Jewels of Satara !

It was around 8 AM in morning and the urge to get to our destination was growing stronger, the last few kilometres felt longer than usual.  A night ago I dreamt of being surrounded by thousands of flowers of different colours and clicking some amazing shots with them, I was now desperate to realize my dream at ‘Kaas – the plateau of flower’. Based on whatever I had seen and read about kaas on google, the place can beat any European location of a romantic song in Yash Chopra’s film.

Unlike most of the flower gardens across world Kaas is a natural phenomenon and occurs only for around a month during late August to End of September or beginning of October depending upon weather. The plateau is located around 22 km from the city of Satara and all of it goes through lush green heaven. These 22 km make The journey as beautiful as the destination !!

Despite planning this trip in the peak bloom season we got to see hardly 20-30% bloom as the monsoon arrived almost 2-3 weeks late in Maharashtra which pushed the bloom period further ahead by same period. Added to this we reached at 8:30 AM in kaas and everything was under a thick cloud cover. To see whatever we could and capture, we parked our cars and started walking on the pathways. On a day in peak season which we expected it to be, the Kaas is flocked by revellers and today we could hardly see anyone on the plateau. The empty plateau gave us the 1st sign of the foul play by the bloom and then onwards it was disappointment for not being able to see it at its best.

Despite a below expected bloom we thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and the other places we visited. Apart from the locations we also enjoyed travelling with some like-minded people who ensured that we had a great time in Satara. Apart from Kaas, Satara has many destinations for regular tourist circuit, Mahabaleshwar being most famous followed by Panchgani, Wai etc. In the district we visited some great locations which made up for the disappointment at Kaas.

Chanting Sajjangad:

Sajjangad literally means ‘The fort of good people’ and is the final resting place of Sant Ramdas, a saint and Guru of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. While I included Sajjangad in our itinerary, I expected it to be a typical abandoned fort located on rugged mountain with fortification, temple or monument of Saint Ramdas but the fort surprised us. The followers of Sant Ramdas inhabit the fort even today and the fort provides them very basic facilities like food, water and shelter. In the pure atmosphere even these basics felt luxury and enough for lifetime. The very first thing we heard on the fort was chants of Shloka from the temple and the fort felt very much alive and vibrant, It seemed to be the daily prayer time for all the pilgrims staying on the fort. The fort influenced all of us and it was hard to leave but with setting sun we moved on to our resting place for the night in Satara.

Rugged Thoseghar :

Further ahead from Sajjangad is the waterfall at Thoseghar which is developed as a tourist point near Satara. Good arrangements have been made by govt. for having a good look at the waterfall. On the way to this waterfall a shop little ahead of Sajjangad offers tea with complimentary beautiful view of Umrodi dam, a must if you are travelling and have time!

Serene KrishnaGhat

This was a force fit in our travel plan just to add 1 more night to our original Kaas itinerary but this will qualify as the best place in our 3 day trip. You can spend hours at this place seating at the serene banks of Krishna river. The monsoon weather added magic to the place and made it more beautiful. On the bank there is a beautiful old palace which was inhabited by Nanasaheb Phadanvis, a top ranked executive of Peshve dynasty. The ghat, temple, Krishna river, palace make up a perfect setup to spend some quiet time. The Krishna Ghat has hosted many shootings of movies such as Kaak Sparsha, Singham,  Swades, Bol Bacchan, Gangajal etc.

Misty Panchgani

Due to last minute ditching by a homestay in Wai, we had to change our plan and spend a night in Panchgani. It is one of the most famous hill station in Maharashtra and has many interesting spots such as table land, Parsi point, MAPRO gardens etc. As it was not on our tour planned we did not carry warm clothes which are essential in Panchgani during this time and we were confined to our room after late evenings. Without stressing much on the sightseeing we enjoyed a night in Panchgani and visited MAPRO Garden and table top.

A cool weekend in summer !

The boring lifestyle of a Metro makes you want to go for holiday breaks very often. This feeling becomes stronger in sweat drenching summer of Mumbai when humidity and temperature are at its peak. With no holidays in last 3-4 months a weekend break was overdue and this time around I also had an occasion of celebrating my better half’s birthday.

Hill station it should be, was the unanimous decision taken by both the couples and all four started looking out for options. Malshej, Matheran Mahabaleshwar, Lonavla were some of the options but we took a real long time to conclude the search at Bhandardara which we had not even counted as we thought that is a monsoon getaway. Booking the Lakeview cottages in MTDC resort at Bhandardara we started the journey. Roadtrip to Bhandardara is around 180 Km from Mumbai and one of the reasons for my excitement was my new car which was doing its first long drive since I bought it around 2 months back. Bhandardara is a detour from the NH-3 which connects Mumbai to Nasik. Enroute we could imagine how beautiful the place would get transformed in monsoons, the small roads with dry and rugged terrain everywhere would turn into a sea of green.

