Saturday, October 2, 2010

Korigad - How to go, places to visit, things to do

Oct'2 2010 : Frequent travel on official purposes, especially during the monsoons meant, missing out on the monsoon treks for quite some time now. However, thanks to the extended spell of rains this year, made it possible to make one trek in this year's monsoon. Easy access, popular and last but not the least an easy trek were the parameters considered for the choice of the destination. A friend who had visited the place recently had some good words for the place.It was an easy choice. It was Korigad. After much deliberation, train was the mode of transport and it was going to be a one day trek.Korigad, here we come!!! 

How to get there : Korigad is situated close to Lonavala. If you are travelling by car, reach Lonavala via the Mumbai-Pune highway. Once you reach Lonavala head north and take the Jalvayyu marg. Pass the Simbi point and then take the Vayyu marg. It would be better to ask passer's by for the route to Amby valley. Korigad is on the way. Its around half hour drive from Lonavala. Make sure you carry a copy of the map, directions from google maps.The place to reach is Peth Shahapur We traveled by public transport. Must say, it was a hectic journey, as we had to travel some part of the journey, standing, with barely any space to stand in train. We booked our tickets on the Intercity Express from Dadar to Lonavala. As luck would have it, we got our tickets on the waiting list. We purchased additional Gen tickets and got on the over crowded train. And there began our 2 hrs of hell. Standing, pushing, hanging was the order of the journey. No wonder we cursed ourselves for not taking a private vehicle.  We reached Lonavala around 9.00 am. All over the web, while doing research for the trip, we found that, there was only a single bus for Amby Valley, which leaves at 9.00. Obviously, we missed that, as we didn't know where the bus station was anyway. On inquiring from locals, we reached the Lonavala bus station.There was another bus which left at 10.00 am for Amby Valley. We had a quick breakfast - Misal Pav. It was just routine fair, nothing special. Then, we got on the bus. Along the way, there were quite a lot of army vehicles passing by. There seems to be a cantonment near by. We reached the Peth Shahapur around 11.00 am. The conductor informed us that the return bus arrived the same place around 3.00 pm. So we could catch it then on our way back.

Reaching the base of the fort : Staring at the fort on top of the hill, some of us wondered, if we could scale it in under 45 mins. (Well that's the time it would take us to reach, as was informed by my friend). The hill-cum-fort is on the left of the road to Amby valley. Now, there are two routes to reach the fort. One that is right ahead via Ambavane village and is presumed to be steep and difficult to climb. By nature, we took the easier one! i.e. the one to the left. So, we started our trek on the left hand side. To make things more clearer for you, from the S.T. bus stop you need to take a left. Right ahead, you would find a temple. You need to walk towards the temple. With the fort on your right, when you are walking towards the temple. Just as you cross the temple, take a right. You would find a huge water tank.Walk past the water tank. The road gets quite muddy during the rains. Luckily, there weren't enough rains on that day. The trail from there onwards is pretty clear  which leads up to the base of the fort. After a good 20 mins walk, don't be surprised to see a road. Not sure, where this came from. In fact, there was some construction going on in the area. The sight of the road does turn you off for a moment. Anyway, now, we were minutes from the base of the fort. The fort being on the right. We were at the footsteps of Korigad!

The fort :  The ascent to the top was rather a steady one. There are stairs made of cement along the way to the top. Its good to have the stairs, however, not sure it would last for more than 3-4 years. The steps seem to have withered due to millions of footsteps that must have travelled on those stairs over the years. The government or even the local people must do something about these stairs before the Korigad fort goes out of reach of the trekkers.The stairs neither too steep nor difficult in any way, go spirally upwards. Watch out for some portions of the climb. There are sections missing on sides of the stairs, as they seem to have lost due to landslides. Mid-way to the top, there is an idol of Lord Ganesha.It seems to be well maintained by the locals and trekkers alike, as puja items like oil and kandil (lamp) are present next to the idol. There are certain water reservoirs on the way to the top, not sure what their purpose might have been. But, the water does not look anywhere close to potable. As we climbed higher, the view was just awesome. It gave a great view of Amby Valley. Soon, a few turns and climbs later we were up at the large entrance.The entrance was around 10 feet high. Can't recall if there was a gate as such. This is called Ganesh Darwaja. However, we did capture some pics at the entrance, celebrating our efforts.

What is there to see :  
The top of the fort is a large open green area almost equivalent to two Shivaji Parks, (excuse me for the vague comparisons ;) However, the centre of the area is split up into two ponds. Obviously each having its own microcosm universe inhabited by frogs, small fishes etc. There were a lot dragon flies, plenty of them on the top. There were a few cannons too, one to the left seemed quite prominent. The fort itself is actually in quite good shape, especially the perimeters of the fort. Trekkers could actually walk along the perimeter. We were not the ones to try that option though. Right ahead, from where we entered the fort, one can see the road where we got down from the bus,i.e the road to Amby Valley. On the right i.e across the two ponds, if you can make efforts to climb up, one can see the helipad and a small runway. There is a hutment in the vicinity and a few cows on the top. The fort does have a care taker.There is a temple on top of the fort. It is said to be of Korlaidevi. We never prayed at the temple, cannot say much about the temple. After, spending a few hrs at the top, we decided to head back.

Places to Eat : There are no places to eat at the Korigad. Just a few shops near the bus stop, where you can purchase water, some cold drinks, chips etc. So, its better to bring some food along. No wonder, we found many picnickers bringing their huge picnic baskets and having sumptous meals at the top.

Return Journey : The return journey was rather quick one, as decents usually are. We got down and reached the bus stop in less than 40 mins. Luckily in time for the 3.00 pm bus back to Lonavala. The bus was quite empty and inspite of the twists and turns we managed to doze off on our way back. We had our lunch at one of the restaurants at Lonavala. For our return journey we headed back to the Lonavala bus stand. After a few bargains with private taxis walas and looking for buses to Mumbai, We were lucky to find a bus to Borivali, which meant easy, relaxed return back home.Although,overall the trip was a short, relaxed one, it went as expected. It was pretty much a budget trip under Rs. 500. Would recommend first timers or people who wish to have a relaxed one day outing, Korigad would definitely be the place to be.Hope this helps you on your trip to Korigad. 

Some useful links :

Friday, August 13, 2010

Smoky Mountains - How to go, places to visit, things to do


Aug13'2010: "How to celebrate India's Independence Day in a foreign country ?" , was the question on everyone's mind. In fact, even more important question was, "How do we make it memorable ?".Most people in the group had already visited the usual places like Chicago, New York, Niagara - the places Indians must visit.Not sure who made that rule.We wanted to spend the weekend at a more peaceful place, a more natural place - Smokies was the destination chosen.Six of us left from Cleveland. We were to supposed be joined by another friend who was on his way from Atlanta, which was just 3 hrs away from Smoky Mountains. Was the trip memorable? Read more to find out.

How to get there : Smoky Mountains a.k.a. Smokies is one the many national parks that exist in the United States. Vast in size,with over 760 sq.kms spread out forests makes this national park a mighty one in terms of size alone. In fact its actually called as "The Great Smoky Mountains National Park". I would discuss how to reach Smokies from the city we resided in i.e. Cleveland.However, it would be of useful only to readers residing in the northern part of United States. But, having well laid out maps and having advanced GPS capabilities, you don't really need guidance while travelling in the U.S.We took the I-71 S route from Cleveland till Cincinnati.Then we took the I-75 S.The major cities on I-71 S were Columbus,Cincinnati(Ohio). The major cities on I-75 S were Lexington(Kentucky), Knoxville, Pigeon Forge then our final destination Gatlinburg(Tenesse). Gatlinburg exists in Tennesse state.Any GPS or maps from Google Maps can help you find the route.We left around 6.30 pm on Friday. After having an interesting dinner and even more special indian drink near a popular local restaurant, we started off to a rather slow start to our trip to the "The Great Smokies".


