RAPTURE AMONG THE TREES
Words: PRIMROSE MONTEIRO-D’SOUZA
Photographs: T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
GREAT FROM Goa, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur
GREAT FOR A break in the midst of nature
It’s very possible to simply go from one meal to another at Maachli and consider yours a life well lived. The lady of the homestay could easily make you a willing hostage to her table. But Mrs Priya Samant is nice; she’ll allow you to return to your cottage between meals and contemplate your next non-food move. Or contemplate not making moves at all.
Separated from the main road and an outer line of houses by a broad stream, Maachli, in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district, is five cottages set among a working areca nut and coconut plantation that’s been in the Samant family for many generations. Inspired by the hide in which a farmer keeps vigil overnight as he guards his crop from marauding animals, each cottage is an inverted V roof set on a wood-and-stone base in five acres of the 25-acre property. Within each, Pravin Samant has worked with local carpenters to create a cocoon that draws you into nature. The decor is earth-inspired, furnishings mimicking the rust and red of the soil around. Your drinking water is stored in a tambya (copper vessel) with matching copper tumbler. In the bathroom, the bucket is a copper urli, the soap is fittingly Mysore Sandal but, happily, the sanitary ware is modern and the shower excellent. There is no TV, no telephone, no air-conditioning – just classic easy chairs outside your cottage in which to while away an afternoon, an evening even, with your eyes, ears and nose following the monkeys, birds and fruit in the tall trees that form a verdant screen between you and the world outside.
Early the next morning, take a plantation walk with Pravin’s son, Prathamesh, whose experience in hotel management has him brimming with ideas for Maachli’s future. Some uphill climbing offers up unusual plants and trees, and sightings of the many species of birds that flit though the jungle eco-system. The flatter grasslands reveal two temples dedicated to Lord Baneshwar, an avatar of Lord Shiva. Said to be about 400 years old, and allegedly one of the Pandavas’ temples, the older, root- and plant-strangled stone structure is far more charismatic than its 10-year-old successor. Later, you can visit a local cowshed, and try your hand at milking. If you don’t like your chances of dodging a kick from the cow, stick to petting the adorable calves and tasting milk straight from the source, fresher than you’ll probably ever have tasted before. Or you could wander farther to Bhogwe Beach, a 15-minute drive away, to Tarkarli for a spot of snorkelling or scuba diving, or even into Sawantwadi for some shopping.
But always, always, make sure you return in time for the smorgasbord that emerges from Mrs Samant’s smok kitchen. The freshest produce picked from the home farm or from nearby Mhapan market by Pravin, and local seafood from the Konkan coast are transformed into meals served at a rough-hewn table. The fish is delicately rava-fried, the clams come alive again in a complex coconut masala, the vegetables are a perfect showcase of the deceptive simplicity of Saraswat Brahmin cuisine, and the solkadi is always exquisite. Yes, you will be tempted to just go from one meal to another at Maachli, and who could blame you?