Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary: Alive with birdcalls
Avian life in the Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary is a delight for ornithologists and nature lovers.
Located in Gujarat’s Kathiawad peninsula, Hingolgadh comes as a surprise – nothing about the miles after miles of scrubby plains and fields you find on your way to this place prepares you for the sight of a medieval fort rising up from a hill about a thousand feet high. The highlight of the fort is its location in the Hingolgadh Nature Sanctuary, rich in birdlife.
After a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Ahmedabad, we came to the foot of the hill on which the castle was located, and began the winding drive through scrub jungle to its cannon-guarded rampart with a view of the valley, its waterbodies and scrub jungle. The facade of the fort rising up behind the ramparts has exquisitely-carved jarokha balconies. We entered the fort through a courtyard and ascended the staircase to the rooms where you can access the museum of heirlooms of the owners who belong to a Kathi Kshatriya dynasty that ruled first from Hingolgadh in the 17th century, and then nearby Jasdan. We saw a gallery with antique clocks, a collection of traditional utensils, pieces of beadwork and other textiles, and early-20th-century memorabilia. We also got to peek into a royal bedroom replete with a four-poster brass bed, old dressers and an ornate fireplace.
From the fort, we trekked through the scrub jungles of the sanctuary and were rewarded by the sighting of a graceful Indian gazelle, better known as a chinkara. Descending from the hill, we saw a batch of nilgai or blue bull antelope. The bushes trilled with birdcalls, and we saw larks, wheatears, warblers and quails on the trail. Trekked back to the castle, we drove to a waterbody come alive with a large flocks of demoiselle cranes, ducks and wading birds . Hungry after our morning trek, we drove to Jasdan where we found a dhaba near the bus station. Here, we had a delicious lunch of traditional Kathiawadi food including bajra rotla (millet roti), sev tamatar (tomato curry garnished with thin slivers of dough), lasania bataka (potatoes cooked in a garlic paste), kadhi and khichdi. Jasdan is a good place to buy brass-bound boxes called pataras or pitaras, low stools called bajoths and metal utensils.
Hingolgadh is about three-and-a-half hours by road from Ahmedabad airport, and an hour and a half from the Rajkot airport.
Where to Stay
Hingolgadh is a one-hour drive from Gondal, where there are heritage hotels like The Palace, Gondal (+91-2825-220002), The Riverside Palace, Gondal (+91-2825-221950). You can also visit www.gondalpalaces.com for details.
Ahmedabad to Hingolgadh
Sayla: Handicraft Lover’s Delight
Sayla in Gujarat is an ideal haunt for those looking for a heritage break along with handicraft shopping.
Sayla lies in the heart of the major handloom cluster of Gujarat’s Surendranagar district known for its khadi, single ikat sarees and tangaliya weavers. In search of an unusual holiday, we drove out to Bell Guest House at Sayla for a heritage break combined with a tour of the handloom centres.
The Bell Guest House was built about a century ago by the ruling family of Sayla and hosted their British visitors.Today, the scions of the family have opened it as a 10-room heritage homestay facility with the owners still in residence. The façade is largely European but with some fine indigenous wood carvings on the balcony.
We climbed the wooden stairway to our room and gazed out from the open gallery upstairs to the canopied trees where we saw a spotted owlet and a number of parakeets. The gardens were full of warblers, sunbirds and white-eyes.All the rooms were spacious and most of them had an extra baggage room and good-sized baths, but we selected one in the corner upstairs that was exceptionally large, had a wooden ceiling and a private balcony. After a home-cooked dinner, it was relaxing to sit out on our balcony and gaze at the stars in the dark sky.
In the morning, we enjoyed a stroll on the grounds and a sumptuous breakfast before driving out with the owners, Somraj and Priti, to the house and workshop of the silk weavers. These weavers use the ikat technique that involves resist dyeing of the thread in the required patterns before drawing them on the loom.
