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The Lavabahn, Cloudscapes & Artichokes of LaVaSa

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it.
-Anaïs Nin, entry for February 1954, in The Diary of Anaïs Nin

As little as five years from now, a sprawling township will spread across the Mose valley. Hindustan Construction Corporation (HCC) — that has a 60 per cent stake holding in the Lavasa project with the LM Thapar group, Venkateshwara Hatcheries and private investors for company — believes that by then there will be 100,000 primary inhabitants and a floating population of a million. Their vision is of a self-sufficient hill town. The likeness, if all goes to plan, will be to Davos. Nearly 12,500 acres of high valley land, contracted by Lavasa, circling most of the 20-km dammed Varasgaon lake, is in the throes of massive infrastructure building. The approach highway is the first sign, leading up to a network of arterial and trunk roads. For now, all roads lead to three hotels that are under construction, with a total room size of 560. To be managed by the Novotel, Starwood and ITC chains, they will be the first to see completion later this year. An 18-hole golf course is being laid out, a club house planned and, eventually, shopping centres. 

The star attraction at Lavasa is the waterfront; all development springs around it. According to locals, however, Varasgaon lake actually all but dries up in the months leading up to the monsoon. That problem has been addressed. HCC, with their strength in infrastructure, has built a mini dam that has created a reservoir holding of 1.8 million cubic metres of water. Eighteen such dams and check dams will ensure year-round lake views. Dasve’s architectural style is derived from the fashionable resort town of Portofino (Italy) and its pastel-coloured coastal residences, Damanhole in Phase 2 will sport a Western Ghat vernacular style.

A Hill Station encapsulated inside the mystic Sahyadri ranges provides a perfect setting for a getaway for many a travelers and tourists. The maddening pace of city life, the endless traffic jams, and the stifling work cubicle…is all conveniently forgotten at Lavasa wherein different kinds of leisure and recreation activities provide a refreshing escape from the metropolis. Lavasa offers exciting diversions such as star-gazing, boating, treks & relaxing. There are also cinemas, theatres, parks and meditation centers planned over the next decade. Setting new benchmarks in construction, planning and service delivery Lavasa offers its residents a level of town infrastructure hitherto, unknown in India. The high quality roads to Lavasa would provide total connectivity to its residents and visitors. Lavasa is approached by various routes. World-class road from the Chandni Chowk (Pune) to Lavasa makes traveling speedy and comfortable. I have christened the road from Pirangut to Lavasa as the Lavabahn (Autobahn – (German: IPA: [ˈaʊtoːbaːn], plural Autobahnen; English) is the German word for a major high-speed road restricted to motor vehicles capable of driving at least 60 km/h (37 mph) and having full control of access, similar to a motorway or freeway in English-speaking countries.).This road was laid out three years ago & has weathered 4 Western Ghat Monsoons with not a pot-hole along its length. this actually tells you the whole story about corruption and Mumbai Municipal Corporation Road Contractors!). Along the Autobahn, the drivers can stop at rest areas for fuel, food and beverages. In Germany, they are called Raststätte(n), while in Austria they are known as Raststation(en). These rest areas have restaurants serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurants may legally serve alcoholic beverages. Many of the rest stops also have motels. In Germany, the rest areas were operated by a government-owned company until 1998, when it was privatised. On our Lavabahn you get excellent Masala Chai with Jaggery (Instead of Sugar) at small village rest areas selling Chaha! Just before you leave urbanization, there are numerous small & medium sized hotels & restaurants selling Bata-Wada & Masala-Chai.

The best Cloudscapes on the Lavabahn are seen between 9am and 11am and then again 5pm and 7pm in the monsoons.The color of a cloud tells much about what is going on inside the cloud. Clouds form when relatively warm air containing water vapor is lighter than its surrounding air and this causes it to rise. As it rises it cools and the vapor condenses out of the air as micro-droplets. These tiny particles of water are relatively densely packed and sunlight cannot penetrate far into the cloud before it is reflected out, giving a cloud its characteristic white color. As a cloud matures, the droplets may combine to produce larger droplets, which may combine to form droplets large enough to fall as rain. In this process of accumulation, the space between droplets becomes larger and larger, permitting light to penetrate much farther into the cloud. If the cloud is sufficiently large and the droplets within are spaced far enough apart, it may be that a percentage of the light which enters the cloud is not reflected back out before it is absorbed (Think of how much farther one can see in a heavy rain as opposed to how far one can see in a heavy fog). This process of reflection/absorption is what leads to the range of cloud color from white through grey through black. For the same reason, the undersides of large clouds and heavy overcasts appear various degrees of grey; little light is being reflected or transmitted back to the observer. Other colours occur naturally in clouds. Bluish-grey is the result of light scattering within the cloud. A greenish tinge to a cloud is produced when sunlight is scattered by ice. A cumulonimbus cloud which shows green is an imminent sign of heavy rain, hail, strong winds and possible tornadoes. Red, orange and pink clouds occur almost entirely at sunrise/sunset and are the result of the scattering of sunlight by the atmosphere. The clouds are not that color; they are reflecting the long (and unscattered) rays of sunlight which are predominant at those hours. The effect is much the same as if one were to shine a red spotlight on a white sheet. In combination with large, mature thunderheads this can produce blood-red clouds.The sky is a veritable canvas at Lavasa. Ekaant is the place for cloud-gazing & the best cloudscapes from Ekaant are visible at Dawn/Dusk.