While reaching we crossed the highest peak in Maharashtra The Kalsubai peak. Taking a little break at the base refreshed all memories of a trek to this place with friends in peak monsoon around 5 years ago. However with a different shade of nature our summer weekend trip was going to be a different experience altogether.

Lakeview cottage at the MTDC resort

We always prefer a MTDC resort for stay if available in region as they offer the best and unmatched location. Our previous stays in MTDC resorts in Ganpatipule, Velneshwar and Karla have been very rewarding. With the reviews on tripadvisor we were eager to reach the lakeview room in MTDC resort. The resort is located on a hillock next to the Arthur Lake and has different types of rooms as per your taste and budget. Every lake view cottage had lawn in front of it which can be used for all sorts of activities like eating, sleeping etc. Beyond the lawn a small descend takes you to the Arthur lake. Such a beautiful visual it was, sitting on the lawn overlooking lake was very soothing to eyes. Lake view Cottages were the costliest rooms on offer and we expected AC in bedroom, but it was missing and we soon realized the reason behind it. The cool breeze even in afternoon made it an unnecessary object in room and with a view so beautiful and atmosphere so pleasant you would not want to sit inside your room.

 

An unsuccessful attempt of angling

While watching ‘River Monsters’ on animal planet Mr. Jeremy Wade got me interested in angling (fishing). Love his documentaries shot across world catching fish by his fishing gear. On my last birthday my wife gifted me an amateur fishing rod which was unused for almost a year now. Grabbing the opportunity I used it for first time in Bhandardara. The lake was easily accessible from the resort so we headed to the lake early in morning and started fishing in misty fog. 2 hours of trial and error ended in zero result but the time was thoroughly enjoyed by all. We could catch one tiny fish but it was not using the angling gear and was caught by good hand eye co-ordination.

 

Siteseeing

We had planned to do little sightseeing and enjoy more time in resort to avoid heat but the weather in Bhandardara changed our mind. The highlight of the trip was Amruteshwar temple which is at the base of Ratangad, a very famous trekking spot. This temple is across the lake on other side but if travelling by car around 15 km of drive along the border of lake takes you to this serene place. There is a boat service available from our resort to the temple but we opted for a drive as during summers the boat ride is not the best option to reach temple.

Sitting on the lawn in front of our cottage at night we again unanimously decided to do a trek to Ratangad in monsoon and spending a night in tent on fort. A long wait of four more months to go, wish the day comes soon.

Bandhavgarh Diary

On a freezing dawn in the forest our naturalist asked driver to stop the jeep and turn off the engine so that he could hear the calls of deers and langurs coming from the jungle. ‘Shhhh…. there is a tiger around’ he whispered pointing towards a water body but we couldn’t see it. That was probably the most desperate time I had in the jungle. Intensity started building up as we buried our eyes in the direction mentioned by him. For around 20-25 minutes the deer calls continued while we were looking in the direction mentioned by the naturalist, the feeling of helplessness had started creeping all over the occupants of jeep.

Thirsty tiger

Thirsty tiger

Just about the time when we started losing hope we suddenly had adrenalin rush as the tiger appeared on the scene leaving us awe-struck in our open top jeep. Just like any other domestic cat it was drinking water with its tongue but something was making this scene extraordinary which was keeping our eyes glued to the wild cat, we kept looking at it while it was drinking water and looking at us intermittently.

For a moment the persona of the tiger made me forget that I had a camera in my hand but the sound of shutter clicks of my wife’s camera reminded me to use the instrument. I always wished to click the shrewd and intense tiger when it was giving me that killer look and I got that wish fulfilled this time. With looks to kill and attitude to die for it deserved all the adulation it was receiving, 3 jeeps were standing there to admire it. The tiger was such a show off that it came closer just to show its attitude by giving us intense stare and eventually vanished in the woods.

The look

The look

We were in the jungles of BandhavgarhNational Park which is located in the state of Madhya Pradesh and boasts of having the highest density of tigers among the all Tiger reserves across India. In a quest to do something different on our first wedding anniversary we had planned wildlife trip to Bandhavgarh and this tiger had started our day with a bang. It was our first wildlife trip and certainly enlightened us with many unwritten facts of the Jungle.

Fact 1: Don’t go with a sole objective of sighting a Tiger

These jungles are not only about tigers, it has much more to offer than just the big cats. Tiger is the Apex predator, jungles with tigers inhabits its entire food chain; Tigers food, its foods food and so on. All share this jungle and they as well are amazing animals to watch. Langurs, spotted/barking/sambar deer, wild boars, peacocks are a common sights and If you are lucky you may also sight tiger, leopard, asian black bear, wild dogs, jackals etc.

