After the superfun monsoon-trips to Koynanagar and Vikramgadh this year, the independence day weekend beckoned us to another trip out of Bombay. The incessant rains for the last month meant that the whole state had received a good dose of rainfall, and so we didn’t have to worry about things not being green enough. And when the turn came to pick a destination, without much deliberation, Satara emerged as the automatic choice.
Situated at about 110 km from Pune and about 262 km from Mumbai, Satara has been on our radars for sometime. Satara is famous for a lot of things – like the Kaas plateau. Sometimes referred to as poor man’s Valley of Flowers, Kaas plateau becomes covered with wild flowers of different hues and colours at the end of the rainy season. While this wasn’t the end of the rainy season yet, we figured we’d see at least some flowers, if not the entire plateau-full of them (didn’t quite see any flower actually).
Also equally famous are the Thoseghar waterfalls, about 36 km from Satara. Listed by wikipedia as the fourth highest single-drop waterfall in India, it is an awe-inspiring sight as it plunges down 1000ft into a narrow gorge. Also worth checking out is the windmill farm in Chilkewadi and a boat ride on the Shivsagar lake (Koyna dam) in Bamnoli. There is the Ajinkyatara fort inside the town of Satara and the Sajjangad fort situated 15 km outside the city for history buffs.
With just two days at our disposal, cramming all of this into our itinerary was a little difficult. And the heavier-than-normal crowds due to the long weekend made each stop a bit longer than it would have been otherwise. Like the narrow two-lane road to Thoseghar falls was reduced to a single lane by parked cars on the side, leading to jams between cars arriving and leaving. This was at 2.30 pm in the afternoon, and we had to park our Innova more than a km away from the main parking space and walk the remaining distance.
Thankfully, there was a hint of a drizzle in the air and the sky was completely overcast, so the weather was very agreeable. From the main parking lot, the waterfalls are just a 15-20 min walk through medium forest. There are stone steps laid all the way and the incline isn’t too steep either – hence walking is quite enjoyable. To see the falls better, we’d recommend taking the left at the first Y-junction in the path. The left one takes you to a viewing platform which offers excellent views of both the waterfalls – the narrower, unbroken fall on the right and the more voluminous frothy fall on the left.
The trail on the right at the Y-junction would take you upstream on the river just before the falls. While it is a good sight to see water frothing white as it rushes at great speed towards the edge, it would add about 30 min to your walking. So decide according to your time availability/stamina.
If you are coming to Thoseghar falls from Satara, then you’d cross Sajjangad on the way. We cant stress this enough, but do not bother with Sajjangad. A fort only in name, there is almost no original construction left inside. The entire fort has been sort of taken over by the Swami Samarth Foundation, and there are modern 2-3 storey buildings inside the fort. Also, it is a pilgrimage site for the followers of Swami Samarth, and you will mostly see devotees with overnight bags thronging the place. And this we learned the hard way by climbing up a good part of the hill on the stairs.
We did not have the time to check Ajinkyatara fort, but anecdotal evidence suggests it might be a more fulfilling visit than Sajjangad.
Also on the way Thoseghar road is the Chilkewadi windmill farm. A narrow road to your right when you are returning from Thoseghar towards Satara takes you to the windfarm, which is set up over a flat tableland. And on the evening that we visited, the whole plateau was playing hide and seek with the clouds. Whenever the fog dispersed, you could see really big towers with turbines on top – so huge, they completely dwarfed vehicles standing next to them. And needless to say, where there are wind turbines, there is strong breeze – lots of it. Enough to turn all umbrellas inside out and make your feel reaaallly cold and make you long for a warm jacket or the interiors of your car.
There is something calming, almost melancholy, in the way these giant machines keep on turning, on a desolate windy plateau, day and night. And gazing at these impassive machines as we sped towards Satara, we ended the first day. The town is distinctly provincial and there is no nightlife so to speak of. So it is better if you carry your own instruments of entertainment. Personally, we had a great evening as we held ‘spirited’ conversations about a lot of entertaining subjects.
Next morning, we had a lazy breakfast and checked out of our hotel by 9.30 am. The aim was to visit Kaas plateau/Kaas lake and then go onwards to Bamnoli on the banks of the Shivsagar lake (Koyna dam). Kaas plateau was again just 40 odd km from Satara – and half the fun is in the road itself. The Kaas road for the most part, is over a hill range, which is flat on the top, giving it the appearance of a narrow plateau. On either side of this green-grass-covered plateau is the Urmodi and the Kanher dams. Imagine a narrow long, 100m wide mountaintop flanked by lakes on both sides. A single road runs through the middle of this tableland, and on both sides of the road till the edges of the hilltop, are lush green meadows. And all the other hills around are covered in the same bright shade of green. And add to it small clouds drifting across the plateau ….
