I’m just back from the Lavasa Women’s Drive weekend. Over 250 participants from Mumbai and 150-odd from Pune competed in this rally to Lavasa. The event was a speed-time-distance based one with specific goals on each of these, for the participants. The rally flagged off on Sunday, 27 February 2011 from Bandra Reclamation. Each participating vehicle was started off with a minute’s interval from the previous, starting at 7.00 a.m. I was invited to ride along with the Windchimes team to cover the event and review the Lavasa experience over two days.
The other bloggers were Anu, Pushpa, Nisha, Kiran and Monika (specially in from Bangalore for this event). Shakti also joined us on the drive down to Lavasa but had to return almost immediately after we got there. Meeta was also spotted at Lavasa, from the Pune leg of the rally but she was there as a rally participant and not with the blogger team.
The drive took around six hours, counting the hour that spent at the breakfast stop on the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Put a bunch of bloggers together and expect that they’ll talk. Make it an exclusively women bunch and you know there’s going to be no dearth of chatter. The waiters probably never heard so many human voices at one time, which may explain why they served us an incomplete order and worst of all, coffee with sour milk that made poor Kiran sick.
The car Shakti and I were in also stopped for a general look-see at the dam on the way. It’s something I’m used to doing from my childhood travels with dad and mum who counted these pitstops as an integral part of the journey. However, I have to say there doesn’t seem to be much that’s appealing by way of scenery, or perhaps it’s just the season we’re in. Most of the landscape looks barren and dry.
As we neared Lavasa however, it started to change a bit with sporadic bursts of colour, which we realised were flowers and shrubs planted by the Lavasa landscaping group. Maybe it’s just me but I’m not sure that I count hay-coloured rocky terrain dotted with violently pink bougainvillas as ‘beautiful’. The contrast seems jarring somehow, like a supermodel walking in a desert. Umm, perhaps that worked for Lisa Ray in a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan video but seeing it in real life, didn’t do it for me.
Still, as we neared Lavasa, there was a distinct change in the scenery. Visitors are greeted by a series of concrete pillars all adorned by gaily coloured butterfly and ladybird statuettes, which strangely enough are quite cheerful. Round the corners and suddenly you’re in a superclean, toytown with well-laid out roads, scenic buildings and a shimmering body of water in the distance. If the weather didn’t remind one of the tropical climes, you’d think you were in Europe. All around us rally participants milled around, resplendent in their costumes and Lavasa chic. I felt woefully out of place in my shabby travelling gear (and here’s what I did to compensate).
The Waterfront Shaw is a hotel right on the promenade over the said body of water. It’s flanked on either side by various eating joints including an English pub, an American Diner, Chor Bizarre and Oriental Octopus. The last is what we picked for our first meal at Lavasa. I’m afraid to say that our first taste of Lavasa food and service was regrettably less than satisfactory. The serving staff had the genteel air of condescension that one would expect at a 7-star hotel but without any of the accompanying service. Witness the following conversation:
Shakti: (reading from menu) I’d like the Pan fried Basa, please?
Waitress: Pasta? We don’t serve pasta. *sniff*
I skipped the soup in favor of Chicken Satay, usually a hot favorite with me. Woefully, it arrived as a frightening mess of yellow chunky gunk over tough meat pieces. It wasn’t wholly inedible as I don’t really mind peanut pieces but that’s not really how Satay is made, is it? Also, I think we’d have been a lot more forgiving had our reception been friendlier.
The vegetables arrived well ahead of the rice, so much so that we had devoured them by the time someone remembered to serve us the rice. And then we were served two bowls of rice in place of one.
All in all, the only saving grace in the entire meal was the Elanir drink, a mocktail of coconut water and pineapple juice. Even so, the waitress would have to put a zinger on it with her sneer at my excitement.
Me: Wow, that’s actually yella-neer, as in coconut water in Tamil!
Waitress: It’s Elanir, ma’am. *mother of all sniffs*
We were told later that the Oriental Octopus had only set up shop a week ago, which could explain the teething troubles they had in the kitchen. However, good customer service can and should start from day one. After all, how much training and experience does it require to be nice to people? Such a pity then, so much would have been forgiven had we just been served with a smile and a friendly word instead of all that sniffing.
