The clock struck 7.30 and everyone started assembling at the office premises. It was one of those few times when the office building was buzzing with people in the early morning hours. Everyone was busy planning their day... nothing about the deadlines or daily targets this time; today was the Employees' Day Out! Yes, we were about to set off for our picnic destination, Ananda Valley.
Ananda Valley, a spread of around 105 acres of land, is nestled at the foothills of the Sahyadris, located on the banks of Bhima River, about 25 miles away from Pune district in Maharashtra, India. It's known as the 'valley of joy' and befitting to what it's called, it has a lot of enjoyment to offer its visitors.
Nature walks, treks, fun games, team building activities, and sports are some of the attractions at Ananda Valley. We were heading right there and the clock showed 8.15. It was going to be an hour-long journey but we knew the time was going to fly. Quite obviously so! As we were traveling together and the buses were packed with the excited us, there was no room for boredom to get in!
The hour didn't seem 60-minute long. It appeared as though we reached there in no time. Yes, we had reached our destination, the picnic spot where we had planned to spend the rest of the day. We were greeted with a welcome drink, followed by heavy breakfast. We took a stroll in the greens, walked in the woods; it was nice to be in nature's company, breathing fresh air and gazing at the extensive stretch of the blue sky. (It's a rare sight when you are living in a crowded city). We were touched by the hospitality of the coordinators at Ananda Valley. We were no longer just visitors. We had become their guests.
After spending some more time there, we realized that Ananda Valley is not just another picnic spot. It's based on Gandhian philosophies; it signifies a movement against the economic and environmental problems that have eclipsed society. It's a movement by Dr. Kataria and his associates who have joined hands to resolve environmental issues in their own small way and inspire the masses to follow their footsteps.
This small group of people has developed a barren ground into a green stretch of land. This land was once a part of an arid region in the outskirts of Pune district. This group has transformed this piece of land into a wonderful picnic spot. As Dr. Kataria puts it, they work on the principles of making friends with kids, with flowers, and working towards converting this effort into a movement. He delivered a small speech through which he invited us to join him in resolving environmental problems like energy crisis, pollution, and global warming. He expressed his desire to take these efforts ahead by educating children and seeding environmental awareness in the future generations. He shared his concern by saying, "We, with our own hands, cut trees and it's we who pollute the environment. It's an irony that we kill our saviors". He further added, "We won't be able to survive if our green friends (the trees) decide to go on a strike. Thankfully, they never do that." With a small speech, he had managed to inspire us to take some steps to save the environment and safeguard mother nature.
Secretly thanking the trees for never going on a strike, we moved towards the next activity that the coordinators had planned for us - team building games. We began with an interesting fun game that served as a starter and increased our appetite for more action. We were divided into teams. We had fun walking on bricks, getting into and out of rings, passing batons, spilling and splashing water, running around, and jumping all over the place. In the end, we knew each other better, and were better bonded as a team. These team games had given us much more than plain enjoyment; they had taught us to be supportive, encouraging, cheerful, positive, and most importantly to be together. Without saying anything, these team games had said a lot. In fact, they had defined teamwork and taught us what team spirit means.
Our watches showed 1 pm. We didn't need a clock now. We were a bonded team and our watches showed the same time! It was time for lunch. After a delicious three-course meal, we went back to the game area. In store for us was a magic show.
Mere hand tricks or serious hypnotism... whatever it is, magic amuses one and all. It's probably because magic makes (or seems to make) the impossibles possible. For a little while at least, magic can take us to an imaginary world where anything can happen! And somewhere within us, there's this little child, who wants to run to the dream world, where things one only imagines or can never imagine, seem to be happening. The magic show had it all; fun, interaction, mind games, and some 'unimaginables' coming into reality. On returning from this 'magical' world, we rushed to the tattoo and face painting arena and got our hands and faces painted with designs of our choice.
It was around 4.30. The sun had gone under its cloudy cover. It had not set as yet. But it seemed to be hiding to let us enjoy our rides. There were two rides that Ananda Valley had to offer; the ATV ride and the bullock cart ride. Two contrasting things falling under the same category - rides! The former used fuel, while the latter used "bull power". In the former, we were in the drivers' seat, in the latter, we just enjoyed the ride. As one of our team members put it, "you have to be one with the vehicle you are driving; only then it gives you an enjoyable ride." Not all of us could be 'one with' the ATVs though! The bullocks too were happy giving us a ride in their fields.
The indoor games and outdoor sports section was open throughout the day. Some tried their hand at carom, chess, and foosball, while others crowded at the soft drinks counter. (Luckily, the drinks and beverages section was right there!) While some were happy playing indoor games, others were enjoying outdoor sports - volleying and cricketing.
And yes, while all this was going on, some of our teammates were busy watching cricket. They watched Sachin Tendulkar make a world record; 200 runs in an ODI - it was a moment none of us wanted to miss and we didn't! In fact, our entire team got together to watch Sachin play the best game of his life. We saw him scoring his 200th run, and we gave him a standing ovation! The moment shall remain etched in our minds for long.
We were served snacks at around 6 pm. After a cup of tea, we went for a trek on the hillside. Not all of us trekked but we enjoyed watching our teammates 'reach the top'. Another team building principle was at work - be happy for those who have reached the top. Have the ambition to reach there, and not the urge to pull them down. (We wanted them to come down quickly though, since it was getting a little late.)
After all the fun, it was time to leave. Our watches didn't tell the time now; they told us that we needed to leave. It had begun getting dark, we were tired, waiting to reach home and go off to sleep. It had been a hectic yet fun-filled day, loaded with activities. There was nothing passive about that day.
There was something that accompanied us in everything we did - the camera. We had taken a camera along. In fact, many had brought their cameras to capture moments and make them treasured memories.
But all through the day, we had missed someone... one of our teammates who hadn't been able to make it for the picnic. Due to a medical emergency, he had stayed back. There were a few others who, due to other reasons hadn't been able to join us, but a special mention of this teammate, as he had been in the picnic organizing committee right from the beginning. He had been an active member of the team that was planning and organizing the trip. Unfortunately, he hadn't been able to participate in something he had always been part of. We really missed him. We just hope to make it, some other day, with all those who missed the fun this time. Our camera will surely accompany us, to capture the memories we'll be RE-creating, each time we come together. Camera - it's the only thing that can freeze the fast-flowing time. Time flies by, memories remain behind.