The hills are alive

Updated: Oct 26, 2018, 08:20 IST | Dalreen Ramos

We spent the weekend on a mountain valley getaway in Raigad, which is setting the bar high for a well-rounded camping experience

Our fascination with the hills began when we caught the 1965 musical drama, The Sound of Music - way before we lost our first tooth. And long after you had finished watching the film, there was something magical about carrying the visual memory of Salzburg to any place that remotely resembled the verdure. Last weekend, we had our Maria von Trapp moment minus the apron dress and helmet hairdo.

Up, in the air, in circles
Maharashtra's roadways never fail to surprise us. After a four-hour drive from Mumbai to Raigad, that oscillates between bumpy and smooth, is the quaint village of Taraste sits in the Tala taluka. The driver informs us that the name of the taluka is now synonymous with the eco-luxury resort we're headed to, Forest Hills at Tala, whose campsite has just been relaunched after the monsoon. As we circle around the hill, the clouds gain definition and we're lost in the vast expanse of greenery that is enough to blur our vision.

Mud Houses. Pics/Dalreen Ramos
Mud Houses. Pics/Dalreen Ramos

Three countries, one home
We stop by to meet Anisha Abraham, the head of operations at the property, who takes heed of our weary condition and makes arrangements to send us to our accommodation right away. On reaching Mud hut number 1, we spot thatched roofs and are handed our room keys. And in the scorching heat, we are greeted by foliage embedded with bright pink hibiscuses and black-eyed Susans that resemble some of Renoir's paintings set in Montmatre. The structure is whitewashed and we unlock the blue door to interiors that are as comfy and utility-oriented as they look, with decor featuring little bronze objects - kettles, locks and bowls. The air-conditioned room is equipped with a double bed, a lounger chair, a cable television and basic amenities such as in-room tea, an iron and ironing board, and refrigerator.

Six Degree North cafe
Six Degree North cafe

A brochure left by the table informs us that all interiors on the property as made using laterite extracted from their land, instead of cement, in line with the ethos of sustainability. Single-use plastic has also been eliminated from the property. The washroom and shower is built in an extended area which is walled with glass panels on the sides, so you can truly be one with nature. We wonder if the architect was inspired by Santorini, perhaps a globetrotter aiming to bridge the distance between India, Greece, and France? When we ask the staff about this, we don't draw a satisfactory response.

Kuda Caves
Kuda Caves

Sunsets and spinning
Famished, we head to the Valley Cafe for lunch and are welcomed by head chef Abhijit Chauhan, who serves us a sumptuous meal of rajma chawal with chicken gravy and tandoori roti, while guests flock by the open buffet counter. We are seated facing the swimming pool of the Camel Cabin, a plush 800-sq ft wooden tent house, and the breathtaking view of the valley on our side. After a quick nap, we head for some fun and games with other guests. But this being a busy day, we are taken to the sunset point where light scatters on the clay put up for display on a podium while two potters spin their wheels with enthusiasm. And we decide to give the activity a go.

Deepti Thackre, the head instructor, and her assistant Bijoy make for accommodating and patient teachers, and we are introduced to the basic principles of throwing, centering and shaping. Even as other guests falter like us, Bijoy keenly pushes us, "It's taken us seven years to study the art, you can't possible learn it all in one day." The sun is setting, and it's been quite a day.

Popular YouTuber Samarth Swarup performs live
Popular YouTuber Samarth Swarup performs live

Do, Re, Mi
We head to the campsite for the evening, and are seated on a mattress with approximately 100 others (including a couple of adorable dogs); many of them have been living in tents which are equipped with sleeping bags and a charging port. YouTuber Samarth Swarup entertains us with a one-hour set featuring old Bollywood songs, latest chartbusters, as well as Rajasthani folk songs - on request from the audience, but Swarup is delighted, being a Rajasthani himself. He even gets an audience member to jam with him. We nibble on barbecued meat and veggies, while they relight the bonfire. The night is still young.

The campground at Forest Hills, Tala. Pics/khyati bohra
The campground at Forest Hills, Tala. Pics/khyati bohra

Caving in
At seven in the morning, we are ready for our nature trail to Kuda caves. We meet our guide and walk by rough shrubs and cactuses. We aren't exaggerating when we say this is a very steep 20-minute trek that will surely leave your feet in bad shape if you don't wear suitable shoes. And most of the skill really lies in putting your trust in tiny stones. But needless to say, it's all worth it when you reach the cluster of 15 rock-cut Buddhist caves. Forest Hills being a two-year old property, it is still developing and thus, most employees do not have detailed knowledge about the area - in this case, the biodiversity or architecture. Improving on the same would certainly add historic and cultural value to the experience, we feel. But they don't let you leave without asking for your honest feedback with ratings for every facility and service provided. With a place that's open to learning, we hope things only get better.

AT: Survey no 157/9, Pitasai Kumbet Road, Raigad.
COST: Rs 2,900 onwards

More outdoors fun
We also tried rifle shooting, archery and horse riding. In addition, there's a petting zoo with goats, and poultry. And don't miss the friendly Dodo, a white labrador who is a permanent fixture at the property, and loves to show up across the space.

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