Places to stay / eat : We reached Gatlingburg, thanks to our loyal GPS which guided us way inspite of the forests and mountains almost accurately.GPS's in the past have had this habit of breaking down mid-way. Since most of the journey was overnight, except for the guys driving the vehicle,rest of us dozed off. I guess we had taken just a couple of breaks since our dinner.We had booked a cottage with Mountain Laurel Chalets Inc. We reached the office around 5.30 am. We took cottage keys from the main office and from there proceeded towards our cottage. they even provided a map to the cottage along with the keys.With two storeys and a basement, made it ideal for staying in these parts i.e in forests. There were signs to keep doors closed. We wondered why? The reason was simple. To keep the Wild Bears out!!! Gulp!! Our friend had already checked in. I mean the friend from Atlanta and not the bear ;) After spending couple of hours checking the house all over, around and within ;) it slowly sinked in that we are actually staying in a huge cottage with a lot of amenities. Just read this - 1) Two bedrooms on each floor including basement - Six in total. 2) A vast drawing room with a large dining table. 3) Neatly arranged kitchen with all the cutlery one might need. 4) Fire place on every floor waiting to be lit up. 5)Toilets, bathrooms with all the towels,soaps, etc. 6) Balcony at each level with table and chairs 7) A pool table 8) jacuzzi 9) Two Huge LCD Monitors with a massive sound system, enough to shake the cottage.There were books, maps and novels, DVDs  too. And finally the view from the cottage - staring right down the valley with huge forest trees all around. The highest peak in Gatlinburg in sight, right across. The atmosphere too helped create an aura around the place. Being early morning meant being greeted with the birds chirping, the entire smell of freshness spoke volumes about the place. Just too enchanting.
Dining Hall


What is there to see / Things to do :
Breakfast @ River Road Pancake house & Grill
After everyone got ready, we decided to have a brunch. We went to the main busy area in Gatlinburg and tried some of the local delicacies available especially in breakfast. We tried out this place called River Road's Pan cake house. It was run by some Thai immigrants. So much for local.:) We tried out some of the omeletes. Does sound very regular breakfast, but it wasn't anywhere close ot being regular. Omelette's made of 4 large eggs with filling of America's most famous accessory - cheese. There were fillings of two different cheeses - Mozzarella and cheddar. Top it up with some nice sauce.Hash browns and some toasted bread with salted butter. Boy!!!! Was that some brunch ? I wondered if any of us could finish that kind of breakfast.Well, we did finish it though.And what more there was enough space in our tummies to order some more stuff.How about some Waffles?Why not? Brunch almost became a heavy meal. It cost around 10-12 $ per person. Well, now it was time to sleep..oops I mean to do some sight seeing.

Site seeing tips :
Smokies offers a lot of activities - white water rafting, rappelling, rock climbing,mountain biking, etc. The lazy guys we are- we couldn't do either. ;) we tried the usual stuff - simple hiking. And there are plenty of options for that too. Smokies has lot of trails spread across. In fact hiking is the prime activity.Simply because people of all ages can take this up.Most trails are well planed with a proper walkable road and signs to the place. There are variety of options too - river, waterfall, mountain peaks.etc. There are different visitor centers in the Smokies. The centers are often the starting points for all these trails. We went to the closet one - Sugarlands visitor center.They have friendly and experienced staff who can guide you the trail to take up according to your liking.There is also a store there for memorabilia or stuff you might need on the trail - ponchos etc. There are maps available for 1$. The maps are really informative which tell you all about all the trails - how to go, difficulty level, distance,the duration etc..In fact, that helped us plan better.

Trail to Laurel Falls

Trek@Laurel Falls :
We chose to go to the nearest one - Laurel Falls.As expected, the trail was well maintained- a proper walkable road leading up to the falls.On the way,we could see many people - young, old, families, couples all enjoying the walk in the nice weather. There were even forest officers patrolling the trail for any incidents, just in case.There were signs everywhere to guide you to the place. The weather was a bit cool because of the light drizzle, but manageable. We reached the falls in around 1/2 hr. However, the fall was a bit of disappointment. It was just too small to be considered as a fall. Anyway, it was a nice walk.If you are visiting the smokies, make sure to have enough time to explore various places. We were on a short trip, so there wasn't any time to explore. Also, if you plan to do whitewater rafting, make sure you do it early morning. We were too late to try that, and the next day being a Sunday, it was closed.Missed!!!

Trek @ Clingman's Dome :

Way to Clingman's Dome
Next, we tried the highest peak in Smokies - Clingman's Dome. (6643 ft.) We need to reach the base of the trail by car. It was an interesting drive to the base. Lots of turns and low visibility due to fog meant the skill of the driver getting tested, especially as we were ascending the mountain to reach the trail. In almost an hour or so, we reached the base of the trail. the trail was around 5 miles.It was a steep trail. So it took a lot of effort to reach the top. However, it didn't take us more than 40 mins to reach the top.It was fog all around us - no wonder it was called the smokies.

On our return, we ate food at the restaurant - No Way Jose's which offered pretty good Mexican food. In case people want to do any shopping, you would find almost every store in Gatlinburg. We did some shopping at Walmart. It was nice to have walmart close by. So we did spend some extended time at the Walmart shopping. We reached the cottage around 10.00 pm. After some interesting and unique attempts at lighting up the fire place, we had a little party before we retired for the day.

Horse-riding@Cade's Cove
The next day, we packed up and left around 1100 am. We had to hand over the keys to the cottage authorities as we were checking out. We then proceeded to Cade's Cove horseback riding center.It was far from Gatlinburg. Spent most of the way listening to some memorable and now unforgettable numbers.It almost took an hour to reach there. All of us took horses - they provide helmets. The ride cost around $75 per person. The ride was going to be of one hour. Obviously none of us had done horse riding before. They gave us horses of varying heights may be depending on our heights. They took us through the jungle.Almost 8-10 horses following each other, with the expert horse leading the way. We spotted some deers in the jungle. Riding on the horses and observing how they handled a rabbit, or a car or even a stream of water was a good experience.  The horses were well trained. Still the moment they found some grass, they would stop and grab a bite.Did learn a thing or two on horse riding.The ride was one of the highlights of the trip.

Scenic Views

Lunch@Thai Thani :
Our last stop in Smokies was the hotel Thai Thani. The restaurant had variety of oriental food including Chinese,Japanese and Thai. Mostly non-veg. Luckily for me, they agreed to make a special vegetarian lunch.The food was as usual.I guess the non-veggies enjoyed more.Well, that wasn't really the last stop - we did stop at a couple of places more before bidding the smokies a warm good bye.We visited some local shops. Please Note - Tennessee is the state of Pepe Jeans. So you would find lot of jeans stores here in Smokies.

 Return journey : Return journey was rather smooth - most of us dozed off. We had a couple of breaks in between. However, it was a nice journey back home. We reached around 6.30 am. With that our little trip came to an end. Hope our exploits mentioned above guide you on your trip to Smokies. 

P.S. Things 'not' to do in smokies :
  1. If you have ordered dinner on phone, when you visit the restaurant to take your parcel, it is perfectly ok to eat at the restaurant itself. - You don't take the parcel and eat it in the car parked just outside.
  2. Never order tea at the time of dinner - especially if you are in a hurry and the restaurant has run out of milk.
  3. You shouldn't be waiting for an hour for tea.
  4. When  you are briefly checking out the place you are going to stay - you don't open every cupboard and every drawer hoping to find if someone has left something behind.
  5. When you go out for a picnic - Walmart shouldn't be on your must see places
  6. On a picnic, if you do end up going to Walmart - make sure you don't end up buying a whole load of stuff almost as if its the month's groceries.
  7. Never try to light the fire place during summer.
  8. Never use petrol to light up the fireplace.
  9. While lighting up firewood stand away from it doing so - if the fire lights up suddenly you might end up burning your eye brows.
  10. Make sure the chimney is open before trying to light up the fire place or else your room will end up becoming smoky mountain.
  11. If the fire turns big, its o.k. to use water to extinguish the fire. You don't blow air tiring out your lungs out.
  12. "Jungle Jungle baat chali hain pata chala hain" from Mowgli is not supposed to be on the list of most memorable songs.
  13. When you go to places like Starbucks especially if the there is a huge queue, make sure you buy everything at one go - You don't keep going back and standing in queue for everything.
  14. Last but not the least - when you go out for a picnic, the places you visit should be the highlight of the trip - not the food!!!
  15. The question on your mind should be "Which site shall we visit next?" and not "What shall we eat next ?".
Site seeing places visited 3 - (1) Laurel's falls, (2)Clingman's Dome, (3)Cade's Cove
Restaurants visited on trip 6 - (1)Delhi Darbar, (2)River Road Pancake House, (3)No way Jose's, (4)Thai Thani, (5) Starbucks,(6)Apple Bees

Btw the above 15 were points were lessons learnt from our personal experiences learnt on the trip. Yes, it was truly a memorable one. Enjoy@Smokies.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Kolhapur - How to go, places to visit, things to do

12th June'2010 : Kolhapur - a destination that usually would find it tough to get on most travellers' must-see list. However, a friend's marriage prompted us to have a visit to this southern Maharastrian city. Googling Kolhapur gave as an overview of places to visit, things to do. But, we weren't sure if we would get enough time to visit those places. Our plan was to leave on Saturday night and return either early Monday morning or late Sunday night, depending on the availability of buses. Private bus transport was chosen to be the mode of transport.

