Monday, February 26, 2007

Road Trip to Goa - Day 1

It had been a long standing desire of mine to do the iconic Mumbai - Goa Highway by car, wetted by our drive to Ganapatipule last year. I finally got an opportunity to do so a couple of weekends back, and a big Thanks to my wife for supporting me!

We started our drive at 6:30 AM on Friday. On crossing Panvel, we found out that a gas tanker had overturned near Karnala, necessitating a detour through Rasayani on the old Mumbai - Pune highway. That added 30 minutes. It was close to 8 by the time we crossed Nagothane. I encountered a bit of traffic, but as I rightly guessed, the traffic was all headed to Alibaug, and surrounding areas. As soon as we crossed Vadkhal Naka (the turn off to Alibaug), the traffic thinned out. And from then on, the drive was a dream. Being Mahashivratri, there was hardly any local traffic on the highway, and hardly any long distance travelers such as us.

We reached Chiplun at noon, halted for a chai, crossed Hathkkhamba (the turn off for Ratnagiri at 1:30), halted for refueling, and continued southwards, destination Goa. We were on the lookout for a decent place to halt for lunch, but we only found one at Kankavli. Neelam Countryside Resorts is strongly recommended for a break. The food was good, service friendly, and we refreshed ourselves with a game of carroms and table tennis!

The road narrowed after Kudal, and we had to slow down while crossing Sawantwaid, and entering Goa. As it was just around 6 when we entered Goa, we decided to head for Vagator beach to catch the sunset. Unfortunately, we encountered traffic at Margao, and just missed the sunset by the time we hit the sands at the base of Chapora fort. After a refreshing drink of coconut water, we reached our destination - my aunts' place in Bambolim - a little after 8 PM.

It was an extremely fulfilling drive, and strongly recommended for all road trippers!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Weekend trip to Saputara

The best trips are those that are unplanned. My wife and I were making plans to go out of town 'somewhere' over the weekend. As usual, it was Friday evening, and we had no clue where to go. At around midmight, after some failed attempts at finding some good driving destination online, we decided to head north to Gujarat, and Saputara.

It was nearly 8 AM by the time we got out of Mumbai, and we had to negotiate slightly heavy traffic immediately outside of Mumbai. It was nearly 10 by the time we reached Anam restaurant near Manor for breakfast. We then made good time on the simply fantastic Mumbai - Ahmedabad highway, which is part of the Goverment of Indias' Golden Quadrilateral Project. I can't wait for the day when most of the roads in India are of this quality.

Our next halt was at Tithak beach, a few kms off Valsad. I had read about this beach during my late night research. One web site even called it 'the best beach in Gujarat'. It was nothing of that sort! I have travelled to a few beaches on the West Coast of India, and the beaches get worse as one travels north.

We didn't spend much time at the beach, and continued on to Saputara. we deviated off the National Highway a few kilometres after Valsad. We had lunch at a small restaurant on the way, and reached Vansda National Park in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we couldn't drive into the park (my small car would not have handled the rough path :-)), but the drive along the thickly wooded park was a good experience in itself. We located a Ecoresort run by the state Government near the park. It was a simple resort, wondefully located. But as we were the only people there, it was not very appealing. We then continued onwards, reaching Saputara at 5 PM, after driving 350 kms. We located a nice hotel - Anando, overlooking the lake, and were pleasantly surprised by the (off-season) rate.

After freshening up, we headed for Valley View Point, and the ropeway ride across the valley. We followed that up with dinner at the market area of Saputara, and headed back to the hotel to call it an early night. I indulged in a bit of bird-watching around the hotel the next morning, and was rewarded with wonderful views of a Red Throated Flycatcher. Also spotted Sunbirds, and Grey Wagtails. We had a late breakfast at the hotel, checked out.

We continued with the bird watching around the hills of Saputara. Had a great time, with my first spotting of the male Paradise Flycatcher, with its brilliant white tail. Also spotted Tree Pipits, Tits, Drongoes, Verditer Flycatcher, and many more species.We headed back to Mumbai, via Nashik. The State Highway from Saputara to Nashik was exceptional. Our plan was to have lunch at the Taj hotel near Nashik, but we couldn't locate it, and ended up having a late lunch at Igatpuri. We made great time post lunch, reaching home in a flat 2 hours!

We had driven 600 kms over 2 days. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of roads I encountered. Credit where it is due - the government seems to be doing a good job. Easily the worst roads I encountered were in Mumbai city!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bhopal - Museum of Man

If there is one museum that you should definitely visit in India, it just has to be the Museum of Man in Bhopal. We visited it by accident, as we had time, and were in the area. I guess that helps - one does not have very high expectations of the place.

The museum is largely open air, and spread over many acress. There are life size replicas of tribal villages, where one can walk in, and inspect the houses, etc. There is a fantastic myths exhibition. Here, mythological tales from various parts of the country have been recreated in stunning detail. There are explanatory texts in English and Hindi against each of the exhibit. One can spend hours reading the fascinating tribal tales from various nooks of the country, and admiring the stunning craftwork.

Further on in a museum tracing the evolution of man. A lot of information, presented very well. There is another indoor museum, with further details of the various tribes of India, and their lifestyles. A particularly stunning exhibit is a complete wooden residence from Himachal Pradesh. As I walked into this house, I actually felt transported to the Himalayas. Adjacent to the exhibits are TV screens which show documentaries related to that exhibit.

We really enjoyed the time we spent at this museum, and strongly recommend it to anyone visiting Bhopal.