Sunday, 23 September 2012
|Saaremaa in the Himalayas|
Time spent at Saaremaa and Hiiumaa
A lot of our time is spent in just sitting in the various verandahs and terraces and taking in the gorgeous and breathtaking view. Along with the much written and legendary Haunted House ensconced on the top of the mountain right in front of ours, we could also clearly see ‘Kaplani’ village, ‘Jabarkhet temple’ and the famous ‘Sarkhanda Devi’ temple to the East. Of course, the TV tower,
and Hanifl Centre
are also clearly visible in the North. Also, now with electricity reaching most of the
remote villages, when we sit out during the late evenings on our terrace
verandah (both at Saaremaa and Hiiumaa), we see more and more sprinkling of lights
every year along the mountain ranges close by, as compared to the three or four
meagre, although heart warming lights we saw for several years at a stretch. There
are chairs, ‘mudas’ (wicker stools) and tables everywhere so we just make ourselves comfortable anywhere
it suits us. Oakville
|'Saaremaa' - back verandah|
Every winter, it snows three or four times at Saaremaa but one New Year while we were there, it snowed! Although the snow around
melted very fast, it was definitely visible. The mountains in front were
covered with snow and already cars were on their way to Dhanaulti to see the
snow. The news flies fast and by breakfast time we could see a serpentine queue
of cars all going to get a glimpse and feel of the first snow of the year in
that area! We, on the other hand, drove in the other direction, up to Sister’s
bazaar, about 800 feet higher than Saaremaa and Hiiumaa in altitude, and saw
plenty of snow there. We did our usual walk around Language school, Lal Tibba, the cemetery and Char Dukan and there
was a bitter cold wind blowing. All these parts had significant amounts of
snow, much to our delight.
Sketching and painting is another favourite past time. Since our family is full of artists, all the pictures that are hung up on the walls of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa are done by members of the family and each one tells its own tale of the mountains and different parts of the Himalayas. This way we can still remember the old, raw beauty and splendour of the Himalayas of yester years. We make sure there are plenty of crayons, oil pastels, paints and colour pencils for anyone to draw the scenery and everchanging views. Just before ‘Holi’ a few years ago, I painted some ‘rangoli’ on the inner verandah of Saaremaa, and surprisingly, it still looks as good as new.
Reading still remains a hot favourite and we have made sure all our book shelves are full of old (but gold!) National Geographics, Readers Digests and novels for all ages and temperaments. There is a collection of children’s books too, for all sizes, and of course books about birds and animals of the Himalayas and the Jim Corbett series. The only rule with family and guests is that they have to read the books while they are at Saaremaa and Hiiumaa...and not allowed to carry any away, however tempting it may be.. even if they are in the middle of a book. Unless of course, they exchange the book taken with any they have brought with them. This rule has been prompted by the heavy loads and cartons lugged by us all the way from Delhi in the way of books, especially along the short cut to the house when no 4 wheel drive was available. It was an unwritten deal that every trip we would carry at least ten books with us but it sure took a toll on our backs!
|The much sought after past time - sitting around the fire place! Although there is a small TV, it is only used for watching the news at times.|
Bird watching just happens willy nilly, while we sit around...delightful Himalayan birds of all sizes perch in the Oak trees or simply come to peck at the crumbs we leave around outside the verandahs in order to catch glimpses of the birds. We always keep our binoculars and bird book -“Birds of Northern India” handy, so as to identify the bird immediately! We plan to put up some proper bird feeders all over so that we can feast our eyes on the variety of birds in that region.
Gardening and planting is fun and we have spent many a day with our ‘chowkidar’ doing that. From fruit trees to ‘deodar’ trees, from tomatoes and strawberries to mint and cucumber, from exotic creepers to ornamental flowers, we have done it all. Unfortunately, the wild hare, wild boar and other little animals make short work of some of our painstaking planting, but it doesn’t deter us... every time we come, there is always something of our previous visit’s toil to enjoy and marvel at. There are plant nurseries close by where we often get cuttings from and eagerly plant them.
