Stories, photographs and thoughts from a travelling couple taking walks and mapping their routes, while backpacking around India, and parts of the world.
If you observe hard enough all around you, urban life has managed to manufacture various kinds of happiness, or rather definitions of it. There is that shiny, loud display of forced happiness, which begs to be heard, seen, acknowledged and ‘liked’ desperately. Then there is the happiness of ownership. Possessing — Your first car, your first laptop, your first android device (or iOS, if you insist), your first DSLR, your first custom-built large Hadron Collider and *insert any other boast-worthy inanimate object that you even give a cutesy name since it is now your new BFF*. Then, there is the happiness of collecting — everything from job titles, extra zeros on your paycheck and likes on your new FB profile picture to karma points on Reddit. This cycle of displaying, possessing and collecting never ends. Because the orbit on which this cycle revolves on is just one sentiment — ‘more’. And then some more.
I’m not professing or endorsing some kind of Buddha-like austerity or a saintly life of frugality. We are all children of consumerism and I have to admit, nothing beats having access to all these forms of happiness, that has made life interesting and very colourful, to say the least. If nothing else, they have surely given us novel and ingenious ways to burn our paychecks month after month. But what I’m talking about is the definition of happiness that I discovered or rather rediscovered on a trip to a an obscure village in Maharashtra. The most simple kind of happiness that doesn't need 'more' to fuel it, The happy-in-the-now kind of happiness. Ok, to be more precise, it’s contentment. Here’s a story of the place I saw abundance of it.
After spending an enjoyable day at the breathtaking Kaas Plateau, not wanting to stick to the well-intentioned suggestions of everyone from friendly locals to online bloggers that the only place to stay the night nearest town Satara, we decided to take a local bus to the neighbouring village, Bamnoli. The kind-faced man, who served us our food, told us that there is a 2 pm bus that will pass by the road without halting if the driver doesn’t spot locals on the road making manic hand gestures indicating they want to climb in. He also gave us enough warning that there might not be any tourist accommodation in Bamnoli and that we have to take the last bus back to Satara at 5.30 pm if we wanted a roof over our head that night.
Taking the gamble, we stood on the road and around 20 minutes past 2 pm, we heard the bus noisily hurtle its way down the ghats towards where we were. So, we made the said manic hand gestures and the bus halted, revealing to us the puzzled faces of the bus driver and conductor who must have never ever seen an outsider board the bus on that route. Just to make sure, he asked us again if we really wanted to go to Bamnoli, before he issued our Rs 14 tickets, even as the perplexed passengers, who all happened to be local villagers, gave us some good and long who-in-the-blessed-Earth-are-they stares. Then began our insanely back-breaking bumpy ride to this unheard of village, nestled between plateaus and ghats of stunning Swiss Alps-like charm, which was half an hour away. Absence of shock-absorbers and cushioned seats never looked this good!
When our cramped legs gratefully made their way down the bus when we reached Bamnoli, we knew that the first thing we needed to do is find a place to stay or be prepared to board the last bus back to Satara in the next hour. Before the gorgeous view of the Shiv Sagar Lake right from the bus stop distracted us, we decided to look around to see where we can be put up. As we walked around, we noticed how tiny that village really was. And clean. No dirty open sewers, no ugly plastic litter and no ubiquitous paan stains which seemed to have become synonymous with the bigger towns in Maharashtra. When we enquired around a bit, a amicable chai-shop wallah with a “haan, rooms milega na” demeanour took us right to the doorstep of a home, where a very elegant Marathi lady greeted us with a wide smile and the promise of a roof over our heads.
Fearing that accommodation in such a tiny village will be very shady, we walked behind her as she led us to a small structure, right next to the bus stop junction, which we would soon come to realise is the hub of that village. The room is very very basic, stripped bare of everything, except a bed and a fan. But the floors, wall and everything looked so squeaky clean — a far cry from the mucky, grubby and sidey lodges we usually come across— that we couldn’t help but be impressed. The room opened to a small space with a basic bathing area with a clean stone floor. But here’s the best part, this modest setup had an eye-popping view of the serene lake, the shore of which we were on. Lady talks in Marathi, we in Hindi, and a phone call with her husband later, we rented the room for 700 bucks. Shouts of joy and high fives all around. Ok, maybe just in my head.