How to go : There are lot of private buses available to reach Kolhapur. redbus is a good place to book your tickets.It is the premier site for booking tickets for private transport(buses). You can purchase tickets to and from all parts of India on buses provided by different transport companies.Konduskar Travels was the transport company chosen.They provided Volvo buses to Kolhapur at regular intervals. It cost around Rs. 525 per ticket. The site sends you a confirmation e-ticket which you need to produce while getting on bus.
     The bus started from Borivali picking up commuters from all across Mumbai. Cannot tell which route the bus traveled, had dozed off almost immediately. I guess the bus traveled via the western express highway before moving on to the eastern side.
     If you are travelling your own vehicle, there are two routes that you can take to reach Kolhapur. NH4 or NH17. If you take the NH4 you would have to go via Pune, Satara, Karad.  If you take NH17 you would go through Panvel, Roha, Khed till Karad.

Places to Stay :  Reached Kolhapur bus stand around 5.30 am. Our friend had booked rooms for us in a nearby hotel named Majestic. Since others were arriving in a different bus, I checked into a room. Others who were on a different bus, were meant to arrive an hour later.Went to the bus stand after an hour to receive others.Had a cup of Kolhapuri chai' at a local tea stall.Was surprised to find that Kolhapuris love their tea sweet.Or was it just me.Anyway,The room was big one with four beds, a T.V. and bathroom attached.There was a provision for hot and cold water. Must say that the location of the hotel being central with bus stands(most private buses had starting points to various destinations just below the hotel), railway station and a lot of restaurants nearby to choose from made the hotel favorable.Rest, I would suggest you to check out the place on your own.

Places to visit : Autos seemed to be the common mode of transport in Kolhapur. We found ourselves an unusual auto to travel in. Behind the customary three-seater bench, there were two benches laid perpendicular on both sides. The structure was similar to imagine a Tata Sumo with an auto like portion in the front seat.The auto rickshaw costs were found to be nominal.We traveled a lot of places, the fare never went beyond Rs. 40-50.Perhaps, not being a huge city reduced the distance too.But then not every city is Mumbai.Also,There is no meter-system here. The fare depended on the deal you made at the start of journey.After attending the marriage, we visited the famous Mahalaxmi temple.

The visit started with purchase of some offerings.There was huge queue, but it was manageable.One noticable thing about Kolhapur is the heat. With Mumbai, being close to the sea, there is a lot of moisture in the air which helps to reduce the heat, but here in Kolhapur that's not the case.The Kolhapur heat really hits you. A prolonged moment out in the sun would probably cause some heat burn.Although there were shades provided in the queue, still, there were some unshaded portions.As a result, there were some occasions where we had to stand in queue in the Kolhapur heat on barefoot.The stoned tiles didn't help either.Must admit, it was not the most pleasant moment.

The temple was built during the shivaji times. The architecture of the temple is breath taking, pristine, ancient, it tells more about the Shivaji times. No wonder, you find a lot of devoteess turning up at the temple here.Although, the temple is still intact, there are some portions that are being restored.  As we approached the temple, the queue split into two - one for male devotees and the other for female.Even after entering the temple, the queue extends till the main diety statue. The pushing around only gets more intense as you approach the main diety. And its not even a moment that you pray that you are pushed away. Did make me think, visiting a temple should offer serenity and peace of mind and not this struggle.The temple authorities have tried their best to manage the crowd, I felt there could have been a lot more that could have been done.May be they could learn a thing or two from Shirdi.

After our visit to the temple, we decided to take a break and travel back to the hotel to have a s-nap (short nap:).  It was around 4.30, all of us got ready to visit another famous place in Kolhapur - the Rankala lake.It took us 20 mins to reach the lake by auto. In tems of size it was slightly smaller than the Powai lake. However, there was a lot more activity happening out there. There was a lot of crowd. People of all ages enjoying the nice atmosphere around the lake.There is a walking track around the lake. The lake looked clear by normal standards. There was a stretch near one end of the lake, which extended almost to the middle of the lake. People could walk almost upto to the center on that stretch.Then there were the eateries at one end. Bhelpuris, Panipuris, Baloon shooting stalls, bubble sellers. Almost all the elements that make up a normal indian mela were present there.After our share of shooting ,We tried out a special bhel known as the "Indian bhel". We asked the vendor to make it spicy. And boy!! Was it spicy !!!We then had one of the most popular items - "The Falooda" from one of the Mewad icecream walas present there. There were options for chocloate, vanilla, stawberry, mix.Truly Mewad originally from Rajasthan have some sort of monopoly on faloodas and icecreams in these parts and now we knew why? The falooda was just too good.Each one of us had an extra helping.It was around 6.30 pm we left for hotel again.  

 Places to Eat : We decided to have an early dinner.Just near the hotel, on the other side of the building across, there was a restaurant named "Saawan".The non-vegetarians in the group tried out the special non-veg thali, which seemed to be a specialty there.And they tell me, it was just yummy - the kheema bhaji, the masala in each of the bhajis had an entirely different taste, probably a special kolhapuri touch to it. No wonder they just enjoyed it thoroughly.Also, there was  a special thaak (kind of buttermilk), they really seemed to enjoy it.I had to contend with regular veg. mixed bhaji and chapatis.After we completed our sumptuous dinner, there was hardly any time to do anything else. We had to just pack up and leave.Reached hotel, packed up and off to go.

Return Journey : The return journey was a rather short one. We again traveled by Volvo, this time it was a brand new Neeta Volvo.They charged us around Rs. 800. The journey started around 10.30 pm. Most of the journey was spent in dozing.The bus reached Borivali around 6.30 am.An rather short trip - a few places missed out - the Panhala fort, Vishalgad..probably some other time. Hope this helps you on your trip to Kolhapur.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Diveagar - How to go, places to visit, things to do

April 17, 2010: Divenagar, Divaghar, Divyaghar...well, these were the names that we used to identify the place, until a villager told us....its Diveagar (Dee-ve-ah-ghar).We have had enough of reunions in restaurants..etc.Now, it was time to reunite at an outdoor location.Although, we had been planning this for a quite long time, things just were'nt materializing. Our age old rule of "Last minute kulti Not Allowed" was'nt working ;) But, somehow this time everyone seemed to be serious.Mumbai is lucky to have a lot of beaches around - Kashid, Murud, Alibag, Daman, Kelve to name a few.However, we wanted to go to a relatively unknown beach. The internet was quite helpful here, a few searches - we found this place.Attributes such as serene, unknown, clear waters, white sand were all over the net. It was quite appealing and at the same time hard to believe.So we decided to check it out ourselves - Diveagar here we come.....

