Sometimes,some places make you believe you live in a perfect world. Just a few miles from Mumbai where Anna Hazare broke his fast and his heart realising that the island city wasnt quite supporting him,where an entire populace is holding its breath waiting for homeboy Sachin Tendulkar to finally score his hundredth 100,where Cyrus Mistry and his cutesy wife Rohiqa raise a toast to his amazing climb as Tatas new big boss,where Mukesh Ambani brings in his first new year at his new home (the most expensive real estate in the world) and where Shah Rukh Khan and Vidya Balan are basking post the mega success of their movie gamble lies a township of tiny hamlets that celebrates when we celebrate.
Alibaug (as Mandwa,Rewas,Chondi,Awas,Thal et cetera are collectively known) is Mumbais private backyard. It is commonly compared to the Hamptons,a group of tiny hamlets in New York,between Long Island and Connecticut,where the rich and famous of Manhattan spend weekends or summers. The analogy isnt entirely off-centre; Alibaug has sprawling and lavish homes to Mumbais elite right from Vijay Mallyas humongous estate at Mandwa (his son Siddharth had a big party for New Years eve),to Azim Premji,Shah Rukh Khan,Akshay Kumar,the Godrejs and the Tatas,Ravi Shastri and Gautam Singhania. An assortment of Mumbais brilliant architects and artists (Pinakin Patel famously lives here and runs the Dashrath Patel museum named after his NID-Ahmedabad mentor. Bijoy Jain,Sam Maneckshaw and Papri Bose,to name a few other prominent people),find their mojo here.
It takes 45 minutes from the Gateway of India to Worli. It takes the same time to escape the city into the jungles and beaches of Alibaug. The glamourous names have their own yachts or speedboats by subscription,but the ever reliable Maldar ferries le beau monde and the junta with equal democracy. A charming sight was someones yellow Tods tote sitting on the floor of the boat alongside plastic market baskets of a group of singing Marathi women. The egg sandwiches are shared by all kids on board,and no one knows whose kitchen they came from.
Much of Mumbai brought in 2012 at Alibaug,and youd probably see more familiar faces at the jetty than you would after spending an hour at the Taj Mahal hotels lobby. Acres of real estate belong to the gentry here,but tourism is its biggest resource and there are enough homestays and hotels for you to enjoy your ennui.
We were guests at a three-acre country-style house that belongs to its second generation now. Each corner of this magnificent house opens into a patio,garden or balcony. The garden grows cabbages,papayas,mangoes,brinjals,lettuce,basil and even kaffir lime,and the owners have two caretaker families and three dogs to live here. I barely saw our kids the entire weekend; they only came indoors to bathe or eat (not sleep,one of them was found cuddled up in the dogs pound).
We took them to a poultry farm and bought them a pet quail,promptly christened Ben 10. We took them to a DJs party (a literal house party,huh?) for New Years eve,dressed in their Petit Bateau woolies,where they were allowed a midnight swim,and had Cyrus Broacha and his tots for entertainment. On New Years day,we had a picnic on a beach,the marvellous white sands of Awas with its assembly line of casuarinas. In the evening,they helped us bake a cake thank you,Betty Crocker.
Alibaug recharges and refreshes Mumbai. If anyone in the city hasnt had their soul-fix here,you are missing the citys biggest treasure,which thankfully doesnt only belong to its moneyed.