Tag Archives: Maharashtra

Kundalika River Run: Mumbai to Kolad

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go rafting down the Kundalika at Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site

Rafting at Kolad IMG_1053

Jaded city dwellers from Mumbai or Pune needn’t go as far as Rishikesh or Dandeli to experience the rush of white-water rafting or wait for the monsoon to ride the waters. The Kundalika River in Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site, is open all year round. Being a dam-fed river, it’s doable 365-days-a-year, as easy as morning poha! We set off early from Mumbai to avoid bottlenecks at Pen and took a diversion off NH-17 towards the undulating Mulshi-Pune state highway, punctuated by scenic fields, farms and the Kundalika river.

Since the waters are released from the hydroelectric power station at Ravalje on the Bhira Dam around 8.30am, we needed to be there well before water levels receded. Purists often dismiss a ‘dam-fed river’ as a tepid choice against the thrill of tackling natural rain-fed torrents. Not true. The 14km stretch had as many Grade II-III rapids that transform into Grade IV during monsoon. A few rafts had already been launched, as we geared up and practiced our commands.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9459_Anurag Mallick

While the first river run took place at Kolad in 1996, the sport became immensely popular only over the last few years. Like most white-water tracts, the rapids have ingenious names. The river kicks off with a prayer – ‘Good Morning Buddha’, the first rapid.

Thereafter, our raft bounced past ‘Hilton’, ‘Pumphouse’ to ‘Fisherman’, named after a fishing spot for local villagers and tribals. At ‘Butterfly’, waves curled and gracefully flapped around the rocking raft, drenching us and eliciting delighted squeals before swooping into a wicked eddy called ‘Crow’s Nest’.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9480_Anurag Mallick

The next series of rapids come fast and furious forming the main highlight of Kundalika. ‘Key Wave’ unlocked a portal of waves, ‘Bush on the Bend’ glided us smack into a tree growing in the water and before we recovered, we were engulfed in the thick of ‘Morning Headache’.

Pema, our Nepali instructor explained, “If you go overboard in this 2km stretch of rapids, it’s a headache to haul you out!” If that wasn’t enough, the most ferocious rapid ‘John Kerry’ whacked into us before hurling the raft drunkenly into ‘Johnny Walker’.

Rafting at Kolad IMG_1060

From here, we were dragged aboard ‘Rajdhani Express’ a set of non-stop rapids and floated into ‘Boom Shankar,’ which concluded the wild part of the ride. The tame course from here, prompted us to fling our paddles and dive in to swim and bodysurf, soaking in the beauty of the surrounding forests and hills. Friendly villagers along the banks chatted and cheered us along.

Clambering into the raft near ‘Broken Bridge’, we rowed to the finish line – Kamath Village; completing the exhilarating journey in one and half hours! The workout tempted a grab of vada paav and kanda bhajiya (onion pakoda) at the local tea vendor’s stall though the drive down to Orchard Café (10km) and Namrata Dhaba at Kolad offered a wholesome bite.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9470_Anurag Mallick

While many do Kolad as a day trip, some extend it into an overnight stay at camps and farms like Sai and Sanskriti in and around Kolad for a taste of rustic life amidst paddy fields and groves of betelnut, coconut, chikoo and guava. The food is simple besides gharguti or ‘home-style’ meals of chicken, rotis, rice, dal, vegetable fry and salad. Explore the scenic countryside, laze on hammocks or chat around a barbecue or bonfire. Poojas Farm has cottages set on the backwater’s edge with riverside walks and bullock cart rides.

Adventure outfits offer rafting packages that include lunch, stay or activities like treks, river crossing, kayaking, canyoning and rock climbing around the area with expert instructors. Nature Trails Empower Activity Camp offers ATV rides, river crossing, paintball and corporate training programs while Kundalika Rafting Camp run by Nature Trails has luxury tents, and given rafting experiences to 33,000 adventure enthusiasts since 2006. Being Maharashtra’s only rafting site right in the midst of nature, Kolad is just the shot of adrenalin you need to escape from urban tedium.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9505_Anurag Mallick

BOX
Distance: 138km from Mumbai, 96km from Pune
Time: 3-4 hours from Mumbai; 2hr 40mins from Pune
Route: Take NH-17 (Mumbai-Goa highway), cross Nagothane and 1km after Kolad, turn left on to SH-60 towards Pune via Mulshi. Saje village, the start point is 22km from the highway. The 14km rafting stretch from Saje to Kamat village has 14 Grade I-III rapids. Catch a Goa-bound bus and hop off at Kolad.
Link: goo.gl/AkbDYP

Raft: Kolad Rafting; Ph 9820299088, 9821454434 https://koladrafting.co.in; Wild River Adventure; Ph 98801 31762 http://www.indiarafts.com; Quest Adventures; Ph 8657195551 https://adventurekolad.com; Mercury Himalayan Explorations; Ph 92728 82874, 7276061111 http://www.kundalikarafting.in; Snow Leopard Adventures; Ph 9209265657 http://www.snowleopardadventures.com

Costs: For rafting Rs.600/person weekdays, Rs.1200-1500/person weekends, Rs.400/meal, Rafting+lunch+activities weekend package Rs.1400-2000, Farm stays range from Rs.2,500-4,000/day, Parking Rs.50, Local autos charge Rs.700/auto for ferrying people between the end/start points.

Kolad Rafting IMG_9449_Anurag Mallick

Stay: Empower Activity Camp, Sutarwadi; Ph 9422691325, 7720873330 http://www.empowercamp.com; 6 AC cottages & 12 Swiss tents, 2 AC dorms (each 20 beds) Tariff Rs.2,600-3,900/person/night including meals. Nature Trails Resorts, Kamath Ph 8080807341 http://www.naturetrails.in; 20 luxury AC tents, Rs.3192 (luxury), Rs.3864 (super deluxe), includes tax, meals and adventure activities (Zip-line, Tarzan swing, Kayaking, Burma bridge, Treasure Hunt). Check-in 5pm, check-out 3pm; Sanskriti Farm, Muthavle; Ph 9987501613; Sai Farm, Ainwahal; 6 rooms, 2 cottages Ph 98691 18763 http://www.saifarmkolad.com; Tariff Rs.1500-1700/person ; Poojas Farm, Dhagadwadi; Ph 9209484178 www.poojasfarm.com; 11 cottages, 4 tents. Tariff 1500/person, including meals

Excursions: Sukeli waterfall, 10km from Kolad and a 1½ hour hike through a forest. Carry drinking water and snacks.

Top Tip: Timings for rafting are strictly 8–11am, so start from Mumbai by 5am. Late-risers may leave a day prior to stay overnight at Kolad. Wear light clothing, swimwear and apt footwear. Carry a change of clothes and towel. The last 5km is flat and requires strong paddling, though ideal for a swim and bodysurfing. Minimum age 14 years, not suited for asthmatics and heart patients. Weekday rates for rafting are cheaper by about Rs.600.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 28 Dec 2017 in Mint Lounge. Here’s the link to the original story: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/76T8vxnYFoJ4yNkZs6YbxI/Mumbai-to-Kolad-Kundalika-river-run.html

 

Advertisements

Solitary Shores: Offbeat Beaches in India

Standard

This summer, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go off the beaten beach to uncover some lesser known sandy stretches across India

DSC07017

India’s extensive coastline is blessed with large swathes of spectacular beaches. Be it the Konkan coast of Goa-Maharashtra, the Karavali coast of Karnataka or Kerala’s Malabar coast, India’s western side is lapped by the calm Arabian Sea. The slightly rougher eastern coast hemmed by the Bay of Bengal too has its share of beaches – from West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra down to the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu.

However, with a 7000km long coast, some hidden gems have escaped the mainstream, that’s if you know where to find them! Beat the summer heat and crowded hotspots at these truly offbeat beaches…   

Kannur Thottada beach

Thottada, Kannur (Kerala)
While South Kerala is renowned internationally for its beach destinations like Kovalam, Varkala and Mararikulam, the relatively untouched Malabar Coast to the north has its share of secrets. Kannur’s cluster of beaches include the popular Meenkunnu and Payyambalam in the north to Thottada and Ezhara in the south. Thottada, with its serene backwaters and cliffs, retains the vibe of old Kerala, prior to the influx of tourism. Stay at beachfront homestays and feast on excellent Moplah cuisine – pathiris (assorted pancakes), fish curries and kallumakai (green mussels). At Kannur Beach House, go on a backwater boat ride with Nasir while Rosie stirs up delightful local fare. Stay in a renovated handloom factory at Costa Malabari with fresh seafood prepared home style. Just 10km south, skim the surf in your vehicle at Muzhappilangad, a 5km long drive-in beach. Watch fishermen draw in the morning catch and gaze at golden sunsets silhouetting Dharmadom Island.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Calicut International Airport, Kozhikode from it’s a 110km drive up to Thottada Beach, just south of Kannur.

Where to Stay
Kannur Beach House Ph 0497-2836530 www.kannurbeachhouse.com
Costa Malabari Ph 0484–2371761 www.costamalabari.com
Chera Rocks Ph 0490-2343211 www.cherarocks.com

Nadibag-IMG_5134

Nadibag, Ankola (Karnataka)
Uttara Kannada is well known for its beach haunts like Gokarna and Devbagh in Karwar, though few pay attention to the small coastal town of Ankola wedged between these two popular tourist getaways. The Poojageri River meanders through the forests of the Western Ghats, before it finally meets the sea at an idyllic place called Nadibag (River Garden) in Ankola. Few tourists come here, barring locals who climb the hill to catch the sunset, pose for selfies on the rocks or wade in the surf. The twin sights of the sea on one side and a picturesque lagoon on the other, as the sun goes down makes it an unforgettable spectacle. Ankola doesn’t have any fancy resorts, so Gokarna is the closest place for creature comforts.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Hubli (145 km from Ankola via Yellapur on NH-63) or Dabolim Airport, Goa (132 km via Karwar on Kochi-Panvel Highway).

Where to Stay
SwaSwara, Om Beach, Gokarna Ph 0484-3011711 www.swaswara.com

Bhogwe Beach from Kille Nivti IMG_2865_Anurag Mallick

Bhogwe, Malvan (Maharashtra)
The coast of Malvan in Maharashtra was once Maha-lavan, a ‘Great saltpan’ from where sea salt was traded. As the Karli River empties into the Arabian Sea, the beautiful strip of land between the river and the sea is Devbag or ‘Garden of the Gods’. Both, the river and the jetty are called Karli, so the place on the far side (taar) was called Taar-karli! While the scenic confluence developed into a hub for adventure sports, Bhogwe, located south of Tarkarli, has thankfully managed to escape the attention of most tourists. The best way to explore this stretch is by boat, which deposits you at Bhogwe Beach, a long swathe of untouched sand, before continuing the journey past Kille Nivti fort to Golden Rocks, a jagged ochre-hued hillock, that dazzles in the afternoon sun. Make sure to carry water and a picnic hamper. Relish excellent Malvani cuisine while staying in bamboo huts on a hill overlooking the sea or at Maachli Farmstay about 5km from the coast.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Dabolim Airport, Goa (123 km via Kudal).

Where to Stay
Aditya Bhogwe’s Eco Village Ph 9423052022, 9420743046 Email arunsamant@yahoo.com
Maachli Farmstay, Parule Ph 9637333284, 9423879865 www.maachli.in

DSC07342_opt

Laxmanpur, Neil Island (Andamans)
The Andaman and Nicobar islands are a much desired getaway for most beach lovers. Though only 32 of the 572 islands are inhabited, much of the usual haunts like Port Blair and Havelock Island are overrun by tourism. Yet, Neil Island, an hour’s boat ride from Havelock in Ritchie’s Archipelago, is relatively unexplored. Most of the local agricultural produce comes from the tiny island of Neil, pegged as the ‘Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans’. A lone metaled road cuts through the lush foliage to quiet beaches like Sitapur, Bharatpur and Govindpur, though it’s Laxmanpur that takes your breath away. Divided into two stretches, Laxmanpur 1 or Sunset Point offers stunning views and snorkeling opportunities and has comfy beach dwellings. Laxmanpur 2, dominated by a natural rock bridge, divulges secrets of the marine world at low tide. As the waters recede, local guides take you around salt pools inhabited by fish, eels, sea cucumbers and clams. Forget scuba, snorkeling or glass bottom boat rides, you can marvel at the variety of corals on a leisurely morning walk! See stag horn corals, finger corals, boulder corals and colour-changing corals from close quarters before the tide swells and hides them from sight.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies direct from Chennai and Kolkata to Port Blair (2 hrs), from where a ferry transports you via Havelock (1hr 30m) to Neil island (1hr).

