Category Archives: Maharashtra

The geographical centre of India before partition- Vidarbha

Vidarbha- the region consisting of Nagpur and Amravati derives its name from the epic city of Mahabharata. With several references made in Ramayana and Mahabharatha, it is not just historically important but a mineral rich region in Central India. And a region that offers its own delectable cuisine to its guests.. Vidarbha is extremely important with its strong influence in culture, history and geography.

When opportunity knocks at your door, grab it! That’s what I did.. A friend was getting hitched at Amravati and the nearest airport for me to fly down was at Nagpur. So this time, it was an opportunity to explore the Vidarbha region. But that came with its set of challenges. It is one of the hottest places in India and hence, a self-drive car was hired to ease the travel hassles of local transport. The itinerary was planned such that all major landmarks around Nagpur were covered on a single stretch before hitting the highway for the night’s stay at Amravati.

The zero milestone of undivided India

Although poorly maintained for all hype around our first stop- It is a must see for anyone visiting Nagpur, the geographical centre of India before partition. The ‘zero’ milestone from where all distances were measured and highways originated in India before Pakistan was formed, stands in a corner of a busy main road. The DeekshaBhoomi meditation centre is around the place where Dr.B.R.Ambedkar is said to have given his first sermon after he converted to Buddhism. The Dragon palace temple, Ramdham Park are some other places within the city if you are in more leisure. The lakes in the city can easily be given a miss. However, some heritage structures like churches, schools and the railway station lend an old-world charm to the city.

Swaminarayan Mandir

The Swaminarayan temple was a beautiful place and the ‘Adasa Ganesh temple’ that can be done by taking a small deviation before hitting back the same highway. ‘Mansar’ is an archaeologically important site, believed to be of Pravarapura, an erstwhile capital of the Vakataka kingdom that ruled the Vidarbha region. 5kms from there is Ramtek, the holy hill to people of all faiths. ‘Gad Mandir’, an old beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Ram is situated atop a hillock. Solitude is available in abundance here with a great view of the entire area. It is also believed to be a place where the mythological King, Kalidas wrote his epic poem- ‘Meghdoot’ at Ramtek hills. There are several places that are significant among the Jains and Buddhists too that are located in the vicinity. The Ambala Lake with its beautiful structures lining the Ghats at the base of the hills was my favourite place of the trip. Get yourself cooled with some water sports at Khindsi Lake or soak in history at the Nagerdhan fort, the primary capital town of Vakatakas if you have some more time for leisure. It is a further 10kms drive from Ramtek.

And… Don’t miss an opportunity to stay over at ‘Pench National park and do some tiger sighting’ in the land of ‘The Jungle Book’- The story of Mowgli and Bhageera that we have all grown up listening and watching. There are a lot of scenic places around Pench that I can help you with if you are planning to stay over at one of the jungle lodges. We did not have the luxury of time as we had to drive back all the way as our stay was booked at Amravati. The Amravati region is home to several wildlife sanctuaries and temples that can be accommodated if you’re traveling on a luxury of time and an own vehicle, we gave it a miss. Chikaldhara, the highest point of Vidarbha region and the only hill station is located here. For a person like me hailing from the coffee hills, it was quite exciting to know that Amravati is the only coffee growing region of Maharashtra state.

Now… coming to the highlight of the trip…. FOOD!! The Varadi and Saoji are the two popular cuisines of the Vidarbha region. So, it was a culinary treat for our taste buds to experiment on something fiercely spicy and so rustic in taste. While our day started with delicious plates of ‘Poha with Tarri’ and ‘Samosa Tarri’ for breakfast at one of the several roadside tapris, lunch was a simple delectable Varadi thali at the ‘Gad Mandir Bhojanalay’. We managed to find space in our tummies for street food with several pit stops along the way that tasted heavenly and ended our day with a grand non-veg varadi menu for supper at a star hotel where we were put up for the night.

The Varadi food that kept us going!

Nagpur is synonymous with the orange fruit and the brand ‘Haldirams’. So, the visit would have been incomplete without trying the ‘Orange Burfi’ at one of the Haldirams outlets spread across the city. Do pick up a box of ‘Mango soan rolls’ from Heera sweets to please your sweet tooth along your return trip!

The silent whine of a valley at Khas Pattar

“Thank you very much for online registration to Visit Kas Plateau.” Read the auto-response mail from the Satara divison forest office. Our slot for the much anticipated trip to the South India’s very own valley of flowers was confirmed.

We reached Khas plateau by hiring a cab from Satara town as early as sunrise. One reason was to get good shots of the valley with different hues of sunrise; second was to enjoy the oneness with nature, undisturbed by the senseless, rather ruthless people who would pour in later during the day in the name of tourism. Recognised among the world’s 39 natural heritage sites by the UNESCO in 2012, Khas has over 350 flower species including orchids, insectivorous plants and other herbaceous plants. There are plants whose flowers change their sex each year too..!! Atleast 20 species of plants are endemic to the Khas valley alone. Someone rightly called it the “Nature’s very own laboratory”. Since Khas is a part of the Koyna Sanctuary, the place is often frequented by animals like the barking deers, bears etc. in search of water. It is nature’s treasure in every sense.

