Polo Forest of Gujarat – A road trip amidst Mother Nature
Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved Diwali – festival of light a lot and the main reason for this is my father. Of all the festivals, Diwali is the only one when Dad takes vacation for 5 days. He does take a leave on other festivals too, but those days he works on his phone. Diwali has always been different though.
This Diwali, Dad and I had gone out to get the lights and diyas and as we were walking through the narrow streets of the market he said something which took me by surprise. I had to ask him again just to make sure that I’d heard it right when he said, “Let’s plan a road trip.” Once the surprise wore off, I replied, “Baba, you never plan any trips, let alone a road trip.” My reply made him laugh out loud and he shrugged, “Well, I want to, this time. I was thinking about Mount Abu but we’ve already been there so you suggest something.” Now, I have a lot in common with my dad and the one that tops the list is the fact that we are not very outdoorsy. However, a couple of my friends had recently been to Polo forest of Vijaynagar Gujarat and they had told me to visit at least once. “Polo Forest”, I blurted but when dad asked me about the whereabouts of the same, I was clueless.
About Polo Forest
Polo Forest is a beautiful place located near Abhapur village and is about 140 kms from Gandhinagar (170 kms from Ahmedabad). It is a great weekend getaway for residents of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. It is still a largely unexplored and houses some of the oldest Hindus temples as well as Jain temples in Gujarat. We decided a date and invited my uncle to join us as well.
As per official records, there are more than 450 species of medicinal plants, around 275 of birds, 30 of mammals, and 32 of reptiles. The 400 square km area of dry mixed deciduous forest is most lush between September and December after the monsoon rains when the rivers are full, but at any time of the year it provides a rich wildlife experience.
Polo, was once a gateway to Rajasthan. It was a hiding place for rulers, concealed from enemies, citizens and angry wives. The name, Polo, is derived from pol, the Marwari word for “gate,”. Hence, its status as a gateway between Gujarat and Rajasthan. The ancient Polo city was built around the river Harnav, an ancient water body spoken of in the Puranas. It is believed to have been established in the 10th century by the Parihar kings of Idar, and was then conquered in the 15th century by the Rathod Rajputs of Marwar. The ancient city was a pilgrimage for the Jains and Shivadharmi people of the area. The jungle has 4 sculptured gates made of local sedimentary rocks in each direction.
Polo Forest Campsite
Polo Forest has status of sanctuary and is being maintained by Dholwani range forest department. Forest Department has also established a campsite with a view to provide nature education and develop the site as tourism place. The Polo Camp site is located in Vijayanagar taluka of Sabarkantha districts and is near to Vanaj Forest area, Harnav River and Damsite. A point to note, you may face hard time arranging accommodation and food inside forest area.
To those of you who’re planning to visit Polo forest, there’s one travel tip I have – you will have to take your own food. You might get some chips and dal wadas but not a proper lunch/dinner. There’s no hotel or restaurant in the Polo forest area. Any tourist place is best enjoyable as long as it remains free from commercial outlets. Polo campsite also serves food, if you tell them in advance.
Best time to visit Polo forest
My mom got up early on the day of our trip, prepared lunch at 6 in the morning (talk about being a superwoman) and we hit the road around 7:30 am. Another useful travel tip is timing. Try to start early in order to avoid afternoon heat. Also, parking is a big mess; so reaching early helps.
The best time to visit Polo Forest is rainy season until early winters (June-November). Monsoon season is best as the place is covered in lush greenery. In early winter season, the weather is quite pleasant. Also it is still quite green as not all trees have shed their leaves.
During winter, all manner of migratory birds occupy the forest; during the rainy season there are wetland birds. Thus, it is a great site for bird watching.
What we did
The thing about Polo Forest is you don’t need Google maps or any sort of sign to know you’re there. Surrounded by hills on both the sides, I couldn’t help but ask dad, “Are we there yet?” every 5 minutes. Not that I was not happy being in the car with music and amidst the hill. We reached our destination around 11: 30 a.m. Since I had forgotten to look up the places worth visiting, we decided to go where everyone else was going. It was a good experience after all, just going with the flow.
The places over there don’t have names so I don’t exactly know where we were walking but it was like taking a stroll in a park with a tiny rivulet flowing by the side and some ancient ruins of Shiv temple. I must say it was a long stroll and we took quite a few stops to click pictures. Also, dad told me all about the mountains and that was the best part for me. We were tired of walking around and the scorching sun was urging us to take a break, so we found a spot under a huge tree where we could spread our mattresses and have lunch. Mom had brought aloo puri and khichdi. (P.S. My mom makes the best aloo puri).
After having lunch, I was so full that I could have slept under the tree but we were supposed to go and see Harnav river dam about 4 km north from camping spot. We drove uphill, visited the dam and ended our visit with an ice cream. Along the way, we came across ruined monuments on the way from bank of Harnav river towards dam. Nonetheless, I’d suggest take along someone who knows about the place and the must visit spots as I’m afraid we might have missed out on a few temples due to lack of information boards. Local guides are available there, they normally charges INR 200-300. One can also go for a small trek of around 2 to 3 hours.
The only annoyance about the whole trip was the lack of parking space but everything else made up for it.
What to do at Polo forest
Here is the list of some nearby places that are a must visit while you’re at the Polo Forest. As I mentioned above, we could not visit all these places. But after coming back, I actually researched to make a list of places to visit in and around Polo Forest
- Harnav Dam
- Sharneshwar Temple
- Vireshwar Temple
- Rock Garden
- Idariyo Gadh
- Rani Lake
Also, I came to know that there are number of adventure activities to experience at Polo Forest:
- Rock Climbing
- Tent stay and Camp Fire
How to reach Polo forest from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar
Vijaynagar, the nearest town is 160 km from Ahmedabad, and is accessible by the National Highway 8. Abhapur is small town about 16 kms from Vijaynagar which is closer to Polo heritage sites and Harnav dam. One can directly reach Abhapur from Gandhinagar like we did.
The nearest district center is Himmatnagar which is about 60 kms from Polo forest. Public transport is available, but ask around beforehand, because it is not always reliable. State transport has many buses to Idar from Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad. Idar is a former princely state and is about 38 kms from Vijaynagar.
From Idar to Vijaynagar, jeeps are frequent. Polo forest falls on the way to Vijaynagar. Be sure to leave Polo forest before late evening, as you might not get any jeeps.