Chiplun in Konkan is green, has wildlife and a Parshuram Temple

  • The author visited Chiplun in the Konkan part of Western Ghats and shares experiences including nature and history plus temples. All this with lovely pictures.

Chiplun was recently in the news, and for the wrong reasons. People would remember the July 2021 visuals on television of state transport buses drowned in muddy flood water and of people huddled on rooftops to escape the fury of the infuriated Vasishthi River. Well, more about this later.

Let us return to the main topic- Konkan (the coastal region of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka) is a land of forests, mango and coconut orchards, of winding roads and red soil, of rich biodiversity and breathtaking landscapes, of friendly people and delicious cuisine, and most importantly of serenity and bliss!

As a nature lover, I have been roaming across Konkan for over twenty years. This year, my wife and I toured the Chiplun and Guhagar talukas of Ratnagiri district for three days starting from Dussehra.

Straddling the Sahyadri

Most of Konkan is a part of Sahyadri (Western Ghats-a global biodiversity hotspot) in the form of the westward offshoots of this ancient mountain range. For a person starting from Pune on the Deccan plateau to the east of Sahyadri, the first experience of its eastward offshoots is in the form of the Bhuleshwar sub-range as one ascends the old Katraj Ghat. Further, travelling on the Delhi-Mumbai-Bengaluru-Chennai national highway (NH-48), such offshoots of Sahyadri remain in sight all along on the west, and while ascending the Khambataki Ghat, one actually traverses one of these.

After leaving NH-48 at Umbraj, the small Urul Ghat heralds the actual mountainous zone. The road then merges with the Vijapur-Chiplun-Guhagar national highway (NH-166E) and follows the meandering Koyna River till Helvak. The mountain sides that are barren or covered with sparse dry deciduous forests till here now give way to patchy semi-evergreen and evergreen forests as one enters the buffer zone of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve, which straddles the crest line of the main range, and is home to mega fauna including Tiger, Gaur, Wild Dog, Sambar, Sloth Bear and Giant Squirrel.

Kumbharli Ghat. 

A sweeping turn and one reaches the point where the deep valleys of Konkan nestled at the base of the crest line suddenly come into view! The descent on the Kumbharli Ghat begins here with feelings of awe as the massive expanse of verdant valleys becomes visible in all its grandeur with each passing curve. This vista reminds one of the words of Marathi poet Madhav Katdare - सह्याद्रीच्या तळी शोभते हिरवे तळकोकण, राष्ट्रदेवीचे निसर्ग निर्मित केवळ नंदनवन (The green southern Konkan adorns the base of Sahyadri, which is indeed the lush paradise created by the guardian Devi of the country).

As the road snaked downward, we were greeted with the melodious calls of Malabar Whistling Thrush, which added to the charm of the mysterious monsoon atmosphere with thick clouds moving up the crest line.

As one descends further, the semi-evergreen forest is replaced by moist deciduous forest that typically clothes the western sub-ranges. The ghat ends at Pophali, which houses the power turbines of Koyna hydro-electric project. Beyond Pophali, unfolds rural landscape of the coastal plains of houses roofed with Mangalore tiles, red soil and chequered vegetation of mango orchards and natural forest up to Kherdi, which houses an industrial estate, on the outskirts of Chiplun.

This town with a population of over 50,000 is located on the banks of Vasishthi River and is surrounded by mountains. Existing as a trading hub for centuries, today it is gradually urbanizing as the second most populous town in Ratnagiri district; but in a rather haphazard fashion with significant deforestation happening in the surrounding mountains.

Vasishthi river Valley in evening. Pic by Madhurika Sathe. 

Green Guhagar

We were headed for the temple town of Guhagar i.e. located on the coast, 46 km to the west of Chiplun. The Mumbai-Goa-Kochi national highway (NH-66), which passes through Chiplun, is also currently being widened and hectic work is on. As one moves away from the town’s narrow roads, the verdant countryside resumes.

Guhanagar Chiplun road. 

This road is a nature lover’s paradise with miles and miles of green rolling hills and valleys dotted with quaint villages. Most of the slopes are clothed with secondary moist deciduous forests, and are far greener as compared to the deforested slopes closer to Chiplun. Such landscape is typical of southern Konkan where horticulture seamlessly merges with natural vegetation.

