Soaking in the wet greenery, we clamber up a hill in Saputara, the only hill station in Gujarat, to reach the sunset point. Miles of undulating hills and valleys extend as far as the eyes could see. Tiny hamlets with thatched-roof huts appear like toys from above. Sun plays hide and seek behind clouds; intermittent drizzle and chilly winds make for a pleasant weather.
Saputara, which stands at an altitude of 900 metres, is in the tribal district of the Dangs. There is no time like monsoon when the beauty of this district is in full bloom. There are several places here one could drive to.
Enroute to Nashik from Surat, Saputara is quite accessible. We make it a base to explore the surrounding mountains and forests. The first to strike one’s eye is the ubiquitous teak trees with their new leaves; then, waterfalls and monsoon streams that rejuvenate the forests after a long spell of dry summer.
After an hour’s drive from Saputara to Ahwa, and a further 30 km from there is the Subir village with a profusion of small springs and waterfalls. From Subir, a 22-km drive on rough roads takes us inside the forest to Girmal falls, which gushes down to the Gira river. At 100 m, this is the highest waterfall in Gujarat.
From Girmal, we travel about 35 km south to reach the forest department’s Mahal eco campsite. A breathtaking spectacle awaits nature-lovers here at night—millions of fireflies set the forest aglow. It’s the mating season and 18 varieties of fireflies fly criss-cross in the night sky to woo their mates. Forest department has other campsites—Kilad and Devinamal.
We visited the Botanical garden in Waghai. Spread over 24 hectares, the place has 1,028 varieties of local and exotic plants. About 3 km off-the-road drive from here takes us to Gira falls in Wanarchod. Trekking uphill through the forest could be challenging during rains, but the sight of Gira falls draining into the Ambika river is rewarding. Vansda National Park near Waghai too has a rich teak forest.
The Dangs is home to 13 tribes; 94 percent of the population are tribals. The oldest tribes are Kotwalias, Kathodis and Kolchas, though Bhils and Konkanas form the majority. They depend on forest products for livelihood. During monsoon, when the rivers and waterfalls swell, the tribals could be seen fishing with bamboo devices, locally called katva, bhotdi and mali. They catch and store fish and crabs in bamboo containers. These forest-dwellers also use organic farm techniques and preserve grains in mud and bamboo containers, and teak leaves. Organic vegetables, nachni (ragi) rotis, urad dal and garlic chilly chutney are staple dishes.
The Dangs is the mythical Dandakaranya forest of the Ramayana period. Anjanikund here is said to be the birthplace of Lord Hanuman. The forest features in Mahabharata too; Pandavas are believed to have spent a few years of exile here. ‘Pandava gufa’ still exists in the Pandava village of the district.