The Much Awaited Start.

Travelling, it leaves you speechless,

Then turns you into a storyteller.

-Ibn Battuta

This personifies my life. If you would ask me 6 months back to describe myself, I would be silent. I did not know how to; before I started travelling. Once you start travelling, it turns the most silent lambs into great storytellers. Travelling liberates you. When you travel to a particular place, you are mesmerised; by the beauty, the simplicity and by travel itself. You have no words to explain how you feel, what you think. But once you are back home, you have a bagful of memories and a dictionary full of words which get poured out and get stitched into a nice woven story. A story, where you can relate to every part; you are transported to another world and live that journey all over again.

Nowadays, an entire weekend off from work is a miracle. Everyone is so busy gathering brownie points for that one good appraisal and that one much needed promotion, we forget that all this “little extra effort” is not going to last us a lifetime. What will last are the memories we make, the places we travel and the love we get. We forget that the best investment one can buy is an investment in travel. Your pockets may be lighter but your hearts will be way richer when you travel. Because you learn much more than when you sit in your office cubicle, you expand your horizons, you see the beautiful world around you and not just laptops and people working like machines. You see diversity, you experience the different cultures which in my opinion is the best education one could ever get.

Back to my story. I was working day and night thanks to a workaholic team and being the junior most team member I had no say in the work timings. Come to work when the boss says and leave when the boss allows. This meant a 6 day tiring week working for 12 to 15 hours on an average. All the Sundays were spent lazing around trying to relax my fatigued body. But that wasn’t helping much. So it had been a very hectic month. The first weekend of the next month was supposed to be a complete holiday for the team. No one was supposed to work for the entire weekend. And this came as a refreshing break.

I did not waste a single moment and started searching for options to feed my wanderlust. Everyone staying in and around Mumbai, India knows that the most travelled destination for a weekend is Lonavala (Lonavala is a popular hill station around 80 kms away from Mumbai). So, everyone’s been there and done that. Thus I wanted to do something offbeat. Something that is not first on your travel list. Something that no one thinks of for a weekend away. A few months back, while whiling away sometime on Facebook, I had come across this Camping Company called ‘Big Red Tent’. I quickly contacted them as offbeat travel was always on my mind. All bookings done promptly and payments made within the next 2 days, we were ready to pack our bags and do something which we had never done before.

A little about this company. Big Red Tent (BRT) is a 8 year young company that has been promoting and encouraging city folk to connect with nature and trade technological dependence for the divine connection with nature and more so with our inner self. They currently have 4 campgrounds all near Mumbai and well connected by road (namely, Vashind, Karnala, Khopoli and Karjat). A beautiful way to connect with nature and discover how small a part we occupy in this enormous world is a very wonderful feeling. We decided on the Vashind campground because that was accessible by local train and none of us had a car. Here is their website. http://bigredtent.in/

Finally, the Saturday arrived. We were to leave from Dadar, a prominent transit hub in Central Mumbai and the BRT coordinators had told us to reach the campground by 4. The journey from Dadar to Vashind takes around and hour and a half by train. I and 4 of my girl friends took a local train from Dadar around 2 in the afternoon. Once we left the city, the view outside the train changed from the cramped buildings to hills. The polluted air of the city had transformed into fresh air on the outskirts and that was very refreshing.  BRT arranged the transport from Vashind station till the campground (at a cost of Rs.300 per trip). Our connect with nature began at the Vashind station itself. Right on the railway overbridge was a monkey sitting and lazing around, observing passersby. I could not take a picture as monkeys are reputed for snatching things and jumping on people and we all were very scared to go anywhere near him. As we walked down the overbridge, the mini van was waiting for us to take us to the campground.

A small road with tall bushes on one side and a river on the other, the drive to the Vashind campground was a mere 15 minute one and we are definitely giving it a miss the next time we go and would love to walk down that road to enjoy the journey. The village where the campsite is located is called Bhatsai. It is called so as it is located on the banks of river Bhatsa. A huge campground enveloped with towering trees, a small house for cooking meals and storing other necessities for the campers, welcomed us with open hands and branches. Apart from this small house, it’s just the campers and nature and of course the tents.

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We met the lovely host, Mr. Wayne Brown, who allotted us our tents. The beauty of the place was already enthralling us. The gigantic trees, the silent conversation of the nature, the calm of the river and chirping of the birds, all was perfectly blended to make our weekend the most memorable one. We were surprised to see really spacious tents. Clean, nicely pitched and well equipped with a mattress and the sleeping bag, it was spacious enough to fit 3 people comfortably. After freshening up, we headed out in the ‘meals area’ for our evening tea. We enjoyed our evening tea with snacks I had packed from home. Enjoying the hot tea in the woods and the chirping birds (including us) was an out of the world experience. The evening brought cool winds as we chilled on the river bank and watched the glorious sunset. The sunset gave us warmth and the winds sent a shiver in our bodies. The birds returning to their nests, the sun resting for the day in our part of the world, it was surreal.

I believe, the more you travel, the more it helps you think. To think how busy we are to notice the little joys of life. To think how we need a break every once in a while. To think how all of life, the birds, the trees, the animals are so much in sync and we, so out of sync. The connection with nature is divine. You feel closer to yourself than ever before. Nature liberates you. You realize you occupy such a tiny place in this universe. Where humans think they are the most superior than any other living being, nature brings you down on the ground making you realize that you are nowhere close to superior.

