Remember the days when you were asked to make a town replica for a school fair, the Menons took it to a whole new level in their grown up years. It was a passion project of the couple who wanted to build a world for their daughter where she could truly be one with nature, a place where she could bond with the animals, as well as, the very soil of the farm.
Tucked in the little village called Uddar, near Pali, in the district of Raigad, is a beautifully and painstakingly constructed private farm. Balaji Farms boasts of their successful planning of a land once barren, converted into a pastoral dream. A village in and of itself, each corner of the 5.5 acres of the farm is spruced up with a lot of deliberation. You name it and they have it at the farms- a plantation, a stable, cottages, a pond, a dining and recreational space, a temple, a plethora of animals, and a host of activities to do.
Everything that you will see and touch in Balaji Farms is made out of either natural material or recycled goods. The owners had a dream of easing an urban dweller into countryside without compromising on comforts. The very ethos of the place spells freedom. It is reflected in the wide open spaces, the freely roaming animals, the spacious and airy cottages, a slower pace of living, and no signs of the concrete jungles for miles together; nature and life completely unbound from the shackles of the city.
Once you enter the gate you reach a charming little sit-out where you could take a breather after your journey from the city. The caretaker Raju will welcome you at the gate. Magic, a German Shepherd will become your best friend at the farm. The dogs are just the beginning of what is essentially an animal farm. As you go further inside through the pathway from the gate, which interestingly, is lit with lamps made out of old tinted bottles, you’ll be introduced to the other flora and fauna of the hamlet.
The animals are the heart of the farm. The cackle of the geese and the neighing of the horses and the chirping of the birds all sing the song of nature. The owners wanted the animals to make the farm their home. You will see the animals wandering around the farm looking noticeably happier and healthier than the ones you see in the city. The farm is also home to a natural pond. A flock of egrets always adorn the rocks around the pond. The cute sitting area on the raft over the pond is perhaps the best place to spend your evenings.
You can fulfill your equestrian ambitions as Balaji Farm also offers horse rides, with well groomed horses. They also have bullock cart rides. Not just that, you can try your hand at fishing in the natural pond within the farm. There’s a boat and a zip-line over the pond, where you take your pick or do both, why not.
On the way to the cottages, you could stop at the temple. The Balaji idol was the very first to arrive in the temple space, even before the temple was fully constructed, and that is how the Menons decided to name the farm after Lord Balaji. We were told that the temple has been constructed over the ground which supposedly, was home to another temple from the ancient times; age old temples were built taking into consideration the earth’s magnetic field and all the natural forces in tandem. Curiously, the temple environs always remain breezy. The temple consists of a Shivalinga, Nandi, and a Goddess. A sculpture of a great tortoise with a tall lamp perched on its back stands in front of the temple. The idols are all brought in from all over the country, much like everything else on the farm.
The dining area is made to look like a beachside Goan bar, with old tyres remodeled into chairs, the counter, an out-of-place but oddly well-suited beach sand, whiskey bottles re-crafted into lamps, hammocks, funky posters, a CD rack and charpais to spread your legs over. There is also an open roof right above the bar for you to stargaze while you are high on your Hookah. A more traditional buffet and dining sheds also stand close by. They provide for a more intimate setting. You can find wooden benches under huge trees all over the farm. The food is simple yet delicious Maharashtrian cuisine made with love and care by the cooking staff. Go a little easy on mirchi cha thecha, though.
Keeping true to the ancient Indian traditions of building houses from different parts of of the country, the owners have attempted to recreate them in their four cottages -Jal, Vayu, Prithvi, and Akaash, each having an ecological rationale of its own. Jal is made out of bricks and red mud, Vayu is built with bamboos and straw. Prithvi is covered by a stone frame to keep the warmth in during the winters and cool the air inside during the summers. Akaash, is in fact a machaan, a two-storied structure built far, far away from the rest of the houses, a place conceptually meant to be a writer’s den, which turned out to be a couple’s suite. It overlooks a pasture and a stream that flows into the river. Could it be more romantic?
You step into a different era as you rest your feet on the verandahs of the cottages. Right from the locks to the clocks, everything is from the times gone by. Even the electric switches would remind you of Malgudi Days. You almost start humming its tune. To give a good measure of the owners taste in collecting classic items, you may take a peek around the ‘Vastu Sangrahalay’ or the museum, where you will find an assortment of weaponry and other valuables like the clogs worn in the Netherlands (which are surprisingly light), ancient crockery, archery equipments like the special Mexican arrows that snap from their pointy ends once they pierce the body. The mirrors and wooden chests in the museum form an eclectic mixture of the colonial and the Rajputana styles.
Balaji Farms is a microcosm of a quintessential Indian village. You could spend a whole day experiencing the richness of the farm, or settle in for a few nights along with you loved ones to acquaint yourself with the village ecosystem created with an objective to find one’s true self within it, by becoming a very part of it.