Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Day Trip to Baramati

I had to visit a few villages around Baramati on work. We left Mumbai at 7:30 AM in a Ford Fiesta car. For a diesel powered vehicle, the car was very refined and powerful. We were touching 140 kmph on the expressway, before we requested the driver to keep it to a more comfortable 120!

We had some little work at Nigdi, just before Pune. Unfortunately, because of this work, we had to drive right through Pune city. The narrow roads, and traffic, meant that it was a good hour and a half before we reached Hadapsar, on the outskirts of Pune city. We then took the Solapur road for about 50 kms, before turning right to Morgaon village, passing Supa village on the way.

The drive from the turn off on Solapur road was through a fantastic scenery of dry, rolling grasslands and scrub. I could spot the usual suspects of this kind of habitait amongst the avian population - Bee Eaters, Roller, Drongoes. This was very different from the green sugarcane fields lining both sides of the Solapur Road, in the clearing around one of which I spotted a pair of Red Wattled Lapwings.

We stopped at Morgaon to pick up our local contact, and then visited a few villages around Baramati. Lunch was a traditional Maharashtrian thali at a restaurant located in a lane in Baramati. The lane was typical of small town India - narrow, dusty road with a plethora of vehicles and pedestrians, flanked by old, two - storey houses with a shopfront.

The highlight of the visit was at our last call at Korale village. This village has an old temple, with fine stone carvings. In front of the temple were a couple of old, large banyan trees. It really made for an evocative sight.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Drive through Varandha ghat and Sinhagad

This is the first trip I was making with my dad. We left Mumbai at 7:30 AM, headed for the Goa Highway. As always, our breakfast halt was at 'Kshanbhar Vishranti' near Karnala. We then proceeded to Mahad. There was a fair bit of traffic till Wadkhal Naka (the turn off to Alibad, Kashid and Murud - Janjira). The traffic eased off considerably once we took the turn to Goa, and the drive till Mahad was a breeze.

We had noticed a new 'Vithal Kamat's' restaurant at Karnala. So, when we saw another one at Mahad, we took a short refreshment break. By then, we had decided that we would be staying the night, so we checked out rooms at Hotel 'Kuber Palace'. The rooms were nice, but the place, with an attached bar, did not look very inviting.

We then proceeded to Raigad, which was not part of the original plan. The drive up was through narrow village roads, with the final part being a climb up to the base of the fort. Once there, we realized our folly. Being a holiday, the place was overflowing with tourists, and cars. After struggling to park the car, and having to pay Rs. 25 for the pain, we found out that the ticket counter for the rope-way was closed due to the rush. Not having an appetite for a 3 hour waiting, we thought we would have lunch there. But after waiting 15 minutes in vain for a table, we gave up on that as well. On the way down, we came across a small restaurant, serving home cooked Maharashtrian meals. Though we had to wait a while for lunch, the food more than made up for it.

We then got back to Mahad, and proceeded to Varandha Ghat. This place is on the route to Bhor, and crossed the Sahyadris, giving spectacular views of Konkan below, and the forested valleys of the Sahyadris on the other side. Again, the road was narrow and steep, but the car took it in its stride. It was the first time I was driving right up to the top of a mountain, and the views from the crest of the hill were simply spectacular. We had delicious onion bhajjis and chai from a road side stall at the top, and were entertained by monkeys. One
particularly intrepid simian clambered on top of my car quite nonchalantly! But we were still not done with the climb. The road continued its ascend, and soon we could see the tea stalls far below us. It was amazing! We then hit Lake Purandar, a vast expanse of still water, reflecting the hills and trees around. The view of the sunset through the clouds was simply out of this world!

The road ran parallel to the lake for a long time. The road was not in a great condition, but not too bad either. It was dark by the time we hit Pune - Satara road. After debating whether to proceed to Wai, or to Pune, we decided on the latter.

