Monday, 21 March 2016

A Home and Spice Farm-stay @ Amol Soman's in Velas.

The spice farm.
While planning the trip to Velas to see the hatching ofOlive Ridley turtles, I called up many home-stays listed on the Sahyadri Nisarga Mandal’s website. Many of them provided a dorm like accommodation with shared spaces with the bathroom outside the main house, as is the norm in traditional Indian villages. Then I came across Amol Soman’s home-stay, which has 4 rooms with attached bathroom and toilet. What made me zero in on this home-stay was that it has a 2 acre spice farm surrounding it and is opposite the memorial of the 16th century Peshwa minister, Nana Phadnavis. I spoke to the owners, Amol Soman and his wife Akshata and called them several times closer to the date of departure (read here to know why).
The statue of Nana Phadnavis.
The rooms are pretty basic with each having two double beds to accommodate group bookings during weekends. The no-frill rooms is understandable since it’s a village which is still in the process of gearing up to receive visitors and the turtle sighting is main attraction here. They charge Rs 700 per day per person inclusive of food and accommodation, on a twin sharing basis. If you travelling solo, it’s Rs 800 only for the accommodation and separate charges for each meal.
Simple, traditional Konkani food cooked on a chulha. 
As part of the conservation program, when villages homes were enlisted as home-stays, the SNMCPN had instructed the homes-stay owners to serve only traditional food. That was a brilliant idea, as we got to sample simple Konkani food, cooked on traditional ‘chulhas’ or hearths. Some of the food items I loved were the raw jackfruit curry (a speciality only in coastal areas), and another instant pickle like item made with raw mangoes and garnished with onions. All the ingredients used in cooking are sourced from the farm in the backyard and that lends it an incredible freshness and exalted taste.
On the way to the mango orchard.
Mango flowers.

To add more value to the home-stay, this year onwards, Amol and Akshata have started a few innovative additions to Velas trip, which is otherwise focused only on Turtle hatching. This is to optimize and give visitors a larger taste of the Velas village life.
Rice being cooked on the chulha in the mango orchard.


One was a visit to their mango orchard. We drove upto a distance and from there on it’s an uphill climb to their orchard. It was not the fruiting season yet, so we could see only mango flowers and some small mangoes on some trees. I enjoyed climbing the mango trees, and applied my tree climbing skills acquired during apple harvesting in Himachal Pradesh. There was another agenda in the mango orchard- Lunch under a huge, old and benevolent mango tree. Akshata had got along one assistant and all the ingredients required to cook a meal. And while we climbed trees, rested on a mat in the shade, a delicious meal of rice flour bhakris (flatbread), pithla (a side dish made with chickpea flour) and a raw mango salad were being cooked, on a chulha. 
The food was exceptionally tasty. 
We also went around the orchard with Soman’s son , Sohum, who identified trees, shrubs and plants for us and even had us sample wild berries. Children in the village have such an innocence about them and a connect with Nature which touches me. We saw him and his little sister, climbing trees, hopping around, doing frog leaps and playing simple games reminding me of my own childhood in the 80’s. Anyways, food was ready and having satiated ourselves with a wonderful meal in a charming spot, we took rest under the shade of the trees savouring the taste. In the evening we headed out to the Bankot fort, which was a watch tower for Chhatrapati Shivaji’s army. More on that in another post.
Flowers of the cashew nut. 

A raw cashewnut. 
One more interesting trip was to the beach late in the night, at almost 11 pm. We were lucky as it was Full Moon night. We spent around half hour to 45 minutes on the rocky part of the shore and since it was high tide, we reveled in the spray of sea water as the waves crashed on the rocks before us. It was truly a magical moment as I sat on one of the steps, watching the silver crested waves racing against each other and giving me a foamy embrace with the full moon shining above in all its splendour.  
After reluctantly bidding the beautiful night sea good night, we headed back to the home-stay where Amol spooked us with ghost stories, some of which he has himself experienced. I've heard that Konkan is notorious for ghost sightings, and what’s a late night gathering, without spooky stories!
A jackfruit tree which is over a 100 yrs old. 

Clove chillies in the spice farm. 

This plant is called Ambemohar. When the leaves are crushed it exudes a fragrance like ambemohar rice, hence the name. 

Bay leaves. 

Black pepper creepers. 
I had seen the spice farm and could identify most plants, but requested Amol to take us around the farm again. In the morning, he gave us a tour of the farm, explaining the benefits of herbal and medicinal plants he has planted and also plants like pepper, arecanut, cloves and coconuts which are also sold commercially. It’s a completely organic farm and only natural and organic pesticides are used, not chemical ones.  They sell a variety of items like flattened rice (poha), nutmeg, raw banana flour (which is extremely nutritious and not easily available), black pepper, pappads, (all items are home-made) and bottles of alphonso mango pulp, with mangoes from their orchard and bottled in such a way that it stays good for 3 years if unopened.
Betel leaves. 

Black pepper. 

Nutmeg on the tree. 
If you get a chance, do interact with Amol’s father. He has a deep and intuitive understanding of herbs and medicinal benefits of plants and may recommend some to you if you have any ailments.
Another interesting thing was the ancestral house, adjacent to theirs which has been converted to a small museum of sorts, displaying old family artefacts and traditional farming and home equipment belonging to Amol’s grandmother, which are no longer in use today.
Old home and farm equipments. 

A cradle which is over a 100 yrs old used by generations in the family. 
One may also visit Nana Phadnavis’ memorial opposite their house. Although the internet will tell you that Velas was Phadnavis’ birth place, Amol says that this was his maternal Uncle’s village and only a memorial has been erected. Phadnavis’ descendants have requested the Somans’ to maintain and clean the area around the memorial, which they do everyday. 
The Senior Soman who has an intuitive knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants. 
Our three days trip was coming to an end. We were excited about Turtle watching, but we got to experience a lot more; lunch in a mango orchard, getting drenched in the sea water under the full moon, a visit to the Bankot fort and also enjoying a ferry ride, about which I will write in the next post. As a parting gift, Amol gave us each a coconut from his farm and a hand fan made of arecanut fibre. I requested one more for my husband and will be using them this summer J
Spices, condiments and mango pulp which the Somans sell from their farm. 
If you wish to stay at Amol Soman’s home-stay, you may call him on 02350- 220279. You may have to try the number multiple times, since network is pretty lousy in the village.
Velas waking up in the morning. 
We had a great time for sure, and plan to visit again during the mango season when trees would be laden with succulent, yellow fruit. 

5 comments:

  1. Priya, Awesome! Thanks for sharing. I intend to visit the place :)

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  2. Awesome....will visit the place....seems very attractive...

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  3. Awesome....will visit the place....seems very attractive...

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  4. Great blog by author..I really enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks so much for sharing all with the awesome info! I am looking forward to checking out far more posts!
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