How to get there :  
By Public Transport: There are S.T. buses which ply from Mumbai to Diveagar. They leave from Mumbai Central Bus Station to Diveagar Bus Stand.Although, there are just two buses, it won't be difficult to assume, they would be crowded. There buses from Thane too. Checkout the MSRTC site for more details.The journey takes roughly 6-7 hrs.
By Personal Vehicle : Although, we had the bus option, we went by one of our friend's vehicle.We got in from Matunga around 9.30 a.m. and picked each of our friends along the way. One of us got just 1/2 hr to wake up, decide, pack and leave!!!Last of our friends got in from Panvel. We picked up a few vada pavs from the famous Shri Dutt snacks in Panvel. Well, you must have guessed it already, we were on our way via the Mumbai-Goa highway.Diveagar is a 200 kms drive.Its kinda drive thats not too far and not too close. The viallages that come along the way were Pen (69 kms), Wadhkal (71 kms), Nagothane (93 kms), Kolad (111 kms), Indapur (123 kms), Mangaon (132 kms) along the highway. It is in Mangaon, that you need to take a right towards Mhasala (159 kms).
             As you go through Mhasala, look out for sign boards that will guide you to Diveagar. Usually at important turns there are signboards put up to help you in your journey.The government is not that bad after all.. ;) Refer to the map attached.It was around 2-3 pm, we were still at Mhasala. One of the villagers advised us to have our lunch at Mhasala.The reason being most places would be closed for lunch by the time we would reach Diveagar. So, we stepped out at a local place to have lunch, thali was the preferred food snack.Other feasted themselves on some chicken.We started our journey post-lunch. The journey was scenic and somewhat a careful drive. It was through ghats with lots of blind turns. Infact, there were lots of places where there were signs to blow horns.It was scary at times, especially when there is a vehicle all of a sudden in the opposite direction.However, the guy at the back of the steering wheel was a good one.
Locals are helpful and sometimes funny too !!! :        
The villagers are usually helpful, but, sometimes interacting with them can be an altogether different experience. There is no frequent public transport in these parts. So, you can imagine, people would always like a free lift, if they can get one.At one particluar turn, we saw an old man.He had this long white beard.His face structure suggested he didnt have any teeth. We decided to ask him the way to Diveagar. His reaction was euphoric.There seemed to be sudden burst of energy on his face.He rushed towards our car. There were already five of us. Two seated ahead & three in the rear.So there was'nt any place anywhere.Still, he was trying to forcefully get into the rear from the left door. God knows, where he was intending to sit.!!!  The old man was calling out "ho ho Dighi Dighi". What's going on?? That's when one of us calmly told him, we needed the way to Diveagar and not Digha..suddenly he stopped, and guided us to the way to Diveagar.He had a dejected look on his face.Poor guy, he thought we were going to take him to Dighi. All this while our friend seated near the left door was scared to hell!!! ;p

Places to stay/eat : Soon, after the funny incident, we were back on our journey to Diveagar. It was'nt too far from the place. As you enter, the zilla or village of Diveghar greets you a warm welcome.No, they dont come and offer you garlands, but, there is large structure at the entrance, welcoming all. As you enter Diveagar, you need to pay a toll of around 30-40 Rs.As you proceed,you can see cottages, hotels along the way. Some of the bigger hotels like Exotica, Hotel Prathamesh, Bapat Khanawaal, Pinakin have even kept directions to their hotels.We opted for Exotica Beach Resort (9869068676), which has a partnership with MTDC. For Exotica, you need to go straight ahead along the road and then turn left. Watch out for signs. The reason for us opting for Exotica was purely for its proximity to the beach.Although there are direct routes to the beach from other hotels as well, this was the closest. The resort was spread across with really some nice cottages with check in check out at 1200 PM.With trees and flowers all around, the silence, chirping birds and to top it all the sound of the whispering waves, gave it the perfect ambiance. There is lot of parking space. A large area for sitting,relaxing. For recreation purposes, there are carrom boards and table tennis as well. The resort has its own pantry and offers good palate of veg. - non. veg food.There is a huge dining space attached to the office. We opted for a room with two extra beds. Well, they don't allow that, but, I guess it was a matter of just one person and they adjusted.It was an A/C room which cost us around Rs.3000  along with the extra beds.There is a problem of load shedding in these areas.They have generators for every room. although, you won't be able to use the A/C all night.That was fine with us.The rooms were neat, so was the bathroom. They provided us with neat towels,bedsheets,pillows, soaps and even a free complimentary fruit basket. Each room is also provided with a Television with all the regular channels.The room even had a small balcony, where you can sit down for a while and enjoy the nature.All in all, there is good value for money for these rooms.Alas, we reached at 4.00. Had it been earlier, we could have availed more. Lesson : Plan better & Always Leave Early!!!

Places to visit/ Things to do : 
The first glimpse: As soon as we took the room, we freshened up, took the camera, the bat the ball, water and we were off to the beach. All this while, we hadn't seen the beach yet. Although our resort was close to the beach, there is no way you can see the beach, because of a thick, dense of growth of trees near the beach.In fact the beach, in a way is protected from people's eyes with this dense forestation. This was going to be the first glimpse of the beach.All the stuff we had heard, read about the beach was going to be realized now.As we walked towards the beach, we could see people, kids, vendors through the narrow lane to the beach.And in minutes, we crossed the thick forestation and we got our first glimpse of the beach.S-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r-!-!-!White sands, clear waters, lesser crowds and clean. This is how beaches are meant to be.You often seen in movies, photography magazines..the scenes here were pretty much the same. If you are a nature lover, this is one place you cannot miss.Hard to believe , but, its true.Such a nice beach and so close to Mumbai and not many know...Good for it.

Cricket, cricket, cricket : After a nice sighter, we got on with the game.As expected, everyone was out of form.We hardly were able to get a ball on the stumps.It was a more of a session of cricket photography, than actually. Guys wanting to get themselves photographed either bowling or batting.Until then we were pretty much well restrained the whole trip. Cricket brought the raw energy out..Abuses flew here and there. It was sledging of the worst kind.Bit of cheating, bit of masti and only photography. Some kids wanted to join us. We allowed them to play with us, some of us feasted on their bowling. Whats more, we even asked them to field on their own bowling. Well, some of us got back their form with kids bowling..!!! ;)
Royal Bath, the jog & the camel ride : It was a low tide at the time.Clothes out and off to the water!!!We had to walk a long way into the sea to get into the water.We walked until the water was till our thighs. None of us knew swimming, so we didn't go any further.The water was quite clean too. It was fun waiting for the waves to pick up slowly and hitting you with force.
After bathing there for some time, some of us went for light jog - me included. Wasn't sure if I would be able to make it after all the exertion of the day. But luckily the jog was a light one.However, our mission of the jog failed - No, there weren't any foreigners sunbathing on this beach ;(
         Now, it was time for some photography. After taking a few scenic sunset pictures, we were on our way of us spotted a camel.God knows what got into us, camel ride was the top priority. The ride cost us 30 Rs. per ride per person. The camel sat down, and it was an easy climb. If you try something like this, hold on to the camel tightly, when he stands. It was fun, as the camel moved slowly.Wished he would have been quicker, then I realized this is no horse. If you fall from the camel, the damage is not going to be nice!!!!Watch out for the landing, it ain't gonna be smooth ;)

Dinner & games : After each one of us had a bath, we went to the dinning space to have our dinner.  They even deliver the food in your rooms.We felt, eating in our room would make the room dirty. The food did cost more than usual.However, that was fine.  Some opted for Mutton Biryani, while others chose a veg. cuisine.The food was sumptuous and descent enough.After the dinner, while some decided to rest straight away. Few of us had a night stroll on the beach followed by a few games of T.T. On our cards was also a little party which continued till 2.00 am. That's when we decided to hit the sack.

Return journey : Some of us woke up by 6.00, as watching the sunrise was on our mind. We thought, the white sand can be captured best when there are early rays. We went for a long walk taking pictures of the morning scenes. Yeah, the white sand did look whiter. In fact, our walk took us two hours to complete.We didn't realize, how time passed so quickly. As we returned, we had a nice breakfast of omelette and fresh fruit juice.  Later, we took our bath and packed our bags as it was time to leave. Yeah, our journey was cut short because some of us had some important meetings to make. A few pictures, the payment and we bid a farewell to Diveagar.The return journey was quite smooth.As we knew the route, we were able to return quicker. Overall, it was nice weekend getaway. Planned quick, executed quicker. The only regret being not able to eat at Bapat's Khawaal which is known to serve one of the best the elusive Maharashtrain Thali and not able to visit the Suvarna Ganesh temple, which a must see.There is always a next time. However, we witnessed one the best beaches close to Mumbai.  You got to see it to believe it!!! Hope you enjoy your trip to Diveagar. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shirdi - How to go, places to visit, things to do

Mar'20 2010: "Whosoever puts their feet on Shirdi soil, their sufferings will come to an end - Sai baba". It was our that time of the year, when we usually make our annual Shirdi trip.If you didn't know, Shirdi is famous for the shrine of Sai Baba.Couple of friends' cousins who were in city were keen to visit Shirdi, so were we.Hence, without too much of planning, we just decided to go.Shirdi was our next destination.

