Like any other place in India, Saputara in Gujarat changes colours with the season. If you visit now, you’ll find it wearing its best green and celebrating rains with the annual Monsoon Festival (August 16-Sept 21 this year).
Mumbai residents in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra, who wade through knee-deep water on roads each monsoon, might wonder why the fuss. Well,Gujarat gets only about one-third of the heavenly bounty compared to its neighbour, and Saputara is among the lucky ones that receive the highest rainfall in the state.
Nestled in the Sahyadri mountain range or the Western Ghats, Saputara is blessed with a green cover, waterfalls, and scenic views in the rainy season. Apart from this,proximity to Maharashtra and hence its tourists makes Saputara Gujarat’s most popular hill station. Driving down from Mumbai, you’ll get there in 5-6 hours. As you pass through Nashik’s wide open vistas, trees on either side of the well-laid road form welcoming arches while mountains and fields make appearances off and on. At Dindori, a stretch of water from the Ozarkhed Dam hosts birds, including migratory ones in winter.
Gujaratis are among India’s most prolific travellers, so it’s not surprising to find Saputara crowded during weekends and long holidays. Tourist buses and cars fill the parking lot at Saputara Lake when I visit with family in December. The lakeside parks, with rides of different kinds and food carts selling everything from savoury chat to gola (syrupy ice balls), seem like the venue of a fair in a small town. Giggling kids in recently bought, pink or blue-tinted sunglasses run around walkways; newly-weds from conservative households awkwardly hold hands in public for the first time; older people indulgently watch over grandchildren spinning in merry-go-rounds; and teenagers ride a mechanical bull, trying to hold on to it and their egos as they’re thrown about. We let the kids join the fun and work up an appetite for freshly roasted corn-on-the-cob.
Moving on to Governor’s Hill, we join a serpentine queue for the famed cable car, but our patience runs out long before we reach the ticket counter. The kids disappear into a nursery next door and we follow, ogling at flowers in the well-maintained garden. Looking down from there, a possibly scenic view of the Lake set against Sahyadri Hills, its waters dotted with colorful paddle boats, is marred by mushrooming hotels and sundry buildings on its shores. We move on to more interesting things.
On a dirt track at the Sports Ground, the kids drive around on quad bikes (All Terrain Vehicles), their eyes gleaming with the thrill of an activity reserved only for adults on real roads. The Paragliding Festival beckons next. At the venue near a Jain Temple, green sheets are spread across the rock surface, giving it a welcoming feel. We watch for a while as people jump, hanging on an arc of freedom from the ground.
Soon it’s our turn to belt up – straps across thighs and waist, reserve parachute on the back, a pilot right behind and the paraglider wing billowing, we run for a short while as two people on either side give that extra push for take-off. As you jump into nothingness, human voices fade and there’s a sudden silence. You tell your heartbeat to slow down as the glider gains height and buildings shrink under your feet. Then you hear the wing flapping above and the wind whooshing past. Finally, a sense of calm takes over as you trust the pilot to do his job.
After landing in the valley, you join a group of people who’ve completed their flight and a jeep brings you back to the top. A word of warning, though – if the wind currents are too strong or the weather turns unfavourable, the flight might be aborted so that you just circle around for a bit over the paragliding venue and return.
It’s dark by the time our group finishes taking turns. Grinning ear to ear, we bid adieu to Saputara and hope to return another time.
TIPS FOR PARAGLIDING
- Reach early enough as it takes time to set up each paragliding session and if conditions are not favourable, you might have to wait for flights to resume. Generally, they begin at 9 a.m. and stop at 5 p.m. The cost is between 1,800-2,500 rupees per person per flight.
- Don’t wear loose or baggy clothes. Avoid dupattas and stoles. Depending on the weather, wear warm clothes as it’s quite breezy up there.
- Wear shoes or sandals as slippers/flip-flops can fall off during the flight.
- Be calm and don’t talk to the pilot too much – he needs to focus on guiding the flight.
- If you want to take pictures during the flight, inform the pilot beforehand and ask him when it’s safe to take pictures.
- Follow directions given by the staff and pilot – they are meant for your own safety.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN SAPUTARA
(1) Enjoy seasonal tourism festivals – The Gujarat government organizes seasonal festivals to promote tourism in Saputara. The Monsoon Festival is on now (August 16-Sept 21 in 2016) and features local food, boat races, handicrafts exhibition as well as cultural programs.
