As you cruise down the Mumbai- Pune Expressway, keep the accelerator down past Lonavla, and turn into the nondescript town of Kamshet. The road rush begins to settle, but almost immediately the scenery changes and you are out and away from it all again — from the mad rush of Mumbai, and the mad rush of Mumbaikars in Lonavla. Surrounded by panoramic views of paddy and sunflower fields fringed by hills all around, Kamshet is a back-to-nature weekend par excellence. Its history has been shaped by the hills here. Once known for breeding fierce freedom-loving guerrilla warriors, they now play host to bands of fearless paragliding pilots and adventure lovers.
The locals, however, are unimpressed by the human birdies criss-crossing their peaceful village roads and skies. Having witnessed world-class paragliding events and gatherings of pilots from all over the world, they no longer puzzle over the phugawallas (balloon men) and their fascination with the ancient hills and skies.
Things to see and do
Whether you are looking at stretching your wingspan or gazing at breathtaking views in solitude, you will find the best of both ends of the spectrum here.
Vadivali Lake is a delightful body of water and a habitat for a variety of birds. It’s an artificially created lake, formed by the Uksan Dam. The Native Place Guest House is located on the lake. Adventure activities If you have always wondered what a bird’s eye view really is, give paragliding a try. The intricacies of this gentle adventure skill can be grasped over two weekends. If you’re not prepared to push your limits but still want the rush, a tandem ride (a joyride in which an experienced pilot does all the work) should do the trick. For all the action on this adventure sport, turn to ‘Ride the wind’ on page 138.
The isolated Kondeshwar Temple stands out amongst wild flowers and a gurgling stream behind that turns into a delightful three-tiered waterfall in the monsoons. A few metres ahead is a clearing flanked by cliffs on both sides.
This is the perfect place for a quiet picnic but if you have a rope and the right skills, a climb to Bhairi Caves on the cliff to your right (go with an experienced climber as it’s a very tough climb) can be a satisfying experience.
This set of caves is very different from the famous Karla and Bhaja caves near Lonavla. To get to them, drive towards Kale Colony and Pawna Lake. About 8 km down this road you’ll see the caves on your right, halfway up the hillside. A motorable road leads to the base village of Bedsa. From there it’s an easy half-hour climb. The majestic pillars in front of the main chaitya look almost Roman and are visible from far away. These Hinayana Buddhist caves are believed to date back to the 1st century BCE. Take a close look at the sculptures of animals and dancing figures here.
This is the back of beyond. Don’t expect to spend time shopping unless it’s for colourful patchwork quilts. In Kamshet town you may pick up Indrayani rice, a fragrant variety grown in this area. The perfect accompaniment is the famous mango pickle available in giant 1 kg packs. American visitors have been known to take back a koita (sickle) as a souvenir; of course, this was pre-September 11.
Ride the Wind
Up in the air, your hand on the controls, the wind in your hair and the gentle flutter of the rainbow-coloured wing fluttering overhead, a sense of tranquillity washes over you as you watch the scenery far below. You feel the same confidence as well as peace, as you gently glide forward. Then, as the earth rushes upwards to meet you, radio silence is broken and a voice in your ear reminds you to pull your brakes, take a few steps in the air and touch ground running, like you would if you were jumping off a running train. This essentially covers the thrills of a first solo paragliding flight.
Nirvana Adventures, Indus Paragliding and Temple Pilots are established names in this thrilling aero sport here in Kamshet. Nirvana Adventures (Tel: 02114-286287; Website: flynirvana.com) offers several paragliding courses (Rs 8,000-20,000) for kids and grown-ups, some of which can be done over a weekend. And what you get at the end of it is a weekend break that offers you thrills and that rarer commodity — a feeling of being in control and pleased as punch with yourself. It’s a chance to push your boundaries and check out whether you were originally intended to be a gull or a falcon. Joyrides at Nirvana are for Rs 2,000.
Sanjay Pendukar’s Indus Paragliding (Mob: 09869083838, Website: induspara gliding.in) offers courses ranging from Rs 8,000-16,000. The highlight is your first solo flight under direct radio supervision of your instructor. A 10-min joyride costs Rs 2,500. At Amarjit Malik’s Temple Pilots (Mob: 09920120243, Website: templepilots.com), the course fee for kids and adults ranges from Rs 9,800-32,000. Tandem joyrides are at Rs 2,500 (15 mins). Stay, meals, training, transport and materials are part of the package in all cases.
Location 17 km ahead of the twin hill stations of Khandala and Lonavla, 2,100 ft above sea level
Distance 118 km SE of Mumbai JOURNEY TIME By road 3 hrs By rail 21/2 hrs + 1/2 hr by road
Route Mumbai-Pune Expressway to Lonavla; old highway to Kamshet
When to go Nature trips and spur-of-the-moment weekends can be indulged in throughout the year. October-June is for paragliding. Monsoon is waterfall-spotting time.
Tel: 02114-282230, 282064, 282102
STD code 02114 From Mumbai 952114
By Astrid Rao with Niloufer Venkatraman