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Unravel Nature’s magical mosaic

Saputara is a land of surprises. Indeed so. As one crosses the dense cover of deciduous forests in different hues of green through serpentine roadway to reach Saputara, the weather at the hilly vacation spot has taken turns with the tick of the clock – a drizzle blanketing the entire green belt in mist followed by an oozing bright sun only to be captured by dark nimbus clouds again. A perfect natural retreat abound with hills and water bodies, Saputara offers a glimpse into the world of the tribals, considered among the oldest settlers of the country and who have managed to live through ages in kinship with the forests and streams. When other states in the country face and struggle with the biggest threat of Naxalism in their tribal belts, Gujarat shows the way to zero-crime rate and all-round development in its tribal domain.

The only hill station in Gujarat, Saputara (literally meaning, abode of serpents) is located in the tribal-dominated Dangs district bordering Maharashtra and touches the northern tip of Western Ghats. Come Monsoons and the town paints itself in lush green colour redolent with vegetation and blooming flowers, thin stream rushing down the hillocks. Many unexplored trekking routes along make the place a picnic hotspot for people from the plains. The exotic location and pristine beauty of nature in Saputara has changed the face of tribal economy of the land. The conceited efforts of the state government to tap tourism potential of the place have borne rich dividends with nearly 3 lakh travelers flocking to Saputara in year 2012-2013. This year the figures will surge further as tourists come in droves, with family and friends, to breathe in fresh air and witness how indigenous communities are living in harmony without disturbing the ecological fragility of the surroundings. As a famous Gujarati saying goes, these tribes have settled here just like the sugar settles within a bowl of milk! More so, they continue to forge links with the outside world through huge tourist influx and slew of successful schemes run by the administration to make their growth sustainable and upward bound.

Unmatched Showcase
Gujarat has a unique topography with its landscapes as diverse as desert to beaches to mountain ranges. With thundering waterfalls, majestic fountains, green meadows and refreshing pollution-free air, Saputara offers what people pay for at expensive spas and massage centres – a peaceful synchronisation of mind and body. The quietness is enchanting enough to make a person lose track of mundane daily hectic life. It is a place where one can talk and share with oneself!
At the peak of its beauty during the Monsoon season, this 1,000-feet high abode is thronged by lakhs from Gujarat and Maharashtra as well as other parts of the country.  The beauty of the place has to be experienced to be believed, engulfed in mesmerising droplets of rain. The ongoing Saputara Monsoon Festival was envisioned three years ago by Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who understood the importance of tourism in boosting the economy of the region and the state. State machinery decided to show it to the world and improve the lives of some of its marginalised citizens in the deal.

The Saputara Monsoon Festival site is flushed with hotels, resorts, artistic village, tribal museum, crafts village, food stalls, boat rides etc. Local artifacts at the Gandharvapur Artist Village run by sculptor Surya Goswami for last 30 years is a spectacular delight where visitors not just enjoy watching artisans work and purchase tribal art items but can also enjoy the privilege of trying their hands on crafting a few art pieces themselves.  Warli paintings and Bhavada masks are a major attraction here. Visitors can also enjoy the painting competition and laser shows at the auditorium. The Bhavada tribal dance form among Kokni tribals of Dangs is a good example of artistic zeal and acumen. Adventure enthusiasts can climb the hillock called Governor’s Hill to embark on fun-bound thrills of mudbiking, ropeway, zip-line and rock climbing etc. Other attractions in the vicinity include Nageshwar Mahadev Temple, Sita Van, Shabri Dham and Pampa Sarovar (The Ramayana Trail circuit), Gira waterfalls, Pandava caves, Waghai Botanical Garden which houses rare species of medicinal plants found in the region, Mahal Forest, Vansada National Park etc. Adventure buffs must move to the Mahal eco campsite as it offers excellent trekking options besides being bestowed with rivers and bamboo glides, and is considered to be one of the best forest sites in Gujarat.

The lives of the locals, 98 per cent tribals, have changed drastically with large numbers of tourists pouring in during the rainy season. According to Vipul Mitra, Principal Secretary, Gujarat Tourism, ‘special emphasis has been laid on service sector in the hill station with most of the local people working at the hotels, lodges, etc. Nearly 10 per cent of their income is generated from the food stalls they put up at the festival site.’

All tourist infrastructure has come up in Saputara in last two years with the state funding of Rs 60 crores. There is an ITI set up in the town to impart training to tribals in hospitality and tourism-related skills. It is an endeavour to boost skill development and economy of the villagers to bring them in the mainstream without detaching them from their tradition and culture, Shri Mitra opined.
But won’t the rising tourist arrivals pose a threat to the ecological balance of the hilly region? The tourism official candidly explains how the district administration of Dangs is soon going to declare the Saputara hill station a no-plastic zone. In addition to the existing lake in the heart of the hill station, plans are afoot to develop a much bigger water body to maintain the ecological balance.
‘Saputara is a transit point for Nasik and Shirdi bound pilgrims, giving the place greater leverage from religious tourism angle,’ Shri Mitra said.

In short, Saputara has all one can dream for a weekend get-away from the maddening crowd of cities. The picturesque town amidst the Sahayadri mountains is the perfect blend of nature, beauty and wildlife. The monsoon season offers a unique experience of an adventurous environ overcast with clouds and fogs spread over the hills. The success of Saputara monsoon festival registered by the domestic as well as international tourist influx is a reality owing to hard work put in by the state government and the local population to not only welcome the outsiders but also embrace and open up their cultural wealth spread across the landscapes. The woods surely whisper out, Kuch din toh Gujaatiye Gujarat mein!!
The author is Information Officer, Government of Gujarat
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