In November, A and I realized that the end of 2017 was fast approaching and we hadn’t gone on a trip this year (for those of you who know us, no, I don’t mean just the 2 of us. The plan also included the two best FB friends, V and AM). This wasn’t for the lack of trying given how we almost went to Acres Wild in October. Sadly, that attempt was thwarted by my involvement in a product launch. It was time to come up with a last minute getaway, and A managed to wrangle us a spot at a farm stay where we could spend the Christmas long weekend off the grid (literally).
That’s how we found ourselves on a 10-hour road trip to Castle Rock (near Goa) on Saturday morning. Originally, we didn’t plan to divulge the name or location of this place, because we think that some hidden gems should stay hidden. However, while we were stuck in the usual traffic jam exiting Bangalore, I discovered that Saturdays edition of The Hindu already featured the place, so it’s no longer our “secret”. And just in case the non-Hindu readers missed it, V proudly shared it on FB for everyone to see. Everyone knows, but let me remind you now, we got there first.
About 2 hours into the aforementioned jam, V claimed he could already smell the ocean air. Except, we hadn’t even hit Tumkur yet, and this was quite the achievement given that we left from our apartment on Tumkur Road. Also, we weren’t ever going to smell the ocean air on this trip given that we weren’t going into Goa, a fact he had conveniently overlooked. This, from the guy who accused A and me of pulling a bait and switch and pitching Dandeli as Goa when he first looked the place up on a map. Clearly, positive visualization of seas you aren’t going to see can get you through the madness that is the masses trying to exit Bangalore on a long weekend. That, and A’s peppy playlist that veered from Ed Sheeran to 90’s Bollywood in a matter of seconds, and kept us guessing at what would come next.
Once we reached Castle Rock, and tried to find our way into the forest to the farm, we were stopped by a forest official. He wanted to know why we were headed into the forest, and hadn’t heard the name ‘Off the Grid’. Once we mentioned John and Sylvia (the owners), he was happy to let us in, provided we showed him our ID proof. AM pulled out his Aadhar card, proving yet again, that one needs Aadhar for everything, including going off the grid. Remember folks, you have to be ON the grid to go OFF the grid.
Note: When they say you should get there while it’s still light out, they are not kiddofing. There isn’t a chance in hell you will find this place if you’re hunting in the dark, and you do not want to be lost in a forest that’s part of the Tiger Reserve with no cell network. It’s called ‘Off the Grid’ for a reason. You lose cellular connectivity about 30 minutes before you get there. Be warned, all you city folks! You also cannot drive right up to the farm, unless you have an SUV. There’s a clearing where you park, and honk to let them know you’re there.
We spent our first night in the stream facing cabin rooms, and about 10 minutes into the stay, I had my first run-in with nature.
Like all city girls, I thought nothing of going to the bathroom, and confidently flushing once I’d done my business. And then I saw that I’d unleashed a tsunami-level tidal wave upon two frogs who were hiding under the toilet seat and were now scrambling to climb out. I got over my initial surprise at being confronted by them and wondered how to get rid of them. I proceeded to spray them with a jet of water from the faucet, completely forgetting that frogs are amphibians and therefore, attempting to drown them did not constitute a plan of any sort. I gave up and went out for chai, where I told the others about my run-in with nature.
AM, the only one with true trekking experience in our little group used this teachable moment to remind the rest of us lost souls that we were in the jungle and we should do thorough checks that included the frog check I’d already missed, as well as shaking out blankets etc. to ensure we didn’t scare any other of the local fauna. Something this city girl desperately who for needed, given that it was easy for me to forget just how deep in the jungle we were, given the nice rooms (with included WC’s!). I think I scared the frogs, though, because we did not see them again for the duration of our stay.
That night, we had our first taste of the awesome spread that Off the Grid produces out of wood fired ovens and a tandoor (spoiler: their pizzas are to die for!).
Also, I forgot AM’s warning, and later that night, I managed to scare a lizard that was cozily napping in the corner of our bed by proceeding to jump in without shaking off the comforter. The lizard scuttled away in shock, and V realized that this city girl doesn’t freak out at the sight of lizards (always good for your spouse to learn something new after so many years). After the lizard incident, V decided to take over checking duties because he believes in co-existence with other species and didn’t want me to scare away all the fauna.
The next morning, we moved to their rooftop rooms, which V had been eyeing because they were the best spot to catch the early morning sun. The weather swung from about 32 degrees in the daytime to about 18 degrees at night, so the sunlight was important. The rooftop rooms are awesome, especially if, like us, you travel as a group of 4. You get the terrace all to yourself, and you can spend the entire day reading and drinking chai. Until 6.30PM, that is. At that time, you bring out the festive edition of Amrut (or whatever you choose to drink). The only break we took from lazing about on the rooftop (and trying to grab the only swing hammock there), was to head out to the waterfall that’s a 5 minute walk from this property.
