By Megha Bajaj October 2006 A weekend at a farm is an increasingly attractive way of getting in touch with oneself, others and nature. While hotel food is laden with oil and spice, made to please the palate, farm food is healthy and gives me a chance to actually rejuvenate myself over a weekend and prepare me for another Monday,’ says Prakash Bajaj (54), a civil engineer from Mumbai. For the urban dweller, oding on pollution, stress and alienation from nature, along comes a reasonable and accessible way of getting a weekly fix of nature. Around all cities, several farms have opened up for tourism, offering a few days of reprieve from work, pollution and toxic food. Mr. Hemant Chabbra is the proud owner of Hideout, a beautiful farm only two hours away from Mumbai. A farm, which earlier only provided healthy organic food and vegetables, and served as a beautiful weekend reprieve for the family, has now been opened for tourism. Hemant and his wife Sangeeta opted to educate their children at home, and in order to provide company for their children, started inviting their friends’ kids to the farm and educating them about the working of the farm, organic food and taking them for enjoyable treks. This practice became such a hit with kids, that they spoke about it with their parents and their school friends, starting a whole new movement of farm tourism at Hideout. Today, the Chabbras can accommodate about 40 people in monsoons and about 70 in other seasons at their farmhouse. At Rs. 400 per person per day, which includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and stay, Hideout is a cheap, educative and fun reprieve from city life for many. Hemant adds, ‘Hideout campsite is a unique new concept in close proximity to Mumbai. Earlier, Hideout guests used to be family gatherings and kids attending camps or birthday parties, but now we have several individuals and couples coming in who want to just ‘chill’ and ‘de-stress’. We have hammocks all around and it’s a common sight to see our guests sleeping for hours at end. We even have yogis come in for meditation and yoga camps and a recent addition has been that of corporates who want to do team building programs or attend a seminar in a non AC cool eco-environment.’ Doctor’s Farm, run by Dr S V Mirajkar, a Mumbai-based general practitioner, is situated in the Mumbai-Goa Highway, and is another popular option for weekenders. Conceived originally as a farm with over 5,000 species of trees and plants, including 20 varieties of mangoes, and other fruits, as well as spices like cloves and bay leaves, the gestation time for the farm to pay for itself was so prolonged that he and his wife conceived of attracting picnickers as a way of keeping the farm going. Doctor Mirajkar, who resides and practices in Mumbai during the week and shifts to the farm over weekends, has added several other attractions to his farm. He says, ‘We have a seven-km river view and almost half a km of the river touches our land. We have facilities for boating, swimming, trekking and hiking.’ He adds, ‘While many of the youngsters only want a good time singing and dancing, others are fascinated by the greenery. I take great pleasure in explaining nature’s ways to them, like, for instance, how do you tell a wild mango sapling from a grafted one (the leaves are usually higher up the stem), and so on.’ While most farms serve only vegetarian food, Doctor’s Farm serves non-vegetarian food as well, and also unlike other -closer-to-nature farms, allows guests to carry their own alcohol. The package comes to Rs 800 a day per person for food (non-veg; it is Rs 100 less for veg) and accommodation. Doctor’s Farm is cheaper than most good hotels and far more beautiful what with peacocks, deer, and a large variety of birds sharing your day with you. Again, hammocks are in abundance. Babychen Mathew (35), publisher and editor of dancewithshadows.com, a recent guest at Doctor’s Farm, shares, ‘There are no luxuries – it’s very bare basic stuff, but good food, for both vegetarians and non vegetarians. Limited menu, though. It was also very quiet. We loved the solitariness of the place and enjoyed chatting with doctor and his wife who took us around their 15-acre farm to show us each of their 5,000 species of plants. Visiting the nearby waterfall and sitting around in the meadows, drinking beer on the terrace at night were memorable experiences. We were all thrilled by the almost unnaturally bright greenery around us.’ His comment goes to show exactly what a weekend at a farmhouse does for people. Mr. Prakash Bajaj, also an environmentalist, shares, ‘As kids we played in mud, and found exhilaration in gardens, dirtying ourselves and sleeping in the grass. Somehow as we grow older, we forget this side to us. I prefer a farmhouse to a hotel because I feel like that three-year-old again around nature, whereas in a hotel I have to observe a certain decorum.’ While most would consider a farmhouse sortie to be an antidote for urban lifestyles, others see it as an introduction to a new way of life in itself. ‘A weekend at a farmhouse is just not enough if you come back to your usual, destructive style of living and eating, ,though it is at least a positive start,’ says Vijaya Venkat of the Health Awareness Centre, Prabhadevi, Mumbai. A nutritionist, an environmentalist and also a writer, Dr. Venkat and her family have not taken a single medicine in over 25 years, ever since she realized the importance of a holistic living which includes organic food, fresh air, meditation and an attitude of complete responsibility towards one’s health. Going to a farm, understanding where your food comes from, is a good beginning, she says. She correlates the health of the soil with the health of the human body for what goes in to the soil ultimately goes in to the body – and therefore she propagates organic food which is produced without adding any artificial fertilizer or chemicals. Dr Venkat does not look at a farm weekend as a time to just chill, but as a time to learn more about the earth and consequently yourself, a time to learn more about health and consequently, life. Besides providing some remuneration to the farmer, health, education and rejuvenation to the guests – a farmhouse also provides employment opportunities to several villagers. No farmhouses have formal uniforms for the staff – the villagers come as they are, behave as they naturally know how to and get an average of about Rs 60-70 per day. So the city dwellers also get the unique opportunity of interacting with the villagers, sharing a few hours with them and understanding what life means to them. The government too has started realizing the importance of farm tourism and Mr. Tarware, the Director (Sales and Marketing) Agri Tourism Corporation, Pune, has said that rural and agri-tourism is a Rs. 4,300 crore market. They have identified several farms in and around Pune, which will be developed and used for corporate seminars and holidays. Mr Taware said the Agri Tourism Corporation was looking at about 12,000 tourists for the first year, which would bring in revenue of about Rs 30 lakh. If this happens, it would be a win-win situation for all. A weekend at a farm really sounds like a great idea to me – a sleep-deprived, nature-deprived, introspection-deprived journalist. Can I tempt you to join me? Contact: Dr S V Mirajkar: 9869049825;Hemant Chabbra: 9820149022
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