Not in a habit to pass even a few days without exploring, early morning I check a few last-minute details prior to embarking on my road trip to Wai. Passion makes a person go places but my passion is to go places. The atmosphere is still fogged as I step outside to see my bike parked ahead, both of us eager to get on road. My home vanished around the corner; all my thoughts about no matter how much do I travel, every new destination always gets my heart pounding with thrill.Passing the hanging bridge of Ravet,I catch a glimpse of sun rays reach out through the mist and gently rest across the ripples. With an occasional passer-by, I head along NH48. Arriving outside Pune an hour later, the scenery is now replaced more open, non-residential space spread over a wide area on either side. The first tunnel passes through hill covered half in shadow on the lower front side, its peak bathing in a golden glow. Once inside, a parallel row of dim yellow lights on the flat smoothed roof blur past me. The sound of vehicles reflects off the wall for a kilometer when I headed past the end of tunnel around a corner.
About two hours later, I stop by Sriram vadapav, a popular snack center for travelers. I slither through the crowd to reach the counter. The local breakfast menu varies from missal to potato and onion pakoras and pohe (dish made of flattened rice) to fried sago vadas. I have to wait for only a few minutes before I collect my steaming dish for breakfast. The taste speaks of a well-blended mixture of ingredients as I savor every bite with tamarind paste smeared on top. The air still very cold, I sip a hot cup of tea with the vapors fogging my glasses. Few minutes of rest and I kick my vehicle back to life. The region ahead is a hilly terrain, marking the beginning of Satara. Covered with sun-dried grass and dried trees all over the slope, the black bark scattered against the background of a clear blue sky makes a strong view. Eventually the surface rises as I enter the Ghats of Wai. I squint my eyes in effort against the glare the entire region is valleys and mountains, few villages amidst the valley and adjacent farms. The temperature in the Ghats is back to normal, the air warm. The roads in good condition and turns more elaborate, they enhance a smooth ride. After about twenty-minutes in Ghats, the road descends into the village of Wai. The first noticeable thing is the village road covered with trees all the way with most of them banyan trees; I could never resist the urge to click. I stop for a glass of sugarcane juice at a local juice center, shortly before noon. The countryside life has well defined its presence with farms, houses in view with thatched roofs and courtyards evened with cow dung, a few concrete bungalows and harvest heaps neatly arranged in piles. I was pleased to watch bullock carts had not yet faded away. The sugarcane juice quenches my thirst a sweet taste mixed with a slight tinge of lime, restoring energy levels in the heat. In the background are the Mandar Devi hills, named after the local goddess.
The Saat Ghats of Wai are situated near the entrance of the city. Built on the bank of Krishna river, the main attraction and biggest of all the temples is on the fourth Ghat. I feel fascinated by the entire structure constructed in stone, from the Ghat platform to the temple peak. Built in the river bed by Ganpat Bhikaji Raste, he was the Sardar of Mahadeorao Ballal Peshwa. In monsoon when the river floods, water flows up to the inside of Mahadeva temple, earlier the temples being flooded till four months. But since the construction of Dhom dam, the flood water is cleared in a couple of days. I first visit the Ganpati temple. The Ganpati sculpted in a siting position and painted in orange is draped in purple cloth around the waist and white shawl around his shoulders. As I view around, I converse with the current caretaker. The Ganpati statue was sculpted out of single entire stone block and was established first. The temple is built later, quite opposite the normal procedure. On its left side, inside a wall enclosure is the Mahadeva temple with the Sabha Mandal in front and the Ganakeshwar Temple on its left. Of all, the Ganpati temple architecture was completed in 1762. During its period of construction, the Sardar lost his son and in his remembrance, the Mahadeva temple was built in 1767. The Ganakeshwar temple was originally in Mauje Mugav village of Wai featuring hemadpanthi architecture that is 250 years old. Later on, 5th June 1976 it was submerged below water due to the Dhom dam construction. Sometimes when water level of the dam decreases, one can see the peak of Ganakeshwar temple. Entire cost for building the stone platform and the Ganpati temple was one lakh sixty-two thousand and seventy-five thousand for the Mahadeva temple, the amount being very huge dating back around 255 years ago. The locals state the entire time for construction was between 15-20 years. The squared stone slabs are joined together by a mixture of lime stone with glass and iron chips. The material left after building the entire Ghat is used to build the forty room Raste Wada. The Gokhle family who was awarded the place later now continues to live at the Wada after Raste dynasty ended with the demise of his son.
