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District Focus: Satara, Maharashtra

We know that India has plenty of cities, towns and villages which are beautiful, historic and friendly. But what about entire districts which are packed with things to see and do? For instance, plenty of Indians often talk about travelling to Coorg or Kullu-Manali. These aren’t single towns, but entire districts enriched with beauty. One such district is Satara district in Maharashtra. The district lies at the foot of Sahyadri mountains and is blessed with two major river beds. Satara district is home to exotic fruits like the strawberry. To see the unparalleled beauty of Satara district, one must visit it during monsoon in July-August.

Geography of Satara district

The Sahyadri mountains have gifted Satara district with plenty of greenery and water catchment areas.

Satara is classified under Madhya Maharashtra region or central Maharashtra. It is in the Pune division of Maharashtra state. The Sahyadri mountains, which is the name given to the Western Ghat mountains within Maharashtra state, run parallel to the sea, about 100 kilometres inland. The region to the west of the Sahyadris, adjoining the sea is called Konkan. The region to the east is called Madhya Maharashtra. this region forms a plateau, called the Deccan plateau, which is elevated above the sea level at an average of about 600 metres. The rain trapped by the Sahyadris flows vigorously in the form of several large rivers into the districts of Madhya Maharashtra. Two such rivers are Krishna and Koyna. The towns and villages settled on the banks of these two rivers collectively form the Satara district.

To the west of Satara district lie the Sahyadri mountains. Crossing the mountains towards the coastal side will lead us to Raigad and Ratnagiri districts, both famous for Alphonso mangoes. To the north of Satara district lies the industrially advanced Pune district. To the east is the Solapur district and to the south are Sangli and Kolhapur districts.

The district is blessed with 1000+ millimetres of rain every monsoon. Combined with the effect of 5000+ millimetres of rain in the adjoining Sahyadris, there are several waterfalls, lakes and dams in Satara district. This makes it a perfect destination for monsoon. The only destination not meant for monsoon is the Kaas plateau of flowers, the peak season for which are the months of October and November. The monsoon makes the district perfect for sugarcane, paddy and several seasonal fruits and vegetables, the famous one being strawberry.

The important cities in Satara district are Satara city itself, Karad and Mahabaleshwar.

People of Satara district

Satara people are known all over Maharashtra and in Karnataka for their toughness and physical strength. The biggest aspiration of Satara’s youth is to join the army or the police force. This is true for both the rural and urban areas of the district. Plenty of the rural population is on the fields toiling away. During the non-farming season, i.e., December – April, plenty of able-bodied persons from Satara district temporarily move to industrial Mumbai, Pune or Kolhapur and seek employment in factories, where they work as movers of heavy machinery or goods. People are mostly comfortable with government jobs after having studied and passed the IAS examination. Private enterprise, especially Information Technology, is yet to enter Satara district. Most of the factories are based on agriculture, e.g. sugar mills, corn mills, paddy husking, etc.

It is not very convenient to get by with only English and Hindi in Satara district, especially when you go deeper into the rural fold. People may be able to understand when you speak one of the two languages, but they struggle to reply and will then revert to the local language, Marathi. A working knowledge of Marathi is highly recommended. If you do not speak the language, you should consider travelling with someone who can speak Marathi.

Enough intro. Now let’s get right down to the places that you should not miss in Satara district.

Satara city

Satara city is the hub for all the transportation for further destinations. Satara is the biggest city in the district and it is also the one with the maximum number of traveller’s destinations close by. Kaas plateau, Vajrai waterfall, Sajjangad, Urmodi lake, Ajinkyatara, Chalkewadi windmill farm and Thoseghar waterfall are all within 30 kilometres of the city centre. The district’s biggest railway station (Satara in the Pune division of the Central Railway) and bus terminal (on the national highway NH4: Mumbai – Pune – Kolhapur – Belgaum – Bengaluru – Chennai highway) are in Satara city as well. Both are extremely well-connected to the rest of India. There are no airports, the nearest one being at Pune. Satara city is a fascinating place to be, especially during the wee market hours in the evening, where you can get really fresh fruits grown all over the district. There are several shops near the bus terminal that sell Satara’s delicacy, the Kandi Pedha, which we will get to know more in the ‘what to eat’ section.

Karad

The Pritisangam at the north-western corner of Karad city overlooks the confluence of Krishna and Koyna rivers

Industrially developed, Karad is the best planned township in the district. It is situated near the confluence of the Koyna and Krishna rivers. The two rivers join forces at the north-west of the city. The Krishna-Koyna Pritisangam is an important destination for a Teerth Yatra in Maharashtra. Because of the two rivers, the region around Karad is extremely fertile.

