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Giants of the plateau

There's more to Satara in Maharashtra than the Kaas valley of flowers

Photo: Amyth Shinde
Photo: Amyth Shinde

It’s 9.30am by the time we wake up, and the sunshine is as sharp as the glare off the edge of a new knife. I’m visiting my cousins in Satara and we had stayed up chatting late into the night. Now, I’m worried we’re too late to go exploring as we had planned.

My youngest cousin reminds me of Satara’s moody weather; it may be sunny now but that doesn’t mean it will be like that all day. Surrounded by seven hills and located at the foot of the Ajinkyatara fort, Satara offers instant access to the wilderness. The Sahyadris are less than an hour’s drive away, and it is to a spot in their lush heights that my cousins want to take me.

Though Satara is my hometown, I have been living in Mumbai for many years. My cousins are eager to show me their new favourite spot, the Chalkewadi windmill farms. Most tourists who come to Satara are drawn by the beautiful flowers of the Kaas plateau and few explore further, so the windmill farms are still relatively unknown.

Within 20 minutes of leaving the city, both the landscape and the weather change dramatically. Clouds drift in as we make our way up through the folds of the Sahyadris, and a gentle rain drums on the roof of the car. A light veil of mist gently swathes the surroundings. We pass abandoned bus stops doubling as goat sheds and shepherds wearing jute gunny bags as protection from the rain. We stop at a stall en route for gavti chaha (lemongrass tea).

Driving on a small time-worn bridge over the Urmodi river, we cringe collectively at the memory of the palmasa, a species of fish found here that creeped us out as children. It resembles lizards and clings to rocks beneath the stream. This time, my cousins tell me to look out for another lizard—a brightly coloured fan-throated one, Sarada superba, that was recently identified by scientists and is found only in Chalkewadi.

As we near our destination, I scour the landscape for signs of the gigantic windmills. We go around a bend, and they come into view suddenly. Scores of windmills spin along the length of rolling hills like pinwheels slicing the sky and tempting the wind to slide through their wings. The car screeches to a halt and, in stunned silence, we gawk at a huge snake crossing the road. We feel like encroachers and lament the mounting number of roadkills—a marker of the fragility of rocky plateau ecosystems.

The road becomes bumpy as we approach the windfarm, nothing prepares me for the imposing beauty of these wind-catchers, spaced out generously across the plateau. Each blade, spinning leisurely with serene grace, weighs around 2 tonnes. I plop on to a rock to enjoy the view and the soft whirr of the blades. My cousins direct my gaze to the buds of rare purple wildflowers, karvi, that bloom every seven-eight years.

The landscape tugs at my heartstrings, not for its impossibly exotic beauty but for the native charm of a hometown that I tend to take for granted. I feel fortunate.

On the way

The windmill farms are at their prettiest from July-January. They are 29km from the Satara bus station on the Thoseghar Road. Recommended pit stops along the way on Kaas Road include the Bakula Hill Resort for the Kolhapuri ‘pandhra rassa’, the Nivant resort for alfresco terrace seating with a view, and Heritagewadi for their ‘thalis’.

While in Satara, also hike up to the Sajjangad fort for a lovely view; enjoy the short stroll from the roadhead to the three-tiered Bhambavli Vajrai falls (at 1,840ft, it is one of the tallest in the country); and enjoy a boat ride on Shivsagar Lake.

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