This particular portion of the road just begs you to stop your car on the side of road, look around, walk to the edge of the hill and look down at the lakes in the valley and the beautiful vistas all around. The place was so beautiful with just green grass, can’t imagine how pretty it would be when it is covered with wildflowers in the month of September, as everybody tells us.
Continuing on the Kaas road, we climbed higher and encountered fog and clouds – and passed through a forest of sorts. Really couldn’t see much out in the fog till the road started descending and we could see the vast expanse of Shivsagar lake (formed by the Koyna dam). In monsoons, when the lake is full, quite a few trees are half submerged in the waters and the lake probably doubles from its size in the summers. It stretches out along a valley beyond what you can see and in the sunshine peeking through from the clouds, the lake shimmers beautifully.
Down at the village of Bamnoli, there is an organized boating association. The boats are large, could easily accommodate 15 people in one boat and are driven by loud diesel engines extracted from Ambassador cars. Conversation is not impossible, but requires a bit of shouting, esp if you want to talk to more than one person at a time. From Bamnoli, you can take the boat to predefined locations – charges are fixed. We paid 500 + taxes ~ about Rs 630 for a 45 min to-and-fro ride to a point called the Triveni Sangam where two tributaries meet the Koyna river. The trip to Tapola is for 1.5 hours and costs about Rs. 1,100 I think and the longest trip is a 3 hour ride. It is a nice experience to be in the middle of this giant body of water – and it gets a little scary when strong winds rock the boat – though only when the engines are shut. The boatman will shut down the engines for about 10 min once you reach your destination to give you time to … well … do whatever you want. The water is over 200ft deep they say ….
On the way back from Bamnoli, we spotted a few cars parked on the road in the foggy part of the Kaas road and we got down to investigate. It’s only then that we realized that there was a decent sized lake that we had completely missed, right next to the damn road – because everything was covered in fog. The fog would lift every once in a while, revealing the Kaas lake, which is actually on top of the Kaas plateau, and hence at quite an altitude. There were vendors selling vada pao, bhuttas and hot sabudana wadas in a sort of rain shelter built on the shores of the lake. With the foggy overcast conditions and slight drizzle, they were doing roaring business and the piping hot bhuttas and sabudana wadas tasted brilliant. We spent a lot of time near the lake, posing for photos in a partially submerged tree near the shore – acting like juveniles essentially.
However, soon it was time to go, and we headed back to Satara for a very delayed lunch and then it was an uninterrupted drive back to Mumbai.
How to Get There
Satara lies on NH4, about a 110 km south of Pune. The fastest route is to take the expressway from Bombay and then changeover to NH4 from Pune. We were able to leave Bombay by 6.30 am and with a 30 min breakfast break at the Food Mall on the expressway, we reached Satara by 11.30. While returning, the same route took us around 6 hours, but then most of it was due to the legendary slow traffic in the evenings once you reach Panvel.
Where to Stay
Staying in Satara was the only black mark on an otherwise perfect trip. There are a string of hotels on a road called New Radhika road (named after a movie theatre of the same name), starting from Hotel Maharaja Regency at Powai chowk (yes there is a Powai in Satara as well)
Among the hotels, Hotel Maharaja Regency was the best we saw, but more expensive than the others, at around Rs. 3,800 a day. And we’d still recommend you stay here if you decide to visit Satara. Because in some of the other hotels we tried, they actually refused us rooms because the women were not showing any visible married signs and their ids didn’t reflect the husband’s surnames! Outrageous, yes – so when making bookings for hotels in Satara, clarifying certain things beforehand might be prudent.
Alternatively, you can make Panchgani/Mahabaleshwar your base and visit the attractions of Satara from there. Mahabaleshwar to Satara is 56 km, so it would require a wee bit more driving. But the quality of hotels in Panchgani & Mahabaleshwar is better and they are definitely not so nitpicky about your marital symbols.
The hotel incident might be a fluke – or maybe we did not go to the correct hotels – but that was but a minor irritant in the otherwise perfect experience that is Satara in the monsoons. More than 10 days after the trip, as I am writing this, I can still see the green tabletop with a road running down the middle, and the beautiful lakes on the side … as vividly as I saw them that day. For those moments alone, Kaas plateau and Satara are a must visit in the monsoons