It was 8.00 a.m. on a Friday morning. Padma and I were off to Bhardardara (BD in brief) a semi hill station – 185 kilometers from Mumbai to fully exploit the long weekend due to the Holi festival falling propitiously on a Friday.
Maharashtra has several such locations which are not well known. MTDC, the tourism wing of Maharashtra Government, has captured vantage locations- overlooking the sea or lake or hill in each such place and then relaxed expecting the interested would walk in- through their internet gateway (a convenient one) to book their cottages. I had stayed at their cottage in Ganpatipule which is situated adjoining the Ganpati Temple and also facing the sea. No other resort has such a view. It is the same in Harihareshwar beach.
Anand, my son, helped in setting the navigator indicating the road to BD. Since my previous experiment with navigation system took me on an unguided tour on interior Maharashtra (during a visit to Shrivardhan – a beach resort), I had taken the precaution of taking a print out of the map from internet and tallying it with the navigation. I had to stick to NH 3 just ensuring that I was heading in the direction of Nasik. It seems to be a newly developed road with several toll nakas.
Due to Holi and early hours, the traffic was thin. I could pretend that I am a racing enthusiast. I switched lanes (no vehicles in visible distance), overtook crawling trucks, pressed the accelerator to get an adrenaline rush, saw that the odometer showed 125 mark, guiltily reduced to a more acceptable level- in short enjoyed the drive. The lady navigator kept on giving needless instructions “Keep Right after 700 metres”. A few seconds later “Keep right after 300 meters”. This interrupted the CD of Shri Velukkudi Krishanan who was expounding on Mahabharata.
Shri Velukkudi Krishnan is a scholar in the real sense of the term. His command over the subject, ability to link several connected threads in an interesting manner,and most importantly state what we do not otherwise hear makes his discourses unique. He injects the right level of humor and today’s reality and relevance of these epics and puranas to our today’s life. What I admire most is that his narration is exclusively in Tamil and not a single English word gets injected into it.
The road to BD turns to right 30 Kms before Nasik. It is bad in patches. I took a brief halt for tea just 22 kms before BD. It was partly ghat section and quite barren. The place does not seem to be a fertile place and not well populated. It seemed that the Government had neglected to develop this area.
The road leading to MTDC Resort was particularly bad. It seemed surprising that instead of developing local tourism, the Government has neglected to provide basic facilities.
We reached the Resort after 3 hour drive. The reception had record of our on line booking and we were taken to our lake facing room. There was WIfi in the reception. These seem to be recently built or re-built. Everything was new including the SONY LCD TV with Videocon DTH connection. It has in-built geyser ensuring 24 hour hot water facility. The verandah overlooks the lake. That is the USP of an otherwise mediocre Resort.
We rested for a while. Some guides were waiting outside the reception offering to take us around. I had read somewhere that it was worth hiring a guide. I decided to use a guide’s service the next day. We had lunch in the dhaba type restaurant attached to the Resort. It had a bare look and resembled a Government canteen.
It is typical that Government facilities’ potential remain under- utilized. There is adequate space for sprucing it up to look like a modern resort and charge premium rates. I wondered about the occupancy on weekdays. Today I was told that the Resort was fully booked.
The thali served at lunch was adequate and reasonably tasty (Rs. 120). After some siesta, we took a walk outside the resort. We took tea and some snacks at Yash Resorts just down the road. The tea and snacks (Kanda Bajji) were excellent. We walked into the village. There was a Jain temple in it. The village seemed to have not many houses. There are hills surrounding the place.
We watched the sunset, took some photographs, skipped dinner and retired for the night.
The night was not chill and we had a pleasant night. We had received complimentary breakfast coupons. The canteen had a reasonable choice of items(usal pav, poha, sandwich, upma etc) which were quite edible. We decided to call the Guide who met us yesterday- Shridhar Sonavne (09049231861). He turned up in few minutes and promised to takes on an interesting tour lasting around half a day. (Rs. 650). We first visited a vegetable farm growing tomatoes and brinjals (farmer know to Shridhar). The farmer plucked fresh tomatoes and brinjal from the plants and we purchased a kilo each ( Rs. 20 +Rs30 per Kg).
The next stop was to see Kalsubai Peak. It is sheer cliff with a fort of Shivaji’s vintage on the top of one of them. There is a grandeur in them which I tried to capture through a photo (courtesy :Guide).
The next spot was a view point overlooking a dam made in the midst of rocks giving a beautiful view of the valley. There is a hydroelectric power plant with the water recycled through a tunnel. The beauty is the view of the distant valley through two large cliffs in a V shaped form.
The next halt was Amriteswar Temple of Lord Shiva. The Shivaling is at a lower level and we have to climb down the steps. An old man was sitting beside the deity cleaning the idol. We offered our prayers. During monsoon, the deity is under water flowing from the hills. The legend is that the Pravaa River is flowing from the spring below the deity. The temple is visibly old and probably attracts devotees during certain important festival days of Lord Shiva.