If you want a guarantee of sighting a tiger, you might visit a zoo or a circus but if you are an adult, those places won’t take you on a high for sure. Having said that we were lucky enough to sight Tiger, wild dogs, Jackal, Neel Gai and bear in our 1st trip but expecting too much can leave you disappointed. We could spot a tiger in only 1 out of 3 safaris; we met a family who could not sight a single tiger in 17 Safaris through Corbett, Tadoba and Bandhavgarh national park and we could easily make it out from their sorry faces.

Fact 2: Deer’s don’t die natural death!!

Across every corner of jungle we saw beautiful spotted deer herds happily roaming around; while talking to the naturalist we came to know about this fact that deers don’t die natural death as all of them are taken by the predators, their everyday task is struggle to see a new morning. Even the predators take many unsuccessful attempts to end up with a kill which increase the struggle and thrill in life of deers.

We got to experience one such breathtaking instance where a herd of 20 wild dogs were chasing 4-5 spotted deers, we actually felt sorry about the poor deers but for them its part of their lives. Deers ending up as a meal of a predator is one of the unwritten rules of the Jungle.

Fact 3: Naturalist / Guide can make or break the sighting

Sighting a tiger is just a matter of luck, but even on a lucky day a bad naturalist can fail in tiger sighting. We were fortunate enough to have good experienced naturalists for all our Safaris and that’s why we ended up sighting many exciting animals in Jungle.

Fact 4: Wildlife sense is a must

Keeping quiet is a thumb rule everyone should follow when in jungle. If you sight an animal and want to convey your feelings of excitement to the person sitting next to you, do it quietly by whispering or pointing towards the animal. Most of the animals are shy and would not come out if they know that people are waiting outside to watch them. Wearing clothes which camouflage with the jungle are advisable.

Fact 5: It’s addictive

If roaming around in jungle in an open top jeep watching majestic animals like Tiger, leopard, lion prowl and haunt the other animals takes you on a high then in all probabilities you will get addicted to it.

You never get enough of wildlife. If you sight a tiger you want to see it again and if you don’t then you have reasons to plan another trip. Under both the cases you want to head to the jungle. We started planning our next wildlife trip while coming back from Bandhavgarh.

Backpacking in Ratnagiri

My wife had 2 weeks of break before she could join new organization and wanted to go for a refreshing holiday somewhere. What could be more refreshing than a place where the fresh breeze of air from the sea hits you while you are soaking the sun on a secluded beach fringed with palm and casuarina trees. With 2-3 pairs of shorts and t-shirt each, sunglasses, sunscreen, to and fro train tickets and a cash of 10000, me and my wife set out to explore Guhaghar and Ganpatipule which offer some of the best beaches in ‘konkan’. The budget of 10000 may seem to be too much for all boys/bachelor groups, I myself have fond memories of 8 days holiday in the same region for a sum of 900 Rs back in college days; but gone are the days when we could stay in cheesy hotels and eat at unhygienic places. I was married and spending on good quality hotels and food was unavoidable.

Ganapatipule_MapThis was going to be a break from hectic daily routine and hence we planned the trip with enough leisure time, the days were not loaded with site seeing, all evenings were planned to be leisurely spent mostly on beach in the shade of palm tree watching the sun setting in the horizon. On day one we would start our journey by Konkan Railway, get down at Chiplun and head towards Guhaghar. We planned to spend our first night in Guhaghar and then move southwards to spend a night in Velneshwar and 2 nights in Ganpatipule before starting our return journey from Ratnagiri. In and around Guhaghar and Ganpatipule there are many interesting points which we would be covering.

This was not my 1st visit to the region, I luckily belong to Konkan; the slowness and simplicity of life here has always amazed a city dweller like me and it starts getting all over as you stay longer. Konkan has not blessed the inhabitants with wealth but the people are good at heart and always ready to help. During our travel by public transport all the people we interacted with were more than eager to help us out. From the fisherman at Ganpatipule who could net only 1 fish after 3-4 hours of hardwork to the auto drivers who transported us, all of them looked so happy and satisfied with their life. Travelling in konkan is an experience which every one should have first hand, the words or camera can not do justice with the beauty of this place. Read on for our experience of the different aspects of sojourn in konkan.

 

View from Ratnadurga fort - 3

View from Ratnadurga fort – 3

Night stays:

There are very few plush hotels here, however true konkan can only be enjoyed in homestays. There are plenty of homestays available at rock bottom prices to experience rustic touch of konkni lifestyle. We spent one night in a homestay at Guhaghar and that was the cheapest night stay we had in recent years. With big and neat room and hardly 100 meter from the pristine seashore of Guhaghar, this homestay was a great value for money.

