Far from the maddening crowd - on the first shoulder of the hill top that is Khandala at the top of the Western Ghats lies the town of Khandala. A small place - where the Hindi author Prem Chand once lived - it is usually just passed in a moment by folks moving towards Pune or the more well-known 'hill station' of Lonavala.
For the Eichers, Khandala has been a small gem over the years. Early in our growing up one of Dad's missionary friends allowed us to use a house they had there for the occassional family weekend. We would walk up to the place from the small railway station and spend a weekend in the rain, reading Readers Digests and enjoying the quiet.
Then there was the famous (infamous) Easter weekend hike undertaken by the Mumbai Eichers. We set out to walk up to Khandala from Karjat. It was a 2 day hike for us (I was about 13 at the time) and we seriously underestimated how little water there would be in April on the way. We were badly dehydrated by the time we got to the missionary's bungalow.
Finally, since we came to Thane, we discovered the Convent of Jesus and Mary. This beautiful place - called "Prayer House" hosted us for two memorable weekends early in our time in Thane.
What better place to go for our joint 40th B-day weekend - especially as Sheba's birthday was on the Saturday?
The only hitch was that the sisters in Prayer House were having their own retreat that weekend. So they helpfully suggested that we request the neighbouring sisters in Bombay House to accomodate us.
This they did. Bombay house is over 200 years old it seems. Built as a missionary convent it felt like we stepped back in time.
Which we had, of course. The ancient wooden timbers, and the palatially high ceilings, the crumbling glory of the large empty place brought to mind both Enid Blighton stories of castles and skulduggery - as well as the more austere thoughts of the early nuns and their life out in the jungle areas.
Jungle was exactly what we wanted. The place is situated in a lovely strip of forest that is part of the diocesian land, and the bamboo thickets and second growth trees make for a beautiful strip of birds and quiet. Just how jungly it is was reinforced by the nuns telling us on our welcome that one had gone to take one of their dogs to the vet - because an animal had attacked it and damaged its throat. Monkeys don't do that - but leopards do.
Asha and Enoch enjoyed the trees and rocks.
As did their happy parents.
We did have a few small mishaps: it turned out much hotter than we imagined - and we were much more tired than we thought - hence slept a lot - and Asha managed to step on a thorn which went clear through her shoe sole into her foot. Asha's foot hurt her for most of the time - but we managed to overcome these with a smile and prayer - and enjoyed a most wonderful time together.
There is nothing like having a family Sunday worship in the shade of a large clump of bamboo - overlooking the view down the Ghats.
It was entirely appropriate to remember Palm Sunday - when the pitifully small crowd welcomed the Prince of Peace - riding on a donkey into the dusty city of Jerusalem. The four of us worshipped this once and coming King through song and prayer and word out on the hillock overlooking His creation.
As Asha and Enoch grow up - one of our goals as a family is to give them a wealth of wonderful memories. Through the generosity of our friends, and through the grace of God operating in real-time, we experienced some of that this weekend.
It seemed barely possible that we were already heading back to the station after saying good bye to the dear Nuns of Bombay House. When shall we meet Sister Serena, Sister Jude and Sister Anthony? Hopefully soon!