How to get there :
Personal Vehicle: Its around 300 kms route. You have to take the NH3 - i.e. the Mumbai Agra Highway.There are signs all along the way.You can either go straight to Nashik and then take the Manmad-Ahmednagar highway. The other route is On NH3 itself, there is sign from where you can take a right to Shirdi, however, beware. This route doesn't have good roads like the former one.

Public/Private Transport : Getting to Shirdi is probably one of the most easiest journeys you can make, especially if you are travelling by public transport.There are innumerable options available.Just walk into any tours and travels office, you are bound to find some good options for Shirdi.We booked our journey through redbus. The transport company was Neeta travels.Neeta provides regular bus services to Shirdi, we opted for a day travel instead of the usual night trip.It cost us Rs.400 per person. There were 5 of us.No bargains were entertained.We boarded a bus from Borivali West (near Gokul Hotel) at 5.45 am. The bus had pickups all over Mumbai.We initially moved along the western express highway and then turning over to the harbour side and central side.The last pickup being at Thane (Teen Hath Naka flyover - nr Neeta tours and travels office) at 7.30.It was a video coach bus, fully a/c, with comfortable recliner seats.However, this wasn't a new bus.Our seats were right ahead. Usually those are not the best seats.The curtains were not washed, and there was a distinct smell emanating in the bus.The smell was more evident near the seats ahead. [Always take seats in the middle or rear.] Those are some of the quirks of public transport. The bus has two halts during the journey, one at Neeta hotel and the other one just near shirdi, probably around 50 kms away.Hotel Neeta was good, spacious.Being a early morning journey, we took regular breakfast items like idli,uttappa etc.It  had nominal costs and tasted decent enough(less than Rs. 250 for a good breakfast for 5).The best thing about the hotel was the prompt service. I guess all Neeta buses have a halt there. We could recall that the last time we travelled by Neeta, we had stopped at the same hotel. I guess the hotel is owned by the bus service itself.

One of the reasons of opting for the day travel was getting to see the scenic views on our way to Shirdi.Sadly, that was not to be. Travelling in comfortable A/C buses, we made most of the luxuries - all of  us dozed off for major part of the journey. :) It was just 50 kms more to go, we took our second halt. Cannot recall the name of the hotel, we didn't have any food there.Most of the time we spent there was enhancing our photography talents clicking unique pics. The other important thing we did there was have nice, fresh sugarcane juice just outside the hotel.The sight of the juice vendor extracting every bit out of the sugarcane reminded me of boss. ;)

Places to stay : We reached Shirdi at 2.00 pm.As you enter Shirdi, the first thing you realize is, its not a rural village/town any more.The place keeps getting busy, more crowded, more hotels, restaurants, more options. And the same has been the feeling in every visit.Usually the bus stops next to some decent hotel.Same was the case.Shirdi has lot of options to stay.Hotels offering Rs. 50 per person just for 4 hrs to hotels offering rooms for full day as well.There is a limited period in which you get the 50 Rs-offer (i guess only till noon). Its primarily for night travellers who need to use the room to freshen up.We got our rooms at the "Hotel Sai Shiv Ram"(Ph.No: 09371915349). It has A/C- Non A/C Rooms.Located behind Hotel M.T.D.C. One of their agents whom we met, just as we got down from the bus, got us there.Yes, as soon as you get down from the bus, you get lot of agents offering you rooms,quicker darshan, nice deals on flowers, offerings etc..Tourism is the only business in this area.We got our rooms - a 3-bed Non-AC room costing just Rs. 600.We could stay there till 9.00 pm some of us were good at bargaining. :) All we had to do was freshen up and leave.So by 3.30 to 4.00, all of us took bath and left for the darshan.

What is there to see : If you wish to go to Shani Shingnapur, there are vehicles available which will take you there. And you can finish the entire trip in 4 hours.Most people do that, when they visit Shirdi.

As you enter :
Shirdi is famous for the shrine of Sai baba.It is maintained by the Shri Sai Baba Sansthan Trust. If you have never been there,you may want to know how it is structured, where to start, etc. There is a main entrance near the temple road to the extreme end (Now, the mall end). which is the starting point. Now, this is the main entrance to the temple i.e. where the shrine of Saibaba exists. The "temple complex" has many other structures like - dwarkamai,other temples,counters etc. including the main temple aka Samadhi Mandir. This queue which you have joined would take you directly to the main temple and once you get out of it, i.e. after darshan, you can go to the other areas,as mentioned.You can  even go directly to these other temples,instead of going to the main temple, but through other entrances, but not through this main entrance.The main entrance will lead you directly to the main temple - samadhi mandir.In olden days, you needed to hand over mobiles, cameras at a counter just outside the main temple for a rupee or two. Now,that has changed, we were quick to find that at the main entrance itself. The security guard asked us not to carry any mobiles or cameras in the temple complex.Although the counter was not very far from the main entrance.It was just across the road. It was so hot, and we were bare feet too.So you can imagine how hot it felt.Anyway, they accepted our stuff for just 2 Rs. per bag. No need to worry here.Its maintained by the temple trust and its safe to keep your valuables there.Just don't loose the token.

Queues :
There was a huge queue here.Usually visiting the temple around 4 pm, you may face long queues. The last time we visited Shirdi, we had a night trip, which meant an early morning darshan.And at such times, the queues are usually on the shorter side.However, that was not the case this time.There were hordes of devotees waiting in the queues for darshan.Devotees of all races, castes, classes, professions joined the same queue for darshan.Some with huge garlands, some with small flowers, waiting with eager eyes to find a glimpse of the almighty.Chants of "Sai baba ki Jai" erupted regularly. In case of long waits due to the queues, there were counters for water, juices, food items along side the queue within the temple. In about a hour and half, we were in the the main temple known as "Samadhi Mandir".Here, the queue got split into two.Each one moving on either side of the lord's statue. We choose to move into the right. one As that would have meant getting to touch the feet (Paduka) by kneeling down.There are priests near Lord's samadhi (Final Resting place) to manage the queue and also to take our offerings for the Lord.They usually take some offerings and return the rest, as prasad.So within minutes, we reached the samadhi, finished our prayers and were out of the main temple. Yeah, thats how quickly the queue moves.

The temple complex : As you move out of the exit of main temple, you find youself in the temple complex.The temple complex has many temples of other deities too viz. Hanuman, Shiva, Shani Dev.The first thing you notice is the tree under which Sai baba used to sit - Gurustan.If you walk parallel along the main temple, there is a small window in the main temple, which offers you a direct view of the Lord's statue. One of us ended up with an extended session of praying.I won't go into too many details of the temple complex. But, just an overview. Apart from the different temples of Hanuman,  lingam, durga, there are prasad distribution centers.Udi (holy ash) distribution centers, Donation counters, museums, granthalaya (books-center), counters offering water, lassi, butter milk.After our darshan, we moved out of the temple-complex through exit 3. We had to visit Dwarkamai, which as on the right. Dwarkamai is a mosque where Sai baba used to stay. The queue for it was way too long. We skipped Dwarkamai this time. However, inside you would find some of the things Sai baba used in his daily life.We then proceeded towards buying some Shirdi laddoos. This is outside the temple-complex.When you get back to the main entrance road. Just keep walking toward the left. Its called "Prasadalay".We bought 10 packets of shirdi ladoos. Each costs Rs. 10 (4 pieces).Unfortunately we had to stand in a queue each time.Yeah, they give only one packet per person.But, it was a small queue so no worries.

