One month at Chorla

We decided to get married on the 12th of December but  faced obstacle after obstacle. We had battled my parents for their approval for over two years, and then the chief minister of Tamil Nadu died 5 days before our wedding. I held on with bated breath but the city was calm, life moved on. Phew!! But all that paled in comparison to the cyclone Vardah that brought the city to its knees on the 12th. We had invited 40 people for our made up ceremony and lunch at a beautiful bungalow in Chennai called the Luz house. I don’t know how but all 40 turned up including my pregnant best friend and our friends with kids… we entered the premises and two trees fell at the entrance locking us all in.
My pregnant best friend, a multi tasking perfectionist preceded as the high priestess and as we took our vows – the winds howled outside and the doors and windows rattled dangerously. We later found out that the wind speeds were above 120 kM/hr and the city lost over 800 trees.
As the Other’s mentor/father figure put it we stood against mother and nature, but we did it. We tied the knot on our own terms, or rather knots. It is Indian custom for the man to tie a thali (a yellow thread which has over the years manifested itself into a gold chain with pendants of religious significance as well as symbols of virility and male fertility – and off course the thicker the chain the bigger the pendant, the happier the marriage) around the woman’s neck and she wears it as a visible symbol of marriage all her life.  We didn’t want any thread like that, but his parents kept wearing us down till we agreed to a thin gold chain, no pendants but our condition was that both of us tie thalis for each other, and we did. So the Other I think is probably the first or atleast one of the few men who has a thali, and is proud of it. He even felt bad to take it off when we embarked on this trip :).
So our wedding was everything we wanted – a non religious ceremony which even included planting a tree with a stormy backdrop. It was remarkable, and luckily everyone got home safe and we live to reminiscence about an unforgettable day.
One month later we woke up in peace to a misty morning, many birds chirping and distant echoes of langurs in the thick green plantation at Maachli, south Maharashtra.
As I mentioned in my previous post on Maachli , the best part there was the food, and after another scrumptious wood fire cooked breakfast we were on our way to the Chorla Ghats to celebrate one month since vardah.
Chorla Ghats are a particularly scenic portion of the Western Ghats at the Sahayadri range, around the area where it moves a little inland and circumvents Goa on its journey south. This portion of the Ghats is bordered by Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, is thickly forested and has a fair share of wildlife. We were staying at a place called Wildernest, which is nestled amongst the hills, with an infinity pool that overlooks the valley. Both of us had never been in an infinity pool before and were stoked.
Wildernest is a three hour ride from Parule, but as it is especially scenic you will tend to stop and take in the scenery and/or a lot of photos. Can you do one without the other anymore, aren’t we always whipping out our phones before taking in the place ? It was one of the repeated arguments I had/have with the Other, I would take a few photos too, but then I would settle down to watch the sunset or whatever it was we were watching, but he just can’t stop clicking. Several of the amazing sunsets we saw were spent with him behind the camera and me watching it alone. I am not complaining, there was still a companionable silence, and I enjoy solitude, but I do feel he misses out. The worst part is he barely ever looks at the pictures afterwards. I really believe you experience a place far less when all you do is take pictures, but to each his/her own. I will save my rant on selfies for the next post.
We took 4 hours to reach wildernest, including a tea stop. This route weaves in an out of Maharashtra, dipping into Goa every now and then in and then out again. It gave us a bit of a thrill as we passed a welcome to Maharshtra board and in 5 minutes a welcome to Goa board and so on and so forth.
The road mostly took us through the Ghats without a village in sight, so we were hard pressed for our customary chai break. More than the chai, we loved stopping at obscure villages, watching and talking to the locals and most importantly we needed to stretch after 60-90 minutes on the bike to prevent our bums from getting sore.