The Paragliding Festival takes place during November to January and you can check its dates for 2016-17 online later (they’re not showing up at the moment). Besides, the Dang Darbar Fair is held each year, usually in March before the Holi festival, to celebrate the culture of tribes living in the Dang area.
(2) Experience the Saputara Adventure Park – The Park has activities like ziplining, zorbing, paragliding, valley crossing, ground and high rope obstacles, tree walks, trekking, archery and natural rock climbing. Certain activities are seasonal.
(3) Pedal boat on the Saputara Lake – If you wish to exercise those muscles while enjoying a view, hire a pedal or rowing boat at the Saputara Lake. Available between 8.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., the pedal boat cost 20 rupees per person during our visit. As mentioned in the story above, there are many other rides and activities in the parks adjoining the lake. Even if you’re not interested in those, it’s still a good stop for food and beverages.
(4) Watch a sunset at the table top or indulge in some kiddie activities – The table top has camel rides, horse rides and bikes for kids. You could take the cable car to the table top or your vehicle up to a certain point and walk from there. The sunset point also called Gandhi Shikhar, is also at the table top so if you time the cable car ride in the evening, you could have the best of both worlds.
(5) Ride the ropeway – Saputara’s ropeway is only one of three active ones in Gujarat state. Take the 15-minute ride for an economical sum of 62 rupees per person and enjoy a view of the Dang forest and Saputara Lake.
(6) Visit the Tribal Museum – Tribes like Bhils, Kunbis, Warlis and Gamits form a majority of the population in the Dangs district, where Saputara is. A Tribal Museum on the Surat-Saputara-Nashik highway hosts a display including paintings, jewellery, vessels etc. that introduce visitors to the lifestyle, costumes, history, heritage and farming practices of the tribals.
(7) Enjoy a sunrise – The Sunrise Point, also known as Valley Viewpoint, is believed to have the best view of the Saputara Valley. You can’t drive till the end, so it’s an around 1.5 km uphill trek to get there.
(8) Watch birds and fireflies at Purna Wildlife Sanctuary – Though the Purna Wildlife Sanctuary is not really known for rare birds, you could see grey hornbills, woodpeckers, leafbirds, shrikes, raptors, and flycatchers etc. Within the sanctuary, the government has set up the Mahal Campsite and Nature Education Center in Mahal village which is a trekking site and hosts the Dang Bird Festival at times. You could also watch fireflies light up the night sky in June-July. The Sanctuary is also believed to have 116 species of spiders, so watch out for the Spiderman moments!
(9) Soak in the beauty of Gira Waterfalls – Formed as the Gira river falls off a nearly 70-foot high cliff, the seasonal Gira Waterfalls should be visited only during the monsoon, not in summer. Around 50 km away from Saputara, the waterfalls make for a good picnic spot.
(10) Walk through historical Buddhist Caves – The Pandavleni Caves, also known as Aravalem Caves or Trirashmi Caves, are actually a group of 24 Hinayana Buddhist caves. Beautifully carved from the second to the fifth century B.C., they were donated by the kings of Nashik, merchants and other locals to Buddhist monks. Though over 90 km away from Saputara, the caves are worth a visit.
More information on sightseeing can be accessed by clicking here
WHEN TO VISIT SAPUTARA
Winter (December-January) is the best time to visit Saputara as it’s quite pleasant but carry a sunscreen lotion nevertheless as the sun can get quite harsh at times. Summer is definitely a no-no. During monsoon, the place will be green, but activities like paragliding won’t be conducted.
HOW TO REACH SAPUTARA
By flight – The nearest airports are Surat (164 km, Airport Code- STV) in Gujarat, International: Mumbai (250 km, Airport Code- BOM) in Maharashtra
By train – The closest railway station is Nashik Road Junction (87 km, Station Code- NK). Though a few websites mention Waghai as the closest station, I’ve found after a search that currently no train stops there. Bilimora Junction in Gujarat is 112 km away. You can book train tickets on the IRCTC website – click here for the link (you’ll need to register first)
By Road – This is by far the best way to reach Saputara. The roads in Gujarat are pretty good, so it’s a decent ride and you can also stop en route for sightseeing. Tourists from Mumbai may visit Saptashringi Temple (Shaktipeetha) on the way and those arriving from Surat may visit Gira Falls.
WHERE TO STAY IN SAPUTARA
Since I didn’t stay over, I can only recommend looking up hotels on booking sites
Tripadvisor link – click here
MakeMyTrip link – click here
Yatra link – click here