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Plitvice Lakes is one of the most beautiful European parks, protected by UNESCO since 1979 as a World Natural Heritage. From Zagreb en route to Zadar this area of 16 natural lakes connected by marvellous waterfalls is an iconic must stopover.

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Enjoy the guided walks through the parks wooden paths and relax in the boat ride across the biggest lakes- Kozjak.

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Plitvice Lake is a priceless natural treasure of Croatia. I stopped by here on a weekday and the park was crowded, it’s one of the most popular tourist destination with both local and international travellers. The ticket counter has many restaurants to energize before the long walk to cover the 295 sq. km of the national park.

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Ideally one should spend an entire day here, but for the pending apartment booking in Zadar, I had to rush through. More reasons for a second visit to Lake Plitvice. It is impossible to go through the overall experience of the Lakes in a single day.

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I had not done any prior discoveries on Plitvice Lakes, expected it to be just one of the beautiful parks that abound in Croatia. I was greatly mistaken, it was more than spectacular.

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What I saw at the entrance of the Upper lake area, a bird’s eye view from the top made me hasten down a flight of steps deep into green coverage besides the lake. The lake from the top was a lovely blue, set among verdant green cover and series of waterfalls appeared like lace frills.

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Plitvice National Park is predominantly divided into Upper and Lower area. There are vans and buses that ply to and fro at regular intervals from both locations and are included in the ticket fee. The Upper Plitvice is made up of 12 lakes, of which Proscansko and Kozjak are the two largest lakes in the whole Upper system.

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The boat ride to the Upper lake park had the guide repeatedly telling us to look out for these lakes pointing out to the beauty of flora and fauna around. It’s a birders paradise. Wildlife must have existed here, many species of mammals and amphibians are documented but it’s the plant kingdom that shines, some rare orchids and carnivorous plants are found here.

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The lakes pristine waters, amazingly crystal clear have strict rules to maintain and respect the abundant ancient eco system and bio diversity. Signage at lake area reminds tourists not to swim, wade or even touch the waters.

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According to a news board at the entrance, Plitvice is a geological marvel, the entire area in the largest lake were two entities before it merges as one by series of waterfalls.

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Bat Caves is also one of the high points in this area, it has neither ceiling nor floor, and neat steps lead to the source of numerous dispersed cascading waterfalls.

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The path through the hollow limestone caves is slippery and the roar of the thundering waterfall gets louder as you reach the secret passage leading to Kaluderavac Lake.

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The steps are steep on return, the narrow wooden platform pathways skirting waterfalls safer but the route is longer. To hop over to the lower lake area one needs to catch the bus at the end of this scenic route.

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The Lower Lake area consists of 4 lakes and is absolutely breathtaking. Lower Plitvice is basically water from the Upper area that powers its way through high canyons and rocks, some of them as high as 40m.

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Some of the most magnificent waterfalls are here. The lower lakeside is picture postcard perfect and portrayed in many brochures. The lower Plitvice area is actually a trajectory through a canyon interspersed with waterfalls.

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The Great Cascade, Cave Sulpjara, the smaller waterfall series between the two lakes is a sight to behold. Do ensure good footwear, a steady supply of snacks, and do not replenish your water bottle from any of the side streams, which is so tempting. There are many hotels nearby, and it is advisable to stay over than trying to finish both the lake area in a day.  

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The Plitvice Lakes National Parks has so much to see within the thick-forested boundary walls of limestone Mountains. The ancient Lake Park has documented evidence of an ancient settlement here. Consisting of the most incredible 16 crystal clear lakes, the scenic view is comforting.

IMG_0890.JPGThe tumbling waterfalls, cascading series of similar falls between the natural bridge like barriers across the lakes are simply mind-blowing. Plitvice Lake is one of the oldest parks in Europe and the largest national parks in Croatia. I plan to revisit Plitvice Lake for more.

Text and photos- Jyoti Shetty.

