Friday, December 6, 2019

Fort 1: One day trek to Torna (Prachandagad)

Maharashtra is known as the Land of Forts and rightly so. You find numerous and all kinds of forts here - be it a hill fort, sea fort, land fort or watch towers  - you find them all in this one state.

'Fort' in English translates to ' Durg' in Sanskrit, which is derived from the word 'Durgamam' which means difficult to access. The Sahyadris' terrain, characterised by flat tops, precipitous inclines and surrounded by dense forests, are certainly difficult to access and hence were naturally suited for building forts.

Maharashtra has close to 350 forts nestled in the rugged Sahyadris. Almost every peak in this region of the Western ghats seems to have a fort! Many of these forts are still in good shape and almost all of them have a story to tell - A story of valour, sacrifice and undying love for one's motherland. These forts were the founding pillars of Shivaji's Hindavi Swaraj and are now a mute testimony to the glorious history of Marathas. The same forts, unfortunately, are a witness as well to the many battles and defeats inflicted by the British army that led to the downfall of the Maratha empire.

Now that I am in Pune, the hub of most fort treks in the Sahyadris, I am going to try and capture all my trekking experiences to these forts, on my blog.  The trekking season has begun and I hope to visit as many forts as possible before the season ends. I hope you enjoy reading my trekking experiences and get a peek as well into the glorious history of Maharashtra. 


I will begin my series from Torna, the firt fort to  be conquered by Shivaji to come under the fold of Hindavi Swaraj. Go on, read about it and enjoy.


Name: Torna (Also known as Prachandagad)
Height: 4603 feet/1403 metres above sea level
Trek Category: Medium-Difficult trek
Equipment required:  None but wear appropriate trekking shoes for this trek
Base Village: Velhe, 75 kms from Pune
Time to trek uphill: 2-3 hours
Where to stay: Staying overnight is possible at the Menghai devi temple on the fort or in self-pitched tents
Where to eat: Carry your own food & water
Best time to visit: November-February
Guide services - Not mandatory as the trekking path is quite straightforward and evident




Brief History of Torna:

Torna, the highest hill-fort in Pune district is situated at a height of 1403 metres above sea level. It is supposed to  be built by the Shaivaites somewhere around the 13th century and was earlier known as Prachandagad (Prachanda = Massive; Gad = Fort) due to its massive area.

It is also the first ever fort to be captured by Shivaji Maharaj in his quest of Swarajya. In 1646, Shivaji captured this fort at a tender age of 16 and renamed it as Torna after the Tornajai devi temple near the main entrance of the fort. He is said to have found a hidden treasure near the Kothi darwaza of this fort during an excavation and he used this wealth  for the restoration of this fort and also to build the majestic Rajgad nearby.


The majestic hill fort of Torna


Getting to Torna from Pune:

Torna is situated just 75 kms southwest of  Pune along the Mumbai-Bangalore Highway (NH 48). After an approximate 45 kms of ride towards Bangalore , one will come across Narsapur phata where one has to turn right and reach Velhe village, which is the base of the fort. Please be on the lookout for this phata as it can be easily overlooked.

The road conditions are good in most parts and manageable in a few patches :) Public /State Transport buses also ply between Pune to Velhe. Local jeeps/taxis are also available between Velhe and Narsapur phata.


Parking: 

Parking is available in plenty at the base of the fort. Vehicles can be parked either:
1) near the local police station in Velhe, or
2) a little further along the road to the fort uphill (which saves 1-1.5 hours of uphill walk in the trek)

Food & Toilet Facilities:

Food options are limited at Velhe and more so on the route towards the fort. There are a few shacks selling buttermilk and nimbu paani (lemon juice) along the way uphill but absolutely no food. On the top of the fort, there was a man selling bhel to the trekkers but that too is not guaranteed on an every time basis. Such food vendors, as I gathered, are discouraged as they tend to generate litter on the fort. There is also no reliable source of potable water on the top of the fort. There are a few carved water tanks/cisterns on the fort but it is better to carry your own drinking water.

The nimbu-paani shack along the route


Please remember to carry some nutritious food and at least 2 litres of water per person before you embark on this trek.


