India is full of surprises. I thought I knew most of the destinations in and around Mumbai only to be proved wrong by having a weekend outing to a totally unknown place, atleast for Mumbaikar (or only me). When my family told me that we are going to Rajpipala, I didn't know in what and which part of Gujarat I am entering. Only when we started driving and I put the coordinate of Rajpipala on the map, I discovered the destination (also reading about it on the way helped me understand the place more).
The place where we headed was Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, which is some 10 km away from Rajpipala, a small town in the Narmada district. The closest big town near this unexplored place is, Ankaleshwar which is around 30 km. It took us some 7-8 hours to reach the sanctuary from Mumbai. The Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary unlike Kanha or Bandhavgarh, has less animals, to be precise no tiger. During my visit also, we couldn't do the morning safari in the midst of the forest and went only to the area accessible by localities.
|Aerial view of Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary|
Since it was a weekend trip and a lot of time we spent in traveling, we had limited time to go around and do the sightseeing. At the entrance of the sanctuary is Sardar Sarovar (Narmada) Dam. The Gujarat Government has taken years to finish the dam which now provides energy to states like Maharashtra, Madhy Pradesh and Gujarat. The Dam is constructed on the Narmada River and water from the river is used to generate hydro electricity. We headed to see the dam and from there went below the Dam and understand the working of the project. The local guide gave us the briefing of how the entire process works, the equipment used and the amount of electricity is generated. It was more of educative tour. Once we saw the dam from 2-3 viewing point, we headed towards our accomodation place.
|Far away view of Sardar Sarovar Dam|
|Closer view of Sardar Sarovar Dam|
The stay is available in Rajpipala, Dediapada and Zarwani. Zarwani is located inside the sanctuary, hence, you need to enter the forest before 7 to reach the guest house. The accommodation in Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is very moderate and basic. If you crave an air conditioned room, then opt to stay in either Rajpipala or Dediapada. The Zarwani accommodation is in dormitory style with an additional 4 rooms available accommodating 2 adults. The food is prepared by the caretaker in the guest house is a staple food, but indeed tasty.
|Top view of stay in Zarwani|
|Flowers around the guest house|
Next day morning, we started our day with a small walk around the guest house just to breath in the fresh air and admire the beauty of the forest. We visited during the monsoon season, so the greenery abundant and there was no sun as black clouds overpowered the sky. We passed by many small villages where people started their daily routine.
|Houses in the village|
|Crossing path with childrens staying in Zarwani|
We headed back to our room for some breakfast and later started our journey towards the Zarwani Waterfall. We parked our car in the parking space and started the walk towards the waterfall. There was some construction work going on, the local told us that they are making a bridge connecting the two villages. Due to monsoon, there was water on the way towards the waterfall. We walked in the rough road, then in the water and they again on rocks to again crossing ankle length water to finally crossing hip level water to reach the Zarwani waterfall. Many people skipped the waterfall as after monsoon the road becomes slippery and difficult, especially for aged people. Zarwani waterfall was beautiful, but very crowded with people came from all possible nearby towns.
|Distant view of Zarwani Waterfall I avoided going closer due to crowd|
On our way back to the parking lot, some localites told us about the second unnamed waterfall in the same area. A small walk in the other direction and we reached the second waterfall. This one, unlike Zarwani Waterfall was empty and there was no crowd at all. Personally, I found this waterfall much better than the Zarwani. Unfortunately, this one doesn't have a name as such, but it is located in the same area. This waterfall is small, however, we enjoyed our time by having some photo sessions.
|Second unnamed Waterfall - Front view|
|This is the side view of same waterfall|
Good force can always break through the rock
Everywhere we went, whether it was a dam or waterfall, we saw many people selling corn on the cob. Unlike what I see in Maharashtra, these corns on the cob were boiled inside the vessel and kept in hot water till you order one. It is must eat as the corn is soft and sweet in taste. Too hot to handle, I had a fun time eating them. Apart from corn, you will find all types of street food available. The unique item to try is Khichu (steamed corn flour prepared with spices). As it is said that Gujarati's (residence of Gujarat state) loves food and there is no shortage of variety available in any part of Gujarat, even if it is a small village in the interiors.
|Localities continuing their daily routine|
On your way, you will also see shops selling 'Live waffers' (Live Chips). These are freshly made banana and potato chips. Right behind the shop, you can see the people cutting the banana and putting in the hot pan to deep fry the chips. Full of oil, but worth it if you love chips!
|Small boy frying chips|
Shoolpaneshwar Wildlife Sanctuary is completely government owned and to visit or stay inside, one needs to take the permission. As for the cost, this trip was one of the cheapest I had in many years. Since everything is basic in this town, we spent hardly any bucks on stay or food. The entry Ticket issued by government is also very nominal making it the cheapest nearby destination for a weekend getaways.