Rest of the nights we spent in Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) resorts in Velneshwar and Ganpatipule respectively. All MTDC resort are so ideally located that no other hotels in the region can match the views provided by them. In these resort you can experience the magic of watching the sun going down in the sea while you sip tea in your balcony. At dawn when you open the door, orange sky makes a wonderful beginning of your day. From both the resorts you can hear the roaring sea all night long. Velneshwar MTDC resort is located on a hill near Velneshwar beach and offers splendid views of the sea from a height whereas Ganpatipule MTDC is a beach resort.

Traveling to and through Konkan

Reaching konkan is one thing and travelling within konkan is quiet another. There are many convenient options to reach konkan by rail and buses however the travel within konkan is a different ball game altogether. You can not rely on the ST buses as the frequency is very low and most of the roads are in bad condition all year round. The network of shared auto/jeeps is decent but sometimes you may have to wait for an hour or even more for the auto/jeep to fill seats and start the run. During our backpacking tour we travelled using train, bus, shared auto and jeeps, we also used ferry twice. The local travel tested our patience when we had to change mode of transport 5 times (ST-Auto-Ferry-Jeep-Auto-Auto) to travel from Velneshwar to Ganpatipule. It took almost 6 hours to travel this distance of 36km. On top of it the shared autos/jeep exceed their passenger capacity which makes a business sense for them. Having said that its fun to travel like this as you feel more connected to the place. Undoubtedly we would have covered more places if we had travelled by our car, but we had fun travelling this way.

Bon Appetite

While we were there, we had the best fish preparations of our lives. After trying multiple hotels we came to a conclusion that all the restaurants serve amazing fish delicacies. Would like to make a special mention of Hotel Shraddha in Guhaghar, the surmai and pomfret we had there was out of this world. Being a coastal place coconuts are available in abundance and finds its place in almost every preparation, may be that’s the magical ingredient used in the konkni food.

 Meal

Residents of this wilderness

Legend has it that Lord Parshuram reclaimed this land (konkan) from the sea, the sea gods got angry and as a curse they filled this place with poisonous snakes. We could not see any of them during our trip but as per the localites they are the most feared animals here; the jungles are full of poisonous snakes like cobras and vipers. Though it was not a wildlife trip, we saw many birds and animals for first time in our life. Apart from the regular mynas, bulbuls, skinks and geckos ; In velneshwar while on a morning walk we saw a woodpecker pricking the tree. In MTDC resort of Ganpatipule we sited a pair of kingfisher, green bee eaters were a common site across Guhaghar and Ganpatipule. Langurs locally known as ‘kaaltondya’ were also seen but the highlight of the trip was a full size monitor lizard which we saw in Guhaghar near Tavsal but before we could click a picture it vanished in the jungle. A local auto driver mentioned about the tigers and leopards of this region but unfortunately we could not spot them.

Beaches, temples and more

During our 5 days trip we saw 9 beaches, 11 temples and 8 others such as fort, palace, museums, lighthouse. Though it’s very difficult to come up with top 3 spots in our itinerary let me make an attempt of listing them one by one.

Top spot in our list will undoubtedly goes to Ganpatipule beach. By grace of god who sits on this beach despite being a famous tourist spot the beach is amazingly clean and serene. Sitting in the temple looking at the sky over the sea at dusk leaves you enchanted. There are good eating and stay options which every tourist would need. The sand art show on the beach was a surprise to us which added to the goodness of the beach.

A very less known place called Siddheshwar temple near Anjanwel in guhaghar becomes second best spot which stole our hearts, this place was suggested by owners of the homestay we stayed in Guhaghar. A rough road cutting from the Anjanwel takes you to this beautiful temple. Autos won’t take you till the temple, you have to park it and walk 15 minutes to reach there. While walking you have to cross a small water reservoir which is a perfect setup for monsoon picnic. To our surprise even our auto driver who was a localite had never been to this place.

 There are many contenders for the third spot; thibaw palace, Guhaghar beach, Anjanwel lighthouse, ratnadurga fort, prachin konkan museum etc. were all amazing but arey-warey snatches this spot from others. Arey-Warey road connects Ganpatipule to the city of Ratnagiri and offers mesmerizing coastal views you may have ever seen.

We had exhausted our budget of 10000 on 4th day of tour itself mainly due to costly stay at MTDC and daily splurges on sea food, however every single rupee spent was worth the experience. With a heart full of memories and tanned skin we started our return journey, would have been great if we had more time and could continue our trip southwards to the beaches of Devgad, Tarkarli and vengurla however my roots there will provide numerous opportunities of travelling to this coastal heaven.