There are obviously no toilets on the way to the fort and even on the fort. One has to answer the call of nature amidst nature itself :)


The Trek:

The trek is slightly arduous and comes under the "Medium Difficult" Category. It takes around 2.5-3 hours from Velhe and 1.5-2 hours from the 2nd parking lot to the fort. The road continuously takes one uphill along a mud path strewn with loose stones and some seriously steep, rocky patches.

It is recommended to wear appropriate trekking shoes with a good grip to climb this particular fort. This path get too slippery during the monsoons and this trek is best avoided during the monsoons, especially, if you are trekking with young children.

The route to the top


The trek offers some spectacular views as we ramble along the path. The backwaters of the Chapet Dam and the beauty of the undulating Western ghats give us several excuses to slow down and heave in our puffing breaths. Once we complete around half the trek, the rocky patches begin. Railings are provided in these patches for support where we literally have to propel our bodies upward using all our 4 limbs and get a strong foothold at every step lest we slip down. The railings are really needed to cross these rocky patches. A big 'thank you' to whoever thought of installing them...






Exploring the fort:

Once we get through these rocky patches, we leave the railings behind and enter the fort through the Bini Darwaza. Just further ahead, lies the main entrance, also known as the Kothi Darwaza. The Tornajai devi temple is situated just behind this main darwaza.



Kothi Darwaza




As we further enter the fort premises, we are welcomed by the strong fortification walls (tatabandi in marathi) all still intact around the fort. There is a bhagwa (saffron) flag fluttering across one of the water tanks in front of the Zunjar machi. These flags are hoisted across most forts in Maharashtra to honour the legendary king Shivaji.

Look at the expanse of the walls inside the fort


There are two main machis on this fort, namely the Zunzar and the Budhala Machi. Zunzar means courageous and Budhala stands for aA machi is a fortified plateau which was used for settlement or patrolling. To get to the Zunzar machi, one has to climb down a ladder to get to the plateau and trek to the machi.

Zunjar machi


Budhala machi is on the way to the Mengai devi temple on the west side of the fort. It stretches between Torna and the neighbouring Rajgad. The Konkan darwaza is near this machi. There is another Shiva temple, the Mahadev temple of Torneshwar, in ruins near the Mengai devi temple. The remains of a Nandi and the base of a shivalinga is all that remains of the temple now.

Menghai devi temple




One can leisurely explore the fort by walking along its ramparts and descending down to get to the machis. It takes around 2-3 hours to explore the entire fort.

One has to be careful while descending the fort as even though it might seem easy for an amateur trekker, but in fact one has to be more careful to avoid slipping on the inclines.




Staying overnight on the fort:

The Mengai devi temple is the best place to stay overnight. With proper doors and windows, it can be locked from inside for a good night's sleep. Alternatively, one can carry our own tents and pitch it ton the fort there.

The entire trek including the ascent, exploration and descent, can be completed in 6-7 hours and is usually done in a day. There is no need to stay overnight unless you are doing a circuitous trek from Rajgad to Torna and further along.

Happy trekking!


Request: Please keep the trekking route, fort and its premises clean. Please do not litter or play loud music. Kindly let us all contribute to keep these heritage sites clean and in good condition. 










Raw Papaya Subzi (Peeth Perun Papaya Bhaaji)

Raw Papaya Subzi





I cooked an amazing subzi which I had tasted almost a decade ago at one of our aunt's house in California. She had asked me to guess the vegetable and I couldn't - for I had never eaten it as a subzi before then. She had made RAW PAPAYA ki subzi in a Maharashtrian/Gujarati style.
One of the prime reasons for making this subzi today is that I had a couple of raw papayas hanging in my garden that stubbornly refused to ripe. So brought one of them under my knife today ;)
I tried to remember our aunt's recipe and tweaked the recipe a bit as well while cooking. Luckily, it has turned out quite nice. Lately, raw papaya has been in the news for all its nutritional benefits. But to be honest, I don't bother about the specifics. Just knowing that it is a healthy and a tasty vegetable prompted me to go ahead with the preparation. Here is the recipe:


Ingredients:

Raw Papaya - 250 gms,  Peeled and chopped into small pieces
Besan - 3 to 4 tbsp
Oil - 2 tbsp or little more as required
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Jeera - 0.5 tsp
Hing - a pinch
Turmeric powder - 0.5 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Green chilly - 1, finely chopped (Optional)
Curry leaves - 8to 10
Dhaniya powder - 1 tbsp
Jeera powder - 1 tsp
Water - 1to 2 tbsp (Optional)
Salt - to taste

Method:

Heat the oil in a kadai and temper it with mustard seeds, jeera and hing. Once the tempering starts spluttering, add the curry leaves followed by the chopped papaya. Mix it well and allow it to cook partially by covering the kadai with a lid.

