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.

Kanha: The land of Jungle book

Every place has its own charm and a charming story. Folklore, history, fiction, mythology; irrespective of the genre of the story all of them are interesting especially when heard from the natives. Undoubtedly jungle of Kanha in Madhya Pradesh has the most famous story associated with it which was narrated by a british legend. I can bet that the people who are reading this blog have not forgotten the story of ‘Jungle book’. Decades ago far from you and me a different world was sketched in the dense sal forests of Kanha and Pench. Even today the title track of Jungle book makes us nostalgic and wanting to see it all again.

The timeless fiction written by British author Sir Rudyard Kipling came to life at 10 AM every Sunday on national television. I belong to the generation who grew up watching this magical setup of a jungle where Mowgli ruled them. A fascinating story scripted to perfection which included amazing characters like ‘ Ka the python’, ‘Baghira the black panther’, ‘Baloo the bear’ and many others like chil, wolves etc. Our hotel in Kanha named Mowgli resort was just outside the jungle gates, and that got us more involved in the story of Jungle book.

Sherkhan was my favourite character in Jungle book and needless to say why. Everything about him was so well scripted that kids at that tender age made up the same impression about a Tiger. A shrewd, cruel and negative character carrying tonnes of attitude and a shrill roar. Watching a Tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park some time ago ‘Blog – Bandhavgarh Diary’ changed my childhood perspectives about them and the adjective ‘cruel’ was sidelined. The reaction you have while you site your 1st tiger is awe to his attitude. You don’t feel that the tiger is ‘cruel’ but looks like he only wants you to be scared of him and stay out of his business.

The weather was harsh but a high chances of sightings was what we were hoping for.

Reincarnations of ‘The Sherkhan’

In 4 safaris through different zones we sighted 6 tigers, 2 of them were full grown males and reminded us of the sherkhan in his habitat.

We sighted ‘Munna’, a dominant male from Kisli-Sarhi zone twice in different Safaris. In first sighting we could barely see him sleeping in the shrubs; but he did not disappoint and was seen sitting on the road side in the next safari. Before reaching Kanha we had heard a lot about Munna and the word ‘CAT’ inscribed on his forehead from my fellow wildlife enthusiasts and was super excited to see him. People had reported clicking him for hours in a single Safari and he did not care to go off the scene. When we sighted Munna he was recovering from a fight he had 2-3 nights ago with another adult male tiger, the fight was heard by the forest rangers for hours, Munna’s walk with a limp was a proof of how fierce the fight was.

Almost to the end of a safari to Kisli zone we sighted a mighty male Tiger sitting in a waterhole. Within few minutes 10-12 jeeps gathered at the scene. All were left awe struck by his size as he got up and started walking towards the jeeps before vanishing in the woods.

 

Other fauna

Unfortunately the glamour of Tigers attracts all the attention of the tourists and many other beautiful birds and animals go unnoticed. Kanha has other residents like leopard, bear, the ultra rare barasingha, different species of owls, vultures etc. We sighted many beautiful birds and animals and enjoyed watching them in their habitat.

 

And it rained in summer

We were visiting Kanha in summer and temperature expected was around 43-44 degrees, however a brief shower at noon took it down drastically and soon after the rain was over we were in our jeep heading to the jungle for our last safari. The jungle we had left at 10 AM the same morning was very different than the one we were visiting now. The overcast conditions made the weather pleasant, the smell of the soil, the fresh leaves which were washed by the rain everything was looking like a different world. The safari after rain was the only one in which we did not sight any tiger but we enjoyed it due to weather and the dense jungle.

Approaching monsoon will close down all the major Tiger parks in country for few months but other Jungles can be visited on foot to experience the wilderness. Looking forward to a monsoon full of treks and small trips!!

 

 

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.

The ruins of Portuguese India

Indian culture and wealth attracted many European empires to have their colonies on its shores. Portugese, French and British ruled different pockets of India over last 500-600 years. We all know the stories of British Empire because most of our history books are filled with all sort of information on their colonies in India. However the Portuguese empire goes quiet unnoticed as they ruled only small isolated pockets. The first Portuguese encounter with India was on 20 May 1498 when Vasco da Gama reached India. Shortly after discovering the route they formed a Colonial state in India which included cochin, goa, daman and diu and small pockets in Maharashta namely Vasai (erstwhile bassein) and chaul (near alibaug).

One fortification built by Portuguese empire still stands near alibaug, Maharashtra. The ‘not so famous’ sea-side fort is situated on a hillock near the KorlaiVillage and hence named as Korlai fort. The fort occupying whole hillock can be seen on left hand side when you cross the Revdanda bridge around 25 km from Alibaug.

While navigating through the sleepy fishing village on the base of hillock, local fishermen told us that there is nothing much to see up there, but the rugged fort proved them wrong. During our visit we found out some of the activities which can be enjoyed on the fort.

Explore a Lighthouse.

The fort of Korlai has a lighthouse which guides the modern day sailors and fishermen as they take to waters. The government has opened the lighthouse to tourists and it can be seen from inside with a nominal fees. The guide provides interesting facts about how the lighthouses are used by the sailors and local fishermen. The lighthouse tour was thoroughly knowledgeable experience.

Korlai lighthouse

Korlai lighthouse

Camping and angling

Waking up in a tent to the sound of waves is an experience to die for. While roaming on the fort we saw anglers fishing in the sea, they had set up a tent on a platform which was covered by water from 3 sides. The scene took me back by few years when me and my friends camped on Korlai beach and spent a night there. Sky studded with millions of stars, sand touching your feet as you sleep, the music of waves playing all night; all of this without having to pay a single rupee out of your pocket.

An excursion on foot

Lighthouse and a church are two prominent structures on the fort. The fort offers splendid views of vast sea and korlai beach and that makes it an ideal place for landscape photography. You can easily spend 2-3 hours roaming around the fort and exploring small private beaches and every other nook and corner of the fort.