In India it is still fairly simple to leave urbanization behind and reach a place where the only things you run into are lush green meadows, wild flowers and quaint hill tops. These destinations are not what you will find in tourist maps, but what the path going out of a crowded city will automatically lead you to.
Saswad near the city of Pune in Maharashtra is one such destination. Hidden amidst the effervescent Sahyadri mountain ranges, the place is a jewel of an abode for someone who weighs far more importance to nature than nightlife. If you are living in Pune and desperately in need of a break or if you are a traveler dying to see the India of the small towns and villages, Saswad is a good place to begin.
This fledgling town has as much natural beauty as history hidden inside the walls of long forgotten fortresses and temples. In fact it has given to India many of its eminent saints, leaders and authors. Saswad was also once the epicenter of many activities of one of the greatest Maratha rulers- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Things to See and Do
The exploration of Saswad can begin right for the foot hills of the mountain one has to climb to reach the town. The valley is known as Dive ghat and has a beautiful lake call Mastani Lake built by Maratha ruler Bajirao Peshwa for lady Mastani. As you climb along the serpentine path cut through the mountain, the view becomes ever more mesmerizing and trekking is most certainly a viable option here.
Saswad looks particularly heavenly during the monsoons and if that is the time you opt to visit, the gurgling sounds of seasonal waterfalls, cascading from every crevice down the mountain will only add to the adventure. Some of these falls are at a distance, but most are easily approachable and irresistible when all you wish to do is splash around in the cool natural springs.
Once you reach the plateau, it has its share of roadside eateries, mountain caverns turned into temples, and scattered villages, but what you see most are green pastures, fields and acres and acres of land with freshly grown figs, custard apples and sapodilla. Women and men sitting at the roadside shacks are more than eager to part with these delicious, freshly picked fruits at an easily bargained price. But be sure to buy ample as once you have tasted them you will definitely want to have some more.
One of the first historical monuments that comes into picture as you approach the town is Fort Jadhavgarh, a 300 year old fort that has been recently renovated and converted to a hotel. If you have the time and the money to spent, it is a fantastic experience in itself, with also a museum attached with the hotel.
The town itself looks sleepy, and laid back with just one main market place and fewer eating places, but as you dig deeper into the small lanes, another fort wall shows its existence. It is actually the Purandar Wada, a dilapidated structure today, but considered to be Maharashtra’s oldest standing structure of the era when Peshwas rules the kingdom. It was the residence of a minister in Peshwa’s court named Ambaji Purandare most probably in the year 1710.
The road to Saswad and beyond is also a major pilgrimage route. There are ample temples and shrines spread within the town limits and also further at places known as Narayanpur, Jejuri, Pandharpur, Morgaon and Bhuleshwar.
A temple worth a visit in Saswad more so for its historical significance rather than the religious one, is the Sangameshwar temple at the confluence of two rivers Karhe and Chambli. Dedicated to Lord Shiva and believed to be built during the Yadav era what is particularly interesting about the temple is the huge Nandi Bull adorning the path leading to the sanctum sanctorum and looking majestic in every way. During monsoons, when the rivers are overflowing, the view of the ancient temple and the water bodies is breathtaking.
A short distance from Saswad at a place called ketkawale is also a temple dedicated to Lord Balaji, which is a magnificent replica of the world famous Tirupati Balaji temple.
For historians, the area is flooding with information on India’s great past. The forts of Malhargad, Vajragad, Rajgad and Torana are all located at a yawning distance from the town. Maratha Rulers were known for their ace gorilla warfare skills and the knack to built forts that lie hidden behind the great Sahyadri Mountains. There are many instances in history when the mighty Mughals attempted to scale and conquer these forts but failed. One look at the way the forts stand today is enough to realize the immense difficulty the Mughals must have faced and the brilliant architectural knowledge the people living in those era had.
You can have an impromptu picnic at any of the many meadows you see here, or you can live for a few moments like a king in the heritage hotel in the vicinity. You can forget frozen foods and taste the goodness of farm fresh fruits for a change or you can even get yourself invited to the small huts of villagers living in the area with a big smile and even bigger hearts. You can walk, ride a bike or climb a mountain. You can even ride a wild horse grazing happily somewhere around if that is what you feel like doing.
What you can experience best in a place like Saswad, is an India untarnished, unpolished and unspoiled by commercialization. Spend a day just exploring and accepting the place as it is, and you will have seen a part of India, not shown in any guide books.