Where to Stay
Sea Shell Ph +91-9933239625 www.seashellhotels.net/neil
Tango Beach Resort Ph 03192-230396, 9933292984 www.tangobeachandaman.com

ECR Tamil Nadu Tranquebar Dansborg Fort IMG_8163_opt

Tharangambadi (Tamil Nadu)
While the Coromandel coastline has popular beach destinations like Mahabs (Mamallapuram) and Pondy (Puducherry), few stop by further down the coast at Tharangambadi or ‘The Land of the Dancing Waves’. The Danes leased this small coastal village from the Thanjavur Nayaks and transformed it into a trading colony called ‘Trankebar’, eventually selling it to the British. The erstwhile summer residence of the British collector, renovated by Neemrana into the Bungalow on the Beach, has rooms named after Danish ships that docked at Tranquebar. Located on King Street between the Dansborg Fort and the half-sunken 12th century Masilamani Nathar Temple, the bungalow is the perfect base for heritage walks around the coastal town. Explore the Danish cemetery, Zion Church, New Jerusalem Church, Landsporten (Town Gate) and The Governor’s bungalow, all built in the 1700s. Watch catamarans set out for fishing in the early rays of dawn as you enjoy India’s only ozone-rich beach with the option to stay at Neemrana’s other properties nearby – Nayak House and Gate House.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Tiruchirapalli International Airport, Trichy (160 km via Kumbakonam)

Where to Stay
Bungalow on the Beach Ph 04364 288065, 9750816034 www.neemranahotels.com

IMG_8434-2

Talpona-Galgibaga (Goa)
With over half a century of being in the crosshairs of tourism, there are few secrets in Goa. Arambol, Ashwem, Morjim, Agonda; all the once offbeat haunts are now quite beat! But in comparison to the busy beaches of North Goa, the south is somewhat quieter. However, it isn’t till you drive south of Palolem near Canacona just short of the Goa-Karnataka border that you find a stretch that’s truly remote. As the Kochi-Panvel highway veers away from the coast, two lovely beaches line the tract of land where the Talpon and Galgibag rivers drain into the sea. Named after the streams, Talpona and Galgibaga beaches are indeed offbeat sandy stretches that few people visit. Since Galgibaga is an important turtle nesting site, tourism infrastructure is thankfully restricted. There are only a few stalls on the beach, making it one of the last undeveloped beaches in Goa where you can soak up the sun without hawkers pestering you with sarongs, beads or massages. Stay in a quiet riverside homestay at Talpona or in a Portuguese villa converted into the boutique hotel Turiya, which offers spa therapies and excellent local cuisine.

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa (76.5km via Margao)

Where to Stay
Rio De Talpona Ph +91-78759 21012 www.riodetalpona.com
Turiya Villa & Spa, Canacona Ph 0832-2644172 www.turiyavilla.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

 

In search of new thrills: New travel experiences in 2016

Standard

The new year brings the promise of touching new frontiers in travel – new destinations, novel experiences and newer ways to see places old and new. Not just the world, India too is opening up with unique travel experiences for the discerning traveler. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out 10 exciting options.

Sky Waltz Balloons-2

Hot Air Ballooning as you SkyWaltz in Rajasthan & Maharashtra
If you think you need to go as far as Cappadocia in Turkey, Bugun in Myanmar or Africa for ballooning, here’s a major breakthrough! SkyWaltz gives you a chance to become a SkyXplorer with Balloon Safari options at multiple locations in India. In Rajasthan, waft over forts, palaces and villages of the rugged Aravalis as you get a taste of Rajputana at Jaipur, Pushkar, Ranthambhore and Neemrana. After a great stint at the Pushkar Mela, SkyWaltz brings the adventure to Maharashtra. Soar above green hills, valleys and lakes of the evergreen Sahyadris at Lonavala, Pune and Mumbai. While the duration of the morning and evening flight is 60 minutes, no two flights are alike as you drift where the winds decide to take you. The season is open until Feb-March with a short break for summer.

Cost Rs.12,000 or USD $250/head
Ph +91 9560387222, 1800 103 8839 http://www.skywaltz.com

DSC00930_opt

Attend Asia’s longest beach festival
After charming everyone with their Isla de Calma (Isle of Calm) ad campaign, Diu now promises to tantalize tourists with the longest beach festival in Asia. A one-of-a-kind festival held across three months until February 15, 2016, Festa De Diu is a celebration of music, art and culture. Choose from 60 beachside luxury tented cottages, which give access to the cultural extravaganza. Heritage walks, workshops and theme weeks dedicated to wellness, laughter and the arts, besides a dedicated adventure zone for bungee jumping, ziplining between cliffs and hot air ballooning over the Arabian Sea, are added attractions. In your spare time, explore this erstwhile Portuguese enclave with stunning beaches, Baroque churches and historic citadels like Diu Fort and Fortim do Mar or Panikotha (Water Fort), which featured in films like Qayamat. After you’ve had your fill of local sights like Naida caves, the walled city of Jhampa and Nagoa Beach lined with hoka trees brought by the Portuguese from Africa, head to nearby tourist destinations like Gir National Park and Somnath Temple.

Cost Rs.8,099 upwards/day for 3 people, incl. breakfast
Ph 1800 103 9257 http://www.festadiu.com

Hampi by Sky

Hampi by Sky on a microlight 
With stunning architecture of the Vijayanagar Empire and a surreal landscape of boulders set amongst a quilted patchwork of banana and rice fields, Hampi is easily one of the most inspiring destinations in the country. As per local guidespeak, it would take a visitor ‘3 months, 3 days, 3 hours, 3 minutes’ on foot, to see all the ruins of this once glorious city. While one wonders just how they came upon this perplexing equation, you get a sense of Hampi’s vastness from the summit of Anjanadri or Malyavanta hill. Walk around the ruins in amazement or ride about on hired bicycles, or try a great new way to experience Hampi – on a microlight flight. Take off from a school playground for a 30-minute aerial tour of the ruins, soaring across the Tungabhadra and get a unique birds’ eye view of Hampi.

Cost 15 min Rs.3500, 30 min Rs.7000
Timings 6-8:30 am, 5-7 pm
Contact Manjunath +91 9448975862

Kikar zip photo opt-2

Ziplining in Rishikesh
A holy dip in the Ganga is passé; it’s time to upgrade to a holy zip on the Ganga. Flying Fox, India’s zipline pioneers, started South Asia’s first zipline at Neemrana in 2007 with five sections over the 15th century fort – named after a film theme, from Bond to Major Saheb. Flying Fox also runs zipline tours at Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort flying over ridges, ramparts and two lakes before landing on the tip of a fortified tower. In Punjab, Flying Fox Kikar at an old hunting lodge is the longest zip-line tour in South Asia and the first forest-based zip-line adventure in India. Their latest addition is at Rishikesh – the only zip lines across the river Ganga. Run in partnership with Snow Leopard Adventures, the zip tour is located at Snow Leopard’s Camp Panther at Shivpuri, a 15-minute drive upstream of Tapovan. Two zip lines called High Times and White Water Flyer traverse 400m as you glide across the raging white water rapids 230 ft below, watching rafting crews bob past and unbelievable views unfold along the Himalayan foothills. The whole tour lasts 45-60 minutes and includes a safety briefing, trial zip, zip tour and a short forest walk. For the adventure enthusiast, the zipline tour is a great experience besides the rafting and bungee jump.

Cost Rs.1,399-2,299/person
Ph +91 9568943116, 011-66487678 http://www.flyingfox.asia

Kiteboarding near Rameshwaram C55A9949-2

Kitesurfing in Rameshwaram
Though most visitors to Rameshwaram head to the Ramanathaswamy temple to worship one of the twelve jyotirlingas in India and see the longest temple corridor in the country, the temple town is fast emerging as a pilgrimage spot for kite surfers. Steady wind speed, sparse rains and endless deep blue sea make it an ideal location for kite surfing or surf boarding powered by a kite. Quest Expeditions, fronted by petite Charmaine, India’s first female kite surfer, offers a certification course with wave-style riding, freestyle or jumps at numerous locations on the Coromandel Coast. Stay in rustic beach huts for a reasonable Rs.1,250 per person, including meals and transfers to kite spots like Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove. Well connected by rail and road, Rameshwaram is a 3 hour drive from Chennai and Madurai airports. The activity is possible all year round, with winter north winds blowing between Oct–Mar and summer south winds between Apr–Sep.

Cost Rs.15-30,000 for private/shared lessons of 6-10 hours over 1-2 days.
Ph +91 9820367412, 9930920409 http://www.thekitesurfingholiday.com

Muzhappilangad Road Rajas IMG_0086_Anurag Mallick

Rickshaw Run from Jaisalmer to Shillong or Shillong to Cochin
When the joy of riding a tuk tuk didn’t seem exciting enough, maverick tour company The Adventurists decided to institute a 3500 km race across the Indian subcontinent for teams of three participants in custom-built auto rickshaws. Often described as a ‘pan-Indian adventure in a 7 horsepower glorified lawnmower’, the Rickshaw Run has no fixed route. Participants map their own way between the start and finish line. They also get to paint their rickshaw, customize and name it – Krazy Jalfrezi, Ganesha’s Goras, Curry on Tukkin’, Bananas in Pyjamas, Naan Point Five on Rickshaw Scale, you get the idea! Teams can choose a charity they support and raise funds for their adventure. This year’s edition offers three cross-country routes – Cochin to Jaisalmer in January, Jaisalmer to Shillong in April and Shillong to Cochin in August. If road trips aren’t your thing, perhaps you can try Adventure 9 in the Indian Ocean – crossing the Zanzibar Archipelago in a ngalawa (dugout canoe) powered by a bed sheet!

Cost £1,595 entry fee for the trio, which includes a rickshaw with all paperwork, 2-days of test drive, launch and finish line parties, a blog and free travel insurance worth £210. www.theadventurists.com

 

20140927_084158

‘Life of Pi’ Rickshaw tour of Pondy & other filmy trails
The latest travel trend is thematic film trails, be it the Pataudi Palace that featured in Julia Roberts’ ‘Eat Pray Love’ or Ravla Khempur in Rajasthan where ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ was shot. However, Pondicherry offers a quirky rickshaw tour of the famous filming locations in Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’, besides Pondy’s other historic sights. Conceived by CGH Hotels, the tour commences at their flagship hotel Maison Perumal, winds past the 136-year-old Calve College to Foyer de Soldat, Joan of Arc statue and the tomb of Marquis de Bussy, dating back to 1785. Visit the 22-acre Botanical Gardens that served as the zoo run by Pi’s father. Instead of the motley bunch of animals, you’ll find 900 exotic plants collected by the French. Retrace the footsteps of Anandi and her friends through the bustle of Grand Bazaar at the junction of Mahatma Gandhi Road and Nehru Street into Goubert Market, where Pi peeped between the rows of garlands strung by flower sellers. Visit the trinity of faiths from Tamil temples, churches and the Kuthba Mosque, where Pi wrestled with spirituality. Or watch the surf at the old pier where Pi bid his final adieu to Anandi. End the rickshaw tour with a set Franco-Tamil meal at the nameless restaurant at Maison Perumal.

Cost Rs.600 for 1 hour, Rs.800 for 1 1/2 hour (For two)
Maison Perumal 58 Perumal Koil Street, Puducherry
Ph 0413-2227519, 9488009576 http://www.cghearth.com

IMG_8995-Khaba Fort

Retrace the Silk Route in the Thar
Thanks to China’s bid to revive the ancient trade route linking China, Central Asia to Europe, the Silk Route has again come into focus. The southern arm of the trade route skirted north of Rajputana touching places like Lodhurva, Ossian, Bikaner and Jaisalmer, which emerged as trading hubs. Suryagarh on the outskirts of Jaisalmer has crafted bespoke Desert Trails in the Thar, allowing guests to visit old forts, caravanserais and cenotaphs of local and foreign traders, recreating the old trade routes that once criss-crossed the desert. Your caravan takes you to Khaba Fort overlooking the ruins of the ancient village of Paliwal Brahmins and repaints the faded glory of yesteryears in the abandoned settlements of Kuldhara and Lakhmana before transporting you to the desert oasis of Joshida Talao for elaborate repast set on the banks of the scenic reservoir. Further on, sip the cool sweet water from the ancient wells of Mundhari. At Suryagarh, relish char-grilled meats and succulent kebabs in a range of dining settings, get a spa treatment at Rait Spa using sand or the newly launched Luni Salt Therapy and participate in celebrations like the White Nights of the Rajputs.

