KWID TO COUN­TRY­SIDE

We take our trusty Re­nault KWID to ex­plore the Koyna Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary

Evo India - - CONTENTS - WORDS by AFZAL RAWUTHER

Driv­ing the Re­nault Kwid to the Koyna wildlife sanc­tu­ary in Ma­ha­rash­tra

TTHE ROADS WERE GET­TING NAR­ROWER and the for­est was get­ting closer as we drove along the edge of the Koyna river dur­ing the twi­light hours. It was past sun­rise but that was do­ing pre­cious lit­tle to help with the dark­ness that the fog had cre­ated around us. That’s pre­cisely when Sachin, our pho­tog­ra­pher, asked me to stop and let him out for a quick pic­ture. Now, we usu­ally aren’t too per­turbed about stop­ping on an iso­lated road in pitch black dark­ness. Call us crazy, but thou­sands of kilo­me­tres of driv­ing the length and breadth of this coun­try has made us so. But this was dif­fer­ent. Through the thick blan­ket of fog, I had seen a sign, not too long ago, that said, “Please stop for an­i­mals to pass.” That, along with a con­ver­sa­tion I’d had with a lo­cal the pre­vi­ous night about the size­able num­ber of leop­ards in the Koyna Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary en­sured that I kept the gear knob on D and my foot on the brake. This, I hoped, wasn’t go­ing to be too long a wait. I have to ad­mit, I have a soft cor­ner for the Re­nault KWID to Coun­try­side se­ries. And I have good rea­son to. These drives of­ten take us to un­ex­plored places in the hin­ter­lands of our coun­try. And more of­ten than not, these places are just a stone’s throw away from our cities. But some­how very few peo­ple end up ex­plor­ing them. This time, we set out to the Koyna Wildlife sanc­tu­ary in my trusty long-term KWID with­out a plan; just a de­sire to ex­plore as much of the place as pos­si­ble.

Giv­ing Sachin and me com­pany was Aditya, who was videograph­ing our jour­ney. Now, be­fore we get into how the drive was, a lit­tle back­ground is nec­es­sary. The Koyna wildlife sanc­tu­ary is a nat­u­ral world her­itage site lo­cated in the Satara district of Ma­ha­rash­tra. Nes­tled deep in the Western ghats, it cov­ers an area of more than 420 sq km. The Koyna river that flows through the sanc­tu­ary is pop­u­lar due to the Koyna hy­dro­elec­tric power plant that has been con­structed on it (the largest hy­dro­elec­tric plant in the coun­try). It also forms the catch­ment area for the Koyna River, and the Shivsagar reser­voir formed by the Koyna dam. As a re­sult, the forests around the re­gion are sup­plied by wa­ter through­out the year. Add to that, the Western ghats that bor­der the re­gion on both sides en­sure that rain clouds stay there longer, lead­ing to more rain­fall. Not sur­pris­ingly, it is one of the most bio­di­verse re­gions in the coun­try with a wide va­ri­ety of flora and fauna.

THESE DRIVES OF­TEN TAKE US TO THE MOST UN­EX­PLORED PLACES IN THE HIN­TER­LANDS OF OUR COUN­TRY

Start­ing off from Pune in the wee hours, we gave the traf­fic a miss and set­tled into a steady driv­ing rhythm on the high­way. The ride, as we are fa­mil­iar with, re­mained com­posed and that com­po­sure was par­tic­u­larly use­ful as we en­coun­tered the nu­mer­ous un­ex­pected pot­holes on the NH4. Road works go­ing on for the bet­ter part of a decade mean that there were a fair share of di­ver­sions, which re­quired us to of­ten come down to crawl­ing speeds from high­way pace. Thank­fully, the brakes on the Kwid did their job com­mend­ably, even on wet, slip­pery roads.

Af­ter close to a hun­dred kilo­me­tres, we got off the high­way at Wai to head to­wards Ma­ha­balesh­war en­route to Tap­ola – our first des­ti­na­tion. The usual touristy lot head­ing to Ma­ha­balesh­war en­sured that we found traf­fic on the nar­row roads lead­ing to Panch­gani and then to Ma­ha­balesh­war. The AMT trans­mis­sion with creep func­tion in the KWID en­sured that over­tak­ing slow-mov­ing cars was not a prob­lem.