I had a passing thought of driving all the way back to Pune, but jettisoned it in favour of staying back at Pune, and seeing some of the sights around the city. Luckily, we found a decent place, Hotel Ravikant, close to the Pune by-pass. We got the last room, and later found that it has just opened a day back! There was no in-house restaurant, so we had to walk a bit for dinner. Luckily, they provided bed tea the next morning.

We checked out at 9, had breakfast, and then headed for Sinhagad fort. We passed Khadakvasla dam along the way, before hitting another ghat. It was my third narrow, steep, not so well maintained mountain road in less than 24 hours. But Sinhagad fort made up for it. Again, the fort was crowded, but not as bad as Raigad. The views from the top were simply superb, as was the weather - not very hot, it actually started raining as we were getting down. That, unfortunately, spoilt the driving pleasure. We took a new route to NH 4. The road was poor, but there was a steady stream of cars ahead, which helped me avoid most of the nasty potholes. We hit NH 4 and discovered that it was the same road we drove past the previous night.

We halted at a small place for a quick lunch, and then took the by-pass to the Mumbai expressway. After a halt at the Food Mall for tea, and to fill up at the HP pump, we reached home by 6 PM.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ahmedabad, again

Last weekend saw me at Ahmedabad, for a short, work - related trip. Having studied there for 2 years, I am somewhat familiar with the city. But this was the first time I was flying in and out, and I was quite impressed with the neat airport. Another thing that I noticed, (not very surprising, really) was the numbers of NRIs (identifiable by their accent) flying in.

The road to the city center was smooth, without any of the potholes that riddle Mumbais' roads. One thing I noticed was the abundance of red- brick buildings, and the relative greenery along the roads. And a number of petite women!

Unfortunately, I did not get any time to see any more of the city. The earlier plan was for my wife to accompany me, and then we were planning to visit Mt. Abu. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, that plan did not materialise. So Mt. Abu has to wait...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Bhandardara and Aurangabad

We left on a whim for Igatpuri on Saturday morning. It had been a while since we went on a long drive, and it was my wife's birthday on Monday, so...

The road to Igatpuri is the crowded National Highway leading to Nasik. As soon as we left Mumbai, it started to rain. Thankfully, due to the rains, the traffic was low. And the condition of the road was not as bad as I feared. Unfortunately, because of the rains, and the low lying clouds, most of the mountain and valley views that Igatpuri is famous for, was invisible to us.

At Igtapuri, we visited the Dhammapuri meditation centre. We could only visit the reception area, but it was extremely peaceful. Again, possibly due to the rains, we were the first visitors that day.
From Igatpuri, we proceeded to Nasik. On the way, we saw the road that leads to Bhandardara, and as my wife was keen to see that place, we took that road. The first kilometre of the road was horrible, and almost forced me to turn back. But after that, the road improved considerably, and was a beauty to drive on.

Bhandardara itself was a beautiful place, with a lake nestled between lush green mountains, with waterfalls cascading down them. The MTDC resort, located at the top of a hill, overlooking the hill, was where we stopped for lunch. Before that, we had checked out all the places to stay, not finding any. So, we just had our lunch, and proceeded to Shirdi.

On the way, we decided to check out Randha falls, the third highest in India. Unfortunately, due to the heavy rains, we could not reach the falls! After having tea almost at the edge of the flooded river, we continued to Shirdi.
The drive was not without adventure. One of the bridges on the route was flooded, so we had to take a diversion through narrow village roads. As is to be expected, these roads were not very good. Luckily, the diversion was not very long, and we were soon back on the highway.

We reached Shirdi at around 7 PM, after having driven for 270 kms. We stayed at a decent looking resort. The rains affected us even here, as we did not get fresh linen! We turned in early, and awoke early for darshan of Sai Baba. Being a Sunday, there was a long queue of pilgrims, and it took more than an hour for us to get darshan. After a relaxed breakfast back at the resort, we left Shirdi at around 10, headed for Aurangabad.

This section of the drive was easily the best of the journey. The road was good, passed through green fields, and thankfully, the rain kept off. We made great time to Aurangabad, where we had made bookings at the Taj Residency. Unfortunately, there were no directions to the Taj, and it took us a good 45 minutes to finally locate it!