The old, green wooden cupboard in the drawing room of Saaremaa which is painted with flowers is a treasure trove of games for all ages. From the usual Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary, Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, to a variety of other games, they are all there. There is also a skipping rope, two pairs of binoculars and 4 badminton rackets tucked in the cupboard for good measure. The children and adults alike put up the badminton net and major tournaments are played in the patch of land just in front of Saaremaa’s verandah! Air rifle shooting is a hot favourite too and many hours have been spent shooting at a carefully made target (usually an upturned plastic bottle) 20 – 25 metres away. The best game played with a little bonfire set up in our outdoor fire place (‘angeethi’) is Dumb Charades. This is an all time hot favourite. Of course, when the weather gets too cold, we simply light the fire indoors and move in. That's when it's time for the guitar playing and singing to start! We have a book with guitar chords for songs from the '70's and '80's and sing to our heart's content while someone or the other plays the guitar.
|The green cupboard with all the games and music beside it|
There are so many beautiful and mysterious trails all over our land and of course out of it too when one leaves the gate - both to the Chamasari village and to Dhobi ghaat side. On our land, some trails lead to one or the other of the benches made by the chowkidar, helped by me and the children. Each of the four benches is at a strategic location and commands a beautiful view. These benches have been tiled with left over tiles of all colours, shapes and sizes ( broken and whole) from our house and each tells a story. The very first bench we built was made by the chowkidar (helped by me) in memory of my grandparents and has huge loving arms on either side. It is hidden away as one turns the corner from our garden patch cum badminton court, just away from Saaremaa and is the ideal place to recline on and read a book or simply dose off. The second one we built (by the chowkidar, helped by kids) is just near the back verandah and we sit on it and admire the view while having our meals. The third one is in the shade of a large Pine tree on the upper level of land and a perfect picnic spot , especially when we want the kids (our own and their cousins) to be less noisy and away from us! The fourth and last bench built by the kids and their cousins, is far up, right next to the upper most boundary of our land and lies beside three walnut trees which actually yield walnuts. The view from each of these benches is simply amazing. One of the paths leads to our organic waste collection which is used over time for enriching the soil. We are always careful to separate our organic and inorganic kitchen waste and make the most use of our organic one for all our plants as the land is not very fertile and quite rocky in parts.
|The trail to our place|
Saturday, 22 September 2012
‘Hiiumaa’, the little annexe above Saaremaa, has also been completed now and is comfortably furnished for all our family and guests who fall in love with our home in the mountains and want to always visit again. It boasts of a lovely, large, timber constructed bedroom with a verandah overlooking the stupendous mountain view in the East. There is another little study cum bedroom upstairs and a drawing and kitchen cum dining room downstairs . Both floors have bathrooms. The best part of Hiiumaa are the two verandahs on either end of the house and a dining room which is part of the open kitchen, where we sit facing the full view of the mountains.
|New ' Hiiumaa' seen when one looks upward from 'Saaremaa'|
|Hiiumaa - part of the drawing room on the GF, looking into the kitchen..The 'bukhari' (wood stove) in the corner keeps the whole house warm|
|Hiiumaa - upper floor landing looking into the main bedroom|
|Upper bedroom balcony - a perfect place to sit|
|Glimpse of FF bathroom !|
|View from Hiiumaa's drawing room|
Initially, Hiiumaa was a large single room or outhouse and was built as a store to put all our cement and other construction material, basically to keep it safe and protect it all from the vagaries of mountain weather. However, we had to come quite often to check on the work being done on the main house Saaremaa, and living far away in town was counterproductive. We didn’t even have the motorbike then, leave alone our 4 wheel Gypsy. So, we hit on a brainwave and decided to make a temporary tin store for the building material and simply live in ‘Hiiumaa’, for better or worse.
I clearly remember the only trip we left our little son behind in Delhi with his grandparents (he sweetly tags along with us everywhere usually!). We folded the back seat of our car and filled it with four plastic chairs and a plastic table, bedding, two cotton ‘durries’ (large woven mats), a few utensils, a small one burner gas stove with a mini cylinder and basic groceries. We headed off from our home in Delhi straight to ‘Saaremaa’, praying the traffic would be okay and we would reach during daylight hours to set up ‘home’. We were lucky and did manage, with two old kerosene lamps helping us to see, while we put our meagre belongings into the one room which would serve as our bedroom, drawing room, dining room and kitchen for the next two years.