Post lunch, though the evening looked a lot more promising. After dumping our things in our rooms, Anu and I headed out to catch the last of the music performances by Shibani Kashyap and SQS Supastars. Side attractions included temporary tattoo artists and hair braiding stalls. I’ve never seen so many women let themselves run free. They danced, they cheered and jeered, they human-trained across the entire shamiana. It was a fitting end to the adrenalin rush of the rally.
That evening we were left to our own devices and fortunately for everyone, the blogger bunch all got along like a house on fire. We ended up walking around the promenade, shooting new display pics for our Facebook
profiles, watching the tourists and sampling curious delights like Chipstix. We turned in early after a light and very satisfying meal at Chor Bizarre, an Indian restaurant decorated with British Raj period antiques.
The plan was to get a good night’s rest before getting up for the promised 6a.m. nature trail, boating, extreme sports by Xthrill (if possible), a visit to Crystal House (a school for the labour force of Lavasa) and Bamboosa. Would you believe, we were all up and raring to go by 5:45 a.m.? Only, umm, who was taking us? None of the organizing team were to be seen. The bloggerati snuck in a photo or two between fighting off the affections of the numerous stray dogs and wondered what why we were up so early in a strange place. But Biswajit Dey saved the day. Within an hour, taxis had been arranged and we were ferried to Ekant, another hotel resort higher up the Lavasa heights.
We managed to get a good few pictures, of the panoramic view of the valley, the sunrise (always magnificent anywhere in the world) and the nature trail. Then we had tea with the friendly owner with the scenic view for company. We headed back to The Waterfront Shaw and ended at the American Diner for breakfast (where I had a dream omelette al fresco). The organizers team emerged around 10, by which time the bloggers were done with breakfast and were idly sitting around on the promenade. As it turned out, none of the promised plans actually materialized and we would spend another hour and a half exploring every inch of the same promenade again.
With only a couple of hours to go before leaving, the only thing left to do was Bamboosa, the Lavasa factory for bamboo handicrafts and products. This factory not only employs the local labourers but also includes a crèche facility for their children. The Crystal House (which we didn’t have time to see) brings a high standard of education to their children. I was told that this year’s graduating batch has four admits to Stanford.
We left Lavasa at 1:30 after a quick lunch at American Diner, the bloggers all in one car. And that’s when the treacherousness of the Lavasa access road hit us. Not belying the landscaped horizons, the road itself is very steep and has multiple sharp turns. Nisha was the first to pour her guts out onto the side of the road. Anu followed soon enough and to my big surprise, so did I. I don’t think it had to do with bad driving or food. Apparently the road down from Lavasa is indeed a difficult one, which takes its toll on the strongest of stomachs.
I was quite disappointed at not being able to catch any of the events on the promised schedule. What’s more, being up at 5 a.m. and waiting around for five hours and then cramming the lowest priority item into the last hour is not fun for anyone. It didn’t seem very respectful of our time and our presence at the event. I’m not sure whether it was miscommunication or mismanagement but I’m not about to get into that.
The company of all the bloggers I met more than made up for the organizers’ glitches. The ride back (synchronized puking notwithstanding) was delightful. We talked about parenting (Kiran, Monika and Anu are all parents and mommy-bloggers), travel, blogging, people we all knew in common, trolls and how to deal with them and all manner of delightful things that are so close to a blogger’s heart.
Other accounts of the event:
More at The Idea-smithy: The Lavasa Chronicles
Nisha: Lavasa articles
Sakshi: Babes, bonding, bravado
Tagged: American Diner, Anuradha Srinivasan, Bad service, Bamboosa, Biswajit Dey, Blogger meet, Chipstix, Chor Bizarre, Crystal House, Ekant, Event mismanagement, Hill station, Hospitality, Kiran Manral, Landscaping, Lavasa, Lavasa Women's Drive, Maharashtra, Meeta Kabra, Miscommunication, Monika Manchanda, Motion sickness, Mountain drive, Mumbai, Mumbai Pune expressway, Oriental Octopus, Pune, The Lavasa chronicles, Travelogue, Waterfront Shaw, Windchimes Communication, Xthrill