In some 5 minutes, add the remaining spices of chilli powder, turmeric powder, dhaniya powder and jeera powder along with some salt and give it a stir. Again, cover it and cook it till the papaya cubes are almost done.

Now, add the besan to the kadai and mix it well. Add salt as per taste and cook for another 3-4 minutes till the besan gets cooked. The subzi might turn out to be a bit dry. So if you wish, you can add little water at this stage to make it a bit mushy/wet so that it goes well with chapatis.

That's it! The papaya is ready to be devoured :)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Hua Hin - Amazing retreat near Bangkok

Hua Hin:

'Hua Hin' - heard of this place before?

Well, I had not. I thought we were going to Phuket this time as we had already covered Krabi and Chiang Mail  on our last trip here. But my husband pointed out that this is where we were headed to, to kickstart our vacation in Thailand.

Hua Hin is a seaside resort town just 3 hours away from Bangkok and therefore a very popular weekend destination for the Bangkokians.  We spent 4 days in this idyllic town at Hyatt Regency Resort catching up on the lost art of relaxing :) An ideal break from the daily grind of our lives, especially, after kind of starting all over again, by moving to Pune. We had planned for a packed itinerary in Bangkok after Hua Hin and so this was our place to rejuvenate for the tight trip ahead.


A bit about our Resort:

The Hyatt Regency Resort is a perfect place for relaxation along the sea. Impeccably maintained, it has a positive vibe to it. Immaculate lawns, sculptured fountains,  a family pool extending along the rooms of the resort replete with a water slide, lend it an serene aura. The ocean view with the lashing waves adds manifold to the beauty of the resort.

It has three restaurants on its grounds serving delicious dishes to satiate our hunger pangs. - A casual pool side restaurant and bar (You & Mee) providing the light bites while relaxing in the pool. An authentic Thai restaurant (Talay Thai) serving delicious meals in a relaxed setting where one can even sit cross-legged; and an European restaurant (McFarland House) situated across the Barai resort (sister-resort) near the kids club.






I spent hours by the pool munching on snacks taking in the views of the vast ocean before me. (Yes, I prefer to be by the pool rather than in the pool ;) My husband and son; however, love water and are swimming afficionados). Kindle in hand, I happily finished a couple of books by Priti Shenoy. I have  started liking the author with her realistic and quite relatable style of writing.





The resort was partly under renovation near the reception area but it hardly mattered as the site was well concealed and quiet.  We were set up in a cozy and spacious room across the pool with complimentary supply of water, fruits and some fruity tidbits.

The reception hosted my son's favourite game of foosball. My son is too good at the game and I had to maintain a smile on my face inspite of losing game after game to him in a row :(  In a way it was desirable that I lose or  I would have had to face the wrath of my son otherwise! We also regaled ourselves playing lawn tennis and football on the resort grounds to burn off our extra calories which one invariably puts on during such gluttonous vacations.


Sightseeing in Hua Hin:

Hua Hin has a few sight seeing places around it - namely the 20th century beach-front royal palace, an elephant park and a few temples. Bangkok too has plenty of these and many more. Hence we decided to skip the exploration here and just hang around at the resort. If anyone is interested in what Hua Hin has to offer, they can check it out at: https://www.tripadvisor.in/Attractions-g297922-Activities-Hua_Hin_Prachuap_Khiri_Khan_Province.html


Cicada Night Market:

The famous Cicada night market of Hua Hin is just a minute's walk from the resort and is a delightful place to spend one's time. It had all kinds of shops displaying various arts, crafts, clothing, decor, entertainment, and of course a variety of delicious food items to try. They are open every Friday-to-Sunday between 4pm to 11pm.













