Travel destinations do not always have to exotic or typically ‘touristy’. They can even be simpler towns or villages in the neighborhood. It is all about finding the hidden gems that every little place has. And so, when I had a weekend to spare a few weeks ago, my best friend and I went to explore the natural treasures of Gondia. This ancient town and now a populous one sits closer to the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
We booked a cheap and reliable cab from Nagpur to Gondia, which took us around four hours. And we also got the perks of a talkative and well-informed driver, which just made it easier to learn about our destination.
Here’s for an interesting piece of historical information about Gondia. A long time ago, even before the Mughal Rule, this region was ruled by the Gond tribes and they got their dynasty name from their occupation of producing gond or natural lac/gum sourced from the forests. Later, the settlement was brought under the Mughals and then the British, and so on.
As we approached the main city, we saw a lot of rice mills along the highway. I wondered how the weather allowed rice cultivation. But then our driver explained that since the city sits near the Godavari River, the soil in one particular part has led to a huge patch of greenery in the proximity. He also told us that these forests and fields were a regular haunt for a lot of trekkers and hikers go for wildlife adventures. That’s when we knew where we had to go next.
Exploring the wilderness of Gondia
Since we had no plans to spend time in the city, we headed straight to the Forest Department Guest House near the Navegaon National Park. This would eventually serve as our base for touring places in the vicinity. The unassuming guest house was good enough for us to just spend the night. And since we had our rental car with us, we planned to make the most of it and spend the daytime outdoors.
Navegaon entirely changes one’s perception of Gondia. The thick forest cover housed teak, Jamun, Mahua, and many other trees and plants of economic and medicinal benefits. The tribal population who still survived and lived on the fringes of the forests lived on the products of these plants.
Next morning, we went on our tour of the national park. Navegoan housed Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, one of the most famous sanctuaries in the country, eponymous with its founder. It is known for hundreds of varieties of birds, both resident and migratory, but most of them can be seen in winter. But as we hiked through the dusty, red soil trails, I did manage to capture a few of these beauties on camera, including some most unique butterflies.
Our friendly driver also added that if the timing is right, one might spot a tiger or even the Indian panther. Wild cats or not, we did spot the giant Indian squirrels with red back and tails, and a few spotted deer.
Hiking through the caves
With our park tour done by noon, we were wondering where should be head next, when our driver suggested these caves and promised that we will love it. I usually take the advice of people who are well-informed and hence, obliged. Known as the Kachargadh Caves, these naturally-formed niches are said to be more than 25000 years old and that these were once inhabited by the early Indian civilizations. Formed of layers of slate, feldspar, and sandstone, these dark tunnels went deep below the surface and no natural light, except for a sunroof which lit up a particular area. There were few other tourists trying to make their way through the darkness and explore the interiors. We walked and went as far as we could and after a point, we thought we got lost. Then we spotted a few people in a distance and joined them back. Those little moments of thrill made the tour more interesting than the caves themselves.
An unexpected stop
On our last day, before we left, we visited an unexpected and fascinating place in Gondia. About 60 Km outside the Gondia city, lies the little village of Gothangaon. This village is like any other in Maharashtra, except that this is one of the oldest Tibetan settlements in the state. They had a carpet weaving center, a few Buddhist temples, and Thangka paintings on walls of houses. Sitting on a river, this place was perfect to find peace.
Owing to its geographical location Gondia doesn’t look very scenic at a first glance. With the dry climate and less vegetation, the landscape seems pretty sparse. But once you venture deeper into the region, Gondia unfolds major surprises, some of which I discovered.
Get a licensed car on rent in Nagpur for a safe and reliable trip.
For better birding opportunity, visit Navegaon between November and February.