Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Farm Stay in Palghar

A Brief Introduction
In the winter of 2016, desperate to go on a holiday on our wedding anniversary, I tried a google search on the tourist destinations available in Maharashtra. I did not intend to travel to faraway places due to our busy schedules. And my desperate search was also due to the fact that my options were limited. Limited, because my wife suffers from a most horrible motion sickness, which makes her head giddy and vomit on road trips or in fast car rides. And the winding roads of the western ghats, are a curse to her so much so, that she dreads the very idea of taking a car ride up the sharp turns and acute bends that one encounters on the many ghats of mountainous terrains in Maharashtra's hill stations. A train journey, is a sole relief to us, as she is at total ease in trains. So, I decided to go to such a place that can be reached by train.

Google showed me all the favorite tourist spots in Maharashtra. There were resorts near famous hill stations, beaches, religious places. I was too familiar with resorts and the facilities that they offered. Therefore, I searched for something unique... farm stays for example. And from among some names, I chose 'The Eco Forest', a venture from Samarth Krupa Farms, in Palghar, a town located near Mumbai. Palghar is situated close to Gujarat, and therefore, combines the culture and tradition of both the states i.e. Maharashtra and Gujarat. Its cuisine, folk culture and many aspects of their daily lives carry this unique feature and this showed itself in Eco Forest as well. We took a suburban train from Andheri on the western line and got down at Palghar. From there on, the hosts picked us up and other couple, and soon we were heading to their farm.

The Eco Forest
After a brief introduction and some inspection of the accommodation, the hosts took us on a tour of the farm. Their farm is very well maintained and produces rice, tomatoes, cauliflower, mangoes, chikoo, chillies, herbs, fruits and other vegetables. They have a cow shed, fish pond, nursery, poultry, green house, play area and rest houses, which comprise of bamboo cottages.

The Hosts
The farm is the culmination of years of patience, hard work, struggle and sustained efforts of Mali family. They are simple farmers, who know the true worth of the soil, and have cultivated it, not only with their bullock carts, but also with their passion and zeal. The passion for farming reflected itself from the way Mr. Vijay Mali narrated his story. Sitting by the campfire on a particularly cold night, savoring the Umbadiyu, a traditional food preparation, Vijay Mali narrated how he developed this farm, using his foresight and acute knowledge. Farming alone, he knew, would not sustain them, so he thought of developing a farm stay, which would incorporate activities and a farm tour. This would bring tourists to his farm and promote farming and impart farming knowledge among people.

With their farming acumen and subtle knowledge of soil and its use, the Mali's have developed this farm and made it a shining example, one which have earned them applauds and honors from even the state.

Farm Stay? What’s That….

Previous to this visit, I had absolutely no idea of what a farm stay means. This visit to Eco Forest, made it all clear to me. A farm stay means many more things than just going on a tour of the farm and getting educated on fruits and vegetables. Sure, one gets to see plantations where grains, pulses, fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers are grown. But it is also a connecting oneself with nature and the soil. You come face to face with real farmers and the type of livelihood they live, their hard work, toiling in the harsh sun or chilly cold nights, to grow food that we eat with relish.

Visit to Ice Factory and Satpati Beach
On the day we arrived at the farm, the hosts took us to the Ice Factory and Satpati Beach. Satpati beach, unlike the more crowded Kelwa Beach, is a virgin beach, with less people visiting it. We did not see a single food stall, but what we did saw were fisher women in the sea lugging their nets and some fishing boats. We sat on the beach watching the sun set beneath the waves and staring at the moon which was just rising. As dusk enveloped the beach, we sat on the sand and watched a lone star, shining bright, on a cloudless sky. After a few quiet moments, we started off for the ice factory. It was a long distance that we covered in a few minutes in the jeep. As we entered the factory, we were greeted by huge slabs of ice, stacked on each other, and a cold chill that send shivers down our spines.

The Food
Though our rooms did not have an Air Condition or a T.V., there were many activities in store. There was the Burma Bridge, which I successfully climbed; a tyre swing for kids to swing on; rifle shooting and archery, for polishing one's shooting skills, and of course, the farm tour.

But the food they served was simple delicious. They used their own produce of the farm, which was organic and free of harmful pesticides for preparing the food. It was fresh and very, very tasty. The host's wife, took personal care and attention to our taste and served us amazing food with love and care. The food was traditional i.e. a typical thali complete with dal, rice roti, vegetables, rice, sol kadhi and buttermilk. But the food that stood out from amonst all these was the Umbadiyu. It is prepared in a matka
(earthern pot) and cooked on hot ambers and low flames till all the spices and juices mix well and served hot. The ingredients are all vegetables and have high nutritional value.
Umbadiyu is a regional dish, prepared specially in southern Gujarat, in the winter season. And when our farm stay was coming to an end, we were in for some special surprise i.e. fresh potato chips.....