Exhausted, we took an hour-long refreshing nap, after which the aforementioned husband and owner of the room paid us a visit to collect a copy of our IDs, make sure we were comfortable and most importantly, to quell his curiosity about how two people who live in Goa landed up in that obscure little village. After we answered all his questions, he asked us what we would like to eat for dinner as he had to inform his brother (a local eatery owner) in advance since this is no hustling-bustling tourist spot. The two of us were the only outsiders there. With our dinner plans out of the way, we headed out to the enjoy the pleasant evening by the lake, which offered boat rides, popular with the few road-trippers who drive by this village on the way to or back from Kaas. The 45 minute-long ride on the Shiv Sagar Lake, offered us magnificent views of the hills which snugly surround Bamnoli.
The only other people on the big boat were two locals who were manning it and a conversation with them explained the surreal sight that greeted us all across the lake — treetops peeping out of the water, as if they were silently drowning. The boatman told us the lake is actually a 50-kilometre stretch of a reservoir formed over the local farmland when the Koyna river was impounded by the Koyna Dam.
The man who has been ferrying people across for years, lived in an even tinier village on the banks of the lake. A village which is not even accessible by road, but only by boat. That boat was both his livelihood and lifeline. But he was telling no sad story. He came across as a happy man who does what he does and doesn't want more. That’s his reality. And he was living it with no lament, one day at a time. Makes you think what's wrong with us city folks. Why the constant rush? Why the insatiable greed? Why the maddening, stress-inducing, passion-less, pressing pressure to chase things we don’t need.
And the boatman's perspective seemed to sum up the life approach of everyone else in Bamnoli, which seemed to me like some toy model set of a village. You know, with one panchayat, two tea shops, one eatery, one boat bay, one bus bay, one temple, one davakhana and one school. That’s it. Of course, it helped that this was no village steeped in poverty. They seemed to have no dearth of electricity or running water, thanks to the dam project, but they were still very far placed from the bright and gaudy world of consumerism. And they looked happier, with more ready smiles than anyone from the city can ever spare.
We enjoyed a peaceful stroll by the lake, coloured in the haunting blues of dusk, before we headed back to the room to catch up on our shiny, loud world through the internet (Bamnoli’s 3G signals were surprisingly good!).
We caught up on some freelance work too for a few hours before the owner’s brother showed up at our door with some delicious homemade food. Wholesome wheat chapatis with a simple and gratifying chickpeas-potato curry and plain yellow dal, accompanied by fresh pickle and papad. A plate full of joy for our famished tummies.
It wasn't long before we fell into a fulfilling deep sleep and woke up to an enchanting panorama of the lake. It was quite something brushing your teeth to that awe-inspiring view, instead of your own dreary reflection in the mirror back home. I could so get used to this.
Determined to take the 8.30 am bus back to Satara, we were bathed and ready way ahead of time and decided to grab some chai. And that’s when we could fully appreciate the beauty of Bamnoli, bathed in the soft golden glow of the morning light. Everyone looked so cheerful. From the man who served us tea and the people dutifully making their way to the temple for their morning blessings to the local dogs stretching in enviable languor.
A walk to the room owner’s home to hand over the keys ended up with a long conversation about his children who were all studying and working in more prosperous cities, his wife, who has been teaching in the sole school in Bamnoli for 16 years and how life there has just been going on there, unaffected by the madness of the outside world. At least for now. We bid Ravi (as we learnt his name was) goodbye, with a promise of telling more people about his pretty village.
We made our way to the bus stop, what we christened the town square, what with all the villagefolk (four of them, to be precise), chatting around pleasantly, exchanging the news and gossip of the day. As we watched them with amusement, we automatically got swept up in the vibe of the village and instead of restlessly and irritably waiting for the never-on-time bus, we just sat back and exercised one of the many lessons we took away from this content little hamlet — a calm, relaxed sort of patience.
The bus will come when it has to. We will be on the road when we have to. Tomorrow will be here when it has to. For now, this very second, with the golden sun shining warmly on us, life is good. :)
The photos of Bamnoli are brought to you by Lovell D'souza. Some shot using a Nexus phone and others on a Canon 5D Mark II.