Detail itinerary

Day 1 : Reach Guhaghar and local site seeing

  • Mumbai to Chiplun by Jana Shatabdi exp. Chiplun to Guhaghar by ST, Reached Guhaghar by 1 PM by ST.
  • Lunch in Guhaghar and check in to homestay.
  • Visit Vyadeshwar temple and Ufrata Ganpati which are walking distance from ST depot/homestay/beach.
  • Sunset on Guhaghar beach

Day 2: Siteseeing around Guhaghar

  • Take an auto for whole day site seeing and visit
    • Chandikadevi temple, Dabhol
    • Siddheshwar temple, Anjanwel
    • Anjanwel fort and lighthouse
    • Hedvi Ganesh temple (post lunch)
    • Hedvi beach and bramhanghal
    • Velneshwar temple and beach
  • Check into MTDC Velneshwar

Day 3: Velneshwar to Ganpatipule

  • Travel as per availability of public transport and reach Gapatipule.
  • Visit Prachin Konkan museum
  • Visit Ganpatipule temple and beach
  • Sunset on Ganpatipule beach

Day 4: Siteseeing around Ratnagiri

  • Local siteseeing by shared jeep/cab
    • Kavi keshavsut smarak, Malgund
    • Ratnadurga fort and lighthouse
    • Bhagwati temple
    • Ratnagiri matsyalaya
    • Mandovi beach
    • Tilak smarak
    • Patit pavan temple
    • Swaroopanand Maharaj temple, Pawas
    • Bhatye beach
    • Arey-warey beach and view
    • Bhandarpule beach
  • Back to Ganpatipule for night stay
  • Visit the beach and sand art exhibition

Day 5: Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri

  • Transport to Ratnagiri by bus.
  • Shopping
  • Late afternoon train(Janashatabdi) to Mumbai

Walk in Jungle of Nagla and Chenna

Mumbai boast of a reserved forest, Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) which is one of the biggest national park within a metropolitan city limits and also one of the most visited national parks in world. Thane, the neighboring city shares SGNP with Mumbai; Yeoor, owala, chenna, Nagla etc which are some of the prominent forest covers of SGNP falling in Thane. On one Sunday we thought of experiencing some wildlife and zeroed in on Nagla and Chenna zones.

Nagla and Chenna form a very important corridor for animals to travel from SGNP to other sanctuaries around like Tansa, Tungareshwar and other forest areas in Thane. In year 2003 it shot to fame when an adult Tigress was spotted within the Nagla block unexpectedly. It was after 80 years the region was hosting a tiger, previously the last tiger was shot down in 1929 near Tulsi lake and after that they were locally extinct in SGNP. The count of leopards has also gone down from more than 40 in early 2000 to 21 in the last census of 2011 but still the density of leopards here is very good. Apart from these big cats the park offers some beautiful animals like spotted and barking deer, hare etc.

We started from home at 6:30 AM in morning, plan was to reach early and start the trail walk. Nagla was first on our itinerary. We reached there by 7:30 AM and started the walk without wasting any time. Nagla is an easy trail of around 3 KM, the internal roads are clear and big enough for a bullock cart.

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The dense forest here makes it a not so suitable place for birding but it’s a feast for the macro photographers. None of us were specifically interested in the macro photography but we got some beautiful pics of spiders and butterflies.

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The place is infested with mosquitoes and itchy creatures and hence it is advised to wear full pant especially if you are visiting in or around monsoon. Nagla block ends at a ‘pakhti’ (small jetty) and the climax of the trail is amazing with panoramic views of the Vasai creek.

From creek the return journey took less time as we did not take too many photography breaks. The whole trail (to and fro) can be covered comfortably within a span of 2-3 hours.

We returned to the entry of the park at around 10:15 AM. Straightaway headed to have breakfast after which we headed to Chenna which is the extension of the SGNP.

One of my friends knew this place as he owns a farm house in the Chenna area. We parked our cars near the gate of farm house and started walking. As soon as we started walking one of our group member spotted a small black snake, it should have waited for some snaps but rather rushed into the green grass. None of us has good knowledge of snakes and hence we didn’t try to follow or catch it. Further ahead within few hundred meters the trail got wild. This place was much wilder than our earlier trail, it packed lot of action, we spotted spider of the size of adult human palm. We also spotted some exotic bugs, reptiles, butterflies and flowers.

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Nagla felt like a walk in the park compared to this rugged and adventurous trail. Halfway though the trail we found an impression on the muddy patch which looked like a leopard pugmark, and that doubled our excitement.

