We are in our third state in a week, having travelled from the coconut belt, through the Cashew Nut belt and now into an area famous for growing Mangos. In particular the variety known as the “King of Mangos” the Alphonso. Not one of my favourites as I find it too sweet, my preference being for the sweet and sour taste of Chausa; however I am in the minority.
Wanting a change from the frenetic activity in Goa we found a beautiful Farm Stay near the coast between Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule, in the heart of mango country. Set in 4 acres of tropical fruit trees Atithi Parinay is run by Medha Sahasrabudhe, who has converted the ancestral farm into an organic farm stay. Medha is an impressive young lady with a lot of great ideas not just on how to improve her farm but also on how to improve the lives of the people in the surrounding village.
Filled with abundant flowering and fruiting trees the farm is a haven for myriad forms of bird life, filling the air with their song and delighting the eyes with their colours. Sapphire blue Kingfishers, bright yellow Orioles and the emerald-green of Parrots. The cooing of Wood Pigeons, wings fluttering as they court each other in the trees, the rhythmic chanting of Barbets, and the strident call of the Koyal all provide an orchestral soundtrack, much appreciated after the honking of horns and screeching of brakes in the city.
He was nowhere to be found and Medha instead took us to the sole surviving mud-walled village house. Immaculately kept by it’s very proud owner, a sprightly lady whose manner and bearing was much younger than her actual years, this house unfortunately under threat from the next generation. Her sons, seeing all the other traditional houses replaced by new concrete and brick constructions, want to knock it down and replace it with one of the same. “All the neighbours have done it so why shouldn’t we?” They said.
Admiring the beautifully swept courtyard, plastered with a cow dung plaster, soft and cool underfoot and spreading out like a sandy coloured carpet, we were saddened by the thought of the disappearance of the traditional ways.
Medha took a lot of time to explain to them how unique their house was, how the traditional houses are much better suited to the climate than the new houses, and how tourists would love to stay in the house for a unique experience. She even offered to send guests to them first before filling her rooms if it meant saving the building. To find such selflessness in someone running a business is rare to these days and demonstrates how conscientious Medha is in her desire for a better life for the villagers.
I fear however that the call of “progress” was louder than Medha’s impassioned arguments, but hope that somewhere the seed of thought has been sown and the sons will reconsider.
Later Medha discussed her attempts at encouraging organic farming and discouraging some of the more destructive and harmful farming practices in the area but explained that old habits die hard and all she can do is lead by example. Once the farmers see the results that she is getting with more ecological and sustainable methods they may switch over by themselves.
The next morning after a lovely breakfast in the shade of a jackfruit tree, we headed out to explore some of the beaches and also to visit the famous Ganesha temple at Ganpatipule.
The beaches here are some of the most stunning I have seen and the area is still relatively untouched by tourism. Miles and miles of beautiful golden sand beaches, cool sea breezes blowing onto the shore and over the lush green of the mango orchards, and hardly a person to be seen. Anywhere else in the world these beaches would be lined with Hotels and covered in deck chairs. Hotels and guesthouses are slowly creeping in but I really hope the pace of change is slow and this little piece of heaven remains.
The next day we headed north for the 8 hour drive to Mumbai. Mumbai is a fast paced exciting city, the financial capital of India, a city I have lived in and a city I love to revisit. However as we left the lush green hills of the Konkan coast behind and approached the overwhelming greyness that is New Mumbai, the clear blue skies being replaced with a thick haze, I asked myself “Am I heading in the right direction?”