Mumbai had been recording poor air quality for the past few days with a blanket of smog enveloping the shining city. A breath of fresh air is all that we needed. An air free of pollution where the breeze carried the scent of a rural landscape. We made a last minute plan and decided to go on a road trip to KHAROLI- a remote and secluded village near Trimbakeshwar in Nashik district.
Kharoli, around 175 km from Mumbai, is a village which has still not found a place in a tourist’s bucket list. It is being promoted as a hill station just like Jawhar in Palghar district. But Jawhar has gained popularity especially in monsoon due to its easy accessibility to various waterfalls. Also, there are camping sites emerging which are catering to tourists from Mumbai, Nashik & Gujarat. But Kharoli is still raw and untouched by the tourism industry. There are few private farm houses and homestays around Kharoli which have been strategically built on hill tops and near the river.
THE BEGINNING OF THE ROAD JOURNEY
The motorcycle kicked off from Dadar at 6:30 am . The weather looked dull and hazy as we rode on the eastern express highway. The smog did its best to delay the sunlight. But when it came, it was scorching heat. After crossing the Thane-Bhiwandi bypass road, we took the Mumbai-Nashik highway. The highway was loaded with heavy vehicles which led to massive traffic snarls. For a good 30-45 minutes, we kept manoeuvring between trucks and buses. The road widening work was in progress, due to which I couldn’t accelerate beyond 40 kmph. This amalgamation of traffic and road work continued until Kalyan-Bhiwandi bypass after which we halted for a breakfast break at Hotel Shiv Sagar, little ahead of the bypass.
Hotel Shivsagar is the first good enough hotel on the highway towards Nashik direction followed by Bhagat Tarachand and Shree Datta Snacks. You can take a halt on any one of these for a good delicious breakfast.
The road ahead was clear of traffic and construction work which every motorists looks for. I breathed a sigh of relief as finally I could cruise the bike at a decent speed.
Once we crossed Vasind and Atgaon, the ride became more enjoyable and spacious. I say spacious because it felt as if the highway belonged to us. Very few vehicles sped past us leaving us alone. Near Atgaon, the highway ran parallel to the railway track. The soaring sound of an approaching train lowered the shushing sound of the whispering wind passing through the ears.
KASARA GHAT TO GHOTI
Kasara Ghat is a mountain pass near Kasara town which serves as a gateway to several nearby attractions. A railway line passes through the ghat and is the steepest in India. As we approached the Ghat, we were greeted by the majestic Sahyadri mountain range, with its verdant hills and teeming peaks. The ride through this pass was a feast for the eyes as the road winds through dense forests and scenic valleys. But one has to be careful while stopping here as the ghat is always busy and despite being a one way road, there are vehicles coming from the opposite direction too. The mountain breeze took us away from the turmoil of city life as we continued the ride towards Ghoti.
The 27 km ride from Kasara to Ghoti was pretty smooth on NH3. Ghoti Phata is the base point for most of the treks near Kasara/Igatpuri region. The Ghoti-Bhandardara road leads to popular trekking spots like Kalsubai, Alang Malang Kulang, Ratangad and more. We had travelled on this road a couple of times through local transportation. Travelling in shared jeeps, tum-tum, state transport buses like a local is fun and saves money. And if you can start a conversation with a local folk in it, you will reach your destination in no time forgetting the discomfort.
We took a mini break at Ghoti to fill the tank and our water bottles. We carry a 2 litre bottle from the house and keep refilling it without buying mineral plastic bottles. But unfortunately on the ride, the bottle cloth bag fell off our luggage without us knowing about it. So we had to buy a bisleri which we kept refilling it until our return home journey.
THE GHOTI VAITARNA ROAD – A COUNTRYSIDE RIDE
Once we left the highway and entered the Ghoti-Vaitarna road, the air became crisper, the temperature dropped slightly and the scenery became increasingly captivating, setting the stage for a memorable ride. A refreshing respite from the heat. A sense of peace and tranquillity prevailed over us as we rode through the rural landscape in the embrace of the Sahyadri mountains.
The ride was beautiful. We stopped at many places to take photographs. One such halt was at the magnificent Waki Dam nestled within the stunning landscape of the Karnoli village. The location of the dam was serene surrounded by beautiful foliage making it a best location for photography. The water body looked massive with a beautiful view of the mountains in the background.
The Igatpuri taluka in Nashik district receives the highest rainfall. But being an upland area, the water that falls gets carried away. Therefore, the dam was constructed to utilise this water which is used for surrounding villages and supplied through a canal to the Marathwada region.
We found solace spending some time at the dam. On the other side of the road, the splendid Sonki flowers had carpeted the landscape beneath the looming Sahyadri peaks. Amidst the lush greenery, the flowering created a yellow carpet and two small huts snuggling each other in between made for a perfect nature’s spectacle.
How we wished the ride should never end on such a beautiful countryside road. Deliberately riding at a crawling speed, soaking in the views, we continued towards Kharoli.
I was feeling low on energy or should I say I was getting a rumbling sensation in my stomach. To simply put, I was hungry. Looking at the odometer I calculated the kms to cover to reach our farm house in Kharoli and decided to stop for a lunch break. There were not many eatery options but we managed to find a small dhaba called ‘Hotel Vaitarna’ near the river. This region is not a place where hotels are full of customers. Firstly, there aren’t many hotels. But if you find one, food will be prepared only when you ask for it. Nothing is ready. And do not expect a variety of food items on the menu. We waited 30 minutes for the food to reach our table. And the wait was worth it as we got to taste a freshly made local delicacy- ‘Shev Bhaji’ served with jowar bhakri and rice.
