Silvassa in the Sizzling Summer Heat

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.

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

It is not always crowded on Indian trains

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.

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

The view from my balcony at the Lotus Riverside Resort in Silvassa

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!

This towering tree reminds me of 'Jack and the Beanstalk'

This towering tree reminds me of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’

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.

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps

The lioness guards while the King of the Jungle sleeps [Shot during the Lion Safari]

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.

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India's national bird - the peacock

I was fascinated by the striking blue neck of India’s national bird – the peacock

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.

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

Our jeep zips through a narrow road in the forest

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?

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa's Deer Park

A spotted deer shies away from my camera at Silvassa’s Deer Park

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.

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

This sambar is perfectly camouflaged in her earthy dwelling

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!

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

Dadra and Nagar Haveli from the viewpoint inside the Deer Park

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 😉 )!

My shikara floats on the Daman Ganga River

My shikara floats on the Dudhni Lake

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.

The land looks inviting from the water

The land looks inviting from the water

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.

The breeze was soothing in the Vanganga Lake Garden

The Vanganga Lake Garden – a picture of calmness

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.

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

A paddle of ducks wade across the Vanganga Lake

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.

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

Enroute to the Tribal Museum

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).

There's nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

There’s nothing like a relaxing swim to end a power-packed trip!

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. 😛

Fusion breakfast - the secret to my energy

Fusion breakfast – the secret to my energy

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.

Bannerghatta National Park – Bangalore’s Wild Side

Last Sunday, I decided to take on the sweltering Bangalorean heat by making a neat trip out of it. While most of the city dwellers sheltered themselves in the air conditioned shopping malls and restaurants, I badgered my friends (who also happened to be my kind hosts) to accompany me to a national park.

On the wild trail

On the wild trail

The Bannerghatta National Park is less than 2 hours from the south Indian city of Bengaluru.

Hot Tip: If you don’t have your own vehicle, it’s advisable to pre-book a cab for a comfortable ride to your destination.

We reached Bannerghatta at 11 AM and rushed to a roadside dhaba for a quick breakfast. The fare served here is mostly south Indian (idlis, dosas & uttapams). The food is brought to your table almost instantly, is filling, and very light on the pocket. The taste, unfortunately, isn’t much to boast about.

This national park is open from 10 AM to 5 PM, but the tickets are always in short supply as Bannerghatta happens to be one of the most visited tourist attractions of Bangalore.

Hot Tips:

  1. Book your tickets in advance if you can. (Their website lets you do that but insists that you register first).
  2. If you can’t do point-1, ensure you reach early as the wait-time for the AC-volvo-bus tour is 2 hours on an average, and the queues to the ticket counters are long.
The lions watches the "caged humans"

The lions watches the “caged humans”

We missed doing both point-1 and point-2, but that ensured we took the non-AC grand tour in a bus with caged windows. This was the cheapest option and also allowed us to take decent pictures as the “cages” had circular holes to click pics through. The AC buses, by comparison, are comfortable, but pictures through glass can only be half as good. The best (and also the most expensive) option is to hire a jeep that accommodates 4. There are very few jeeps and you rarely stand a chance to book one unless you’ve pre-booked.

After you have your ticket in hand, you are made to stand in a single file (school-picnics, anyone? 😛 ) as the park-assistants do a headcount and direct you to a waiting area which has several brick-roofed hut-like structures. After a 15 minute wait, you finally have your turn!

Bison with a loud growl

Bison with a loud growl

The 3 of us were extremely lucky to get the best seats in the bus… right behind the driver and the bus conductor! So, we had a dashboard-view & the window-view, without any passenger blocking our shots. To add to that, the conductor would confirm the animals that we spotted and tell us in advance of the ones to expect.

We spotted our first wild animal within minutes of entering the forest-area. The bus screeched to a halt as a huge bison growled and crossed the road, and then it passed by my window! I fumbled with my camera as I was overwhelmed by its size and the power in its growl.

A calf runs to her mother as the other elephants keep bathing

A calf runs to her mother as the other elephants keep bathing

We next saw a few deer for some fleeting seconds before they hid out of our sight. After 5 more minutes, our bus reached a lake and we were mesmerized by the beautiful sight of a baby-elephant splashing about in the water. The calf then ran to its mother who waited on the land. The elephants looked stunning with their black thick skin glistening in the afternoon sun.

A Bengal Tiger in Bengaluru

A Bengal Tiger in Bengaluru

We spotted a couple of bears too, one of which was busy eating inside a ditch. The black fur looked soft and dense, and the bears could easily fool us into thinking they were soft-toys had they not moved. In the next enclosure, we saw an adult Bengal tiger prowl about  and raise its long tail skywards. Let me tell you now that I looked into the eyes of the tiger as it stopped by my window, and felt a little like Pi (Patel) from Life of Pi. We saw a few more tigers – some sleeping, some wandering about the deciduous trees, and one pooping (those poor creatures have no privacy, I tell you)! We also spotted a handsome white tiger before our grand-tour ended (quite grandly, I must say).

A white tiger in the green jungle

A white tiger in the green jungle

Summer is the best time for wildlife tourism as the high temperature forces the animals to hang around near water bodies as they drink and bathe. This makes it easier to spot them.

Let me know if you’ve been to a national park or a wildlife sanctuary. If yes, how many animals did you spot? 🙂