Words: AURELIA FERNANDES
Photographs: T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
When it comes to temple towns, the narrative is almost always the same – quaint, peaceful and comforting. These towns welcome devout pilgrims and weary travellers alike, relaxing the body and refreshing the soul. If you are indeed on the lookout for a calm spiritual experience, Wai is not for you. We’ll cut to the chase – while Wai is definitely your quintessential ‘temple town’, it’s far from quaint and almost bursting at the seams, waiting to be explored.
Start your excursion with a visit to Nana Phadnavis Wada. Nana Phadnavis, an influential statesman of the Maratha empire, built the six-sided wada (traditional mansion with an inner courtyard) on the banks of the River Krishna, when he settled in Menawali. Look out for the wada’s caretakers and ask for a short tour of the walled complex, which is built in the Peshwa style of architecture. There isn’t much to see other than the decently-maintained architecture; feel free to laze on the banks of the river or give in to your inner Bollywood enthusiast and re-enact the panchayat scene from Swades, which was shot under the massive tree that overlooks the river. Next, drive down to Dhom Dam, which was built primarily for irrigation purposes and to supply water to Wai, Panchgani and Mahableshwar. Although you’re not allowed to scale its walls, if the gates of the dam are down, a little path opens up, allowing you to drive towards Dhom village. Here, you’ll be treated to the sight of lush sugarcane fields and a surprisingly beautiful emerald green canal.
If you’re in the mood for adventure, set out on a trek to Raireshwar Fort. This hill fort is a favourite among trekkers during the monsoon and in winter, when the weather’s excellent and the views from the top, stunning. If you’re worried you might have no intention of coming back down, drive to Kalubai Mandir instead, located roughly 40 minutes away. Before you spot the temple, you’ll find rows of shops selling toys, bangles and other knickknacks, and pundits waiting to offer their blessings to the devout. With its carnival-like atmosphere shrouded in an air of serious devotion, it doesn’t quite fit the bill of a peaceful little temple but makes for a memorable visit nonetheless. If you’d rather seek divine intervention at a place of worship that moves at a slower pace, stop by the Dholya Ganpati Mandir and the Kashi Vishweshwar Mandir. While the former has undergone renovations and restorations, the latter, with its intricately-carved roof and the beautiful stone Nandi (bull) sitting out front, is truly stunning as it is. Once you’re done paying your respects, take a deep breath and get ready to brave the rest of Wai. Because, like we mentioned before, this little town is far from quaint – from hawkers trying to sell you koitas (machetes) to children cannonballing into the Krishna River, Wai seems to move at its own pace, not expecting you to catch up at all, only assigning you the role of spectator. Find yourself a spot by the river, and watch people move on with their lives, blissfully uncaring of your presence. Take our word for it; it’s just the place to enjoy a sunset and sonder.