Pune Round Two

After an epic time in Omkareshwar we set off back to the bus station, in conditions that were much quieter than when we arrived.  The journey back on the bus to Indore was a little squished this didn’t phase us now and we managed to get off the bus before the final stop, on a busy roundabout, as we knew where we were going, which made our lives easier- all the benefits of knowing what is going on!  We caught the train easily and experienced perhaps the most restful journey into Pune where we also felt like we were now in familiar territory. Unfortunately we were due to be picked up from the station and go back to Umesh’s but we had to do this alone. This is fine as we now have experience at shouting at people at 8am, but it is something you’d rather not do. After Umesh giving direction’s to a rickshaw “wallah” (or ‘man) he decides we are too much hassle so tells someone else to go. 6 rickshaw drivers circle around shouting prices and our assumed final destination at the same time to give a surround effect reminiscent of a car crash you do not need at 8am. I have a cigarette, but Laura shouts louder and ultimately informs them we are not usual tourists and that we are not getting ripped off.  After 25 minutes arguing we leave to Kotrud out of town to Umesh’s.

It is mad to be back in a place that we were at 3 months ago. My beard having taken hold and definitely looking  a little more ‘rough around the edges’ let’s say.  It is great to be in an apartment with AC possibilities and where the cook ensures they provide ‘luxury’ food, like eggs and meat that you can actually trust.  It is great to see Umesh and Yash again, although something is amiss.  The day we arrive Yash has started feeling really ill, cannot focus or stand up straight.    Through a series of situational twists and turns reminiscent of Neighbours where we almost went to Goa, had no one coming to the farm with us, to everyone coming to the farm with us, including Umesh’s daughter who was studying in Mumbai until the next day, we headed to the farm in convoy. Being driven out of the modern city of Pune out into the country we drove through dusty towns that you’d really not like to live in and past vast tent complex’s that people have erected I assume to live in temporarily whilst building the fly over that is being built, that look like asylum camps we finally see how much greener the area is after the main monsoon rains.  The rolling hills suddenly start to look like England with beech tree forests and luscious grass.

The farm is even better, with a massive lake that has been filled with the monsoonal rains,  surrounded by hills on all sides except the road side that was surprisingly loud and slightly damaged the tranquillity of the area.  That night was spent working out family drama and was draining- certainly not what we had expected, but then from the last experience we had grasped that things tend to not happen as they are intended in the Athletekar house!

The next day we hear about a winery up the road, called Chateaux Indage, which does food and are delighted when we are asked if we would like to go, as we had been looking at going wine tasting in Nasik if we hadn’t gone to Omkareshwar. Again going with the flow of things tends to deliver all you want in life, although we are sceptical whether we will make it or if plans change again.  They don’t however and we make it up the road to taste 12 wines of white and red varieties, while eating chicken kofta- a real treat.  The Indian wines are far more acidic than other wines and are expensive to buy, so ultimately not anywhere near the best wine growing area, as you need to pay around 10 pounds for a good bottle of merlot to get anything of real quality. Either way it was an ace trip out before the family left us on the side of the road and headed back to Pune without us.

The farm was much busier than the other we visited, but we were told to just relax and enjoy for 10 days, which was ace as we were being housed and fed for free and all we had to do was swim in the natural lake, walk around and chill.  How we landed on our feet and really appreciated that!  What was better was that the monsoon line had now advanced north and so the rains in Pune had now subsided and we were just left with good weather that was not too hot or cold, but still sunny.  We were also in the company of the same guy who we met and stayed with for 8 days on the last farm, with his mother who did the cooking at Umesh’s house last time.  She loved Laura and despite the language barrier treated her like a daughter for the whole time we were there and Sachin, who had his quirky, childish difficulties was at least predictable now.  This place is also a lot more comfortable than the last and ultimately luxurious. We had a bed and a fridge, with electricity most of the time.  The place was a new build that was being turned into part of a meditation resort, which has fantastic potential to be something really special. However when Umesh was revealing his plans we suspected that he was going to damage the balance between a natural landscape that benefited the meditation centre’s aims, with also trying to build a place for local kids to come and enjoy. These two markets are in conflict and would not work together well, so when we were told about water slides leading to the lake and a fully landscaped and walled in complex we were disappointed while glad to be there when this had not taken hold. Umesh did tell me that there was land to be bought there and that he had looked into it for me (due to a previous conversation of me buying land in India) and the price was Rs12 lakhs for 1.5 acres (1.2 million rupees or 17 thousand) is good, but not what we would want if we had to look at a fully developed, squeeky clean hotel complex with a wall/ barbed wire surrounding.

For our purpose of staying in a place with a bit of comfort though it was perfect. Days ended up rolling together, each morning carrying a mattress down to the side of the lake and planting it on a tiled area that in future is meant to be a tent pitch. Armed with my Yoga books I had swapped in Varanasi, the ipod now with charging capability and a warm lake to swim in we developed a great holidayesque routine reminiscent of Goa, when we started the trip. My yoga practice that I was so determined to continue after the lessons we had in Varanasi but failed to do so was now adopted with a renewed vigour and my stretching 6- 8 times a day eventually led me to be able to pull off some of the “advanced” postures, which was satisfying as India was certainly the place to learn yoga! Laura didn’t fair as well, but was enjoying the peace without feeling like you are about to snap- fair enough.

