A weekend getaway for the eco-conscious

Basic amenities amidst nature’s luxury, just outside Bengaluru - four twenties something are trying to create a different kind of eco-stay.

Sunrise at Bilekal Rangaswamy Betta. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

When four friends from varying backgrounds share a love for the outdoors, and decide to do something about it, a good initiative is born. The four friends are Anand Sankar, Lionel Prem Lobo, Srinidhi Raghavendra and Sandeep Komarla, and together, they’ve created Basic Halli, a tented eco-resort a little beyond Kanakapura, about 70 km. from Bangalore.

Anand had organized a bird survey in the area, so I had gone with a group of  fellow naturalists,  to  document the bird (and butterfly) species in the vicinity. "Our location is a great plus," smiles Anand, whom I met with Lobo, at the resort.

Indeed, it is difficult to believe that such lovely forest surroundings, with almost no plastic trash can exist within two hours’ drive of our polluted, harsh city. Though it was raining when we reached in the evening, the next morning’s  walk to Bilkal Rangaswamy Betta convinced our entire group that here, indeed, was a good  retreat and battery-recharger, within easy reach of Bangalore.

The underlying premise of Basic Halli, to use Anand’s word, is simplicity. Everything is kept at a basic level – the thatch-and-bamboo huts, the "deliberately uncultivated" farm, even the directions to get there by public transport!

The website gives very detailed information about what one should expect. Do not go to Basic Halli if you are looking for a luxurious resort, or if you are not prepared to meet some creatures of the wild a little closer than you might expect.  The whole resort is designed to leave a minimal impact on its environment.

Simple food, Ragi mudde. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

The food is also simple, and I liked the traditional dishes…the saaru (rasam) and the sambar, rather than any spiced or north Indian dishes. Food, though basic, is excellent, and at it’s best when it is traditional local cuisine. The guests have to wash their plates and glasses after the meals, and set them back on the front verandah.

The three partners (Srinidhi, the owner of the land, lives in the U.S.) take care to hire local people when possible. Anand explained the immense amount of labour involved in constructing the tents so that they are sturdy. The 11 tents surround a small pool of water. They are in the process of planting native species of trees around the campus, too.

"Getting good people to work is always a challenge"says Anand, who lives there most of the time. Lobo comes to Basic Halli on weekends, commuting from Bangalore. "One has to ease into a rural community like this; we are initially regarded with suspicion as ‘these city slickers who have come to make money’. They look at our cameras and cycles and think that we are very well off; they don’t realise that we’ve ploughed all we have into this venture."

The morning trek to either the nearby lake or to the betta (hill) takes one through mixed scrub jungle, with a variety of bird and natural life to observe. The sunrise on the day we were there was absolutely gorgeous, and there is a temple and a kalyani at the top of the hill.

Sunrise at Bilekal Rangaswamy Betta. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

It was lovely to see several cycles for hire, though Anand warned us that the climb to the base of the betta is quite steep and would tire us out. But cycling to the nearby water body is a pleasant option.

Anand and his partners need to get a few things into shape. There is still a lot of debris lying around from the construction, and clay that was laid near the kitchen building, to grow grass, makes the area slippery in the rains. A few more things also need to be added on the kitchen utensils front. Also, it will be nice to have a sort of community space where people can sit comfortably, to meet and talk.  When talking about children’s camps, I advised Anand to have some sort of protective cover for the open pool, as the children would have to come out at night to use the toilet facilities. I’m sure that the partners are working on these and other issues, such as managing the heat in the summer months.

The partners have just now posted the upwardly revised  tariff on the website, but a discount can be claimed by carrying one’s own sleeping bags. Certainly, it was pleasant to lie in the tent, listening to the call of the Common Hawk Cuckoo calling through the night, and wondering if one would be able to hear an elephant, too!

There is no alcohol served on the premises but guests are allowed to bring their own liquor. Anand seems confident of being able to handle this situation; he says, "we vet the enquiries, and are not  keen on people who want to come just for ‘drinking parties in the forest’. We want people who will enjoy being in natural surroundings, for whom drinking is not the focus of the evening."

There is no doubt, however, that for those of us who want to live simply for a day or two, and take a break without leaving too big a carbon footprint, Basic Halli is a good option.  

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