Monday, January 21, 2013

Holidaying on the Wild Side

A few months ago, we found a long weekend looming large with no travel plans or plans of any other kind. Given that it was just around the corner, we were are at a loss to come up with something interesting that did not require advance planning or flight and hotel reservations. This had been the case for most of the long weekends that had flown by in the last few years and we decided that it was time we got more proactive about planning our mini-breaks. We opened the kids school almanacs and pinpointed the ideal dates, chose travel destinations, made all the necessary bookings and felt mighty pleased with ourselves.

The other factor we wanted to keep in mind was the nature of these holidays. Most of the holidays we have taken in the recent past have either been abroad or cookie-cutter trips like to a beach resort in Goa. We wanted to do something a little different, something that allowed us to give the children new experiences and given that we were looking at breaks of 3-5 days each, they had to be in India.

The Pongal weekend saw us embarking on the first of these planned trips of ours. The destination of choice was Wildnernest, an eco-tourism destination. Reaching their was less than fun - it was a long, winding two-hour drive from the Goa airport, followed by a bone-rattling 10-minute jeep drive off the highway and into the residential part of the property.

It was evening when we got there and we were first taken to our cottage. It was lovely. The cottages are spread out across the property so it almost feels like you are in the woods by yourself. The rooms (we took a 2-room cottage) have large glass windows and when you keep the blinds up, you just have a suffusion of light and greenery. Though fairly rustic and spartan, the rooms were well-appointed, clean and functional - most importantly, a clean toilet with running hot water. This was the view from our deck, just as the sun had set.


After settling in to our digs, we were taken for a brief tour of the property and then we headed to the restaurant where they were airing a wildlife film about the tigers of Bandhavgarh, which Ayaan was entranced by. Dinner followed soon after and it was fantastic. It was a simple buffet comprised of fresh, local ingredients cooked home style but it was some of the best food I have eaten in a while.

The next day, we were went on a boat cruise with these guys in the Goan backwaters. The crew was reasonably knowledgable about the avian life in the area and we managed to see quite a few birds with our binoculars.

The boat ride was quite a novel experience for Tarana who wanted to know why there was soap coming out of the boat (thus revealing herself to be a full-on city kid). She was also  especially taken with the binoculars and spent much of the boat ride in this position:


We also got to see two ends of the technology spectrum in riverine commerce. At one end, we saw these huge coal barges being unloaded with a mechanised life. Just a few metres away, we sailed past teams of boats hard at work at the incredibly labour intensive business of dredging mud from the bottom of the river. Ayaan was equally fascinated by both.

We docked and were driven to the spice plantation in a pick-up. This was one of my cribs with the cruise. There was a typically Indian approach to travel safety - there were no life jackets on the boat and the road travel was all in jeeps and pick-ups. The kids thought it was all wildly adventurous though and expecting western standards of safety precautions would just limit us in our exploration of our own country. So, we followed the age-old advice, kept calm and carried on.

The spice plantation was fun. We went for a guided stroll around the verdant woods and were introduced to a variety of spices in their natural form including cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, allspice, ginger, and a whole host of other stuff. Ayaan was quite engaged but Tarana wasn't too interested in a botany lesson and generally spent her time trampling around, splashing in puddles and trying her luck at convincing us to carry her.


The guided tour was followed by lunch which was a huge spread of delicacies from the Saraswat cuisine. Organic ingredients, fresh seafood and faultless preparation - it all added up to a fantastic meal and despite my resolution to eat light (given the impending return by boat), I stuffed myself to the gills.

The heavy lunch, combined with the harsh afternoon sun, made return journey far less fun. And we were all feeling something like this halfway through:


The clever crew, probably having dealt with this in the past, had kept the best for the last though - the crocodile sightings! Energy levels immediately spiked when the first croc was spotted. It was amazing that the crew was able to see them at all, given how they seemed to blend into the twigs and rocks in their surroundings but I guess these guys have years of experience. Even after they pointed out the crocodile to us, it took us a few minutes to spot it.

Once we got back, the kids were keen to explore the swimming pool. The water was freezing cold though so they spent most of their time dipping their toes in and generally fooling around at the pool side. It was a great place to unwind after a long, tiring day and the pool itself was a gorgeous infinity pool, with a small waterfall at one end and surrounded by trees and greenery on all sides.


The next day, we signed up for the waterfall trek. This was somewhat brave of us since we had been told that it was a 45-minute trek either way over hilly, rocky terrain. I was worried that both the children would have trouble going the distance. As it turned out, I needn't have worried about Ayaan, who turned out to be quite the champion trekker and managed to keep pace with the leader throughout the trek, while we lagged behind the group with Tarana. It was expectedly a bit too much for Tarana and she spent at least half the trek in my arms or on Jai's shoulders.

