Contribution : Indira Ganesh
Our national holidays in metros are marked by mass exodus of people anxious to leave behind their busy life schedules, their ipods, their identity on facebook, and the gizmos that mark our existence. It is not just the technology driven mania that we seek to escape but also the mundaneness of eternally waiting for kanta bai, the domestic help.
Every year a few of us join this beeline that is trying to get far away from the maddening crowd. But we are also unique as a group for we always have to carry along a delicious, chocolacious cake along as one of the national holidays coincides with one of our young one’s birthday. The young lady was turning eight this year and we all wanted to ring in her new year in a new ambience with minimal driving. Tall order, one would say, but then one of our friends managed to find such a place close to Gurgaon—SURJIVAN.
Barely over an hour’s drive from anywhere in Delhi is Surjivan, which is an eco-tourism destination. In a nutshell it is a place where one experiences ethnicity and rusticity with ample creature comforts. We were warmly welcomed by the caretaker who showed us to our rooms and got us our welcome drinks which was an over spiced and ‘Khatta’ Chach. We liked the informal atmosphere of the place and lounged around savoring the scent of grass and the bird calls. Unlike other settings, the children did not cling to us but found their callings, chasing the butterflies, unearthing beetles and making mudpies. The lunch was a delight to our palate which has forgotten how chutney made on mortar and pestle tastes so fresh unlike the homogenized version we make in a food processor. The paneer had the flavour of a smoky chullah which enhanced the taste and the syrupy gulabjamuns were sinfully delicious. The food was served piping hot in clay pots over clay warming vessels lined with hot charcoal. This all vegetarian meal was digested over a three hour long siesta by some of us. The others played a rain soaked soccer with lots of slips and falls.
In the afternoon we discovered the Kilol-kund which is a mud pond filled with rainwater. We wallowed in the mud with the children and this is one experience that was unique to this place. We explored the temperature of water at different places within the same pool and also experienced the slipperiness at different locations. Some Piggy godmother must have watched over us for we came out without any debilitating effects despite numerous dunks and falls. From there, the mud-caked junta marched to the fields to take a bath under the hosepipes. After such rowdiness, the sight of the ultramodern bathrooms with warm running water and clean linens was like a ‘manna’ from heaven.
After being restored to our civilized countenance, we ‘glugged’ down unending cups of ginger tea and chomped ‘BeesKoot’. Over tea, we started enjoying the birding opportunity this setting provided. We enthusiastically identified all the birds we saw and gave a few of them an identity crisis. There were no unusual sightings but the abundance of our winged friends was a pleasant experience. Later, we ventured into the herb garden which was undergoing a replanting drive but we managed to come back with a few samples of plants with distinct smells, the lemon grass, the golden bottle brush, the sacred tulsi and the camphor tree. We also saw a Jetropah plant about which one has heard so much. It is difficult to comprehend that this modest looking plant could actually one day solve our energy deficit.
We had the birthday cake cutting in the evening and the staff was quite prompt in getting us the paraphernalia for the occasion. Kishore Kumar’s romantic repertoire played subtly in the background and the mood was one of genuine bonhomie. The children played musical rooms going from one room to another in a group before finally settling down with their own parents for the night. But before we turned in for the night, there was one last sabotage to our Get-Slim-Stay-Slim plan. The dinner turned out as delicious as the lunch with some desi chicken curry. One heard the qawwali between the crickets and the resident frogs as one had the dinner. The fireflies were however conspicuous by their absence. Surjivan is an early to bed, early to rise kind of place, so we retired for the day soon after dinner.
The next day, we woke up to a warm day with clear skies. The view when one stepped out of one’s cocooned air conditioner enabled room was truly awe inspiring. Everything looked verdant bathed in dew drops with the sun glistening on them. The button roses are so fragrant here that one involuntarily thanks Noorjehan begum for introducing this wonderful flower to India. It is difficult to imagine icons like Chacha Nehru and Shahjahan without their iconic rose flower.
Morning is also the time when the local labourers turn out at Surjivan for working on the farmland. Their life and appearance is a study in contrast with the guests who come to the resort. Along with our morning cuppa, we noticed the other activities that Surjivan offered. Similar to the Hayat-Baksh Bagh (Life Giving garden) in Shahjahanabad, Surjivan pays tribute to our diverse flora and fauna by having a well designed garden of trees with well designated information about them. So with every tree there is a description with its common name, its scientific name, its special properties, its allegiance to a nakshatra, deva and planets. A very nice tree spotting exercise can be done here. The garden also has some interesting trees like Gingko Biloba ( the oldest tree), The Krishna Dona tree (where Krishna hid butter) and also the Sita Asoka tree( the tree under which Sita stayed in her captivity) but for some reason all this wonderful information is mostly in the local language—Hindi.
We spent the morning trying to identify more birds and trees and trying our hand at the indigenous sports like gilli danda (Stick and an oblong skillet), Kanche (marbles) and pithoo. We recounted interesting anecdotes about each other’s childhoods and the joy one got while playing these so called rural games. These games are our living heritage and it is nice to see their presence in Surjivan. In a few years we may have to rely on a manual to play these wonderful games. There were ample swings around for children and grown ups. We tried our hand at milking the cows, churning the butter and grinding wheat on the stone mortar. After all this exciting but grueling work we settled for something ‘halka’ for breakfast like deep fried puris and potato with gravy and eggs. After a King sized breakfast, we headed for the splash pool which was cleaned for us and we filled fresh water from the hose amidst a lot of banter and cheer. Everyone got water cannoned and it was a welcome respite from a hot day. We paid our tribute to the nation on the national day by singing patriotic songs in various languages. We may have missed the tune but not the fervour. After a ‘mastilicious’ morning we headed home which was just an hour away.
Surjivan is slightly on the expensive side but then if you see the time value of money, it kind of adequately compensates. The staff here is semi trained but it is heartening to see that locals are involved in the hospitality of the place thus ensuring goodwill and security of the guests. There are a lot of subtle elements in Surjivan which reflect the philosophy of the promoters. Everything here is in consonance with nature. There are solar panels to augment power supply; amalgamation of local expertise in its architecture, the entire décor uses only three organic colours. There is a variety of local motifs painted on the walls. The food is organically grown and cooked on a low flame thus retaining its flavour.
Surjivan has many things to offer a city slicker without the slack of five star trappings. It is ideal for people who want to go to a laidback break in the lap of nature. It is also a nice settings for corporate to do their team building and ideation exercises. As for us, we wanted a place where zero-mirchi food would be understood and accommodated and our children (our ‘theen devian’) had a devilishly rocking time.