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Up in a Tree House at The Hermitage.

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My choice of travel accommodation has slowly transformed from anything-cheap-goes in my student days, to pampering value-for-money hotels / resorts during my short-lived corporate life, to anything offbeat that offers a chance to interact with the local people since India Untravelled happened i.e. now. With several of the latter under my belt since I moved back to India almost 9 months ago, I’ve decided to highlight, review & convince you to experiment with such off-the-beaten-track living in this weekly Sleeping Spotlight.

In the true spirit of traversing the roads less travelled, I decided to turn 24 (in February 2012, finally accepting my entry into adulthood) amid the wilderness of the Western Ghaats. And such charming wilderness it was. Maneuvering a long dirt track in the dark to find The Hermitage, with no directional signs, and broken electric fences between us & the jungle. Lanterns, torches, moonlight & a billion stars in place of electricity. A cozy tree house aka The Machan raised on stilts at the edge of the forest. Deer calls past midnight. No phone or internet connectivity. An open-air bathroom with lots of sunshine, the trees playfully shedding leaves in the water, the occasional spotting of tadpoles in the bathing area. Bats flying into the twilight. Heavy footsteps of a bison along a clearing through the forest. Fascinating stories of forest-life from the host family, who have lived in this wilderness for the last 32 years!

Machan, The Hermitage, Belgaum, Khanapur, tree house, offbeat travel, India forest lodge

The Machan at The Hermitage.

David & Morvarid’s is one of those stories that you have to see to believe, and when you do, you never stop wondering. As derived from multiple sources, including their loyal driver, their daughter & they themselves, the story starts in the early 1980s, when the two, young as they were, very much in love with each other & the outdoors, and with a certain disdain for the ways of the cities, negotiated with the forest department and bought a little piece of land, literally in the middle of nowhere in the forest, that could only be accessed by a jeep / scooter through a long dirt road. They cleared a minimal number of trees, planted small rows of garden vegetables, built themselves a little shed, and accepted the forest as their home. As they would soon realize, for 3 months each monsoon, the dirt road would flood, completely cutting them off from the mainland. With the help of the tribal village folks at walking distance from their settlement, Morvarid learnt to identify edible bamboo shoots & wild mushrooms in the forest, much like Into the Wild. Only they lived to tell the tale.

David Fernandez, The Hermitage, Belgaum, Khanapur, offbeat india, forest adventure, forest lodge, ecolodge

David, owner & host at The Hermitage.

Katrina, their daughter, went to boarding school and then to Australia to study the environment (no surprises there, who wouldn’t fall in love with these forests after being born in their midst?), and in the meantime, the parents decided to build a machan to invite travellers. No phone connectivity meant Katrina would take bookings in Australia, and relay them to the couple each night when they drove to what they fondly called ‘phone hill’, the closest point where their mobile phone caught signal! They got their first phone in 2003, a landline that caught a signal reflected off the hill, and an unreliable one at that. Dial-up internet caught up a few years later, but at speeds that will probably drive you & me out of our heads.

Western Ghaats, walking, hiking, trekking

Hiking along the Western Ghaats.

Essential Information & Contact:

Getting There: The most convenient airport is Goa, from where you can take a taxi or bus (which runs only in the morning and takes almost half a day to reach). The nearest train station is at Belgaum. The Hermitage is located in the forest near the sleepy village of Khanapur, and about 40 minutes from the main town of Belgaum.

Where to Stay: The Machan, a tree house raised on stilts. The Kadaba, a a typical village house made in traditional style. The Gota, a relatively modern cottage and the only one with electricity. I would personally recommend The Machan.

Activities: Short hikes up the Western Ghaats, offering panoramic views of the valley below and not half as tiring as the steep Himalayan hikes. Bird-watching. Forest walks. Tribal village walk. Do-nothing.

Responsible Travel: David’s love for the wild has culminated in many initiatives to save the forests of the Western Ghaats. The family organically grows its own vegetables on the surrounding land. No electricity (except in one cottage) to maintain the natural environment of the forest for the wildlife it harbors.

Good to know: No mobile connectivity or internet. No electricity. Home-cooked food. Good for anyone looking for a real escape from daily life, forest enthusiasts, bird lovers, stargazing opportunists.

Contact: Website – www.thehermitageguesthouse.com. Phone +91 9242 623 020. Email – info@thehermitageguesthouse.com.

Have you been to The Hermitage? Or any such wilderness getaways?

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Yippiee !!! I am going to Belgaum this 18th. Will surely try to get a booking :)

    May 11, 2012
    • Awesome :) Try to get the Machan, though it always gets snapped up first!

      May 11, 2012
  2. Wow, looks nice. Thanks for sharing it here. And the bucket list keeps growing .. :-)

    May 11, 2012
    • That’s one reason I try to restrict my reading to the weekend ;)

      May 11, 2012
  3. shivya, you do get around :) Sounds cool, the place. But the family sounds cooler…. am awed by people who are able to make such choices!

    May 11, 2012
    • I know what you mean, Sapna. After posting this, I kept wondering how they must’ve first settled there. They didn’t speak the local language, probably had no idea what animals inhabited the forest, and lived in a shed amid the elements. Really brave huh.

      May 11, 2012
  4. Wow! A prompt travel suggestion followed by a perfect review. Certainly leaves my feet restless. A blissful retreat in the The Hermitage will be planned soon! Thanks- for the inspiration and the review :)

    May 16, 2012
    • Anytime, Khushbu :) Glad to inspire your next getaway. Tell me how it goes!

      May 16, 2012
  5. Great post!! very informative.
    Thank you very much for such a lovely and informative post.

    May 18, 2012
  6. samareshbiswal #

    thanks for bringing out about the quaint place

    May 23, 2012
  7. Wild travelling is one of the way to Enjoy a fantastic walks to the waterfalls,Hear the History and legends and Partake in a little Wildlife spotting

    May 29, 2012
  8. That’s true the option is to travel a silent place to remove all tensions of corporate world and life, waterfalls are very soothing at tracking space

    June 6, 2012
  9. Hey we also visited, Hermitage! As a family of 3. Could not stay in Machan but enjoyed the place, food, people and the surroundings a lot!

    August 10, 2012
    • That’s awesome! Wasn’t it just so beautiful to be out there in the jungle? Kudos to David & Mori’s lifestyle.

      August 10, 2012
  10. Wow, looks very nice. Quick question, what was the mosquito situation like there?

    November 1, 2012
    • Wasn’t bad at all as far as I remember. They are attracted towards light, and there was no light in the treehouse :)

      November 3, 2012
  11. Balaji Srinivasan #

    Thanks for the reco. Going there in July to feel the full brunt of the monsoon. Glad they don’t have any creature comforts whatsoever.

    May 18, 2013
    • Glad you’re going! It’s such a great experience. Make sure you stay in the machan (treehouse).

      May 18, 2013
  12. I have had a similar experience in Gokarna where I stayed in a wooden house in the hills at a trekkable distance from Kudle Beach. It was an experience indeed. Looking forward to visit Belgaum.

    January 23, 2014

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