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Ever felt uplifted and firmly grounded at the same time? Ever felt energized into life and soothed into a languid lump of inexistence in the very same moment? Ever opened your mouth wide to eat clouds?

Yes, that’s what I have been up to in the last month or so of my missing in action from here. And speaking of action, this was just ONE of the hundreds of things that somehow got packed into a normally sleepy, event-less month.

Here’s a glimpse…

An 18th birthday at Aer, one of the tallest rooftops of the city, where a group of anxious adults (with fuzzy memories of their own 18th!!) trying to keep the candle lit long enough to blow, while hankering for a slice of one of the most gorgeous birthday cakes in the world, straight from the Oberoi kitchens.  A family get-together weekend, replete with belly-dancing, overflowing tubs of Italian Chef Gio’s home-made Tiramisu licked clean, and all-nighter parties that licked us all clean! Our annual Goa Trip with the crazy gang in the beautiful rains, gorging on some outstanding Pan Fried Stuffed Pomfrets and Fresh Squids straight from the fish nets, flipped out by our immensely talented and intuitive in-house chef. And a sprinkling of happy finds and sad disappointments in the food scene in and around the city.

And yet, the one thing that stands out, and probably still will in many years to come despite many more memorable memories created and nurtured along  The Eaten Path, is the experience of living with (and in!) the clouds… at The Machan! After all, what can be more beautiful than to cuddle up into a ball in an easy chair with a large patchwork quilt, perched on a balcony, 50 feet above the greenest, lushest valley ever, with rain clouds flowing through you into the warm, woody living room behind you, while a mocking bird eerily whistles away somewhere in the cloud-whitened forest far below you, and a distant waterfall gurgles down the hillside, creating that inimitable music that only Nature can?

If you are wondering where on earth this place is, and seriously doubting the truth of my words, well, it does exist, and that too just under 2 hours away from the crowded jungle-city of Mumbai!

Living in a tree-house has been a childhood fantasy for most of us, a fantasy fed generously by comic book images of the superhero, The Phantom, living in his ‘Castle in The Air‘, to Enid Blyton and Peter Pan stories of ‘people’ living in trees, right up to Hollywood films showing kids having secret meetings and picnics in their very own tree house in their very own back yards, making us go green with envy!

Green was the colour on that Monday morning too, except that it was all around us – in the crisp, rain-soaked leaves, the dew-laden blades of grass, the moss carpets on the rocks that softened the cliffs, and the overgrown trees drooping low over the winding roads that led away from the city and deep into misty forests, high up in the Sahyadris.

You arrive at the place through two easily-missed white-washed ‘rocks’ by the roadside, almost rolling down a precarious hillside to come to a skidding halt at a little lake, and a hut beside it that serves as the quaint reception area, and a makeshift library. Once checked-in, you head straight to the large tree house called the Heritage Machan, a split-level wood-and-glass house  perched atop a giant and sturdy fig tree, accessed by a drawbridge from one side and overlooking a steep precipice on the other, with a spectacular view of the valley below and beyond…

While we made ourselves at home in the large living room, and scurried around choosing and mock-fighting for our bedroom of choice, someone exclaimed about the size of one of the bathrooms, and we all trooped in to find ourselves in a massive colonial-style room with a large and inviting antique bathtub on legs, fit for a loooong bubble bath, maybe even a nap??

Hungry from all the excitement and the clean mountain air, we settled down at our dining table which was sagging with the weight of a steaming, hot, seven-course meal laid out for us. Afterwards, the girls decided to snooze, while the boys set off on an ‘adventure’ drive further up along the Pavna Lake… and ended up at a nearby, swanky 5-star resort!  Hm, some adventure!

When we regrouped in the late afternoon, over pots of tea and coffee, and Onion Fritters (Bhajiyas) still sizzling from the frying pan, the rain started pouring in from the distant blue-green hills, and we collectively sighed over our coffee mugs looking out to the white nothingness slowly creeping in and over the valley and around us. Crickets and frogs started drumming up a lively symphony soon after, as we chatted, lazed, played dumb charade and finally got entrenched in a session of story-making, bringing a thrilling spy adventure tale to life – the collective imagination of 6 hyper-active heads filling treachery, deception and murder into a single enthralling tale, huddled together under a warm and cosy quilt, sipping icy rum and colas.

Outside, the velvety evening had darkened to a pitch-black night, hugging the tree-house hard, cloaking us in its enigmatic, dark nothingness. The rain lashed at the slanted glass walls of the room and ran down in rivulets. The wind howled outside, as if in appreciation. Scrawny tree branches scraped casually against the wooden roof, keeping us on tenterhooks as we plodded on. The story reached a gripping climax at the dinner table, at the end of another sumptuous meal, and fittingly, with a toast of the sweet Caramel Custard!

As we drifted off to sleep in the glass hanging room, snuggled in under the slanted roof of the attic loft, and slipped into a grand four poster bed tucked away behind an intricate Kashmiri wood screen, beautiful images of the verdant nature around us mingled with the drumbeats of the steady rain on the roof, and flashes of an action packed spy story that maybe one day would blow the socks of millions of movie goers around the world… !!!

But for now, it was enough to just sink into the warmth of our pretty quilts, and dream happy dreams!

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