My piece on the Culture Aangan homestays in Sindhudurg appeared in yesterday’s Mid day – here it is…
‘Safety on the roads is safe tea at home’, proclaims the sign on the Mumbai – Goa highway, just one of the numerous well-meaning signboards that make this route so enchanting. We have been on the road since early morning, and think longingly of the tea, safe or otherwise waiting for us just an hour away. Sure enough, when we pull into Nandan Farms at Sawantwadi, just as the sun is setting, our hostess Amrutha Padgaonkar welcomes us with her cheery open smile and steaming cups of tea. As she takes us around the house, I can hear the pride in the voice when she talks about her family home. The place, with its beautiful bamboo furniture and colourful decor is as warm and welcoming as the hostess. It is my first time at a homestay place, and I am instantly hooked.
Over the next three days, Amrutha (“everybody calls me Ammu”) spoils us silly with home-cooked meals and heavy-duty bargaining on our behalf at the local market. The hearty home-cooked meal (well, the way to our hearts is certainly through the stomach) seems to be a common theme across the homestays, as we find with Vaishali Loke who is our host at Pitruchaya at Shirgaon. The mango season is over but she manages to surprise us at dinner with delicious aamras and fresh Deogad mangoes the next day. There is solkadi with every meal and sabudana khichdi for breakfast served with tips for finding the best vada pav when we step out later that day.
Introduction to Culture Aangan
Nandan Farms and Pitruchaya are two of the homestays established and managed by Culture Aangan, a Mumbai-based organization. At present, there are three more such homes spread across the district, in Oras, Valaval and Talavade. Each of the homes is unique and has a character and charm that is defined strongly by the personality of the host family.
Rashmi Sawant, who runs Culture Aangan has an animated smile on her face as she reminisces over her childhood days in Kumta, in North Karnataka. “All of us kids, cousins and friends used to meet up during summer in my grandmother’s house and spend all our time in the open aangan in the middle of the sprawling house. Games, food, sleep, fights, everything was out in the aangan”. And years later, when she began setting up the homestay network in Sindhudurg, one of her prime motives was also to restore and preserve the underlying cultural ethos of the region, and so the name Culture Aangan was born.
Vaishali and Vijay Loke of Pitruchaya were the first couple to come forward when Rashmi started the initiative a couple of years ago. Since then she has campaigned tirelessly among locals, trying to convince them to open their homes to visitors, and do their bit towards developing what is officially Maharashtra’s Tourism District. And once the owners agree to be a part of the Culture Aangan network, Rashmi’s business partner, George Joel steps in with his magic touch. With a background in engineering and design and an eye for unusual detail, George manages to transform the basic room into an inviting and aesthetically pleasing space.
Apart from the homestay network, Rashmi also manages a couple of other initiatives aimed at the development of the district. The Pinguli Arts Complex set up and managed by Rashmi and George is an effort to revive and preserve the traditional arts and craft of the region, including Chitragathi painting and shadow puppetry. Additionally, Rashmi has mobilized 160 Self Help Groups (SHGs) with over 3000 women producing speciality food and beverage items. The SHG organization is named Hirkani in honour of a milkmaid in Chhatrapati Shivaji’s kingdom, who climbed down Raigad fort through a rough path late in the night to get home to her child.
Head to Sindhudurg in the rains
So why go to Goa when you can go to Sindhudurg, a couple of hours closer to Mumbai? Sindhudurg is the ideal monsoon get-away, with over twenty beaches that are clean, pretty and quiet. So quiet, some of them, that the only sounds you hear are the crashing of the waves and your own thoughts racing, wondering about the point (or pointlessness, more likely) of your busy lives back in Mumbai.
There are several things to do in Sindhudurg – for those seeking active holidays. Visit the ancient temple of Rameshwar, climb up the lighthouse at Vengurla, go for a boat ride on the placid waters of Damapur Lake or take a nature trail through the verdant slopes of Amboli, the hill station discovered and patronized by the British. The region is also home to several of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s forts, including the early 13th century ‘fort of victory’ Vijaydurg, and Sindhudurg, the fort in the sea which lends its name to the region.
Alternatively, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the rains with a book and endless cups of tea in one of the Culture Aangan homes. A homestay is a unique experience that combines the comfort of personalized service, with the warm hospitality of a home. Staying with a local family in their home is easily the best way to get the true flavour of the region. For instance, Mr.Kadam of Shreeyog Paryatan (the homestay in Oras) was a certified tourist guide with the Deccan Odyssey luxury tourist train, and is full of stories and trivia about his land.
Eat delicious home-made food (have I mentioned it already?) including fresh fish that you can try your hand at catching (in season, there is a deep sea trawler fishing activity you can take part in) and cooking. And perhaps most important of all, a significant portion of the money you spend goes back to a local family in some form or the other, keeping the local economy thriving.
Several trains from Mumbai on the Konkan line pass through stations in the Sindhudurg region. Your best option is the Konkan Kanya (departs 2305 hours) from Mumbai CST. The nearest airport is Dabolim in Goa, from where the homes are 2-3 hours away. Culture Aangan also provides a pick-up from the railway station / airport and arranges for local transport, if required. Alternatively, a drive on the Goa Highway is a stimulating experience in the monsoon, and will take from 7-9 hours from Mumbai, depending on the state of the roads and your destination within Sindhudurg.
For more information, check out the Culture Aangan website at http://www.cultureaangan.com or contact Rashmi Sawant directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org