I had already heard many villagers talking about a leopard who keeps wandering about in the village during night. Some said to have spotted 2 leopards (probably a couple) next to the primary school where as someone said that the leopard halted whole night in his backyard and finished off a new born calf. Few school girls saw him resting next to the road at the distance and could not dare to go any further. Some told to have heard a roaring at Night. All the stories seemed to me nothing but an entertainment stock and I relished each and every lot of it being quite heedless of an existence of the leopard.
I was expecting my Guests at Maachli in the midnight. All the staff members finished the routine activities and went home. I grabbed 3 torches, one with a strong focus for me and the other two for the guests.I walked to the road and positioned myself at the point where I can wave my hand at the vehicle of the guest. The environment was enchanting and the glimmering starlit sky made it all the more glorious. I tried to identify some typical stuff like Milky Way, pole star, Saptarshi but failed miserably.
After some time, I saw one vehicle coming towards me. It was definitely not the one of the guest as it was coming from the opposite side. The vehicle slowed down and stopped when it was just 50 meters away from me. There was a catlike creature which suddenly drew my attention and was slowly moving across the road. I stood looking at it admiringly as it was marching with a great elegance. I was so much lost in the vision that I could hardly make out what it is. A driver of the vehicle set the focus of a light on high beam and I could clearly see the picture and caught a sight of this strikingly handsome animal. It was definitely a catlike creature but much bigger than that and Yes!!! It was a leopard.
A focus of a light caused a big discomfort to the leopard and it was driven away for a while. I saw him walking towards me. His wagging tail and his terrible eyes gleaming through the dark were visible against the light of the vehicle. As he drew closer I started stepping back. I was hurriedly looking for the stick but I did not get one. I cursed myself not to have listened to my grandfather who thousand times cautioned me to carry a stick in hand. Old villagers say that such wild animals are less afraid of human beings than they are of stick.
I was aware of the fact that human beings generally are not a prey of leopards (I hoped that this one belonged to that general category) and not even single person has been harmed by a leopard not only from my childhood but also from my grandfathers. This gave me an adequate courage to stand steady in front of this gracious and one of the most aggressive and strongest animals from the wild. Both of us equally horrified, surprised and stunned had an eye contact. He looked away. It was sure that he wanted to distance himself from me. Then he managed to disappear in the bushes.
Now the road was clear. A vehicle came close to me. A driver gave me a strange stare and instructed me to always have stick in hand while alone on the road in the night. Later I grabbed a strong stick and patiently waited for the guests.
Next day I shared the same incidence with one of the guests who was very adventurous officer from the police force. He told me how unlucky he was despite going for a tiger safari 15 times in the tiger reserve and not to have spotted one even once.
I would like to thank the leopard(from the distance of kilometers) for the marvelous sight and the driver of a vehicle for arriving there at the right time.
“I have no words to express how I am feeling right now. It is just like coming back to my mother and moving into the tender hug!” my grandfather said with utter excitement and nostalgia! I, my father and my grandfather gazed at the plowed upfield with contentment! We had taken a decision of bringing our old ancestral land into cultivation after nearly 60 years.
Much of the land of our village is in the patches of rocky grasslands and the rest is either a forest or a tropical plantation. However, there are certain patches of good soil on grasslands where one can carry out farming activities. In the old times, there were many such paddy fields. Farming used to be rewarding enough to feed all the family members as all of them used to contribute. The farming activity in our village always begins with a festive spirit! All the farmers celebrate it in the wake of monsoon by feasting on Mutton Rassa with rice or bhakri. Generally, the event is organized on the first day of Mruga Nakshatra. (Nakshatra is a constellation or certain pattern of stars causing certain conditions). There is also a cottage called Mruga in the farmstay as all the cottages are named after rainy season constellations. The whole event of this feast is called ‘Mirag’.We thought of celebrating our traditional ‘Mirag’ to rekindle those old beautiful memories of my grandfather. We organized a small picnic for all the fellow workers right in our field. Everyone was eager and enthusiastic as it was our new start. We cooked right next to the farm beautifully surrounded by a forest. The cooking started with a decent preparation such as making a small chulha out of laterite rock and preparing a small shade of coconut leaves to cover it. The heavens showered rains thus giving an blissful experience!
After a long wait, the food was ready. The curry cooked on wood fire was looking delicious. The reddish dark colour of the rassa seemed inviting. We grabbed a few ‘chandiwada’ tree leaves from the wild and used it as a plate. My grandfather says that these leaves were in great use in his childhood to wrap onion pakodas and to parcel other snacks! Even, wild boars used to be paraded in the entire village after hunting and the meat used to be wrapped in chandiwada leaves to distribute it among all the villagers. Any food item wrapped in these leaves tastes awesome! The meal triggered a few pleasant nostalgic conversations with each morsel. It was truly a divine experience to celebrate a meal with Panchatatwas (water, air, fire, earth, and sky) which is the real driving force of life. The reason why ‘Maachli is called experiential comes from this feeling of subtle connection.