After we bought some stoles, we drove to Vasatri, known for its tangaliya weaving. This is a form of weaving where extra threads are used to create patterns on the fabric during the weaving process.Traditionally done for shawls of the Bharwad shepherds, the weavers are now aware of the demand in contemporary markets. We also visited one of the Prajapatis, a community of potters, at their workshop in Botad. Besides a variety of utensils, the family also showed us ceramic jewellery they had made.
Before heading back to Sayla, we visited the Dhakania grasslands on the outskirts of Botad to watch antelopes and were rewarded with the sight of a herd of blackbucks.
Sayla is 88 km from the Rajkot airport and railway station and 136 km from the Ahmedabad airport and railway station.
Where to Stay
Bell Guest House, Sayla Circle NH 8,Sayla District Surendranagar, Sayla,Gujarat (+91-97246-78145)
Ahmedabad to Sayla
Uttan: Monsoon and the sea
Take a break from your busy schedule and spend some quality leisure time close to the sea at U-tan resorts in Uttan.
After almost a week of nonstop rains, we set out for a place called Uttan, a little more than 35 km northwards of Mumbai city. We were on the Western Express Highway and then from the Kashimira junction, took a left through Bhayandar towards Dongri. The Pali Beach Resort comes first and then there is a bit of a climb up a hill which ends at the U-tan Resorts where we were booked for the night.
Instead of two ‘compact’ rooms we opted for one studio apartment which had two double beds and one window seat which could double up as an extra bed. The spacious balcony looked out onto the swimming pool and would have had a lovely view of the sea if it had not been for this huge mango tree. As soon as the rain stopped, we set out to explore the place.
A gazebo with clusters of bamboo trees and large terracotta pots was an inviting place to sit and look out on to the sea. A tree next to it had many small colourful buckets hanging from the many branches — very attractive for all the small kids who were visiting.
The sight of the sea was enchanting with the fishermen’s boats bobbing in the choppy waters. As it grew dark, we were denied the pleasure of watching a classic sunset by the clouds; the winds picked up speed and the rain came right on to the balcony. Just the right time for hot pakoras and chai! Room service obliged and we had a treat!
In the morning the clouds cleared and we were able to walk along the cobbled paths. The lilies were at their colorful best while the parijat flowers (also known as hasnayana) gave off a heady fragrance. Some herons came and sat on the rocky outcrop to dry out their feathers. On a clear day, one could walk down to the beach and watch the sea from the jetty.
By air: Mumbai, 35 km away, is the nearest airport.
By rail: Mumbai is the nearest major railway station.
By road: Take the Western Express Highway and then from the Kashimira Junction, take a left turn towards Dongri .
Where to Stay
U-Tan Sea Resort
Tel: 022 2845 1151 / 022 2845
2345 / 98922 93661
Mumbai to Uttan
Hodka: Rustic Getaway
If you want to take a break from the mundane urban routine and delve into the life of a village, head to Hodka.
A riot of colour, warm hospitality and a sense of pride is what defines the Hodka village best. At Hodka one can experience endogenous or transformative tourism. It doesn’t just mean travel for pleasure but for broadening one’s horizons as well. The origin of the village traces its roots to a clan called Halepotra. Literally translated, Halepotra means son or the descendant of Halaji, who is believed to have immigrated from Sindh. The other predominant clan at Hodka is the Hindu Meghwals who migrated here way back in the 18th century.
At Hodka, you have the opportunity to experience living in Bhungas, the circular mud houses with thatched roofs. Don’t be misled by their modest external appearance. The interiors of these eco-homes are comfortably spacious with kingsize mud beds and mud sofas. There are attached bathrooms with solar hot water showers as well.
Bhungas are a lovely balance between age-old traditional architectural precision and modern amenities. They are designed to withstand the extreme weather of Kutch. The walls are decorated with colourful floral patterns and mirror work known as lippan kam.