Karad is a good interchange transport hub if you plan to travel to one of the two destinations: Koyna dam and Panhala fort. At Karad, one of the most beautiful Ghat highways in Maharashtra connects the city with the city of Chiplun in Ratnagiri district. This road is called the Kumbharli Ghat. This Ghat passes through Koyna Nagar. There is a beautiful view of the Koyna river and several majestic waterfalls on this highway.

Mahabaleshwar – Panchgani

These are two hill stations developed during the British era to their current tourist form. Both cities are famous for their strawberry farms. Mapro (Maharashtra Agricultural Produce) is a facility half-way between the two towns, that produces several delicacies such as chocolates, fruit squashes and candies with fruit flavours. There are several view points around the two towns, the most eye-catching one being the table top plateau at Panchgani. Both towns have several boarding schools. There is a complex of five ancient temples in Old Mahabaleshwar. One of those 5 temples is worshipped as the source of Krishna river, south India’s longest river, that flows through Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The Lingmala waterfall near the village of Metgutad, 9 kilometres from Mahabaleshwar, is one of the several major waterfalls in the district. There is so much to see in these two towns put together that we promise you a seperate article.

Kaas plateau, Vajrai waterfall and Tapola Lake

There are two highways that lead from Satara city to Mahabaleshwar. The wider and more frequently used route goes through the town of Medha. This highway is featureless, save for a few good views of the forests in the Ghats. Let’s talk about the must-visit sites on a road that goes on a not-so often used route between Satara and Mahabaleshwar. This road is called the Bamnoli Ghat and passes through some of the best features Satara district has to offer.

20 kilometres from Satara city on the Bamnoli Ghat road at the top of the hill towering over the city is a unique work of nature. Every year, just after monsoon and during the onset of what can be called the peninsular Indian autumn (when it is not winter yet), the ground of the entire plateau is entirely covered in flowers of various colours. The blooming starts at the end of September and continues all the way to the middle of November. Thereafter the ground goes dry and the flowers wither away by the turn of the year. A rule of thumb to visit this place is between Navratri and new year.

2 kilometres downhill from the Kaas plateau is the Kaas lake. The lake has an expansive meadow of grass on the banks. One can bring a tent and camp here for the night. Another 4 kilometres to the west is the village of Bamnoli, where Urmodi river forms a deep gorge surrounded by hills on three sides. From one of the sides, the river falls in a 560-metre waterfall forming three cascades. This waterfall is named the Vajrai waterfall. It is a perennial waterfall, but the best flow is during monsoon. Vajrai is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in all of India.

As the road progresses towards Mahabaleshwar, it descends to a river basin, where the backwaters of the Koyna dam makes a uniquely shaped lake. This lake is in the village of Tapola. When seen from a higher altitude, the lake looks like a star, in the form of a 5-armed pentacle. At the lake itself, one can see the surrounding Sahyadris and its waterfalls. There is boating facility at the lake.

Sajjangad, Urmodi and Alewadi

View of Urmodi lake from the viewpoint at Sajjangad

Vajrai waterfall from Alewadi village.

During the end of the 17th century, Chhatrapati Shivaji conquered the Sajjangad fort, which lies at the top of a hill 16 kilometres from Satara city, from the hands of the Muslim Adil Shah rulers of Bijapur. To restore Sajjangad and Satara as a centre of Hinduism, Shivaji established an Ashram for Sadguru Swami Samarth Ramdas inside the fort premises. It continues to be an Ashram today. The Samadhi or the resting place of the Swami is enshrined inside the fort complex. Around the complex are several temples and a Yatri Niwas or a devotee’s lodge, where one can stay free of cost and make a donation if he/she so desires. There is no obligation to pay for the stay or for the food. Lunch and dinner are served as prasad in a community hall.

The best feature of Sajjangad is the view of the expansive Urmodi lake from a viewpoint. The azure water of the lake looks beautiful in contrast to the greenery around. The Urmodi dam supplies potable water to Satara city. One can drive right near the bank of the Urmodi lake on a road that leads from Satara to Alewadi. Which brings us to the village of Alewadi. The road that starts at Satara abruptly ends as Alewadi. The village is surrounded by thick forests on all the sides. But what is special here? At Bamnoli, one see the Vajrai waterfall from its top, pluging into the depths of the gorge deep down. But from Alewadi, one stands at the level of the gorge and can see the waterfall pouring from a neck-straining height above!

Thoseghar and Chalkewadi

Thoseghar waterfalls.

