Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Of Waterfalls, Fog and Royalty

In the southern range of Sahyadri hills, there is a quaint hill station at an altitude of 690m., called Amboli. Being on record as the wettest place in Maharashtra, with an average of nearly 750 centimetres (269 inches) of rainfall a year, mainly falling between June and October, it is shrouded in thick fog most of the time. This monsoon seemed an ideal time to explore this hazy heaven. While going from Mumbai we drove down the 519kms to Amboli via Kolhapur, Sankeshwar, Gadhinglaj and Ajra. The drive upto Sankeshwar on the Golden Quadrilateral was smooth but beyond that right upto Amboli it was a slightly bumpy ride on a two laned pockmarked road. The weather right through was beautiful, cloudy and cool. The last 5kms we drove through clouds – heavenly! We checked in at the MTDC resort ‘Green Valley’ which, like all MTDC resorts, is located at a lovely spot. It is about 500m from the main road, at the tip of a forested area. Had tea and went exploring around the resort. We discovered a deserted Botanical garden cum research centre. The empty playing grounds in the foggy deserted area looked eerie and straight out of a horror movie! Had an early dinner at MTDC which is managed by the famed Vithal Kamaths. The food was reasonably good and the service excellent. Next morning, we had an idli/dosa breakfast at Vithal Kamath’s restaurant which is just next door to the MTDC resort and moved on to Hiranyakeshi Temple, 6kms away, which is the point where the Hiranyakeshi river originates. An idyllic spot, with a small pond in front of the Hiranyakeshi temple that houses a Shivling, Ganapati idol and of course the Hiranyakeshi Devi idol. Next to this temple, there is an entrance to a cave which we did not dare explore as we were told it is not safe to do so in the monsoons when it becomes a safe harbour for a lot of creepy crawlies. On the way back to the main road, there is a Ragheshwar Ashram. There is a Swayambhu Ganesha temple, a Naag Devata temple, in addition to the ashram where Swami Ragheshwar meditated and attained Samadhi. This location is heavenly on the banks of the Hiranyakeshi river. After a spiritual awakened morning we headed to the most popular waterfall in Amboli, about 3kms on the way to Sawantwadi. There are steps carved alongside the waterfall to enable people go halfway up the waterfall. During monsoon, these steps are also under flowing water. Huge crowds are there enjoying their hydraulic massage under this waterfall all through the day. We went ahead on to Sawantwadi which is just about 30kms from Amboli. The road was beautiful right through. Headed straight to ‘Shilpgram’, managed by the Sawantwadi Municipal Council, which was advertised widely as the place to go to see the wonderful crafts of Sawantwadi. However, to our disappointment, we were told that only the restaurant was open and the crafts/craftsmen were there only during scheduled stops of the luxury train ‘Deccan Odyssey’ to cater to the tourists therein. But the watchman there gave us directions to ‘Kanekar Toys’ in ‘Chitra Alli’, just a couple of kms away, where we would find the best examples of wooden crafts for which Sawantwadi is famous. And indeed, the Woodcraft was amazing. There were vintage cars, touring motorcycles and vintage aircrafts all finely crafted from wood! All the shopping had made us hungry so we made our way back to ‘Shilpgram’ and had some delicious Malwani lunch in excellent ambience and served like royalty at a very humble price. Now it was time to visit the royals at the Sawantwadi Palace. You get a guided tour of the palace for a fee of Rs.25/- per head. You are taken to the Queen’s Durbar where the Royal Throne made of silver, and a couple of wild animals shot by the Queen are on display along with some sword and shield decorations. It is here that you can see and admire the craftsmanship of the artists who are busy making ‘Ganjifa’ cards – It had originated in Persia but this art is now practiced only in Sawantwadi. A set of these handmade cards numbering 120 cost Rs.3000/-. They also have a lot of other items like the palanquin and other vintage artefacts that were found in the erstwhile state of Sawantwadi. To wind up the Royal tour you will be taken to their ‘Crafts Sales’ Durbar where you can check out all the different handmade papier-mâché items and some items that were crafted by the Queen herself. The Queen still resides with her family in the adjoining palatial grounds. We exited the Palace and returned to Amboli. There were still hordes of people dancing in the rain at the waterfalls. Our next destination was Kavaleshet point which is about 6kms from Amboli. This is a place from where one can get spectacular views but unfortunately for us it was fogged out totally. Having reached there after driving about 2kms on a terrible road, we did not want to return before getting a glimpse of the heavenly views. We waited for about 30mins but were not favoured by the rain gods as the clouds just refused to clear out. Next on the list was the Nangartaas falls which is about 15kms on the road to Belgaum. The roar of the falls and the viewing facility reminds one of the great Jog falls. Not much of a crowd here as you can only view the falls and not frolic around. Having had our fill of waterfalls and living in the clouds we set back to Mumbai after a hearty breakfast at Vithal Kamath’s, not very early but around 1030am next morning. Our return trip was via Sawantwadi on NH17. Had a great lunch in ‘Alankar’ in Hathkhamba and reached Mumbai, back to earth, after a couple of days in the clouds. The route was scenic with lot of ups and downs on good roads, a distance of 545kms.
  • Getting there:
  • By Rail: Nearest Railway station - Sawantwadi (30kms) on Konkan Railway.
  • By Road: Mumbai –Kolhapur-Sankeshwar-Gadhinglaj-Ajra-Amboli – 519kms or
  • Mumbai-Panvel-Chiplun-Hathkhamba-Sawantwadi-Amboli – 545kms
  • Accomodation: MTDC’s Green Valley and other private hotels.