Have you ever had a feeling, this strongly positive feeling of something going right even before it’s actually happened? I had that while speaking to Dimple, an enquiry call I’d made and ended up booking the trip on the very same call in about 7 minutes.
Dimple is the face, a voice rather of Shivar Agro Tourism and an amicable one at that. A voice so warm and genuine, I immediately knew that a wonderful holiday awaited us.
9.30 to 11 is breakfast; that’s ingrained on my food-fanatic brain. The rest I’ve blurrily memorized from Dimple and from the PDF she’s WhatsApped me. Their user-friendly, attention-to-detail website has already set the tone.
Family picnic a day after Christmas has been a tradition in our family since more than a decade. Agrotourism bug has bit us hard since couple of years before the pandemic struck. A day on the farm has been loved by everyone; from the kids who were then 7 to the septuagenarians.
What Is Agrotourism?
Agroturism AKA Agri tourism or Agricultural Tourism is a trend spreading roots across the world, which offers us city dwellers an opportunity to break away from the urban jungle for a while and get closer to our rural roots. It’s a chance to interact with farmers and other individuals who we otherwise wont be able to interact with, thereby unfurling the mystery that surrounds their occupation so eternally connected to nature.
Agrotourism involves farm stays, educational tours to animal farms, poultries, wineries, classes on pottery, horse-riding, picking fruits, feeding farm animals, bullock-cart rides, fishing, jeep and tractor rides, camping, ploughing and such. Food provided is farm-to-table, therefore super fresh and healthy.
Agrotourism thus provides a second source of earning to farmers when crops are not in season and thereby a considerably stable income.
A Day In Shivar…
Morning dawns! There’s a nip in the air and most of us have been awake all night. But that doesn’t dampen the our chipper folks wrapped in woolens, noses of Rudolph, squashed inside the cars waiting for others to arrive. We’re running late by an hour…
An hour and a half of a breezy scenic drive later, we make the last turn to Shivar.
As we get out of the car, a smiling and seemingly familiar face begins to walk towards us. Rahul Patil features on the website of Shivar as one of the co-owners. So that’s where I’ve seen him.
While escorting us to the dormitory, he quickly briefs us about how the day’s planned out. He urges us to hurry because we’ve lost one hour already.
Accommodation – The Dormitory:
The dorm is a humongous 20 bedded room with ample charging points, ample fans and ample windows to ensure excellent ventilation and sunlight. Each bed is replete with a pillow and blanket and extra are given if needed. Wooden racks provide sufficient storage for the luggage. There are two washrooms inside and few more outside the dorm.
Letting out our inner child, we push and shove through the door, running like maniacs to grab the best bed. I’m fond of windows. So that’s where I mark my territory by throwing my glasses.
If you wish for a more formal accommodation, there’s a bungalow oozing lovely old charm, vintage furniture, and a big swing that hangs in the center of the living room. It has two spacious bedrooms and a kitchen attached. This one can accommodate 15 people easily. There’s also a newly constructed rustic wooden cabin for couple stay.
Tents also can be rented out.
Soon we’re off to the dining area for breakfast. Aromas of Matki Chi Usal and Kanda Poha waft straight out of the counter into our noses.
The counter serves a peek into the kitchen.
Stomachs loaded and we’re whisked away into acres and acres of real glory – the farm. Rahul leads the way, us in tow, bickering over the glasses and hats, uninterested kids whining in their failingly low decibels to keep from reaching Rahul’s ears. Undeterred, in his guide-gear, Rahul continues his explanatory notes about the farm, its produce, how it generates employment for the locals, the crops and their rotation, etc. His talks raise our anticipation to what lies ahead. And what lies ahead is what none of us has ever seen.
We brush past the greenery making pitstops, gawking at the clustered droplets of green peppers and bulging jackfruits into the Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) Zone. Hundreds and thousands of Mango saplings spanning 3 months to 3 years are nurtured here with utmost care. These are then sold to Mango farmers across the state and beyond.
By now, even the kids are captivated by the charm of agriculture which is apparent with their eyes and ears to Rahul’s detailed exposition under a rustic makeshift shed.
Sun has started staring down at us by now. Air is filled with warm smells of golden haystack and husk, a perfect backdrop for Instaworthy photos. Instead of machines, rice here is hand-pounded to separate grains from their husk. A blowing machine stands ready to blow the husk away leaving the grains behind.
Shivar is a cultivator of Wada Kolam Rice; a variety indigenous to Wada tehsil of district Palghar. Grains of this rice are off-white in color and have a distinct flavor and fragrance. This unique variety commands a price of Rs. 65-75 per kilo and has a sizeable demand overseas as well. But duplication and misbranding have incurred substantial losses to farmers. This led the farmers to speak up for their produce and eventually the rice was awarded the Geographical Indication (GI) Tag. Thus the rice is now cultivated in Wada region only. It truly was a treasure to witness everything so raw and rustic in its own habitat.