In front of the Mahadeva temple is a beautiful sculpture of Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Mahadeva. Made from shaligram stone, it was ordered specially from Karnataka. The surface is smooth and shiny, carved to the last detail, from its ornaments to its hoofs. Inside the temple, a young teenage boy is busy decorating the shivling with flowers. On the left side of the shivling, in the wall is the window of snake’s puzzle. It is a design with two entwined snakes. To solve it, one has to start from one snake’s mouth and end at its tail. Most people fail to solve it, ending at the second snake’s mouth. A small circular slab of stone in the right corner near the doorway is used to scrape sandalwood powder. In front of the temple, beside the Nandi is a small rough surfaced statue of a person sculpted from above his waist. This represents the attendants of Lord Shiva, known as gans. The Mahadeva temple has three peaks descending in height towards the front and other small dome like structures around them. All peaks have various figures carved on each side representing the lord, saints and devotees in different positions. Such is the quality and strength of construction that the maintenance of the temple was recently done for the first time since it was built. At the entrance, an example of the construction has been left to display relating to how the slabs are being held together. The Sabha Mandal is a huge open hall with arched stone pillars. The Swahakara Yagya, a seven-day holy program is performed in the hall where the fire once lit is kept burning for seven days. The Deepmal is a huge pillar with slots for placing lighted lamps which is lit every year on Kojagiri and Tripouri Pournima (full moon) and on Mahashivratri. In the previous days, baked mud lamps were used but now artificial lighting is preferred. Only on every Tripouri Pournima, a full moon occasion before Mahashivratri, the entire Ghat is lit with lamps. Saat Ghats celebrate the Krushnamai Utsav; a fair assembles for a whole month around February. Every Ghat has temples built by families it was allotted to. The caretaker family stays within the rooms allotted inside the temple for a year and then moves to their village back to their daily routine. A total of seven families have been caretakers known as Guravs, the tradition being passed down for generations. Every family moved back in to the temple every eight year.
Four kilometres ahead from Wai is the village of Menavli which is named after the local deity, Lord Meneshwar. I turn off the main road towards a tiny residential path that leads into the village and in a sudden opening, is the stone and brick Wada of Nana Fadnavis. The surrounding wall is huge such that only the top roof of the house can be seen from outside with huge wooden entrance doors on either side. The Wada is a 300 to 350 years old architecture, built by Nana Fadnavis. When gifted the village of Menavli in 1768, he re-established the whole village. He then built a quarter moon shaped stone Ghat with Shree Vishnu and Shree Meneshwar temples and the six yard Fadnavis residence, its construction completed around 1780. The Wada was built for his wife who is said to have been very beautiful. The house has a secret tunnel that led down to the bank of the Krishna river that flows behind the house. She used to go through the tunnel to have a bath in the river at morning four and return back the same way. The Wada is a two-floor structure, its windows and doors still intact at the hinges, coated with blackish brown varnish, looked good as new. The place has been painted recently for shootings, the famous Bajirao Mastani film has included this location in a few scenes. The Wada still has Nana’s bed, Divankhana and few other things in his room upstairs. The side staircase at each corner leads up to the top platform from the looks of which I gather was used as storage. The middle staircase leads to Nana’s room which is kept locked, not open for public display. The courtyard is in centre of the entire Wada with a Ganpati statue is near the entrance corner of the courtyard and arched wooden pillars supported on stone foundation. The windows fitted with horizontal bars depict the old method of design. On the other side of the Wada stays the 96 year old caretaker, Mr Govande who explained the lock system of the doors, quite a simple yet tricky design.
Exactly behind the Wada is the Meneshwar temple that place flaunts a huge stone bell which was won by Chimaji Appa, brother of Bajirao Peshwa from Vasai. Hung inside a dome structure, the bell is made of Panchdhatu (five metals) around 1707 with Mother Mary engraved on the surface. The five metals used for the bell are gold, silver, iron, copper and lead. The temple wall still has an old painting of an elephant on either side of the stone archway. The perfectly aligned nandi and the bell hung behind it makes a peaceful view from the inside of the Mahadeva temple. Inside, a series of deep steps lead downwards towards the shivling. Placed exactly in the centre, light entering through the doorway falls exactly on the shivling. The water surface is still, with slight ripples now and then, its other side of the bank covered in dense trees. A few buffaloes immerse themselves in the cool delight blowing off heat, the bell around their necks tinkling. The environment is more peaceful, given its location being the farthest in the village. As a few more bulls walk in to quench their thirst, I make my way ahead for the next destination.
Back through the city of Wai, Panchgani is located about 13 kilometres ahead, I make my way through the Pasarni Ghats. These Ghats have valleys more deep and sharp turns. From top to midway, blackened bare rock make the hills appear withered. Sundried grass and dried tree skeletons start midway down, weathering effects can be seen more towards the top bare rocky edges and also remarkably more than the hills of Wai Ghats. The rocks are chipped in many places, bits n pieces strewn along the road. Layered farming is prominent along the valley settlements with the difference in soil distinct even from a certain height, varying from brick red to black. Resorts with artificial fountains, waterfalls and sprinklers greet travellers way before entering the city. Panchgani hill station is the second largest plateau in Asia. The road towards the highest plateau has many horses lined up in large numbers for people to visit the caves and other points at larger distances from one another. I stop at one of the local restaurants ‘Shantai’ that has small hut-like bamboo rooms with thatched slanting roofs providing complete privacy. The food served has a countryside speciality, with the staple bhakri and chapati made on mud cooking stoves (chulhas). I indulge in paneer-chapati while few visitors savour bhakri with chicken gravy. As I check my fuel meter for the return journey, I noticed the prices have a drop by 10 to 15 bucks compared to city. While returning, sunset has the hills covered in half darkness and half sunlight. I stop at one of the side points to view the setting sun. Its colours spread lightly across the sky, the sun set behind the hill ranges. Once out of the Ghats, I take a detour around Wai city. The dark shades spread across the sky are mesmerizing with the fields in background. On the return path, I water body makes an elegant view with slight remnant of the left behind colours reflected on its surface along with the just one star. With the 370km road trip, another destination had been framed!