Serene Durshet and placid Kalote — two pristine weekend breaks for the price of one are yours for the taking, barely over an hour’s drive from aamchi Mumbai. Ignore the flashy expressway and take the old road instead to these beauties in northern Raigad. There are nature trails here to explore, and for all purposes, your own private river, your own private lake, even your own private forest.
Durshet, part of a forest full of mahua trees, falls within the enclosure of Nature Trails Forest Lodge and the Amba River flows right past. There’s not a soul in sight as you (skinny) dip in this exuberant river or take a romantic walk through the trees.
At Kalote, Lake Placid Retreat is on the shores of the extensive Lake Kalote, which, unlike the Amba River, doesn’t lose much of its water in the winter. Have a dip in the cool blue waters with luxurious privacy.
After you’re done wallowing in lush green-tinged solitude, head out for more public diversions in and around Khopoli. But if you like, use your weekend to pay your respects at the holy Ashtavinayakas of Shri Ballaleshwar and Shri Varad Vinayak, on either side of Durshet.
Things to see and do
Essentially, to do Durshet you have to stay at the Nature Trails Forest Lodge. From this secluded base hidden within thick foliage, you can hare off to the temples, the river and lakes or towards the ghats for trekking.
Into the forest
Stroll through the extensive plantations of fruit trees, casuarinas and acacias within the forested expanse of Nature Trails Lodge. The private forest is also a wonderful place to go insect watching, and in case you prefer your wildlife a little larger, there’s also wild boar, barking deer and monkeys.
The best time to visit this place would be when it’s raining — the river is full and the huge natural waterfalls within the forest are at their best. You can trek to these falls through the mahua, mango and teak trees. The bird life here is very rich, and the calls of drongos, doves, parakeets, shrikes, bulbuls and warblers fill the air. The cultivated lands adjoining the resort are a good place to find lapwings’ nests, but do take care not to handle or harm them. Within the resort’s flower garden, you will see a number of butterflies flitting about their business — getting drunk on nectar or laying eggs on their favourite plants. You may recognise the lime, Mormon and plain tiger butterflies if you are an enthusiast.
If forest treks and butterfly businesses are too soft for you, opt instead for the range of adventure activities on offer, which include rock climbing, rappelling and river crossing.
Two of Maharashtra’s eight swayambhu Ganesh idols, or Ashtavinayakas, are a short drive from Durshet in opposite directions. Shri Varad Vinayak Temple, 20 km north of Durshet at Mahad has a very picturesque location near a lake, within whose waters Dhondu Paudkar first found the swayambhu idol three centuries ago.
More than a hundred years after it was found, the idol was removed from its temporary location and housed in the present structure, built by the Peshwas and gifted to Mahad. Shri Varad Vinayak is considered to be among the most beautiful of the Ashtavinayaka temples, with a golden pinnacle topping its towering dome.
The same can’t be said for the temple that enshrines the Shri Ballaleshwar Ashtavinayaka, 20 km south of Durshet at Pali, a gaudy structure that is jarring in its pristine location. You’ll enjoy the drive down a forested road to Pali, where the temple is located right near the Amba River with Sarasgad Fort in the background. There are two small lakes within the temple complex itself. There are also two sanctums, and Ganpati’s vahan offering modaks to the elephant god.
Less interesting are the hot springs at Unhere, 6 km further down Pali Road. These can be left to only the most enthusiastic travellers for inspection.
Location Between two holy Ashtavinayakas, by the Amba River near Khopoli on the old Mumbai-Pune Highway
Distance 115 km SE of Mumbai Journey time By road 3 hrs
Route Old Mumbai-Pune Highway (NH4) to Khopoli; Khopoli-Pen Road and Khopoli-Pali Road to Durshet
When to go June-September is best; November-February is also pleasant. Summers are a definite no-no
Tel: 022-22026713/ 7762
STD code 02192
By Lesley A Esteves with V Shubhalaxmi