A Memorable Anniversary- A trip to Soans Island
It was an unusual hot December day and our first wedding anniversary was just around the corner. Verina and I were on the verge of completing one year of married life and it was time to celebrate, but we had no plans whatsoever. One year of married life had not given us much time to plan an outing on our first wedding anniversary ;). Sounds strange, but it was true. We had numerous things planned, but there was no time to execute. The month of December usually does that to you. Weddings, Christenings, Christmas parties, New Year’s celebrations and so many other family functions will drain you out, leaving little time for self, let alone plan anything.
My dad and mom used to go to Murudeshwar every year on their anniversary, and we decided to follow suit, in spite of visiting the same place the previous year on our way back from Goa. But then my dad said he would arrange for something .We were hoping to spend a day in some place and head back home for a quiet dinner. That was our plan.
He arranged for us to visit Soans Island. To be honest, I had heard a lot about this island from my uncle, but wasn’t expecting it to be something this memorable- the way it turned out to be. I have always thought that small towns like Kundapur cannot be destinations which can attract tourists, in spite of having numerous places to visit. I was expecting a few brick cottages and some food and we both were ready to make a dash back home after lunch. As it turned out, we ended up spending a whole day and even the night at one of the most serene places I have ever been to till date
After an early morning mass, we were ready to go to the island. As I said earlier, we had planned to come back home and hence did not take anything with us -No brush, no spare clothes: a decision which we both would regret a little later. All we had is a bottle of water and a bottle of Slice- the mango drink. We were asked to come to Hotel Sharon at 10 am and were surprised to see Mr. Vishwas Soans, the owner of Soans Island, ready to take us to the island, himself. It was an indication of the sort of treatment we were to experience in the island. We followed his vehicle and parked at a small private lot, which also belongs to the Soans Island. All vehicles are safe and taken care of. The private boat was arranged for and Narayana, our boat chauffer was ready to ferry us across the river to the island. This was my wife’s first boat ride in life and the look on her face was priceless. Sometimes these tiny little moments of joy, turn out to be defining moments which will be etched in your memory forever. I am glad, that this was the first of the many such moments.
Our impression of the whole trip was beginning to change slowly. As we set foot on the island, we were welcomed by a nice furry dog COMET. I was scared of him, but my wife loved him. She began patting it and I wasn’t amused at all. I asked Narayana about out cottage and he replied “The tree house”. I was “pleasantly surprised “or I can say I was “surprisingly shocked”. Here I was, born and brought up in this very place and I could not think of our town having a tree house.
I sometimes feel, mind is a powerful tool and one should not restrict its boundaries. Once one dares dream beyond boundaries, everything seems possible.
This is what Mr. Soans and his wonderfully awesome team have done with the island. Nothing in the eco system are disturbed- no manicured lawns or shiny pavements, no exotic lighting or swimming pool, no television or phone connections- just pure nature in its finest, completely cut off from the artificial sophisticated world – Mildly wild nature at its very best.
The tree house turned out to be a superb cottage made up of wood from top to bottom, proudly sitting on top of concrete pillars on the ban k of the river. We sat in the balcony with our legs out on the railings, enjoying the light tingly breeze that was blowing westward. The simple feeling of looking down through the gaps on the wooden floor and seeing water flow beneath me, reminded me of the overstated concrete and glass world we live in. Mother Nature has her own ways to remind us of how we have exploited her- sometimes violently, sometimes gently.
The room allotted to us was excellent. It had a big verandah facing the river, a perfectly kept double bed, freshly washed bath towels hung on the stand, neatly folded bed sheets, two chairs and a small round table with a mug of drinking water and two glasses. There was a wardrobe where we kept, whatever little luggage we had, as I said earlier-a bottle of drinking water and Slice- the mango drinkJ.There were windows which could be opened till the floor and literally the whole bedroom could be extended to the verandah, giving us a feeling of a floating bedroom, right in the middle of the river. We had not even taken our phone chargers and that is the reason why we don’t have good pictures of this awesome piece of land. Our batteries ran out. But I guess it is for a reason. One can go visit and look for themselves. Whatever pictures I have posted are taken from my wife’s phone and are not great. Not because they have been taken from my wife’s phone – Nooo, but because I clicked them and I am not a good photographer.
After relaxing for a little while away from all the vociferous city life, Mr. Soans joined us for lunch. Food in Soans Island is prepared in midst of nature, by Muthakka and her family- two daughters and her little grandson, who sits with them in the lovely open kitchen. Soans Island’s kitchen and dining area is something of a kind. There is an open kitchen with a roof on top and a separate gazebo styled round dining area with a beautifully set up centre table surrounded by 8 to 9 tables for guests to dine.
