Ajit Malkarnekar and his wife Doris wanted a slow, self-sufficient life close to nature. So after almost a decade in Germany, they came back to India in 1984. They bought 50 acres of barren land deep in the Mollem National Park in Goa, where Ajit was born. There was no electricity, no water and the land suffered from the effects of reckless deforestation.
And there on began their gruelling journey to turn what they called Dudhsagar Plantations into the lush green paradise that it is today.
The couple already had some experience with developing arid land. They had worked on Baba Amte’s Anandwan, a rehabilitation village for lepers, in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. In fact, it’s where Ajit and Doris met and fell in love. But that is a story for another time.
Back in Goa, they decided to set up a farm on the land and spent the first few months setting up the basics. They needed a house, electricity, water and cooking gas, and they wanted to start planting trees. Being smack in the middle of nowhere, however, meant getting around was a huge problem. There was no public transport and the car they had ordered would take a year to arrive. So the many many trips to the water and electricity board had to be made on foot.
Next, an irrigation well was dug and a back-breaking process of implementing soil building and conservation measures was undertaken, before the land was ready to start sowing seeds. The only vegetation around was a single banyan tree, which watched as the plantation slowly and steadily came to life.
“Building the soil back was a gradual process that required a lot of patience. We worked hard to bring nitrogen back into the soil, got livestock on the farm to provide manure, built soil bunds for groundwater recharge, did onsite mulching to improve water retention capacity, and also set up a biogas plant to provide manure and energy,” said Ashok Malkarnekar, Ajit and Doris’ son who manages the plantation now.
Largely, traditional and organic methods of farming were used to help the ecosystem recover. Coconut, cashew, pepper and betel nut were the main crops planted besides a host of other vegetables, fruits, spices and herbs.
Only 25 acres of the entire land was cultivated; the rest was left to be taken over by nature and grow into a wild forest.
As the farm came more and more together, friends and family trickled in and the first tile-roofed cottage was built in 1985. Later, in 2014, four more were designed and the farm stay was officially opened for business.
Today, guests at the Dudhsagar Plantation can stay at any of the five cottages – each one of which has its own theme, comes with a massively spacious bedroom, a verandah to sit out and look at the surrounding foliage and simple bathrooms that open up to the sky.
To add to the comfortable accommodation, there is a natural trail on the premises to experience the joy of the crunching leaves and distinct bird calls, a natural pool to cool off and numerous tours to take of the surrounding pepper and vegetable plantations, the Dudhsagar Waterfalls, and the Usgalimol rock carvings.
And the food is as fresh as it can get. Ingredients are sourced from the surrounding plantation and the meals cooked in a Konkani style are vegetarian, organic and soul-satisfying. Even the cocktails pack a punch – especially those made with in-house distilled feni and lime.
“We run a heritage distillery on the plantation where we manufacture feni. Recently, we also started making a delicious spiced feni which is also being sold commercially,” Ashok said.
This is definitely not a place for resort-goers or those looking for thrill and parties. But for those who enjoy time in the wilderness and want to connect with nature, you might not want to leave at all. And with the monsoon around the corner, a stay at Dudhsagar Plantation is set to be one to remember for a long long time.
Book a cottage at the Dudhsagar Plantation on their website. Tariff per night starts at Rs 3,000 and includes breakfast. The farm stay is 1 hour 25 minutes from Dabolim Airport.
All pictures have been sourced from Dudhsagar Plantation’s website.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)