and hills that are sustaining us.
Growing up in India, I am used to trash on the roads, I actually navigate through several steaming piles of garbage on my obstacle race to work every day, but somehow that is more acceptable and less disturbing than throwing waste into the ocean, in a pristine coconut tree lined beach.
It was a should I laugh or should I cry moment.
We didn’t feel like staying on the violated beach, and got back on buttercup and rode through beautiful scenery, we were weaving through small hillocks along the ocean, a constant shimmering blue on our right. After a while we turned slightly inland towards Parule, passing a giant new airport in the making for this region. It made no sense to me, as the new airport under construction in North Goa is just 70 KM away.. I wonder what the planning logic was if there was any. I hope it is not competition between two states, trying a sort of infrastructural one-upmanship.
But luckily, we bypased the construction sooner than later and entered the idyllic single road village of Parule. According to good old google maps we had reached maachli, but there was no board, just a non descript house.
However Prathamesh, the young host was expecting us, he had already called us twice to find out when we would reach and waved us in from the porch. After we parked the bike, he led us behind the house, and over a small stream to their misty family plantation.
We had arrived.
They grow beetul nuts, coconuts, bananas and a few spices here and a little above on the hills they have a beautiful mango orchard. The tall beetul nut trees were dense and let in a little light, making you feel like you were in a tropical rain forest forest. There was a lot of moisture in the air and a feeling of mist. The tropical feeling was intensified with mournful langur calls at irregular intervals and the many many bird calls. The langurs gave us auditory accompaniment through our stay but we did not get to see any, adding to the mystery. We saw a lot of birds though. There was a resident cowkal, which lived near the dining area, and would arrogantly strut around without a care in the world, forcing you to move out of its way. It would peck away at food tid bits that had fallen on the ground and when you were there, you knew you were in its territory.
I was suitably impressed at the forest like plantation but the Other turned up his nose, offcourse. Anything but the real thing won’t do for him. Forest snob alert.
Nestled amongst these trees, strategically placed so you can’t see the them from anywhere are the well designed hut like cottages. These are derived from the traditional huts of the region – and hence the name maachli – which means hut. I still find it hard to believe that they built these beautiful sloped roof structures without an architect. The detailing was so perfect. Each cottage has a little verandah and a huge glass wall overlooking the plantations. A high sloped roof keeps it cool and prevents the langurs from visiting you. The toilet is tiled and modern, though getting hot water was a little tricky. I could imagine the working drawings for the building, and as I said still find it hard to believe that an architect was not involved. I think my disbelief stems from the importance I give my profession, but still… they were so well designed !!
Prathamesh’s father was a chemist and post retirement he decided to build a little homestay in their plantation behind their house. It started as one hut, and now I think I have 4 and plans to expand. Prathamesh has a degree in hotel management and runs the place now. He is young, enthusiastic and takes a lot of interest in the guests. But the star of the show is his mother, a divine cook and head of the kitchen. Sitting in her nightie, she would communicate with us through smiles and broken English, while her hands deftly cleaned fish and her assistants ran around busily.
These women run a beautiful kitchen, use fire wood stoves and lay out a lavish spreads at every meal. They use earthenware to cook and the ladles to serve were made out of dried coconut shells. I would love to get some for my kitchen too.
That being said, I would go back to Maachli just for the food.
They serve local fare, which was very exotic to us, rice flour dosas, yellow dhal (lentil) dumplings like idlis, and a deep fried poha with coconut and melt in your mouth jaggery for breakfast, and a no stops buffet for lunch and dinner with horse gram, local greens, rice, chutneys, fried bhajjiyas, prawns , crab and other sea food, millet rotis, and most importantly a jug of soul kadhi. There was also plenty of chai inbetween meals incase you were peckish.
The highlights of the food are
(i) it is particularly delicious, serious competition to all the street food in Gujarat.
(ii) they use a lot of coconut, in the masalas, with the green veggies and as chutneys to accompany the meal, and offcourse the coconut milk concoction at the end of the meal – soul kadhi.
(iii) there is a focus on sea food but they have plenty of vegetarian options, not as just a poor step cousin but a good solid meal. If you have been a vegetarian stuck at a mostly meat restaurant asking them to make you a egg biriyani, you know what I mean. This is the opposite of that.
While the farm of happiness was a homestay that focussed on agro tourism and a wake up call about the way we eat, maachli is one which is about rural tourism and a call to slow down and just be. Both of the hosts have converted their ancestral properties to meaningful, beautiful places which allow people like me a glimpse of another world.