Lunch constituted all of my wife’s favorites- prawn chilly, crab sukka, clams sukka, chapattis and two of my favorites- fish curry and boiled rice. It was a hearty meal which ended with a hot cup of coffee, when Mr.Soans graciously asked us to stay back for the night, as the island is best enjoyed during the dusk and night time. He said, if we were lucky enough, we could see baby turtles crawl back to the river in the morning. Could we say no? We are glad we did not. Actually, the minute we set foot on the island, my wife whispered to me “I think we should stay here” and I must confess, it did not take me long to have the same thought. Just one look at our cottage and I could stay there for 3 to 4 days.
After lunch, we decided to take a tour of the island and guess who accompanied us-Comet and Muthakka’s grandson- Gumma. Gumma is 3 and half years old and his real name is Prathvik. When we asked him, what his name was, he said Gumma, and then he said something else and then something different, but did not reveal his real name, which his mother did a little later. So we decided to stick to Gumma. Comet led the way, and took us to the eastern side of the island first. There is one more, lovely cottage with a dormitory in the first floor and a lovely portico for a family get to-gather. There are trees, a couple of fields, two goats, and a wild ram full of fur. Mr. Soans later told us that it was from Rajasthan. There is a labyrinth built close to Muthakka’s kitchen, which is supposed to relieve stress. We tried it out and frankly, the island had already de-stressed us so much, that the labyrinth did not have much to do. We came back to the kitchen and dining place where Muthakka’s daughter served us some tea and biscuits. We laid back on the hammocks tied to coconut tress right outside the dining place, with an open view to the river.
There is a small jetty built at the western tip of Soans Island, where one can enjoy the sun slowly signing off duty from our side of the world, to fulfill his duties towards the other.
Again Comet led us there and was with us on our way back to the cottage. I have been fond of dogs: mostly pets at home, but I must say Comet was different. He was so genuinely friendly that one cannot help but admire his courage of leaving his relatives behind and settling down for a quiet life in an island far away from his family. He was very emotional and used to be in Mr. Soans’ house,in Kundapur Muthakka told us.
For dinner, Muthakka fired up her barbeque stand and made us delicious chicken kebabs and simple dal and rice. Verina had earlier asked her to keep the remaining crab sukka for dinner. We mingled with some other guest in the evening. There was a famous tabla artist who had come all the way from Bangalore to practice his art, along with one of our own Sitar maestros, Avinash Hebbar from Kundapura. Sadly , he passed away last year. There was sweet music emanating out from their cottage at one of the corners of the island. Muthakka skillfully whipped a delicious vegetarian meal for them, with Paneer tikka in no time. I seriously wonder where she and her family get the energy from.
I have visited many resorts and hotels and have experienced courtesy and a trained smile from most of the staff, but what we experienced was different. Mr. Soans and his team in Soans Island let the warmth from their heart show in their faces and that is what makes a difference. They were happy to work and make guests comfortable. The smile on Muthakka, her daughters, Narayana and Gumma generates directly from their heart. No one has taught them specific man made etiquettes. It is all genuine.
The island was beautifully lit up in the night. We were thankful we accepted Mr. Soans’ invite to stay back for the night. As we retired into the night, we were reminded by Muthakka’s daughter to switch on the light outside in the verandah so that it would attract all the insects leaving the lights inside the room, untouched. The light also had a catchment type of shades which accumulated all the insects, without dropping them to the floor. The feeling of looking at the open sky and a calm river is something I hadn’t experienced in a long time. It was heaven. We have decided to make a trip to this island every year, whether it is our anniversary or someone else’s.
At sharp 7:30 am, Muthakka was ready with her breakfast-Bread and omlettes, idly, chutney and sambar, coffee and tea. When she learned Verina doesn’t drink either coffee or tea, she offered her a fresh tender coconut. As I said earlier, we weren’t prepared for an overnight stay and we did not have brushes and that is where Muthakka showed us to tender mango leaves- so good to be away from the chemicals we plunge into our systems early in the morning. We could neither see baby turtles going back to the river nor peacocks, which Verina so wanted to, which Muthakka said come by almost every day. Maybe it was not our day.
It was an unexpected yet pleasant day trip which ended in an overnight stay. I would recommend Soans Island to anyone who wants to unwind amidst wild and mild nature, spend quality time with their families and loved ones. Artists, writers, singers can use this island for their rehearsals. Writers can retire into their shell without anyone’s disturbance. There is a stack of books in one of the cottages, which made my heart beat at the rate of knots, but then I had to calm it down. What a feeling it would have been reading a nice book, swinging on the hammock, sipping a tender coconut or Muthakka’s fresh tea. It was our anniversary and that too the first one- I did not want my wife to learn that she isn’t my first love J
Finally Narayana and Gumma, who was weeping as he was ready to go to school, dropped us to the other side of the river to our car, which would take us back into chaos again. Verina gave the unopened bottle of Slice to Gumma as a thank you gift. We did not have anything else to give.
This was probably the most peaceful breaks I have had in my life. I would definitely come back next year as Muthakka’s voice screaming from the other end of the river echoes in my mind and heart “ HOY …MATTH PUNA BANNI AKKA” ( Hey, Come again OK).