It was in the Dec of 2010 that my two closest girlfriends and I decided that we should travel together to some place cool, to mark the end of an era and celebrate my fresh start. I had resigned from my full-time job in vibrant Mumbai and was joining my husband in London, taking a dive into the unknown – a plunge of faith so to speak.
Camping at Eco Camps, Panchgani was the last thing the old me would have done, but am so glad my friend P chose the place and helped me get over a long time silly fear of doing anything remotely adventurous.The barbecue that night was thanks to S and her skills. We were very close and bonded even more that night. Waking up to see lush green mountains and see a beautiful valley wake up with us was something I shall never forget.The river Krishna flows near Panchgani and the Dhom lake near the village of Wai can be seen from the Eco Camp Site.
We walked into the village and found a quaint old shop and had some strawberries and cream, the street is dotted with street vendors selling strawberries by the dozen and fresh carrots. My mother in law went to Kimmin’s Boarding School and Panchgani and we walked to the road where the school is, the quaint old red and cream brick building was enough to take me back in time, on a nostalgia trip to my school in Mumbai, the beautiful stone grey building, the carefree school days, we grow up too quickly don’t we?
Oh and please do get some of these heart-shaped biscuits from this bakery – ROACH, I do have a picture of me posing with the sugar-coated biscuit but err it’s not going up here 😉
It was also the first time ever I was part of a barbecue, we walked into the village at night, found a lady who gave us some deliciously marinated cottage cheese and peppers and shallots and we have some kind neighbours in the tent next door who lent us some hot coals to get the barbie going.
It was a clear night and the brilliant stars seemed to sparkle just to make us girls smile …
Lying down on the grass on a thin sheet and watching the stars, feeling the pleasant chill on our face, it’s nothing like anything I had ever done.
Fast forward to life in London and with a desire to finally get the travel bit of my blog going I wanted to complete the drafts of so many posts but I am so glad I decided to start with writing about Eco Camps at Panchgani. Megan and Andre have been kind to send me answers to my many questions on email. I hope that all those who are looking some great weekend fun drive down to Panchgani the first weekend possible and stay in one of the tents; this is an experience not to be missed. Proximity to Mumbai and Pune are great pluses. Of course, anyone planning an India vacation in Dec- Feb must stay here and give paragliding a go, make your holiday memorable and experience nature’s beauty, nestled so close to the maddening hustle bustle of two big cities – Mumbai and Pune. It’s almost like, well, a secret escape, something so bohemian about the whole experience!
Megan and Andre, you are an inspiration for those taking a plunge, a leap of faith, raring to follow their dreams, so thank you for being such brave achievers .
MJ – That’s an acronym for my name,kinda long writing ”Manjiri” all the time;)
MJ: Why did you choose Panchgani?
Megan & Andre: Andre and I had decided in 1997 that we wanted to move from cold Canada to India to raise our kids (who were then 4 and 1).We actually wanted to live in Goa, as I first met Andre while on holiday in Goa.We dreamt of having houseboats on the river, but after researching a bit we found that it was hard to get permissions and there was too much barge traffic there. My parents told us to go to Panchgani as we already had a family house on land that my grandfather bought in 1922. So we said we’d give Panchgani a try.
MJ: What inspired you and your husband to start this venture?
Megan & Andre: We wanted to start our own venture, passion and a desire to follow our heart got us here.
MJ: Are there opportunities for adventure sports at Eco Camps?
Megan & Andre: Para gliders with their own equipment converge here from dozens of different countries to practise their flying from Dec to Feb every year. Other adventures to be had in the area is a trek down to the Krishna river, a short one up to the peaceful side of the otherwise crowded tableland, forest walks and visits to waterfalls in the rains. There is also a lovely sunset from the camp.( Oh Yes, I can so vouch for that!)
When practising an adventure sport they must get adequate training and stay safe.
MJ: Do share one of your favourite memories associated with Eco Camps
Megan & Andre: One favourite memory is having a different meal everyday of the week from a different part of the world. This was in the early days when the paragliding guests came in smaller numbers and we used to invite them into our home for dinner most nights and each one took turns cooking.
(How very amazing is that, imagine a room full of guests from different places on this planet together , eating good food, laughing, sharing their life with each other !)
MJ: Do your kids love what you do?
Megan & Andre: Our kids love what we do, and have learnt that turning what you love into an occupation is the way to go. Matthew, now 20 is in training to be a chef, and Arianne 17 wants to be a recreational therapist. Mikey who is 6, still wants to be a fire-fighter -Maybe because of the annual forest fire that comes up our slope every year. This is the one downside to living on the edge in Panchgani, when in the hot, dry summer, all the foliage is burnt by fires coming up from the villages below, burning all things including insects, birds, small animals and saplings in its wake. But we are now used to the annual burning. The fire does remain our biggest challenge but we do concentrate on all the other positive elements of life in this hill station.
MJ: What are the facilities associated with staying at Eco Camp?
Megan & Andre: we have 4 large tents with toilets, a few smaller ones and 2 bungalows, 24hr water, hot water, drinking water. Food is delivered or you could use the kitchens. We have no service, but a fantastic view, some old trees and amazing bird life all around us. It is a 10 min walk into town, but at the same time secluded and quiet.
MJ: How do you manage to keep the place so well maintained yet affordable?
Megan & Andre: The rates are affordable because we don’t have waiters running around and our focus is not on minting money. We get by ok and are quite satisfied with the number of people who come. We don’t have managers or cooks to worry about either. The staff who we do have is happy people who have worked here for years.
MJ: Any message for young entrepreneurs looking to start out on their own and follow their passion like you did?
Megan & Andre: Young people ought to follow their hearts to do what excites them, keeping the practical side of things in mind as well.
MJ: When is peak tourist season?
Megan & Andre: Peak season is from Dec to Feb and April – May Apart from those months, weekends are quickly booked, but weeks are free-ish.
MJ: Anything you wish you had done differently?
Megan: I wish I had paid better attention in my Marathi classes in school. i suffer from not being able to ably communicate my thoughts to the locals.
MJ: What DRIVES you to follow your dreams and passion and survive the inevitable challenges one faces whilst running their own venture?
Megan: My husband and kids, the beauty of our surroundings and the thrill of living at the mercy of the elements are the biggest incentives to continue living and working here. Ever since Andre could manage the running of the camp and got accustomed to local ways, I began teaching French part time at New Era next door. It keeps me in touch with what I studied for years to eventually do.
MJ: How does one book a stay at the eco camp?
Megan: To book a stay at Eco Camp call Megan at 9960436352, more info on our FB group “Eco-camp panchgani”
The photos below are from a magical time in my life, I so wish sometimes I could open some door and go back and relive those days.
Happy Weekend peeps and when you go to Eco Camps, please do share your experiences with me!
Thank you to my friend Payoshni for letting me use her lovely photographs for this post, All information in this blog relating to Panchgani is sourced from here and here – please click on the hyperlinks 🙂
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