The enviable views of Lavasa hills are hard to miss while travelling to retirement village Ashiana Utsav in Lavasa. I am here to see if it will live up to its promise of being a pollution-free and organised senior living space with modern facilities and high quality services.
Though I spend 2 hours getting there, I can see why this slice of heaven on the outskirts of Pune is an attractive option for those looking to realise their dream of retiring in the hills. Touted as India’s first planned hill city, Lavasa is nestled within the Mose valley of Western Ghats. The scenic atmosphere instantly transports me into another world.
As we approach our destination, organised clusters of residential complexes greet us. It feels like a mock movie set with quirky signs and winding roads surrounded by a lush of green. A fully functioning modern town blossoms in this stunning lap of nature.
The road which is home to Ashiana Utsav Lavasa residencies is not far, adorned with rows of villas and a building complex. I spot some major banks, colleges, multi-cuisine restaurants, Apollo Hospital, a movie multiplex, post office and retail store along the way. So far, so good.
I head towards the sales office to meet Sales Manager Akhilesh Mishra who will show me around. We board a golf cart, the internal transport available on call for Ashiana staff and residents to travel around. Construction work is still on, with buildings and villas in various stages of completion.
“The first phase is complete, with 1/2/3 BHK apartments, 2 BHK executive floors and 3 BHK villas on offer. 99 possessions have been handed over, about 68 properties furnished and over 29 families are living here now, some permanently, others occasionally,” says Akhilesh. Each of these units cater to seniors’ needs with grab-bars in bathrooms and corridors, anti-skid flooring and lower shelves.
Common facilities and events encourage social activity. They celebrate anniversaries and birthdays together. Residents are taken to the local promenade every evening for a couple of hours.
The idea is to create a gated community within a residential complex which covers all aspects of ageing. The first is active ageing, where seniors are encouraged to be dynamic and social with their peers. Second is to provide care services at home. Third is temporary or short stays at the care home. Fourth is long stays at care home. All these services are provided according to individual needs, seniors would pay hourly, daily or monthly rates to access these facilities.
Ashiana Housing, an early believer in retirement home complexes, comes with the experience of having built, completed and sold 700 units in Ashiana Utsav Bhiwadi (NCR), close to Delhi, since its first project launch in 2008.
“We learnt a lot from our Bhiwadi experience. After those lessons, we realised that catering for active ageing alone wasn’t enough. Our clients had to uproot themselves and seek help outside if they fell ill, had serious medical issues or needed long-term care,” says Akhilesh. “Our aim now is to close all the gaps for an elderly person looking to retire.”
Bhiwadi’s first care home was launched in 2011, Lavasa will also have one after the residential homes are completed in December 2016.
We reach the clubhouse where workers are racing towards expected completion by July 2015. They are hoping permanent occupancy rates will increase after that.
The place looks grand, with a huge party lawn, badminton court, gym with specialised equipment and an experienced geriatric trainer, spa and Jacuzzi, changing rooms, pool & billiards, table tennis and a swimming pool. There will be rooms for music, home theatre, art & craft, library & reading lounge and an indoor play area for chess and cards as well. Plus there will be a convenience store and an Ashiana-owned Café and Bar. A massive area is reserved for the community kitchen which will not only supply Café food but also cater to the residents and future care home.
We drive to the makeshift activity centre, office and café, currently functioning out of a 3 BHK villa. Estate Manager Sourish Gupta, in-charge of services and help desk, takes me through the rapid response process. Resident medical emergencies are attended to within 3 minutes and 2 seconds, right from the panic button call to hospitalising a patient. Apollo Hospital’s OPD and emergency unit, which is 5 minutes away, and Ashiana’s 24/7 nurse Anita provide the required expertise.
“We have a controlling server, connected to every unit. Panic buttons in the bedroom, bathroom and living room alert us when pressed. We inform the closest security so they can go to the unit and check while another person calls the unit. If no response to either source, we kick into action — the nurse is sent and an ambulance is called, all within that timeframe,” explains Sourish.
“Our staff is equipped with first aid training and emergency medicine. We are in regular touch with Apollo doctors. Plus we store every resident’s medical background, 4 years prior, and current medication details. Doctors have access to the data, it is updated weekly without fail.”
Ashiana’s focus is on good service, emergency or otherwise. An internal helpline is used by residents to place all kinds of requests: food, free internal transport, domestic help, nurse, electrician, plumber, carpenter and mason. Home repair services are free, fixture and fittings charged on actuals. Domestic help and nursing rates are paid by the hour or as per weekly/ monthly rates.
Essential commodities are available at the local Lavasa stores. Ashiana staff members also take special requests on weekly city runs, delivered within 24 hours. “We travel 4 times a week to Pune, 9 AM – 5 PM. Two days, we take residents to Camp and Phoenix alternately. The other two, we visit our Baner office when residents are welcome to join us,” says Sourish. “Not that we don’t get good stuff here but residents do have special requirements, like superior quality apples and fruit. Plus they get a chance to visit the city and avail discounts at Big Bazar or DMart.”
