The forest of caves, Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary

Gautala Autramghat Sanctuary is a well-protected deciduous forest reserve located near the Gautala village of the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. Mumbai, Pune, and Shirdi, to name a few are some of the popular places where people travel to the sanctuary frequently. It is an ideal hot spot for a one day picnic near Shirdi, a renowned village, also famous as the burial temple of Sai Baba. I planned to visit the sanctuary with my family, a trip which was long due. On confirming the itinerary, the first task on my agenda was to book an AC cab from Mumbai to Shirdi. As Aurangabad is 10 km away from the sanctuary, we planned to visit the tourist spots in Aurangabad with cousins if time allowed. We were keen on visiting monuments like the Ellora caves which Aurangabad is noted for.

Travel to Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary

My paternal uncle’s family also planned on joining us, and thus my uncle went on to rent a reliable car with an experienced driver in Mumbai ensuring safe travel to Gautala Autramghat wild reserve; while we planned on joining them at the sanctuary. At the wildlife reserve, we were eager to get a close encounter with wildlife like Blue Bull (Nilgai), Barking Deer, bear, and panther. However, we were able to see some of the migratory birds like the cranes, spoonbills, storks, as we had started for the reserve before sunrise from Shirdi. The locals shared that the right time to catch a glimpse of more than 230 species of birds is in the morning hours.

Overview and daily activities

The wildlife sanctuary is well-maintained and protected by the government of Maharashtra, prohibiting visitors from littering the place. One of the prime attractions we visited was the Antur Fort, which is 2700 feet high and built during the 15th century by the Marathas. The structure today signifies the remains of the fort with a dargah and doorways, with carved inscriptions that date back to the Nizamshan period.

We discovered that frequent jungle survival camps are organized here for students along with rock climbing, trekking, and nature study camps to visitors. But for this, one has to seek the permission of the forest officers. Also, they are allowed to participate only under the guidance of an authorized local person who is familiar with the reserve and its surroundings.

The sanctuary houses some of the prehistoric and historic religious temples of archaeological significance which are now under the care of the Archaeological Survey of India. The Patna Devi temple is one such example where the tourists pour in from all over the country, especially during the Chaitra and Navrata festivals. The Pitalkhora or the brazen Glen is a few kilometers away, a cluster of Buddhist cave temples, which is 40 km west of the Ellora caves.

The locals pointed to the fact that the wildlife sanctuary named after its surrounding village is derived from Gautama Buddha. They also spoke about a small cave where he once resided which still exists in the reserve. This trip to the wildlife reserve was one of the perfect weekend getaways near Shirdi; my cousins and I made plans to revisit the place to explore all it has to offer including the surrounding Ajanta and Ellora caves. And we hope that the next time around we would be able to spot a lot more animals that are housed in this protected forest reserve.

How to reach Gautala – cabs from Mumbai

Aurangabad, Mumbai, Nashik, and Shirdi are some of the airports close to Gautala with Shirdi being the closest for us as we were heading from Mumbai. One could take a flight from Mumbai to Shirdi or a cab directly to Gautala. From the other Indian cities, Aurangabad is the nearest; 68 km from the destination. The flights are frequent; however, traveling via cabs is a wonderful experience for an outing with family. Depending on the members of the family, cab services will accommodate a suitable vehicle considering the safety and comforts of the family.

Distance and time taken

Distance from Gautala to Mumbai is approximately 368 km via NH 160 and NH 60. The other route involves passing Shirdi, which could turn out to be a sightseeing pit stop. The distance from Mumbai to Shirdi is about 241 km, and Shirdi to Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary takes close to 122 km. One can find plenty of cabs to Gautala from the surrounding cities. There are many direct flights available to Aurangabad from where Gautala Wildlife Sanctuary is one and a half hour away.

We planned our night stay in Shirdi and decided to head to the wildlife reserve early in the morning the next day. This was because accommodation in the government forest houses is limited and requires booking in advance. You may book cabs to resorts near Shirdi too. It's hard to explore travel options when you are tight on budget. However, places like these make up for some of the best budget vacations near Shirdi.

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