Our last trip to Dangs district in Gujarat was unplanned. So was the last weekend’s trip. Two consecutive 3-day weekends. A much-longed trip to Bhandardhara in monsoon was planned for the first one. But work commitments came in the way and we had to cancel it. It was too late plan for the second weekend long weekend. So we just packed the bags and drove lazily along the Mumbai–Ahmedabad Highway until evening with a stopover at Dandi. Thus, Surat became the destination of the day. The tidy town deserves a separate post.
Next day, we drove to Purna Wildlife Sanctuary/Mahal Nature Camp. Thus started another unplanned trip through Dangs. As expected, the route was more exciting than the destination. There are no stay options in Mahal, so we drove on to Ahwa, the closest small town. On the way is the Sabari Dham, and a detour took us to Pampa Sarovar, which turned out to be a river and not a lake. Amused to find a temple “Sabari” and “Pampa” river in Gujarat, reminding us of the famous Sabarimala temple and Pampa river in Kerala. But this Sabari Matha was the devotee of Lord Sri Rama, and not at all connected to Lord Ayyappa of Sabarimala. And a Maha Kumbh was organized in Pampa Sarovar in the lines of Maha Kumbhs at Haridwar, Prayag, Ujjain, and Nasik. But now the place attracts more tourists than devotees. It’s a good place to take a dip since the river was neither flooded nor dry.
There are a couple of eateries in front of Shabari Dham. We had a basic lunch of rice, dal, and curds in one of them. The menu lists all Punjabi dishes as Kathiawadi items. The boys who served food were pretty sure that Kathiawadi means vegetable preparations. (Kathiawadi is actually cuisine from the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.)
We didn’t expect and find any options to stay in Ahwa. So we proceeded to Saputara, a small hill station bordering Maharashtra. Monsoon is when Saputara comes alive, and a 3-day weekend means fully booked hotels. Last time, we took a chance but got cottages in the Toran Hill Resort by Gujarat Tourism. Those cottages were in the middle of no where and we had got the taste being right in the lap of nature. This time luck didn’t favour us. As it was already late, we didn’t take any chance but booked a room at Uday Hill Resort, one of the two hotels available in MakeMyTrip at that time. This so-called hill resort turned out to be not on a hill, not a resort but a hotel, and not in Saputara. It is in Maharashtra and so every time you cross the border to Saputara, there is a toll of Rs 25. And, if you happen to not have your own vehicle, you are in more trouble. We found one family complaining that they had to pay Rs 300 for every trip to Saputara. But there is a bar unlike the hotels in Gujarat, a dry state.
Saputara has a several interesting things to offer to tourists: a lake, tribal museum, sunrise point, sunset point, and ropeway. Next day, we went to the sunrise point. Vehicles reach only till the base of the hillock. A slightly long walk up along the winding mud track will take you to the top. There was nothing there in 2008. Now construction is in full swing for a park and other public amenities.
We had two options to go back to Mumbai—the Nasik route or another drive through the winding roads of Dangs. We chose the latter. On the way is the Gira Falls, which has become much more commercial than in 2008. Many shops have sprung up almost till the base of the waterfalls, selling handicrafts made by tribals, snacks, and beverages.
Our next stop was Vansda National Park, but it had not reopened after the mandatory monsoon break. From Vansda, we took the shortest route to hit the highway and reached Vapi by evening. That was when the disappointment of the cancelled trip to Bhandardhara waned completely.