Cost Rs.18,000 upwards
Ph +91-7827151151, 02992-269269 http://www.suryagarh.com

IMG_2536-opt

Glamping at India’s exclusive mobile luxury camp in Ladakh
The Ultimate Travelling Camp or TUTC is a unique concept in ‘Glamping’ or glamour camping introduced in India by Cox & Kings as part of their Bharat Deko brand. Past the white-washed stupas and fields of chorten, the Chamba Camp in Ladakh overlooking Thiksey monastery is set up when the passes open for summer and packs up before they close for winter. For a short period between June to September, it gives guests a taste of unrivalled indulgence. Each individually designed luxury tent comes with an en-suite bathroom, colonial furniture, private deck and your own personal butler. Experienced guides and travelogists accompany you on personalized cultural trips to monasteries and oracles and regale you with folk tales by the campfire. As part of the package, watch a game of polo in the high altitude cold desert, raft down the mighty Indus River and enjoy lavish picnic lunches. In 2015, it won Robb Report’s 27th Annual International Best of Best Awards, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s finest things. They also run a similar luxury camp at Diskit in Ladakh’s Nubra Valley.

Cost 2,45,355/person for 6 days, 5 nights
Ph 1800 123 0508 http://www.coxandkings.com

jatayupara edited

Kerala’s Jatayu Nature Park and Ramayana museum
While Kerala’s ambitious Muziris Heritage Project (the largest heritage conservation project in the country) is still underway around the ancient port of Muziris near present day Kodungalloor, the state is ready with its latest attraction – Jatayu Nature Park. It is believed that Jatayu, the legendary vulture from Ramayana tried to rescue Sita as she was being abducted by Ravana and perished on this rocky lair, which was called Jatayupara (Jatayu Rock). The dominating feature of the mythological cum adventure theme park is the 200 ft long sculpture of Jatayu sprawled atop the 1,000-ft high hillock at Chadayamangalam in Kollam district. One can also spot Lord Rama’s footprint on the hillock, set in stone. The 65-acre park is the brainchild of Malayalam filmmaker and sculptor Rajiv Anchal. Besides an adventure park, ropeway rides, viewing deck, Ayurveda themed cave resorts and a 1.5 km long walkway through the jungle, the theme park that will be unveiled in phases. It will also feature a Ramayana museum and a ‘6D theatre’ that recreates the aerial battle between Jatayu and Ravana.

Jatayu Nature Park, Jatayu Junction, Chadayamangalam
Ph: +91-474 2477077 http://www.jatayunaturepark.com, http://www.keralatourism.org

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 3 January, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Konkan Cool: Where to stay along the coast

Standard


ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travel down the Konkan coast from Mumbai to Goa to handpick boutique villas and quaint homestays, with a bit of sightseeing thrown in 

alibaug

Ccaza Ccomodore, Mandwa
If anyone told you could be at a vacation home outside Mumbai within half an hour from SoBo, it would be hard to believe, right? Not if you hop on to a speedboat for a 20-minute ride to Mandwa from the Gateway of India. Bypass the traffic of weekend revelers and practically teleport yourself to the family home of the Mongias, run as a luxurious boutique villa. Commodore Surinder Mongia served in the Navy and his yachtsmen sons Ashim and Nitin (also a gourmand) have three Arjuna awards between them. And a seafarer’s pad can never be too far from water! With a sheltered pool and the beach just 1½ km away, the villa is perfect for some R&R. Enjoy barbecues, wood-fired artisan pizza and made-to-order gourmet meals like spinach and fish roulade and red wine lamb with thyme scented rice, with flexible meal timings! The in-house Shiivaz Spa offers Balinese and Swedish massages, besides Shiatsu, Aromatherapy and Reflexology treatments. Two spacious bedrooms and a large suite for four, make the Med-style villa ideal for a group of friends.

What to see around
The quiet nook has not much to see except a splendid sunset at Mandwa Jetty with dining at Kikis Café & Deli. Or relax at the quiet Sasawane, Saral and Awas beaches nearby.

Getting there
50 min by ferry or 20 min by speedboat from Gateway of India to Mandwa Jetty and 3 km (7 min) inland at Mhatre Phata, Dhokawade. By road it’s 95 km (3 hrs) from Mumbai; turn right at Pen and continue via Vadkhal and Kihim for Mandwa.

Tariff Rs.12,000/couple, including all meals

Ph 9820132158 Email ccazaccomodore@gmail.com http://www.ccazaccomodore.in

firefly

Firefly, Alibaug
Set on a 4-acre hill overlooking the Revdanda river and estuary, Martin and Sagarika’s holiday farmhouse south of Alibaug offers breathtaking views. The luxury villa has 5 bedrooms spread across three air-conditioned cottages (Poolside, Glass and Gatekeeper Cottage) with a 12.5 m infinity pool overlooking the valley and creek. If you bring provisions, the live-in staff rustles up meals at the poolside kitchen and barbecue (Rs.1,500 per day for the two ladies). Stocked with books, games, satellite TV with DVDs and Wi-Fi, Firefly is a self-sufficient farmhouse that is pet-friendly. If you’re nervous around dogs, the resident pets Sniff and Skylar can be kept at the base of the property by caretaker Dalip.

What to see around
Should you choose to head out, Firefly is excellently located with both Alibaug and Kashid half an hour’s drive away. Closer home are the Jesuit monastery and seaside fort at Revdanda besides the lighthouse and 16th century hilltop Portuguese fort at Korlai.

Getting there
1 hour drive from Mandwa Jetty or a 3-hour drive from Mumbai.

Tariff Rs.32,000 per night for 5-room villa, ideal for 10 guests, minimum stay 2 nights

http://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/469202?s=SgFK

Sr Advantages main pic

Serene Ravine, Kolbandre
A small family-run homestay near Dapoli run by Shekhar Tulpule, Serene Ravine is a 15-acre nature retreat ideal for painters, photographers and nature lovers. Wild flowers, butterflies and orioles, eagles and hornbills keep you company, so go birdwatching by day and stargazing at night. Set on the banks of the Kotjai river, you could relax in a riverside shack or spend time between the waterfall and the porch swing. Being a farm, you can watch cows being milked and walk through coconut and betelnut plantations with a tour of the cashew-processing unit. Choose from family suites, rooms and dorms and enjoy delicious Konkani and Maharashtrian meals including house specialties like fish and modak.

What to see around
Head downstream on the Kotjai river to the 1000-year-old Panhale–Kazi caves with old Hindu and Buddhist sculptures. Make an offbeat temple trail to the scenic Keshavraj temple, Chandika cave shrine and Kadyawarcha Ganpati at Anjarle built in 1150 AD on a kada (cliff) with wooden pillars. With easy access to a wide swathe of beaches between Kelshi and Kolthare, you can catch the fish auction at Harne beach (7:30 am and 4:30 pm) and witness a geographic marvel at Ladghar – the beach has a patch of red sand that gives the illusion of a red sea!

Getting there
238 km from Mumbai via Veer, Khed and Dapoli (8 km away)

Tariff Rs.3,500 for two, includes breakfast & dinner, meals Rs.300/head

Ph 9225609232, 9209139044 Email tulpuleagro@yahoo.com http://www.sereneravineholidays.in

Atithi Parinay Kotawde IMG_1934_Anurag & Priya

Atithi Parinay, Kotawde
Midway between Ratnagiri and Ganpatipule, the riverside homestay is run by mother-daughter duo Mrs. Vasudha and Medha Sahasrabudhe. Surrounded by hills on three sides and set on the banks of the swirling Kusum river, the 3-acre plantation is lush with mango trees, kokum, pineapple, chikoo and paddy fields. The laterite and stone house has bungalow rooms, besides cottages with cowdung floors and modern amenities, Swiss tents and a 12 ft high tree house, popular with couples. Walk across the bamboo bridge over the river for a slice of village life or catch the daily rituals at the Mahalakshmi temple. The highlight is the excellent home-cooked Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine served on banana leaf – poli (thin oiled chapati), koshimbir (dry veg raita), aamti (sweetish thin daal), kulith usal (stir-fried horsegram), bhopla bharit (pumpkin mash), sandhan (jackfruit cake), patodey (rice cakes steamed in turmeric leaves), chunda (spicy mango preserve) and moramba (mango preserve), besides unlimited mangoes and aam-ras in summer!

What to see around
The closest beach Aare-Vaare is 5km with the more popular Ganpatipule Beach 13km away – visit the beachside Ganesha temple and the Prachin Konkan open-air museum. Continue further north to the cliffside Karhateshwar Temple or watch ships being built at Bharati Shipyard in Ratnagiri. Don’t miss the coastal town’s famous landmarks – Tilak Smarak where freedom fighter Balgangadhar Tilak was born, the Thibaw Palace built for a Burmese king exiled by the British and the horseshoe-shaped Ratnadurga fort spread over 120 acres with a Bhagwati cave Mandir and lighthouse nearby.

Getting there
Kotawde is 350 km from Mumbai and 13 km from Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri

Tariff Rs.3,500-4,000, inclusive of breakfast

Ph 02352-240121, 9049981309 Email info@atithiparinay.com http://www.atithiparinay.com

Oceano Pearl Tree House Ganeshgule IMG_3258_Anurag & Priya

Oceano Pearl, Ganeshgule
Located in a 1.5-acre coconut grove, this beachside homestay south of Ratnagiri is run by Mithil Pitre and family. Unlike Ganpatipule further north, the remote hamlet Ganeshgule, rarely sees hordes of tourists. Swing lazily in a hammock in the shade of coconut trees enjoying the sea breeze, relish fresh coastal fare and relax in your own private beach. Choose from a wide range of rooms and a tree house. Hike to beachside cliffs to watch the sunset and the twinkling lights of the Finolex factory.

What to see around
The old Ganesh Mandir is just 1 km away or drive 6.5km to Swami Swarupanand Math at Pawas. Discover other offbeat beaches like Purnagad and Gavkhadi (10km) or visit the Surya Temple at Kasheli 20 km away.

Getting there
358 km from Mumbai and 23km south of Ratnagiri

Tariff Rs.2,800-4,800, including breakfast

Ph 02352-237800, 9689559789, 8605599789 Email oceanopearl@yahoo.com http://www.oceanopearl.com

Pitruchaya Homestay Shirgaon IMG_2387_Anurag & Priya

Pitruchaya, Shirgaon
Set amidst mango orchards, laterite quarries and brick factories, Pitruchaya near Shirgaon is run by a sweet couple Vijay & Vaishali Loke. What started off as a wayside eatery for people driving to Devgad Fort soon turned into a small 3-room homestay. Besides authentic Malvani fare like kolambi (prawn) or kalva (clam) fry and Malvani mutton, the highlight is the stunning terrace suite, with paintings done by artists from Pinguli Art Complex and bamboo furniture from KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo & Cane Development Centre) at Kudal.

What to see around
Drive 27km to the coast to the quiet Devgad Fort and continue 18km south to Kunkeshwar, site of an unusual 400-year-old Shiva temple built by Arab sailors who survived a shipwreck. The serene Mithbav Beach 10 km further south has a Betaal Mandir dedicated to a wandering spirit that supposedly induces madness in passersby at twilight! The clifftop shrine on the dungar (hill) is dedicated to goddess Gajbadevi who appeared in a dream and instructed villagers to install a temple for safe passage.

Getting there: 439 km from Mumbai, Shirgaon is located on the Devgad-Nipani Highway or SH-117 and is 13 km from Nandgaon on the Mumbai-Goa highway.

