Having switched from a Scorpio (our car of choice for most of the last 15 years) to the much smaller Alto, we were wondering what it would be like for the dogs – now down to just two, Hero and Soulkadi – to take a long trip in the new car. It turned out not great, the ride at least.
First of all, the roads themselves were in terrible shape. We were driving up to Amboli, a route we’ve done quite often, either to stay there, or while passing through to places further afield. It’s always been a very pleasant drive, through lovely landscapes. But with the highway widening that has been the bane of the past couple of years, driving anywhere in or out of Goa has become a crater-filled nightmare.
[Includes photos by Anjali Dar Sen Gupta, Srijit Kumar, Rajiv D’Silva, and Arvind Siva. All collages can be enlarged by clicking on them]
In this case, it was bad all the way up to Banda, across the border in Maharashtra, after which we turned off the highway. But that didn’t improve things. The roads into and out of Sawantwadi – which used to be part of the main highway before the development of the bypasses – now lie neglected, and are shock absorber killers as well.
Only once one hits the bypass coming in from Vengurla does the road get better, but on that stretch too, there are unheralded bad patches. In some ways, these are worse. When you are negotiating potholed and cracked roads, you are perforce driving slow; but when the going seems good, you start moving at a rapid clip, and hit the rough spots without warning, which is far more jarring to car, body, and soul.
The condition of the roads aggravated the effects of being in a smaller car, and our canine passengers were visibly unhappy for most of the journey. Their initial excitement at seeing their belongings packed and put in the car, and then at setting off with the wind in their faces, were quickly forgotten in their discomfort as they were buffeted around in the close confines. They hardly barked at the monkeys we passed on the tortuous climb up towards Amboli. Soulkadi even threw up along the way.
Thankfully, when we arrived three hours later at Mrugaya, the eco resort we were booked at, it turned out to be perfect for them. The property is set just a few hundred metres off the main road, making it a breeze to get to, but it’s nevertheless tucked into a wooded area that isolates it from the traffic and noise. Our group was just large enough that we had booked all the three rooms at the resort, so we had the place completely to ourselves.
Mrugaya was set up and is run by Parag Rangnekar, a naturalist from Goa. It’s on an ancestral property that he has developed with a focus on natural resources and locally-relevant and sustainable materials and techniques. No plastic is used in the premises (except when we brought in some Coke bottles), and the wet waste is disposed of in an eco-friendly way.
The dogs settled into our room quickly and comfortably. Though Parag generally doesn’t allow pets – citing the difficulty of getting fur off the blankets as the reason – he had made an exception for us. We, on our part, took our usual protective measure of covering everything with our own sheets.
We spent a relaxed weekend there, which is exactly what we were looking for. The resort is in a sylvan thicket surrounded by open fields, with a stream gurgling along one boundary. The dogs found much to sniff at in the woods, and long excursions to go on across the fields. Given that the property is open on all sides (and taking into account the sort of adventures that they have been on a couple of times), we couldn’t leave them off-leash, but they were quite comfortable sitting around while we ate and drank in the communal dining and hangout space that spans the front of the building.
Talking about eating, the food was absolutely marvellous. On the first afternoon, Hari – one of two caretakers who take turns looking after guests – got us rotis and a delicious chicken dish from a local joint. For dinner, we ordered food from an Amboli restuarant (which delivers to Mrugaya) which was also very good. The next day, Sukumar, the second of the caretakers, got a gauntthi kombdi cooked at his place in the Malvani style, with the pandhra rasa and rthe tambda rasa, which we had with solkadi and bhakris made at the resort. But the highlight for me were the breakfasts. I have never been a big fan of misal, but the way Hari prepared it and the accompaniments he laid out with it made a convert of me. To complement that archetypal Maharashtrian meal were little omelette rolls that we put away by the dozen.
Having landed there Friday afternoon, we headed back after breakfast on Sunday. The dogs were again uncomfortable, and Soulkadi puked once again, when we had almost made it back. Bookended with those two incidents, we could have felt bad about the trip, but the stay at Mrugaya more than made up for it.
However, it seems unlikely we will take the dogs for trips to places outside Goa again in this car. They are also growing old, Hero in particular, and the excitement of going to new places is not the same with them any more. Like it happens when humans grow old, the comfort of home and a routine seems to be outweighing the pleasures of travel for them now.