Slowly, with each trip, we added a few more articles to our sparse home, like two tin trunks to store bedding (very much like the trunks my grandparents had from their many postings all over India), an ugly but much needed, small sized, Godrej almirah (steel cupboard), a solar torch and 2 solar lights, and two proper beds from Landaur bazaar in main Mussoorie which we realised were less hardy than the folding beds we used earlier.
Little Hiiumaa did not even have a covered veranda and I must say, we were very very lucky with the weather on all the occasions we stayed there. We often cooked on a small stool set up outside and sat around it, eating there itself. The outside was also our drawing room. Inside, other than the two existing beds, a folding bed would be put up for our son at night which would be dismantled and used as a sofa to sit in the sun in the morning. With that 3rd bed, there was hardly place to move inside the room! Anyway, with no electricity then, we had early nights and slept very deeply indeed until the first rays of the sun would stream through the windows beckoning us to another wonderful day in the
Himalayas. Hiiumaa remains a bird watcher's paradise and we see the rarest and most beautiful birds while sitting on any of the verandah's around it.
|An Oriental Turtle Dove perched on the Oak tree just outside the upper verandah of 'Hiiumaa'|
Those days and nights, with literally just a roof over our heads and precious little else, were easily the best ones I remember. Washing utensils was done outside and bathing was not done at all. In fact, bathing and washing clothes were saved for when we went back to
, to our fancy
showers and washing machines. However, we never missed the luxuries of city
life, not one bit. It was just cups of tea or soup, one after the other,
sitting in the outdoors. Every now and then, we would go off for part of the
day on our ‘khachhar’, the motorcycle, visit our friends, go to the Landaur
bazaar,buy our stores from Prakash’s at Sister’s bazaar and come back home
precariously carrying everything, some in our backpacks and some tied to the
back and sides of the motorcycle. We truly must have made a rather comical
Naming Hiiumaa was not difficult! While we were in Estonia recently, we took the ferry from ‘Haapsaalu’ on the westernmost coast of Estonia across to Hiiumaa, the second island adjacent to main Estonia, just north of Estonia’s other island, Saaremaa. We lived in a beautifully constructed log cabin along the sea. Once we named our main home ‘
automatically the little room above got called ‘Hiuumaa’!
Our friends visited us at old Hiiumaa regularly and they rightly called it the ‘boondocks’. They rather accurately commented that either we were very brave or just extremely foolish. On looking back, I truly wonder how we did it. However, I have to say that living in that little outhouse, which is now the tastefully built up ‘new-look’ Hiiumaa, was the most humbling and rewarding experience of my life. Something I will never forget and always cherish lovingly. So much so, that when main
Saaremaa was finally built by
April 2009, it was with a heavy heart that I packed our belongings and moved
down. Our days of ‘house house’, as our friends called it, were over, and the
real world was beckoning with a fully fledged house, namely Saaremaa, waiting
‘Pari Tibba’ or ‘Witch’s Hill’ near ‘Saaremaa’
Unfortunately, while working hard to set up ‘Saaremaa’ and tie up all the loose ends one encounters while building a place in the remote areas, we hardly got around to visiting the beckoning neighbourhood and also following the inviting little mountain forest trails, seemingly leading nowhere. However, one afternoon in 2010, when my sister and family were here visiting over the summer, we decided to at least go up to the famous ‘Pari Tibba” which the renowned author Ruskin Bond has written so enchantingly about in quite a few of his books. We thought that the least we could do was to visit the site our hill was named after! It was a pretty hectic, though beautiful climb, filled with Oak and Pine trees along the way.
|The trail to 'Pari Tibba'|
On reaching the top of the hill, we saw ‘trishuls’ (three pronged forks which the Hindu Lord Shiva holds) on typical Garhwali stone shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva, with red and gold dupattas draped over them. There was a barbed wire fencing which had been broken down purposefully. The multiple land deals in these areas are famous and land changes hands through fake papers too often for comfort. Each so called ‘owner’ puts up his boundary wall or wire , only to be broken down by another ‘owner’ claiming the land is his! Then this boundary is once again broken down by another ‘owner’ of the same land who says he has just bought it! The ‘dalals’ or land brokers make a pretty penny over these transactions, no doubt.