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Krk Island has lots to do, in fact, I didn’t venture out to Zagreb city much at all. This golden island pebbled beaches are unique, I have never seen such clear blue waters and the beach interspersed with a few coloured pebbles of all shapes and sizes.

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Stara Baska beach has unspoilt nature, mesmerising view, I loved the drive uphill and down leading to the beach cove, and it was so secluded and serene. Locals pointed out to 5 such top beach spots mostly pebbled.

IMG_0274.JPGMalinska south-west of Krk, on the other hand, had golden sand, more tamed than the pebbled beaches of Baska.

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VoLSONI was a routine, I spent time having a wood fired Pizza at their seafront outdoor area just by the harbour. The wharf was crowded, school kids scrambled on a boat excursion and the promenade by the water is a splendid place to drink coffee with cake or ice cream in the many cafes around.

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The boat cruises were expensive, I opted to people watch by the waterfront and watch boats sail off. A sundial at a corner of the promenade is significant

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On the Square of Krk Island, the oldest part of town opposite the Cathedral is Frankopan Castle, an imposing stone building that can’t be given a miss.

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The Cathedral and Castle form the dominant line up of buildings to see and also the surrounding ancient narrow lanes and cobbled paths leading to many side alley restaurants amidst residential blocks.

The noble Frankopan family, as the last line of defence (it fell to the Venetians), built the Castle during the 12th to the 15th Century. The castle served as the city’s protection against attacks from the sea.

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The towers and courtyards within giving vantage points of rooms above and models of Knights and nobility offer deep insight into Croatia’s antiquity and warfare.

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The layered fortress built in different stages had influences of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance style.

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The breathtaking view of the Adriatic and harbour from the topmost verandah of the castle must have been to sight enemy ships from afar. Canons and turrets were a common feature all around the castle.

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Open. 9:00 – 22:00. Sundays 09:00 – 14:00. Tickets price: Adults: 22,00 KN = 3 €. 

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If you want a bit of drive out and admire the landscape of Krk Island skirting around the Bay below then head out to Biserujka Cave.

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From the homestay, it was a comfortable 1-hour drive leading to a rocky terrain, wild flowers ( many types of herbs like sage, other medicinal plants have been recorded here) and tall grass grow in gay abundance.

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The presence of neatly piled rocks as boundary walls leading to the cave was indeed intriguing and the guide explained that it was offered free to anyone building a home.

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Huge lavic rocks were scattered wide around the barren grounds of the cave, it also served as seats for tourists to wait their turn. The reception area sold entry tickets to limited number of people, to control entry into the caves in small groups.

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The cave was discovered over 180 years ago. According to legends, smugglers hid a treasure trove of pearls here, and that’s why Biserurjka, Biser in Croatian is a pearl. A rare insect is endemic to this cave and nowhere else!

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The over centuries old Biserujka cave described as Aladdin’s cave was indeed glittering with stalagmites, stalactites and calcite pillars.

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The safe passageways with railings, muted lights, enhanced trickery to the caves glittering pillars and chandeliers. The simple cave is not too cavernous, the mouth of the cave, halls, shaft, and rooms within creates a great adventurous walk through.

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A replica skeleton of a huge bear in a corner marks the area where the original skeleton was found.

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Krk Island abounds in narrow lanes and alleys. Neatly laid out cobbled labyrinth, Vrbnik really refreshed my senses, it’s an indelible part of the ancient city that is lifted straight out from a fairy tale!

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One must simply get bewildered in the lanes as you admire old stone buildings, churches, residential houses, and all hobnobbing with quaint restaurants, bars and pubs. Simply idyllic!

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Located on the East coast of Krk, this ancient city is simply described as rising above the Kvarnar bay touching the sky.

Vrbnik rises above the blue Adriatic Sea, it has the worlds narrowest lanes. There are many art shops and galleries no wonder it’s called the city of artists and creative minds inspired by the charming lanes and beauty of the rugged hills.

