The sound of serenity
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The air is so clean it makes your lungs sing an aria. Even if you don’t know what an aria is. That’s one of the reasons I’d go back to Lavasa. And because you can read a book under a tree, or crawl under ferns on nature trails like in an Enid Blyton story. Because you’ll squint at ochre-throated bats festooned in trees on the side of the lake. Because the only noise here is of someone shrieking joyfully as they race a jet ski over the water. And yes, because it’s 3,000 ft above sea level, and your prayers reach heaven faster.’Wouldn’t it be a wonderful place to get married?’ A fellow journo sighs, at the green skirts of the Sahyadri mountains, wrapped in veils of mist, at little villas dotting their sides, the lake, at the cobble-stoned town square that looks like it’s been airlifted from Europe. Hmmm. I hadn’t thought of that one. Standing by the railing near hotel Ekaant, at a viewing point, I look down and see the 20 km-long Warasgaon Lake, hugged on all sides by Dasve, the first of the three towns that make up Lavasa, India’s first planned hill city. Meant to eventually sit over seven magnificent hills, Lavasa is slowly taking shape, the Master Plan developed by design consultant, HOK, USA. You do see the odd mud lifts and other machinery working quietly in background. But you can forgive their presence. After all, they’re working towards New Urbanism, a concept that allows urban life and nature to subsist in wonderful harmony. Translated, it means you bump into butterflies on your stroll to work, instead of potholes and traffic. About four hours out of Mumbai, Lavasa is a city, as the brochures say, where you will live, learn, work and play. And how! About 25,000 acres–nearly a fourth the size of Mumbai, only about 200 times greener–of carefully designed space is one big playground. And right now, you can begin with Dasve. With waterfront apartments, Lavasa International Convention Centre and the promenade on one bank, and Dasvino Country Club on the other. (Yes, on the bank of the lake–just in case you have to rush, and take a speed boat to the conference). Of course, one can soak in a few cocktails at the pub or wake up sleeping muscles at the gym. But I wonder why anyone would want to stay indoors when there’s a Yamaha wave runner zipping across the water at high speed leaving surf trails in its wake.Yes, that’s where the action is, the guide tells us. “The Watersports Zone had 5,000 tourists in the last two years.” Why? Good reasons: Kayaking, parasailing, a children’s pool, jet skis… Oh, that’s why the trained lifeguards from Jebelali. And well, also because the lake is 100 ft deep. As our own boat bobs through the water towards the orange spire of the Dasve village temple standing sentinel in the trees, our guide mentions that the lake is full with tilapia, katla, rohu… Yes, you can fish here. Yes, you can proudly take a picture with your trophy. No, you can’t keep it. Please sir, throw the fish back in the water. A fountain will soon take its place in the centre of the lake, the tallest in Asia. I wonder if the birds that migrate here really care. In the trees along the banks, looking quite indifferent to our cackling, egrets, kingfishers, grey heron, rest before they take off for lunch. Speaking of which, since you can’t cook your own fish, you can stop at the cafes on the promenade. Granma’s Homemade Patisserie, Chor Bizarre, the All American Diner…. Pick any. And while you slide into a bench taking your time over a burger, you can watch children roller-skate, students from Ecole Hoteliere take a break (yes, the famous French culinary school, actually exists here), or simply enjoy the space–yeah, when you come from the city as we know it, you treasure it like the precious stuff miners go 1000 ft deep for. Later, you can spend afternoons letting your coffee go cold, contemplating the little bridges, listening to water make music as it gurgles out of the sluices of the Warasgaon dam. Evenings? They tell me that Past Times, an English pub, is coming up soon and what cooler thought than to be able to say, ‘I’m walking down to the pub.’ And maybe then the bartender will tell you about the Karvi flower, which blooms only once in seven years. And you’ll drink another scotch to that. Yes, it’s a charming town. A little building calls itself Post Office. Here you can mail actual letters, or a postcard if you please, but before you imagine Dasve is rural, stop. Lavasa has a municipal corporation that uses e-governance. How’s that for high-tech? It’s slated to be home to non-polluting businesses like Hollywood-affiliated film studios, IT companies, research centres. We had the option of watching the latest movies at The Lavasa Experience Center, but I preferred to walk in the fresh drizzle. And I relished it, as much as I relished the song of the ‘Whistling Schoolboy’ also called the Malabar Whistling Thrush, and the dustbins on the street that say ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. Yup, it seems like Lavasa is looking to be friends with nature. It’s a good sign: separate garbage equals recycling, vermiculture, clean hills. It’s part of their Environment Management Plan (EMP), that includes biomimicry, hydro seeding–a hi-tech process that gives back the mountains its green blanket, and mass plantation: ‘8,000 trees have already been planted,’ Ajay Gulabchand, chairman, tells me. Well, here’s to more shady paths to stand and stare. But if you want to take some plants back, find the nursery. If you’d rather hang upside down from a cliff, with the blood rushing to your brains, there’s what they call XThrill Adventure Sports that tests your nerve. Let’s see now, you can go back and tell friends, ‘I went bungee jumping’. Or rappelling, rock-climbing, valley crossing–crossing ravines with the help of high tension ropes, paragliding, cross country cycling on a mountain bike. (Though we doubt you’ll need it, Lavasa has Apollo hospital, and for the aches, some world-class health spas.)Me, I’d just like to get a cycle–the hotels let you borrow them–and explore the many paths, the hidden streams. Or sing like Julie Andrews in the movie The Sound of Music. Only, I’d scare all the precious migrant birds out of the trees.advertisementadvertisement Fact fileGetting there: About 4 hours from Mumbai, and 1.5 from Pune. The best way to get there is by car, but keep in mind that the roads near Lavasa are winding. Check www.lavasa.com for more details.When to go: Anytime except the monsoon, when there are no watersports. Plus saysStay:Fortune Select Dasve; tel: (020) 3099 4444Ekaant; tel: (020) 6675 7000Mercure; tel: (020) 6792 9000Eat: There are multiple restaurants in Lavasa offering varied cuisine.Shop: At Bamboosa craft factory for bamboo products.See: The mountains and the lovely landscape around.FYIMercure hotel:Part of the Accor group, Mercure is the first international hotel in Lavasa. Each of its 130 rooms offers a calming view–my walk-out balcony that still needed some finishing, overlooked a little stream. The rooms feature a neat contemporary style, and luxurious beds, but it seems like the hotel has been put together in a hurry. Loved the beautifully designed, ‘Mercure and me’ range of bath products. Strongly believe the food left a lot to be desired.