And then, after much huffing and puffing, we saw it! The famous little ramshackled house with the ‘pari’ (fairy) fable attached to it. So, this was the house which the entire mountain side had been named after…. there were a few half-broken walls still standing and a small courtyard kind of space in the centre. The fable goes that some British ladies were trying to build the house about two centuries ago and whatever they would build during the day would be broken down by fairies (‘pari’ in Hindi) at night. The villagers still hold true that the fairies or pari’s from Pari tibba did not like the house being constructed and would dismantle it every night. Obviously, there was more to the building and breaking, probably the villagers wanting a cut from the land deal, but I really liked this mystery story surrounding our mountain!
|The mysterious 'pari' (fairy) house behind the tree on 'Pari Tibba'|
We went further to find a large temple cum make shift home being constructed on the other side. The view was simply fantastic and we could see the majestic mountain ranges all over. There was no water connection so all construction was being done using rainwater in a rather effective way. The rain water was being collected in a large, black, plastic sheet held down by stones over a depression in the land. It’s amazing how the villagers contrive to use rain water with little ‘parnalis’ of all shapes and sizes placed on their terraces which lead into large and small drums below, while in the cities, rain water harvesting is still not too common a sight. I suppose necessity is the mother of invention!
Sunday, 5 February 2012
My grandmother, Ira (Irena), in her Estonian traditional dress in the late 1920's
Estonia as it exists today, with its two main islands Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. My grandmother Irena's hometown, Kasmu, is a seaside village town about 40 km eastward of Tallinn along the Baltic sea coastline and holds a famous Maritime museum which used to be a Maritime School headed by Irena's father in the 1920's and '30's.
SAAREMAA is the name of our Himalayan home in India, in memory of my Grandmother and Estonia.
Estonia along with the other Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania was occupied by German troops from 1941 to 1944 and then by the Soviets until 1991 when Estonia finally got its independence. It has been part of the European Union since 2004.
With the Russian occupation and almost all of my Grandmothers' relatives having fled Estonia or sent to Siberian concentration camps, my grandmother said she had nothing really to go back to in Estonia except an empty home. My family and I visited it in the summer of 2008 and again in 2011.
Grandmother's house in 2008 when we visited Estonia. In front is the big rock which features in many of her photos. This is the rock she and her brother Juss played on all day in their childhood, year after year. This picture has her great grandson on the much fabled rock!
Irena (top row, left) performing in a play in her hometown. Being a seaside village, the sea creatures shown are a common aspect of life there!
Irena -20 years old in 1933, just before she met and married my Indian grandfather. They met at a youth hostel in London where Grandfather studied medicine in Bartholomews College and Grandmother was learning English.
Irena's mother and my great grandmother, Nadezda Kaskni Kristenbruhn. She died at the early age of 48 years after an illness, and was much saddened to know that there were chances of her daughter marrying an Indian and going to live so very far away. It was only after her death did my grandparents get married.
Nadezda, my great grandmother was born on the Estonian island, Saaremaa and came to Käsmu to teach in the school there. She was the headmistress while her first husband and Ira's father, Alexander Kaskni lived and stayed in the Kaskni house called Tulemaa. After Alexander Kaskni died early in life, Ira's mother married Eduard Kristenbrunn and moved to the house which is now the Writers Association.
Ira's stepfather Eduard Kristenbrunn (left) was a ship captain and headed the five families who owned the shipping association in Estonia. In the short time between the two world wars when Estonia was independent from both the Germans and Russians, he started with small ships trading salt, then buying and repairing bigger ships and sailing merchandise all over the world. He ran the main Sailing school in Kasmu too, and Ira looked on Kristenbrunn as her father. Sadly, he never recovered to return to his homeland from the concentration camp he was sent to in Siberia.
|My grandfather, Major Gen Amar Nath Roy, as a handsome young student during his medical studies at Bartholomews College, London in the early 1930's|
My grandparents' Wedding Day in 1935. They had just returned from a holiday in Estonia where they both got very tanned. In fact, grandfather was sunburnt! My grandmother often spoke about this holiday where grandfather had been introduced to grandmother's parents in Kasmu.
