Sarangkheda Chetak Festival: A pastoral weekend getaway in Maharashtra

Updated: Dec 25, 2016, 16:30 IST | Kusumita Das |

About six hours away from the Mumbai, the Sarangkheda Chetak Festival opens up to a whole new world of equestrian entertainment

The Sarangkheda Chetak Festival is from Dec 13 to Dec 27
The Sarangkheda Chetak Festival is from Dec 13 to Dec 27

If the well preened turfs at the Mahalakshmi Race Course or the serene slopes of Matheran are the only equestrian landscapes you have experienced, then Sarangkheda will be quite the eye-opener for you. A scene from this horse fair, better known as the Sarangkheda Chetak Festival, seems straight out of Sholay, minus the daakus, of course. Picture this: The jockeys, rustic, dusty and wild — a far cry from their uniformed urban counterparts — champion their horses while hooting loudly, some even stand on horseback and pull off a stunt or two — as the crowds, running into a few lakhs, cheer them to a crescendo. The multiple sets of hooves kick up a mini sandstorm fogging your vision as the sound of the gallop fills the air and echoes in your ears long after it has died out. All very filmi and surreal but that’s Sarangkheda for you, a quintessentially rustic and real experience. It’s a two-week long horse fair, the largest in India. But, for visitors, a weekend would be ample time to savour this pastoral getaway.

A horse dance in progress
A horse dance in progress

A 300-year-old legacy
Located in the Nandurbar district in southern Maharashtra, 397 kilometres from Mumbai, Sarangkheda has been hosting this mega horse trade for over 300 years now. The affair is closely tied to royalty. It goes back to the time when Chhatrapati Shivaji bought a few war horses from this fair. It was a time when everyone from the Nizams to farmers and traders would throng to Sarangkheda to buy horses. The proximity to the Tapi river made the place ideal to station the animals, that would come from as far as Balochistan and even Arabia, besides from all over India. The auspicious occasion of the Datta Jayanti celebrated at the Datta Mandir flags off this unique festival, a tradition that’s followed till the present day.

A shop displaying horse accessoriesA shop displaying horse accessories

Of horses and then some
What started off as a trading ground took on the shape of a fair over the years, to attract more footfalls. The affair grew from strength to strength, until this year, the local panchayat sought help from the Maharashtra Tourism board for the first time, to give this event the sheen of horse tourism. This year, sprawled over 20 acres are 2,300 horses, up for sale and willing to entertain. You’ll see horses in ghungroos and headgear hopping to roaring drum beats in a horse dance show. They stand on their twos, chin up in the air, almost self-consciously nodding to a widely applauding audience. Better the performance, higher the price. There’s a horse beauty show too where one gets to see the best breeds of the country — from Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Unlike what one might be tempted to think, these horses are not decked up in fancy saddles and head gears. That’s because the judges need to see them for what they really are. They are judged on beauty, fitness, agility and response. It’s quite a sight to see the equestrian beauties gracefully proceed to the centre of the arena and be tested for their mettle. There’s also a separate competition category for the white horses, all of which come from Punjab.
The prize amounts are generous, going upto `51,000. And why not? Some of the contestants themselves proudly wear price tags that go up to a crore! These beauties are high-maintenance too, some of them consuming no less than 10 litres of milk, desi ghee and 10 eggs each day.

Celebrations at the Datta Mandir
Celebrations at the Datta Mandir

Hinterland happy hours
Had enough of horses? Head to a full-fledged gaon ka mela next door, replete with giant wheels, joy rides, clairvoyant robots and even a maut ka kuan. Crowded, colourful and unintentionally quirky, this fair is an ideal slice of hinterland joys. Be prepared to walk for it’s sprawled over a large area. An old 90s number blasts on the loudspeaker as the lights nearly blind you. For urban folk, this could well be travel back in time. Don’t miss out on the chaat stalls, for what’s on the plate will make you forget city street food for a while. A word of caution though, as you take in the small joys — hold on to your belongings for dear life, for this fair could also be a playground for pickpocketers.

A horse trophy
A horse trophy

Retire by the banks of the Tapi
The four walls of a hotel room, no matter how plush, wouldn’t quite match the experience you come to Sarangkheda for. Which is why the organisers in association with MTDC have set up tents right by the banks of the Tapi. Stocked with the basic amenities, these living quarters are just what you look for to complete the adventure. There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner buffet served by local caterers. The food, although on the greasy and spicier side, is delicious with a definite Rajasthani influence. The cool waters of the river ensure natural air-conditioning, and to beat the chilly nights, you can huddle around a bonfire right outside your tent. Live Rajasthani folk singers keep you entertained with multiple renditions of Kesariya Balma and more, as you recline to count stars and spot constellations on an inky sky.

Fact File

How to get there: It’s a six-hour drive from Mumbai, a total journey of 397 kilometres.

Nearest train station: Nandurbar

Where to stay: MTDC tents, at `6,000/night, inclusive of meals. One tent can accommodate up to three people.

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