It is imperative that one must have a plan on Valentine’s Day, especially when it is a weekend. But two years into your marriage, you’ve been on so many romantic dates that zeroing in on a place and then dressing up seems like a herculean task. After scouting around a little bit, I came across a campfire concert in Purushwadi, a village situated 220 kilometres from Mumbai. Even reading about the experience transported me to a pretty, bucolic place spared by the devils of capitalism. Given my rustic palette and compelling urge to explore the unexplored, I made a reservation, without any second thoughts.
The event organised by Grassroutes included a variety of activities, but the travel had to be arranged by us. If you’re planning to attend any of their upcoming events, you have two travel options:
1. Drive down in your own car (this will take about three hours from Thane).
2. Take a train till Kasara and then a local transport to Rajur. At Rajur, Grassroutes will arrange for a local jeep to take you to the location. The jeep will cost you Rs 300 extra for a one-way trip. As far as possible, I suggest you stick to the first option.
After calculating both travel routes, we decided to hit the road in our own car, and I’m glad we did. Although the winding road from Goti to Rajur and Purushwadi is accompanied by astounding scenery, the heat can be quite unforgiving. Start early morning to escape the scorching sun. Post Rajur, we stopped flicking the bevy of social media apps and kissed goodbye to our phone networks. Yes, the best part about Purushwadi is that it doesn’t have network, and trust me, the sheer bliss amidst nature and the warm villagers will make you forget about your phone.
Upon reaching the campsite, the villagers greeted us with plumeria (chafa) flowers and planted a tika on our foreheads, and a Gandhi topi on our crowns. Although it was a sweet gesture, a glass of nimbu paani and a cold water towel would have been great, considering the excruciatingly long drive. The Grassroutes campsite at Purushwadi is basic but clean. The tents are equipped with crisp bed sheets, double blankets and pillows. When it gets too hot inside the tent, you can laze around on the chatais laid out below the tree and read a book in quietude. All three toilets are western in style with wooden seats. They are well-kept at all times and furnished with tissue rolls and green tea hand washes.
By the time we settled down, we realised we were ravenous. Grassroutes team member Benny walked us through a labyrinth of mud houses and escorted us to our host Fasabai’s house. The generous lady served us farm fresh veggies, dal, rotis and rice cooked lovingly on a firewood chulha. She also passed around a fingerbowl to wash our hands. The kind-heartedness of Purushwadi was indeed touching. We plan weeks, sometimes months, before having our folks over. But the villagers from Purushwadi throw open their tiny abodes and cook whatever they can, out of the ingredients available. Most importantly, they’re satisfied in whatever they have. I saw their generosity in their eyes filled to the brim.
One thing I found lacking at this rural holiday was team spirit and organisation. I’m not sure if it was due to the occasion of Valentine’s, but an introductory round wouldn’t have hurt much. Grassroutes leaders Uday, Griselda and Richa did everything in their capacity to help us navigate through the village, but a little sternness would have kept us together as a team, instead of the dispersed duos and trios.
After an hour of relaxing in the tent, we were served a refreshing cup of lemongrass-flavoured tea. Around 4.30 pm, we vaguely divided ourselves into two groups: one headed to the mountain to witness the glorious sunset, the other trekked down to the meandering Kurkundi river to bask in the sorbet colours of twilight. The setting reminded me of the paintings I’d done in my art class in school: Mud houses plastered with cow dung, brown-haired children with perpetually dripping noses, adolescent girls wearing multi-coloured tights under frocks that grew shorter with age, women, with an unpolished yet alluring sexual appeal, with skin that looked and smelt like earth, and men, who toiled in the fields for the whole day, and were drawn homewards as the aroma of zunka bhakar wafted through the air. The river divided our diametrically opposite ways of life.
By the time we got back to our tents, the sky was littered with stars, but it was the crescent moon, that graced the sky, like a chandrakor bindi adorns the face of a Maharashtrian bride. Fasabai had made puranpoli for dinner. The taste was all right, but my Brahmin soul was unable to stomach it without a stream of homemade ghee or milk. Such instances were God’s way of reminding me how blessed I was to have a mother who literally immerses the puranpoli in a dishful of sajuk tup.
Post dinner, Grassroutes surprised us with a whooping hamper neatly wrapped in red net. The contents included a bottle of red wine and plenty of homemade chocolates. My husband had forgotten to get me a gift, but Grassroutes made up for it. The highlight of the night was Zoya’s campfire. As Huffington Post rightly puts it, Zoya’s ‘raw and natural sounds with captivating vocal melodies’ seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Awash in umpteen emotions, the California-based folk singer’s self-composed songs came straight from her heart. Yet after a few songs, I yearned for a Rekha Bhardwaj or Arijit Singh number. In spite of her god-gifted voice, Zoya couldn’t speak or sing in Hindi. The concert got over soon enough, sans any once more shor sharaba of the usual campfire concerts. A little more heart to heart between the performer and the audience would certainly have taken the concert up a few notches.
The temperature dropped drastically during the night, as we freezed below the double blankets. I slept quite well, compared to a few other disastrous nights in the Himalayas. In the morning, the chirping of birds coupled with the golden bars of the sun nudged us from deep sleep. A decent breakfast later, it was time to participate in the village activities that included chopping firewood, pounding rice and grinding it in a stone grinder. This was followed by a mini trek to a nearby lake.
The previous night, we requested Fasabai to prepare some gavathi chicken for us. This cost us an additional 300 bucks, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re a hardcore carnivore. It was all bones and hardly any meat. The gamut of activities, heavy lunch and the scorching afternoon heat left us feeling tired, so we hopped into our cars and formed up a convoy.
It’s already been two days that I’m back to the grind, but the quaint smell of mud, cow dung and villagers lingers on. When I close my eyes in the night, I can see the smiling faces of village kids and their never-ending ‘bye-bye’s. The taste of Fasabai’s fiery groundnut chutney awakens my taste buds. And the sombre night replete with galaxies and crickets still beckons.
Log on to www.grassroutes.co.in for details on upcoming events.