Tariff Rs.1,500-2,000, meals extra

Ph 98699 81393, 97645 93947 Email sindhudurg@rtne.co.in

konkanlead-1920x1080

Maachli Farmstay, Parule
Maachli is a great place to experience life on a farm without compromising on comfort. Four rustic themed cottages with thatched conical roofs and modern amenities overlook a lush coconut, betelnut, banana and spice plantation, providing seclusion and serenity. Run by Pravin Samant, the family-run farmstay is accessible after crossing a perennial stream, which doubles up as a natural fish spa if you dangle your legs from the bamboo bridge after a hike! Besides plantation walks, there are longer trails like the 1½ hr Morning Nature Trail to a gurakhi (shepherd) temple or the 2½ hr Sunset Trek to the coast. Enjoy excellent Malvani cuisine like masala sandhan (yellow idly with turmeric), amboli (multi-grain pancake), dhondas (sweet cucumber or jackfruit pancake), varieties of poha – spicy tikat kanda pohe, gode pohe sweetened with jaggery and the smoky kalo lele pohe, seasoned with ghee and live coal! An earthen stove is used for all cooking and fish fry and chapatis are served in areca fronds.

What to see around
Besides the Adinarayan temple at Parule dedicated to the setting sun, visit the Vetoba and Ravalnath temples. Don’t miss the hike to a centuries-old devrai (sacred forest) overgrown with dense trees and creepers. At the open shrine of Devchar (protector of the tribal community) locals offer alcohol and beedi (country cigarettes) to propitiate him. Within a few paces, orange pennants and bells announced the shrine of Dungoba or Dungeshwar, worshipped by the kolis for a good catch and safe return when setting out to sea.

Getting there
494 km from Mumbai, Parule is 21km south of Malvan and a 22km drive via SH-119 from Kudal (20 km north of Sawantwadi) on the Mumbai-Goa highway.

Tariff Rs.5,400, inclusive of all meals and nature trail & plantation tour, activities extra

Ph 9637333284, 9423879865 Email prathameshsawant@maachli.in http://www.maachli.in

Aditya Bhogwe's Eco Village IMG_2520_Anurag Mallick

Aditya Bhogwe’s Eco Village, Bhogwe
Just south of Tarkarli, away from the boatloads of tourists and adventure seekers, six bamboo cottages on a quiet hillside overlook the scenic confluence of the Karli River as it empties into the sea. The tiny strip of land sandwiched between the river and the sea is called Devbag or Garden of the Gods. Enjoy the warm hospitality of the Samants as you dig into flavourful fish thalis with poli (thin chapatis), rice, papad, stir fried beetroot/greens or raw banana fritters washed down with sol kadhi and a generous dollop of shrikhand. Absorb the view from your balcony or take a short hike to the riverside farm, where a ring of coconut trees act as a buffer from the saline creek. Ride in a country craft through the mangroves for some birdwatching and visit a cashew factory to watch local ladies process raw cashews. Round it off with sunset at Sahebachi Kathi, named after an 8ft long geological survey pole erected by the British.

What to see around
A boat ride from Korjai jetty down the creek takes you past the scenic confluence of Devbag Sangam to Bhogwe Beach, a long swathe of untouched sand. Disembark to see the Panch Pandav Shivling Mandir, a laterite shrine allegedly built overnight by the exiled Pandavas and continue by boat to Golden Rocks, a jagged ochre-hued hillock jutting out of the seashore. The forlorn Kille Nivti fort has a desolate beauty far from the frenetic adventure activities at Tarkarli, Tsunami Island and Sindhudurg. Mahalaxmi Parasailing & Water Sports offers banana boats, bumpy rides, jet skis, parasailing, snorkeling and scuba. Ph 8412023789, 8007273664 http://www.mahalaxmiwatersports.com

Getting there: 500 km from Mumbai, Bhogwe is 4km from Parule on the coast.

Tariff Rs.2,200, including breakfast (Meals Veg Rs.150, Seafood Rs.200)

Ph 9423052022, 9420743046 Email arunsamant@yahoo.com

Dwarka Farms Homestay Talavada IMG_3369_Anurag & Priya

Dwarka Homestay, Talavada
An organic farmstay near Sawantwadi, Dilip Aklekar’s 15-acre Dwarka Farms is tucked away in a mango orchard with 230 alphonso trees besides cashew, coconut, banana and pineapple. With a vermi-compost plant, biogas for cooking, milk from the farm’s cows and fresh fruits, pulses and vegetables grown on campus, Dwarka follows a ‘plant to plate’ philosophy. The food is an amazing Malvani spread of farm produce, fresh seafood from the coast and delicious kombdi (chicken) curry. The large homestead has rooftop dorms and 9 rooms with large balconies opening into the orchard. A passionate advocate of Konkan’s natural wealth, Dilip’s friendly exuberance is just the stimulus one needs to head out of the comfort of the farm on excursions to beaches, ghats and temples nearby, besides forays into Goa.

What to see around
Drive 14 km to Vengurla on the coast to see the port and old lighthouse and drive south to a series of beautiful beaches – Sagareshwar, Mochemad and Shiroda. Drop by at the Redi Ganpati Mandir, the scenic Aronda backwaters and Terekhol Fort.

Getting there
Located 534 km from Mumbai, Talavada is 11 km from Vengurla and 14 km from Sawantwadi on the Vengurla-Sawantwadi Road.

Tariff Rs.2,800-3,600, meals extra Rs.250-300/person

Ph 02363 266267, 9167231351, 9422541168 Email dilip@dwarkahomestay.com http://www.dwarkahomestay.com

Nandan Farms Sawantwadi IMG_3020_Anurag & Priya

Nandan Farms, Sawantwadi
Half-hidden in a beautiful farm near Sawantwadi at the base of a small hillock, the terracotta-toned bungalow with a sloping tiled roof and earthy interiors is livened up by colourful floor tiles, bamboo furniture and fish-shaped wooden doorjambs. Stone pavers for pathways and garden lamps add a rustic appeal. Run by ace cook Amrutha Padgaonkar or Ammu, who hails from Vengurla, it’s a great place to savour Malvani coastal delights. With just 2 rooms in a 12-acre property, privacy is guaranteed.

What to see around
Visit Sawantwadi Palace to watch Ganjifa artists make ancient playing cards under the supervision of HH Satvashila Devi, drop by at Chitar Ali (Artist’s Alley) near Moti Talao where local artisans make lacquerware toys or drive 30 km to Amboli Ghat to bathe in waterfalls, drive through the mist and reach the source of the Hiranyakeshi river flowing out of a cavern.

Getting there
Drive down 517 km on NH-17 to Sawantwadi and head 2 km from town on Amboli Road

Tariff Rs.4,000/couple, including all meals

Ph 94223 74277 Email amrutapadgaonkar@yahoo.in

Kashid-Murud Janjira drive DSC02199_Anurag & Priya

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 14 October 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/konkan-cool-where-stay-along-coast/

Panchgani: Beyond the Five Hills

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY drive from Mumbai to the erstwhile British escape and favoured Bollywood locale of Panchgani, with colonial homes, breathtaking views, farmers’ markets and strawberry fields

DSC05290_Anurag Priya

As we checked into the swanky Ravine Hotel, the staff reverentially ushered us into a room as if it were a shrine. “Sir, this is the room Salman Khan prefers to stay in when he comes to Panchgani”, he whispered. Not exactly diehard Sallu fans sporting Being Human t-shirts, we preferred the campy appeal of the cliffside tented cottage with a private open-air fireplace instead.

Tucked away behind the main building, the camping section was formerly a quarry and offered unexpected seclusion. Landscaped around a waterfall, a fish pool with silken koi gliding in its depths and a sandy beach around a salt-water body were a few scattered tents. A little stroll took us to the edge where the hill plummeted into a wide ravine, dense with foliage. Like the pioneering duo John Chesson and Rustomji Dubash, who came to this region in mid 19th century, we stood there and regarded the scenic Dhom Valley below.

DSC05339_Anurag Priya

Like most hill stations in India, Panchgani too, is an outcome of British intent to escape warmer climes. While nearby Mahabaleshwar was their first choice, they were forced to find an alternative to get away from the torrential downpour during the monsoons. Warrant Officer Wilson was the first Englishman to come here in 1850 to carry out a meteorological survey and recommended Panchgani as a suitable place for a military sanatorium. However, it was on a survey of the Sahyadris or Western Ghats that Chesson and Dubash recognized the potential of this nameless empty tract and its year-round appeal.

The place came to be known as Panchgani, because of its five (panch) adjoining villages – Dhandegar, Godavli, Amral, Khingar and Taighat. Some claim ‘gani’ means ‘hill’ or is derived from ‘gaon’ (village). Yet others suggest in this region of high seismic activity, it could be a corruption of ‘agni’, the volcanic fire that created the magnificent rock formations 63-66 million years ago. Thrust up from tectonic pressure of the earth’s plates, the high tablelands form part of the Deccan Traps, one of the largest volcanic flood basalt provinces on earth.

IMG_3306_Anurag Priya

Superintendent Chesson took charge of the hill station in 1863 and transformed its landscape and demography. Improbable as it may sound, back then this was a treeless zone. Chesson’s greening endeavor covered the hills with groves of silver oak, fiery poinsettia and other plants of the western world. He also helped populate the place with local labour to enable ease of living for the British. Tailors, butchers, washermen, vendors, building contractors; he encouraged all to settle here, reserving a gaothan (village site) below the bazaar.

Panchgani’s healthy climate prompted a Bombay doctor Rustomji Bomanji Billimoria to establish a tuberculosis sanatorium in 1912! The century old institution is still in existence as Bel Air Hospital at Dalkeith, managed by the Indian Red Cross Society. Blending the charm of colonial bungalows, old churches and elite residential schools with strawberry farms, fruit orchards, hiking trails, viewpoints and adventure; Panchgani is an ideal short break.

IMG_3277_Anurag Priya

We trudged up to Sydney Point, a small hillock near the hotel, taking a tricky shortcut to catch the sunset. A pony nibbled away in a wayside meadow. Beyond the railing at the top we caught sight of the sweeping Krishna Valley where the river curved around the hill to fill the reservoir of Dhom Dam at Wai. The site was named in honour of Sir Sydney Beckwith, former Commander in Chief of the Bombay Army in 1829. We rounded off the day with a delicious dinner by the fireside, under a blanket of stars.

The following morning we drove around town to discover institutions like St Joseph’s Convent School and Kimmins High School, established in the 1890s. Initially they catered only to European children with privileges extended to Indian royalty. Later, schools were established for specific communities but after Independence, they became more inclusive. The European Boys School became St Peter’s Boys School with late rockstar and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (then Farrokh Balsara), among its famous alumni! Parsi High School became Billimoria High School, Hindu High School changed to Sanjeevan Vidyalaya, Muslim High School became Anjuman-i-Islam High School while Baha’i School became the New Era High School. The film Taare Zameen Par was shot here and boosted Panchgani’s image as an educational hub of international standard.

IMG_3263_Anurag Priya

Beyond a tree-lined driveway, the brick red wall of St Peter’s Church lured us for a quick peek. There was no one around and we walked around its arched corridor. A nudge to the door and we were in the quiet hall. Chesson’s final resting place is a grassy patch in the church’s cemetery. His death centenary in 1971 witnessed an exceptional gathering of townsfolk to honour their founder.

A quick breakfast of cream rolls and buns from Roach, one of the oldest family-run bakeries and a cup of chai at a local café fired us up. The weekly Budh Bazaar (Wednesday Market) was on, where locals sold organic produce, leather goods, provisions, utensils and other wares. Farm fresh vegetables and fruits brightened up the stalls as vendors tempted us with boxes of glossy red strawberries. The old Beatles ode to innocence, Strawberry Fields Forever could very well be a theme song for this lovely town.

IMG_3283_Anurag Priya

During the annual Strawberry Festival, tourists can pick and eat berries to their heart’s content. After generous scoops of fresh strawberries in ice cream at the Mapro Garden café, we slipped the bottled goodness of squashes, jams and preserves – mulberries, strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries into our bags before taking an excursion to Mahabaleshwar. En route we halted for a bite of delicious wood-fired pizzas and sandwiches at Mapro’s Food Court.

At Mahabaleshwar, the colonnaded ancient Mahadev or Panchganga Mandir teemed with people. At the edge of the tank, a relentless stream emerged from a cow-shaped stone spout that watered the valleys on its onward journey as the mighty river Krishna. The site is also the source of four other rivers – Koyna, Venna, Savitri and Gayatri. Most tourists flock to Venna Lake for boating while grabbing juicy steamed corn from the stalls.

IMG_3412_Anurag Priya

But we chose a hardier option – a trek to Arthur’s Seat. This picturesque highpoint encompassing gigantic masses of stratified rocks is dedicated to Sir Arthur Malet, who often sat here brooding over the death of his wife and child in a ferry accident along the Savitri river. The route had several scenic lookouts.

