Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mumbai, Lonavala and Mahabaleshwar

This was an unplanned trip, my dear friend Ashwith had to collect his ‘Captains’ certificate from Mumbai and I thought of accompanying him and plan a trip to Lonavala, Khandala, Mahabaleshwar and Pune from there, instead of going to Lakshadweep as decided earlier. Ashish, Ashwith’s younger brother also decided to join us to make it the awesome threesome.

The trip started on high note, we took the jet airways flight at 7:00 AM from Bangalore to Mumbai. Reached by 9:30 and checked into the hotel “Dream Land” which we had booked through phone after seeing the ad in the internet. The room here surprised all of us, it had just enough space for the 3 people and considering the size of my two friends it would be technically correct to say that we just fit into the room. We were fine with room though, as we had no intention of staying in the room for too long anyway. We went in search of MMD (Mercantile Marine Department) and after a couple of rounds in the two square kilometer area we finally found the place in the Nav Bhavan building.

After confirming the availability of the certificate we were asked to come back to this place by 3:00 PM. We took a taxi to ‘Gateway of India’, the concrete gate erected to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary in 1911. This place is quite beautiful with the sea on one side and the very famous Taj hotel on the other. We took a few pictures, notably some with the pigeons, which are abundant here.

All the windows of Taj had pigeons perched on them, adding to the beauty of Taj. The place does not have any evidences left behind to indicate that this was the same hotel which was attacked by infamous terrorists, except may be for the extra policemen stationed here. We started walking and soon found a simple and good looking B&R and decided to have our lunch, Ashwith and I shared a bottle of beer and couple of glasses of Breezer. The close by street had a lot of roadside vendors selling ‘branded watches’ among other articles, they had all the major watches, most of them having slightly different spellings from the originals, I settled for a Tommy Hilfiger watch, spelt correctly, for 275 rupees mostly because of the interesting conversation we had with the Malayali vendor.

We went to collect the certificate by 3 and we were all seated in the common waiting room (actually an examination hall), most of the people there was formally dressed including Ashwith in contrast to the T-shirt and 3/4th shorts that I had worn, I sat a few seats behind to make sure that my appearance do not hinder his chances of getting the certificate sooner and probably because I could effectively utilize the waiting time by taking a small nap, luckily he got the certificate by 3:45 PM. We were deciding what to do next when Ashwith found that there very few things to see close to where we were staying, near the Victoria Terminus. He came up with the names of a fountain, Chowpati beach and necklace road or marine drive as the possible places to see. We took a taxi to the Chowpati beach, by now it had started drizzling, and the beach had very few visitors, we had Pav Bhaji and Pani Puri from one of the many shops here.

We covered almost the entire stretch of necklace road by foot over the neatly constructed stone pavement, lined with stone seats providing convenient options visitors to sit and talk freely. We went to the fountain next, and could not find anything of tourist importance there; we had dinner close to our hotel along with a drink each (except Ashish) before returning to our room.

We decided to take a train to Lonavala and got into the Bangalore bound Udyan express which left at 8:00, this was considered to be one of the faster trains, unfortunately we reached lonavala by 12:15 a good 90 minutes behind schedule, because of some unavoidable blockages. The scenery on the way to Lonavala was superb; it was wonderful to see the mountains covered in greenery and mist, its beauty enhanced by the soft drizzle providing it a fresh and clean look.

We had one of the most interesting discussions in the train, ranging from marriage and love to family and spiritualism. On the funny side it was great to know some people actually loved to make girls sit on their lap and pinch their cheeks. I could not avoid but let my imagination run wild, and laugh away thinking about this beautiful young bride sitting next to her husband, her cheeks swollen red with the constant pinching she was receiving, and involuntarily moving her cheeks away as soon her husband approaches her.

