Monday, 20 August 2012

Bamnoli - A Drive In The Clouds - August 19, 2012

After a long time we had our first “real” monsoon trip of this season. It was a result of a month-long planning with my office colleagues; we had to tweak it a bit at the end though. Our initial plan was for the Kaas Plateau - कास पठार (Maharashtra’s very own Valley of Flowers), the yearly season being August and September. We had even done the booking on their website. However last week we came to know that there are no flowers yet, might be due to delayed monsoon. We therefore changed our destination to Bamnoli (बामणोली), a lake-village about 15 kms ahead of Kaas. This would give us an opportunity also, to really see the status of flowers and plan our future Kaas-specific trip next time.

I started off with my family from Narayan Peth at 6.30. I was to meet 3 more families coming from Chinchwad directly through the Mumbai-Bangalore Bypass Highway. Finding a flat tire and therefore after mending it, I reached Dari Pul (Valley Bridge) on NH-4 from Sinhagad Road at 7.20 am.

The 2 Tata Vistas and 1 Fiat Punto started the journey at 7.30 am. We took the same route till Satara Tunnel (refer my last years trip to Thoseghar).
The Machines
Since last 8-10 days we didn’t witness rains in Pune. I was wondering how “dry” our trip is going to be. But from the point we left our house, it was drizzling continuously all along the trip till evening when we decided to get back to Pune. In between this drizzle, there were heavy showers which lasted for about 5 minutes and again subsided to give way to the sprinkles.

We had a gratifying breakfast of Misal-Pav and Idli Sambar in between as well as a fuel pit-stop and we reached the Tunnel after Satara by 11.00 am. Going through this tunnel will take you to Fort Sajjangadh, Thoseghar Waterfalls and Chalkewadi Wind-mills. Just prior to the tunnel there is this road going up-hill on right. It goes to Kaas and Bamnoli. A small sign-board is available.

Initially, there are two very bad road patches of about quarter a kilometer each. Later on the road condition is OK to Good; however the width is extremely small. One car coming from the front and either of you will have to go off-road.

As you start ascending, you can see the outstanding view of Satara City-scape down on your right. We were just imagining how this view would be looking at night with the street and building lights glowing. Once on top, prior to the Kaas Plateau, two water bodies are seen on both sides of the road - Urmodi (उरमोडी) Dam on LH side and Kaanher (कान्हेर) Dam on RH side.
Kaanher Dam
By the time we neared the Kaas Plateau, it started getting foggy all over. It seemed as if we were driving on the clouds. At 12 noon, it seemed as if its just 8 O’clock in the morning.

Just at the point where the plateau starts, they have now constructed a check-post tent. Now after Kaas Plateau being declared a World Heritage Site, prior online booking is required, an entry fee of Rs. 10 / person is charged, fencing is being constructed on both sides of the roads – legally you cannot trespass on the fields leaving the road, actually vehicle parking is also not allowed on the road side. Therefore one cannot do all those activities that were done till last year – parking the vehicles on road, driving on the plateau damaging the natural habitat, littering with chocolate and wafers wrappers, etc.

I was apprehensive about this online booking stuff; however we had carried the booking printout with us. And that guy at the check-post asked us for the booking print (surprised?). We paid the entry-fee, received a proper receipt of Rs. 10 and then we were allowed to move ahead. What I found was though security guards are present after every few 100 meters; they are finding it very difficult in preventing the visitors to park their vehicles on road. At many times either fencing is not yet completed or gaps are made in between and people were squeezing through.

One good observation is that there is couple of off-roads made, with fencing of course, from the main road so that visitors can go on the plateau in a controlled environment.

We also stopped for 5 minutes; however, as heard earlier, flowering had just started. Very few flowers had blossomed and it would take another 15-20 days or so to witness “this” beauty of the place. Apart from this, there was so much of fog that we were not able to get a clear view. Also, our destination was Bamnoli. Therefore we found it suitable not to waste time here and hence moved ahead.
Kaas Plateau
Fencing being erected along both sides of road
Ascending the ghat after the plateau was more pathetic. Near the Kaas Lake, people had parked (locked) there cars on the sides causing a traffic jam due to a very small road.

A little ahead we found an open space by the road. Here we parked our vehicles and went by the lake side. This is the Kaas Lake, constructed about a century ago. Satara City receives water from here.

It is mentioned to be "a hidden gem" on one of the blogs. One misunderstands the Kaanher Dam to be the Kaas Lake. It suddenly appears while ascending a ghat after the Plateau on RH side. And as the guy has mentioned, it "is" surely a Gem. We could see a blanket of fog spread over kissing the water surface. The scene was surreal.
Kaas Lake
We had reached the lake when heavy showers started suddenly. With 3 small kids with us we had to rush back to our cars.

Again our destination was calling us. Hence, without wasting much time we cooched ahead. The road from here was a descending ghat with swift twists and turns through the dense cover of trees; and with heavy fog, it was giving an eerie feeling in the atmosphere.

By 1.45 pm we reached Bamnoli, a very small and quiet village on the banks of “Shiv-sagar”, back-waters of Koyana (कोयना) Dam. Compared to the rush and crowd that we saw at Kaas, this place was much better. Though there is no specified parking space, the road was enough to hold whatever vehicles visited that day. There were volunteers, may be the boat club members, to guide the visitors for parking space.

Main activity at Bamnoli is boating. A privately owned Boat Club is functional here. Motor Boats of the capacity of 6 to 12 patrons are operated. Fare and visit route is fixed based on time required – which ranges from 45 minutes to a full day. Places include Triveni Sangam (Rivers Koyana, Solashi and Kandati), Tapola, Datta Mandir, Vasota Fort, etc. Fare mentioned on the board was for a group of either 6 or 12 patrons. However, it is calculated based on total head count at the end.
Bamnoli - Shivsagar Lake (Koyna Dam backwaters)

We went for a ride to Tapola (तापोळा). It was a one hour return ride. This Motor Boat ride with its diesel engine roaring at the center, cool breeze gushing through the ears and drizzling rain drops coming inside was mesmerizing. Kids enjoyed a lot, even we adults. We reached Tapola in half-an-hour’s time. Tapola is actually the point which is ahead to Mahabaleshwar. It is referred to Mini-Kashmir – only because of its similarity in boating facilities to that of Dal (दलLake in Srinagar (श्रीनगर).
Boat-ride to Tapola
We got down here as we had 15 minutes time to return back. But just to mention, there is no point actually in getting down here. Boating and the view of the Lake ahead are the only places to see here, just as in Bamnoli.

After we reached back to Bamnoli, we had a filling Lunch. It was already 3.15 pm and everyone was dying of hunger. There are small restaurants, actually run by the villagers in front of the spaces of their houses. They provide a typical Maharashtrian Veg / Non-Veg Thali. To save time, you can give the order, go for boating and have your food once you return.

By 4.15 pm we started our return journey. We took the same way back. While climbing up the ghat to Kaas Plateau, it felt the same, as if it was still 8 O’clock in the morning.

After a cup of tea once we were on NH-4 we reached Pune at 9.00 pm.


Odometer readings:
0 kms    Narayan Peth
25        Toll (Khed-Shivapur)
98        Toll (Bhuinj / Pachwad)
122      Tunnel after Satara
144      Kaas Plateau
158      Bamnoli
195      Tunnel - return journey
198      Satara
216      Toll (Bhuinj / Pachwad)
313      Narayan Peth