At Monkey Point the three natural rock formations hailed as Gandhiji’s famous apes that spoke no evil, saw no evil or heard no evil, sat motionless amidst a landscape of craggy mountain folds. At Tiger Springs, a favourite watering hole of big cats in the past, tourists collected spring water in bottles. Kate’s Point, overlooking Savitri Point and Castle Rock, is also known as ‘Echo Point’. Some hooted, shrieked names or made movie-style proclamations of love thrilled that the mountains bounced them back manifold. Hunting Point served as the hunting grounds for British officers.

DSC05365_Anurag Priya

We drove to New Mahabaleshwar to reach Needle-hole Point, named after an intriguing rock formation. Near a precipitous escarpment we sat on a grassy meadow, gazing at the uninterrupted stretch of the Deccan Traps, wrinkled and furrowed like an elephant’s trunk. Sindola Hill, rechristened as Wilson Point after Sir Leslie Wilson, former Governor of Bombay, is Mahabaleshwar’s highest point. At 4710 ft, it presented panoramic views all around. The trekking trails were well marked with signboards noting historical highlights.

By evening, we were back in Panchgani atop Parsi Point. In its heyday, it was the chosen picnic spot for the elite. We zipped to Tableland, the town’s most popular hangout. Being the second largest volcanic plateau in Asia and the highest after the Tibetan plateau, it spans a 4.5 km stretch that has turned into a hub of activity. Like a chameleon, Tableland transforms into a cricket ground for youngsters, walking track for citizens, a magnificent lookout, filming locale, trekking terrain and a playground for horse-rides, mela-like stalls and eateries!

DSC05285_Anurag Priya

Yawning caverns and caves like Devil’s Kitchen on the southern side of Tableland held mythological links, claiming to be the site where the Pandavas camped during the days of the Mahabharata. A few indentations in the ground marked by a rock circle were tagged ‘Pandava’s footprints’ and the Pandavgad caves in nearby Wai lent credence to this legend. Time flew by and we were soon enveloped in darkness under a canopy of stars. A horse nickered restlessly from afar. We steered towards the Ravine where dinner simmered at the Melting Pot.

On our way out, we stopped at Wai, a little hamlet that became Charanpur in Shah Rukh Khan’s Swades. Regarded as Dakshin Kashi of Maharashtra, the town has several beautiful temples and ghats. A rusty sign near Dhom Dam lured us down a small lane that ended at the exquisite doorway of Shri Narasimha temple. In the courtyard, a carved Nandi squatted in a pavilion set in a lotus-shaped tank, guarding Lord Shiva’s shrine. With arches, stunning carvings and a river flowing outside, this offbeat temple complex left us awestruck. We hiked up the bund to see the sparkling reservoir and temple of Dholya Ganapati, built in 1762 in the distance. Up in the hills, the mist rolled in. It was time to head back…

IMG_3231_Anurag Priya

FACT FILE

Getting there: Panchgani is 285km from Mumbai and 100km from Pune via NH-4. Local attractions nearby include Mahabaleshwar (18 km) and Wai (10 km).

Where to stay: Ravine Hotel, Wai-Panchgani Road, Sydney Point, Panchgani. Ph 02168 241060 http://www.ravinehotel.com

Tours: Guides offer sightseeing packages covering Old & New Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani and Wilson Point, charging Rs.450 for 2½ hours per tour.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 19 July 2015 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Faith Accompli: 10 Quirky roadside shrines in India

Standard

Bullet Motorcycle temple, Aeroplane Gurudwara, Traffic Ganesha to Visa Hanuman, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 10 quirky roadside shrines in India

Chinganachera Temple Kerala DSC_0355

India is a country that takes religion quite seriously. As if 33 crore gods in the Hindu pantheon were not enough, there are temples dedicated to seers, saints and larger than life figures. Actors are often idolized – there’s an Amitabh Bachchan temple in Kolkata, a Khushboo shrine at Trichy and a Namitha temple in Tirunelveli. Politicians too have ardent followers – a Mahatma Gandhi temple at Bhatra village in Sambalpur to a cardboard temple in Karimnagar dedicated to Sonia Gandhi, an MGR shine at Thirunindravoor, Chennai or a proposed Mayawati temple at Natpura in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. Actor Manoj Tiwari takes hero worship to a new level with a Sachin Tendulkar temple (because he’s the ‘god of cricket’) in his hometown Atarwalia in Bihar’s Kaimur district. Forget humans, there are shrines for animals too. Rats are deified as ancestors at Karni Mata temple at Deshnoke in Rajasthan while dogs turn into gods at a unique canine temple at Ramnagar in Karnataka’s Channapatna district! Here we showcase some truly offbeat roadside shrines in India…

Bullet Bana temple Rajasthan IMG_1098

Bullet Bana temple, Pali (Rajasthan)
Nobody can deny the cult status the Royal Enfield motorbike enjoys in India, but a shrine dedicated to the 350 cc Bullet? Bang on the NH-65 highway via Rohet to Jodhpur stands the roadside temple of Bullet Banna or Motorcycle Baba. It is in memory of Om Singh Rathore of Chotilla village, who died here in a motorcycle accident in 1988. The cops took his bike to the police station, but the next morning it went missing and was strangely found parked at the crash site. Each time the bike was impounded, it returned on its own to the accident-prone spot. Believing it to be divine will, locals built a temple in Om Banna’s memory with his Bullet enshrined alongside his garlanded photo. Travelers stop by to light incense sticks and pray for a safe passage.

18 bata 2 temple Naldehra IMG_6759

18 bata 2 temple, Naldehra (Himachal Pradesh)
In the hills, it’s not unusual for shrines to crop up at accident prone areas and treacherous spots. However what makes this Naldehra shrine unique is its name – ‘Atharah bata do’ or 18/2. It is believed that in a tragic crash some years ago, a bus went over the precipice resulting in eighteen fatalities and only two survivors. The temple that came up on the dangerous curve thus got its strange appellation.

Chain Tree Vythiri IMG_7274

Chain Tree, Vythiri (Kerala)
In Kerala’s hilly district of Wayanad, beyond the misty ghats of Lakkidi near Vythiri, just off the NH-212 stands an unusual tree in chains. It recounts the tragic tale of Karinthandan, a young tribal who guided a British engineer to find a safe route through the treacherous Thamrasseri Ghat. He was killed equally treacherously. It is said his troubled spirit began haunting travellers and often led to accidents. So a puja was performed by a priest to pacify his soul which was then chained to a tree. The iron shackles still drape the branches of the famous Chain Tree as tourists drop by for a quick picture. While on trees, the nature temple of Chingan Chira, 10 km from Kollengode in Palakkad district, deserves mention. With a canopy spread over 2 acres, the cluster of banyan trees looks eerie with wooden houses and offerings dangling from it. Adding to its strange mystique are blocks of flat stone with grinders, mortars and pestles placed around it. Devotees drop by on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays to perform pujas, sacrifice fowls and prepare thanksgiving meals to the deity. It is a popular spot for shooting films, videos and the odd wedding album!

Traffic Ganesha Bengaluru

Traffic Ganesha, Bangalore (Karnataka)
The Ganesha temple on Kasturba Road in Bangalore is known by many local names – Vahana (Vehicle) Ganpati, Traffic Ganesha or Accident Ganesha. Though the temple is believed to be 600 years old, for the last 60 years, motorists have been bringing their new vehicles for blessings of an accident-free life. After all, it has royal approval! As per temple priest Subramaniam Deekshit, the Maharaja of Mysore Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar was travelling in his Rolls Royce from Mysore to Bangalore, when his car broke down nearby. Forced to abandon his vehicle, the king started off on foot and saw the roadside temple. On performing a puja here, his Rolls Royce mysteriously sputtered to life. This happened a few times. Even the Diwan of Mysore, T Ananda Rao, after whom the Anand Rao Circle is named, stayed at Cantonment and regularly prayed at the shrine. When TVS opened its showroom in Bangalore, it brought its new chassis and vehicles for puja. With the opening of the Benz and Nissan showrooms on Kasturba Road, the practice caught on. The belief that an accident can be averted if you perform a puja is so strong that people come in the thousands for vahana puja during Ayudha Puja. Two-wheeler owners believe that they would upgrade to a car and small car owners think their aspirations to buy a bigger car would be fulfilled. Whether the vehicle is old or new, a cycle or a Merc, Traffic Ganesha’s fame only increases each year.

Jaswantgarh Memorial Arunachal DSC02808

Jaswantgarh Memorial, Near Sela Pass (Arunachal Pradesh)
Maha Vir Chakra Jaswant Singh of 4 Garhwal Rifles laid down his life during the 1962 war, fighting the Chinese Army for 72 hours along with two other soldiers. He was eventually caught and hanged at the same place where the Jaswantgarh Memorial now stands, 14 km from Sela Pass in Arunachal Pradesh. Besides a garlanded bronze bust of ‘Baba’ Jaswant Singh, the war hero’s belongings are also enshrined – his Army uniform, cap, watch and belt. An earthen lamp placed in front of the portrait of Jaswant Singh burns round the clock. While the rifleman may be no more, his six caretakers from 19 Garhwal Corps believe Babaji’s spirit lives on. He is served bed tea at 4:30am, breakfast at 9am and dinner at 7pm. They make his bed, polish his shoes, deliver the mail sent by his admirers and even clear the mails the next morning after ‘he has gone through them’. They change his bed sheets every Tuesday. Besides serving Baba, the soldiers manning the unique shrine also help needy travelers along the hazardous mountain road.

Betaal Mandir Maharashtra IMG_2512

Betaal Mandir, Mithbav (Maharashtra)
Maharashtra too has its share of strange shrines – be it a Shiva temple at Kunkeshwar built by shipwrecked Arabian sailors as thanksgiving or Pune’s Khunya Murlidhar temple whose foundations are soaked in blood. Even as the idol was being consecrated, a feud took place outside between the Peshwa and Dada Gadre, a local moneylender, leading to its strange name. Across the Konkan region, it is not unusual to find village shrines of gram-rakshaks, like the Shreedev Upralkar Prasann near Sawantwadi. Echoing the tale of Wayanad’s Chain Tree, the shrine is dedicated to a dhangar (shepherd) who revealed the passage through Amboli pass to the British and thereby got killed. He became the custodian of the passes and once when the British attacked the region, his spirit protected the people. Speaking of spirits, the small Betaal Temple by the road near Mithbav beach is much revered. The wandering spirit is invisible to the human eye. It is said, every evening, his palki (palanquin) carried by his ganas roams the area for an hour. People avoid going near his shrine around 7, else they get possessed, pull their hair and go mad. The madness is abated only after the god is appeased.

Ayyanar shrines Tamil Nadu

Keeranur Ayyanar (Tamil Nadu)
Though Tamil Nadu has many celebrated temples of the Cholas, Pandyas and Pallavas, the roadside shrines of village deities called Ayyanars are quite fascinating. Often seated with a sacrificial sword in hand or shown riding horses or elephants with a retinue of lesser gods and attendants, the deities act as guardian of the adjoining village – as rainmaker, protector of the fields and night patroller of the village borders. As votive offerings, people donate terracotta horses lining the pathway leading to the shrine, usually located in the shadow of a sacred tree or grove. Perhaps the best example can be seen off NH-210 at Keeranur, 25km south of Trichy on the road to Pudukottai in Chettinad.

Aeroplane Gurudwara gateway

Aeroplane Gurudwara, Talhan (Punjab)
Punjab’s Doaba region, the fertile land between the two rivers Beas and Sutlej, has over six million natives settled abroad, with at least one member from each family staying overseas. Many of them owe their overseas stint to Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh Gurdwara at Talhan village near Jalandhar, better known as Hawai Jahaz or Aeroplane Gurudwara. Just off NH-1, a gate capped with a British Airways aircraft model leads to a road lined with shops selling toy planes of Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada and other international carriers. These are not souvenirs, but offerings to the gurudwara in the hope of going abroad! The inner sanctum on the first floor of the century-old gurudwara has several plane models in neat rows. Because of the lack of space, the gurudwara committee has started distributing the toys to underprivileged children.