We took an auto and checked few hotels, including the MTDC hotel which we thought was a good place from the photos provided in the internet, in reality though this place was quite ordinary; finally we decided to take a room in a centrally located hotel with good looking room and even better looking restaurant with super ambience. We had a delicious lunch from this place along with our, now usual, two drinks.

The hotel also arranged a site seeing taxi to take us to Karla Caves, Khandala, Munshi dam and few other view points. The Karla caves looked ordinary for me after having seen the caves at Ellora and Ajantha, except the main entrance cave which was actually a prayer hall, with uncharacteristic columns of wood on the ceiling.

It was splendid with sculptures of faces on the huge stone pillars and huge central dome (dome like structure) with a provision for seating on top of it.
It is believed that if you pray and throw a coin to top of the dome and if it does not fall down then your prayers will be fulfilled. I tried and was successful in the third attempt, I am not sure what I prayed though as I was concentrating more on making sure the coin stays there. This place is not very well maintained and paths to some of the smaller caves, was literally not usable because of the stench of urine among other things and also the slippery state because of the rains.

The rain played spoilsport to what could have been a wonderful outing; most of the places we went to see were covered with mist, with very less visibility, the soft cold breeze also adding to our misery. We could not make out how different one view point was from the other, including the view from Khandala park.

The experience was quite unusual, the mist and cool breeze was providing a beautiful setting for the much sought after different experience, for which we actually were not prepared. All along the cab driver was happy it had started raining as it attracts more tourists to this place. Surprisingly what we had witnessed was the specialty of this place, which the visitors come to experience and enjoy, it was certainly was an experience, which we could not enjoy much, probably we were not equipped like some of the tourists we saw on our way.

We were back in our rooms by around 6:00 PM and after some rest went to buy the real specialty of this place, Chikkis. The streets were filled with huge shops selling Chikki’s, we also brought a lot of them from a shop called Maganlal’s, which looked like the most renowned vendor there with more than 3 shops in around 200 meter area.

Next morning we took a taxi to Pune, primarily to ensure that we travel on the famous express highway. The expressway was a good experience especially the scenery, the long dark tunnels and the fact that our taxi, an Indica was doing 140 Kms/hour with out much snag, a clear testimony to the supreme condition of the roads and safety precautions considered. I also noticed that apart from the Expressway the parallel main road between Mumbai and Pune was also in a very good condition.

We took the Asiad bus (I have no clue why it is named so) from Swargate bus stand in the outskirts of the town to our next destination Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani, which Nestles in the curvaceous mountain ranges of the Western ghats. Overlooking the Krishna and Koyna valleys, Mahabaleshwar, at an altitude of 1372 meters opens up a whole world of picturesque delight.
The 2 odd hour’s journey to Mahabaleshwar was beautiful, with mesmerizing view of the magnificent mountains, mist and small streams. We checked a couple of hotels recommended by the local guides near the bus stand and selected one at the center of the city, the hotel also arranged a cab for site seeing, which we started soon at about 3:30 PM.

The first destination was Old Mahabaleshwar to see a few old temples, which looked like the ones from China or atleast from the North East India with the mist adding a very unique touch to its looks, these were nice even though they were not too big and looked pretty ordinary if not for the mist.

The main temple was called Panchganga and water from five different rivers that is the Koyna, Krishna, Venna, Savitri and Gayatri join in this place, flowing to a small pond in the temple, giving it its name. We had a late and light lunch at about 4 PM at local place, although I do not remember what exactly we ate, I certainly remember it being very tasty.

We moved to Kates Point, Echo Point and Needles Hole (I am not 100% sure of the names) located in close proximity to each other, basically different views from the same hill in a kilometers radius.

The views were magnificent, with the mountains wrapped in the mist, guiding a cool breeze towards you sending a wave of freshness caressing your face and enriching you with unique sensations. I must admit that views were quite similar, thanks to the mist and drizzle.

