Albert Einstein once said that if you look deep into nature, you will understand everything better. This trip to Forest Hills at Tala proved him right for me.
Since the resort in Raigad is about four hours away from Pune, it’s advisable to leave early in the morning. Considering that one person in your group will stay up to ungodly hours playing a certain video game everyone’s hooked on to these days and reach the pick-up point an hour later than everyone else, we say the best time to take off from the city is 6 am for this bumpy ride.
If you’re an adventure junkie and love camping, you can rent state-of-the-art tents on the camping ground for your stay. If you looking for a more relaxing getaway there are differently-sized cottages to choose from.
After being welcomed with glassfuls of kokum sherbet and coconut water at the reception, we were taken to the Indigo Blue cottage on level three, just a flight of steps away from the restaurant which overlooks the infinity pool. Going by the theme, everything from the curtains to the tiles in the bathroom were indigo, it takes a while before you realise what a calming effect the colour has on the mind. The Camel cottage was on the same floor at a walking distance. Other cottages like the Glass House, the Mud Huts etc are scattered throughout the 120 acre premises.
Afternoons are best spent indulging in fun activities like ATV riding, kayaking, and so on. Three horses — Karan, Arjun and Shelby, are trained on the grounds to take you for a ride around the property. If you’ve ever wondered whether you’ll survive The Hunger Games like Katniss Everdeen, you can practise your bow-and-arrow moves, or pick up the air gun to shoot blanks at bottles. Then head off to Sunset Point, where log picnic tables are laid out and you can sip on piping hot cups of lemongrass flavoured masala tea and munch on Cheese Toasts while you watch the sky break into a riot of colours as the sun calls it a day.
We tried our hand at the calming art of pottery, learning how to focus our energy and create something beautiful out of a blob of clay. One tiny jerk to deal with a mosquito bite and I ended up destroying the beautiful vase I built right up from the wheel!
But once we got to the restaurant for dinner, where the staff decided to surprise us with a bonfire in the chilly outdoor area, and ’90s music streaming from someone’s phone on the speakers, the party was on!
The meals are usually laid out as a buffet, but the chef is more than happy to do sit-down plated meals for a big gathering. Following the farm-to-fork concept, most of the vegetables and fruits used in the kitchen are grown in their premises. They even have a prawn farm.
While you don’t mind walking around the property in day time, as night falls, it does get a little creepy. Every step you take, you need to be careful of leeches, tiny frogs and various types of lizards and snakes. So the guests can avail the pick and drop car service to their cottages. While the Indigo Blue cottage had a completely covered bathroom, the other cottages had ‘natural elements’ such as tree branches emerging into the bathroom. Though it looked delightful in the daytime, in the night it became a hangout for toads and rodents. But get a massage at their in-house spa, and you’ll forget about all those unexpected guests in your bathroom and sleep like a baby. The availability of hot water is quite unpredictable, but you can call the reception and a staff member will figure things out for you in no time.
Mornings here start early. We started ours with a nature trail down to the Kuda Caves, a cluster of 15 rock-cut Buddhist caves said to be built between the first and third century BC, before the Mahayanas took over the place. The trail through the forest is by far the most dangerous, adventurous and thrilling walk I’ve ever taken in my life. With thorny bushes on one side and giant cactus on the other, while walking down a slope made slippery because of trampled leaves, the only thing to hold on to for support was the barbed wire fence marking the boundary of the resort. And to top it off, I wore shorts because, that’s how people dress for adventure in all the movies I’ve seen!
While walking down this seemingly endless trail (an hour-long I was told), I wanted to give up so many times. But the words of our guide kept me going — he said if we walked to the caves, we could take the car up to the restaurant for breakfast.
The chef put out a grand breakfast — Pancakes, Eggs Benedict, something innovative with Hashbrowns, and so on. I dissed the thought of calories because of the sense of accomplishment from completing the trail. Before leaving the resort and getting back to our mundane lives, there was just enough time for a quick jump into the infinity pool. Relaxed by the cool water under the warm sunshine, as I gazed at the Sayhadris from the edge of the pool, I couldn’t help but think how we city folks crib about not being able to be close to nature while in reality getting so close to the wild outdoors only freaked and creeped me out. But it was all worth the photos I got for my Instagram.