Hanuman ji in Kuldhara Rajasthan IMG_9558

Visa Hanuman, Ahmedabad (Gujarat) & Hyderabad (Andhra)
Lord Hanuman is often considered by some as the unofficial god of encroachment. One day suddenly someone may find an udbhav murti that’s manifested itself magically or after a dream. Some just have to place a Hanuman statue or idol and within no time a small shop and a cluster of buildings will come up around it. But Hanuman or Balaji is no ordinary god. In the narrow by-lanes of Desai-ni-pol at Khadia in Ahmedabad, a Hanuman shrine guarantees 100% visa approval for any foreign country. Himanshu Mehta, priest and caretaker of the 250-year-old temple elaborates on this amazing feat. Once eight applicants had their visas approved on Diwali eve after seeking Lord Hanuman’s blessings. The temple is packed on Saturdays, with nearly a thousand ardent devotees filing their appeals for his consideration. Similar is the tale of Chilkur Balaji Temple, popularly known as Visa Balaji. Located on the banks of Osman Sagar Lake, 17 km from Mehedipatnam near Hyderabad, the temple of the Visa God is perhaps the only one in India that does not accept money offerings or have the ubiquitous hundi for donations from the devotees.

Anicut Hanuman of the 19th Vent, Trichy (Tamil Nadu)
There are Hanuman shrines on hillocks, at crossroads and by the river, but a temple in a dam, now that’s a first! Situated 15km from Trichy, the Grand Anicut or Kallanai (kal means stone, anai is dam) built by Tamil king Karikala Cholan 2000 years ago with unhewn stone is believed to be one of the world’s oldest man-made dams. At its base lies an unobtrusive Hanuman temple that has been there for 200 years. A stone tablet in one corner has an engraving of Lord Hanuman on one side and an 1804 inscription by British captain JL Calddell. Despite several attempts, engineers of the East India Company could not complete building the 19th vent of the dam. It is said that Lord Hanuman appeared in a British officer’s dream and instructed him to build a temple for him at the spot. Brushing off the bizarre dream, the officer didn’t act upon it but was soon accosted by a troop of monkeys. Strangely, the local mason too reported receiving a similar vision. Fearing further disruption of the dam work, the officer conceded and a temple was eventually built at the 19th vent. Work magically resumed thereafter and jinx was broken. Today, despite the force of River Cauvery’s waters lashing through the temple and perilous water levels in the rains, the tiny shrine still stands in defiance, almost echoing the indomitable qualities of its God.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 30 March 2015 in National Geographic Traveller online. Read the story here: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/web-exclusive/web-exclusive-month/india-shrines/

Gushing about Waterfalls

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a waterfall trail across India to chronicle the Legends of the Falls

Niriang waterfall Meghalaya DSC00927_Anurag Mallick

With the advent of the monsoon, India’s many waterfalls revive into gushing torrents. Many are named after the closest village – like Jog (Gersoppa) in Karnataka or Amboli and Vihigaon in Maharashtra. Some are named after their appearance – Dhuandhar in Madhya Pradesh or Hogenakkal after hogey nakkal (smoke stones) on account of the rising mist. There are still others that are labeled after the creatures that frequent them – Bear Shola Falls in Kodaikanal, Hirni (Doe Falls) in Jharkhand, Chitrakot in Chhattisgarh (after chital or spotted deer) or Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls) in Courtallam. However, in a country where mountains and rivers are steeped in fables, can waterfalls be far behind? Here, we showcase some unique falls whose waters hide legends of kings, sages, gods, mortals and maidens…

Dudhsagar Waterfall Goa DSC04291

Dudhsagar (Goa)
Legends recount the tale of the princess who used to bathe in a scenic nook of the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi. After her bath, she would sit with her attendants, and drink a tumbler of sweetened milk. Once, on hearing voices in the woods, a prince stumbled upon the waterfall. To protect her modesty, the princess upturned the tumbler of milk and the water became milky and fell down as Dudhsagar (Ocean of Milk). The waterfall – India’s fifth highest – plummets 310 m off a lofty ridge bisected by a railway track and a scenic bridge!

Access: Trek from Braganza Ghat near Castle Rock while staying at Off the Grid Camp at Poppalwadi or Dudhsagar Resort at Mollem, 14km away

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim

Nohkalikai falls at Cherrapunjee

Nohkalikai (Meghalaya)
One of the most beautiful waterfalls in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya, Nohkalikai drops from misty cliffs into an aquamarine pool. However, its natural beauty hides a sinister tale. In the village of Rangjirteh, from where the stream passes, there once lived a poor lady called Ka Likai. When she gave birth to a child, her husband passed away. In due course, she got married again. However, her new husband did not love the child and often got angry with Ka Likai for not taking proper care of him. One day when she was away to carry iron ore, he killed the child, cut the body into pieces and prepared a curry. He tossed the head and bones away but forgot to dispose the fingers he had hidden in the betelnut basket. When the lady returned and enquired about the child, the man said he had gone out to play and excused himself. She relished the rice and curry, thinking it to be meat from a sacrifice in the village. However when she reached for some betelnut, she stumbled upon the fingers. Letting out a terrible shriek, she grabbed her dao (machete), ran out and threw herself off the precipice. From that time, the waterfall was known as Noh Ka Likai or the Fall of Ka Likai.

Access: At Cherrapunjee, 60 km from Shillong; track the monsoon while staying at Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati

Irpu Falls Coorg_Anurag Mallick

Irpu (Karnataka)
It is believed that in their conquest to Lanka, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana were crossing over the Brahmagiri Hills from Kodagu to Kerala. In a rare display of disobedience, Lakshmana felt a sudden surge of anger, returned his bow and arrows to his elder brother and stormed off. Oddly, the moment he stepped into Kodava land, his anger dissipated. Rama, walked up to Lakshmana, carrying a lump of earth from Kerala and explained that Kerala’s earth was Parashuram Kshetra, reclaimed by the sage after several bloody carnages against kshatriyas, and thus incited passions. Overcome by remorse, Lakshmana shot an arrow into the Brahmagiri mountain and threatened to fling himself into the flames that shot forth. Rama created the Lakshmana Teertha, extinguished the fire and blessed its waters with the power to absolve a person of his sins. Some believe it was Lakshmana’s tears of remorse that became the Lakshmana Teertha. Oddly, irpu in Sanskrit means ‘enemy’ – a place that made enemies even out of brothers. Even now, in Coorg when brothers fight, they ascribe it to this legend.

Access: A 5 min walk from the Irpu Rameshwara temple at the base of the Brahmagiri mountains in Coorg, stay at Ramcad Estate or other homestays

Jet Airways flies to Bangalore and Mangalore

Bheem Nadi Uttarakhand IMG_8566

Bheem nadi (Uttarakhand)
After the Mahabharata war, the Pandavas renounced their kingdom and headed to the Himalayas to atone for all the bloodshed. At Dharali, the Pandavas took a bath in the river to remove the sin of hatya (murder) and thus the stream was called Hatyaharini. While going to Manasarovar, Bhima’s horse allegedly left its hoofmarks on a rock, which can be seen even today at Mukhwa. Locals believe that Bhima created a waterfall (Bhim nadi or Bhim Ganga) by shooting an arrow into the mountain to quench the thirst of the Pandavas. The niche where he supposedly rested a knee to take aim, still exists besides the image of a sleeping horse. Even today, cows and mules step into the same hoof prints while walking up the mountain. Village boys from Mukhwa often lead you to the jharna, where quartz stones, called moti patthar by the villagers due to their pearl colour, can be found around the waterfall.

Access: Stay at Leisure Hotels’ Char Dham Camp at Dharali and cross the bridge on the Ganga to Mukhwa, from where the waterfall is a short hike away.

Jet Airways flies to Delhi and Dehradun

Courtallam Five Falls opt

Courtallam/Kutralam (Tamil Nadu)
It is believed that after separating from his wife Kaveri, Sage Agastya headed further south and climbed the loftiest mountain to meditate. Named Agasthiyar Malai, it is from the hill’s lofty heights that the Chittar River dashes down through roots and herbs as Kutralam Falls. Tagged as the Natural Spa of the South, (or Kuttralam Courtallam) Falls is the collective name for a diverse cluster of nine waterfalls. Peraruvi (Main Falls) plummets from a height of 120ft with people of all ages jostling for a good shower. In what appears like a mega community bathroom, fully clothed women cluster to the right, the elderly and children stay to the left and oiled men of all shapes and sizes brave the full force of the central torrent. The gentler Chittaruvi Falls is close by. Spreading like the hood of a five-headed serpent is Aintharuvi (Five Falls) 5km from the Main Falls with a shrine dedicated to Ayyanar Shastha. Around 6.5km from the Main Falls is Pazhaya Courtallam (Old Falls) with the ancient Thirukoortalanatheeshwara (Lord of the Peaks) shrine at the foothills. The conch-shaped temple has a stunning Chitra Sabha (one of the famous Pancha Sabhas) with beautiful mural paintings and wood carvings housing a Nataraja deity. A mile-long trek from Main Falls up the mountain leads to Shenbaga Devi Falls, after a temple nearby. Puckle’s Path, named after the District Collector who laid it in the 1860s, leads to Thenaruvi  (Honey Falls), alluding to the honeycombs garlanding the overhanging rocks. Puliaruvi (Tiger Falls), once the watering hole of the big cats, has bathing ghats for pilgrims visiting the Pashupathi Shashta Temple. Pazhathota Aruvi (Fruit Garden Falls) near the Govt Horticulture Park above Five Falls is off-limits to the public. An hour’s drive from Courtallam past Shenkottai, Palaruvi (Milk Falls) plunges from the forests of Ariyankavu and offers a panoramic valley view. The best season is June to September and between November and January during north-eastern monsoons.

Access: Located 5km from Tenkasi, it’s 167km south-west of Madurai via NH-208 on the Tenkasi–Shenkottai Road in Tirunelveli District.

Jet Airways flies to Madurai

Yapik Arunachal IMG_6567

Yapik (Arunachal)
As the high road plows deep into the folds of the mountain on the drive to Mechuka, a stunning waterfall makes every traveler stop and marvel. The wispy Yapik descends like a fairy. However, after a brief pit stop, our co-passengers urged us to hurry up. We wondered why. The oldest in the group explained, ‘Yapik is beautiful, but you must not overstay your welcome. After some time, red egg-shaped stones fall from above. And bad things happen!’ We did not stay long enough to find out…

Access: On the drive from Along to Mechuka while basing yourself at Nehnang Hotel (Private IB)

Jet Airways flies to Itanagar

Thoseghar waterfalls IMG_3848_Anurag Mallick

Thoseghar (Maharashtra)
During the course of their exile, Rama and Lakshmana are supposed to have drifted down from Nashik and Mumbai down the Sahyadris. As they came to Saputara or the region of seven hills, like Banganga, they shot an arrow and created a spring. The twin streams of the Thoseghar Falls are known as Ram and Lakshman, though locals also refer to them as Mota Dhabdaba (big fall), which plummets 250 m in wide tiers and Chhota Dhabdaba (small fall), the three-ribboned stream to the right. However, it is water collected from the surrounding range of mountains Mahabaleshwar, Yavateshwar, Kas and Panchgani that forms this cataract and the origin of the Tarlee River. Access to the waterfall in monsoons is tricky due to slippery rocks and force of the water. A board with a list of lives lost in drowning accidents serves as ample warning.

Access: Drive 26km from Satara on the Sajjangadh road; stay at Nivant Hill Resort, on Kas Plateau Road

Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Pune

Bhagsu (Himachal)
As per local legend of the gaddis (shepherds), nearly 5000 years ago Vasuki, the King of Serpents, stole Lord Shiva’s miraculous bowl holding the water of immortality. Having incurred the Lord’s wrath, the snake god fled with the bowl, which turned upside down while escaping. Its contents were released and formed the waterfall while the spot itself was name after the serpent’s (nag) attempt to flee (bhaag) – as Bhagsunag. While the story may be more fable than fact, the naga connection is apparent. According to another lore, once the region of Alwar in Rajasthan was facing a severe drought. For the benefit of his people, the mystic king Bhagsu left his kingdom and wandered everywhere for a solution. On reaching the slopes of the Dhauladhar mountains, he chanced upon a magical spring owned by Nag devta. Seeing the serpent god away, the king stole a little water in his kamandala (water pot) and left. On returning to his abode, the Naga instantly sensed his water had been pilfered and knew who was the culprit. He chased the king and in the ensuing scuffle, the water spilled and created the waterfall. Bhagsu was shattered. On learning of his noble quest, the serpent blessed his kingdom with rain. He also decreed that the place would become a spot of pilgrimage and be named after the king…

Access: Just 2km from the Himalayan retreat of McLeodganj lies the temple of Bhagsu nag and a short 20 min walk leads to the scenic 30 ft cascade.

Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar

Athirapally waterfall 0036_opt

Athirapally (Kerala)
Perhaps no waterfall in India has been depicted in films as much as Athirapally. Kerala’s biggest fall has served as a backdrop for several songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi cinema. A major portion of 1986 Tamil movie Punnagai Mannan, starring Kamal Hassan and Revathi was based and shot near the falls, leading to its popular nickname as Punnagai Mannan Falls. But the waterfall might as well have been named Mani Ratnam Falls, whose love for the location made him cast it not once, but again and again. It featured in his 1997 film Iruvar starring Mohanlal and Aishwarya Rai, the 1998 film Dil Se with Shahrukh Khan and Manisha Koirala, the 2007 Guru with Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai and then again in 2010 in Raavan (Raavanan in Tamil). Such is Athirapally’s popularity that nearly 7 million tourists visit the falls and nearby Vazhachal annually.

Access: 30 km from Chalakudi, 55km from Kochi Airport and 58km from Thrissur. Stay at Rainforest Athirapally with waterfall views from every room.

Jet Airways flies to Cochin, Kozhikode and Coimbatore

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the cover story for the July 2014 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Soul kadhi: Konkan Homestays

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY wander by a quiet Malvan of forgotten beaches and epicurean delights.

Image

‘Kudaaal?’ the bleary-eyed Neeta Travels helper on the sleeper bus scowled at us incredulously. Surely, we meant Candolim? Nope, Kudal it was, 60km short of Mapusa. The bus screeched to a halt near Sanman Hotel and within minutes our pre-arranged auto was speeding down SH-119 with the urgency of a Rickshaw Run. In a pretty lake, yawning lotuses were still rubbing their lashes to greet the morning sun.

In ancient times, the region was Maha-lavan or a great saltpan, so the seaport exporting salt came to be known as Malvan. We were headed for Parule, a scenic village between Malvan and Vengurla in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district. Nearly 1600 years ago, the village was called Parulya gramam and built around a unique Surya shrine. While Konark on India’s eastern coast was a tribute to the rising sun, the Adinarayan temple at Parule was dedicated to the setting sun. Until recently, the last rays of the sun would fall upon the idol before disappearing over the horizon, but a renovation project put an end to this marvel.

Image

Having experienced Malvani hospitality earlier at Dilip Aklekar’s delightful Dwarka Homestay at Talawade (halfway between Vengurla and Sawantwadi), we were back for our Konkan fix. A wooden bridge across a stream led us to Maachli, a farmstay run by Pravin Samant. His son Prathamesh showed us to our village themed hut. Modelled after the maachli or machaans constructed in fields to protect crops, the cottage had conical roofs (acute enough to prevent monkeys from jumping on them) with thatching. Large windows and a balcony offered an unhindered view of the farm. In the bathroom, in place of the usual plastic bucket was a ghanghara or copper vessel. The rustic charm of Maachli was evident everywhere.

The interactive kitchen Randhap (Malvani for ‘cooking’) was where Mrs. Priya Samant gave her cooking demos. Vegetables were chopped on a traditional cutter called adalho while farm-fresh organic vegetables and seafood were prepared on a chool (mud stove). Food was served in earthen pots and patravali (leaf plates) at a dining area called Pavhner. For breakfast we had masala sandhan, a yellowish idly of toor dal with turmeric and coconut and a troika of pohatikat kanda pohe (spicy onion flavour), gode pohe (sweet jaggery version) and the delicious kalo lele pohe, seasoned with ghee and live coal that imparted a smoky flavour!

Image

Prathamesh accompanied us on the Morning Nature Trail, a short walk to the Bandheshvaray temple of the gurakhi (shepherd) community. At the local avath (village society) ladies painted their basil platforms for Tulsi Vivah, the ceremonial marriage of the sacred plant with Lord Vishnu. On our way back we took a plantation tour through the farm where coconut, betelnut, spices, banana and mango is grown. For a hands-on rural experience, visitors are encouraged to milk a cow, visit a potters village, draw water from the well or learn to use a laath, the traditional way to tap water from the stream for irrigation.

We sat on the bridge dangling our legs in the stream for a natural fish spa treatment, watching their tiny mouths peel away flecks of our dead skin. Soon we were hungry too, and sauntered back to the farm where Priya aunty had prepared an impressive meal of fish fry, fish masala, kulith usal (horsegram), rice, curry and chapatis served in fronds of the areca tree. The 2½-hour Sunset Trek to the beach through coconut groves, mango orchards, small jungles, plateaus and three hills seemed like the perfect post-meal walk. But we were more interested in the trek to the ancient devrai (sacred grove).

Image

For centuries these preserved forests have maintained a delicate ecological balance. These sanctuaries have survived due to the deep-rooted beliefs of local communities. Forget plucking anything from the forest, visitors are not supposed to even remove a single leaf. For any such transgression, one must donate a golden leaf. It was with great anticipation we crawled through dense undergrowth and creepers. Soon the forest became so thick, even sunlight couldn’t penetrate the foliage.

We paused at the open shrine of Devchar (protector of the tribal community and master of the jungle) where locals offer bottles of alcohol and beedi (country cigarettes) to propitiate him. Within a few paces, orange pennants and bells announced the shrine of Dungoba or Dungeshwar, a god of the local Kolis. Even today fishermen prayed here before setting out to sea for a good catch and safe return. We said a brief prayer before heading back to Maachli.

IMG_2262_Anurag Mallick

Over dinner, conversation was back to food. We learnt how triphala berries were added to curries like khatkhate (veg curry) and bhaji chi keli (raw banana curry) for a nice aroma. It was refreshing to go beyond the Malvani staple of kombdi vade (chicken with thick poori) to lesser-known delicacies – ambode (dal vada), amboli (multi-grain pancake), khaparoli (pancake of chana, urad dal, poha served with coconut milk) and dhondas (sweet pancake made of cucumber or jackfruit).

The next morning, we headed to the coast for a relaxing stay in bamboo cottages of Bhogwe Eco Village on a quiet hillside overlooking the sea. Located just south of Tarkarli, Bhogwe had managed to escape the attention of most tourists. As the Karli River emptied into the sea, a tiny strip of land was sandwiched between the river and the sea as if protected by some divine hand. This was Devbag or Garden of the Gods. “This region is mainly populated by Samants. Trade union leader Dutta Samant was from this very village”, said our genial host Arun Samant, a tome of information. “Since the river and the jetty were called Karli, the place on the far side (taar) became Tar-karli!”

IMG_2491_Anurag Mallick

A quick meal of rice, fish sukka and the golden goodness of fish tikhla (thick curry), and we were ready to hit the high seas. A boat from Korjai jetty transported us down the creek but we decided to skip the frenetic water sports and parasailing at Tarkarli and Tsunami Island. The shallow muddy patch, home to stilts, sandpipers and screaming hordes of adventure seekers, was not the result of a sea storm but just a tourist gimmick.

Using the high tide to our advantage, we stopped at the Panch Pandav Shivling Mandir, a laterite shrine allegedly built overnight by the Pandavas in exile. A short ride past the scenic confluence of Devbag Sangam led to Bhogwe beach, a long swathe of untouched sand, the Kille Nivti fort and Golden Rocks. The jagged ochre-hued hillock jutted out of the sea, gilted by the afternoon sun, hence its name.

Image

We got back just in time to watch the sun go down at Sahebachi Kathi, named after an 8ft long pole that had been erected by the British for a geological survey. The stick was of a standard height and was used by the Navy to ascertain the maritime boundaries of India. Some vandals removed it thinking Shivaji had erected it to mark some gold buried at the base! Interestingly, 150 years ago, not too far from here, English astronomer Norman Lockyer observed the sun to discover helium in 1868. Since Vijaydurg lay in the path of totality of a solar eclipse, solar prominences were observed from specially erected viewing platforms, still known as Sahebache katte (Englishman’s platform). 18 August is celebrated annually at Vijaydurg as Helium Day.

Dinner was a delicious spread of prawn curry, poli (thin chapatis), rice, papad, beetroot stir fry, raw banana fritters and sol kadhi, ending it with a dollop of shrikhand. In the morning, we watched Mr. Samant’s wife Arti expertly pour the watery batter on the cast iron griddle to churn out ghavan (Malvani dosa), served with coconut chutney. From a vantage point, Mr. Samant pointed out the proposed international airport at Chipi and Meruwa chi pani, a perennial source of water where leopards come to slake their thirst in the dry season.He accompanied us on a short hike to his riverside farm, where a ring of coconut trees acted as a buffer from the saline creek. We took a ride in a country craft through the mangrove for some birdwatching and followed it up with a visit to a cashew factory where local women expertly used mechanical kernel removers to process the raw cashew.

Image

As we said goodbye to the Samants and headed back to Kudal, it was great to meet architect George Joel, the designer of the bamboo cottages at Bhogwe. Having worked with KONBAC (Konkan Bamboo and Cane Development Centre), George set up Green Earth Culture to provide a range of bamboo solutions like barbeque huts, elephant lamps and pre-engineered building solutions. We dropped by at his workshop at Zarap 6km from Kudal to see slivers of bamboo veneer being handcrafted into premium wine baskets, lampshades and gifting accessories under the brand name Chiva. Available in traditional weaves like daayami (herringbone), gawaaksh (cross) and jaalika (basketry), it came in colour schemes like manjul (pastel), gattik (dynamic) and taamrata (tanned).

We opened our bamboo box of chocolates to pop a few while waiting for our Neeta Travels bus. On dialing the local contact number to find out the timing and pick up point of the bus, we were greeted by an angry retort. “Kudaaal?” enquired an all too familiar voice. Sigh. It was going to be an eventful ride back to Mumbai…

Image

FACT FILE

Getting there

Kudal, 20 km north of Sawantwadi, on the Mumbai-Goa highway is the nearest railway station and access point. Parule is 22km from Kudal via SH-119 and accessible by state transport buses and auto-rickshaws. Bhogwe is 2km from Parule on the coast.

When to visit

The area is great to visit all year round with each season having its own charm – beaches are great from October to summer and in the rains, the Konkan hinterland becomes a lush paradise.

Image

Where to Stay

Maachli Farmstay
Ishavasyam, Manjardewadi, At Post-Parule, Taluk Vengurle, Sindhudurg 416523
Ph 9637333284, 9423879865 Email prathameshsawant@maachli.in www.maachli.in
Tariff Rs.4,900, incl. of all meals and nature trail & plantation tour, activities extra (4 cottages)

Aditya Bhogwe’s Eco Village
Bhogwe Dutond, Parule
Ph 9423052022, 9420743046 Email arunsamant@yahoo.com
Tariff Rs.2,000, incl. breakfast Meals Veg Rs.150, Seafood Rs.200 (6 cottages)

The Leela’s
Bamboo Houses & Water Sports, Newali, Vengurla
Ph 02366 269567, 9421143807 Email onkar.samant@yahoo.com www.theleelas.com
Tariff Rs 2000 (3 cottages)

Dwarka Farmstay
At Post, Talawade, Taluka Sawantwadi, District Sindhudurg 416529
Ph 02363 266267, 9167231351, 9422541168
Email dilip@dwarkahomestay.com www.dwarkahomestay.com
Tariff Rs.2800-3500 (9 rooms)

Image

Where to Eat

Hotel Sanman at Kudal is a small highway joint that offers great thali meals – veg Rs.50, fish Rs.60, chicken or tisra/clam Rs.70, prawns Rs.110. At Vengurla, try Hotel Annapurna (Ph 02366-262387, 9422576845). At Sawantwadi, Balakrishna and Narvekar’s Mess near the old post office and Bhalekar opposite the gymkhana are great for fish and mutton thalis.