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Up till now it was an even trail but as the uphill climb started the atmosphere got more intense, we were walking on trail covered by dense forest and our eyes were hunting for the big cat. We all really got serious and stopped cracking silly jokes, everyone was looking around in anticipation of spotting the leopard. Further ahead on the trail we met 2 local men, while talking to them they mentioned that the big cat comes to their pada (village) every single night looking for its prey. The dogs make an easy prey for them and hence they are attracted to the human settlements where dogs are in plenty. They said that the region has both leopard and tigers however the presence of tiger is a debatable issue as official records of SGNP shows that there are no Tigers in this region but leopards with a healthy count of 21 are in plenty.

The eventful short outing ended at around 2 PM when we reached home. While transferring the photos in PC a thought touched my mind, why the elusive cat still remain unseen even after so many attempts ? however Chenna is a new finding which looks highly promising. Looking forward to visit again !! Very soon !!

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A morning with butterflies !!

My usual weekday starts with a journey to my office in Andheri through heavily clogged road. Irrespective of mode of transport it takes at least an hour and sometimes double for simple or no reasons. Weekends offer some respite from the ordeal when we can take rest, but sleeping late is not the only best thing u can do on weekends, there are many other things for rejuvenation. One of such spot for a day break is Ovalekar wadi butterfly park. Here you have an option of replacing the pollution with fresh air and the vehicles by beautiful butterflies. Sounds amazing? It has much more to offer than you may imagine.

This little known place is hardly 15 Km from Thane. If you are travelling from Eastern express highway, once you leave the toll naka for ghodbunder road and after you cross hypercity, keep an eye on a left for Owala village. From this left the park is around a kilometer. As soon as you take this left on ghodbunder road the landscape starts changing, the hills belonging to the Sanjay Gandhi National park can be seen in the backdrop. The concrete jungle is hardly a kilometer but you feel like you are far from the hustle bustle of city.

These Wadis are basically the place where a family has a house along with trees which they use as a source of income. Traditionally wadis have more of fruit baring trees like mango, cashew, coconut etc. with a view of selling those fruits and earn living. Regionally the trees change but the concept remains the same. The Owalekar wadi also looks similar but it is specially altered to invite butterflies without a commercial angle to it.

Mr Rajendra Ovalekar, the owner and the person who conceived this place is a great source of inspiration. His family owns this 2 acre wadi which once upon a time they used for farming, early 20th century they also used this place to host weddings and as a resort for day picnics. There are some signs like dilapidated wedding stage, lawn, big umbrella like structure, a small swimming pool which indicates of the earlier usage of this place. However, now Mr. Rajendra Ovalekar has transformed this place into a home for butterflies. The passion and conviction of this man is visible when you talk to him about the park, infact love for the cause can be felt when you interact with all the members of Owalekar family. It all started with Rajendra attending a seminar at Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), the butterfly species he saw in the photographs shown in seminar, almost all of them could be sited in his wadi. Since then he has never looked back, and today after 12 years of hard work his dream has taken shape. The butterfly guru of India Mr Isaac Kehimkar of BNHS also offers invaluable guidance for making the place better.

It was our 2nd trip here, we had already been there in summer and knew the itinerary of the tour at the wadi, last time one of the visitor present there suggested us to visit again during Sept-Nov to see maximum species of butterflies and so we planned to go back there. The wadi is open to visitors only on Sunday morning and the guided tour starts around 8:30 AM.

We reached the place at 8 AM and were among the early birds who got to interact with Mr Rajendra as he was placing rotten fruits in different parts of the park. Butterflies have very good smelling power and the smell of rotten fruit attracts them, even the perfumes used by visitors may keep them away from you so it is advised not to overuse perfume. Later during the guided tour we could actually see one butterfly sipping the nector off the rotten fruit. The session started with a peek into the life of butterflies. Mr Rajendra addressed the crowd and explained the lifecycle of butterflies. After brief description the field trip started, during field trip he took whole group to different corners of the park and showed different butterflies, one after another the whole group was introduced to beautiful butterflies. The guided round is a good educational retreat for the curious minds of all ages. There are more than 100 species of butterflies which can be spotted here, all have their preferences of trees on which they live, lay eggs or eat. Mr Rajendra has studied all this peculiarly and accordingly has planted trees and climbers in his park. Some of the trees or climbers which were not available in India and are imported from other countries.

The guided walk through the park goes on for around 2 hours and most of the crowd leaves the park post tour. Due to large group size during the guided tour you may not be able to see best of butterflies which are shy and keep away from the crowd. After the whole group dispersed, we spent another 3 hours in park and got to see few more beautiful butterflies. The blue oak leaf butterfly was the best one we spotted this time around; It looks like a dry leaf when closes its wings and has a beautiful blue pattern when wings are open. Following are some of the butterflies we spotted in the park.

