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Living the ‘slow life’ at destinations that are off-the-tourist-map

Great escapes into the slow pace of farming life can make any city dweller elated

brunch Updated: Oct 08, 2017 13:38 IST
Saubhadra Chatterji
Saubhadra Chatterji
Hindustan Times
slow life,farm stays,British-era tea estate
A weekly market offers different options to quench the thirst (Saubhadra Chatterji)

In this British-era tea estate, I am possibly the only guest so far who doesn’t drink tea!

I am barely awake when raindrops patter on the tin roof and the morning sun’s rays caress the antique table in the room. There’s a hazy vision of my wife pouring tea in a cup.

Neither its robust flavour nor the misty morning excites me. Furthermore, Darjeeling tea, for many tea lovers, is far better than its Assam counterpart.I roll over, cuddle the side pillow and try to catch a new dream in this nondescript Balipara of Assam.

Cup of kindness

Even the simians like tea! (Saubhadra Chatterji)

But why? This quiet place in the middle of acres and acres of tea plantation is an ideal retreat from the jamboree of city lives. There’s no TV. Hardly any Internet. The nearest town is 21km away and people here have little interest about the world outside. They’re happy in their own chai pe charcha.

All around the bungalow, flowers are blooming amid loads of greenery. Tea bushes outside the main gate lay a rain-washed green carpet till the horizon. In this tranquillity, I nearly forget I’m hungry.

Last evening, the manager of Wild Mehseer welcomed us with a faint smile and a few words. I was convinced these guys want to maintain the wall between professional planters and frivolous tourists.

It’s 9.30am. We are late for breakfast. As I enter the dining hall, two things strike me. “How on earth could this be a refurbished tractor garage?” I murmur, looking around the white hall. The cane furniture with flower-print table covers and cushions make it look like a rom-com movie set. In one corner, the manager, the deputy manager, and their wives, are waiting for us. Their breakfast is long over. They want to give us company.

A slow life in the middle of trees, sumptuous food, good company and tales of the past: what more can I want from a weekend in nowhere land?

For the remaining days, whenever we come to eat they stay put for us, supervise the kitchen to ensure everything is freshly cooked. They share stories of their lives in tea estates. The planter’s routine sounds too boring. But they look happy.

We take a short trip of Arunachal Pradesh before touring the sprawling estate. The main attraction is the British-era, heritage planter’s bungalow − complete with a library (reading is the best activity unless you’re carrying your single malt from home).

The enthusiastic guide opens an iron gate to the other side of the garden. He narrates the plucking techniques (the two leaves and a bud theory) and how to stop insects affecting the bushes: yellow sticky sheets are wrapped around big trees throughout the garden. The bugs are attracted to the bright colour and remain pasted forever. The narration could have continued, but a group of threatened simians, chased by a dog, comes running straight towards us.

Next day, when we bid adieu to his team, the manager says that he hopes to see me again. Then, as an afterthought, he adds, “Oh, I forgot to tell you, actor Aamir Khan stayed here last year!”

Banquet of beauty

Wheat fields of Punjab (Saubhadra Chatterji)

The beauty in Wild Mahseer’s loneliness is so gripping that a month later, when I see a report about a new, secluded farm-stay in Punjab, I know I am going there.

I call the mobile number given in the article. Jeet, the property owner’s first question is: “What’s your pet name, dude?”

I share it with a stranger because there’s a special place for Punjabis in my heart. They are big-hearted, full of life and treats guests as family members.

“Any dietary restriction?” the second question comes. “No”, I retort. “Come over. Be our guest. We’ll have fun,” Jeet sounds excited.

The living room in Baans Bagh (Saubhadra Chatterji)

One bright afternoon, my car rolls down the kaccha road of Baans Bagh, off Chandigarh-Baddi road. There is just one house and, as far as we can see, the land is full of trees and bamboo groves.

“The locals tell me, why are you wasting this 60-acre land? Grow wheat or rice. I tell them, I love nature. They say I am a fool,” the lanky Punjabi introduces himself.

His wife and her nephew Himu, join us soon. Coconut water and snacks start pouring in. Little do I know that for next two days, I will be stuffed with so much food.

The bedrooms, the verandah, the living rooms are tastefully done. The original business of the family was sourcing and selling vintage firearms. Now, they’ve switched to making camp furniture. (Even the washroom has two teak wood chairs.)

The colours of the wild in Punjab (Saubhadra Chatterji)

When the sun falls behind the hills and the crickets start singing, Jeet and I announce, “We’ll play chess.”

“It’s a mind game, I need to think hard,” Jeet declares. He loses the first two games quickly. Then, he changes the strategy and the supply of Scotch doubles and fish tikkas replace kebabs. I lose the third game to a novice.

After the second day, my wife complains that while she is going out for walks and plucking mulberries, I am not giving her company. So, Jeet and Himu take us to local villages and a temple atop a hill for great views of the rolling plains covered with the golden hue of wheat. “There’s not much to do here. But we, the younger generation, love this place,” Himu says.

At that moment I too, want to tell him that I have never experienced anything like this. A slow life in the middle of trees, sumptuous food, good company and tales of the past: what more can I want from a weekend in nowhere land?

We get ready to hit the long road back to Delhi. My wife tells the lady of the house she will return with her NRI sister in winter. I try to poke Jeet, “Hone your chess skills, dude.”

The engine roars. All of us burst into laughter at the last joke. And I know for sure – we had come here as tourists, but are going back as friends.

The Brunch insider’s view
  • A short drive away, the Nameri National Park is ideal for birdwatching treks. (Source: Lonely Planet)
  • Visit the weekly market at Balipara for organic vegetables, herbs and fruits. (Source: Conde Nast Traveller)
  • Those looking to stay in a guest house can make a reservation at Hornbill Lodge. (Source: TripAdvisor)

From HT Brunch, October 8, 2017

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First Published: Oct 07, 2017 21:15 IST