The month of May started with a nice, long weekend, urging me to leave my polluted city and hop on a train to a neighbouring state. I almost flashpasked for this trip and decided to explore my fifth Union Territory – Dadra and Nagar Haveli [Read about my trips to Daman and Pondicherry]. As you read this post, you will discover that Silvassa (the capital) makes for a convenient and captivating weekend getaway from Mumbai.
Most people avoid Silvassa in the sweltering heat, but this is actually a good time to have the place all to yourself and give the tourist crowd a miss. There are several trains that halt at Vapi (Gujarat), and it’s a forty-minute rickshaw ride to Nagar Haveli from there on.
I had booked myself into Lotus Riverside Resort and was welcomed by a panoramic view of the Daman Ganga River surrounded by bountiful flowering trees on either bank. Despite the summer, the Sahyadris kept me cool.
It was evening by the time I reached my hotel and I was weary from the train journey, so I spent my first day enjoying a drink by the poolside. Later at night, I walked about a park nearby and admired the hedges and flowers in the moonlight. I did not know then that I would come across the tallest tree in the city early next morning.
On Day-2, I hired a car and a friendly local to drive me through the entire stretch of this union territory. It was going to be a busy day, and I knew I was going to love it!
My first stop was at the Vasona Wildlife Sanctuary. While I waited for my safari bus to arrive, I “walked” into (and I really mean ‘inside’) a giant, hollow tree.
Once our minibus whooshed into the forest, I prepared my camera for the alpha male of the jungle – the Lion. Vasona only has one lion but two lionesses in the expansive woodland. This is a grave reminder for us to step up our efforts to save these cats. I caught the lion in a rather docile state as he slept on his alluvial bed with his paramour keeping him company.
A little away from the lions, we had the company of peafowls. I captured this handsome peacock as he strutted his shimmering blue neck and ornate crown. It is said that peacocks are polygamous and the more intricate their tails, the more chances they have of fathering another peacock. Peahens are plain Janes in front of their male counterparts.
With one safari ticked off my list, I embarked on another. [Love the wild? Read about my trip to Bannerghatta National Park.] The Deer Park lay sprawled on another part of the Dadra and Nagar Haveli wildlife sanctuary. This safari was more intimate than the previous one as we had a roofless jeep with only four wildlife enthusiasts aboard.
The Deer Park is home to over four hundred deer, sambars and nilgais. If you are lucky, you will also spot some porcupines and peacocks. I passed quite a few chitals (or spotted deer, as they are commonly known) strolling about in the afternoon, their woody antlers smoothly blending with twigs and the barks of trees. Did you know that they shed their antlers every year?
As our jeep moved further inside the forest, we were met with a herd of female sambars. These deer are nocturnal, but I guess the constant flurry of tourist activity has changed their sleep cycle. Does this mean we should stop commercializing forest safaris? I always find myself torn between the feeling of protecting wildlife and letting them be and that of knowing more about them and getting a closer look at their lives.
The jeep sputtered to a halt in front of a newly built viewpoint at the top of a hill. I jumped off the dusty seat and swung my DSLR over my head. When I reached the edge of the man-made escarpment, the sight left me breathless. I could see cows grazing merrily on the lush meadows and a narrow tributary crisscrossing across the fields. The greens gave way to yellow fields with a handful of trees breaking the pattern. Further ahead, I saw the Dudhni Lake and the dense woods beyond. Countryside is certainly beautiful!
If I ever have to choose between land and water, I might just pick water. That’s the kind of water-baby I am! The moment I glimpsed at the Dudhni Lake, I knew I wanted to swim in it. Well, swimming is not permitted, but that didn’t stop me from taking a shikara-ride across the lake! Shikaras are small boats with a fourposter roof. My oarsman was kind enough to let me try my hand at rowing. 🙂 And believe you me, rowing is wonderful (not only for your spirit but also for your arms 😉 )!
You can go as far as the Madhuban Dam or just enjoy the plains covered by boscage. The lake has small fishes, but the water isn’t clear enough for you to spot too many of them. After a while, I realized I was falling asleep on the mat with the cushions supporting my head. So, I decided to head back to the bank and go on to my next destination.
My driver took me to the Vanganga Garden in the evening, and I was ecstatic at the sight of more water and plants. The landscape of Silvassa confuses me. There are hills, forests, lakes and even barren lands and sandy stretches with palm trees sprouting up every few steps apart. The Vanganga Garden is spread over several acres and has bridges to help you get from one landmass to another. It is a nice place for a morning jog or an evening stroll with little children.
Vanganga Lake is livelier than Dudhni, with rafts of ducks paddling about in the tranquil waters. If you look closely, you will spot turtles peeking out of the water from time to time.
I had seen most of the union territory before sundown, but one place remained – the Tribal Museum. Entry to the museum is free and you will be asked to leave your shoes outside before you enter. I was unaware of the rich heritage of Nagar Haveli prior to my visit. The museum told me stories of the Dhodias, Kathodis and Warlis. This union territory is home to several tribes and a majority of its population is tribal. The museum is ill maintained but it still stores pictures, murals, paintings, weapons and utensils belonging to many tribal communities.
Despite Portuguese presence in Dadra and Nagar Haveli for almost two hundred years, I could spot no trace of Portuguese influence in this area.
When I returned to my resort, I was drenched to the bone in sweat and exhaustion. My only cure was a long swim in the cold pool. I have recently started booking my stay with places that have a pool. As my thirst for exploration increases, my body craves more comfort as compensation for the endless treks and weightlifting (DSLR, bulky lenses and power banks take their toll on your muscles).
Useful Tips to Plan Your Silvassa Trip
1. Make your hotel booking in advance. Silvassa is a small place with very few decent accommodation options. To add to this, Airbnb does not have any relevant listings. I had a hard time finding something in my budget as all of the places were full. It took me a few phone calls and some loosening of my purse strings to get something I would actually like.
2. A weekend trip is more than enough to get a taste of Nagar Haveli and Dadra. Unless you wish to live with the local tribals in their huts, there isn’t much for you to do after the first two days.
3. The temperature can get on your nerves if you aren’t prepared for it. So make sure you carry some sunscreen lotion and light cotton clothes to keep you cool. Keep yourself hydrated with some nimbu-pani (lemonade), coconut water or sugarcane juice as you hop skip and jump across attractions. Remember that tea, coffee and milk are dehydrating agents in reality. So don’t fool yourself with that smoothie or iced tea!
4. This union territory is not covered by Gujarat’s dry-state law, so booze here flows freely. Also thanks to negligible taxes, most alcohol will cost you one third of what it will in Mumbai. [Do you believe drinking is an art? Read about my trip to Sula Vineyards.]
5. The place doesn’t have any unique cuisine to call its own. The closest you can get to a local dish is the odd Gujarati food, and not even that at most restaurants. You can see from the pic below that I was served a mishmash of Marathi, Continental and South Indian food for breakfast – basically, everything except Gujarati. 😛
This brings us to the end of my Silvassa trip. Have you been here before? If you have, then tell me how you did the trip differently! If you haven’t, then plan your trip soon before this becomes yet another crowded tourist-spot! And remember to ask me for help if you are stuck planning your getaway. For more pictures and action, follow my Facebook page – Oindrila Goes Footloose.