A good two hours into the ride we finally spotted a departmental store run by a nightie clad woman and her young preteen daughter. In this part of the country, wearing nighties as regular every day clothes seemed to be the norm, even to the work place. I didn’t see our host at maachli wear anything else. I could see why, it is airy, looks comfortable and hides all your bits. Some of them even came with spruced up lace yokes.
We saw this new fashion phenomenon of nighties taking over the streets and public space through our trip, and when we ended it at the Other’s grandmother’s place, we found that she was a recent happy convert too. Close to 90, she didn’t have to bother with tying a saree with her stiff fingers and failing eyesight, except while going to church.  She even asked me if I wanted one.
That being said I don’t think I could convert, I have an unexplainable  mental block against that garment.
The shop sold everything from batteries and brooms to brinjals but didn’t have tea. However they knew we were travelers and amidst giggles at a private joke about us I am sure, they kindly offered to make us some tea from their pantry. One of the shop shelves opened to reveal a tiny stove and kettle and soon it was bubbling away merrily and we were sipping hot brew and making our plans.
Post tea we entered a winding section of the ghats and started to climb up, and we passed the Anjunem Lake. A beautiful blue glistening amidst the hills, like a jewel.
Prathamesh, our host at maachli had been to wildernest before and warned us earlier that we would not have connectivity so learning from our past mistakes we saved the route map offline. Maachli itself has poor intermittent connectivity and once you cross the Anjunem Lake, you once again enter a dark zone of no connectivity. This was our last stop in Maharashtra and except for Bombay we had little or no connectivity every where else. I loved it. Back home I am on my computer all the time at work, answering mails on my phone when I am not at work or catching up with my inner circle on whatsapp and checking facebook instagram and or reading blogs and articles.
This was a nice change. I didn’t wake up and reach for my phone, I didn’t even know where it was half the time. And as a disclaimer,  I am not a unromantic phone addicted person – the Other is a morning person with a capital M, so I can never wake up and reach for him. No matter how late we sleep, and no matter how much he drinks the previous day, he will start to get restless at 5:00 am and be out of bed at 6:00.
I digress… back to the trip
The road grew more winding, shaded completely by trees on either side for a patch, filtered sunlight making patterns on the road and suddenly opening up to a stunning view of the folding mountains and its deep valleys.
Chorla Ghats
Just a few minutes before reaching wildernest, at the last but one bend, we saw a bunch of bikers who had stopped to tend to one off their bikes. They were all on Indians. This is the other’s dream bike. I doubt we will ever get one, it costs as much as 20,00,000 INR, which is 6 years of rent for the house we currently stay in!.. But he gawked and drooled and probably dreamed his foolish dreams (muahhahaha).
When ever we crossed other riders this trip, they would wave, raise their hands or flash a peace sign as we passed each other. They would be a lot of excitement and a strong sense of fraternity. Mostly they were in large groups of 15-20 bikes and we were just one, but they would all wave / salute one after the other. Initially I found it silly, but 25 days into the trip, I had come to look forward to it and enjoy it.
We however didn’t see another girl on any of the bikes, unless she was well disguised. Made me feel a little special :).
But the guys on the Indians, they were different, they had a car following them with an in-house mechanic, they ignored us and the other’s unabashed staring, they were too cool for us. I guess there exists a certain bike hierarchy, because all the other bikers so far were on Royal Enfields like us or other local bikes. On the last leg of our journey we again ran into a bunch of guys on superbikes and they turned up their noses (helmets in this case) and ignored us too… my hand was paused at mid wave and I had to pretend to adjust my helmet when I realised they weren’t going to wave. Everything including biking has social strata !!
A couple of more tree lined hair pin bends later we were at the entrance of Wildernest, greeted by their staff in camafloauge shorts and shirts.
We had to park our bike at the entrance and were then ushered onto their jeeps, as private vehicles are not allowed beyond this point. The jeep trundled down a mud path through dense bushes and shrubs and deposited us at the reception a KM inside a densely wooded campus.
