After a harrowing BEST ride, a jam-packed train journey and a bumpy rickshaw ride to reach the campsite, we were more than happy to leave the city behind for the languid, rural haven of Karnala. As we made our way uphill to the site, fields of green surrounded us. The smell of damp earth filled the air, thanks to a mild drizzle. Even as we entered the campsite, our city sensibilities kicked in and we worried about the ‘facilities’ — Would we be safe from wild animals? Would there be filtered water? Would there be clean toilets? This is where Big Red Tent came in.

Pic/Sameer Markande

Campsite with frills
One of the few camping companies in India, the Big Red Tent (BRT) allows one to enjoy the outdoors, while ensuring more than the basic amenities. The company provides a safe, clean campsite with all the gear to make for a comfortable stay.

At Karnala, the 12-acre camp ground has all-around fencing; the cottage has plug points and my favourite part — showers complete with scented body wash, and toilets with hand-held bidets. In addition, BRT provides rainproof tents, sanitised sleeping bags with air pillows, barbecue equipment, breakfast, lunch and dinner, footballs, picnic benches, and a warm staff, who double up as guides.

The campsite is surrounded by lush greenery. Pics/Sameer Markande

Sit still
With no walls to hang clocks on, and a self-imposed ban on cell-phones, we lost track of time. Hours passed walking barefoot on the grass and spotting coconut palms, chickoo and mango trees. The occasional bird chirps broke the silence as we heard our breath. Before sundown, we set up our tents. A camping novice, we had no idea what simple camping terms like ‘ditty bag’ meant; incidentally, it refers to the bag in which the tent is stored. With some help, our room was ready!

A relaxed dining experience in the outdoors
A relaxed dining experience in the outdoors

Eat and explore
Being in the outdoors worked up an appetite. The BRT team brought out the barbecue equipment and we watched as spiced mushrooms, crispy chicken wings, paneer skewers and steaming jacket potatoes got done for our meal.
With the monsoon, the seasonal activity of spotting fireflies was on the loosely-planned schedule. After a short hike, made daunting by torchlight, we reached a plateau, turned off the lights, and spotted a mild glow emanating from the trees. Every speck of light seemed to call out to more fireflies. We spotted them twinkling in the night sky in no particular rhythm. More food awaited us on our hike down — a simple, delicious meal of dal and rice.

Open house
Contrary to our expectations, we found the tent spacious: large enough for two people and comfortable for one to sit upright. Once zipped up, no creepy crawlies, not even mosquitoes can enter. A flat sheet covers the tent floor, making the ground even. The sleeping bag was placed on this padding. Wrapped in the snug bag, we fell asleep, under the stars, to the rhythm of raindrops falling on our tent.

By light
Next morning, seated on a wooden bench, we indulged in comfort food — poha with chutney, eggs (as you prefer), bread and butter, and kadak ginger chai. Powered up, the BRT team once again led the way for another hike — we could choose between Karnala Fort or a short trek to nowhere in particular. Given the humidity, we opted for the latter. By day, the trek was easier, but the sight of plastic bottles and rubbish strewn along the way marred the trail. Several make-shift viewing points offered sweeping views of the valley below, including the turret of the Karnala Fort, known as ‘Thumbs Up’ because of its peculiar shape. By now, it was time to leave, to return to a city that seems a metaphor to urban life.