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Vrbnik is undoubtedly one of the famous old Croatian villages perched on outcrops of limestone rocks. Spend your time walking through, every lane has a story,

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Restaurant Konoba Nada, Vrbnik has the best view of the sheer cliff hanging rocks and the bay below. The food was outstanding and I loved the gigantic beer barrels as tables.

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Vrbnik was one place I felt so with nature and wished I had lingered on the whole day. Do make this an entire day trip, soak in the view, there are so many exciting restaurants all facing the bay and wear comfortable walking shoes.

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(Conclusion part-3) next island hopping in Croatia.

 

 

ZAGREB-1- KRK ISLAND

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Travelling the length and breadth of Croatia, I have recognised that this Adriatic star is waiting to be discovered by South Asians. One of the friendliest people this side of East Europe, tourists are greeted with great bonhomie.  What is notable about Croatia is the Roman conquest that began way back in 168 BC and was fully established after series of wars, by 11 BC. It is this heritage and legacy that Croatia is very proud of

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Croatia has always held sway as the Roman bastion for 5 or more centuries. Charting rich history, culture, tradition and trade that is still reflected in modern day Croatia. I was lucky enough to retrace much of the Roman carriageway, apart from Solin (not too far from Split), the other important Roman towns were Zadar, Porec, Pula and later Split.

IMG_9887.JPGFor Solo travellers this is a safe haven, I deeply regret travelling with a group that just posed for pics!

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ZAGREB – I was pleasantly surprised that charting an itinerary which features a varied topography would require a lot of rerouting, adding on cities that matter and link en route for a road trip. Zagreb situated in the central region of Northwest Croatia was the starting point. Arriving in Franjo Tudman or the new Zagreb Airport, the Swiss Airport I was transiting, paled in comparison as also the Swiss Airline!

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Zagreb turned out to be a big tourist destination, picturesque landscapes, mountain backdrop that interweaves with the forest giving it that evergreen cover panorama.

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The homestay had local police checking in diligently of all the guests who make the first entry spot into Zagreb. Considering Croatia is fast acquiring a foothold as the most tourist-friendly destinations, getting a Croatian visa is a bit of a dampener, as it has to necessarily conform to the precise days of stay there. It’s advisable to hold Schengen visa to Croatia, neighbouring Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia, Romania are all an easy motorable distance away.

IMG_9903.JPGI spent 4 glorious days in  Krk Island

 KRK ISLAND- Few hours from Zagreb, KRK is the largest island in Croatia facing the Kvarner Bay, 30 km from the city of Rijeka. During summer the island’s golden beaches are completely swamped by tourists. Beautiful promenades surround the Bay speckled with gelato ice-cream parlours, restaurants and bars.

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Krk was one of the highlights really, this island commands the best viewpoints, pebbled beaches and has a history that connects it to the cradle of Croatian culture. There are references to Krk by the Romans as the golden island.

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Croatia is widely known as a country with thousands of stunning islands, the Croatian coast is amazingly attractive. The island of Krk exemplifies that, and it is here that I learnt, about all those red tiled houses that one can spot from below and admire, so quintessentially Europe, is actually a steep climb to reach. Be warned if you are taking up a homestay high up in the hills, the view is breathtaking, walking downhill to the town square is fun, but it’s the climbing up that knocks you down!

IMG_9991.JPGHead towards Krk Island square, which is where all the action is. Gastronomy is part of the culture, heritage and tradition, Krk Island has enough and more of everyday life to offer any discerning tourists.

IMG_9987.JPGThe traditional Burek made of baked filled pastries or puffs made of thin flaky dough is available at all Patisseries. The most popular of the fillings and my favourite were goat’s cheese and poppy seeds, Yum! Neighboring Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia also make similar versions.

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One of my favourite, most intriguing restaurant/bar at the KRK Square was Volsonis. I was so fascinated that I forgot my drink, I didn’t even bother to order food, instead, I got hold of the handsome waiter to explain the history and prime location of Volsonis as the biggest bar lounge of Krk.