We had good tea in a stall few meters away from the Temple and proceeded to Randha water falls. It has water throughout the year. The water falls over a cliff and can be seen from a safe distance – unlike the waterfall near Ganpatipule. The local MLA is said to have taken initiative to invest in tourism promoting assets around this waterfall. Our Guide proudly told us that one song of Rajesh Khanna Starrer Kati Patang-( made in 1970) was shot here followed by several other movies.
It is a nice waterfall and can be made into an attractive tourist location. At present the facilities are at best at a “work in progress state”. It seems surprising that a round the year waterfall has limited facilities in terms or restaurant, picnic spots for families to have half day outing at least. What seems to have been improved in the local temple overlooking the waterfall.
By now, we had crossed the lunch time. We passed through Wilson dam built in 1910 during the British era and not surprisingly seems to be working well. We went through a narrow road ( said to be a shortcut) and had two heart stopping moments when two overloaded tempos came from opposite side. We saw the sluice gate and returned to the hotel for lunch.
Shridhar promised to take us to Sunset point for a further fee ( Rs; 150 ) in the evening. This required a climb through a rough track. Padma and I were short of breath within the first few minutes. We bravely completed the ascent in around 30 minutes and then reached a plateau. The plateau overlooks BD and its lake giving an eagles eye view for miles around. I was told that this plateau was tribal land and went into litigation resulting stoppage of agriculture . Now there are tall grasses which are cut after monsoon.
We sat at the edge of a cliff. Shridhar went below and brought some chilled water from a cave . Shridhar informed us that some of the forest land has been converted into agricultural use. Much of the land is owned by tribal population and there are statutory restrictions on purchase of such lands through out India. Still, Indians citizens are not deficient in ingenuity and some of them have been changed hands.
Capturing sunset in photograph is a difficult task. Sun God eludes me when I try to put him inside a photo frame. Either there is too much light or too little. Sunset occurs at a speed we do not really notice. When I reviewed the photos taken, I find that there are three photos which show Sun sliding behind two cliffs in the horizon.
The descent , though less strenuous, was risky as we could slip and slide down.
We returned to the Resort by 7.00 p.m. and rested.
Some impressions and information needs recording. BD does not seem to be a prosperous place. Agriculture is the main occupation. Two crops where water is accessible and one crop where only rainfall is there. Rice, wheat and some pulses seems to be grown on subsistence basis. A good percentage are tribal population and have got Government employment and agriculture is additional income.
The tomato farmer told me it takes 4 months for the crop to grow and become ready for sale. I am not sure how large was the tomato farm. He said the crop was around 4 to 5 quintals and he gets Rs. 20 per kilogram at the Vashi wholesale market. This amounts to roughly Rupees one lac income in four months. I am not sure the economics of it. He has similar farm for brinjal and some other vegetable also.
We also bought two kilos of potato from a potato farmer who too has a large farm @ Rs. 15 per kg. The attraction of buying from the farmer is that we believe that less chemical fertilizers are used and the vegetables are more tasty.
The farmer’s house looked basic though not lacking in amenities. It was near the road, but there did not seem to be any other facilities like shops, market, banks, doctor’s dispensary, grocery shops etc, which we take for granted in cities. They are closer to nature in a literal sense itself but far off from other common facilities describe before.
I travelled around 50 kms to see the tourist spots. .In some places, the roads did not exist . The roads were narrow and winding, resembling ghat section roads. Since there was no traffic, the drive was not nerve wracking. I blew horn at every blind turning. Shridhar could warn me in advance which turning was particularly sharp needing more caution.
There seems to be several lakes made at different points of time. Any vast expanse of water has a beauty and charm of its own. They are quite picturesque and a pleasure to watch. Going without a guide can be quite taxing as we would need to know the routes and some knowledge of the places we visit.
The best season to come is monsoon when the place abounds with waterfalls, there is greenery all around.. Shridhar tells me that the best time to come is after September 20th, when monsoon loses its fury. The lakes would be full in a manner which can only be imagined now. The hotels are full during these periods- indicating the choice of discerning visitors. Trekking and camping is popular due to the presence of several hills and cliffs.
Having own vehicle is essential as local transport, though available, would be very commercially oriented and expensive.
The main advantage of these brief visits to nearby locations is mainly to refresh our mind and body. The images of the places visited reside in our mind’s eye long after we have left them.
We had an early breakfast and visited the Sunday vegetable fair just behind the resort. We could see that the vegetables were just coming in. They looked fresh. We did not wait to buy anything and left around 9.30. The traffic was thin. We did not take any break and reached Mumbai by 1.00 p.m.
It was a relaxing trip. We felt refreshed. The pleasure of doing nothing is hard to explain. I promised to myself to repeat such brief visits..