As a fond lover of hills and mountains, I find it hard, almost impossible, to stick to a bland, page-long itinerary while roaming around in a bus packed with people, mentally ticking off places I was told would be a sin to miss. It almost seems like a mindless exercise in ticking boxes—a museum here, a temple there, a few photographs by the waterfall, and voila!… I am supposed to have found a comforting ground in my wanderlust. In all my travelling days, I have given myself a pat on the back for choosing the tour guide’s happiness over mine by being acutely obedient. To be honest, that never went without its share of gentle regrets. Until Saputara, a tiny hill station in Gujarat, happened.
We were on a one-and-a half-day tour to the Saputara Monsoon Festival—organised by Gujarat Tourism in this relatively unexploited hill station. It aimed to encourage employment among the tribes and the aboriginals that inhabit its smallest district, Dang. Our tour plan, a two-day halt at Vadodara and Saputara, had the same, familiar pattern. A temple here, a museum there. That is not to staunchly dismiss the hamlet’s rich culture and history. In fact, Dang would almost be like a veritable gold mine if you find the customs fascinating, and I am not even romanticising. The Dang district is a home to aboriginals like Bhils, Kunbis, and Gamits—each of which has a compelling culture and history. If not for anything else, an interest in the customs would be the key for anyone thinking to spend a day or two at Saputara, which otherwise sparsely qualifies among the other hip hill stations of the North.
The Saputara museum, maintained by the government of Gujarat, reflected a wealth of the tribes’ traditions, trailing their very ornamental fashion of dressing, the kuccha houses they lived in, and their way of celebrating festivals with traditional dances and a myriad of musical instruments like “Pavri”, “Dholak”, “Basuri” and “Banjo”. One would think that such a way of life would be a thing of the past. But lucky as we were, we hummed to some eclectic music on Pavri being played by a man from the Kunbi tribe on our way out. Interestingly, Pavri is a three-part instrument—the first is made from the horns of the ox, second from the bamboo stick, and third from gourd. And it was not only this. Every other thing we saw struck a new nerve.
The best thing about Saputara was that it allowed me the liberty to venture out of the realms of the arranged. We played loyal tourists for almost a day, roaming around in the streets bristling with colours of the handicrafts and the tribes’ other creations. We waded our way through the serene waters of the Saputara Lake, carousing in the small pleasures of eating sweet corn and unripe guava. Ice creams and popcorn were chowed down for as less as Rs 30. That almost made me feel guilty for the times I had spent thrice as much at Surajkund and Dilli Haat. Non commercialisation of the place had brought out an unmistakable rawness, an elusive charm. But as they say, the best moments happen when they are unplanned. The 12-km trek to the highest hill at Saputara’s famous Governor’s hill was just that, and the (non-guilty) pleasure of defying the schedule for the first time, even beyond.
We were on a one-and-a half-day tour to the Saputara Monsoon Festival—organised by Gujarat Tourism in this relatively unexploited hill station. It aimed to encourage employment among the tribes and the aboriginals that inhabit its smallest district, Dang.
Thankfully, four of my fellow colleagues and I shared the same school of thought; that hills are best explored on foot. That is how we started. I am not much of a trekker (a lot of times because I have always stuck to the schedule, which never included trekking), but mainly because a) I am terribly afraid of heights, and b) on the fortunate day, I was wearing a pair of flashy slippers that had become slightly unaccommodating for my feet over the time. I carried on, nonetheless. Much due to my colleagues’ persuasion and them helping me go up and down whenever I felt the earth slipping beneath my jazzy shoes. But none of it really mattered; the occasional breeze—soft and slurred—calmed the senses, and there were too many shades of green and blue around my senses to worry about anything else in the world. So even when we got a cold shoulder from our guide for straying, all was good. Those were the five hours of absolutely inexpensive and unblemished luxury.
The monsoon festival normally kicks off in the middle of August and lasts till early September. As a part of the cultural show, the traditional Dangi dance is performed on all days, not only to appease tourists’ sensibilities, but to allow the tribals to earn some money. It is a meager sum of Rs 4,500 that is distributed between a team of 14, every day. Yet, it was heartwarming to see nobody really complaining about it.
Yet, it was not all roses and rainbows. Take the museum for instance. If it were not for the richness of the culture the museum showcased, with paint peeling off the walls, and the layers of dust piling on the exhibits, it wore a rather grimy look. The food at our resort was another downer; I had already imagined devouring traditional Gujju food, but had to settle with dishes cooked in a semi-Maharashtrian style. However, the unenduring penchant for a Gujarati thali was satiated in our small sojourn in Vadodara. We spent our time marveling over the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, which is three times the size of Buckingham Palace, and houses a remarkable collection of old armour and sculpture in bronze, marble and terracotta. Vadodara Museum and picture gallery was another attraction, with an impressive collection of European art, archaeology, natural history, and ethnology.
But Saputara was the heart stealer. Despite having no reputation for being amongst the popular tribe of other hill stations, it had plenty to recommend. Unadulterated surroundings, the striking spirit of its people, an opportunity to indulge in freedom. And voluminous shades of green and blue that I could not get enough of.