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It’s a genuine archaeological site and walking through transports you to the Roman era. Situated in an enormous 2000-year-old Roman archaeological site underground, the original place had to be dug out all manually so deep, that some parts of Volsonis are under the sea!

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The bar lounge is split into many sections, some going as low as the rock extrusions dripping sea water into a channel. There are secret passages, rooms with well laid out tables, very exquisite romantic settings, a huge tv was a bit jarring to the ancient underground towers and corridors.

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The romantic garden was also referred to as the secret garden. The two Venus’s altars were fit to be in a museum, each section of Volsonis exuded astonishment and wonder.

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I didn’t stop at just one visit here, every visit was a new discovery and the food was simply divine.

 

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We are regulars to Goa come rain or shine, just 7 hour road trip, it’s proximity to Poona makes it an ideal getaway.
Poona has a growing no of residents owning 2nd homes in Goa and are fast edging out neighbouring Bombay who were the earliest to invest in properties. 
Delhites are the next wave migrating to Goa and I foresee a mass exodus in the future.

As for us owning a slice of this paradise in Goa has been lost opportunity, we contend ourselves to a temporary home away from home.
Gone are the days we would check in at some sterile Hotel reservation and not savour the sights and sounds of Goa. 
A chance recommendation by Rajan Eklahare who owns TheJungle Resort at Amba, to shift to Olaulim Backyards in North Goa, made us fall in love  with the concept of Home Stays.
We have never stepped inside the confines of a Hotel ever since and even though we have listed out numerous  home stays in Goa, Olaulim Backyards has been our 2nd house for all seasons.

IMG_2933.JPG When it comes to great city escapes from Melbourne nothing beats the oft-trodden Ocean drive. Much touted at every tourist bureau, the Great Ocean Road is nothing short of spectacular, with a dramatic sweep of landscapes, and boundless ocean (coastal) drive.IMG_2934.JPGBook your tickets online, there are many offerings, including lunch and various halts. I personally found it very short pitched especially if you get a driver who hustles you to hurry every step to pack in the drive and 12 Apostles not in one day, but only 6 hours!

IMG_2896.JPG Just an hour away from Melbourne Central begins the winding, windswept drive, extensively over cliff tops until a stretch of the blue ocean comes into full view. The majority part of the road drive is widespread by the Ocean, and the driver offers us time to imbue in the most popular part of surfers beach. 

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We continue on to the next circuit of the drive and it was mostly uphill. That is when the ancient rainforest appears and the south-west coastline that we were skirting along disappear. 

IMG_3178.JPGThe rainforest is another highlight and a trek deep within Otway Forest and National Park is fascinating. The topography of the National Park is home to ancient trees, ferns, and spreading roots far and wide giving thick overhead coverage.

IMG_3158.JPG I felt the Maits Rest Rainforest named after the forest official was a rushed walkway and one could do no justice to look up admire ancient trees with literal cave like gateways at its root.

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The rainforest in this gully has been evolved over millions of years and is a valuable source of information on life and history. For ten thousands of years, the local Aboriginal tribe called Maar held a spiritual connection with these forests and continues to provide cultural and historic links.

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Prehistoric massive ferns, lush, surrounding ponds and waterfalls was tempting to plunge into. Take a moment to stand still and tune into the tranquil surroundings and smell of the ancient forest. The old Myrtle beech trees stand tall providing a lush canopy above, providing shade to the plants below.

IMG_3189.JPGThere are signboards and brief on some pathways signifying trees that grow around, name and tag of the species of plant that thrive, age and ancestry. Some of the Redwood trees are over 500 years old, tallest in the world, well preserved and thriving.

IMG_3206.JPGAfter completing a short loop of this incredible rainforest exploration, back on the road and final stop is the magnificent 12 Apostles. 

IMG_3472.JPGThe Great Ocean Drive is one of Australia’s top journeys of a lifetime, the 12 Apostles (only 8 remaining) at Port Cambell National Park is really the most panoramic scenes high above the crash of waves, the cliffs and foaming waters below will keep you spellbound.

