I’m blessed to have a bunch of water babies for friends. Be it a swimming pool, waterfall or lake, they’ll dive in before you know. Hours will fly, the last drop of booze will be over, but their water sports won’t get over. So when it comes to zeroing in on a picnic spot, it goes without saying that it needs to have a water body around.
Over the years, I’ve mastered the tricks to have as many weekend getaways as I want without burning a hole in my pocket: a. Find a comfortable homestay or a dorm. Reserve the intimacy for your bedroom, b. Get over your OCD (location over luxury, always!) c. Carry your own spirits, soft drinks and snacks (including salads and starters), and d. Befriend the owner of the property and build a good rapport with him to customise your stay.
About 100 kilometres from Mumbai and Pune, situated near the villages of Navghar and Pedli is a campsite that is similar to the ones in Rishikesh. Once you park the car, a 100 metre walk deep into the woods will take you away from the din and bustle of the city. The lush green trees, the rustic ambience, the cocoa-coloured earth beneath bare feet, the rustling of leaves and the chirping of a colony of birds and squirrels engaged in an eternal squabble will heal your bruised soul even as the soft mist drapes itself around you like a blanket.
The Kalekar’s campsite has seven tents pitched on platforms. Equipped with camp cots, sleeping mats covered with bed sheets and pillows, each of these can accommodate four to six people. The campsite also has ample space for larger groups. In the rainy season, it could get slightly suffocating inside the tent, but the plethora of outdoor activities wouldn’t require you to be stay inside for too long. You could swing on a swing on a natural swing, go valley crossing, take a dip in the lake or stand under the mighty dam waterfall. Don’t know how to swim? Well, Mr Kalekar will fetch you a life jacket.
The Kondgaon dam is a leisurely stroll away from the campsite. While the water is fresh and clean, it’s the trash around the place that bothered me so much. Broken glass bottles, thermocol cups and plates, soiled plastic bags, empty gutka sachets and more. I don’t want to turn this piece into an environmentalist’s rant, but the ignorance of ‘educated’ people saddened me deeply. There’s no harm in quaffing while dipping your feet in the water, but it’s a good idea to carry your own garbage bag and encourage others to as well.
Now for the food. Based on the size of your group and your food preferences, Mr Kalekar will customise the menu for you. The campsite also offers a barbecue and bonfire. Authentic Maharashtrian food is served in the common dining area. This time, I skipped dinner binged on the breakfast. The misal and sabudana khichdi scored a perfect ten on my scoreboard. My friends tell me that even the previous night’s chicken and mutter paneer were well-seasoned, but then most of these guys were so inebriated, they couldn’t tell chicken from cat.
Kalekar’s has two common toilet blocks, one each for a set of four tents. Each toilet block has two western style, two Indian style toilets, and two bathrooms with running water. The loos are clean but they leak quite a bit. Also, I wish there was a bin in each loo. They’re imperative, especially during the shark week. The bathrooms are very basic, too. And no, please don’t bother asking for toiletries or a towel or even wrapping yourself in one and running a mini marathon from the bathroom to the tent for that matter. This isn’t a glamping destination. Go home and take a bath instead.
All said and done, the stay at the campsite was memorable. It always is, when you are with a slew of crazy folks who do crazy things when they drink crazy amounts of alcohol. The only two issues we faced at the campsite were the intermittent power in the night and the ravenous mosquitoes. Carry a torch and a mosquito repellent, and you should be sorted. For 1,500 bucks per person, Kalekar’s is a must visit. Just make sure to book the place well in advance.