• Blue Oak leaf
• Plain tiger butterfly caterpillar
• Common castor pupa
• Lime butterfly caterpillar
• Blue tiger butterfly
• Common crow
• Common mormon
• Black Raja
• Common grass yellow
• Great egg butterfly
• Stripe tiger
• Red spot tiger
• Tail J
• Common barron butterfly
• Plain tiger butterfly
• Peacock pansy
• Bush brown butterfly
• Common castor
• Chocolate pansy
• Brown king crow
• White orange tip
• Common jezebel
• Skipper butterfly
• Common evening brown
• Lime blue butterfly

As this is a privately owned park there is an entry fees which may feel high but its worth. There are no snack joints or hotels nearby however the Owalekars have taken care of this part as well.

Tips :
1.For shutterbugs its advised to stay back after the large groups leave if you need quiet atmosphere and good snaps.
2. If you are visiting in summer make sure you carry good amount of water with you.
3. Best time to visit : Sep – Nov

On a wine trail in Holi city of Nasik !

On a wine trail in Holi city of Nasik

 “Nasik -145 km” said the milestone, It was raining like crazy and we were on NH-3 in our car heading towards Nasik. It is located in Northern Maharashtra around 1900 ft. above sea level and witness’s high monsoon rainfall. We were planning to have a dry trip but the rain god had something else in his mind. I had heard a lot about the vineyards from Nasik, about the views, ambience, scenery, wines etc. and we thought of visiting these vineyards and witness something classy this monsoon. The online research about the vineyards around Nasik fueled the excitement of the trip. This was not my first trip to Nasik; I had been there in all seasons and knew how the Nasik city looks whole year round, however now we were going to see a different side of Nasik.

We planned to visit 3 vineyards in Nasik, York and Sula were located in same region, around 1 km from each other. Our first stop would be at York Vineyards because I had read somewhere that they serve good food, so we planned to have lunch there. Then we would be heading towards Sula to see the sunset, it was recommended by my colleagues who had been there already. We decided to cover these two vineyards on day 1 and stay somewhere around. On next day we planned to visit Chateau Indage vineyard which was supposed to be located on our way back to Mumbai. We found that all these vineyards have tasting room where you can taste some of the finest wines produced by them for a few hundred rupees.

Wine is basically a European concept, which they have detailed to a great extent. Type and quality of grapes used, harvest year, method of preparation, barrels used to age the wine etc. are some of the factors which affect the quality of Wine. During last decade Nasik has created a niche for itself. It is called as Grape city and wine capital of India. Around a decade back the business of making wines from grapes was non existent in this region but now it’s flourishing with average annual growth of 30%. With around 30 functional small and large Vineyards, the region produces 75% of India’s wine. The grape quality here is the best available in India and hence this region produce the finest wines, vintners here are winning accolades globally for making world class wine. Sula, york, chateau indage, zampa, Indus, grovers are some of the biggies of the wine making industry in India.

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I used to think that being driven is much better than driving yourself because you miss views while all others enjoy watching them at their leisure, but there is a different fun and joy of driving through the beautiful highways. It can’t get more exotic than driving through the clouds at 1 o’clock in afternoon. The lush green surrounding, zig-zag road and cool breeze of air was giving me goose bumps. The misty road casted its spell on us, we were experiencing reverse adrenalin rush and it felt unnecessary to overtake or drive too fast.

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A night before leaving for Nasik I watched Tour de France on television but now as we were approaching York vineyard I was feeling like I am participating in it. All of these vineyards are located in countryside and except the bumpy roads everything else has a French feel to it. Like the cyclists in Tour De France now we too were eager to reach destination as quick as possible because the vineyard and wine were waiting for us.

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The York vineyard is a beautiful 9 acre property owned by Mr Gurnani who started it in 2006. The vineyard has ecstatic location and magical atmosphere. We parked our car and headed to the wine tasting room which is on second floor offering a splendid view of Gangapur Dam. For first time in my life I saw grape farms and what a time and place it was to see them! Peak monsoon, overcast conditions, dam filled to brim, green lines drawn by very well organized grape farm everything was picture perfect. There were cattle in the distance eating and doing their daily chores, these cattle never looked so beautiful. We spent some time doing nothing but looking at the picturesque view, it felt like we were on earth looking at heaven. We shared the tasting room only with two more couples and few waiters. It was super quiet, and we felt the need of tasting the wine for which we were there. We were newbie to the wine tasting but the wine tasting guide ensured that we enjoy them and follow the rules of drinking wine. The gentleman was very courteous and was answering all our questions with conviction.