What to see and do

Walks – Maachli organizes a sunset hike to the coast, trek to a devrai (sacred grove) and other nature trails

Boat rides – Dolphin cruises in the open sea, boat rides in the Karli creek or till Golden Rocks & serene mangrove rides in country crafts

Water sports – Banana boats, bumpy rides, jet skis and parasailing at Tarkarli & Tsunami Island, besides snorkeling and scuba at Sindhudurg Mahalaxmi Parasailing & water sports Ph 8412023789, 8007273664 www.mahalaxmiadventures.com

Forts – The Konkan coast is dotted by many seaside forts – from the lesser-known Kille Nivti to the popular Sindhudurg and Vijaydurg further north

Bamboo products – Stop by to pick up handcrafted bamboo veneer products from Green Earth Culture on NH-17 at Zarap, 6km from Kudal Ph 9422071781 www.greenearthculture.com

Folk arts – Catch Parashuram Gangawane demonstrating dashavatara and chitrakathe besides other loka-kala performances of the Thakar community at Pinguli Art Complex. Ph 9029564382, 9987653909 Email taka.museum@gmail.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2014 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

Restaurant Review: Lagerbay, Bandra

Standard

Foodies ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY step into Lagerbay, Bandra for a bite and some beer

Image

If you were wondering whatever happened to Bandra’s iconic hangout Zenzi, it has been reincarnated as Lagerbay. Fusing the best of an American Diner and an English pub, the place grows on you like ivy on a stone wall. A comfortable lounge area accentuated by a post-box red sofa leads past a narrow passage and opens into a larger bar area. Considering how space is a luxury in Mumbai, Lagerbay doesn’t scrimp. They chose to keep it a 78-seater even though it could accommodate 120.

That apart, the decibel level of the music is just right and you can’t go wrong with retro rock. The addictive classics of CCR, Beatles, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Eagles etc. fill the air while funky lights, graphics and quirky props from the streets of Bangkok and Patpong Weekend Market spruce up the walls. A poster sized 4-panel woodcut of Bob Marley grabs your attention while a small handcrafted vintage metal motorbike is parked on the bar counter.

Image

After placing our order for a bucket of Carlsberg with fish and chips with tartar sauce, we were invited to try out a new range of Indus Pride Premium Indian Lager brewed with spices – Fiery Cinnamon emerged the favoured brew over Citrusy Cardamom, Citrusy Coriander and Spicy Fennel. Schneider Weisse wheat beer from Germany, Tsing Tao beer from China and the staple Carlsberg watered the rest of the evening with a few refreshing cocktails like watermelon-based Caiprojca and Caipirinha (cachaca, demarara and lime) thrown in.

If it wasn’t the beer, it was certainly the food that floored us. Platters of Tomato and Mozzarella Bruschetta with Pesto drizzle, Lamb Kibbe, Chicken Quesadilla, bowl of Chicken Wings in barbeque sauce and hint of tabasco, were wiped out in minutes. Then came the crispy Beer Battered Prawns with the perfect bite of wasabe mayo. Greedy for the good stuff, the main course was a well done juicy Beef Steak with broccoli and a Parmesan Crusted Grilled Chicken. 

Image

It was still Friday… and we heard that they have weekly specials and a Ladies Night. But there’s good reason to go back on Sunday. With Comedy Central’s stand up acts as entertainment on their Sunday Brunch menu, we’re wondering, “Why not?” Too much of the good thing, is not a bad idea.

Contact
Lagerbay – Food. Music. Bar.
6, Mamta Building
183 Waterfield Road, Bandra West
Mumbai – 400 050
Phone: 022 67369900

Image

Cuisine – Eclectic International cuisine whipping up American diner and bistro regulars. Take your pick of soups, salads, sandwiches, burgers, appetizers and meals served in decent portions. Don’t forget the lager, there’s lots of it.

Cost – Meal for two Rs. 1200-1500 without alcohol

Wheelchair Access – No

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the October 2012 issue of India Today’s Travel Plus magazine.

Feel the Rush: Rappelling down Vihigaon waterfall

Standard

Adrenaline junkies ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go over the edge for some waterfall rappelling down Maharashtra’s 120 ft cascade Vihigaon

Image

We didn’t want a lazy weekend. Enough ennui had been injected into our bones by the grey clouds hanging heavily over the Mumbai skies, too weary to rain. It was time to step out of our cave and get wet. Piqued by the loud whispers floating about monsoon treks and weekend rappelling expeditions in the rains, we decided to find out. We were in luck – the adventure group Offbeat Sahyadri had an upcoming canyoning trip to Vihigaon waterfalls.

As we set off early on NH3 via Mulund and rolled our windows up and down in the intermittent rain, the tall buildings in the skyline redrew themselves into strange-shaped mountains. At first, the Sahyadris or the Western Ghats looked like a broken row of gargantuan green teeth and alien fingers before gradually transforming into a heady contrast of dark rocks and slopes of iridescent green. Every now and then, fields of freshly planted paddy would shock us with their brilliance; amplifying the bizarre proximity of pastoral charms to the mayhem of city life.

Image

It was pouring when we halted for tea at Star of Highway Dhaba in Kasara, incidentally the nearest place for a meal or a decent washroom! Making the most of the early hours, several vehicles swished by on the highway at top speed raising fountains and clouds of mist at their wheels. The road was slick and shone like gelled hair. In minutes, we were cruising towards Vihigaon, a small hamlet 13 km from Kasara, set amidst paddy fields surrounded by hills. We parked among other mud-spattered vehicles in a clearing as the road ahead was a sludgy track that narrowed into a thin thoroughfare.

Thankfully, our travels had taught us to wear the right footwear and to carefully negotiate wet terrain, potholes and slush to avoid slipping; but few others weren’t so lucky. We watched helplessly as they slid elegantly like ice-skaters in a rink, limbs splayed, only to suffer the ignominy of a clumsy fall. We hiked past a cluster of tiled houses and huts, a small school and nondescript structures. A shepherd guided his goats to the side and we heard cows mooing in darkened sheds as roosters crowed and floundered along the walls, unaccustomed to early guests. At the threshold of a rustic home, an old lady with a toothless smile gestured the way towards the dhabdhaba (waterfall).

Image

Shortly, the unmistakable crash of water filtering through the greenery drew near. The path had petered out. To the left, a stream tumbled down the mountain into a small bund, which overflowed into a tiered cascade plummeting 120 ft off a precipice on the right. A bunch of unruly boys thrashed about like orcas on a hunt under the small 15 ft cataract, doing their best to drown out the sound of the crashing water.

A trail of crude stones ran drunkenly towards the edge – this was where all the action took place. Some gingerly peeped over the cliff; others sat in the shallow waters looking at people disappear down the ropes. We watched the scene from a slight elevation. The instructor divided us into groups of ten, allotted a number to each and after an exchange of hand signals with the main crew, asked us to wait.

Image

Soon, we strapped on our harness and helmets, wondering if the thunderous sound was really the waterfall crashing on the boulders or the chorus of our hammering hearts. The same manic glaze of excitement in the eyes and the cheesy nervous smile was mirrored in everyone’s faces. There is really nothing that compares with the rush of blood in adventure or extreme sport. One by one we clambered down cautiously towards the stream, grabbing at branches and rocks to avoid slipping. Some kicked off their shoes and paddled around in socks for better grip while others felt more comfortable barefoot. ‘It doesn’t matter, you’re going to slip anyway’, remarked a cheerful tourist from Deolali.

A large boulder in the middle of the brook was wrapped with ropes that swung over the cliff. Every rock was smooth and slick with slime as we crossed the stream and slithered towards a small overhang. An expert hooked us to the rappelling device, locked the carabiner and proceeded to give a crash course on how to rappel, right at the edge!

Image

“Keep your legs comfortably apart and lean back using one hand to grip the rope in front and the other behind your back, which you must release to lower yourself. Don’t bend your knees, keep it straight. Don’t touch the safety line. Don’t worry and don’t look up!” he instructed, his voice barely audible in the cascade. That was it. Deep breaths. More deep breaths… and clinging on to the rope we made a slow descent of the first tier, until our feet were literally on the edge.

From there on it was an endless sheet of moving white that battered us from all sides. Suddenly, one felt lightheaded. Visions of Spiderman flashed as feet danced down the rock wall like Christopher Walken in Weapon of Choice and the trainer’s advice “Lean Back… lean back” played like an old hip-hop track in our ears. Or, maybe it was vertigo.

Image

Hanging by a string, 100 ft off a wide vertical rock face, wrapped in the diaphanous veil of water with one’s feet searching for a foothold every second, does things to you. And 100 ft is a long way down. After a few minutes of intense concentration, the other senses kick into action. The water feels cool and tastes sweet. Voices filter in over the roar – shouts of glee, collective “omigod”, and hoots of encouragement ride up and down the cliff.

There are people at the base, some swimming and others watching those rappelling down, taking pictures, seated on rocks or standing. But the one hanging by the rope is focused only on where or how to place his or her foot. One misstep could result in a nasty graze to the knees or elbows. In under 10 minutes, it’s touchdown.

Image

There’s someone grabbing your hand, unbuckling you and helping you wade across to the bank. You’ve made it… and you are already wishing you could do it again. But the next guy is waiting for your gloves, harness and helmet and you have to trudge up the hillside to return it. We lolled in the shallow waters as others awaited their turn to rappel down. 

The sun came out briefly at lunch time. While most visitors preferred to carry packed lunches and snacks, a few decide to have some local food and a kind villager obliged. He quickly rustled up a simple meal of dal and rice. There were strict instructions to carry back all the trash and plastic. The Offbeat Sahyadri website made it amply clear – ‘Absofreakinglutely no littering!’

A late afternoon stroll around the village took us across lush rice fields and deposited us on a curving road to Jawahar. Beyond a chipped milestone was a metal railing on the side of the road to prevent people from falling into the dense wilderness. It proved to be the perfect viewpoint to catch the majesty of Vihigaon waterfall, crowned by a scenic range of hills in the distance. Yet, we weren’t the only ones there. Passing vehicles and villagers, too, slowed down or stopped to watch with bewilderment and awe, the strange breed of people running down the waterfall.

Image  

Aaditya Mahadik, our young guide from Offbeat Sahyadri explained that rappelling down waterfalls was a relatively new adventure sport in Maharashtra. Apart from being the first canyoning site explored in 2007-8, Vihigaon outscored other waterfalls like Bekare at Bhivpuri near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala.

The 30 ft wide rockface was large enough for three to four ropes to rappel down, which meant less waiting. At most other sites, there wasn’t much to see apart from the cataract. But the small dam, cascades and scenic plateau at Vihigaon ensured that visitors had enough to while away time after their turn was over.

Image

Being monsoon waterfalls, the season was short, lasting from mid-June to Sep end. Weekends saw nearly 80-100 people each day. Five years ago, this sleepy corner of Maharashtra must have only seen a few trekkers pad across to the mountains or a trickle of tourists cooling their heels by the stream. 

Over the last three years, with the waterfall open to rappelling, monsoons and weekends at Vihigaon have never been the same as outdoor outfits from Mumbai, Nashik and Pune lead their groups to this hidden adventure paradise.

Image

FACTFILE

Contact: Offbeat Sahyadri, Priti Patel 9987990300, Rajas Deshpande 9664782503 offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com

Getting there: Vihigaon is 124km (2-3 hr drive) from Mumbai. Take NH3 towards Igatpuri/Nasik via Mulund. Cross Star of Highway Dhaba and just before climbing Kasara Ghat, take the first diversion to the left. The road goes under a railway track and reaches a fork. Get on to the road towards Jawahar/Khodala to reach Vihigaon (13km from Kasara). Park near the village school and walk for 15-min to reach the waterfall.

Itinerary: Meet at 6am, Swami Narayan Mandir (Gate No.4), Opp Railway Station, Dadar East. Depart by bus for Vihigaon, Breakfast on board, Introduction/demo at Vihigaon followed by rappelling, depart for Mumbai at 5:30 pm

Fees: Rs.750/head (includes to/fro travel by private bus, rappelling/instructor/gear charges, breakfast and evening snacks), Rs.400/head for those joining directly at Vihigaon.

Pack: Rain gear and waterproof cover for phones/valuables, ID proof, 2L water, lunch, snacks, change of clothes

What to wear: Windcheater, shoes/floaters, socks, close neck T shirts, scarf/rubberband to tie long hair

Nearby attractions: Tribal king’s palace at Jawahar, Igatpuri with its famous Vipassana centre for meditation, Kalsubai the highest peak in Maharashtra, Bhandardhara Dam and the spiritual hub of Nashik, also famous for its grapes and vineyards.  

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Rail Bandhu, the Indian Railways magazine.