After refreshing at the Taj, we immediately headed to Ellora caves, 29 kms from Aurangabad. We had a quick lunch at a restaurant at the base of the hills, and then started our exploration of the caves with the awesome Kailashnath temple.

There are no words to describe the temple. I was awestruck when I first saw this monument many years before, and I had the same feeling this time around as well. The highlight is to view the monument from the top of the cliff around. It is a sheer drop of more than a 100 feet, and it is amazing that the authorities have not barricaded it. Sitting on top of the cliff, and seeing this amazingly detailed monument carved out of solid rock more than a 1000 years ago, is an amazingly spiritual experience. To me, this is the most amazing monument in all of India, easily surpassing even the more famous Taj Mahal.

We then proceeded to the Buddhist section of the caves, which had some wonderful sculptures of the Buddha. The final halt was at the Jain section, which also amazed us with the intricate carvings typical of Jain temples.
We then proceeded to Khuldabad, and visited Aurangzebs' tomb. It is a simple monument, very unlike the reputation he had as an emperor (the last Mughal emperor of India). Our last halt was at the nearby Grishneshwar temple, one of the 12 jyotirlingas.

We turned in after a Mexican dinner at the Taj.

The next day was my wifes' birthday, and we spent the first half of the day lazing at the hotel. After checking out, we visited Bibi ka Maqbara. It being a Monday, there were not many tourists, and we could check out the monument leisurely. We then proceeded to Aurangabad caves, one of the oldest in the country. There are 2 sets of caves here, more than a km apart. Some of the carvings here outshone even those at Ellora. It is really a shame that most visitors bypass these caves on their way to the more famous ones at Ajantha and Ellora.

It was past 3 PM by the time we finished viewing these caves. We then headed back to Mumbai via Ahmednagar and Pune. The drive was uneventful, except for the last stretch after we got off the Expressway. we reached home past 1:30 AM, after driving over 400 kms.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Lucknow & Shahjahanpur

I finally got a chance to visit Lucknow, due to work commitments. I reached Lucknow in the morning, and checked into the Taj Residency Hotel at 10:30. Fearing the summer heat, I stayed indoors till 5:30 PM. I then found an auto rickshaw driver to show me some of the sights of the city of Nawabs.

My tour started with the Gomti river, which we crossed on our way to La Martiniere college. It was one of the most enthralling monuments I have seen in India, with it's curved facade, statues on the roof, and location overlooking the Gomti river. Right in front of the main building, and on the river bed, is a very tall tower, whose reason for existence I am as yet unable to fathom!

The tour then continued to the most famous monument of Lucknow - The Bada Imambara. Unfortunately, it was past the closing time, so I could not enter the monument, and see the famous mazes of corridors. I had to be satisfied with a view from the outside. It looked like any other Indian Mughal monument, but I am sure a more detailed look would have shown me the individualities of the monument.

The next place was the Residency, which played a role in the 1857 mutiny. It now contains ruins of the place, amidst well maintained lawns.

The last stop was shopping for the famous Lucknowi chikan.

The next day I traveled to Shahjahanpur, 180 kms and 4 hours by road from Lucknow. The drive, alond the highway to Delhi was very pleasant. I was surprised by the amount of greenery visible all around, even though it was the peak of summer. It was definitely what I expected - the hot, dusty North Indian plains. The road, being a National Highway, was very well maintained. At one point, I read that I was on the Grand Trunk road, and suddenly got very excited. The GT Road is one of the oldest and longest of Indias' highways, but it was only for a short stretch that I saw the road called the GT Road. It was a bit of a mystery for me, because it just felt like a long, straight road to me, so why was only one stretch of the road called the GT Road?

The other image that stuck with me was the sheer variety of traffic on the National Highway - bullock and horse carts, cycle, pedestrians, all competed with the buses, trucks, 2 wheelers and 4 wheelers for a piece of the 2 lane highway. I can now feel a little of the culture shock that Westerners would be experiencing when in India!