Those looking to indulge in retail therapy must check out the leather craft done by the craftsmen and the different embroidery styles including mutwa, pakko, neran and applique done by the women folk. There are plenty of local artists practising the craft at their homes. Leather products include embroidered mojadis, hand fans, mirror frames and wall pieces. Interestingly, embroidery is a family tradition and girls, as young as seven, can be seen learning the art from their mothers. The items available include kanjris (long embroidered blouses), bed sheets, bags and wallets.
At Hodka, you can savour excellent vegetarian Gujarati and Kutchi cuisine. A variety of rotlas, kadhi, dal, khichdi, undhyoo, buttermilk and sweets such as gulab pak are available to whip up your appetite. There’s also an option of heading to Bhirandiyara village, a couple of kilometers away, to relish the mava mithai. The brown mithai, made only with buffalo milk and sugar is a must try.
The nearest airport and railway station is at Bhuj, 65 km away. From Bhuj one can hire a car to reach Hodka. The road is in a very good condition and the drive is a pleasure.
Where to Stay
Shaam-e-sarhad village resort at Hodka is a good option. It won the 2010 Pacific Asia Travel Association gold award for best rural tourism project. (+91-2803-296222).
Jhadol Safari Resort: Lakefront Tranquality
Having heard much about the streams, lakes and dramatic landscapes of Jhadol, we decided to take a one-night break at the Jhadol Safari Resort.
How to reach Jhadol Safari Resort
Starting out early from Ahmedabad, we drove past Himmatnagar to Idar, where we took a tea break, and then continued through the Polo forests between Idar and Vijaynagar. Presently, we arrived at Jhadol safari resort about noon and followed local signposts to the Jhadol Safari Resort that has a dirt track leading to its reception area.
About Jhadol Safari Resort
This property came as a surprise — the rather remote location and dirt track had led us to believe it would be a basic lodge, but instead it had a pretty lawn stretching between an attractive building and a swimming pool overlooking the lake, an appealing dining room and a variety of modern conveniences. Over lunch, Vishwavijay Singh Jhala, the owner, told us, “My ancestors, Jhala Rajputs, came to Mewar in Medieval times. In return for military services to the Maharanas of Mewar, we were granted the rule of the Jhadol area. This property was our ancestral hunting lodge — the main lodge has a terrace facing the jungle and the lake was used for duck shooting”.
We spent the evening on the lawns, enjoying a dip in the swimming pool, and afternoon tea with a view of the lake with its flocks of coots, and motley species of ducks and herons. A flock of lesser whistling ducks flew over us and landed on the lake. At night, we climbed the staircase to the bar filled with Rajmemorabilia and photographs of royal hunts. After a chilled beer, we descended for dinner which included regional Rajasthani specialties including makki-kiroti with local-style chicken curry. The limpid sky was a canopy of stars in the cool night. In the morning, we awakened to the sonorous call of saras crane from the lake and saw three of them standing tall on an island with the morning sunlight glinting on their striking red heads. A turbaned staffer took us for a tour of the fruit orchards, showing us guava, mango and gooseberry trees. We tucked into a hearty breakfast on the lawns, and chatted amiably with other guests including a Swiss artist from Finland.
Jhadol is about four hours drive from the Ahmedabad International Airport and two hours from Udaipur’s Dabok Airport.
Where to Stay
Jhadol Safari Resort at Ravla Bagh, Village — Tehsil, Jhadol, Dist. Udaipur, Rajasthan. For reservations, call at 9636224224 or 9828109037.
Chhota Udepur- Unique Blend of Cultures
The town of Chhota Udepur lies in the midst of tribal villages and hamlets. From Vadodara, we drove to the Machi plateau facing the Pavagadh Hill that is about 822 m high and clothed with woodlands. From the Machi Plateau, we bought our ticket for the Swiss-style six-seat cable car. The ropeway journey was spectacular, looking out at woodlands and rock formations before reaching the station near the hilltop. We walked past the stalls serving tea and snacks, to the Laukalish temple standing amid a water body. Built in the 11th century, this temple is now largely ruined but the standing walls reflect its fine architecture and intricate carvings. From here, you can join the pilgrims for the walk to the Kali Temple or the Jain Derasar complex. We then drove to Chhota Udepur which has a number of palaces, colonial period mansions and public buildings.