The waterfall itself was more of a trickle but it was novelty enough for my city-bred kids who were thrilled to bits. There was also a coracle at the bank and we all took turns boating to the waterfall and back. The kids 'helped'.


Not ones to let one trek with a reluctant toddler in tow discourage us, we signed up for another, albeit easier, trek in the evening. After an afternoon nap (Jai and Tarana) and some more poolside chilling (Ayaan and myself), we set out for a short trek up a hill to watch the sunset. Tarana was on Jai's shoulders most of the way, but Ayaan did the brief hike effortlessly. The spot they had picked was lovely and allowed us a bird's eye view of the property, one of its unique features being that it spans three states - Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

As we spent our last evening there, my body reminded me just how unfit I am. I might have lost all the pregnancy weight thanks to the extended maid-less stint I suffered, but my stamina and fitness levels are pretty much at rock bottom. Tarana was carried most of the way so she was unaffected and Jai has been gymming regularly. But even on Ayaan, the only notable effect was a longer and deeper sleep that night. I, on the other hand, had achy thighs for days after. It really brought home to me the need for me to sign up for an organised fitness regimen of some sort.

The next day, it was time to bid goodbye to Wildernest. We said goodbye to the folks we had befriended there. It's amazing how much more you end up interacting with fellow travelers when you don't have television or internet connectivity. Of course, there were some ugly Indian types who blasted their stereo at the poolside and threw one of my kids' toys over the edge of the pool (and did not even bother to apologise - and these were adults). But by and large, our fellow guests were an interesting lot. We even ran into and send some fun hours with the homeopathy doctor we had consulted with back in Mumbai!

Overall, it was a fantastic break and I hope to do this sort of thing much more often. Some time away from this over-connected, over-stimulating city life of ours is just what the doctor ordered.  

18 comments:

  1. Oh wow you came to Wildernest!! Its one of my best finds since I have moved to Goa. I visited most recently in Oct last year and was going to go there over the Pongal weekend, when my dad made an impromptu visit to Goa. But the last time I went there was also a long weekend and I had the misfortune of having those ugly Indian types with entire extended families of drunken uncles and aunties in full saris and salwar kameezes all in the pool, hogging it to themselves, blasting music and totally ruining the otherwise wonderful experience that Wildernest can be. So I decided against it at the very last minute and cancelled out booking as soon as I remembered it was a long weekend.
    Savoi is another great find. We once had out quarterly team evaluations/appraisals there, and the team was more focused on the food than anything else. Which was a welcome distraction form all the serious shop-talk!

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    1. Yeah, the ugly Indian types were a big downside. Though thankfully they were there for only 1 day out of our 3 days there.

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  2. This sounds interesting, because it's different to what is generally associated with Goa. Sounds more like Kerala.

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    1. Yeah, ever person who heard we were going to Goa imagined us relaxing on the beach. This is actually almost not Goa even geographically. Just the entrance to the property is in Goa, the rest is in Karnataka and Maharashtra

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  3. Hi Ro,

    Have been following your blog for a while now. Good to see this post!

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    1. Hey. Thanks for delurking :-)

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  4. Hey Ro, Missed your posts. But what a lovely one this is. Seems like you had such a great time. Fresh in your mind, you've written this so beautifully. Felt like I was there with you!

    Such a breath of fresh air it must have been to be at a place with being connected (!!). Lovely pictures too.

    Good luck on finding more such unique small places that offer you a great getaway from the suffocating city life.

    What did you do with Angel when you were away?

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    1. Awww... thanks. We keep Angel at home in one room. My driver lives downstairs and we give him a key to access only that room to feed and walk her. We tried a kennel but she did not do well there.

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  5. Sounds so incredible! Glad you all had a great time!
    But KB would have been throwing up all the way leading to that place! He gets so motion sick!
    Loved this post!

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    1. That would have been painful. Thankfully, my kids are not prone to motion sickness.

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  6. Ah ok!!! Makes sense...

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  7. Ro, I so enjoyed reading this! It's lovely that you tried a slightly unconventional holiday--and gave us an education in the bargain. :) I'll be sure to tell my friends about Wildernest.

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    1. :-) I recommend it highly

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  8. And hello! :)

    I just subscribed!

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    1. Hello there. Welcome to my humble virtual abode :-)

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  9. Such a beautiful post and lovely location. Must go there some time. Their website has a photo of what looks like a Tarsier. Did you spot any?

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    1. Not a bird expert - spotted many pretty birds, but didn't have the knowhow to identify them. The backwater cruise crew did tell us about birds we saw along the way but they were mostly egrets

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  10. Hi Rohini,

    Was going through your blog and yeah, I loved it, especially the way your goa trip with the kid.. :)
    Would like to have your e-mail id as we have a game that your kid will love and it would be great if you review it for us in your blog. Please mail me when you get time : christo@madratgames.com

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