I came back to Lucknow the same day, and was back in Mumbai the next day.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Goa has to be my favourite holiday destination (atleast in India!). I love to travel, love the mountains, nature, so this is not just a trivial statement. There is something about the air of the place that just completely relaxes me, and the stress of city life seems just like distant thought.

I have been traveling to Goa regularly over the past 15 years. It helped that my aunt stays there! It had been over 3 years since I had last been there, so when my wife suggested we head there for a long weekend, I started looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, it looked like most of Mumbai and Pune had the same idea, so it was a bit difficult to make the travel and hotel bookings. Even though it was summer, (and the off season), we discovered that hotels had increased their tariffs only for this weekend. We were actually hoping to stay in one of the 5 star resorts, but had to scale down our expectations.

We took a Volvo bus on the evening of Friday, the 28th of April. It was quite comfortable, actually, though a bit long. An added bonus was getting to watch 'Bunty Aur Babli'!

We were booked at Heritage Village, at Arossim beach. Our first impressions were not great, the place looked small, and so was the room. However, the place was neat and colourful, with a reasonably sized pool in the centre. However, the beach was a 5 minute walk away. The beach was deserted, and clean. But numerous sign boards warning of the dangers of the sea dampened our enthusiasm for venturing much into the sea.

Being summer, most of the beach side shacks were shut, and that, finally, was the biggets disappointment of the trip. A trip to Goa is not complete without a few hours at a beach side shack, having delicious local cuisine. Our hotel was all-inclusive, and the food was standard, buffet spread. By the last day of our stay, we had had enough of the food, and actually had a very late, delicious lunch at the airport restaurant!

Looking back, the trip was peaceful, but we really could have been anywhere in the country. We decided that we shall drive down for our next trip, and stay at a smaller place closer to the beach and all the action.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Drive to Ganapatipule

Last week saw us (Sups and I) drive down to Ganapatipule. Ganapatipule lies about 375 kms south of Mumbai, a small detour from the Mumbai - Goa National Highway. We left Mumbai at 6:45 PM. Our first halt was at Karnala for breakfast. The next halt was straight at Chiplun, a 4 hour drive. However, with the good roads, and my love for driving, it did not feel at all tiring. After a leisurely hour long lunch, we reached Ganapatipule at 3:30. We could have reached atleast 30 minutes earlier if we had taken the right turn from the Mumbai Goa highway before we reached the turn off for Ratnagiri.
We stayed at the MTDC Resort. We had not made any prior bookings, and were sort of lucky to find a room. The first night we stayed in a deluxe Non A/C room overlooking the sea, and shifted to a Konkani Non A/C Hut the next day. The hut overlooked the backwaters.
The first evening, we visited the 'Swayambhu' Ganesh temple for which the place is famous. On the second day, we hit the beach before breakfast. The sand was golden and fine, while the sea was clear and warm. It was one of the more pleasant beach experiences I have had.
In the afternoon, we visited the nearby Jaigad fort, Lighthouse, and Karhateshwar Shiva Temple. The last was situated on the edge of a cliff, from where steps led down to a natural spring, below which the Arabian Sea crashed into rocks with a plume of white spray. Swaying coconut palms, and red cliffs provided a beautiful backdrop.
The next day was check out time. We visited Thibaw palace and point in Ratnagiri on our way back. After lunch at Chiplun, we visited the Parashuram temple there.
A great trip, and a great drive!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Hyderabad - Many Years Later...

I got an occasion to travel on work to Hyderabad in the month of January. Like almost all major South Indian cities, this is one city which I used to frequently visit in my first job, more than 6 years ago.

I stayed with a close friend of mine from my Bangalore days - Prashant. The first impressions were - lots of new malls and eating joints. Over the next couple of days, I noticed the many flyovers. There was a Congress plenary session happening, so some key roads had been widened, numerous flags, hoardings could be seen along the roads.

Did not get to see any of the tourist spots that one usually associates with Hyderabad - Charminar, Golconda Fort, Salar Jung Museum due to lack of time and enthusiasm :-) But it was nice to catch up with my friend.