It made my heart ache a little, how I wish the other or I had some ancestral property too, or a rich aunt from a P.G Wodehouse book who would leave us an estate and perhaps a pig or two. But working hard towards our dream perhaps would make it that much sweeter.
We spent our time at maachli mostly by the stream ( when we were not eating that is) getting our feet nibbled by the tiny resident fish, a sort of natural fish pedicure. It was ticklish and soothing at the same time. We would take our chai there and watch the birds, putting our feet in and out of the water.
Prathamesh took us for a plantation walk in the morning, and we were taught that cinnamon and bay leaves are the bark and leaves of the same tree, and got to see a lot of other plants. My favourite was the pepper creeper, I enjoyed plucking the green peppers and popping them into my mouth. It is not as spicy as you would expect, it is a refreshing spice burst.
We peered into the brick well from which came all the water, and saw the largest frogs we had ever seen. These brown speckled creatures were easily a foot long and 9″ wide, and I was so glad that they seemed to have no inclination at all to jump out of the well, and were happy in its cool damp depths.
You can also engage in the farming activities, and plant trees etc with the workers, the beetul nut trees are planted very close to each other and in their shade the spices.
The mango orchard is a short climb away, and is a great place to spend an afternoon in. They have a charpoy and a hammock which beg you to take a nap and it is a great place to read/write or bird watch. We did a bit of everything 🙂
There are a lot of forest patches between plantations, the mountains and the spread out villages so leopard sightings are fairly common, but we didn’t see one, but every walk we took away from the plantation had me scanning the ground and the trees. I think I have already established that I am a scared girl. With so many near misses, I really don’t know how I would react if I were to see a big cat on foot.
The highlight of our stay was the walk/trek Prathamesh took us on to the nearby beach on our last evening. We climbed up behind the plantation, walked through woods, through mountain villages and grasslands, and even saw a cobra basking in the sun on our way. But he was a shy fellow and swiftly disappeared by the time we whipped out our cameras.
Prathamesh has a little book on all the birds of the area and kept pointing out birds to us. When he realised that the other was a wildlife filmmaker by profession, and by proxy I could differentiate the blue of an indian roller from the kingfisher, he stopped telling us names and started bombarding the other with questions and taking copious notes.
The other is a sentimental fool, and if anyone shows interest in natural history he warms upto them like butter on popcorn. So I let them revel in their scientific bromance and walked ahead. It was serene, I was almost alone on a grassy plateau between hills, a gentle breeze playing with my hair. An indian roller glided overhead, brilliant blue wings outstretched. It deftly settled landed on a nearby tree, not one flap of the wings. This was peace.
An hour later we reached a winding vehicular road going down the mountain and could see the sea glistening below us – Bhogwe beach. We hurried down and caught yet another amazing sunset. As luck would have it, it was also a full moon that day, and it rose majestically as the sun set, diametrically opposite each other, amidst roosting gulls and an ethereal light.
Bhogwe beach is crescent shaped, fringed by coconut trees and the mountains on one side and a rough ocean on the other. It is pristine, there was no one except us, but its first resort is under construction. Hopefully we don’t find it in ruins next time we go. I have great hopes for coastal Maharashtra, and a lot of it lies in it staying undiscovered.
Just as we were about to leave, we saw a white headed sea eagle swoop over the tree tops, and lo and behold it settled on a nest on the highest branch of a tall tree sticking out amidst the coconut trees. The other was ecstatic, getting a good look at a sea eagle’s nest is rare, but they apparently nest in the same spot year after year, so he marked down the coordinates and intends to come back and shoot it someday, and hopefully he or she will be there.
The trek is designed to be a 1 way trip to see the sunset, and Prathamesh had arranged for an auto to take us back to maachli by road. This ride will set you back by a couple of 100s, but the trek is worth every penny.
Maachli is a homestay in rural Maharashtra, so there is no bottled water or alcohol. You can get your bottle filled at the kitchen with cool, delicious water through the day. There are shops selling alcohol at the nearby village, 20 mins away, but you mostly get only beer and it is priced above MRP. They also clean the rooms on request, and we forgot to request and ended up making our own bed the second day. The stay and food will cost you a little over 5000rs per day for two people. I think the break up is at 450 rs each for lunch and dinner per person, and 300rs for breakfast. This amounts to 3000rs for food for a couple per day and the rest is for stay. Apart from not missing the amazing food, there is literally no where else to eat nearby so it is best to pick the combined package.
After one last breakfast and a prolonged fish pedicure we packed up and were ready to go to the Chorla Ghats at the border of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka. I was very worried on the availability of soul kadhi there, as it was not really Maharashtra, I was not read y to say good bye yet. But the rest is part of my next post.