Places to Eat : There are a lot places to eat. There are a lot of restaurants serving Gujrati,Punjabi, South Indian even Chinese food.In fact, I had asked one person, where I could find proper, authentic Maharashtrian  thali. I guess, with that, I might have touched some nerve of his.He erupted, "You would not find even one restaurant which serves Maharashtrian thali". Giving up hopes of finding the elusive cuisine, we stuck to the usual.We had a Punjabi thali, It tasted decent enough for a nominal cost(under 150 for two). As I ate my dinner, made me think for a much has changed in Shirdi..So many shops, hotels,people, crowds, noise.There is even a mall now at Shirdi which has brands like "Tara Bhagatchand" in it. The mall is still not fully functional though.Then the angst of the poor shop owner over lack of traditional Maharashtrian Thali. With all this commercialization..I hope the sanctity of the place is not lost forever...Btw,. I was having my lunch, at dinner time :)

Return journey : By the time we finished our lunch (at dinner time;) It was 8.00 pm.We spent some more time buying lockets, Saibaba photos,etc..Remember, We still had to check out from the hotel.But before doing that, we were looking at options to return back.We walked our way to the S.T. Stand. which was away from the main temple road(Manmad/nagar road). There were S.T. buses at regular intervals to Mumbai. However, some of us wanted to go by A/C bus. There are no dearth of options from Shirdi.So we went back to the main temple road. There we found a bus service( I think Rajhans), which was leaving at 9.30 pm(Rs. 350/- per person). The agent told us, "If you can reach here by 9.30, the bus would wait".It was already 9.00 pm. So we rushed back to our room.And guess what, we were faced with a unique situation - lights out!!! One of the phases was down, and there were no lights. The hotel attendants provided us with a torch light.One of us held the torch - and for the rest..the search was on - did I keep my camera back, my mobile, that towel - was on everyone's mind.Luckily there wasn't much for this trip, so we packed our stuff in that torch light and checked out in a hurry. As we reached the place, the agent was missing!!! Frantic calls!!! The bus was no where in sight!!There was someone else, who said, the bus on the Nagar/Manmad road.We ran our we reached the place..the bus had already left!! Few more calls..the agent had arranged for an auto. The chase began!!!In cities, the max number of passengers is usually 4.Here, there were 12!!We just stuffed ourselves in...Thoughts began.. were...Are we on the right trail? Would we get our bus?...A petrol pump in sight...And there it was...the bus was waiting for us. Rest of the journey was not so exciting - as usual we dozed off ;) But, it was an exciting end to our nice little trip to the land of Sai baba - Shirdi.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lohagad Fort - How to go, places to visit, things to do

Feb' 27 2010: This time the excursion was with a group known as Breakfree journeys. It was a new group run by a young college bloke by the name, Rushikesh Kulkarni. Quite an enterprising bloke must say. (For more details on the group and its activities - click here) He had published the event on the 'Mumbai Hikers' blog. Mumbai hikers, obviously is the central blog portal where most of Mumbai trekking groups post their upcoming events.Quite a good initiative.It was calling for trekking enthusiasts to join them for a trek to Lohagad fort for a one-day event, with the return journey planned for the evening.Some of my friends had been to the Lohagad fort before. They had suggested it was an easy trek.'Easy' that's what attracted me to this trek.This was going to be my first "real" trek.And after a few calls with Rushikesh on Friday night confirmed my presence for the next day.Lohagad, here we come..!!! :)

The Journey : Pickups were planned at Kandivali, Dadar, Chembur,Kalamboli, Panvel.There started our journey.After picking up enthusiasts along the way, our numbers rose to 17 with a couple of office collegues joining in.All towards our destination - Lohagad.The way to Lohagad was to through a place Malawli - Base Village.

How to reach Lohagad : There are different ways by which one can reach Lohagad. As discussed earlier, you have to reach the base village called as "Malawli".
By Public Transport : If you are planning to travel by public transport, you need to catch a train to Pune.(from Mumbai).On the way, Malawli is the next station after Lonavala.Make sure the train you catch stops at Malawli.Once you get down at Malawli Station,walk towards the end of the station, i.e. towards the Pune side.Once you reach the end, turn right.And keep walking, till you come across a patch of land - we shall call it 'Junction'.That's because you would find  shops, hotels and some houses too.You would also find an open space - courtyard on the left side.Its used as a  parking space.This is the Bhaje gaon.
By Road : We came here by road - the route is even simpler take the Mumbai-Pune express highway, soon after passing through Lonavala, we started looking at signs for Malawli and also asking people at every turn, just to be sure.Soon, we made a turn to the right, i.e. after asking for directions to local people.We then crossed over the railway lines,near the Malawli station and reached the "Junction" - Bhaje gaon.

After parking our vehicle there,We had a nice sumptuous breakfast of Pohe served with freshly cut lemons to go along with it.Not more than 20 Rs.After a few group snaps, we were all set to start our trek.Some of us, me included, bought some water from the nearby shops. Make sure you buy water here, you will surely need them, as there are no other shops on the way to Lohagad.From the junction, you can see some stairs in the distant background,on the left hand side.Those are the stairs to the "Bhaje caves" - our next destination.

Bhaje Caves: They are 2nd century BC Buddhist caves.They are a set of 18 caves, cut straight out of rocks.Amazing bit of ancient architecture. The pictures and links would help you more.For more details click here 
Journey: The journey began with the climbing the steps to the caves. These are unique steps, each step being low in height, and high in terms on length and width.So actually, when you climbing them, its almost as if you and walking instead of really climbing.Still, after a few levels, it starts tiring you out.It took us not more than 20-30 minutes to reach the top.Again, that depends on how fit you are.On the way, we found a few local vendors selling chaas,cucumbers,lime juice.Once we reached the caves, we had to pay some entrance fees to It was Rs. 10 for an adult and Rs. 5 for a child.Finally, after some struggle, we reached the caves.
What is there to see : As soon as you enter the caves vicinity,you see a huge cave in the center.This is called as chaithya, This was used by the Buddhist monks for praying.It is a prayer hall.You can see pillars on the sides, all made of rock.The ceiling of this hall is made of wood.It appeared to be made out of wood,wonder how it lasted for over 2000 years.And then, at the distant end of the cave, you find an inverted cup shaped structure, almost like a bell.This is called the "stupa".It was said that, Buddha's relics were kept in the stupa.You can imagine Buddhist monks meditating near the stupa.Infact, we did try making some sounds in that temple, and it gave a mild echo to our sounds.As we came out of this huge-center cave,on the right hand side, there are broken steps leading to the other smaller caves.Its quite easy to climb.Within those little small caves, you would find small bed-like structures, all cut out rock.Must be the Buddhist monks retired to these smaller caves.After exploring little, we then returned down the broken steps, for first-timers like me, even that is challenging, however, there is always support.So, carefully, we got down from those caves.Unfortunately, the tight schedule wasn't allowing us to explore the "Bhaje caves" more. So, after a few pictures, we turned our heads to Lohagad.

Lohagad : Lohagad fort, one of prominent forts built by Shivaj Maharaj stands tall at 3,450 feet (1,052 m) near Lonavala.Known as the Iron fort (Loha=Iron). It is said to have been used by many dynasties that ruled the Marathi kingdom.There are many structures built on the fort by the people who ruled it which includes a water tank, temple etc. A favorite among the modern day marathas - the trekkers.The fort has always attracted hordes of tourists across Mumbai and Pune.Usually seen as a beginners trek.For more details on Lohagad click here.

Journey: Descent from Bhaje caves: The normal route would have meant getting down by the steps, which we had used earlier to climb. And then turning to the left and travel by the straight ascending road to Lohagad.But things were'nt as simple.As you head out of Bhaje caves, there is a small trail near the entrance.No, I am not talking about man-made steps but, its actually a narrow trail to the side of the hill.Suddenly there was a buzz of trying get down through this trail.After agreement from all, we decided to get down by the trail.I was hesitant, still agreed. This was not the usual way to Lohagad. Initial few strides were easy. Its actually quite helpful to be following someone, as your going on a path travelled.But, soon it became steeper.There are definitely some skills to be learnt for a trekker, especially while descending.Making use of every tree, branch, rope even the person ahead's bag :) Its all a matter of grip. Being in the best of sport shoes, I slipped a couple of times.That's when I learnt the feet need to placed sideways instead of placing them straight.Anything that gets you a good grip.Some of the experienced trekkers were making way for others to follow.Being a novice, I followed it well.Soon we were at the base of the hill.We just turned around and looked back at the Bhaje caves. It was an awesome feeling, looking back how far, how high we were and the manner in which we got down from the trail.

