This time when I came home to Nagpur, I was invited to a very special event - A Day Picnic to Deolapar. It was organized by the Rotary Anns, the women’s wing of Rotary Club, as a day of fun, relaxation and bonding. My mom asked me whether I wanted to go for it. Ofcourse, I did! For me personally, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the event, because I had heard that there was going to be golf, trekking and also cycling as activities. All in the forest. I didn’t think there could be a better way to spend a Sunday.
Deolapar is a village town on the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. It is only two hours away from Nagpur city and a comfortable option for experiencing the tranquil village life. For the picnic, we were invited to Rotary Ann Vinita Bahri’s farmhouse in Deolapar, which is situated very close to the Sillari Gate Entrance to Pench National Park. You would recognise Pench as the abundant forest which serves as the setting for the immortal tale by Sir Rudyard Kipling : The Jungle Book. On the day that we visited, the verdant landscape of Deolapar was made even more lush by the constant drizzling. A group of around 40 women, we left from Nagpur at 6:30 on the morning of 29th July, excited for a day away from the hubbub of the city. Very soon the surrounding views on both sides started changing from the usual drab of the industrial landscape to greener terrain consisting of trees and paddy fields.
Coming to this trip was an interesting return to a life we knew before. Me and my parents have shifted back to Nagpur from Mumbai after 14 years and a significant theme in our life when we previously lived here was Rotary Club. A social gathering which brought together people in the act of giving and serving, Rotary as a club is dedicated to service and bonding. We had many memorable times by being associated to this club. The faces I saw now were both a mix of familiar and unfamiliar ones. I recognised some people, like a lady who was the mother of an old classmate of mine, and another one who had given us a farewell when we had left the city. Of course there is often this apprehension, whether you would feel like an outsider in an established group, but this gathering was so instantly welcoming, that I never felt like there had been a hiatus of 14 years. It was good to meet everyone again on fresh terms and to forge new friendships.
The bus ride was eventful as we played all the essential games that a band of merry picnickers play once they’re brought together. What picnic is complete without a round of Antakshari and Dumb Charades? I can only report the fun we had in one bus, but one must mention the truly novel idea that Antakshari should be played not just confined to the people in one bus, but between both the buses. Using our phones, of course. Out of the thousand ways in which technology has made our lives interesting, this is one. Haha. We made our way, everyone craving their morning cup of tea, whilst nibbling on an Upside Down Pineapple Cake brought by Nita Singh, courtesy of her JD’s Bakery in Nagpur.
Tranquility of Village Life
As soon we reached and disembarked from our buses, there was a bullock cart (or as it is locally known, a bel bundi) waiting for us. Around 4-5 of us could sit in it at once and have the experience of going to our gathering spot in the cart with the bullocks swaying extravagantly from side to side. Like the pace of the bullock cart, it becomes apparent that all of life moves slowly in the village, with an abundance of pause between breaths. You can sense a leisurely flavour to the way people walk, the way women sit outside in the verandahs oiling their hair, and how the kids play their endless games, rolling bicycle wheels around with wooden sticks. We seem to be the only ones still thrumming with that restless energy of the city, introducing a new element of frisson to this tranquil surrounding. But, along the course of the day, the village gave a memorable gift to us city folk. It gave us the opportunity to sit quietly by a tree or perhaps a lake, look at a heron gliding down for some water, and witness for once our own thoughts settling down in quietude. Ah, a taste of liberation!
After a plentiful breakfast of vada pavs and omelettes, we make our way into the forest on a nature trail. We cross giant rocks, plant of all varieties and ancient Banyan trees all sending down their tresses from great heights. We are guided by a local who stops us from time to time to give us information about the local flora and fauna, the way he did when we came across a little plant on the way. He looked down at it in recognition and said, ‘This is the Pythagoras Plant.’ According to his people, a salve made with this leaf is considered a miracle cure for broken bones. Google seems to have no information about this plant, but locals swear by it. I guess you can say : ‘Sticks and stones won’t break my bones/ But if they do, I got Pythagoras.’
We eventually reached an abandoned fort with a waterfront. It belonged to the local kings back in the day. The waterfront is called a ‘Baoli’, and is built to harvest rainwater. Inside the fort, there is a secret tunnel, that our guide claims runs several kilometres connecting the fort to Ramtek, a famous Ram temple not far away from where we stood. Such secret escape ways might’ve been very useful in those insecure old times with the constant danger of being attacked by the enemy.
The Lady Of The Lake
Before heading back to the gathering spot, someone asked, “There’s Vinita’s lake just round here, in case you guys would like to go see it.” At which I thought, ‘Wow, she owns a lake?!’ Technically, if it is a part of the land that you own, then it belongs to you. But, to my mind, there seemed to be a difference. There’s something curious about owning an element of nature and I thought, What does it mean to own a lake, a river or a plateau? Where in that vastness, does the mark of your ownership lie? Does everything in it become yours? Are you then a kind of proxy master to nature itself? I wondered about such things but could not bring it to a sensible conclusion. On my travels, I knew a man once who owned an entire mountain in Dharamsala. Even the local people identified terrain using it as a marker. For example, if you asked them : ’Where is the temple of the Devi?’ They would say, ‘Oh, the temple is not very far, just behind Mohinderji’s mountain.’
Isn’t it incredible? I think as an owner all you can really do is limit or open the access to a particular resource. And on this day, in Deolapar, we not only had access to Mrs Vinita’s lake, we even got to indulge in some freshly caught fish from the lake at lunchtime. Speaking of which, lunch was nothing less than a grand affair. It was the way I imagine hunting parties of Maharajas or British nobility coming to Pench might have lunched. We got to sample local Maharashtrian renditions of spicy brinjal, daal and jhunka bhaakar all cooked over the firewood till the flavour is totally heightened.
Fresh Forest Freedom
I want to bring this exciting day to a close by describing my favourite experience, which was cycling through the forest. The organisers had invited Deepanti from Saddle Up Nagpur, a cycling community, to be among us and to bring along cycles for us to ride. These were beautiful, gear cycles which are generally used for racing purposes. So, you can imagine it, how easy it must be to move on them, practically gliding on the road going through the woods, a road free of traffic and noise. When you’re on these roads, the only thing you have as your companion, are the sounds of the forest.