We checked in were taken on a tour by a rather nice young man who after giving us a welcome drink of Kokum juice, showing us all the amenities and giving us the list of activities dropped us at our room.
Wildernest is the kind of resort which caters to everyone, families, couples, groups of friends, it has got the right mix of everything. You however have to be quite fit to stay here as it is quite a walk from any of the cottages to the pool and dining area and a quite a climb to some of the cottages.
The climb to our cottage
If you like curated vacations, they also have activities round the clock  from birdwatching before breakfast, a morning trek between breakfast and lunch, afternoon mehendi between lunch and tea, a sunset walk and a cultural programme before dinner. We are not fond of curated tours, and decided to go for the morning trek as it was three hours long and took you to a hidden waterfall and skipped the rest to enjoy the pool and ghats.
Wildernest offers valley view cottages for 8000 Rs a couple including three meals and forest view cottages for 7000 rs. I picked the forest view hoping to see a lot of birds, as we would anyway get our fill of the valley from the pool. We weren’t disappointed. Orange headed thrushes hopped in front of us in the path way, and we even saw a bright scarlet bird the other couldn’t recognise.
The bird we couldn’t identify
There are langurs, and other smaller mammals popular in this region and off course it is leopard country. Though the cottages are arranged in a row, one after the other, they are mirrored so that when you are in them you cant see anything but the woods. The cottages have a lovely veranda with two easy chairs. We spent quite a bit of the night here, nursing our drinks and listening to the sounds of the forest, alive with the buzz of insects. Our veranda was also right next to a tree where langurs roosted and we got to hear and see them first thing in the morning. The other was telling me that sometimes leopards would stand below trees and roar, and a sleeping langur would wake up and fall down in fright – easy dinner, and something I would not want to witness for sure.
 Three sides of the cottage was  glass, allowing you to experience the forest from all around and there is a nice tiled toilet and shower on the fourth side.
 After a little rest we rushed to the pool and got ourselves a couple of beers. As I said earlier, this was the first time either of us were experiencing an infinity pool and it was everything I expected. The view was amazing, the water extended out to the valley and the valley disappeared into a misty horizon. You just can’t see where it ends. The only downside was that the water was icy cold.
afternoons by the infinity pool
The pool is designed to resemble a natural pool, so it doesn’t have tiles and slopes in from the ends without steps.  So you walk into the water rather than climb down steps and I took forever to do that.. treading the icy water slowly – freezing – pausing – and inching forward. The other watched me in amusement, took a swig of his beer and dived right in to shake the cold off in his usual style. I just don’t know how he does it.  We had the pool to ourselves for a while, so we hogged the view, swam a few laps to build up our appetite for lunch.
We were then joined by an elderly russian couple. They were adorable, the woman posed at various points, pouting and flouting and he dutifully took pictures. They must have been in their late 60’s but had so much life in them. They spoke no English, but we had a laugh about something and they took some pictures of us at well.
Celebrating one month since Vardah
Post lunch though, the pool was taken over by a large group of Russians, who were loud and rowdy, as most large groups tend to be. We retreated to a shaded sunbed and enjoyed the view, our beers and people watched at the same time. There were quieter couples on the sun beds, some chatting and others napping. There was a Indian father and his son in the pool. The son was confined to the shallow edges, while the father swam laps wearing scuba gear. It was surreal. Between blonde women with cheetah printed swimsuits and gigantic Russian men snowballing into the pool, there was an Indian man determined to do laps with snorkeling gear on –  I mean the googles, mouthpiece and flippers. It was surreal.
This was so surreal we decided to take an afternoon nap.
They offer a susnet walk, which we skipped and dived back into the pool. I think a lot of people went for the walk, for the pool was empty, and as the sun set int othe valley, it painted the sky with many many shades of orange. A sky so orange you wanted to lick it.