Shivar also harvests strawberries and watermelons. Ever heard of a watermelon that has gorgeous yellow flesh instead of the usual red? It’s a lot crunchier and sweeter than its red counterpart. One can enjoy these melons in every form – ice-creams, shakes, salads, etc. – during the watermelon festival held from January for about 9 weeks. Slots are limited, thus advance booking is encouraged.
The farm visit doesn’t end here. We’re bundled up in a tractor for a 15 minutes joyride to the chikoo farm. What a ride that was!
The muddy rugged path rushes past huge cacti on one side and a dried up river bed on the other; when you’re lost chattering and laughing away, a sudden whack comes from an unruly branch you’re completely unaware of, awakening all your senses.
The farm is a chikoo heaven; earth covered under dried leaves and dotted with the sweetest fruits you’d have ever had. Those still hanging from the branches are at head height and can be easily plucked.. There’s a different kind of fun and satisfaction in losing yourself amidst nature.
Like all good things come to an end, with a heavy heart we hop into the tractor and ride back.
Time’s aplenty until lunch and the activities are endless. Snakes and ladders painted on the tiled floor of the courtyard gets the smallest to the largest peeps in a hilarious game. Swings are scattered all around. There’s archery, badminton, cycling, swimming pool, fog dance, and indoor activities like chess and carrom-board to keep each one occupied every minute.
Kids are working up an appetite in the pool; the water is filled from the nearby well and is free of chlorine. Some are on the swing and the others lazying on the cots laid out in the lawn.
Sounds of clattering utensils and tantalizing aromas from the kitchen suggest lunch will soon be served. Every single dish has an earthy feeling of home. Lift up the lid and out comes wafting the steam from soft rice flour Bhakris and Zunka, a traditional little-savoury-little-spicy delicacy made of chickpea flour; a Maharashtrian counterpart of Polenta. Succulent pieces of chicken float in the sea of spicy red gravy, an appetizer of spicy chicken in garlic and an inhouse blend of spices, potato and peas subzi, served with smoking hot rice, lip-smacking shrikhand, salad and crsipy papad; all washed down with endless glasses of chilled buttermilk. We go for seconds and thirds and then more as if unfed for weeks. Everything is so visually appealing and divinely scrumptious, one just cannot stop eating. Poor hapless guts! Watching us relish their food, I notice the faces of the two Kitchen Goddesses glow with pride and satisfaction (or maybe pleas to stop hidden behind their smiles). Forget the gourmet and Michelin Stars, the rustic, homey taste of earth is just incomparable!
This kind of wholesome meal would lull anyone into food coma; but not our folks. They continue with what they’d left before lunch – splashing in the pool like some possessed water buffaloes. falling off the swings feeling initially embarrassed and later shameless, chattering on the Machan or hopeless attempts at archery.
I choose to saunter around under the cooling canopy of greens clicking pictures, letting the sun kiss my skin, dry leaves crushing beneath my feet. I seek refuge on a cot with solitude for company.
The day begins to wear off slow and sure, as do the energies of our rapturous folks. Air has started getting nippy again. Sun has begun shedding his gild for peachy, violetty, reddish hues. From somewhere far away, we hear Rahul announcing, “it’s time for tea”. And so we carry our anticipation into the dining area again. Biscuits and beverages along with right-off-the-fryer vada pavs are downed in no time.
Rahul, the Captain
A little rendezvous with Rahul and I learn how the pandemic changed him personally and professionally. Civil Engineer by profession, lockdown made him realize his calling. He quit his job for a life on the farm; a farm that’s been a part of his family, his roots. He immersed himself in the nitty-gritties of working the land, encashing the produce and delivering a quality and memorable experience for his guests through Shivar Agro Tourism.
While Rahul takes care of the tourism part, agriculture is a domain of his “Krishi Bhushan” award-winning uncle, Mr. Anil Patil. Senior Mr. Patil has more than 3 decades of farming experience and has been successfully transitioning from chemical-based farming to organic and more sustainable methods.
Rahul is also a biking and trekking enthusiast and owns a travel and tourism company that curates fun and adventure trips across India. Despite everything he is, Rahul is one of the most humble, amiable and approachable hosts I’ve ever met.
Our folks, some are still chomping on the Vada Pav, some are clicking pictures in perhaps those corners they’ve missed earlier and some are in the makeshift store laying their hands on the inhouse produce.
Guess each one in their own way are making an excuse to stick around a little longer; although the checkout time is 5.30, Rahul doesn’t mind. You’ll find him always smiling, always chirpy, always eager to look after his guests. He’s a blizzard of positive energy himself.
Here’s a direct link to their website: http://www.shivaragrotourism.com/
Their Insta Handle: https://www.instagram.com/shivaragrotourism/
The evening has now turned from peach to purple; suggesting night will soon descend upon us. Hearts swollen with sweetest memories, we bundle up in our vehicles for a drive back home… in different directions… until we meet again…