Forest Stay: The Machan, Lonavla

A chic off-the-grid experience in a biodiversity hotspot near Mumbai.  
Guests end up spending most of their time on the hardwood deck when staying in the Forest Machan suites. Photo courtesy The Machan
Guests end up spending most of their time on the hardwood deck when staying in the Forest Machan suites. Photo courtesy The Machan

From my vantage point high in the canopy of a Western Ghats forest, I survey a spectacular sight: undulating green hills as far as the eye can see. The scene stretches in every direction from the wooden deck of my room at The Machan, a short 17 kilometres from the bustling hill station of Lonavla near Mumbai.

The terrace I’m standing on has an inviting hammock that my daughter flopped into the moment we got here. She suddenly spots a wooden spiral staircase inside the bedroom through the glass wall, and rushes back in through the screen doors. By the time I’ve enjoyed five minutes of the view, she has already dashed up and down the stairs several times, calling out excitedly for me to come and see “her room.” Up the short flight, I find myself in the cosiest of loft bedrooms. It’s a small space with an attached bathroom, and a modest double bed facing a glass wall. In full view are the biodiverse forests of the Sahyadris sprawling to the horizon, particularly verdant in the post-monsoon season when I visit. The loft also has a small balcony. It seems like the perfect room for children accompanying parents. But I like it too. It’s just the kind of space in which I could happily lie in bed reading, writing—enjoying the gorgeous setting.

A spiral staircase leads to a cosy loft bedroom with stunning views of the Sahyadri forests. Photo: Niloufer Venkatraman

A spiral staircase leads to a cosy loft bedroom with stunning views of the Sahyadri forests. Photo: Niloufer Venkatraman

Our Jungle Machan Plus is a spacious room that is built 40 feet above ground, literally in the trees. Beside the four-poster bed in the main bedroom, the windows look out onto healthy foliage. The high gable-roofed ceiling, chic hardwood floors, and two walls of glass make the room open, airy, one with the environment. We have a three-part bathroom. The wood panelled first room includes a toilet and washbasin, with an enormous branch of a tree growing inside. Just behind it is an openair bathtub and shower area. Finally, there’s a steam room, but it isn’t functional during our visit.

That evening we take a jungle walk with a local, organized by the property. Our guide identifies native plant life, particularly medicinal plants that the indigenous people of the area use for various ailments. I am particularly amused by the “daant tod” plant—allegedly, if you chew the leaves your teeth will fall out. No one I know is willing to test the veracity of this claim, but it’s something to keep in mind as ammunition if you have enemies.

Liberal use of glass lets plenty of natural light into the rustic-chic bedrooms of The Machan. Photo courtesy The Machan

Liberal use of glass lets plenty of natural light into the rustic-chic bedrooms of The Machan. Photo courtesy The Machan

We enjoy our breakfast at a glass-topped wooden picnic table amidst shady trees. All meals at The Machan are served buffet-style and consist of a mix of local staples and north Indian fare cooked home-style, which essentially means it isn’t loaded with oil or fiery masalas. Room service is slow at best, but when you are here, you need neither room service nor Internet or TV (which are absent as well); you only need the mindset to soak in the quiet, relaxed atmosphere, the joy of the outdoors.

A tree-shaded grassy area makes for a perfect breakfast spot. Photo: Niloufer Venkatraman

A tree-shaded grassy area makes for a perfect breakfast spot. Photo: Niloufer Venkatraman

Two windmills whir on the property and solar panels absorb the sunshine to generate electricity. Though off the grid, the resort does not generate enough wind or solar power to meet all its needs, so a diesel generator is in use as well. Rooms are without air-conditioning, but they are well ventilated and cool at night. If you happen to take an afternoon nap in the summer though, I’d suggest taking it on the lovely hammock on the veranda (if your room has one) rather than in the room, which could get a little warm. A gentle breeze, bird call, and the light buzz of insects from deep in the jungle were enough to lull me to deep sleep.

The Machan’s USP is that it is an aesthetic delight. Rooms embrace the rustic with the modern, and feel inviting, warm, and stylish all at once. The harmony of the indoor and outdoor spaces, the forest amidst the natural environment— this is what I could come back for repeatedly. It is, I feel, a glorious place for getting off the grid and connecting with family and loved ones, as well as with the wonderful biodiversity of our land.

Appeared in the May 2016 issue as “At Home in the Trees”.

The Guide

Getting There From Mumbai drive to Lonavla (100 km/2 hr) and follow directions to Aamby Valley/INS Shivaji, then to Cloud 9 Resort/Essar Agrotech, and finally to Jambulne (17 km/30 min) where The Machan is located (www.themachan.com).

Accommodation Machan rooms are built in the trees 25-40 feet above the ground. The Heritage Machan accommodates six (₹25,000 per night). There are Jungle, Canopy, Sunset,and Forest Machans (doubles from ₹12,000- ₹22,000, including breakfast; ₹4,000 for each extra person/ child). Not all rooms have canopy views. Some are on a lower level and look into the forest. There are three cabins at ground level (₹8,000 per night). Weekend reservations (Fri-Sun) must be for minimum two nights and cost an extra ₹2,000-5,000. Prices don’t include taxes.

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    Niloufer Venkatraman ’s idea of unwinding is to put on boots and meander through wilderness or the bylanes of a city, and to instill in her daughter a love for the outdoors. As Editor-In-Chief of National Geographic Traveller India her gig involves more of pummelling stories into shape than actually travelling.

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