 Trek to Lohagad: The trail to Lohgad is quite an easy one.You just need to follow the straight road ahead.Its not a motor-able road by any means.It might have been motor-able many years back, but, not any more.The route goes spirally upwards.Almost like a zig zag.Some people were climbing up by the small ravines.I was'nt one among them.I travelled by the normal route.All this climbing was tiring me out.Little travel, little water breaks, little sitting breaks in shade was the order.As you climb up, you would find two peaks - the one straight ahead and the other to the right.The one straight ahead is Visapur fort and the one to the right is Lohagad.There are places during the ascent you may not be sure which side to turn.Take the right.There were two such occasions.Also, the local villagers would be very helpful. (if you find any).Usually local villagers travel up to sell water, lime juices etc.Make sure you take help from them.When we were almost there, we found a small juice-vendor to the right, with a nice tent put up, selling freshly made kokam juice.We took a break of 15-20 minutes. After quenching our thirsts, we were back on our way to Lohagad. It was half an hour of journey from here. The journey so far was a good one.It was not a trek which you need to take with any experienced trekker as such. Since, most of the route was a rather straight one, it was quite easy even for first timers like me. The tough part was the tiredness from all the travel., but regular breaks made it quite easy.And soon, after almost 2 hrs  we were at Lohgadwadi ,base village of our destination.You can reach here by a proper motor-able route as well., I guess from Malawli.There were a lot of people there.It was almost like a trek mela there.People turning up from everywhere.It was a festive atmosphere.Young, old, local,city folks - all kinds of people here.There were a lot of trekking groups like ours everywhere in shops, resting,climbing up.We took a shelter at a place called Sai hotel.Our organizer had given an order for our lunch, which we were going to have after visiting Lohagad fort.After leaving all our bags at the place, we were on our way to Lohagad fort.Wondering - again the climb? Yes, we were at the footsteps of the fort.We just needed to climb those.

What is there to see : As you climb up, you find the majestic Pawna lake behind i.e to the right, the village Lohagadwadi in the center and the Visapur fort to the left.The steps were quite high in terms of height.Making it even tougher to climb.But soon in 20 minutes or so, we were at the Ganesh Darwaja - the main entrance to the fort. Lohagad fort has 4 doors called "darwajas" - Ganesh Darwaja, Nayaran Darwaja, Hanuman Darwaja and Maha Darwaja.The Ganesh Darwaja seems to have either painted or built again.Having full of sharp structures protruding out,these are tall doors atleast 10 feet in height.Each darwaja comes up as you climb up the stairs introducing you to a new section of the fort.This section or open space gives a panaromic view.You can see there are small openings in the walls of the fort.You can imagine these openings to be used for cannons on other waring provinces  and Mughals.We found a small cannon or two, we even tried to lift, but it was way too heavy for any of us to lift.The final Maha Darwaja opens up to a vast open courtyard.Its more like a peak of the mountain rather than a fort.Its wide and huge and houses a temple, a few ponds, a dargah and the famous vinchukatta.Most of the time spent up was exploring the different parts, taking pictures.Here is picture showing the layout of the fort.
As we were exploring the fort, we came across quite a nice pond - called "16 koni talav" With shade on one side, all of got down near the pond, took off our shoes and just spent some time cooling off our feet in the pond.The water was quite clear, although there were some frogs and fishes in the talav. Its almost like a hidden spot.Its next to the famous "Vinchukata" - Scorpion’s Sting, a long and narrow fortified structure. This is a finger styled projection of fissure of Lava and the name scorpion’s sting due to its natural shape. The attractive beauty of the pinnacle of this hilly terrain is worth visiting.Since, many of us were hungry, we started our trip downwards. Only few proceeded to the "Vichukata", rest moves towards the base.

Where to eat : We had a nice meal of zunka bhakar at the "Hotel Sai".It cost us 35 Rs. per plate. Also, they added a nice chutney made of mirchi(Chillis).It is the most spiciest thing you can eat.It was just yummy!!!We started munching one zunka after the other.Some had rice plate which included rice, dal and few chapatis and bhajis.All that to gulp it down with a nice lemon juice.After having our fill, we started our journey back.The journey back was a quick one.We clocked a mere 40 minutes on the way down.i.e to Bhaje village.We were the first group to reach the base.Soon, group by group started arriving at the base.All of us had tea at the stall.And then we started our journey back to Mumbai with a small detour planned along the way - Pawna lake.

Pawna Lake: It is an artificial lake formed by the Pawna Dam built across the Pawna River nearby Lonavala. The lake attracts many tourists due to its imposing natural ambience and cool climate.Beautiful, serene, usually used by corporates for holding team building events.

Journey : As you reach the Pune-Mumbai highway,by road, coming from Lohagad, take a left at Lonavala.You need to cross over the train lines and go by the parallel road on the other side tback owards Pune.Make sure to ask local people the route, as you need to take a right.It takes around 30 minutes to reach Pawna lake from Lonawala.After a few turns we were again in the country side (Lonavala is almost a city nowadays).Soon we could see the lake in the distant background, but reaching there seemed like forever.We were getting down to lower plains and the roads were spirally taking us down.Although they are one-way roads, if any big vehicle say a truck or a big car came towards  you, it meant slowing down and going on the side to allow the oncoming vehicle to pass by.Slowly, steadily we manage to reach the lake.There was a big parking place nearby, that's where we parked our 18-seater.We could hear noise of the boats from there..

What is there to see: Pawna lake offers natural beauty. Not only is the water clear, the time being dusk, it offered a spectacular view of the evening sun.Its the kind of place, you would lie down and do nothing, just gaze at the beautiful spectacle.But there is more to Pawna lake.It has a restaurant which offers all kinds of food.Its quite normal to find corporates organizing their team building events at Pawna.Infact we saw a huge delegation of officials holding their annual day there.Now for the boating - It offers two boating facilities - the group boating costing 30 Rs per seat. It took 8 of us at one time.Usually the boat ride lasts for 5-10 minutes which includes a circle around the little island which is seen from shore.The other boat ride is one for the more adventurous -  a speed boat ride. Costing at Rs. 80 per seat - its a 2 seater ride. and the ride lasts for 3-4 unforgettable minutes.Well, I won't go into more details here, its there for you to experience it.Just hold on when the boat operator turns side ways..!!!!

Return :We spent over an hour at Pawna lake, before moving on for our return jorney.Someone had informed our organizer that you do not have to get to Lonavala to get on the highway. There was an alternative route to Mumbai.After asking a few locals we were soon on our way back to Mumbai on the expressway.Overall it was well organized trip by Breakfree journeys -  there was a bit of history, hard work, great food, some adventure, serene breath taking scenes, lots of pictures.Hope this blog helps you on your trip to Lohagad..!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Arnala Fort & Jivdani Temple - How to go, places to visit, things to do

Jan 2,2010: Arnala, not to be confused with Karnala, was our choice of destination for this early Jan trip.In fact, we had a pretty good discussion, where to go, Arnala or Karnala? Karnala, of course, houses the famous Bird Santuary and the Karnala fort.But, we decided to go to Arnala, which was closer, and was quite a simple trip.

How to get there: Auto ride: Our plan was to explore the Arnala Fort island, which was near the Arnala beach.Virar.So, all of us met at the Virar Station, the west side of the station. Arnala beach is on the West.We all gathered around 11.00 am.Just near the main ticket entrance/auto stand.We took an auto from the autorickshaw stand.We were a group of 5.Its allowed in Virar, i.e. two on either side of the driver, and 3 behind.We asked him to take us to the beach.It cost us Rs.15 per head.It was not the most comfortable ride, especially for two of us, seated ahead.But, we knew it was just 20 minutes of struggle.Yeah,It took us around 20 minutes to reach the beach.
The ferry ride: The auto left us near the jetty.This is where, we get the ferry to the island.This was not the usual ferry ride in many ways, the kinda which you take while going to the Essel World.This was slightly different.It was not a big boat, but a very small one.Usually overcrowded, the entire boat moves, whenever anybody got in, or got out.It didn't dock at the jetty, but, right on the beach.So we needed to walk, towards the boat.The walk meant wading through, the lines of fishes, hanging for drying purposes.Arnala is strictly fishermen's beach,if you didn't know that.So don't be surprised, to see fish,find fish, & smell nothing but fish...Also, another point, the beach is full of human litter all over, so watch where you are stepping.I wasn't lucky though, unfortunately had to celebrate the new year by cutting a human cake..:( Luckily there was water around to clean up.So,finally, when we reached the boat, there was still one minor task to do, to get on the boat!!.The boat is usually a few meters in the sea, so you need to walk through the water.For some of us, who were unprepared, in jeans and shoes,this was uncalled for.They had to remove their shoes, pants, get into shorts and wade through the water.Make sure to keep loose things like keys,purse, money firmly in some bag, as one of us dropped his mobile in the water, while getting on the boat.Luckily, one of the local fisherman on the boat, spotted that, immediately started scouting through,everyone on the boat joining in."It's there..its there.." were the chants, still, there was no sign of it.We all knew, it was a loss,the guy who lost it, admitted, the only thing he needed were the numbers on the phone.And suddenly, eureka, the boy/helper on the boat, found the mobile!!!And everyone on the boat, exclaimed a sigh of relief.Although, each one had a few advices to give,advices like "remove the sim,remove the battery, keep it for drying." followed. The owner, our friend, was just too happy to get it back.The ride cost us Rs. 10. This was the price for return journey.It was going to be a 15 minutes ride to the Arnala Fort island. So much, for the adventure already,now,over to the island...

