No, this isn't a safari in one of India’s far-off corners. Barely two hours away from Mumbai, you can sign up for a heady, off-road trip that packs in a forest trail, followed by hours of scenic calm by a waterbody, dotted with temple ruins, and if you want more, you could scale a mountain too!
Tough to imagine but Lord Byron’s inspiration could well have been the dense Rajmachi forest and the scenic Shirota lake while he penned these famous lines from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage. Located just two hours from the madding crowds, we soaked every moment of the vast, secluded landscape near Lonavala as we set out for our adventurous off-road gypsy drive as part of Della Adventure’s new offering, Della Jungle Camp.
Accompanied by expert guides, we ventured into this 4X4 vehicle wading through a pool of water formed by a nearby waterfall in Rajmachi forest area. Pic/Suresh KK
In their hope to make city folk feel close to nature and while at it, teach conservation along with adventure, the four-year-old adventure park has begun offering half-day and full-day Jungle Camp packages for trekking enthusiasts, nature lovers or those who wish to spend quality time with friends and family. The full-day camp covers a long trek to the famous Rajmachi Fort, the half-day (that we did) includes an off-road drive into the Rajmachi forest leading to Shirota lake.
A pillar of a temple that we found by the Shirota lake (in the foreground)
Quite a carnama
Starting from Mumbai, we reached Della post a two-hour drive through the old Khandala Road (a part of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway remains shut from 10 am to 5 pm during this season due to possibility of landslides). The swish five-star property presenting views of the Sahyadris and the valley brought us much-needed monsoon cheer. Leaving those luxurious confines behind, we headed to the adventure park from where we’d head to the jungle camp.
Driving through the narrow paths in Rajmachi forest area
Waiting for us was a monstrous-looking 4X4 vehicle, a car modified into an open jeep that could accommodate 10 people — four inside and six at the back in the open jeep section. We were told that the 45-minute drive could be enjoyed the most standing at the back of the jeep, at the cost of getting drenched. Since we were armed with raingear, we chose to stand. While we expected some sort of body harness considering it was going to be an off-road ride, we only had a rod for support. Three expert guides accompanied us on this drive.
Nicholas Onuwalu, one of our expert guides entertaining us with a guitar session. Pics/Suresh KK
Duck and dive
Slowly, we started our way into the mountainous forest, taking a narrow, dishevelled and winding path surrounded by trees on both sides. Home to wild boars, deer, leopards, snakes like the Green Pit Viper and also fireflies, we could only spot the kingfisher and langurs en route. The experts were aware of the forest and their knowledge helped us figure out the fauna along the way, including a bush bearing blackberries.
A waterfall near the campsite
Before we knew it, our vehicle gained speed and from thereon, it was a rollercoaster! Even as we turned to enjoy the view of the Rajmachi peak, we had to duck to avoid branches that brushed past our vehicle. We went up and down the slope and splashed into water pools formed by nearby waterfalls as we tried to balance ourselves. How we missed those body harnesses. This thrilling ride was the highlight of our trip.
All of a sudden, the narrow road opened into a vast expanse of grass-carpeted land bordered by hills and a lake, half-filled with water due to lack of rainfall this season. We reached the campsite by the Shirota lake. Apart from the gushing sound of a rivulet and the occasional birdcall of Red-Wattled Lapwing (that sounds like it’s asking you “Did You Do It”!), pin-drop silence greeted us at this stunning campsite and we felt our stress ebbing away. If only we could pitch tents and cook our own barbeque here. “This will be part of our overnight jungle camp post monsoons where we will teach patrons how to do these activities,” said one of our guides, Nicholas Onuwalu.
On exploring the campsite — dodging mucky areas and crab holes — we found a few temple ruins here too! These were stone pillars carved with figurines of goddesses in different dance poses. While our guides were unaware of their exact date or the dynasty they belonged to, they informed us that long time ago, a temple had been submerged under a flood and these ruins were part of that structure.
As we mulled over the mystery, Onuwalu pulled out his guitar and played classic English and Hindi tracks. The music sounded much better in this picturesque setting. After tucking into sumptuous snacks that included a burger, an apple and a juice, we made our way back to the park.
This camp may be too comfortable for adrenaline junkies who love to rough it out in the woods. However, for green thumbs like us who often feel claustrophobic in the concrete jungle, the jungle camp rejuvenated us and gave us a dose of adventure at our own pace. Just the way we like it.
At: Della Adventure, Kunegaon, Lonavala
Cost: Rs 1,500 (half day camp; 11 am to 3 pm/4 pm to 8 pm), Rs 3,000 (full day camp; 11 am to 7 pm)
Log on to: Dellaadventure.com
This was a preview and hence, not anonymous.
A topsy-turvy ride
At Della Adventure Park, we came across a test drive being done for Human Gyro.
Rotating 360 degrees and revolving too, this exciting ride will be launched next week.
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