“Fun-lane driving” – Mumbai Touchdown February 2009

‘It is said that the journey counts more than the destination. More often than not, the destination is reached after hours of tiresome travel. But if the journey and the destination are equally exciting, who wouldn’t be thrilled? Bindhu and Radhakrishnan Unny hit the road to Saputara, Shivneri, and Guhagar, from Mumbai and came across more than just speed breakers.’

Guhagar: A village ‘beach’ beauty
If the tourist-thronged beaches such as Kashid and Ganpatipule do not excite you anymore, search for the lesser-known ones. One such search landed us at Guhagar and Velneshwar.

Take a detour from the Mumbai-Goa highway at Khed to Dapoli and get onto the coastal road. Harnai, a fishing village, is a few kilometres off Dapoli. Harnai is not ideal for a dip in the sea. But fishing vessels lined up is quite a view. One would also get a good view of the Suvarnadurg Fort. Get back to Dapoli along the winding roads and hit the Dhabol road. The Dapoli-Dhabol road breaks at a jetty; a boat ferries vehicles to the other bank, from where the road continues to Guhagar.

At about 300 km from Mumbai, Guhagar is frequented by tourists from Pune, which is just 200 km away. It was in this quiet village with clean beaches, that we experienced typical village hospitality. We landed up in Guhagar late evening without any hotel reservations. The few hotels in the town were already full. We knocked at the doors of a few houses for home-stay options. Finally, an elderly lady at one of the houses requested a friend to accommodate us for a night. We spent time with a pleasant family at minimal cost. Behind their house was an inviting beach, where we enjoyed an early morning dip.

At about 15-20 km from Guhagar lies Velneshwar, another pristine beach, which is worth taking a dip. Drive further along the meandering roads and reach Chiplun. Head back to Mumbai along the highway.

No. of days: 2
Best time to travel: December
Route and distance covered: Up – Mumbai – Khed – Dapoli – Dhabol – Guhagar, covering about 300 km; Down – Guhagar – Velneshwar – Chiplun – Khed – Mumbai, covering around 310 km
Stay options: A few hotels and home stays

Have two days? Junnar is just a ride away
Different destinations. Many routes to reach them. Mix and match these to get a unique road travel experience. So if one has two days and own conveyance, try Narayangaon, Junnar, Ozar, and Lenyadri. While the journey was exciting, the main attraction was the Shivneri Fort at Junnar, where Shivaji was born. Zoom along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway till Wadgaon, take a left to Chakan and reach Narayangaon via Khed, and Manchar. From there, country roads take charge.

Another 20-km drive, we reached Junnar, covering 257 km. A small, sleepy town, Junnar’s claim to fame is the presence of the Shivneri Fort. Easily accessible and well-maintained, this fort offers a few glimpses of history to the visitor. Besides, one can enjoy the sheer architectural beauty and strength of the fort, and excellent views of Junnar from the top.

Two of the famous Ashtavinayakas are situated around Junnar. Shri Vigneshwara temple at Ozar is about 27 km and Sri Girijatmaka temple at Lenyadri is about 20 km from Junnar, off the Junnar-Malshej route. Visit Ozar first, as the Malshej Ghat road is closer to Mumbai, at just 200 km. Vineyards and vegetable farms that border the roads make the drive interesting. Come back to Junnar and take the Lenyadri road. As the name suggests (Leni means cave and Adri means hill), the temple at Lenyadri is located inside an ancient Buddhist cave carved on top of a hill. There are steps leading to the temple, and, hence, easily accessible. Malshej Ghat is 35 km from Lenyadri, with winding roads flanked by unending green meadows and valleys. From Malshej Ghat, take the well-known route to Mumbai via Kalyan.

No. of days: 2
Best time to travel: September
Route and distance covered: Up – Mumbai – Chakan (Pune) – Khed – Manchar – Narayangaon – Junnar, covering about 257 km; Down – Junnar – Lenyadri – Malshej
Ghat – Kalyan – Mumbai, covering less than 200 km
Stay options: Couple of private hotels in Junnar.

Saputara: Driving through Dang
A tiny hill station in the Dang district at the southern tip of Gujarat, Saputara is accessible via Nashik, Dindori, and Vani, covering around 260 km. As one climbs up the rain-drenched Kasara Ghats, endless green-carpeted land on both sides of the road offer a visual treat. Pull over to chase butterflies on these green expanses; climb up to a check dam just before Nashik and feel the breeze caress one’s face; get a hint of what awaits one in Saputara. At Nashik, take the turn to Saputara. The road is slightly rough, but improves drastically after the Gujarat border. Past the small towns Dindori and Vani, the misty Saputara Lake welcomes tourists to the tribal district of Dang that borders Maharashtra. A forest district, Dang in monsoons is nothing but pure bliss.

Saputara is unlike any typical hill station. Devoid of any colonial hangovers, it still retains its natural charm. Saputara translates to ‘abode of serpents’. But no serpents were in sight, as these original inhabitants would’ve retreated to the inner forests to escape from two-legged creatures. Saputara is so small that one doesn’t need local transport. From the sunrise point and the sunset point to the lake, all of it can be covered on foot.

The tribal museum, though badly maintained, is a must visit. Another attraction is the artists’ village, but it’s closed during the monsoons. A ride on the rope-way overlooking the valley offers a bit of adventure. Saputara gets crowded on weekends with visitors from Nasik and Surat. Make the return journey via Waghai, Vansda, Chikhli, Valsad, logging about 345 km. Good roads snake through teak forests and occasional tribal hamlets.

A detour near Waghai will take one to the roaring Gira Falls. The botanical garden on the way has rare species of trees and plants. A visit to the Vansda National Park, again on the way, is an excellent option, provided one has prior permission to enter the park.
However, if time is limited, give it a miss. The drive from Saputara to Waghai and
Vansda through spooky teak forests itself is worth one’s time – preparing one to face the traffic on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Highway.

No. of days: 2
Best time to travel: August
Route and distance covered: Up – Mumbai – Nasik – Dindori – Vani – Saputara, covering about 260 km; Down – Saputara – Waghai – Vansda – Chikhli – Valsad – Mumbai, covering about 345 km
Stay options: A few hotels including those run by Gujarat Tourism Development Corporation.

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