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These limestone outcrops stack up, off the shores in ghostly sizes and figures, being adjacent to the park, this road is highly popular with tourists.

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The Marine Park with the 8 limestone outcrops has Gog and Magog cliffs, the London Bridge with a hollow in the middle, the narrow openings to the sea blocked by the cliffs are few landmarks here.

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The Razorback is a rock stack with sharp edges and bumps caused by the wind blown spray eroding away the softer layer of stone leaving the hard uneven surface. With over one wave every 14 seconds there has been a lot of erosions over centuries!

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It was very difficult to comprehend some of the spiel aforesaid by the Aussie guide, stories of intrigue and valour abound in these cliffs, also of ships and pirates.

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In all a great time, a great coastal drive of over 400 Kms, lots to see and ponder, a day trip isn’t enough.

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On my next visit here I plan to stay back and explore more as it takes 2 days or more to cover. Many homestays and apartments are available here, passing through old towns and villages we briefly stopped at a popular restaurant Stiks for lunch.

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More reasons to visit Australia, Melbourne again and retrace the Great Ocean Road

Text/Photos Jyoti Shetty.

 

IMG_3649.JPGNighoj Kund is 90 Km from Pune, Maharashtra in a village by the same name. Spreading across just 2 Km or more, the river Kukadi has carved out potholes that resemble a Martian landscape.

IMG_3638.JPGThe river stagnates at this stage to a shallow level, exposing the potholes on either side. It’s not a deep gorge as one can see during the summer, but the kUnd is part of the attraction, the main characteristic here is the potholes.

IMG_3653.JPGWe had learned so much about Nighoj Potholes, and Jayesh of Western Routes always announces group visits there, only during summer. These potholes are visible barely for less than two months.

IMG_3673.JPGThe monsoon fills up these craters of all frames and sizes may not be advisable to visit them to see the potholes.

IMG_3685.JPGMy first impression when I recently visited Nighoj Kund was a bit disappointing. I anticipated a more expansive coverage of this geological marvel, the potholes are centuries old, and these basalt rocks are geologist’s enchantment.

IMG_9763.JPGDuring acute summer the landscape changes drastically giving it the otherworldly upshot.

20170409_102350.jpgI could not avoid dropping off into a bathtub like a hole, sunbathed for quite a while. Some of the larger outcrops of rocks were layered in distinctive subtle shades, some even had shells embedded in the sediments.

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It’s worth watching your step while examining the strange outlines of cavities that the river etched as it swished and swirled around these basaltic rocks for centuries.

IMG_3637.JPGThe Nighoj Kund area is quite easily maintained, and considering its interior location in the village some of the smaller holes were filled with hay dump and a few plastic bottles.

IMG_3661.JPGLuckily the two Devi temples alongside the Kund safeguard the cleanliness initiative. The main Devi temple that towers above the kind has an interesting story, there are 9 such temples in the hamlet. According to the priest at the temple, goddess Devi carved out the gorge with her mere elbows.

IMG_9751.JPGThe temple compound provides the much-needed shade, do venture out here early morning, as the afternoon sun is unrelenting. We barely covered the Kund opposite to the newly constructed bridge. An ancient bridge could be viewed at a distance now abandoned.

IMG_3658.JPGDuring the height of monsoons the gorge fills up to prodigious levels and jumping into the gushing river makes it pleasurable. The potholes are completely submerged to form the riverbed. The incredible summer lunar landscape disappears only to appear until the succeeding year. These potholes and riverbeds are a mute testimony to our past and hold secrets of the river as also ecological insights.

IMG_3669.JPGNighoj Kund can be combined with temple visits nearby. The famous Ganpati temple and Devi temples of Nighoj. On your way out a fort built by Shivaji’s cousin is worth holding back for a quick look.

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Friendly villagers are quite overwhelmed by visitors to the hamlet, they will even tempt you to their homes for a meal and witness bullock cart (it’s not banned here) race on festive occasions.

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