Al­though Ma­ha­balesh­war does look ab­so­lutely stun­ning in the rains, we were af­ter some­thing dif­fer­ent. Driv­ing through the town cen­tre, we soon found our­selves on the road to Tap­ola. And this is where the drive took on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­men­sion. The fog that was there in the back­ground all through Ma­ha­balesh­war and Panch­gani was now front and cen­tre. The roads now had zero mo­torists and we pro­ceeded to have one of the most in­cred­i­ble drives I had ever had. Google Maps told us that it would take roughly three quar­ters of an hour to get there.

But we ended up tak­ing twice that partly because of the thick fog and partly because we couldn’t help but stop and stare at the dozens of amaz­ing van­tage points that look down onto the val­ley. All through the way, the han­dling of the KWID was put to the test by twisty roads and the KWID re­sponded by stand­ing up to the chal­lenge and de­liv­er­ing flaw­lessly.

The small ham­let that is Tap­ola sits on the edge of the Shivsagar lake and of­fers the most ma­jes­tic views of the re­gion. The lo­cals call Tap­ola ‘mini Kash­mir’ and I can’t fault them. It is stun­ningly beau­ti­ful. We waited till it was al­most dusk and de­cided to give the Ma­ha­balesh­war-Tap­ola route an­other go. This time, things were very dif­fer­ent. From low we now had zero vis­i­bil­ity. We needed a nav­i­ga­tor with Google Maps saved on his phone. Sachin took up that role and we slowly, cau­tiously made our way back to Tap­ola.

TAP­OLA TO KAAS DE­LIV­ERED ONE OF THE MOST IN­CRED­I­BLE DRIVES

WE’VE EVER HAD

“Slight left fol­lowed by hair­pin on the right.” The mu­sic was turned down and Sachin took on the role of a rally nav­i­ga­tor sound­ing off di­rec­tions like this for the next cou­ple of hours as we gin­gerly got our­selves back to Ma­ha­balesh­war. The fog lamps on the KWID aided us with their good in­ten­sity in­creas­ing our vis­i­bil­ity.

A con­ver­sa­tion with the lo­cals at Tap­ola the pre­vi­ous night had told us of a route that very few peo­ple know about. We wanted to know if there was a way we could take a boat to the east with the KWID to Kaas plateau. And luck­ily for us, the lo­cals put us in touch with a ferry op­er­a­tor who agreed to take us. Since this wasn’t a reg­u­lar ferry route, the road lead­ing up to it was lined with huge rocks. But the KWID’s high ground clear­ance al­lowed us to tackle them with ease.

On the other side, we found an­other set of great roads, un­ex­plored and full of de­li­ciously tight cor­ners that we en­joyed driv­ing on. The KWID’s ac­cu­rate steer­ing and com­pact pro­por­tions al­lowed us to take those cor­ners with con­fi­dence. A dozen or so hair­pins later, the Kaas plateau came into view and our tim­ing was per­fect. The flow­ers were in full bloom and as far as the eye could see, the plateau was cov­ered in flow­ers of all hues. We wanted to stop with the KWID and spend a few mo­ments there. But, the for­est depart­ment doesn’t al­low cars to stop there any­more. Slowly, we eased down to the chaos of Satara city. Our drive was com­ing to an end but there were some lin­ger­ing thoughts. Why don’t we do this more of­ten? And to think that we don’t live that far away ei­ther! The crew and I pledged to come and ex­plore more of the re­gion in the near fu­ture with our trusty KWID for com­pany. Oh, and if you are won­der­ing, we were in fact in­ter­cepted by some an­i­mals on the way to Tap­ola. Thank­fully, it was a group of mon­keys who de­manded all our ba­nanas, and we hap­pily obliged.

THE LO­CALS AT TAP­OLA TOLD US OF A ROUTE THAT VERY FEW PEO­PLE KNOW ABOUT

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by SACHIN S KHOT

Clock­wise from right: One of the many cor­ners on the way to Tap­ola; the ferry ride to Tetli on­wards to Kaas; long hours be­hind the wheel were not a prob­lem in the KWID; the AMT was a boon while driv­ing through traf­fic

Above: Eerily spooky but in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful. Right: One of the sev­eral wa­ter­falls that en­sured we couldn’t stick to a sched­ule

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