Image It was a nice session of around 30 minutes in which we tasted 3 white wines, 3 red wines and 1 Rose wine. Rose wine is not made out of rose but in French ‘Rose’ means ‘Pink’ and the wine takes its name from its color. While talking to the guide we apprised him about our plan of visiting 3 Vineyards, he suggested us to visit Zampa Vineyards as the Chateau Indage was not functional in Nasik anymore for some reasons. The food menu here is very limited but tasted amazing. After having food we left for the renowned sula Vineyards.

As we entered Sula we felt that we were about to see something substantial, Sula proves itself as the big brother of wine makers.

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The property is spread over 35 acres in which multiple grape varieties are planted and processed. The construction of restaurants, amphitheatre, gardens and wine making facility is very well thought through and neat. The tasting room is airy and built with a lovely view of Gangapur dam in horizon. The guided tour to the facility was informative and tour guide was highly interactive. From humble beginnings in 1997, Sula has admirably developed into a world class winery. The growth of wine business in India attributes to the effort and vision of Mr. Rajeev Samant who owns this wine estate. Being the most popular and easily accessible vineyard, it may get a bit crowded on weekends. Our wish of watching sun setting over Gangapur Dam could not come true due to the overcast conditions. The shear elegance of the vineyard tinkles the love buds within you and forces you to agree that you have never been to a more romantic place before. There are many things you can do here; you can have a romantic walk in the garden, roam around the grape plantation, eat or sip wine but doing nothing also has a romantic shade to it. Sula offers multiple eating options; ‘Little Italy’ restaurant makes sure you have a complete European experience of wine and food put together. Sula connects with you so much that disconnecting while leaving this place becomes a tough task. After replenishing our heart and soul with love we left this place late evening for a night stay in Nasik.

After a sumptuous breakfast, we left for Zampa Vineyards as suggested to us by the tasting guide at York. On way back to Mumbai we had to take a right on NH3 and the rough road leads to this beautifully located wine estate located in little known village of Sanjegaon. On google maps the distance was shown as 33 Km from our hotel and we thought that we will reach there within an hours time, but the google navigation misguided us and we were lost. When we realized the foul play by navigator, we took help of localites but no one knew the exact location. We went around 15 km in wrong direction but the extra fuel burnt was not wasted as we saw some splendid views enroute. The road was in very bad shape due to heavy monsoon but the views were making up for the pain I was taking to tackle the bumpy road. We met a gentleman and he guided us in finding the Vineyard. We followed his directions and realized that we have reached Vallonne Vineyard which was under construction. There was no one on the vineyard but a guard, this gentleman gave us directions to the Zampa Vineyards and following those we finally reached there to see Zampa closed down due to Sunday. During our chat with one of the security guard of the estate we found that the tasting and tour sessions are conducted on prior intimation only. We still had an opportunity to have a look at the vineyard and it was the most beautiful grape plantation we had seen in 2 days. The other name of Zampa is ‘Valley De Vin’ which means Valley of Wine.

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The grape plantation is done on slope of a hill, you could see some waterfalls and all greenery in background. The lounge, gardens and internal roads were beautifully carved and maintained. It had ambient modern setting, with beautiful courtyards and patios, It was relaxing and very pleasing to eyes. We clicked some photographs of this beautiful Wine estate and started our return journey.

The highlights of the tour were the landscapes in countryside. A small lake near Sula and a reservoir near Zampa were so amazing that we would have those views stored in our eyes and hearts for years to come. We would love to go back to all the vineyards during the harvesting season (Feb-March). During this season, Sula hosts annual fest ‘SulaFest’ which is an action packed event. If you want to experience stomping, head for the fest during harvest period.

How to reach: Nasik is around 150 km from Mumbai and around 165 km from Mumbai and around 210 km from Pune. There are multiple public transport options for intercity travel but to enjoy the trip it is advised to have your own vehicle.

Vineyards are located interiors of the countryside; cabs can be hired to take a tour to all the vineyards around Nasik.

Where to Stay: There are plenty of options available in Nasik. From star hotels to normal lodges there is something for every budget. Satpur MIDC being around 8-10 km from Sula and York Vineyards, staying at hotels in Satpur MIDC is a good option.

Places around: Trimbakeshwar: This place is located at the source of Godavari river, around 28 km from city of Nasik. It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas.

Igatpuri: Around 40 km from Nasik, It is a famous hill station and a monsoon picnic spot. There are host of spots for site seeing and day picnics.

Bhandardara: At 70 km from Nasik, Bhandardara is home to MountKalsubai, the highest peak (5,400 ft or 1,600 m) in Maharashtra.

Both the above places are very famous among the trekking circuits as it offers some of the best trekking spots.

Pandavleni caves: 8 km from Nasik.