Shopping Malls & Food Options:

Shopping is better done at Bangkok with all the options of malls and weekend markets there. It is also easier that way too lug your goods from Bangkok to the airport while on the return journey back home. But then who can resist the urge to splurge a bit when you are in Shopper's Paradise!


We had been to a couple of malls near the resort: 1) Market Village and 2) Bluport

where we shopped  at Miniso , a Chinese low-cost variety retailer and at Uniqlo, the reliable Japanese fashion clothing brand. It was fun to explore these places and do some window shopping as well. The malls also housed some popular eating joints like the The Pizza Company which had some delicious vegetarian pizzas on their menu.






Although we ate in mostly at the resort, we also tried a good Indian restaurant by the name - Kwality Indian Restaurant nearby, run by a Punjabi family. The food was homely and quite delicious. The owner and his wife took great care to cater to our requirements of taste and spice and were quite affable.  They do deliver food at your hotel/resort as well at a charge of THB 100.


Transport:

The resort provided shuttle service at specific times from the resort upto the Clock Tower of Hua Hin at 50 THB per person each way. Tuk-tuks are also available which charge THB 150 for a small ride one-way. The costs are a bit on the higher side but there are always other options. :)

We later rented a two-wheeler for our occasional outing at THB 250 for a day. Not that we saved much but it definitely added to our convenience.

There are public transport buses/trucks available as well to commute within the town and to-and-fro from the airport as well at a reasonably cheaper rate. We did not explore these options though.


Massage in Hua Hin:

Thailand is famous for its massages and arguably so, because they offer world-class massages at nominal prices. I do not understand the finer nuances of the massage but I do know that I and my family love the sheer varieties of massage on offer here.

Chillax Health Massage - One of the better rated massage spas at Hua Hin at nominal rates. I opted for the feet-legs-head massage for 90 minutes to soothe my sore muscles after a rigorous session of Suryanamaskars in the morning ;)

The masseuse was so good that I fell asleep while she was at her work. My son who was next to me in the same cubicle, also enjoyed his dose of health massage, giggling half the time.

Totally recommend this massage spa if you want to experience a good massage, the Thai way. Prior reservations are required as they are quite popular.  https://chillaxmassagehuahin.business.site/.

We loved our stay at Hua Hin.  An ideal place to visit if you do not want to travel extensively from Bangkok and yet experience the sea. 



Saturday, November 9, 2019

Upperi (raw banana chips)



Made upperi today after a long long time. They are nothing but fried raw banana chips simply marinated with haldi, chilli powder and some salt. I added some rawa today to get that crispy texture. 

Upperi was always prepared in our house on festive ocassions. I remember my avva (grandma) slicing the bananas and dipping them in turmeric water to prevent them from turning black. The thinner you slice the bananas, the crisper you get the upperis. There used to be a tussle between the family members as to who gets the crisper ones served on their plate. However, I always preferred the softer ones which are cut thick. No tantrums ;) 

A simple, nutritious raw banana preparation associated with memories galore...do try making upperi at home. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Do you know the magic ingredient to be added to Turmeric milk ?




Down with cold, cough or a sore throat ??? Have a cup of warm turmeric milk and you will get going :) This is how an average Indian has been brought up since his or her childhood. Turmeric is an ancient Indian spice and Turmeric milk or haldi ka doodh has been a typical home remedy in almost all Indian households for generations now.

Be it an infection, fever or a deep wound, this golden drink has been given to us by our grandmoms and moms for time immemorial as a medicine or as a supplement to the modern medicines and antibiotics....and I am sure, we would continue doing the same for our future generations as well.

Turmeric or more importantly, its active component curcumin, has tremendous, clinically proven, medicinal benefits. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent with no side effects. If you wish to know its properties in more detail, then please visit this link: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-turmeric#section9

So our civilization from ancient times has always known that turmeric milk is a golden drink for our health in many ways but do we know the right method of preparing this golden concoction? Do we know the magic ingredient needed along with turmeric to make this drink effective? 