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We did not realize that we had spent more than 3 hours lazing around the river and Mr. Brown had already informed us about the barbeque being prepped for us. Oh! Did I mention? There was barbeque dinner. Lip smacking chicken tandoori, barbequed mushrooms, spicy jacket potatoes, assorted vegetables charred to perfection and add to that the delicious rice and dal (lentil curry) served with pickle and papad was the yummiest meal I had had in a long time while on a trip. After filling our tummies with the super delicious food, we geared up for a relaxing nature trail. We roamed around the area, witnessed different insects, caterpillars, spiders, also spotted a snake skin shed just a few hours before we arrived. This was right behind where our tents were pitched. The snake was a rat snake and there was nothing to fear as they are non-venomous. Although, the shed skin was about 5 – 6 ft long, long enough to freak us out a little.

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By the time we returned from the trail, the camp fire was lit and we were given mats to sit around it. The warmth of the fire and the chill of the weather, combined with clear skies filled with millions of stars was a scene completely out of our dreams. The best night ever. Add to that the stories of all the trips the other host, Mr. Ritesh Kadam (who had accompanied us for the trail), had done throughout the world was the perfect cherry on the cake. What a wonderful night it was turning out to be! You feel more at home when the hosts join you in your fun and you feel on top of the world when he says, he is loving your company. Serene outdoors, cold winters, starry nights and awesome company, every moment was adding a new joy in our lives. He shared his experience in camping and the funny stories of other campers, while listening to our senseless jokes. Well, he said they were very funny and I hope he wasn’t being sarcastic. You are a sweetheart, Ritesh!

Have you ever slept by the campfire, hearing just the river flow by and see millions of stars? You should! It’s trippier than any other form of intoxication, I believe. It sends you in a trance where you feel like you are floating in air around these stars, feeling the warmth of the fire and the calmness of the river all at the same time. Oh! And guess, what we saw!! A shooting star!! Best feeling ever. If you have never seen a shooting star, you should know two things mainly. 1) It does not last as long as shown in movies and 2) It takes a lot of patience to find one. We started the star tripping (as it was nowhere close to star gazing) around 10 and waited for more than 4 hours to witness that shooting star. It was amazing. The wait was totally worth it.

With memories enough to last for a lifetime along with the scrumptious dinner, the shed skin and the shooting star, we retired for the day hoping for an even better morning. And we were blessed. We woke up to the chirping birds and surprisingly all of us were up by 7am which is very early for a Sunday for anyone of us. But the freshness of the place and the beauty of the morning, we were delighted to be up so early. I had woken up a little earlier and witnessed a stunning sunrise. The blissful morning, the cold steady wind and the warmth of the golden sunlight, I was amazed at the balance nature maintains every moment. I roamed around the entire campsite alone to just breathe in the fresh air, enjoying the sounds of the birds in the company of the trees.

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We whiled away our time besides the river in the morning too. The misty river flowing at its own sweet speed making us fabulous spectators of its glory. The first sunrays falling right on it and playing hide and seek with the mist was a delightful sight. All that was needed to make the morning perfect was a hot cup of strong coffee. And there it was. The helpers there, came with our hot coffee to make the moment magical. Enjoying our coffee at the banks of a river with fresh air to breathe and a soothing sight to see, what more can a tired corporate soul ask for. A delicious breakfast you say! And it was ready. Perfectly cooked poha, mildly spiced egg omelets and bread butter was served to us amidst the woods where picnic tables were placed. As Winna Efendi rightly says and I second the thought, “Most of the times, beauty lies in the simplest of things.”

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Our trip was coming to an end. We hoped it did not. We had never enjoyed more in our lives. It was so much better than the good old Lonavala and the friendly neighborhood Mahabaleshwar. We packed our bags and left our tents waiting for our van to come drop us to the station. The hosts spent some time with us telling us about their future plans for developing the campsite, when they mentioned about volunteer camping. Now, volunteer tourism is a well known concept, where you help and develop the place while enjoying your stay there. Like, in Himachal, you can learn and help an organic farmer, in Ladakh, teach English to the young kids and enjoy a free stay at the teacher’s place there. There are plenty of options. The good part, travel expenditure reduces drastically, the better part, you pass on your skills and knowledge. If you really want to feel satisfied about your life, I think the best way is to give back. All of us must give back to the society we live in. We owe it that. I urge all fellow travelers to take on volunteer tourism and see the world change. Be the change you want to see. Take things in your own hands and give back as much as you can. At the end of life, it will leave you content. Content that you could pass on your knowledge and your experience to the society, in return enriching your own self.

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So coming back to the campsite, we discussed how we could help by volunteering at the campsite and would love to jump at any opportunity they would give us. Not much later after this hearty discussion, our van arrived and with a heavy heart we bid goodbye to our lovely hosts and promised to return soon.

IMG_9844D(Us with Ritesh (standing) and Wayne (seated))

I could sum up the entire trip in the below lines which I wrote right after I reached home, my physical self was at home, my heart still at the camp.

“When the chirping of the birds was our alarm clock,

The morning chore was to lay beside the calm river.

The only hurry was to flow with the fast moving mist

The only worry was that the day was passing too quickly.”

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At the beginning of the blog, I said now I can describe myself extensively, but Roman Payne has written a few lines which describe me better than I would ever describe myself.

“She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.”

Until my next trip, Happy travelusting!

A few more photos from the amazing experience.

IMG_9756D(Kayaking is one of the activities you can engage in at the camp, swimming in the river being the other)

IMG_9274D(Me and my friends posing by the nature)

IMG_9318D(Can not get enough of the tents)

IMG_9334D(Evening bliss)

IMG_9253DIMG_9268D(Bhatsa river)

IMG_9406D(The birds returning home at sunset)

IMG_9591D(The fishermen at work)

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “The Much Awaited Start.

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