Beauty in the Mist - Amboli
A thrilling excursion into the natural beauty of the hill station is an economic outing to unwind, close to homeA short drive, covering around 12 kms but in almost over an hour, can be pretty thrilling… gaze fixed on the narrow road, dread to wink, self-set statutory control over car speed, penetrating dense fog with zero visibility 10 metres ahead, with headlights, fog light and blinkers on. Infrequently, bikes, cars even trucks emerged from the opposite direction – few were sensible and equally alert, others appeared as a surprise, close past the car.
Our short getaway was to the hill station of Amboli, just outside Goa, in Maharashtra. A pleasant three hours drive from Goa, with an uphill climb to an altitude of 690 m (2,260 ft) above mean sea level, through the rains, mist and thickening fog as you ascend your destination. The main attractions of this pristine hill station in the Sahayadri Hills of Western India are its waterfalls amid eye-soothing lush tableland. You start getting the feel of it as you pass at least 10 big roaring waterfalls flowing down, hitting the bedrock by the side of the roads and people parking their cars at their will along the hillside, busy posing for photos or showering in the bustling flow of water. There are also some shanties in the vicinity, at the opposite pavement of the falls, where you can take grab a quick bite and tea. There are a number of hotels and resorts mushroomed on the hillocks; all are very moderately priced. I was told by my resort manager that there is nothing much to see beyond the falls and I could visit a temple nearby if I wished. All the falls are in close drive, so we preferred covering most of them the same day as we arrived. As the psyche had it, ‘let’s start from the most far off falls’, we decided to see Nagartas falls first, which was around 10 km towards Belgaum. There’s no signpost as such. Thankfully, we stopped to ask for its distance and gathered that was the point and it was visible after we take a flight of few irregular stairs down to a platform behind the shanties crowded by some tourists. That was also the first glance of any human presence all through the drive. You have to pay five bucks each (free for kids) for the sight at an ungated, under-regulated, government-assisted development. Watching the wild beauty of Nagartas is worth much higher than the price you paid for it. Our next stop was Kavalesad point. This is famous for the reverse fall. Once we reached the edge through stone-cut long stair steps, we were drenched in drizzle, mist and natural spray shower of the falls. On our way back we stopped by a tin-shed tea shop. “From monsoon in June till early winter in November there is an influx of tourists, and that’s the best time,” shared the tea vendor, Raju. At times, our conversation was garbled by the clamouring sound of the loosely bound tin covering of the stall. We were patient and the message didn’t get lost. There are 50 villages with around 20,000 locals, running their livelihood on tourism. The rest of the year they are mostly into small, temporary jobs. Raju amid attending and drawing attention of other passers-by towards his offerings, also boasts that there are many from the resident families in different government jobs, in nearby cities like Pune, Belgaum and Mumbai; there are many defence personnel from the area as well. We start losing daylight and it would be a risky adventure to venture to any other sites as it got darker so we chose to retreat to the resort. The evening was so peaceful with family sans social media pings with mobile internet network above weak 2G. Some hotels offer Wi-fi but I chose not to take it. On the second day, we woke up to the serene scenery faintly shrouded with thin fog that soon started getting dense with decreasing visibility. We decided to start early. It was an unnerving prospect for a not-so-confident driver to set out in conditions of reduced visibility. We had only one spot left – ‘Baba da daba’ – and we chose not to give it a miss. It was harrowing navigating 12 km but every stop was a photo stop. You have to be extremely calculative while driving as you have to cross a culvert over a strong flow of water lying bare without a parapet. At places, you discover ranch houses, few standing isolated. All through, my speedometer was resolutely stuck at 20. Soon we ascended the steeps through the woods with low-hanging clouds and after a few switchbacks, we reached the gate of the destination. It’s private property of slain NCP leader Babasaheb Kupekar. You are charged Rs 50 per adult at the entrance. Beyond the boom barrier lies an edgy, narrow, rough and gravelled path you have to drive through to a muddy parking somewhere in the midway. Once you park the car, it’s thrilling to walk the slim, rocky bed for 100 metres by the spectacular waterfalls – some tumbling down, others gushing over the rocky steep hills and vanishing in the devil-may-care deep abyss. On returning to the gate, the mild-mannered watchman who introduced himself as Gawde informed us that the wildness of the stretch is its thrilling attraction. Also, no hard drinks are allowed beyond the gate to ensure lesser accidents. We were the first visitors of the day but he was expecting hordes of people close to noon. We were done and it was time for another adventurous drive down the hills before we hit the plain way back to Goa.
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