Curcumin, the active ingredient of turmeric, unfortunately is not easily bioavailable; which means it is poorly absorbed in our bloodstream. To overcome this bioavailabilty issue, black pepper is used as a supplement in curcumin supplements. Black pepper contains a natural substance by the name Piperine, which enhances the curcumin absorption by almost 2000%. Hence it is advised that pepper be added to turmeric preparations...so now you know that Pepper (black or white) is that magic ingredient :)


Recipe:

Milk - 2 cups
Turmeric powder -  3/4th  to 1 teaspoon
A dash of black pepper ( I use freshly ground pepper)
A pinch of saffron
1/4 to 1/2 tsp of cardamom powder
Sugar or jaggery powder to taste - around 2 tsp

Tip: It is recommended that we use an inch-long turmeric stick for the above recipe and crush it coarsely using a mortar-pestle rather than using its ground powder. The grinding process which generates heat destroys the medicinal properties of turmeric.

Warm the milk on a gas stove and then add all the other ingredients. Allow it to boil on a low flame for 3-5 minutes. Strain it and enjoy the drink warm.







Monday, September 16, 2019

Saaru (Rasam)

This is a recipe straight from my grandmother's kitchen. We use this recipe to make 'tili saaru'. Tili means watery....water taken by settling the boiled toor dal.

When the toor dal is cooked and mashed, add water to the bowl and let it rest. The water on the top is then used to make saaru and is very nutritious. Saaru is a good appetizer and can be had as a soup or as an accompaniment with rice.





Saaru powder:

1.25 cup - coriander seeds
0.5 cup - Jeera
0.5 cup - Whole black peppercorns
2 tsp - Chana dal
1-1.5 cup - red chilli powder ( to be mixed at the end)


Dry roast all the above ingredients and grind it to a fine powder. Add the chilli powder and mix it well. This powder stays good for many months and can be made in huge batches depending on your consumption.



Tomato Saaru/Rasam:

2 cups - water/water from the dal
2 big ripe tomatoes - blanched, peeled and made into a paste
2-2.5 tbsp - Saaru powder
Turmeric powder - 1/2 tsp
Salt - to taste
1 tbsp - chopped coriander leaves
Tamarind juice - 2-3 tbsp. Optional. Can be used if not using tomatoes or if you want to increase the sourness quotient
Jaggery - a small lump - Optional


For the tempering:

Oil/ghee - 1 tbsp
1 tsp - mustard seeds
1 tsp- jeera seeds (optional)
A sprig of curry leaves
Broken dry red chillies - 1 or 2 (optional)
Hing - a pinch
Garlic- crushed and chopped - 1 tsp - Optional. Nowadays, I have started adding garlic to the tadka as my husband likes it.

Boil the water in a deep vessel. Add the tomato paste, turmeric powder, saaru powder and salt. Allow it to boil nicely for a good 5 minutes or so. Boiling it well helps impart the flavours into the broth.

Meanwhile, prepare the tempering or the tadka in a small pan. When the saaru is boiled and done. Switch off the gas and add the tempering and the coriander leaves to the saaru.

The saaru is ready to be eaten with soft, hot rice and a dollop of ghee. Mix it well with your fingers to enjoy it the traditional way.









Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Ratalyache Kees






I always try and buy sweet potato even though it is not a favorite in my house. Reason? Just because it is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals :) 

Now, one lone, big tuber of sweet potato was lying on my shelf for more than a week now. As usual, I googled up recipes to make it an more interesting eat. The very first recipe  that popped up was that of ratalyache kees (a recipe using grated, boiled sweet potato). I remember my grandmother making it occasionally on her fasting days. 
The recipe is very simple almost like that of sabudana khichdi and is a upvasachi recipe (fasting recipe). Fasts were definitely kept so that we could eat nutritious food time and again and also to break the monotony of our everyday meals.

The recipe is a keeper for a quick-fix and can be made using our plain good, old potatoes as well!

1.5 cups grated, boiled sweet potato
1 or more chopped green chilly - as per taste
2 -3 tbsp ghee
1 tsp jeera
2-3 tbsp peanut powder
Salt - to taste
a dash of lemon (optional)
Sugar - 1 tsp (optional) - I did not use it
coriander leaves - to garnish

Heat ghee in a kadhai and add jeera. Once the jeera starts spluttering, add the chopped chillies and fry it for a few seconds till the flavours seep in the ghee. Then, add grated potato, salt and mix it well. To this add the peanut powder, coriander leaves, lemon juice and again give it a stir. The kees is ready!