The flowers of Khas plateau- Part 1

Life is not a bed of roses, but at Khas- it is a bed of balsams.. Oops.. Bad one, I know..!! But that’s what came into my mind when I was finally there..!! The complete valley looked as if painted in pink with an endless stretch of balsam flowers, dotted here and there with small ponds like a bindi on a beautiful lass’s forehead that would complete her looks. These ponds dual as watering holes to the wild animals that visit here occasionally. A narrow stream flows silently on the other side over black basalt rocks until it plummets down into the Khas lake. Beauty of the Western ghats is beyond expression when one stands here at the edge of the Sahyadri ranges overlooking the Sajjangad fort and the Kanher dam.

The Pink balsam carpet at Khas valley

It is a pitiful plight of the place when several plants are smashed under the reckless visitors who pour in there in thousands during the peak months of blossom. A well laid asphalt road cuts right through this protected land until the Khas lake. No entry tolls, no parking fees, no written commitments to gain entry- but just a nominal registration fee of 10Rs. per head is all it takes to get to this colourful patch of nature. It is just a place to hangout for the majority without actually knowing the ecological importance of the place. NO… It doesn’t have any restaurants, playgrounds, toy-trains for you to lunch over with your family and kids. And definitely, NOT a photo studio for you have NO rights to sleep over the flower bed to get those sexy hot babe-kinda photoshoots done. Be educated before heading there that this place is ONLY for the people who respect nature’s gifts. Infact, none-of us even have the rights to walk through the laid walkpaths for there is always a possibility that one can step on an endangered plant and therefore kill it. So think about visiting there ONLY if you’re genuinely into research or in quest of knowledge- NOT for anything else.

The flowers of Khas plateau- Part 2

Be reminded, the acknowledgement mail from the forest dept. also read the following:

Please note that, Kas a plateau of flowers is a divine gift. Please observe carefully, enjoy the beauty of these tiny tots and convey others also but not to hurt.”

Here’s a request to the authorities: Taking a cue from a protected island called ‘Kurusudai’ in Tamil Nadu, It is really the need of the hour to treat Khas at such level. My suggestions are:

  • Do-NOT make the valley accessible to public and make the entry STRICTLY based on requirement from education/research institutions.
  • Please increase the entry fees. A HEFTY fee (possibly in thousands) will make it possible to filter out only genuinely interested people visiting there for whom money does not matter against knowledge.

My visit to the Panchgani tableland also reflected a similar letdown. The vegetation at the tableland is very fragile & similar to that of the Khas. However, onslaught of exploitative tourism has left it in a state of pity. If the flow of tourists continues the same way at Khas, it won’t take more than just a couple of years to lose this treasure FOREVER.

Strawberry heartland of India- Satara

As usual, an overnight bus journey from Bangalore ended at the Satara bypass on NH4. An autorickshaw to the town gave a kickstart to the entire trip thereon..

We took a bus to Wai from Satara. Since we were there, we enquired with a few locals who guided us to visit the Wai ghat on the banks of the Krishna river. We did a quick visit to the Dholya Ganapathi mandir & Sri Kashi Vishweshwar Mandir(Kashi of Maharastra)at the place and got busy photographing some street hawker kids who were having a good time diving & swimming in the polluted waters of the ghat. Dhom Dam is a good place for water sports with a nice view of the surrounding mountains. It is about 10kms from Wai and frequenting locals jeeps are available on a sharing basis. However, we decided to skip it since we had to reach our next destination ASAP as we hadn’t booked our stay yet.

Wai ghat on the banks of river Krishna
Wai ghat on the banks of river Krishna

The bus travelled around the mountain curves offering a great view of the Dhom dam whose waters reflected the clear blue sky all the way up till we reached our destination- Panchgani. This is a small hill town that ends within a stretch of 2kms, but an abode to 42 international schools making it an educational hub of Maharastra. Before entering the town, we passed through Harrisson’s Folley view point. However, we thought of giving it a miss since we were heading towards Sydney point from where we could get to see the Folley as well as a breathtaking view of the dam. Once at the Sydney point, it was truly a spectacle from up there- We both decided to sit down there on the footpath facing the dam and spend some peaceful time amid nature at its best. We just wanted to kill time until night and we got walking back towards the main road.

Sometimes, god really wants you to be at the right place at the right time, and that’s how this evening turned out to be after we decided to go to table land. We passed through Rajapuri caves along the way up where we were told that women were not allowed inside as it was an abode of Lord Ayyappan. We continued uphill. It looked like quite a mela with many makeshift shops put up and a lot of locals and tourists who had littered the place with plastic bottles and wrappers. But, as we walked past the maddening crowds, we saw that the table land indeed was a vast stretch and we decided to walk the entire land before dark. Meanwhile we got busy photographing the silhouettes of the grazing cattle, the horse riders etc against a beautiful backdrop of the setting sun. An artificial lake amid adds romance to this place gifted naturally with vast stretches of native flowers- all white, purple and yellow. The sky was painted in all hues with a beaming full moon reflecting in the lake water adding to the spectacle. It felt like the sun went down sooner that day and we had to scoot as the deserted place had no guiding lamps to the main road.