Saturday morning I was woken up with the whiff of fresh “Bhuttas” wafting into the clouds entering my bedroom at Ekaant. I was wondering at the odd sense of timing of roasting Bhuttas & then heard the pitter-patter of kid’s feet. On looking out of the Balcony, saw over a dozen kids being chased by a Yogi Bear. This was my first introduction to children’s voices & laughter at Ekaant. The kids were having a blast. Yogi Bear was a big hit & now was being chased by the tots into the Ekaant lobby. The parents were getting them to pose with Yogi Bear for their proud vacation snaps. Lavasa had something for all ages.

Had got up late & decided on an early Lunch. I was the first resident to come in for lunch into the multi-cuisine restaurant. I was greeted by the new F & B manager Mr Pant who requested for ten minutes before the buffet would be served. we got talking and incidentally he had set-up one my my favorite watering-holes at the Radisson, Jalandhar in 1999. Since I work 5 days a month at Jalandhar since 1999, someone talking about Jack-Daniel’s got me hooked! Jack Daniel’s is the finest pub one can find in North India at one of the most unlikeliest of towns-Jalandhar. I was amazed at the buffet layout- there was an artichoke salad, a tandoori-chicken salad, deicious prawn-curry at 2500 feet above sea level topped off with hot Kheer-Sevian. As I was finishing my Lunch, the gang of kids accompanied by a large tourist group descended on the Restaurant. I decided to leave behind the fun and frolic & laughter and take a walk around the Lake. The Dasve Lake which is designed to provide sporting and recreational facilities is enhanced by a 2.4 kms promenade which once completed, will form part of the retail and entertainment hub at Lavasa. With arbours, pedestrian bridges, shopping enclaves and dining areas, this will be the heart of Dasve. I was back to where I belonged – the time of the day not-withstanding. This was bliss.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” 
-John Muir (1838-1914)

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LaVaSa – A Walk In The Clouds

I read a poster about Lavasa sometime in the past which read:”Enter a world of extraordinary scale & reach”. Welcome to Lavasa, an idea so colossal, so visionary & fantabulous that I am convinced this will be a feather-in-the-cap of free India. I met Mr Nathan Andrews at an RCI dinner a month ago & upon exchanging visiting cards, we started talking about free India’s largest hill-station. He invited me to visit Lavasa; it took me more than a month to take up his offer & drive down 190 Kms last weekend on a typical Mumbai Monsoon Weekend – the best time to visit the Western Ghats. I have been to almost all the “known” weekend retreats around Mumbai including Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Matheran, Lonavla, Khandala & almost all the beach resorts within driving distance from Mumbai.I was not prepared for what I saw & felt after driving into the Mose Valley near Pune.

Situated in the sprawling lap of nature, Lavasa is “A Walk In The Clouds”- a beautiful world of peace & calm. It offers tranquil surroundings and its only guest-house presently is called “Ekaant” (Sanskrit for Solitude). Everything about this hillstation is very contemporary, yet truly timeless.Lavasa is a dynamic swirl of opposites. One is far far away from the madding crowd, yet close to the bustling metropolis of Pune (Only 35 Kms)… side by side with nature, but right in the midst of technology – We had wireless broadband at Ekaant (I could not believe it and had not carried by notebook with my logical thought-process!). At Lavasa, one is caught up in the lively spirit of enterprise, but soothed by the gentle hand of spirituality. International in execution and bursting with possibilities!

