These days in particular, the word ‘potholes’ incites the worst kind of passions in Indian citizens. They’re things to fight, be arrested, even die over. For most, they have come to represent the worst face of our municipal corporations and the lowest regard for human lives in our cities–ugly, manmade and potentially life-threatening. Outside our cities, however, there exist a whole different ‘variety’ of potholes. Ones better defined by words like natural, picturesque and soothing. Think lunar like gorges and craters in the countryside. Then associate the image with Nighoj, a tiny village in Maharashtra that not only perfectly fits this description, but also claims to have the biggest ‘natural’ potholes in Asia.
I didn’t really believe it at first because even Google failed to show me any credible documentation of these geological formations, and all images seemed prettily manipulated and photoshopped in a rather obvious way. What lured me more was the similarity of the village’s name to my own surname and that it was located in an area that my paternal grandparents had often traced our family’s origins to. So, without giving it much of a thought, I drove down to Nighoj, a quaint, remote village in the Ahmednagar District in Maharashtra just 80 km away from Pune to rediscover these ‘Giant’s Kettles’ as they are called, with a few friends.
We traversed through long-winding roads that cut through wheat and sugar cane farms until we finally got to Nighoj. I saw the terrain from over a bridge that passed above a green river. It very calmly seemed to be cutting through rock ravines, gorges and crevices of all shapes and sizes. These collectively seemed to form the river bed. With such fascinating artistry, this aloof terrain almost seemed alien and other-worldly.
We walked into a temple beside the river bank to speak to the priest about these formations. He told us that the river was called ‘Kukdi’ and was a tributary of the River Bhima. The potholes are referred to as ‘Kund’ by the locals and were formed by goddess Malganga, the local deity, for bathing purposes. However, science seems to suggest that high rainfall in the area caused the Kukdi river to flow out from the highlands with such force that it resulted in the scouring of the basalt rock. This led to the formation of these potholes thousands of years ago. Every year, hundreds of pilgrims from the hinterlands of Maharashtra visit this temple and the Kund. The village is also frequented by many geologists who come to Nighoj to study its landscape.
After interacting with the priest and a few locals in the temple, I carefully stepped down on the bumpy, moony terrain, avoiding the pretty potholes on the river bed and eyeing the river that idly meandered through it. There wasn’t any one around and I liked the solitariness of the location. The lunar landscape stretched far beyond than what the eye could see. There were steps that led me right down to the river, and I was amazed at its tranquility, for it was the same river that had cut through rocks ferociously and had created these mysteriously beautiful geological formations, thousands of years ago.
We spent quite some time there, lazing around the intriguing natural potholes of Nighoj, until we had to give in to the whims of our grumbling stomach. The village had some great little eateries that offered scrumptious Maharashtrian food. While I had expected hay thatched huts and kutcha roads, Nighoj is actually quite developed. It is dotted with colourful houses and a variety of temples; one of them which led me to a goldsmith who shared my surname, thus reiterating my belief, that this was, in fact, my ancestral village. We also visited a beautifully architectured, but an unmaintained ‘baarav’ or a step well, situated in the middle of the village.
As we drove back, through the bridge we crossed the potholes again. Still marveling at how clean and pristine they were. I wondered how long before the tourist influx makes them resemble the filthy potholes back home in the city. Outing what perhaps is Maharashtra’s best kept geological secret; we encourage responsible tourism to make sure the place retains its natural charm and authenticity. Else it won’t be long before we hear a satirical yet relevant song about these potholes as well.
Nighoj is situated 80 km from Pune, 30 km off Ranjangaon, on the Pune-Ahmednagar Highway.