A tunnel of green welcomes you as you enter the gates of Hideout Farm. My driver looked around suspiciously, not at all convinced that this was my intended destination. The end of the driveway opened out into a large parking space, with steps leading up to the residential area. Much to my delight three desi dogs greeted me with loud barks as I ascended the short flight of stairs. “Welcome to our beautiful home” – they seemed to say and I couldn’t agree more about the ‘beautiful’ part. Everywhere I looked I saw a web of trees, flowers and creepers – it was as though I’d stepped into a rainforest.
Hemant Chhabra bought this property 29 years ago when there was just one tree on it. Along with his wife Sangeeta and their children, Anicca, Aditya and Ayaana, he’s turned this once barren land into an emerald oasis. Set in Zadapoli village in Maharashta’s Palghar district, Hideout Farm is a roughly two-hour drive from Mumbai’s international airport. It was conceived as a countryside haven in which adults and kids could reconnect with nature. How? You may ask. Well, for one, there’s no TV here. You’re surrounded by acres of organic farmland and lush forest where you’ll inevitably come in contact with a variety of fauna, (and not necessarily the family’s pets – three dogs and three cats).
Sangeeta Chhabra greeted me with a warm hug and showed me to my room. The room was simple with a compact mud flooring, exposed brick walls and a bed with a mosquito net. The rooms at Hideout don’t have windows. Instead, the balcony opens up to the forest. For privacy, you do have chicks or curtains. This was a novel concept for me and I rushed to the balcony to survey the verdure just over an arm’s length away.
A recent monsoon shower had washed the leaves leaving them shiny, with the breeze pushing the water droplets gently to the forest floor. I turned to find two frogs staring back at me from different corners of my room. I found this quite amusing, and couldn’t resist asking one whether he’d turn into a prince if I kissed him. Nevertheless, I zipped up my strolley in case one of my amphibious roommates decided to accompany me home. They didn’t bother me for the rest of my stay.
Since there is no insulation in the rooms, they don’t have air conditioners. Nor are they needed thanks to the dense tree cover that creates a micro-climate around the farm that is a few degrees cooler than the city. If you want to get even closer with nature, the Chhabras provide the option of camping, weather permitting, or staying in French tents. Remember to bring your own toiletries along with insect repellant, regardless of the accommodation you choose for the duration of your stay. I’ll admit I was a little unsettled on my first night once I switched off the lights. It was pitch dark, not something I’m used to after years of living in a city, but this also lulled me into a deep sleep. Bear in mind that everything is run on solar power here, so remember to turn off the lights when you’re not in your room, and don’t take endless hot showers.
I joined the family and other guests for lunch that afternoon. The kitchen, dining and living room are basically one continuous space, open on four sides – very much like a large gazebo. The well-equipped modern kitchen at one end has all that is required to whip up everything from healthy smoothies for breakfast to roasted veggies for dinner. Nearby is a traditional chullah, on which Aditya prepared a delicious vegetarian biryani for dinner one night. Hideout is a family home and the guests are encouraged to wash their own plates and throw trash into specific bins meant for biodegradable and non-biode-gradable waste. Organic materials such as vegetable cuttings and fruit peel are collected and fed to cows that live on the property.
Over the course of the meal Hemant told me one of their main aims is to invite masters from various holistic healing disciplines, such Yoga, Reiki and Emotional Freedom Technique, to conduct workshops at the farm. This certainly made sense to me since I couldn’t think of a better environment to improve one’s mental and emotional well-being, far from the hustle and bustle of urban life. City dwellers can try their hand at farming, check out the waterfalls nearby (which I did on my first evening), go for a short trek, or even visit local craftsmen, or the weekly haat. Of course you could also just lie back with a book, with nothing but the sound of the common hawk cuckoo, whose repeated calls sound like the phrase ‘brain fever’, punctuating the silence.
Zadapoli village is home to Warli tribals, who’ve lived in harmony with nature for centuries. When the Chhabra family moved here lock, stock and barrel, they didn’t choose to remain isolated in their farm-house. Instead they became part of the village’s social fabric. During a walk around the hamlet with Hemant one evening, I realised he knew every resident, often stopping to chat with them. Their easy camaraderie was evident and the villagers in turn had ready smiles and invited us into their homes. Apart from one, all houses in the village are now brick structures. In years past, houses were made with compacted mud and reeds. That last mud hut, interestingly, is at Hideout. Hemant, in his quest to preserve old customs and traditions, convinced the owner to leave it standing, by offering him rent. It now stands next to a modern dwelling where the family lives.