Shev Bhaji is a hot and spicy curry made of onion, spices and dry coconut in which thick sev (ghatiya) is added. A simple yet savouring food. It is a very common food in Nashik, Ahmednagar & Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra. Just like the sev tamatar sabzi of Gujarat, shev bhaji is a popular dish in Nashik. I am reminded of Misal Pav which has similarities in terms of spiciness and texture. While Shev bhaji contains shev which adds crunch to the dish, Misal Pav includes farsan as a topping.
But nevertheless, we enjoyed the dish with a view of Vaitarna river.
KHAROLI- A PICTURESQUE RURAL RETREAT
We reached Kharoli at 1 pm. Our stay was in Bimal Farm House. A 2 acres property in the lap of nature housing three cottages placed at a distance with each other having their own private gallery. The cottage is surrounded by 600 plus trees (mango, chikoo, guava, lemon, gulmohar, sesame, etc). It was a perfect homestay to detox ourselves from the mundane city life and engage in some quality time doing the things we like to do.
Each cottage has a private fridge, electric stove and basic utensils for self-cooking. Comparatively to other homestays, it was priced at a very budgeted rate with all the basic necessities meeting the expectations. The caretaker Bhagwan was also very responsive and always available for our requests.
The location of the farm house is ideal for a relaxing getaway. A perfect blend of rural tourism for urban communities. A last minute plan to book the homestay worked for us since as travellers we got to explore a remote village.
After some rest, we visited the village in the evening. Located on an incline, Kharoli is a small village of around 150 tribal houses. The houses are plastered with mud. As we entered, we saw children sweeping the temple area. The young men were decorating a temple, preparing for the arrival of the goddess on the occasion of Navratri. Elderly men seated on the benches kept staring at us out of curiosity. A man kept following us as we walked on the streets photographing the village capturing the kids playing, the cattle shed, the mud houses. The women earlier engaged in their conversations had now all their eyes turned upon us. An old lady even called out to us and asked if we were looking for something.
The village people are not used to the tourists and those who come to Kharoli keep themselves in their hotels and homestays or visit popular attractions nearby. This is what makes us a bit different as travellers. We like to roam the roads which are less travelled. Yes there are uncertainties. It may not always work. But there are surprises too. New learnings and new discoveries.
Through the mud houses, a beautiful view of the sun setting behind the hills made for a perfect shot. We stood and watched it go down the hills. The man who followed us was still standing at a distance observing us. Probably enjoying the sunset with us. I sensed his concern about strangers in his remote village and deliberately approached him asking for directions to the main road. He immediately asked us where we came from. I pointed towards the three cottages whose brown roofs were quite visible amidst the green fields. And he understood that we were guests in his village and walked his way happily showing us the way to the road.
THE MORNING WALK
Getting up early in the morning in a village and going for a walk is a very pleasant experience. As I opened the door, the sun was already peeking through the trees, casting a shining golden light over the village. There was a sense of peace and happiness in the air.
The scenic beauty of the village roads are quite beautiful to watch. Green fields & grassess flourished alongside the roads. Even the paddy fields on either side of the roads were covered with green crops. The cows walked out of the cattle shed towards their grazing field followed by the cowherds. The cowherds have to be very vigilant to see their cows do not trespass on other fields. They take their cows twice a day to graze. The cool breeze of the morning brought an aroma of freshness as we walked along the road.
Little ahead we saw some boys and girls going to school. There are no school bus services in the villages. So the children have to walk some miles to their schools. It was quite eye-catching to see them walk in a straight line to go to school. It was very encouraging to see education fostering even among the tribal children.
The farmers and labourers were going to work in the fields. The sight of the crops waving in the wind gave us a lot of pleasure. We went to the river that lies beyond the village towards the main road. In the morning light, the water of the river looked clean and sparkling. A white throated kingfisher patiently sat on a pole ready to dive anytime to catch fish. A glossy black bird sat on a wiring fence overhead. His dark silhouette with a fork-like tail was enough to identify this black beauty. It was a Black Drongo. They are known to be good mimics.
There are few vehicles in the village, and most of the inhabitants walk or ride bicycles. Some of the villagers are sitting at their favourite spot in the village sharing a cup of tea. A boy riding a bicycle with a flat tire, singing a marathi song loudly and enthusiastically, looked at us and smiled. I remember the song lines: ‘Tufaan aapli yaari, jagat hay lai bhaari’. He was simply having fun all alone by himself.
There is always something to do in the village. Whether it be going on walks, exploring the nearby forests, or just sitting around the fire chatting, Kharoli has something for everyone.
The silence of the night crept in. The ducks in the farm pond which were quacking with each other during the day maintained peace at night. The caretaker was cooking food for us. Steffe took to reading a book. I sat on a swing in the verandah listening to night birds and watching the fluttering insects longing for light. Our trip was about to end. And for the first time I realised that I could sit for hours and hours doing nothing. Sometimes even that is necessary, stopping all the activities and just relaxing. I called Steffe out and we both sat on the swing and watched the clear night and the moon. No conversation between us. Pure silence. The only faint sound that came was of music being played in the temple. But even that felt soothing in this serenity.