The name Nandanvan is derived from Sanskrit and means the “Garden of Heaven.” Gaonkar’s Nandanvan is situated in the Ponda Taluka, spread across 200 acres of lush greenery showcasing tropical spices, fruits, and plants with medicinal properties. Today this place looks like a blissful paradise amongst a jungle but it was not always like this. It is the vision and efforts of its creator Mr. Deepak Gaonkar who turned this jungle into (Nandanvan) Heaven. This is the story of the creator of Nandanvan and how he turned this barren land into a paradise.
The Early Days
Mr. Gaonkar is a Mechanical Engineer by profession with a vision of doing something different instead of setting out on already trodden paths. “After completing my graduation in Mechanical Engineering from the Goa College of Engineering in the year 1990, I was appointed as a trainee in ACGL (Automobile Corporation of Goa) where I worked for one year before I resigned from the job,” Gaonkar said adding that he did not get solace at the job since his dreams were different.
After leaving the job at ACGL Mr. Gaonkar did not know what to do although he had many options available including doing higher studies or migrating to the US. “My uncle was and is still in the US, doing his business, and I had an option of going there to do my post-graduation and set up my career, or take up some job here in Goa. I had one more option and that was to take up a Government job, which is secure and you don’t have to struggle much,” said Mr. Gaonkar adding that he explored at least 40 areas over that one year. “After waiting for almost a year figuring out what I will do next, I started getting pressure from home and I decided to join another job. I got a very lucrative job offer at ‘Zuari Agro Chemicals’ and I took it. But my journey at Zuari did not last long and after two years I left that job.”
Mr. Gaonkar decided to go to the City of Dreams “Mumbai” where he struggled for the next three years. “Then the pressure of getting married started coming on me from my family. I had to come back to Goa and I took up a job in education at ISBT (Institute of Shipbuilding Technology) as a lecturer, but this dream of doing something of my own would never allow me to settle down in any job. While working at the ISBT I was simultaneously doing my course in Information Technology. After the ISBT, I changed to Goa Engineering College as a lecturer where I worked for two years,” said Mr. Gaonkar.
The New Avenues
After completing almost 12 years in various jobs at various positions Mr. Gaonkar still did not find any consolation. “There was nothing that I could say to people that I have achieved something in all these years,” said Gaonkar adding that in 2002 he lost his father and then the responsibility of his mother came on him. “By that time I had a small kid and I decided to start coaching classes for tech students. But one day something happened and I must say that it was the turning point in my life,” said Gaonkar adding, one day, one of my close relatives came to me, he had one plot and looking for a builder to do the construction in Joint Venture. He asked me if I can do the same. That opportunity changed my career path completely and I decide to jump into the construction business.”
From Mechanical Engineering to bus body building and then shipbuilding and IT, his journey was going on without any direction. “After coaching I entered into the Civil Construction which was also a very challenging field. The plot that I got for the development was on sloppy land many builders had rejected it because of difficult terrain and lack of access to the property. It was an opportunity in the form of a challenge and I decided to take it,” he said. Finally, Gaonkar completed his first project of 21 apartments. “Without much investment, I finished that project and I became a builder. This was the birth of my construction company “Ved Associates” then there was no turning back for me and I completed 5-6 projects back-to-back,” he averred.
The journey of Mr. Gaonkar which started in the real estate development business in the year 2004 went on till 2013. “But still I had that feeling of emptiness, something still remained to be accomplished. I was making enough money to take care of myself and my family but I was not achieving that happiness in it. For me something was still missing,” said Mr. Gaonkar.
Very Close To The Destination
Now from here., the story takes another turn. It goes back to 2002 when he lost his father and the responsibility of the entire agricultural land came to him. That land was passed on from the generations to him and it was his duty to preserve it and put it into good use. “I decide to give some attention to the traditional land, now that I had lots of resources and manpower, I put the land to use by cultivating it and from here I got the idea of entering into agriculture and cultivation. The idea of making the Nandanvan started taking shape from here,” said Mr. Gaonkar.
The Birth of Nandanvan
It was at that moment Mr. Gaonkar had come up with the idea of Nandanvan. “But the land that was there next to our house was not sufficient for a spice plantation or eco-tourism and this took my attention to our ancestral land that was lying barren for years. It was spread over several hundred acres but it was completely barren with no plantations. “The process started with building the compound around the land in the year 2003, then we dug the well inside the property to make the water available inside the property. Once the water was made available, the work of planting trees started,” said Mr. Gaonkar adding “like Rome was not built overnight, it took several years to complete this project”, at the same time his construction business was ongoing from where he generating the funds for this project. “My idea was not just to create a spice plantation but it was much beyond that. I wanted the place where people would come to stay and enjoy nature to the fullest, and from there the idea of overnight stay and camping came into existence.”
Gaonkar had a vision but did not know how to go about it. Though agriculture was his traditional activity, this field of hospitality and tourism was completely new to him and this is when his wife Meghna Gaonkar, comes onto the picture. “My wife suggested to me to find someone who knows about spice plantations, hospitality, and tourism. The search for that someone started. I went to some guides who were connected with spice plantations and the tourism industry and one of them suggested Mr. Anil Priolkar, alias Mama: we all call him Mama. He is one person who knows everything about this industry. By the time Mama came in we worked on the other things like an event venue, an open-air hall, and a swimming pool. Before the entry of Mama, the entire structure was ready and we were waiting for people to come in,” said Mr. Gaonkar.
According to Mr. Gaonkar, his dream project of Nandanvan was not driven by the goal of making money. “I did not do this for money. I was getting enough money from my construction business and I was content. I was driven by the vision and passion of doing something different. So when I went to meet Mama he said he will first come and visit the place and then decide if he can take up the responsibility,” said Gaonkar adding Mama took three months to study the place and decide if he can be associated with Nandanavan. “In January 2015 Mama gave his approval of joining the team and he asked me what I expected so I told him that I want to construct cottages and I want people to come here and spend some time. It was under the guidance of Mama we had improved the facilities at the plantation. In the same year (2015) we launched Nandanavan officially,” said Gaonkar. The name “Nandanvan” was suggested by Mama.
Nandanvan is the first spice plantation where we did not remain dependent on the foreigners or domestic tourists and started welcoming local Goans and it became very successful. “Slowly and steadily, we added other adventure activities like zipline, rope activities, ATV ride, a swimming pool with and rain dance facilities. Today we have full-time activities and cottages with all the modern amenities under the branding of Rock Valley. While constructing the cottages we made sure not to cut a single tree and that is what you will witness when you visit this place,” said Mr. Gaonkar.
Today Nandanavan along with the Rock Valley provides a complete package of nature and modern lifestyle. You can have a destination wedding and birthday parties at this place. According to Mr. Gaonkar, there are bigger plans for the future. Currently, Meghna handles Nandanvan. Meghna who is also a partner in the project comes from a very humble family background: she lived in the capital city and later got married to Mr. Deepak Gaonkar. Besides Mr. Deepak and Meghna, now Rajasi and Aditya also share the vision of eco-tourism in Goa. Today Nandanvan and Rock Valley is a brand but there is still a long way to go.