Drive down to Padwa, 30 k.m. from Araku, this winter to explore the beauty of the valley and switch off from the din of city life, writes Jaideep Deo Bhanj
Araku Valley is a much favoured destination with hordes of tourists trying to beat the summer heat; but the best time to visit the verdant valley is in the winter. In this season, the temperature at night drops below ten degrees centigrade and the pleasant afternoons are perfect for long walks and treks to discover picnic spots and hidden waterfalls that are not teeming with picnickers.
If you are driving to the valley, as we did, on a weekday there is not much traffic on the winding roads and you can roll down the windows and enjoy the fresh air getting cooler. With every twist and turn the vegetation changes and driving in your own vehicle gives you the chance to stop and admire the changing landscape and dip your feet into the mountain streams and cascades that are gushing thanks to the heavy rain. The shrubs around Tyda give way to large trees and coffee plantations at Sunkarmetta where one must stop to taste the local coffee. If you are lucky you may even find a tribal lady selling chicken that has been cooked in the hollow of a bamboo that gives it an exotic flavour. The wild plants in the valley are full of yellow and orange flowers, which add colour to the lush green landscape.
Araku with the development of tourism is no longer a quaint village and many will agree that the sight of plastic litter and the smell of diesel in the air has taken away much of its charm.
In search of some peace and quiet we decided to head towards Padwa which is 30 k.m from Araku towards Jeypore. The half hour drive from Araku to Padwa, which is in Odisha, is a nature lovers dream come true. The fields on the left were a bright yellow with mustard flowers and we were reminded of the scenes from the film Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. On the other side the sugarcane fields were silver with flowers and one must drive back to see it shine under the moonlight.
You know you are close to Padwa when the road gets narrower with the railway track on your right and a stream on your left. The stream flows into the Padwa Lake that is surrounded by hills. We stopped to get our feet wet in the water and absorbed the calmness of the area. It is advisable to bring a pair of binoculars and a bird guide book along, as the area has a variety of birds in and around the lake.
One must stay the night in Padwa to take in what it has to offer. The village is small and the only place to stay is the Diamond Lake View Resort that has ten rooms overlooking the lake. The rooms are neat and clean with a balcony that offers an unobstructed view of the water, hills and the fields. A peek into their guest book showed that it was popular with tourists from out of the state but hardly any visitors from Vizag have discovered it. The resort has a restaurant and is managed by a local who was more than eager to help us explore the place.
Watching the sun slowly set over the lake, sipping a cup of ginger tea was a truly breathtaking sight. Our cell phones had no reception and it was peaceful to be cut-off from the world for a while. We took a walk into the village and tried some chicken pakoras and alu bondas that were being fried in a small stall before heading back to the resort to spend the evening around a fire, staring at the stars and keeping track of the number of shooting stars that went flying past. Over dinner we were surprised to learn that there were many activities we could indulge in the next day.
If you are the adventurous type there are a number of waterfalls you can explore. Get a local to guide you to the Happy Falls that is a short trek from the village. You can hire a motorboat and explore the lake or even go fishing in a country boat. The lake is teeming with fish and you don’t need lady luck by your side to catch your lunch. You can even drive to a tribal hamlet where you can interact with Bonda Tribes although you are not allowed to photograph them. There are also the Nageswari caves 7 k.m. away and trekking trails that you can explore depending on how much time you plan to spend at Padwa.
The village does not get many tourists so it is advisable to carry essentials with you. If you intend to stay at the resort call ahead and book your room so that they can make arrangements.
The drive back to Vizag is also as exciting as you try and stop at every corner to prolong the getaway from the city. Padwa can also be reached by train but driving there allows you to set the pace of your journey and you can absorb the picturesque locale rather than watch it flash by.