 One thing we noticed at Wildernest was that apart from us and  a couple of other Indians, the rest of the guests were Russians. No Americans, Europeans or Australians. I wonder what this phenomenon is, why are there only Russian tourists apart from Indians here, where are all the others??
As we got friendly and spoke to some of them, the first old couple being our favourite, they told us that for most of them it was their second or third trip to India. They had special flights to Goa which were just 5 hours long and many tour operators who custom made packages. They said they came just for the sun.
We spent the evening under the stars at the cute outdoor bar with coconut trunks doubling up as stools. As I was going through the menu I noticed that they served alcohol in 2 measures
(i) a large / double / 60ml
(ii) I don’t know what to call it, a sextuple ? but a drink of 180ml.
I asked the charming young bartender who was doing this as a part time job till he got into the army how you were expected to drink 180ml of alcohol as one drink, and he said – its for the Russians mam. They like to drink 180ml of old monk (local indian rum, and one of our favourite drinks) like that That is my one night’s alcohol in one drink ! GULP !!
The influx of Russians had its influence, on the bar but not on the food. They served local food – buffet style for every meal. Maharashtrian bakri, rice, greens, lentils as well as some seafood and chicken/mutton and most importantly soul kadhi. And once again it was amazing. My favourite part of the meal was their range of pickles, podis (powders) and condiments.
nom nom nom
I was greedy, I wanted to taste everything, I ate far more than I should – and I think I would amount one kg of the 4 gained in this holiday to wildernest. For lunch however they served another version of soul kadhi without coconut milk, which was just kokum juice and some spices. It is a poor cousin, a very very poor cousin of the real thing. Don’t try it.
 The dining area overlooks the green valley and has a nice open area which is perfect for breakfast and lunch – you eat with the view, watching monkeys loop gracefully in the trees above you and birds tentatively pecking on fallen crumbs on the floor near you, ever watchful –  flying away at the slightest movement.
As we had spent a good portion of the night in the bar and then carried on drinking on our verandah, ( we were celebrating after all), so I woke up late. The other true to his form had already been on a walk and spotted 6 different types of birds. He would run in now and then and rattle of some natural history gyan excitedly but all I could do was grunt and go back to sleep. By the time I woke up, the sun was up and there was not much chance of spotting birds so we went down to breakfast – which was top notch again. I am officially a big fan of maharashtrian food. Post breakfast we set off on the trek to a hidden waterfall, which was actually in Karnataka. It was us, an aspiring Indian wildlife enthusiast with a giant camera, 4 Russians from the loud group, including the two who refused to wear shirts (even in the restaurant), 2 young Russian couples, a few other Russians and the Indian family of the snorkeling in the swimming pool fame. We followed the guide down a rocky path in the forest. I was enjoying myself. We spotted leopard pug marks, and bear paw prints and nests and spider webs and other lovely things. The light filtered in through the green canopy as thin beams, and everything it caught in its way glittered, leaves, rocks and bark. I was mesmerised.
The trek
The other decided to be a snob and acted like he was too cool for curated walks in the forest. It was for lesser mortals like me who dont have the privilege of having a national park as my office. But despite his annoying attitude I enjoyed the trek. An hour and half of clambering over rocks led us to a an almost dry stream, with giant rocks.
The dry stream – the trek is closed during monsoon when the stream is full
You have to clamber over these on all fours at times to reach a beautiful waterfall and pool. The water was too cold to swim in, but you can put your feet in or go on a little boat ride on a coracle. The guide gave us a bit of time to enjoy the place, we went on a boat ride and took in the view before we started the climb back.
The secret waterfall
Even the forest snob was impressed
Though we were tired from the trek, it was time for us to leave. Goodbye Maharashtra, you have been most kind, now it is time for some Goa.

One thought on “One month at Chorla”

  1. Lovely! The picture of you two in the infinity pool is worth framing. Looks like a perfect moment! You have chosen such beautiful places to stay at. My kind of places.. Your blog is going to be valuable reference for me!

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