The whole time turned out perfect, as it meant that we had started with a holiday ended with a holiday, with an exploratory holiday in between! Each morning we would watch the fisherman walk down to the lake with his rubber ring and “set sail” with his bag of fishing net on his lap, sat legs akimbo on his rubber ring and paddle off using his flip flops, dropping his net strategically across different parts of the lake. There were big fish in there, so one day we decided to go fishing. The rods were unsurprisingly bamboo with a fixed line and yes we used uncooked chapatis as bait. There are many tribal people who come down to the lake to go fishing. The fisherman stocked the lake himself, but as these tribes people have no house nor job come down to steal or collect food from the land as much as possible. Most people actually just use a crab line and chuck it as far in as possible, so we were quite sophisticated with our float etc. Either way we caught nothing as the line was too short to reach the depths and the hook too big to catch any of the little fish that were nibbling on the bait. It’s the taking part that counts though right?

The only real issues we really had were with the farm hands and the food, which we feel about as we were being given this, and as we should do, feel bad to raise this as a problem. As in the first farm the food was very rural Indian in nature. It consisted what Laura and I ultimately named “Pannee Masala”, which means spiced water. The eating method is the same, vegetables cooked with Tumeric, chilli power onion and perhaps garlic, this is eaten with chapatis, then comes the block of rice, which is the main event and this is eaten with a watery dal or another sparse vegetable combo. To be fair it was more variant than the last farm as the vegetables that were used were more plentiful and so had a greater range than just Okra and green beans, but there is only so much rice, spice and veg you can eat in a row when you are eating three meals a day, especially for Laura whose stomach was playing up. In fact for the first few days we ensured she ate a plain noodle dish to try and shift whatever was still giving her grief. Again this sounds ungrateful, but it is not, it is just difficult to eat so many times in a row when you are used to a wealth of different foods including meat. It was great to see how rural Indians ate and talk to the guys about how much English food cost vs India and how much meat we ate. We are sure that these guys could never face and English diet, while we were managing. We will always have a firm in print of what “real Indian food” is all about though and you will not find it in a UK takeaway!

The only other small problem was that we were supposed to be guests on the farm, according to the owner, Umesh’s wishes, but as soon as he left the guys would change from really helpful to lazy. It is interesting to see how much time and tiringly they would work with the little attention that was paid to the details of a job. For example they entirely covered the wooden dividers and dado rail with newspaper immaculately and neatly with tape, but so little attention to the painting that it ran down the grooves onto the wood anyway and then failed to sandpaper it off later, so that ultimately the wood was covered in paint anyway! They would also expect us to come and get food and chai at designated times that suited them instead of offering us what we needed as would happen when Umesh was around. I would also get told how to eat and have pretty much non-stop “No!” and “Baad” (Marati for ‘bad’ literally), which gets annoying when you actually don’t want to be told to eat a second block of rice when you are incredibly full. Either way these were minor points compared to the benefit of the beautify scenery and the value that we were being given without giving anything in return.

This whole relaxing, swimming, reading and taking in the country routine was only broken up by a walk around the hills and scoping out the view over the green valleys below, watching the water buffalo chill out in ‘our’ lake on the other bank listening to the farmer shouting medieval sounding “Huuuuut hiyaaaa!” like sounds to jee them up and scouting out wild peacocks that are native to the area, but too shy for us to see. Peacocks do sound like crying cats though- I didn’t know that! We were also invited to the local village temple again for “puja” (meaning ‘prayer’) and sat with the locals with kids literally open-mouthed staring at us. We ate the free food that is given out at these events, consisting of a similar meal that we had been eating but as it is a special occasion they had jeera (cumin) rice and a dessert of sweetened coconut.

On one of the last days Umesh came to pay the farm a visit and said that he would be back tomorrow evening with some chicken to BBQ. Great! Some meat! So dutifully we built a brick bar-b-que in preparation, but were a little skeptical whether it would happen given that everything else we had been told had changed and not happened for a variety of reasons. We put faith that it would happen but prepared us for if it didn’t. When it didn’t happen however we were a little annoyed and disappointed, but kept telling ourselves that it didn’t matter and to go with the flow, exactly what you have to do when travelling and especially when you visit India. It was about being given expectations and then let down, not about what we were going to get out of it. Either way we were promised eggs the next day for omelette, which would just be there. We were not surprised when the farm hand looked at us blankly and made it hard for us to get the eggs through asking, but eventually these turned up and we made great omelets using the BBQ we had built the day before.

So the next day we were due to leave and again another problem arose that meant our lift back to Pune couldn’t happen either. Now we needed to catch a rickshaw with all our bags and then a bus, we were put a little out of place with this, but were convinced to go to Umesh’s to see him for one last time as he was on his own. We arrived and he wasn’t alone, but again we are now used to what is claimed and the reality being completely different. Either way Umesh was a legend and treated us to a tandoori chicken meal in the form of making up for failing to turn up the other night and going with the flow panned out again, even though we were put out of joint more than we had wanted, but hey changing your personality takes time and we are both sticklers for people not delivering on their word. It was great to spend time with Umesh without the girls and we sat up until 2:30am drinking and chatting about Yoga, religion and everything in between. A pleasurable, comfortable final night before we left for the UK.

The next day came and went with Internet chores and soon we were on a rickshaw to Pune station and a general class seat to Mumbai. The usual questions came from a man sitting next to me, but this time could have some kind of half meaningful conversation in my “Engdi” and his “Hinglish” combined. I even found out how to get to the airport quicker and received more compliments on my Hindi skills- sweet!

In no time we were blasting up the Mumbai backbone road to the airport and sat on the plane. The last day and time always disappears and we realised that already we are 25% through our global adventure. Time… it always goes in a combination of seeming to go slowly when you are there and then quickly when there has been time already passed.

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1 comment

    • umesh athlekar on 09/03/2010 at 06:29

    Ha ha ! Al, i like you .

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