At 3000 feet above sea level, Lavasa offers a vibrant self-contained world encircling 25,000 acres of lakes and hills with a concept design that seamlessly evolves living spaces around a central water body.Let me tell you what impressed us the most- 40 Kms of a two lane motor-way from Chandni Chowk to Ekaant – this road can put the best roads in Switzerland or North America to shame. This road was laid down by the parent company that is backing the Lavasa project – HCC or Hindustan Construction Company three years ago!!! There is not a single pot-hole or even a small 2 inch efect in the road after three Monsoons in the Western Ghats!!! Roads in Mumbai -the financial capital of India do not last one month & are likened to craters on the moon within a few days of being inaugurated. It was a pleasure to drive on this ‘Made-in-India” by Indians motor-way but even this feel-good feeling was superceded by the “Drive In The Clouds” that followed when I almost reached the summit after a lush-green drive through the Maharashtra countryside. The clouds walked into our car, into our hair & into our Lungs – This was the best pollution free experience of my life in India!!!!

From the main entry-gate, it is a 6 Km drive with waterfalls all around to Ekaant, their guest-house (now open to the public) which is at one of the highest points of Lavasa! Ekaant is modern architecture at its best with two storeyed twin glass-walled buildings made of stone with balconies that overlook the Mose Valley (see pictures!). You open the sliding doors of the rooms and again – The Clouds walk in!!!! Yes, Folks… I am writing like an excited child, but Lavasa did make me feel like a child. (The Lavasa Logo has the concept of man breaking away from the bonds of earth by becoming airborne, is based on the liberating idea of transformation. Transformation that frees the soul from within, promoting self-discovery for a fuller, richer life. So one can soar, and have more time for the self and family…. see http://www.lavasa.com).

From our balcony, we could get a bird’s eye view of the development going on by the lakeside – The ITC Fortune is almost ready and due to open this September, the Novotel & Pullman with its Convention Center will be ready by 2010.The entire hill station has been imaginatively laid out along the valley’s water confluences to promote elegant lakeside living. Dasve, the first of the town centers (see photos) will offer a choice of elegant housing, from Portofino-inspired lakeside apartments (which I personally did not quite like – too tiny for my liking with tinier windows) to a multiple array of villas in Goan-Mediterranean design, providing a unique standard for living in India.

It was aound 7pm when we checked in at Ekaant – took us all of 4 hours from Mumbai. We had taken the journey non-stop & were hungry- courteous room-dining staff got us hot pakoras & Masala Chai. Close your eyes and imagine the aroma of Onion Bhajias, Masala Chai & Rain Clouds flooding your nostrils – believe me, this is Nirvana:)

Dish-TV with Sharukh Khan broke the solitude and I watched some cricket being played at Dacca. 8.30pm, we were hungry again:), and marched down with our umbrellas to the multi-cuisine restaurant on the ground level. A sumptuous multi-country buffet with chilled Fosters beer rounded off the evening & facilitated a slow release of pent-up endorphins. There was just the sound of rain on the glass windows all through the night. For someone like me who likes water, this was the most beautiful way to go to sleep with nature.

A late Sunday morning rising and a courteous call from the reception at 9.15am saying the breakfast closes at 9.30am – for all of us who usually have no breakfast in Mumbai, we were surprised at our own gastric wants. We rushed down to have a nice hot Indian breakfast with Fresh watermelon juice & mouth-watering Upma! Then came the walks & discovery that bamboo is native to the Mose valley (see photos). Sunday morning saw a whole lot of tourists who had driven up from Pune for Lunch to Ekaant. It was a pleasure to meet up with the friendly team behind LaVaSa including Mr Krishna Pillai & Mr Himanshu Saxena. Our original plan of driving down before Lunch to Mumbai was shot down by the Lavasa staff who insisted we try their Sunday Lunch Buffet. Food was wonderful – I liked the amazing Cottage Cheese & Pokchoy salad(Must ask the chef where did he get the Pokchoy leaves from?). Hats off to the Executive Chef!

On our way back home, we all unanimously thought we were going back home from a fairy-tale world. I remembered the Sunday morning presentation on Lavasa by Shalini-one of the customer care executives. “Lavasa indeed is setting a new paradigm for India in urban and infrastructure planning. Central to the project are robust systems managed by professional service providers. High speed internet, comprehensive landline & mobile phone services and first-class roads will ensure that one is always connected.An artificial dam (see photo) will create a reservoir – more than sufficient to meet the demand. In addition, Lavasa provides state-of-the-art water sewage treatment plants and uninterrupted power supply to its resients. with the support of effective e-governance systems, the Hill Station is facilitating the all-round growth of the region”

Lavasa’s infrastructure will also help develop the surrounding areas and provide opportunities to the locals of the region. A commitment to ensuring that everyone in Lavasa lives life on their own terms. Once again, I was proud to be an Indian, proud that I did not migrate to the USA after my MBBS, proud that our children will live in a a new India being moulded by a few visionary Indians. I am convinced that India is the future of civilization. I hope to contribute part of my being & knowledge in some form to LaVaSa …Will write more about this magical Hill-Station later… Jai Hind! Jai Maharashtra!

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