What is there to see : On our way: Just as geting on the boat, is an art in itself, so is getting out.So once, all of us got out, we were greeted, once again with lines of more fish.If you are planning to take this trip, you better  come prepared, to smell fish.After asking for guidance, to local fishermen, we found our way, which was pretty straight, through the small lane of the fishing village.On our way,we found a local shop, where we purchased some biscuits,water and some chips.For the fort,you need to just go straight along the lane.Nothing too confusing.You can always ask the local people.They are quite helpful.So helpful, that, one of them,assumed himself to be our travel guide, and was actually walking along with us, even joining with us for pictures..!!!After, we got to the fort, and got rid of him,(so much for being helpful,we city people are so ungrateful ;)just kiddin, we did thank him.

The fort, was not as we had expected it to be,it was not as huge, as other forts, which we had visited earlier,it was more like an out house, need to research further, was it really a fort after all, it looked more like an watch place.Still, it was big enough, almost as big as the Shivaji park, with boundaries all around.Don't know, how many of you, would agree with that description. We were greeted once, again with more fishes, actually, this fort is extensively being used by the local fishermen, for drying their fish.The fishes, which I presume are shrimps, of all sizes,were laid along the four walls of the fort with a very narrow, line, to walk along.These are walls of the fort, which you can see in the pictures.So our exploration of the fort, was only limited to walking along the four walls,and inside the fort.There were some odd staircases along the way, we did try and have a peek, by going in, but eventually chickened out, owing due the darkness.
The fort within Once, we got down, we moved towards, exploring the center of the fort, which included a temple and a mosque.The local people were busy washing clothes,near a well, which was right in the center of the fort.We moved towards, a large banyan tree.We relaxed under it, chated for some time.One of us had brought some dosas,all of us,enjoyed a quick bite.Banyan tree, meant vines hanging from it, which meant swings, made by the local kids.There were in fact, couple of swings created by tying the vines, few of us, tried their instincts, and gave a shot, at the swing.It was fun,very raw kind of fun, the kind of fun, you had, whenever, you visited your native place.There was no fear of breaking of the vines, they were really strong vines.Yeah, getting to push people around is a fun in itself, especially, if you push them towards the tree.;)
Soon, it was lunch time.we were told there was a resort on the island, only to find that, the resort was actually on the beach and not the island, this made us bring our fort/island exploration to an abrupt end.This ,somehow dissapointed me,as we could have explored some more places on the island,only to get on the ferry for our return journey.It was slightly confusing, where the resort actually was,That's when,the boat operator, told us there was a resort on the island,itself, and it was worth going, which dissapointed even further, as none of us, was ready to get down, i.e. before the boat started ;) So it was a journey back,again.Might have to come again,here,sometime,to explore other parts of this island.The boat, was thought, not to be plying during the noon hrs, but, we found, that's not the case, the ferry is available, even during the noon hrs, but with lesser frequency.

On reaching the beach, we were told, the resort is just too far, and not anywhere close.,which meant, we skipping that resort plan, and getting back to our base, i.e.Virar station.So around 2.30 pm, our trip ended abruptly, and we were on our way back. Learning curve: make sure to make some provisions for food, or explore on food options, before making any trip.
Return Journey : On our way, we decided, to eat at the hotel Shreya just opposite to the station.Also,seemingly dissapointed,as there was still time, we thought,how about, going to the famous temple of Jivdani ? The answer was unanimous...Why not???

Jivdani : After, having our food at the hotel,Shreya,its a purely vegetarian hotel,which served quite good food.We just mulled over, this sudden change of trip, which meant much better, than we had initially planned.Jivdani temple, of course, is the temple made for the goddess Maa Jivdani.The temple, also gives a pictureseque view of the Virar township.For some of us, this was our first trip to Jivdani.For more details on the temple and goddess Jivdaani click here

How to get there : For Jivdani temple, you need to go Virar, East,there are regular autos from there to the temple.It cost us, Rs. 5 per person.Again, five in the auto, 2 ahead.Actually, this  time, we got quite good at it.Traveling, by siting ahead,hanging by the auto comes naturally to us now.Within minutes, we were at the base of the hill.Jivdani temple, is situated on top of hill, if you didn't know that.Getting to the temple meant, climbing up the hill, which means climbing up more than a thousand steps.Well, not an easy task, for people, who have rarely been on any treking expeditions.Let's see how it went.

What is there to see :The first few steps of the climb, din't seem much to bother.It was quite easy.There are shops on both sides, selling pooja prasad,flowers and other puja offerings.You can buy them,there, or at the top, there are a lot of options.You can even keep your chappals at those shops, or at the shoe stand at the base, if you wish to make the climb bare foot.We made our trip with our chappals on.There is a railing, which at the centre of the staircase for the devotees, for support while climbing.Soon, after a climbing 100 steps, fatigue started showing.So we took a break for a breather.Its surprising,climbing steps tires you much quicker than any other activity like sports, running or even lifting weights.There are shops offering water and cool drinks and some eatables too.But, we stuck to just drinking water along the way..It was so tiring,, it was draining each one us, except for one.He looked quite fresh even after climbing the top.He had  done the smarter thing, instead of climbing a lot, he just stuck to walking a few steps and then taking a break."smart boy".There was quite a crowd along the way,same was the case for each of them, little climb, little break So, finally after 40 minutes of climbing, we reached the top of the hill.
After purchasing some offerings,and placing our chappals, at one of the shops,we were headed for the temple.The temple at the top had a further, staircase, which led you into the temple.There are signs everywhere.Right in the center, it was the goddess Jivdani,.There were other gods as well around.Its really,an enriching experience, after climbing so much, to pray at the temple.Almost a Vaishnavdevi kind of experience, a trip we wish to take some time in the future.There was one more storey, just to the  right side of the temple, where devotees can relax. It had some shops selling tea,some cold drinks.But, it was more for relaxing and enjoying the view.

Yes, the view from the top was absolutely breath taking, very surreal,very unlike any view anywhere near the city.It was almost a hill-station like feel to it.We spoted a very beautiful view of the township of Virar.But, the thing that disturbed us was the garbage, thrown there.The environmentalist witin our group, was really pissed at the sight.In his own words, "this is garbage which will not be recycled in a 100 years".Yes, it was all plastic. He quickly grabbed a camera, and clicked some pictures.What bothered him the most was, pollution in itself is wrong, that too so close to the temple is something very bad.When will we realize, this is going to hurt us in the long run.We agree, with our environmentalist. here.Soon, the sun started sinking, for the day, which us gave a fanastic view of the clouds and the rays of the sun.So it was time for some more pictures, and finally, we started our descent.

Return journey :The descent was easy, the breaks were lesser,and within no time, we reached the base.There was a Hanuman temple at the base, we prayed for a few minutes there, and after some account settling, we got into an auto, with six passengers this time.Dont ask me how was the ride. And with that, our trip ended.It was again, a sudden trip, made, changed along the way, which is quite normal.In the end, it ended well.As they say, "all's that well, ends well" or should we say.."aal izz well" ;) Have a good time at Jivdani and Arnala.Hope this was useful.