Locals inform that these areas harbour wildlife such as Leopard, Giant Squirrel, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer, Wild Boar, Golden Jackal and occasional herds of Gaur, which are known to seasonally migrate down the main Sahyadri range. While, these biggest of the wild cattle in the world, sometimes damage crops, the presence of such large mammals in privately owned forests clearly highlights the need to conserve this habitat, which hitherto was safe due to the holistic lifestyles of the locals. A couple of remarkable examples of sustainability in practice in the contemporary Guhagar taluka is the private bird sanctuary of Shri Nandu Tambe and organic farm of Shri Avadhut Bhide.

The shops and stalls in the larger wayside villages such as Marg Tamhane and Shrungartali are generally bustling with activity, which are in stark contrast to the otherwise quiet countryside. Further down the road a little before Guhagar, a small dam with backwaters spreading like tentacles into the surrounding valleys in between hills covered with a mixture of natural forest and plantations provides a picture postcard image. Soon afterwards another small ghat crests a low mountain and one is greeted with the seaside cosy town of Guhagar.

Vyadeshwar Temple, Guhagar. 

We had primarily come to seek blessings of our family deity Vyadeshwar, which is a Shiv temple located close to the sea shore. As with most temples in rural Konkan, this is a quiet place with a rustic charm. The Garbhgruh (innermost part of a temple where the deity resides) is tranquil and blissful with a limited number of devotees coming on any given day. Bhagwan Shiv in the Vedic culture represents the cosmic force that brings about a periodic recycling or restructuring for the continuance of the universe.

My interpretation of this energy in the natural ecosystem is that when an Elephant is partially clearing a forested area while finding food and when a Tiger is controlling the deer population that gives vegetation a chance to regenerate. It is actually that force in action, which is depicted by Bhagwan Shiv in Vedic culture.

A short walk through a plantation of Common Ironwood (popularly known as Casuarina – a name derived from its genus) takes one to the unspoilt beach. The endless ebb and flow of the waves is as soothing as the green forests. On one occasion I had seen a pair of White-bellied Sea Eagle take off towards the sea, from one of the taller trees, in search of fish.

Harvested rice fields and coconut plantations. 

Bhairi Vyaghrambari temple. Pic by Madhurika Sathe. 

Our next destination in Guhagar was Bhairi Vyaghrambari temple. On the way we passed by harvested rice fields with Coconut plantations on the seaward side.

This temple reminds one of Indian philosophy where all manifestations of nature are revered. It is dedicated to Devi Vyaghrambari and teaches us to acknowledge the role of Tiger as the apex predator in the ecosystem. Vyaghra in Samskrut is Tiger. In Guhagar taluka, Leopard has now replaced Tiger as the apex predator.

While returning back towards Chiplun the Sun was behind us and the sleepy countryside appeared to be slowly preparing for the night. Looking at such an unspoilt geography from a moving vehicle with the gentle breeze soothing one’s senses is a meditative experience. The divinity of Devi Vyaghrambari and Bhagwan Shiv seemed to be manifesting through this lush terrain.

Parshuram forests. 

Picturesque Parshuram

Our final destination for the night was the village of Parshuram nestled on the south-western slopes of an offshoot of Sahyadri. It takes its name from the Parshuram temple and overlooks the Chiplun valley. Parshuram Ghat on NH-66 is also being widened and in the process the beautiful yet risky sharp curves would get smoothened out into gentler turns, although many trees would be destroyed in the process.

Parshuram Temple. 

The temple dedicated to Bhagwan Parshuram (the sixth Avatar of Bhagwan Vishnu) was built at the initiative of Brahmendra Swami in the 17th century. The entire temple complex esp. the Garbhgruh were peaceful and atmosphere meditative. The serene Murtis of Parshuram, and Kaal (the time dimension) and Kaam (desire) on either side, both of whom were conquered by the Yogi Parshuram, are the epitome of bliss.

Especially, if it is raining outside, the feeling of tranquillity inside increases manifold. The temple as well as many spots in the village and on the highway offer splendid views of the Vasishthi River valley along with surrounding mountains. We stayed at Amraban Resort, which also gives a bird’s eye view of the hills and dales.

