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Winter in the west

Winter is a great time to go travelling. Here are some off-the-beaten-path places in the west of India.

travel Updated: Dec 25, 2012 17:20 IST
Sumedha Deo

Winter is a great time to go travelling. Here are some off-the-beaten-path places in the west of India.

Maharashtra

Shani Shingnapur: Located in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, this town is famous for its Shanidev temple, as there are very few in the country. Unlike most temples, this one doesn’t house an idol. Instead, a black stone deity is worshipped here. However, the most unique aspect of this town is the locals’ houses as none of them have doors. Because the people believe the deity is ‘alive’ and protects them from criminal acts or break-ins, the entrances to their houses only have the door frames in place. The local branch of the UCO bank does have doors, but they are never locked!

Shetpal: If you don’t belong to Slytherin House in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books, you probably don’t like snakes much. But if you’re that rare person who does, go to Maharashtra’s Solapur district where snakes are found in abundance, which explains thousands of snake bites reported every year. Shetpal village is home to the Siddheshwar temple. Locals believe the deity has the power to cure snake bites and victims are often brought to this temple and left in the sanctum sanctorum to be cured. In the temple, and the village in general, you will find thousands of snakes cohabiting with humans.

Nandur Madhyameshwar Wildlife Sanctuary: Located in the Nashik district of Maharashtra, this sanctuary lies on the banks of the river Godavari. Due to the confluence of various other rivers in the region, the landscape is dotted with small, silted lakes, which have in turn nurtured aquatic vegetation and fauna. From December to February, this area too is home to migratory birds such as storks, ibis, spoonbills, flamingos, geese, curlews, ospreys and quails. You can also spot otters, civets, jackals and wolves here. Local guides are helpful and can take you around in wooden boats for an exciting wildlife experience.

Goa

Dolphin watching at Palolem: Think Goa and you think of the sun, surf and sandy beaches. Oh, and cheap alcohol as well. However, the vacation state has much more to offer — one such activity is dolphin watching. Off Palolem beach in the Canacona district of south Goa, the marine mammals gather in large pods to feed and breed. Local fishermen, as well as tour operators, can take you out to sea to catch a glimpse of these dolphins. The mammals are very house-broken and even come up to boats to let tourists pet them.

Arvalem caves: Another non-touristy spot in Goa is the ancient Arvalem caves, located about nine km south of Bicholim town. The legend goes that these rock-cut caverns were built by the Pandavas, who sheltered here during their exile. The caves have been dated to the 5th or 6th century AD, and are known locally as the Pandava caves. Architecturally, they resemble other Buddhist dens such as the Elephanta and Ellora caves, with the sanctuary located at the north and the monastery, at the south. There is also a Shiva lingam in one of the sanctums, with 7th century Sanskrit inscriptions on the walls.

Crocodile watching, Cumbarjua: Goa is also home to a few feral creatures that laze on riverbanks and have dagger-sharp teeth. Crocodylus palustris is a species of crocodiles found in the state. Most of the reptiles live in the Cumbarjua canal, which stretches across 15 km, and is a 20-minute drive from Panaji. These freshwater crocs have adapted to the environment in the saline canals and thrive in the mangrove habitat. But there’s no reason to worry: the giant amphibians are scared of humans and swim away when approached. In the nearby village, Durbhatwadi, the crocodiles are worshipped on the new moon in January.

Gujarat/Rajasthan

Little Rann of Kutch
: This barren desert land is the last sanctuary of the Asiatic Wild Ass (called ‘khur’ in Hindi). Migratory water fowl like flamingos, cranes, ducks and pelicans flock here to breed, making it a treat for avid bird watchers. Land birds like grouse, frankolins and Indian bustards also make for great attractions. A great way to take in the biodiversity is to walk through the marshes. Nowadays, the area is home to shrimp farms and commercial salt-pans as well.

Thar Desert safari: A camel-back ride along the undulating dunes of golden sands is the best way to make the most of your time in the Thar Desert. You can pick a safari to suit your needs — there are trips that are an hour long to ones that are as long as 11 days (you travel from Bikaner to Jaisalmer during that time). The longer tours allow you experience camping in the desert, under the starlit sky as musicians play the traditional langoza (flute-like instrument), while you cook your food on a bonfire. You can best enjoy this safari in the winter. Also called The Great Indian Desert, the Thar Desert was part of an ancient trade route that merchants from lands as far away as Africa and the Middle East used to ferry their good on camel trains.

Bundi: A photo of this picturesque town in Rajasthan is the kind that would make for a great ‘wish you were here’ postcard. It has found mention in the work of noted writers Rabindranath Tagore and Rudyard Kipling as well. Along with the forts and palaces that dot the state, Bundi is also known for its many stepwells, or baoris, as they are called in Marwari. These are deep wells with steps that lead down to water pools or kunds. The town is also home to many species of migratory birds, which can be spotted along the river Chambal and its tributaries.