The next day, our farming activity started with great enthusiasm. Each day unfolded beautiful moments. The guests at Maachli willingly visited the place to experience farming. Its less about working in the fields but more about a feeling of being the son of the soil.
When I was in the process of conceptualizing Maachli, I recall reading about an inspirational incidence of Rabindranath Tagore at Shanti Niketan, where he organized a grand ceremony to plant a new tree, just the way someone would do for a newborn baby. The reason for calling a tree plantation a sacred ceremony stems from this inspirational anecdote.
The Maachli Farmstay is blessed with lush greenery since its inception. A breathtaking view of the dense tropical plantation from the wide glass window of the cottage turns out to be a major pull for nature lovers. The way we put it is “We grow plants and wish to grow with them!”.
We have a grassland; just about a 15 min walk from Maachli. This year we thought of bringing this land into stronger biodiversity and ecology with the help of natural stimulus. This part of land consisted of a deep forest, a small rocky patch where nothing can grow except wildflowers in monsoon and the rest was a wide field. To begin with, we dug a well for agricultural purposes and a pond to enhance the beauty and facilitate water for the wild animals. They struggle for water, especially in the summer season. After having organized a water source, we set about planting trees on the basis of the ecological zones. The zones were attributed to liveable space, water availability, farming, forest area and a non-cultivable barren patch of land. Once we figured out the most appropriate zone, we selected only the regional habitat friendly trees that grow into a big forest.
The motive of this mission was to engage our guests with this sacred ceremony and as expected, our guests gave an overwhelming response in terms of participation. The first tree plantation session was carried out by the staff members, other villagers and guests. The idea of planting the regional trees with the help of people from the region was the notable aspect of this mission. We came across very beautiful comments from the guests. One guest explained how supple the feel of the soil is which cannot be experienced staying in the concrete jungle. The other emphasized the deepened connection with the universe. It was great to know that the tree planting experience was life-altering and rejuvenating for a few guests. In our perspective the experience is altogether a devotional. I would definitely request each and every guest to be part of this devotional experience.
Maachli is an ideal tourist destination in Monsoon for the people who love greenery. The very concept of “Maachli “originated from Monsoon itself as the farmers set up small huts (Which is called Maachli) to take care of their respective fields. A lot of Maachli’s appear in the fields while taking a stroll on the grassland.
After the scorching hot summer, the incessant shrill of hornbills, impatient yet very persistent call of frogs and vague speculation of the mankind, the rains arrive. The farmers happily, march out in the pelting rain and reach out to their beloved fields. Few villagers, especially teenagers and kids set out towards the stream to grab some fresh crabs. The curry made from sweet water crabs tastes delicious. All the farmers from the village celebrate ‘Mirag’ a monsoon welcoming festival (described it in the previous blog) in the wake of rain.
The biggest attraction for tourists in the monsoon at Maachli Farmstay is the stream that flows through the farm. I still remember how cheerful it was running behind a flowing coconut in the stream or just taking a dip or cozily enjoying a fish pedicure! This is the place where we took swimming lessons in childhood. A stream can be an added attraction for the enthusiastic bird watchers to search for rarest oriental dwarf Kingfisher bird (often called ODKF) that secretly inhabits sideways. This particular bird visits only in the monsoons and it is very difficult to find its traces otherwise.
The monsoon at Maachli is known for its various wild vegetables that grow only in the rainy season. There are a few leafy vegetables that grow everywhere right from the forest to the sides of the tar road. However, there are other types that grow deep in the jungle and to get them, one has to venture into the dense forest. Sometimes sunlight streaming through the rain creates favorable conditions for wild mushroom growth. These wild mushrooms are the main attraction for all the villagers as you get it for a very short period, ranging from 5 to 10 days. It creates a magnificent variety in cooking as it can be made in different varieties such as fried, spicy curry, dry non-spicy preparation, golden coconut curry or simply add it in rice for an unforgettable lip-smacking experience. Monsoon at Maachli Farmstay can also be a treat for fish lovers. Due to rain, fishing in the deep sea is closed. However, there are a few amateur fishermen in the village who start fishing in the shallow water and backwaters and this fresh catch is a treat for hardcore fish enthusiasts! The monsoon culturally also means a lot for the villagers as major festivals in the Konkan region like Ganesh Chaturthi, Nag Panchami, and Krishna Janmashtami among others is celebrated during the same period. It is also a great opportunity for tourists at Maachli Farmstay to experience the festive spirit of the village. There are several workshops teaching the skills for creating a Ganesh, Krishna or Naga idol that can be visited. Our Farmstay has always been graced with a lot of niche travelers who are eager to explore the unexplored and the monsoon at Maachli Farmstay springs incredible surprises to satiate their wish.