Friday, 13 January 2012

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 Saaremaa……
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’.

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