Flashback 50 years…
Visions of mile upon mile of bumpy, dusty, mud roads. Barely motorable. Snaking through the dense, wild jungles of Central India.
The only signs of civilization being the occasional cluster of huts, their numbers just about enough to earn the right to be called villages. Cowering under an intimidating siege of teak.
Bang in the middle of nowhere, shrouded in mist, a dank, stone dak bungalow. ‘Home’ for the next couple of weeks. Shadowy interiors even at the height of noon exemplify its homophonic nomenclature. Infested by mosquitoes, leeches and a whole bunch creatures that relegate the term ‘creepy crawly’ to Enid Blythonesque proportions.
Okay, maybe I exaggerate a bit, (both on detail and verbosity) but those boyhood shikari memories came flooding back when I first stepped into our allotted cottage at the Wildernest Resort.
Rave reviews had placed it high on my bucket list. But it was our 25-year-old son’s recent affliction by the need-to-travel-to-off-beat-places-in-India bug that actually catalysed our visit.
To cut a long story short we decided to take advantage of long weekend during the Ganpati celebrations of 2015 and visit the resort.
Though we booked over a month in advance, the only accommodation available were a night each; the first at Wildernest and then at its sister resort 2 km away, Swapnagandha.
One great feature is that dogs are allowed here, and so the five of us dog included (shades of Blyton again?) drove down from Mumbai.
The resort is nestled in the hilly Chorla Ghat region on the west coast of India, between Belgaum and Goa. Despite the rains, the roads, all the way from Mumbai, were excellent. Just for the record, they also offer a pickup and drop facility from Goa so one has the option of flying into Goa and being ferried from Goa airport.
The monsoon is still active in September and Chorla Ghat is reported to be one of the wettest places on the Konkan Coast. During our 2-night stay it didn’t pour in the true sense of the word, but the constant repetitive showers ensured a sky-high humidity and a persistent dampness.
The property itself is on the main road, which is great if you are driving here. On reaching Wildernest (there is a large board that confrms your arrival) you will need to park you car just within the entrance gates and a jeep takes you to the resort that is about 600mtrs deeper into the jungle.
There is no reception at the gate and, when we arrived, unsure of what to do, I did attempt to drive further on the cobbled and extremely uneven internal road. It took 50mtrs before better judgment prevailed and I turned back.
There are 2 types of cottages: jungle view and forest view. Both are spacious and have a great view that can be enjoyed from an adequately sized sit-out area overlooking the valley. Cottages have electricity and an attached bath with hot and cold water. The accommodation is spotlessly clean.
Apart from the cottages, an infinity pool, a spacious dining area and an outdoor bar complete the resort and are connected by laterite stone pathways that cut into the forest. Laterite stone steps lead away towards individual cottages that are recessed in the jungle making them barely visible from the main path itself.
Situated 2 km away from Wildernest and accessible via the main road, Swapnagandha is the sister resort of the former and we were allotted cottages in a newly opened section. This is far more modern than Wildernest. For starters there is a reception cabin on arrival where you are welcomed and directed to your cottage.
Swapnagandha has its own dining area (seen on the left) but for our first meal (lunch) we were ferried back to Wildernest.
Talking about food. This place is tops! The cuisine offers purely local fare, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. It is spicy but delicious!!
For those of you who have a fear of creepy-crawlies I would strongly recommend these cottages at Swapnagandha. They are definitely the lesser of the two evils!
Being the monsoon season we were warned about leeches and this place has them in spades! I was bitten thrice and my son 12 times! I have always dreaded these creatures. Experiencing them here however made me realize that it wasn’t such a big deal! Truly!!
There are a huge variety of butterflies moths and other insects and it will take me at least a few weeks to tag and identify all the images I took. A task that I am looking forward to doing!
I was mainly interested in birds. On reaching the resort I was informed that the monsoon is not the ideal time for bird watching and photography. Which was disappointing!
We did sight a family of Malabar Hornbills. Other commonly seen birds include magpie-robins, red-whiskered bulbuls, and crimson backed sunbirds. Nowhere near what I was expecting. Ah, well, I guess I will have to return in November/December!
The highlight of the trip were 2 malabar pit vipers. The first was coiled peacefully outside my children’s cottage and was spotted by my daughter as she went to turn off the outside night light. The herp was barely 18 inches from the switch!
Just for the record, one of the staff, Vilas, (I think this was his name), did relocate the snake from the entrance of the cottage to a safer place in the jungle. The comfort and gentleness by which he did so was reassuring.
I did enquire about the resort policy regarding snakebites. They do not keep anti snake venom and if bitten you have to travel several kilometers to a local hospital. Hmmmm…?!
The second snake was at Swapnagandha where we spent the second night. This too was a Malabar pit viper, but it’s colour was something else! I am not a snake person and though I have come across a few in my time, this particular specimen was by far the most beautiful I have ever seen!!
So what’s the bottom line here? Do I recommend this place? Will I visit again?
However if you are looking for a resort in one of the few untouched jungles on the Konkan coast. Complete with the incredible biodiversity that this region is famous for. One that still includes basic creature comforts like a spacious, spotlessly clean cottage (inclusive of attached bath with hot and cold water) with the added bonus of a spectacular panoramic view, an infinity pool and a quaint little bar. And, last but definitely not the least one that offers delicious local cuisine…
…then, by all means, look no further!