As if the jaw-dropping beauty of Vajrai waterfall were not enough, the Thoseghar waterfall series gives you more jaw-dropping and wide-eyed moments. 25 kilometres on the same road that goes further from Sajjangad, a small park with a guided walkway takes you through a forest trail and suddenly opens up to a void formed by the Koyna river surrounding by vertical cliffs on three sides. On each cliff is a waterfall. This series of waterfalls is called the Motha Dhabdhaba (the big waterfall), the height of which is 380 metres. Further upstream is another waterfall of 180 metres, which is called the Lahaan Dhabdhaba (the small waterfall).

The Thoseghar falls viewpoint seems to be as dangerous as it is beautiful. People seem to have done a lot of foolish things in drunken stupor or plain negligence, ultimately perishing in a 380 metre fall. To one side of the viewpoint is a large board written in Marathi, that lists the names, native cities, ages and the dates of death of several individuals who fell to their deaths. The ages range from 11 to 60. If you understand Marathi, one look at the board is enough to prompt you to be more careful when taking selfies! The board had 13 names when we visited, the most recent death having happened in the same monsoon season (2017) that we visited!

On the same hill top where the Thoseghar waterfall series drop off the cliff, a field of windmills can be seen. This field was started by the government of Maharashtra to harness the strong winds in the district and use it to generate power. The field also has a grass meadow with colourful flowers, similar to the ones at Kaas.

Kumbharli Ghat and Koyana Nagar

 

Ozarde waterfall on the way from Koyna to Kumbharli.

A view of Koyna dam from Koyna Nagar town.

Kumbharli Ghat is a moutain pass highway that connects Karad in Satara district to Chiplun in Ratnagiri district. The summit of the Ghat is at the village of Kumbharli, which is a village overlooking the Koyna dam. However the highlight of the route is the town of Koyna Nagar and the things to see within 6 kilometres of the town. A kilometre from town is the complex of Koyna dam, the dam built over Koyna river. This dam is mainly used for hydel power generation at the station at the base of the dam. The lake formed by the dam is named Shiva Sagar. The lake is fed by the several waterfalls that rush down from the hills around Kumbharli village. Let’s look at the waterfalls. There are three huge waterfalls near Koyna Nagar. Two of them are right on the Kumbharli road. You can simply park your vehicle and walk right in front of the cascade. The third one, Ozarde, is the biggest and the thickest one. The region around the waterfall has been converted into a park with a stair walkway leading you midway to a hill that overlooks the mammoth waterfall from just a few metres away. The view is spell-binding. You stand in front of a giant which pounds down on the rocks in front of you with a loud roar. You are sprayed with mist and it is very difficult to hold a camera lens without fogging it completely.

Pratapgad fort

Main entrance to Pratapgad fort.

Pratapgad is a Maratha-era fort located on the Ambenali Ghat, the highway that goes to Mahabaleshwar from Mumbai via Poladpur. There is a piece of history about how Chhatrapati Shivaji killed a Mughal emissary named Afzal Khan in the premises of this fort. History aside, the view from the walls of the fort are amazing. In the monsoon, the views are covered by thick clouds. Inside the entrance of the fort, a flight of stairs takes one to the citadel of the fort, where there is Bhavani Mata temple and a bronze statue of Shivaji atop a horse.

A short video of Satara district

We made a short video of Satara district on your YouTube channel. You can watch it here.

What to eat

In Satara district, you get typical Maharashtrian food everywhere, be it in the middle of Satara city or in the Ghats. Soft chapati with a gravy made of pulses such as moong, masoor or channa is the go-to for lunch and dinner. This can be supplemented with daal and rice. Snack items include Misal pav, Usal pav, vada pav and bhaji. Breakfast items are very limited, since the district is usually laidback. People eat one of the snack items as breakfast. There are some breakfast joints in Satara city where you can find poha. Many joints list upma as an item, but then when you ask for it, they don’t have it. For a decent breakfast, Karad city offers many good options including a south Indian joint beside the city’s main flyover.

Kandi Pedha is unique to Satara district

Something unique to Satara district is Kandi Pedha. This is a milk sweet made of khoa or milk thickened by boiling off all the water inside the milk. The khoa gives the sweet its basic shape. But the taste comes from sugar, ghee and one or both of cardamom (elaichi) and saffron (kesar). Kandi pedha differs slightly from regular pedha in that in regular pedha, the khoa is white, but in kandi pedha, the khoa is burnt until it shows a deep brown shade. You can get Kandi Pedha from all over Satara city, but the best ones are in the sweet shops surrounding the bus terminal.

Another local sweet dish is the mango barfi or aamba barfi as it is called in Marathi. This is a barfi made from mango pulp, sugar and all purpose flour.

Conclusion

The above list is not exhaustive. But I have attempted to give you a list of the best spots in Satara district. In later posts, I will dive into each of the above locations in detail. If you are planning a trip to Maharashtra in monsoon, then look no further than the enchanting beauty of Satara district.

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