Irena (Ira) and my Grandfather, in India. This photo was taken when I was a child
Saturday, 14 January 2012
6. Animals and Birds we see from Saaremaa
(written by our younger son, an avid bird watcher)
(written by our younger son, an avid bird watcher)
From this heavenly abode we see a wide range of animals and birds all year long. Our favourite past-time in the evening is just to sit out in the veranda and listen to the numerous animals and birds outside. Every night, without fail, we hear the coughing call of the Barking Deer which moves up and down the steep mountain slopes effortlessly, barking in order to warn its fellow species of any predators or danger. However this species of deer is very small and is perpetually hidden in the densely forested mountain slopes near our house making it hard to spot. However, once we spotted one while drinking our first cup of tea in the morning on the back verandah. It gingerly walked on just beyond our makeshift badminton court and started nibbling at some leaves there. We sat absolutely still and watched it for quite a while, while it lifted up its ears and head every now and then to see if anyone was looking. Once it spotted us, it scampered off as fast as possible.
|The barking deer who visited us at Saaremaa..|
Another time, when we were returning to ‘Saaremaa’ from a late night Diwali get-together on the motorcycle, we almost knocked a scared barking deer off the road. It was pitch dark and it suddenly came out of nowhere, scaring itself and us too. It brushed against the motor cycle and then bolted into the night. This was on the ‘perilous’ forest road very close to Saaremaa.
Our two acre land is very often visited by Wild Boar, which often dig holes in our yard and eat whatever few crops are available in these patches! These animals do not make much sound and hence are not heard at night when they invade our field! The wild hare or ‘jungli kharghosh’ as our Chowkidar calls it, is another common visitor. Much to the chokidar’s chagrin, it has eaten up all the lovely ‘dal’ (pulses) he painstakingly sows season after season on the flatter areas of our land.
On a few occasions, we have also heard the handsaw grating call of a leopard deep into the night, especially during the winter months! We did not believe daddy when he made us wake up and hear it once in the wee hours of the morning and I came back to Delhi to actually check the sound on the internet! It proved to be uncannily and eerily accurate! Garhwali folklore is full of stories of leopard eating farmer’s cattle, dogs and at times their children as well! These animals are made out to be extremely horrid and vile, seeking every opportunity to attack a human settlement. On the contrary, they are extremely shy of ‘homo sapiens’ and only once in a blue moon attack humans, unless threatened. They do, however, love the opportunity to gorge on cattle and dogs leading to despair among farmers. The chowkidar nonchalantly often tells us stories of villager’s cattle being taken away by leopards and claims to see leopards every month or two! Unfortunately, for us, we have never had an opportunity to come across this majestic big cat.
Some other rare animals we spot at this altitude in the forest are the yellow throated martens, porcupines, civet cats, ghurals( which is from the deer family but looks like a mountain goat) and flying squirrels. We are yet to come across these animals, but as usual, our chowkidar claims to have seen each and every one of them and more on our property and we hope to be lucky enough to also see them someday.
The Rock lizard whose family lives behind one of our Rain water tanks
However, here I have to mention that we have acquired two pets over our years of stay at Saaremaa. The Rock lizard is one which lives behind the rain water tank on our first floor terrace and keeps climbing up and down with various members of its family. The second and more fascinating is George’s family of spiders. They are large, unwieldy and rather solemn looking creatures which stay hidden behind furniture and paintings until one begins a cleaning spree and spots them scurrying away sideways. We saw one with a huge sac of eggs attached to her body and realised we will soon be inundated with George’s family as we had named the first one we saw ‘George’. The name sounded grand and apt. In reality, they stay to themselves and have never caused us any trouble at all.
|George's relative crawling along our kitchen!|
Even more than the wide array of mammals here are the innumerable species of birds. We often call our home ‘A Paradise of Birds’. Every time we walk out of our house, at least half a dozen birds are either seen or heard in the vicinity, the most common one being the Black headed Jay which can be seen literally nearly every time without fail. During the summer evenings, all of us hear the wonderful, yet monotonous cry of the Indian cuckoo chanting a four syllable tune.