The most interesting aspect of this place is the shops selling Strawberry and Ice creams, these shops take pride in exhibiting the photos of film stars who have visited them, and they had a great collection. It was like most of the Bollywood stars have visited this place one time or the other. The Ice cream with fresh strawberries, specialty of the place, was excellent, their taste embedding pleasant memories which will flood your mouth with water at the slightest recollection.

The next place we visited was the Lamington Plateau (again I am not sure of the name) which is good 2 kilometers trek from the road, through a remote and narrow path. There are guides in this place who will guide you to the plateau and other destination called Wilson’s Point, unfortunately no guide was interested to come with us because of the drizzle, so we traveled alone, with a not a soul in sight for long periods.

The plateau was beautiful right on top of the hill, providing you almost a 360 degree view of the surroundings, which unluckily for us was fully covered with mist, providing visibility of just a few meters. I must admit that although it deprived us some beautiful scenery it did provide us with unique opportunity to be covered in the thick mist enveloping us with the chillness, on a plateau on top of, one of the biggest hills of the area.

In the evening we had a long walk in the narrow streets of Mahabaleshwar town, which is lined with shops selling all kinds of things, we though did not buy anything of importance apart from the elephant train which I picked up for my son. Fortunately or should I say unfortunately all the wine shops in this place was closed for the day because of some local festival and we had to make ourselves comfortable in the cold and beautiful weather with out the good ‘spirits’.

Morning we took the bus to Pune, enjoying the beautiful scenery on the way. We reached Pune and settled ourlselves in the comfort of the hotel which was again recommended by an auto rickshaw driver. We were a feeling a little lazy and also a little confused as to what to do in Pune, One of the places we did not want to miss is a Mosque called Hazrat Quamer Ali Durvesh which was suggested by Ashwiths Dad. This place is famous because of a unique stone which can be lifted by finger tips of 11 people with relative ease. We took an auto to this place only to realize that it was almost on the way to Pune from Mahabaleshwar, with hardly a kilometer diversion inside to reach the Mosque. We had the luck to see the actual sight of the stone being lifted using only the index fingerstips of 11 faithful men. Believe it or not but it looked like miracle when the stone was lifted in a smooth motion and I did not feel anyone actually straining to lift the quite a large stone.

We did nothing in the morning and wasted time till we left to the railway station. The train journey was a nightmare as only one of our three seats/berths was confirmed, the train was full and we were desperately trying to get a couple more berths before the night.

Luckily for us the train had 3 births on the side, and the bookings were only for two berths as the railways had cancelled bookings for side middle berths because of the obvious complaints from the uncomfortable passengers. This was first time and probably the only time I thanked Lalu for introducing the stupid idea of side middle births, which actually is a real pain in the wrong place. We were allocated two of these middle births for a sum of 200 rupees which we paid to the ticket collector, and slept well to reach Bangalore in the morning. My sincere advice is to never travel on a waiting list ticket even if it is WL1 and 2, as it spoilt the experience of the train travel, the uncertainty of getting a birth and lack of dedicated seats for all of us, did not allow us to relax and enjoy the journey.

On the whole it was a wonderful trip with lots of beautiful moments and cherished memories, the hill stations in Maharashtra I felt is very different to the ones in South India, to which I have traveled extensively, the mist, the slight drizzle, the markets and the surroundings are different and is an unusual experience quite unlike the South. Incase you traveling to these places be prepared for the rain, as they say ‘chance favors the prepared mind’.

1 comment:

Mark said...

my my, this seemed like a great trip with the right bunch of travelling companions. I guess as they say "When in Rome, do like the Romans". I am saying this coz around 17 - 19 yrs back, I went on a road trip from Bangalore to Mumbai and we had to pass Pune. I remember reaching Pune with family and the misty air along with on - off drizzles continuously spraying in your face. Pune seemed and I guess still is a fantastic place to visit. We had halted for a quick lunch and gorged on delicious mutton curry. Wish I could spend more time there, but also Mumbai was the destination. So hats off Sunil on another completed great journey !