Like most forested areas of Konkan, Parshuram is rich in diversity. Over the years, I have seen and heard dozens of species including Emerald Dove, Rufous Treepie, Barn Swallow, White-rumped Shama, Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Malabar Whistling Thrush, Red Spurfowl, Jungle Owlet, Common Iora, Brown-headed Barbet, White-cheeked Barbet, Common Flameback and Jungle Nightjar, among others. Malabar Pied Hornbills are often seen sitting on the mobile towers situated near the highway.

Dhavji’s well. Pic by Vinay Upponi.

On the road to Payarwadi, which is higher up the mountainside, are two places worth experiencing. An old step well called धावजी ची विहीर (Dhavji’s well) stands in utter neglect today. Ancient cultures like India’s always used local groundwater sustainably to meet their needs. But, the practice is slowly being lost and Dhavji’s well is a reminder. Further ahead, near the quiet Datt temple is a natural spring, water from which is said to have been routed to different parts of the village in the past. The stone channels in the vicinity, which are also neglected now, testify this.

Beyond the temple, the road passes through fairly intact moist deciduous forest for some distance. Locals have often seen Leopards on this road, especially at night, and more so in the post Diwali months. Mouse Deer, Grey Langur, Barking Deer and Wild Boar are also found on the surrounding forested slopes. The predominant vegetation comprises Teak, Mango, Indian Laurel, Bamboo, Silk Cotton, Java Plum (Jamun), Fishtail Palm (Bherli Maad), Indraja (Pandhra Kuda), Jackfruit, Bengal Currant (Karvand), Flame-of-the-forest and Chanda. Seasonal flowering plants such as Silver Cockscomb (Kurdu), Blue Fountain (Bharangi), Sonki and Balsam, and ferns decorate the slopes.

Over the years I have visited many other places in the immediate vicinity of Parshuram and Chiplun that are a delight to a lover of nature and history - Savatsada waterfall, Marsh Crocodile viewing from fishermen’s boats near Songaon on the Vasishthi River, and Shivshrushti museum depicting the life of Shivaji Maharaj and the dam surrounded by forest in Derwan. Other places worth visiting are Vindhyavasini Hill and temple, Gowalkot Fort and Bhavani Waghjai temple in Terav. While, Devi Bhavani is the martial form of Devi Parvati, which in turn is that force that compliments the Shiv energy mentioned earlier, Devi Waghjai is the deity that initiates reverence towards big cats!

Introspection on the way home

We spent two days experiencing the natural bounty of Parshuram and the last evening found me sitting on a slope overlooking the NH-66 four-laning process. I had photographed this exact location earlier when it was a two-lane affair. While in the present situation India does need infrastructure that is sufficient to meet the need (or greed) of people, it is worth introspecting whether this destruction of nature is required.

Apart from loss of forest cover, this also hampers wild animal movement. Wherever possible, it is best to avoid mountainous or forested areas by opting for a bypass, tunnel or viaduct, as was rightly done in the Kashedi Ghat on the same highway. Where this is not possible, providing overpasses or underpasses for wild animals to cross over safely is the next best option as is being done in several tiger reserves in India. This policy that is adopted in case of government protected forests needs to be replicated even in areas where highways pass through private forests, as is the case in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts.

Before we end, let us revisit the issue of Vasishthi flooding. Although the river floods every monsoon, the one witnessed this time was among the worst in recent times. While, unplanned release of water from a dam upstream is to be blamed according to the locals, it cannot be overlooked that rampant forest destruction in the surrounding mountains is equally responsible as it results in soil erosion and siltation in the river bed, thus reducing its water carrying capacity. The deforestation is taking place for a variety of reasons ranging from housing and tourism to reckless resource extraction.

The red soil of Konkan and the green of its forests has been nurturing and invigorating locals and visitors for a long time. Let us play our role in safeguarding this biodiversity hotspot by being judicious resource consumers and responsible visitors.

Indian culture, rooted in centuries of sustainable living, will eventually help in finding a golden middle path where holistic economic development reaches the masses without destroying Mother Nature.

As we retraced our route back to Pune, we felt blessed remembering the majestic Kumbharli Ghat, the forests near Payarwadi and those on the road to Guhagar, the sweet notes of Malabar Whistling Thrush and Brown-headed Barbet, and the tranquillity inside Vyadeshwar and Parshuram temples...

Author has 18 years’ experience in the sectors of journalism, PR and environment education, and currently works as a freelance writer, communicator and educatorUnless stated all pictures by author. 

Receive Site Updates