We were parked under two cashew trees, at a clearing in a village near Khopoli, unsure of how to proceed. Through the narrow grills of a house, a dog barked at us. Close by, a horse harrumphed and shuffled its feet. The wind rushed through the trees loudly. There were several gates before us but no signboard, nor a human being in sight. Gathering our combined navigational skills, my three friends and I picked one. We walked in tentatively and came upon on a group lunching at a picnic table. Spotting us, a man with a wide smile, grey beard, and wired spectacles jumped up and rushed towards us saying, “You must be hungry!”
Banyan Bliss, a homestay run by Viinod and Beena Nair, sits on the slope of a hillock, about two hours from Mumbai. It has four rooms surrounding a wizened banyan tree, which is the heart of the nature-friendly getaway. The Nairs live in the adjacent house (with the barking dog). Until five years ago, they were residents of Mumbai, like most of their guests. Seeking to simplify and slow down the pace of their lives, the couple found this plot of land and began building one unit at a time. Friends dropped by needing to escape the city, and not long after, the idea of a homestay was born.
The doors at Banyan Bliss are made of recycled wood, the roofs are clay-tiled, and most windows look upon soothing, green vistas. Its decor is simple, homely, and filled with character. The green leather sofa is comfortingly weathered, as is the easy chair, perfect for a long read. There are piles of books to browse, a drawer full of LPs in an old study table, and old curios perched in corners. It felt like the minute we said our goodbyes, the family would move back in.
There are plenty of things to do around the house, including taking a cooking class with Beena. Active travellers can go on village walks, trek to Behri to see the local rock temple, or visit the Amba River, a short hike away. More leisurely pursuits include stroking their horse, Prince, walking around the small fruit garden, and soaking your feet in the pond. While my companions took long naps, I sat on the veranda overlooking paddy fields with the hosts and other guests, fortified with a flask of chai and an endless stream of pakoras. As dusk set in, the wind picked up, filling the air with whistles, rustles, and calls. The best thing about Banyan Bliss, I realised, is that nature is an integral part of this home.
Appeared in the January 2016 issue as “Blissfully Aware”.
Banyan Bliss has four rooms with en suite bathrooms, and a clutch of tents. I stayed in the erstwhile master bedroom with a king-sized bed and a sit-out by the pond. The Loft, accessed by a spiral staircase, is a cosy space for a young couple or friends. Meals are homely, supervised by Beena, and made by local staff (www.banyanbliss.com; 93211 22616/93244 44290; ₹2,900 per person, including all meals).
Banyan Bliss is in Vasunde village 30 km from Khopoli (120 km/2 hr southeast of Mumbai and 111 km/2.5 hr from Pune). Driving or hiring a car is the best way to get there. Local trains and state transport buses are available from Mumbai to Khopoli.
Bhavani is a traveller by choice and writer by desire. She believes that "backyard" discovery is as enriching as any other travel. She is in a dedicated relationship with books, dogs, chocolate, her husband and lower case, in no order of preference. She tweets as @bhavan1.