We drove to the market near a lake where the Saturday haat was in progress. The stalls were selling tribal ornaments, arrowheads, bows, knives, agricultural implements, food grains, and women’s accessories and toiletries like mirrors, cosmetics, talcum powder, hair pins and polyester clothing. The next stop was the tribal museum that has examples of wall paintings called pithoras, native weapons, tribal utensils, musical instruments and attires. From Chhota Udepur, we drove to one of the Rathwa villages picturesquely located in low hills near fields of millet, maize, wheat and barley. Near the village was a tribal shrine with many terracotta figures facing a tribal deity under a sprawling tree that had many fruit bats hanging from its branches. The next morning, we started back for Vadodara stopping for lunch at Home for Nature Lovers, an eco-resort set in Jambughoda Palace. Here, a senior Rathwa worker told us about a freshly painted pithora in his house. We headed for a small cluster of five houses belonging to his extended family, where a young woman opened the door to show us the wall covered with a highly ritualistic painting done on the walls. The main colours used are yellow, indigo, orange, green, vermilion, red, ultramarine blue, black and silver. The paintings depict myths and animal figures.
It is a border town (between Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh) located about 102 km from Vadodara in Gujarat.
Where to Stay
Kali Niketan is a 60-acre summer palace complex in Chhota Udepur run as a heritage hotel by its owners. Home for Nature Lovers at Jambughoda Palace is an eco-resort located between Vadodara and Chhota Udepur.
Matheran- Green on the top
Matheran is a place where the beautiful panoramas lure even the laziest of the walkers. The tiny hill station holds a very special place in my heart as it was the easiest break I could take at any given time. After 10 long years, going to Matheran was a reminiscence ride to a good old friend. Many years ago a benign looking travel article on how to trek across this patch of Sahayadri range landed me in a knee rattling experience which even after many years, I find hard to forget.
Well having said that in all exultation, this destination is a very popular zone for all Pune dwellers and Mumbaikars. Mr. Hugh Poyntz Malet discovered this tiny hill station in 1850 and he surely had no idea that it would be thronging with tourists of all age groups and walks of life. Being the eco-sensitive zone, all transport must halt at Dasturi from where one walks on the small gauge rail tracks, takes a pony or takes the train from Neral.
Lord Central Hotel
I suggest a stay at the Lords Central Hotel. Opened in 1930 by Siavax Lord for travelers to come and share the delightful English Parsi meals and stay a while, it is not for the ones bound by luxury.
It acts as a home where one comes with generation’s baggage and time in hand to laze around and be one with the surroundings. It is nestled right next to the vantage point which overlooks the valley and its villages. Mornings and evenings are perfect to go for walks across the beautiful forest stretches and pathways, while trotting about on ponies and horses provides utter delight to all, especially children.
Tourist Season in Matheran
Come October, as Matheran gears up to open after the three to four months of rain-break, it’s wonderful to feel the clouds as they swirl about. One should come well equipped with good walking and swimming kits and pullovers. The little market place is there to make you happy and content with the small buys. Arrays of hats and purses, neatly arranged local chappals, and leather goods are available. Don’t forget to try the local ice candy man’s kalakhatta which is simply delicious and makes you ask for more.
By rail: Mumbai-Neral-Matheran is approximately 110 km. Pune-Matheran is about 141km. By road: On the Pune Express Highway after Chowk the direction states 29kms to Matheran.
Pony trotting, trekking, parasailing and gliding, Nariman chikki centre. Carry as little as possible. Best time to visit will be from October onwards.
By Reema Bhalla