|Himalayan Indian Cuckoo seen outside our window|
The black and ashy Drongos are both visitors to Saaremaa and can be seen perched on the branches. We see flocks of both the plum and slatey headed parakeets all year long, flying from tree to tree. The red and yellow billed as well as common Magpies are also seen near the house during our morning and evening walks. The Rufous tree pie is a member of the magpie family and a regular visitor to our abode. The bushes and thick undergrowth on the land are also overflowing with tiny birds such as the Sparrows, Munias, Tits, Warblers and marvellously coloured purple and crimson Sunbirds. All these tiny creatures create a ruckus in the bushes. Due to this, a ruffling noise can nearly always be heard during our morning and evening teas on the verandah. Once we saw a beautiful Khalij pheasant strutting right up to our back verandah and luckily had our camera ready for a photo!
Our photo of the Khalij pheasant we saw from our back verandah
|The Oriental Turtle Dove perched on the Oak tree outside 'Hiiumaa' - our other cottage above 'Saaremaa'|
Another major attraction to our home for bird watchers are the various Birds of prey (raptors) which reside in and around it, the crested serpent eagle being the most abundant of all. I have seen this bird of prey a few times, the most memorable occasion being when it swooped down and picked up a frog from the ground. On winter mornings and afternoons we have often seen the majestic Himalayan Griffon high up in the sky doing imaginary laps in the troposphere. The Griffon’s wingspan is between five and six feet and it looks magnificent from down below.
|Himalayan Griffon Vulture flying above Saaremaa|
We have a varied library of books on animals, plants and birds, and sit with our binoculars, ready to catch a closer glimpse of any bird, common or rare. Then, we rush in and check the name in our book of “Birds of Northern India’. We try hard to memorise it so we recognise it by its name the next time we see it!
One of the beautiful species of lilies growing in abundance at Saaremaa
One of the beautiful species of lilies growing in abundance at Saaremaa
Friday, 13 January 2012
5. Rain water harvesting and solar power……
Saaremaa would never have been completed had it not been for my dear architect- husband’s nature-friendly views on rain water harvesting and harnessing solar power. Initially, we did try to get a water line and paid a pretty packet for it too, but it didn’t work out as the villagers nearby hardly get water during the summer, and didn’t naturally see why outsiders from Delhi should share their meagre water supply. Fair enough, we took this in our stride and we decided to rely entirely on rain water. We got a 30,000 litre underground tank built and an effective filter made up largely of layers of sand and gravel, which filtered out the rain water from all the pipes leading to it from the slanting galvanised iron roofs of Saaremaa. A few good rains and the entire tank would fill up!
If there are two things that have saved our lives a million times over in Saaremaa, they are the clean rain water we get in our taps and the solar lanterns which light up the house at night and also charge our Nokia phones! The collected rain water would be pumped up to the tank above, every day, by a hand pump.
Nature friendly 'Saaremaa' - rain water pipes, filter, tank and hand pump.
This was usually done by our Chowkidar, but whenever we had guests and large quantities of water had to be pumped up, the highlight of the day would be the water pumping. Everyone would take turns at it and there would be a competition as to who was the strongest. This was judged by the number of pumps he/she did! On an average, one pump of the hand pump lifted up only one large mug of water. Keeping this in mind, the children all took turns at pumping water on a daily basis. They each pumped up around 15 mugs for a bath, 10 for flushing and 5 for washing everyday, a total of 30 pumps at least. Needless to add, very rarely did any of them actually bathe during their time at Saaremaa!
I really miss this aspect of our life at Saaremaa now that there is electricity (since October 2010). The solar lights have been replaced by CFL bulbs and the hand pumping by an electric motor. Anyhow, the electricity is not exactly very reliable here in the mountains and we still charge and use our solar lights regularly and feel very happy while doing so.
4. Choosing the name ‘Saaremaa’
Moving back to our home, ‘Saaremaa’, let me mention how we hit on the name for it. The Estonian connection is obvious... Saaremaa is the largest island off the west coast of Estonia. It is about 6 1/2 kilometers by ferry from main Estonia, the island where my great grandmother (Dida's mother, Nadezda) was born and lived as a child. Also, as children, we had heard from Dida that one of her cousins, who had resisted being sent to Siberia by the Russians, was hiding somewhere on the island- Saaremaa. Although we visited the island North of Saaremaa called Hiiumaa during our visit to Estonia in June 2008 and July 2011, we never had a chance to go to Saaremaa.
