The ideal holiday for most includes chilling by the swimming pool without keeping count of the beer, signing up for a signature treatment for an utterly pampering escape to relaxation, all while soaking in the blissful aroma of lavender, patchouli and lemongrass, tripping on dish-scrapingly delicious food – a steamy bowl of paella, cooked crab drizzled in butter garlic sauce or a delectable chocolate mousse tucked under a layer of raspberry sauce, or indulging in the death-defying act of skydiving and feeling nothing but absolute bliss. But given the limited leave, holiday season and most importantly, the budget, you can do just one thing – sign up for a spa, an adventure sport or a food tour.
A hippie at heart and a greedy butterfly by nature, I like to bob from one flower to the other, imbibing as much nectar as I can. I like to travel to villages, interact with the locals and eat food with bare hands under a green canopy. I want the forest and the meadow, the beach and the waterfall – all at once. So do my friends. In the last week of December, five of us, equipped with tents and sleeping bags, hopped into an Innova and decided to travel to five offbeat destinations – a cosy villa in the dense forests of Konkan, an inviting homestay on a pristine beach, a fairytale eco-lodge tucked in the Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve, a virgin coastal stretch and a 200-year-old Wada comprising mud cottages with modern amenities.
Rustic red cottages, sunlight filtering silently through the towering coconut trees, flowers in vibrant red, pastel blue and calming white and the cool gobar floor – the snug villa in Abloli is undoubtedly a writer’s delight. Nestled among plantations of betel nut and turmeric, it has four cottage rooms with attached toilets. Run by a small family, the menu boasts homemade specialities – fish fry, kajuchi usal and chicken curry to puranpoli drizzled in hot ghee, aamras and khichadi. In a world where the buffet system has completely wrecked our ways of eating, I was pleasantly surprised by the way food was served here – salt and pickles on the left, the curries on the right and the bhakri and rice at the centre.
Post lunch, we spent our time lazing on the wooden swing, dipping our feet in the fresh water swimming pool and later proceeded to the breathtakingly beautiful Velneshwar beach for tea. While driving down to the beach, the turquoise water hits your eyes at a turn when you least expect it. The adrenaline rush is similar to the one on a roller coaster or a zip line. The infinite waters shimmer like a million stars and the tall trees sway happily to the symphony of the wind.
A birding enthusiast himself, the owner of the place was kind enough to voluntarily take us on a trail the next day. He has sighted 155 birds on his own property and aims to take the number to 200. We were lucky enough to spot the Great Hornbill, the yellow-footed green pigeon, the common kingfisher, the white-throated kingfisher, the bee-eater and the flycatcher. We also learnt a number of interesting fun facts about each bird. Ravenous, after an hour-long stroll, we headed for breakfast, which comprised fresh ghavans (rice dosas) with coconut chutney and coconut milk. Packed and ready to take on Day 2, we kissed goodbye to this green, earthly haven, promising to return soon.
After travelling for 227 kilometres down the coast, we were greeted with the aroma of Malvani cuisine, tender kingfish, piping hot rice bhakris and spicy solkadhi at a vibrant beach resort. The rooms at this particular resort are basic, so we decided to pitch tents on the concrete sea-facing platform. Open the zip of your tent, and feast on the secluded yet spectacular golden sands. The beach is one of the few safe beaches and the waves aren’t as precarious. A good dip in the sea and a rejuvenating bath later, we stretched our legs out, chugging beer and watching the ships anchored far away, twinkling like neon-coloured fireflies while binging on starters and salads. The highlight of the menu, though, was the cluster of ghee-laden modaks. The next morning, we took a boat ride around a dilapidated fort, a lighthouse and a leviathan rock. A healthy bowl of poha for breakfast and we were ready to explore the dense forest of Dandeli.
The homestay in Dandeli was the indisputable winner among all the homestays. The only sad part – we reached there late afternoon and had less than six hours to walk down the woods. Unlike most properties that groom and beautify the internal environment, the owner of this place lets the nature grow wild. At the eco-lodge, we were welcomed with a warm glass of herbal tea made by boiling fresh herbs from the forest. The homestay has five sprawling cottages with cool interiors. We, however, chose to pitch our tents amidst nature. Once that was done, we were invited for a rejuvenating herbal bath. Replete with fresh, organic herbs, the bath almost felt like mother nature herself was showering me with her earthy love, the way they show in organic soap ads. Just that this was way more rustic, way more relaxing.
The food was clean and healthy – chicken curry, daal, roti, masala rice, omelette and payasam. We rounded off dinner with a lip-smacking kokum drink.
The highlight of our stay was the nature trail with the enthusiastic owner, who spoke endlessly about animals, birds and trees – as if they were his family. He spoke extensively about the adverse effects of the mobile phone on the bees and the destructive human nature. During the trail, he showed us the Sarpagangha, an evergreen, erect glabrous perennial shrub known to treat depression and the touch-me-not plant for piles among other Ayurvedic remedies. “It’s a good thing that people are still unaware of the benefits of certain plants,” he smirked.
What really appealed to me about the owner was his colossal knowledge, his humble nature and his gracious smile – as if he was born and nurtured by the soil he has devoted himself to. As I write this, I close my eyes and dream about the exhilarating drive to this slice of heaven – its crisp air, soft grass, warm bonfire and dewy mornings. It’s one place where I’ve left a piece of my heart and I wouldn’t want it back. Not in this lifetime, not in any other.
After much effort, we convinced ourselves to leave the homestay. For me, it was as unnerving as pulling myself out of the arms of a lover. But the journey was long, and we had to get going at once. We travelled for an entire day – through Belgavi, Kolhapur and the eerie Amba ghat in the night to reach a comfortable hotel at another coastal beach. While the hotel was like any other, the glittering beach was straight out of a Hollywood movie – white sand, blue water and hypnotic hues. The beach reminded me of a quote by the America novelist Zora Neale Hurston: “Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.” Even the most unspoilt beach I’ve been to, I’ve had to crop the plastic out of the pictures – a worn out sneaker here, a broken beer bottle there, a chocolate wrapper here, a squeezed lemon there. But his one was virgin, as if God just created it. We spent the last morning of the year gathering shells in a myriad shapes, sizes, colours and textures; shells once inhabited by creatures, now cracked, chipped and bruised like a ramshackle palace, watching the tiny crabs scampering into tinier holes bubbling with water, like the housewife who forgot about the milk boiling on the stove, and dreaming of the exotic adventures that lay ahead of us.
This year, we decided to bring in the New Year at a homestay located at Tural, instead of a club. Run by a city couple who have now made this old ancestral property their permanent home, the rustic destination rekindles the memories of bygone era. The stay facilities are modern and the cuisine is a reminder of your grandmother’s unique delicacies. The open nature invites you to explore umpteen unseen wonders and an opportunity to seek solace and reconnect with yourself. The eco-friendly cottages exude a peculiar Konkan vibe and are embellished with coloured glass bottles and Warli art. From the mirrors to the traditional sari curtains, each element of this place has a vintage feel. From observing the multitude varieties of flowers and wolfing down a plate of modaks to soaking in serenity on the machan, there’s so much to do. And if you still get bored, drive down to the backwaters for a boat ride in the evening and keep your eyes on the road lest you spot a leopard like we did.
After a good night’s sleep, the next day we were homeward-bound, back to social media, the pollution and the turbulent cosmopolitan, secretly wishing to warm our hearts in warmer homestays in the days to come.
Want to embark on a budget coastal trip? Get your leave approved while we put together your itinerary. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more details!