It’s now lunch time and I enjoy a delicious Ashiana Café meal with resident Punam Singavi, 73, who bought his 3 BHK villa in October 2012. “I feel I should be passing the last phase of my life at a place free from pollution and with good climatic condition. That’s the reason I chose Ashiana Utsav Lavasa,” he shares. “I felt their concept of senior living is very close to mine. It’s a serene place. I like to read, write and hike. Yes, even at this age so it is conducive to my way of living.”
Punam and his wife Pushpalata Singavi, 68, have been gradually increasing their stay over the last two and a half years. They plan to shift here permanently within the next year from Thane in Mumbai where they currently reside.
“This must be my 54th visit!” he quips. This time he is here alone. “My wife usually cooks at home but she couldn’t make it. The food here is simple and healthy so it’s a good option,” he says.
Ashiana Café provides regular meals and snacks to residents, eat-in or home delivery. Thali packages, regular and Utsav, are offered along with the set menu. “We also take custom orders on residents’ special request: Chinese, pani puri, chaat. After an order is placed, food is freshly prepared and delivered within half an hour. Most order from home, some eat in,” says café manager Vivek Anand.
A regular café customer is resident Renu Marwah, 63, who bought her 2 BHK villa in 2010 and is a frequent visitor from Mumbai. “I don’t cook at home at all. Anything that I want, without chilli or oil, is made and sent to me,” she says.
It’s almost time to wind up my little adventure. And I ponder over the crucial question. Does this retirement property live up to its promise? Not yet, I feel. It is pretty obvious that most residents haven’t shifted here completely because the project is still incomplete.
However, once the club house is complete and more residents move here permanently, this place will prove to be a compelling retirement choice if you can bear the commute.
The sense I get is that the team is transparent and open to suggestions, whether negative or positive. They learn from past mistakes. Renu corroborates my observation. “Yes they take care and are there for you, unlike other builders. They own up for a mistake and rectify it. The objective is not just a quick fix but to find the root of the problem and solve it,” she says.
Complaints are filed by residents in a register and ticked off, once done. Renu says, “Everyday, a report is sent to the head office with details of complaints and the time it took to close it.”
Communication and general attitude is friendly. “We know most of the staff. When someone joins, the person sends us an introduction mail with their job profile,” says Renu.
Renu is clearly happy with her choice of an independent home even though she frequently visits sons in Mumbai and Singapore. She says, “This is my space. Many treat this as a second home but for me, this is now home.”
I would strongly suggest a visit to this place if you would like to consider Ashiana Utsav Lavasa. Both Punam and Renu fell in love with Lavasa surroundings and Ashiana equipped them with the facilities they needed for a peaceful, retired life. That will be a strong deciding factor if you’d like to leave your city life and opt to make this unique, tranquil and secluded spot your retirement home.
Punam Singavi, Retired
Profile: Punam is a chartered accountant and environment specialist. Wife Pushpalata is a homemaker. They are parents to 4 daughters. One lives in US, two in UK and one in Mumbai.
Status: Currently Punam resides in Thane but visits Ashiana every other week. He and wife Pushpalata plan to move here within the next year.
Feedback: Not many reside here permanently, outside Ashiana. We know practically everyone who stays within Ashiana. We all share good camaraderie and look forward to our daily Promenade visits, which we call Chowpatty. The general atmosphere is happy. Both Ashiana and Lavasa Township are still in developing stage. Apollo’s medical facility is yet to become a full-fledged multi-disciplined hospital but it’s very much on the cards. We will have a supermarket soon. Hopefully once the clubhouse is ready, we will see residents increase. There are occasional construction issues like leakage and seepage, but they take care of it. Security is pretty good, Lavasa Corporation and Ashiana have their own arrangements. Whatever comforts I get in a place like Thane, I get here as well.
Renu Marwah, Retired
Profile: Renu is a retired professional. She is mother to 2 sons. One lives in Singapore, one in Mumbai. She quit her job in 2010 and takes care of her grandchildren occasionally.
Status: Renu’s prefers her own space which is Ashiana, this is her only home, but visits her sons and grandchildren often in Mumbai and Singapore.
Feedback: The only thing I had to figure out was my mindset, of leaving my friends and activities, as these days people don’t want to retire. I like being interactive, with the arranged activities and Pune visits. We had seepage problems initially but it was a first-time construction issue. They figured out what the problem was, treated the walls with chemicals and had them repainted, so it’s all good now. I wake up every morning, go for a walk around the lake. Then order breakfast since I don’t want to start cooking yet. The plus here is I am charged only when I eat. Unlike other places where you are charged a penalty. If I need help, I just call. Maintenance is free. Domestic staff operates on a per hour rate. We are not supposed to pay or tip anybody, just write a cheque. We are free to do our own hiring, if we wish. There are no restrictions. Now I am almost settled even though I keep going to Bombay. My grandchildren visit me often without their parents. In fact, my granddaughter remarked, ‘Ashiana people are so kind and caring to everybody.’