Keeping aside anxieties and all the pandemic-induced travel woes, I set off on a road trip to Nashik in Maharashtra some weeks back. The idea was to break free from our mundane life of no-help domestic chores and the ever-present fear of the virus.
We were looking for a safe but pleasant stay and Vihang Farmhouse, a standalone bungalow on a private farm, lived up to our expectations. The area, Gangapur road, is a speck of land surrounded by farmlands and some of the most famous vineyards in Nashik, making it a great holiday destination. No virus cases in the near vicinity made things even more stress-free while booking a staycation here.
The farmstay has three rooms, but it can house only one family at a time, adhering to the COVID-19 safety requirements. That only meant one thing: The farmhouse was all ours. 'We' as in my husband, my travel partner for many years, and me. The only other people were the cook and a caretaker who showed up at meals, and if we called for them. They wore masks and gloves to prepare delicious Maharashtrian comfort food. The team of two kept the COVID-19 hygiene protocols in place. As guests, we never felt at risk.
We had a lovely, peaceful break at this place. Outside the window was a large porch where we would often sit out and hear a bulbul call from the Champa tree outside. The view from the room was of this lush green farm laced with vine and tomato fields stretching out to a beautiful lake. And beyond were rising rows of small hills. Early in the morning, the hills looked more far away, as if they were one chain of rolling mist. To me, the biggest attraction was the porch, a space where you could enjoy a morning tea or an evening beer. Here's the cycle we followed: Eat delicious home-cooked meals; play board games; sit with a laptop and work till you feel it's time for an afternoon snooze.
At sundown, we would head up to the vineyards for a quiet stroll. These were open for non-residents too. We always ended up on long walks through vine fields, peeking out at those dramatic dune-like hills by the light of the moon. If you thought vineyards are all about wine and dine, then think again.
The nearby Gangapur Dam is a birding hotspot. The reservoir is girded by grasslands, and attracts thousands of flamingos and other migratory birds. Sometimes over 20,000 are seen at a glance in winters. I read somewhere that the ortolon, a visitor from Europe, was sighted after 28 years in India at the Gangapur Dam in 2002.The Vihang farmhouse is also headquarters to the Nature Conservation Society of Nashik, a group of local nature lovers, wildlife observers, biologists, and conservationists sharing a deep commitment to the conservation of the natural world and wildlife. The best bit is travellers are even welcome to birdwatch and get acquainted with endangered species like the Great Indian Bustard and Lesser Florican.
So one early morning, we decided to relentlessly pursue the call of the birds. We were down on our luck sighting rare species. That said, the common Rufous treepie, Jungle babbler, and parakeets were spotted effortlessly. As we walked along, many small warblers bobbing in and out of branches also made their presence felt.After spending the next five days around Gangapur Road where birds might outnumber humans, I finally plucked up the courage to dine out.
On a quiet lunch at Soma Vine Village, overlooking the sprawling vine fields, getting a whiff of frangipani and letting soft rays of the sun settle on my face, I realised one thing. We don’t always have to go to the extremes of the earth to see breathtaking vistas. Probably it’s time to rediscover our own backyards, close destinations, and country. The pristine green reserves unseen and wilds that are often a stone’s throw away, no matter where we live.
As city folks, we are accustomed to the recurring views of concrete. It is only in discovering the unexplored green corners of our country that we learn to respect nature’s beauty and the joy in coming across these things by chance, and still be able to stay safe in this pandemic of 2020.
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