While we thought of ‘Griffon’s Cottage’ , ‘Babbler Bari’, ‘Skylark Home” and ‘Eagle’s Nest’ among several other names based on the hundreds of delightful Himalayan birds we see from Saaremaa, we just weren’t sure which magnificent bird’s name would most suitably befit our abode in the mountains. Finally It was while my husband was playing his Sarod, a musical instrument with nineteen strings, one evening, facing the Himachal ranges of the Himalaya mountains from our first floor bedroom, did the strains of ‘Sa-re ga-ma’ touch a chord, and we thought, why not have a musically Estonian name, especially since the whole family loved every form of music?
Hence, the name ‘Saaremaa’ stuck and before we got the name-board made, we wondered what exactly to write on the board as it would be final and permanent. Right from the beginning when we bought the land, we were extremely keen to grow organic fruits and vegetables like lettuce, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, leeks, etc. We bought two huge books weighing at least 4 kgs each on the joys of organic farming in the hills and after much thought and deliberation, we finally hit on the name at the entry - ‘Saaremaa Organic farms”. As of now, the wild rabbits and wild boar have dug up every bit of organic farming we have attempted, but yes, we have managed some huge cucumbers, a lot of delightful mint, small and juicy tomatoes, some wild strawberries and plenty of dal planted painstakingly by our ‘chowkidar’.
First glimpse of the land we bought….
|View from Saaremaa just after a bout of rain|
My first visit to see the land was quite eventful as it was a cold and rainy day. We drove down from just below the Mussoorie Bypass road. A 4 wheel drive jeep and driver were organised and the driver dropped us to the land and we walked back. By Jove, it was a very long and winding walk, both uphill and downhill! However, what struck me the most was the sheer fall of the valley below and the lush mountains on the opposite side. What a gorgeous, scenic view! The forest was thick, mostly filled with Oak trees and some Deodar and Pine trees. There were Rhododhendron trees blossoming at intervals too and the bright red flowers made my heart glow and gave me the courage to walk with renewed energy. The road was reasonably wide but not paved at any point. There was no way any car but a four-wheel drive could make it, and that too with difficulty.
Reaching Mussoorie from Delhi was easy, but reaching 'Saaremaa' in the early years was quite an adventure. We either drove up from Delhi to Mussoorie via Ghaziabad, Modinagar, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee and Dehradun, in that order, or went by train. Driving up had its advantages in the way that we could carry up a lot more stuff needed for the house, but the main disadvantage was that it took the better part of a day, leaving one exhausted. Also, on a non summer’s day, when the days were relatively shorter, we would reach in the evening and since 'Saaremaa ' had no electricity until the winter of 2010, setting up the kitchen with our solar lanterns was not that easy.
|Saaremaa and our most frequently used back verandah|
The road from Delhi to Dehradun has improved since and instead of taking anything from 7 hours to 11 hours earlier, in spite of a so-called ‘Ghaziabad bypass”, ‘Meerut bypass and ‘Muzaffarnagar bypass’, it takes about 5 to 6 hours now. This is thanks to a new, rather beautifully made toll road from Meerut to beyond Khatauli, completed in 2011. Khatauli was literally a one-horse town in the late ‘70’s, but now it is a messy, sprawling, badly planned township which took an eternity to pass through.
Once in Dehradun, one has to obviously add time for lunch, usually a quick bite at Mc Donald’s at the well known Astley Hall, petrol filling and buying of supplies, especially bread at Nany’s or Ellora’s. All this takes about an hour after which we set off straight to Saaremaa. That’s another hour and a bit, depending if we can drive straight to the house or not. Most often, the short cut via ‘Jhari Pani’ would be taken which is really picturesque and passes Barlowganj. Then, on to the Mussoorie Bypass road so one misses the crowded Mussoorie mall and markets which are witness to several traffic jams especially during the peak summer season and long weekends. From the bypass road, down to Ridgewood hostel of Woodstock school, past Dhobhi Ghat and then up towards Chamasari village, a little beyond Pari Tibba. And there, perched in the midst of the Oak forests lay our beautiful ‘Saaremaa’.