Hemant and Sangeeta, along with their journalist friend Simona, founded a charity initiative called The Bicycle Project in November 2008. They collect old or unused bicycles, from families around Mumbai, and service and repair them. Then they hand over the bicycles to local kids, who often have to walk long distances to school. In this way they get to school on time. The kids who are given bicycles are, more often than not, those who have shown consistently good academic performances. The initiative’s aim is to ensure they don’t drop out of school. With the Bicycle Project’s 10-year anniversary coming up, the founders have many events planned in order to spread awareness about the initiative so that more people can get involved and contribute towards a noble cause.
For the past 10 years Hemant and Sangeeta have also been involved in a project known as Paramparik Karigar. This was formulated as a platform for village artisans to showcase traditional arts and crafts through exhibitions at a national level, thus earning a sustainable income. In turn, this encouraged them to pass on their skills to the next generation.
If you love fruit, Hideout is your paradise. Mango, banana, sapota, guava and lime trees flourish here, interspersed by teak, gulmohar, frangipani and bamboo. I’d never seen a pineapple plant until Hemant pointed out several. The cucumber and exotic herbs, with which Sangeeta makes a delicious salad with a cashew cream dressing, are also grown on the property.
I had assumed that the farm had an extensive irrigation system considering the expanse of the property, but I was wrong. One section of the land is very rocky and hence nothing could grow there. Instead of ignoring it, Hemant had the area cleared of debris, leaving it at a slightly lower level than the surrounding farmland. As a result excess rainwater drains into the rocky basin, where it filters down into the earth. This helps replenish the groundwater table. Since the land here has a natural incline, all the trees and plants further down from the basin get enough moisture throughout the year, thereby saving many gallons of water.
None of the farm’s abundant produce goes to waste. Sangeeta makes lime, mango and star fruit pickles. These are generously offered to guests at mealtimes. I greedily ate as much of the lip-smacking star fruit pickle as I could, knowing I would not find it at home. I also drank hibiscus juice, made from the concentrate of hibiscus flowers, which are abundantly available in these parts.
While here, I was introduced to Neurotherapy, which is an ancient Indian healing therapy used to balance the energy forces within the body. The three forces (or ‘humours’ as ancient western philosophers referred to them) are based on Ayurvedic principles – Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water). Whenever there is an imbalance in these elements, the human body manifests them as health issues. Neurotherapy works by restoring and balancing these forces by massaging or applying pressure to nerve channels and joints. I was a little alarmed when Hemant told me the therapist would stand on my body as part of the therapy, but decided to go ahead with it anyway. I lay down on a mat on the floor and the therapist placed a chair on either side. He held the backs of the chairs as he lightly stepped on my legs, lower back and arms, applying just enough pressure so as not to hurt me. Oddly enough I found the repeated pressure on certain joints and muscles extremely relaxing. The process was repeated when I flipped onto my belly and once again when I lay on my side. By the end of treatment, I felt a spring return in my step.
Before you plan a trip out here, ask yourself a few questions: Am I ready to live without a TV? Do I need a drink to unwind during the evenings? Will insects and wildlife annoy me? Do I expect room service or have someone pick up after me? If you answer yes to any of these, Hideout might not be the place for you. The idea here is to leave the noise behind. The Chhabras have mastered the art of simple living, and they’re some of the happiest people I’ve met. If you’re the kind of person that takes pleasure from the simple things in life such as a bright green grasshopper suddenly alighting on your arm, or a frog croaking outside your window or are intrigued by the symbiotic relationship the tribals have with the forest, then come here and be part of this wonderful oasis for a few days.
When to go Anytime of the year; the monsoon season is especially green
Zadapolli Village, Thapadpada Road, Vikramgadh Taluka, Palghar district - 401605, Maharashtra
Cell: 09769922827, 09082791716
Tariff Rooms: ₹7,000–12,000; Tents: ₹1,000–2,000 per person; Day trip: ₹1,500 per person, meals included
- Help on the farm
- Make healthy smoothies and salads
- Visit craftsmen and the village haat
Air Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (100km/ 2.5hrs) in Mumbai. Taxi to Zadapalli Village costs about ₹2,500 for a drop
Rail Palghar Station (45km/1hr) is served by the Saurashtra Express and Mumbai-Ferozepur Janta. Pre-book a taxi at Hideout. Fare ₹1,200. Buses also ply from here to Zadapolli village
Road Take NH48 to Mastan Naka in Manor via Shirsad. From Manor take a right to Manor Wada Road. Keep heading for Pali Naka (18km) from where you turn left onto the Vikramgadh Road (15km). Just 5km before Vikramgadh is Zadapolli village where Hideout Farm is located Bus Buses ply all through the day to Vikramgadh and Zadapalli village from the Thane ST Bus Stand
- Solar power
- Organic farming
- Employs locals
- Groundwater recharge
- Works with the local community
- Welfare initiatives
Read more in the new Outlook Traveller Getaways Responsible Escapes