The silent sentinels of Chalkewadi

Posted in Maharashtra by Priya Ramachandran.

The silent sentinels of Chalkewadi

Modern man-made structures don’t often tend to evoke much emotion from me. At most, an indifferent nod of acknowledgement when someone is trying to get me excited about shiny, mile-high skyscrapers. Each one more flashy than the other, each lacking in as much character as the other, the sum of all making what we call a megacity — a tasteless maze of concrete and crushed dreams.

But as we were riding up the Western Ghats in Satara to get to Thoseghar falls, adding to the awe of the imposing hills were the man-made but magnificent windmills. We had read about these windmills being a popular pit-stop for all the roadtrippers heading out to see the waterfalls, which was just a couple of kilometres away. So, we decided to take the auto to Thoseghar from Satara and walk to the windmills from the waterfalls.

On our ride up, as we caught our first glimpse of the windmills, we were quite amazed. Like silent sentinels standing at the edge of the Earth and turning the wheels of time, these graceful three-armed wind-catchers seemed like more like ancient guardians of the hill people than just a wind-powered energy generators. They were towering over the landscape like they were watchfully surveying the scene.

Windmills at Chalkewadi

The amazement however, soon grew into sheer awe as we made our way higher, closer to the falls. What first looked like a few hundred windmills gave way for a sight that left us absolutely astonished — there were in fact, thousands of windmills dotting the landscape. Some as tiny as specks on the expansive vista. There were windmills everywhere around us. Just everywhere! The farthest hill we looked at and we spotted windmills there too!

Windmills at Chalkewadi (Panorama)

So, it was with the mission of getting closer to at least a few of them, we started our trek up the hill from Thoseghar to Chalkewadi, which turned out to be one of the more tiring 3.1 kilometre-walks of our lives. Ok maybe, just mine. Lovell’s 16-kilometre, uphill trek in the high-altitude, low oxygen conditions of the Valley of Flowers (Himalayas) kind of takes that title, as he was quick to remind me. Nevertheless, this wasn’t the most effortless treks for me. For one, it was HOT! It was around 1 pm, the scorching sun was right over our heads and after the already tiring walk around the Thoseghar waterfalls, we were already feeling quite drained out. Plus the blisters on both my feet were not helping matters either. But we walked anyway. To the sounds of Lovell excitedly gushing and waxing eloquent about how incredibly-amazingly-awesomely-beautiful those windmills were and how many years would it have taken for all of them to make their long journey from being just unassembled parts in some factory somewhere to the towering visions that they were today.

River creaing Thoseghar waterfalls
Unpacking the cameras
Uphill - Chalkewadi

We went past a village school — where we took a break to enjoy the shade of a nearby Peepul tree and rest our feet — and also past a board indicating that we indeed were at Chalkewadi village. After that it was just road and more road.

What kept us distracted from extreme exhaustion however, were the amazing panoramas that greeted us as we kept trekking our way up. A gently winding road that was so beautiful and empty that it was begging to be sat on (which I did). Hills in different shades of greens from the deep and dark rain-forest hues to the cheery and happy shades of the fresh grass post monsoons. It was a beautiful walk undoubtedly. Just the world and us, coexisting in that particular space and time in absolute silent harmony.

Windmills and Priya at Chalkewadi (Panorama)
Priya at Chalkewadi
Priya on the road to Chalkewadi

Ok, maybe not total silence. Up there, each natural sound became so much more wonderfully pronounced. We could hear the whooshing of the wind, the gurgling of the stream in the distance, the cascading waterfall, the chirping of an assortment of birds, the rustling of the lovely tall grass all around us and more distractedly, the panting of our own breath as the climb got steeper.

After a countless, ‘Are we there yets’ and ‘Let’s take Maaza breaks’ from me that prompted Lovell to almost bodily push me up the steep hill road with one winding turn after another, the vision of the windmills in sight growing larger and larger as we moved closer, kept us going.

Road up Chalkewadi
Windmills Chalkewadi
Windmills at Chalkewadi

We finally reached the first windmill! Beautiful against the clear blue sky. Making a delicious sound as its sharp blades cut through the still air. We stopped to admire it as we worked our way up the last leg of the climb to reach the tabletop. And the sight that greeted us really made me forget how tedious that trek felt. It was like a windmill plantation up there with thousands of these majestic structures spread across the terrain.

Lovell clicking windmills
Windmills at Chalkewadi

As we admiringly enjoyed the view, we walked straight to a building, that we assumed was the office of the windmill keepers. This energy project, we were told by the friendly men in overalls, generated power from more than a 1,500 windmills since 2002. After a quick chat, which also included fielding some curious queries from them about how we ended up walking all the way up, some of them drove away in a car to carry out maintenance work on few of the windmills. Then, it struck us that at any given point, there will always be more than one windmill from the thousands or more that need fixing. Phew!

Chalkewadi - Windmill control room
Windmills at Chalkewadi

After standing at that vantage point, watching these windmills in silence, we decided to quicken our pace to get to the Chalkewadi village bus stop as we were told that a local bus to Satara will stop there in the next half an hour. This was a pleasant walk, a breezy 1.8 kilometre downhill trek of immense beauty. After one point, the fresh patches of grass along both sides of the road were just too irresistible and I jumped right in to take a cloud-gazing break.

Camouflaged in the tall grass
Priya relaxing in the tall grass
Priya and Lovell at Chalkewadi

Soon, we were back on the road and at the Chalkewadi bus stop, 15 minutes ahead of 3 pm. Satisfied, we sat down and waited. That wait, which ended up becoming an hour-and-a-half long one, turned into a people-watching session, for want of any other form of distractions. We saw men at the bus stop discussing the local state of affairs with much passion. A few schoolgirls, still in their uniforms, running past us over and over again, giggling the loudest when we smiled back at them. A very officious-looking little boy with a file under his arms, who walked past everyone with such a strong sense of purpose that we were very sure he was a local tax collector on his rounds. A youth with heavy-looking bundles who, tired of waiting for that bus, tried to hitch a ride from any truck that passed by, but in vain. The village sarpanch on a shopping bags-laden bike, who stopped to talk to his people at the bus stop. Local ladies carrying pots of water to their homes. A farmer with his well-fed oxen back from a graze from the fields. There were people and creatures in all shapes and sizes, providing us enough entertainment as we waited for that bus.

Chalkewadi bus stop
Lovell taking notes
Chalkewadi bus stop

After what seemed like an eternity, the bus finally came. And we made our way down to Satara with the picturesque sights of those now all-too-familiar tabletop hills, keeping us company once again. But this time, the windmills stood in the distance, vigilantly watching over us.

Bus from Chalkewadi to Satara
Chalkewadi to Sarata - Landscape
Chalkewadi to Sarata - Landscape
Chalkewadi to Sarata - Landscape

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