SAPUTARA Gujarat’s only hill station offers a welcome respite from urban greyness

Finding a place where the living and inanimate rest in harmony near Mumbai can be a challenge. Someone whispered to me that a narrow gauge train runs from Bilimora to Waghai, from where one could climb up the Sahyadri mountains to Saputara, a journey of barely two hours. The thought that it would be misty in rain was attractive. With some friends onboard, we took the train at Bilimora. As it moved ahead on its narrow track, sugarcane stood in the fields, taller than the men who planted it. The paddy was still young, the promise of grain months away. The river ran muddy.

The drive to Saputara was alluring — a hut situated amidst the fields here, a twisted tree there, a breakwater to my left, and, in front, a lovely waterfall.The fall is named Gira Falls (‘gira’ meaning fall). The monsoon had loosened the earth and the water was yellowed by the presence of the mud it carried. Still, the pressure, force and roar remained undiminished.

We hurried to catch the sunset, but the clouds did not permit the sun to reveal its colours to us as it bade goodbye to the day. We reached the entrance to Saputara, 1,000 metres above sea level, the only hill station of Gujarat. The district, Dang, is predominantly tribal. Music from an instrument called the ‘pavrivadan’, made out of bottle gourd, welcomed us. Hindu mythology says that Lord Ram spent 11 years of exile in the dense forests of Saputara; the story of the woman feeding jujube to Ram is rooted to a place called Shabridham, about 80 kms from here. There is a statue of a serpent deity on the banks of the river Sarpaganga, who’s worshipped by the local tribals.

Saputara has a lake in the middle of the hills.

On the said day, it was clothed in mist, the boundaries merging with the vapour that floated around. Row boats and paddle boats were hauled up from the jetty for us. Surprisingly, Saputara means “abode of serpents”. When I asked why it was so named, I was told that once it really was home to serpents. Now, with resorts and hotels mushrooming, humans have overtaken. One can go trekking amidst bamboo glades in the Mahal Bardipura forest 60 km away. The Vansda National Park harbours tigers, leopards, pangolins, rusty spotted cats, pythons, giant squirrels, four-horned antelopes and many others. The forest range is Ahwa, from where permission can be obtained to visit the national park.

Later in the evening we saw the many tribal ornaments and artefacts — natural oils for joint pains, a reddish flour made out of a local seed called ‘nagli’, which is said to lead to sturdier and stronger knees in hill people. I purchased a toran (a welcoming decoration hung on doors) made of shells and sewn in bright red cloth with tiny mirrors. Warli paintings attracted me. This form of linear sketches, said to have descended from pre-historic times, uses a a clever technique to show motion, as in a dance — the artist draws the movement in a circle, unfolding or suggesting the sequence.

Night had fallen, quietly overtaking the colours, forms, and all movement.