It was a simple and neat affair. A huge ground had been emptied out and various levels contained all things related to strawberries. The ground was large enough to absorb the 1000 visitors that the newspapers had predicted.
We were greeted by the sight of volunteers dancing to live drumbeats. All of them were dressed in white kurtas, making it easy to spot someone to help you out, be it at the shops or in the gardens.
The first stop was at the chocolate making area, probably a spin-off business of Mapro or run by local villagers. Free samples were handed out and we gorged on the raisin and cashew dipped chocolates. Close by were stalls selling preserves and juice mixes of all sorts – strawberry (of course), custard apple, litchi, black currant – at decent prices.
The next level contained a food court. The menu proclaimed exotic things like ‘Strawberry bhel’ and ‘Strawberry pizza’. The food court itself had been set up under the trees and you could look at the mountainside while helping yourself to the baskets of free strawberries that had been kept on every table.
Adjacent to this was a nursery which offered an array of plants you could buy. Exotic orchids were within a layman’s reach, finely set up in pots that could be kept in one’s living room. There were tables and chairs around this area as well and an enthusiastic band belted out old Hindi songs.
Finally we went in search of the showstopper – strawberry plants from which you could pluck strawberries and pop straight into your mouth. Sadly, we found out that the fields were in a nearby village. We did manage to catch sight of a few strawberry bushes though, with the lush green leaves bursting forth from the ground and juicy looking red strawberries jutting out of them.
After checking out the grounds, we headed back to the food court and picked ourselves drinks made of strawberries. That done, there was nothing else to do but to bask in the sun and gulp down the free strawberries.
There was something charming about the whole festival. It was well organised, no doubt. The commercial aspect was very subtle and not in your face. The stalls were run by earnest young men who let you sample stuff generously without screwing up their faces if you decided not to buy anything. Most of all, it seemed like the sort of place where a strawberry lover could soak in strawberries and more strawberries for a while. This is a luxury when you compare it with the strawberry experience in Mumbai - a small bowl with cream in some cafe or your house.
We enjoyed the strawberry excesses and ferried some back for later.
I would not mind going for a mango festival now. Or even a water melon festival. Anything that reminds one that fruits are neither indulgences nor health therapies but yummy food to be eaten till your stomach is bursting and you can't move anymore.