We checked into a hotel where we dumped all our luggage and decided to explore the town. Panchgani is famous for channa, chikki and fudge- the shops say all over and so we picked up some to carry back home. What caught our attention was a bottle of strawberry wine at a wine store. The day’s events concluded with a sumptuous spicy hot veg Kolhapuri for dinner.

The idea was to be at the table top for sunrise, however- we snoozed the alarm for a little longer and we woke up only when Sam rang up asking us to open the door for him. We three then started our day with a yummy plate of Poha and hired a taxi to Mahabaleshwar. This 15km stretch from Panchgani to Mahabaleshwar calls for many pitstops enroute. First stop was at Parsi point- that gives a view of the Dhom dam from another angle. The Lingmala and the Bhilawar waterfalls enroute weren’t as appealing as the case would have been if the monsoon was good this year. Next stop was at the Mapro garden and chocolate factory- This is the venue of the annual strawberry festival and one can see the chocolate making process at the factory through a glass wall. We did try shots of the different juices & crushes they had to offer and picked up some bottles and chocolates to bring back home. Further, we drove amid the Koyna forest reserve to stop at Kate’s point. Along with the echo point and the elephant’s head / Needle hole point, we got a beautiful view of Dhom dam, Balkawadi dam, Krishna valley and Kamalgarh fort.

Kate's point & the elephant head
Kate’s point & the elephant head

We then continued our drive through the forests hoping to sight a few peafowls, deers etc. We stopped at Savitri point only to be disappointed  by the mist that had engulfed the place. Castle rock, 3 monkey point, Malcom point, window point, tiger spring, hunter’s point, echo point and Arthur’s point all along the same stretch of road ended in a mere walk without actually seeing the infamous mountain ranges. Arthur’s point is the end of Mahabaleshwar hill station. The whole purpose of being there was to see the hills first hand that had always mesmerised me on TV. However, luck was not with us that day as the entire valley was covered with super thick mist even at 1.00.p.m. Even the return drive through Marjori and the Elphinstone points meant disappointment. After covering all the possible places in the newer part, next plan of action was to visit the cultural part- the Old Mahabaleshwar. This hill station contributes to 80% of the total strawberry produce of India. Being in the strawberry heartland of India, DO NOT miss to eat fresh strawberry with cream for dessert after a fine Maharastrian lunch at Mahabaleshwar market.

The Mapro strawberry garden and Chocolate factory
The Mapro strawberry garden and Chocolate factory

We then headed for a small round of pilgrimage. Starting with a visit to Panchganga temple- the place of origin of 5 rivers namely Gayathri, Savithri, Koyna, Venna and The Krishna. The confluence of these rivers happens underground and then spouts through a cow’s mouth carved out of a stone about 4500yrs ago. A small walk through the shopping lanes lead to the Mahabaleshwar(Shiva) temple from where the place ascertains it’s name. The legend mentions about Atibaleshwar and Kotibaleshwar also, however we could not find the temples. A walk of 100mts further down leads to the Krishnabhai temple- an archeological treasure untouched by the tourists. It offers a pleasant view of the Krishna valley.

The Krishnabhai temple
The Krishnabhai temple

We only drove past the Venna lake without stopping amid the maddening crowd of tourists. This was the last stretch of the day before we boarded a bus to Satara where the highlight of the trip was awaiting…

Note: If staying in Mahabaleshwar, one could plan to witness the sunrise at Wilson point- the highest part of Mahabaleshwar and Sunset at Bombay point both being a part of the Sindola hill. The entry and exit to Mahabaleshwar is only between 06.00.a.m. to 06.00.p.m. as it is a protected forest area.

Day 3 was the sole reason that got us to plan this trip.. We woke up early to reach Khas plateau for sunrise to get some wonderful photographs, escape the crowds that would pour in at a later time under the scorching sun. This alone will come as my next post. If you have sometime in hand, you can drive further from the Khas lake to reach the boating village of Bamnoli and take a boat tour to Vasota fort or Tapola. Anyway, we headed back to Satara town by noon to visit the other places around. Vajrai and Thoseghar falls were a sad scene owing to poor rainfall and Chalkewadi windmill station was given a miss considering we had visited one back in our home state. Sajjangad,  Ajinkyatara, Pratapgad, Kalyangad are forts for the history buffs that can all be covered through flying visits in a day if one had own transport. Also, the Nataraj temple in the town centre is worth a visit while you are in Satara… Kandi peda, a speciality sweet and Zunka baakri(maize roti) kept us filled for the overnight’s journey ahead. Thus ended a long weekend in Satara…!!