A and I opted for the easy land-based route, but AM and V felt the need to walk upwards through the stream to reach the waterfall.
In both cases, we were disappointed to realize that the waterfall was a very popular destination on Christmas Eve. Gone were our hopes to be the only ones at the waterfall, as we spotted new groups showing up at five-minute intervals. We weren’t the only ones disappointed by the crowds. A group of local boys had stopped by with plans to cook lunch over a bonfire and go for a swim later. When we told them we planned to leave and come back the next day, they seemed positively delighted that we’d leave and thereby reduce the crowd by 4 people.
Since our reason to go off the grid was to try and avoid crowds, we crossed our fingers for luck and headed off to the waterfall again the next day. It was second time lucky, and we had the waterfall all to ourselves! While A, AM and I lazed about, V tried his best to catch some fish with a net he created using some twigs, and his vest. He didn’t succeed, but he didn’t miss out on the fish because it was part of the lunch menu. So in the spirit of eating food as close to the source as possible, he had fried fish by a stream.
For those who don’t believe in doing nothing, like we do, Off the Grid offers treks and bike rides. If Sylvia is around, you could also take a pottery class, something I wanted to do but couldn’t because she wasn’t there. We skipped the treks and bike rides, and spent our time going from hammock to hammock to read (and sometimes doodle, or take many photos of sunbirds).
When the hammocks got boring, we moved to the tree-bridge over the stream for a very Calvin and Hobbes like setting.
For those of you wondering how I’m writing an entire blogpost on doing nothing, let me tell you that it took a lot of effort for A and me to pull off a plan that wasn’t a plan. We got over our OCD to do things by planning our meals/snacks for the roadtrip (an entire Excel spreadsheet was devoted to this). I also took great measure to ensure I wouldn’t be stranded without a book. I had 2 Kindles (with different accounts and therefore different books), and 1 paperback. Needless to say, I still ended up stealing a paperback from V’s stash. I also had my art supplies. So yes, it takes a lot of planning to do nothing.
V was the only one who veered away from the doing nothing agenda and decided to explore the area. He went on a walk where he was first attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes, and then squawked at by some angry roosters. As a true believer of co-existence, he wasn’t too concerned about these, but then he heard what may have been a jaguar/leopard (or maybe just his stomach growling), and he beat a hasty retreat to join us in our attempt at doing nothing, or as AM put it, our attempt to be “actively passive”.
So, that’s how we put our time off the grid to good use. Lots of reading, lounging around in various scenic jungle spots, and inhaling our way through every meal (plus snacks. We demolished many packets of chips, rum cake, cookies and more in-between the super sized meals).
And, the biggest bonus was that on the way back, Google Maps took us through the scenic route. This meant about 15-20 minutes of wandering through some village and wondering if Google knew what it was doing, but also meant we also drove through ghats, and fields (and missed 2 tolls!). Also, we didn’t get stuck in another jam while re-entering Bangalore so we got to keep our doing nothing glow for another evening.
If you decide to go Off the Grid, these are my top five city-girl rules to surviving the jungle:
- Ask your trekking friends what checks you need to do to ensure you don’t disturb the fauna. You do NOT want to be the person who squashed a lizard by jumping on it. If you don’t have trekking friends, I will introduce you to mine.
- There are no plug points in the rooms so don’t expect to charge that phone you aren’t using. If you take a Kindle (or two), remember to charge it before you get there.
- You will fall asleep on the hammocks. If you insist on wearing sunglasses, you may burn your nose (and your spouse may compare you to a certain deity). Be aware.
- Fresh air and fresh produce will increase your appetite. We all ate about double (ok, maybe triple!) our usual at every meal. And the dismal number on my Fitbit can tell you that there was really no activity that substantiated this appetite increase.
- In the off chance that you believe in drinking chai in lota-sized mugs (like me and my friends), you may need to temper your quantity expectations because they cannot keep up with your chai standards. I suggest you decide who is making your homecoming chai right now.
Lastly, and most importantly, you will see the stars you only ever saw in picture-books (if you’re a city girl, like me). You’ll see enough stars to remind you of how insignificant you are in the scheme of things. If you’re really lucky, you will spot the milky way which will drive the point home even further. All those things you’re worrying your head over? None of them matters. You are a speck. As a city girl who spends all her time with her nose in a book, I know nothing about jungles, birds, flowers or fauna of any kind. But I will tell you this. Every time this city girl looks up into the inky-black sky shimmering with stars, she thinks about giving up all that city-nonsense and moving to the jungle.
PS: I know that somewhere in the jungles of the Tiger Reserve, there are some frogs and a lizard who are concerned about this last thought of mine.
PS – I also spotted an Amazon box in one of the sheds at Off the Grid, so I’m hoping that if Amazon can find Off the Grid, then one can have the stars AND consumerism?