A weekend in the woods.
By Kalpana Rangan
It was a long weekend in January and we decided to take off to Silvassa, 180 km. from Mumbai. We could easily reach our destination in two and a half hours. If we started soon after breakfast we could reach Silvassa before lunch. It would be a comfortable and convenient road trip. So we packed our bags and started on our journey to this sylvan land of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. We had been to Silvassa more than 20 years ago. We were captured by its open spaces and green zones. How different would it be after all these years, we wondered!
We drove on the Western Express highway, through Bandra, Santa Cruz, Malad, Borivali and beyond Dahisar with concrete structures on both sides of the road wading through traffic and avoiding dust. Once we crossed the grime and dust of Mumbai and entered Palghar district, the landscape turned from brown to green-brown. The road was fairly good and the traffic normal, so we could drive on without much difficulty. As we neared the union territory, trees of all varieties from the broad banyan to tall tapering ones appeared on both sides of the road and provided us shade. No wonder, Silvassa is derived from the Portuguese word ‘silva’ which means “wood”.
Before reaching the high arched entrances welcoming you to Dadra and Nagar Haveli, we couldn’t help but notice the life-size statue of a tribal blowing a native bugle. The ancient inhabitants of this union territory were Koli chieftains. The Rajputs, the Marathas and then the Portuguese took over the territory in successive years.
In 1954 it was acceded to the Indian Union and in 1964 it was declared a Union Territory by the Indian Government. However, after all these years and political upheavals, it still has tribal people as its major population. Apart from Marathi and Gujarati, Bhili and Bhilori are the local spoken languages. Tribal handicrafts and paintings are displayed in public places in the Union Territory reflecting the culture of the locals.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli are sandwiched between Gujarat and Mumbai and located in the western fringe of India. A small green haven in 500 sq. km with 72 villages in them, it is a haven for nature-fringe lovers and wild-life enthusiasts. In their southern stretch it has hilly terrain especially towards the northeast and east being surrounded by the Sahayadri mountains. Its central alluvial region is plain and its soil fertile with the tributaries of the river Daman Ganga flowing into it. It has a rich forest cover of 43 per cent having two types of forests – tropical moist deciduous forest and tropical dry deciduous forest. Thus its rich bio-diversity makes it a habitat for a variety of birds and animals. No wonder Silvassa, its capital city, has numerous gardens and parks that are treasure houses of exotic trees, flowers and birds.
Vanganga Lake with its island garden is a popular picnic spot for locals as well as outsiders. Just five km from city centre, the island garden in between and around the lake is breathtakingly scenic with a variety of shady trees, flowered bushes in all hues, manicured lawns and fountains highlighting it. Well-laid footpaths make it pleasurable to walk around the lake and observe its green foliage and flowers. One can also sit comfortably on the seats and watch boats go by with white and black ducks swimming along with them.
Ornamental wooden bridges welcome one to step onto them and cross over to the island garden. Here one can sit peacefully on the cool grass and look admiringly at the white duck family walking gracefully, the bamboo shoot rising over the surrounding plants, the swaying palm trees, thatched sit-ins and the glowing bougainvillaea. In the evening the garden lights up with fountains and soothing lights. No wonder, many a Bollywood film is shot here!
Hirwa Garden, with its rustic charm, is another green zone worth a stroll. Stone archways, trickling falls from rocky hills, smooth-stone pathways, trimmed lawns, palm trees lining the paths and streams in between make this garden beautiful and a heavenly place to relax and rewind. In the evening artistic white lamps light up the garden. Here too like Vanganga Island garden, ducks can be seen walking leisurely and delighting the onlookers.
From Silvassa the wild life parks of Dadra and Nagar Haveli can be reached easily. Vasona Lion Park, 10 km away from the city is well-maintained with a shaded sitting area, information boards and bus services to the Lion Safari. Lions have been brought here from the forests of Gir in Gujarat and given a wild haven to live in and roam about. We could spot a restless lioness walking up and down and a lazy lion snoring beneath a shaded tree. The bus ride takes five to 10 minutes. More than the lions the abundant growth of trees like timber and teak as well as wild bushes with flowers sprouting out will charm any environmentalist.
The Deer Park is nearer the city and holds more attractions. Attractive from outside with embossed deer stuck on the heavy entrance gate and warli paintings on the sides, the park allows groups of visitors to enter and board the bus for a safari ride of 15 minutes. One can spot sambars crossing the road and walking to the other side of the wild-life park. Under the shade of trees families of spotted deer and four-horned antelopes relaxing in blissful abandon will attract tourists to take pictures of them. Farther down can be spotted a running deer towards a water pool.
On the way back to the city, one can drive down to Madhuban dam to view the calm waters of the Daman Ganga from a comfortable view point. Spending the evening watching the sunset can soothe one’s senses for a restful sleep. For those who have more time at their disposal and desire to be in the midst of wilderness, driving down to Khanvel, 20 km from the city, is a good option. One can soak in nature’s beauty with hills, dales and birds all around. For water sports enthusiasts, Dudhni, the water sports complex, is an ideal retreat. Enjoy canoeing, kayaking, jet skiing or speed boating to feel your adrenaline rush!
To understand the history and culture of the union territory, walk down the main street of Silvassa. The Tribal Museum right in the centre of the city with an exhibition of Warli paintings in the hall adjacent to it and the Roman Catholic Church across are the places to visit to imbibe the local essence. The Roman Catholic Church known as the church of Our Lady of Piety is an ancient church remnant of the Portuguese era in its architectural style. The grey and white structure with its beautiful arches is as impressive from outside as it is in its interiors.
The Tribal Museum
The Tribal Museum, just across the road and adjacent to the stadium, welcomes with torans, stone pathways, Warli murals and tribal statues. Walk into the halls of the museum to enter the world of the tribal community.
Models of tribal homes, people, customs, implements, vessels, musical instruments and ornaments with write-ups will make you observe them with awe. Outer passages too have displays on the life of the tribal people.
Before you exit the museum, do buy local handicraft like bamboo showpieces and masks and Warli paintings. To appreciate and admire the variety of symbolic Warli paintings step next door to the huge gallery of displays. Paintings in paper, canvas and pottery will enthrall art enthusiasts and inspire them to create such intricate work. One can also buy these paintings created by locals and students of art.
Silvassa has nature’s abundance and tribal art to lure visitors. A weekend in its woods and wilderness will serve as a soothing balm to the tired nerves of busy Mumbaikars used to the dust and grime of the city. So the next time you get a long weekend, do drive down to this woodland not far from amchi Mumbai.