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 on the trek - Not required 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...


Backwaters of the Chapet Dam




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. The neighbouring Rajgad and even the distant Sinhagad can be seen from this fort on a clear day.

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.


Towards Binicha Darwaza


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 on 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!


Monday, August 12, 2019

Bhaja Caves - Grandeur of the Past

Bhaja - Facade

It was a rainy Sunday of August in Pune and we were really tired of sitting indoors weekend after weekend.  On the spur of the moment, we decided to drive down to Bhaja Caves near Malavli, some 48 kms from our house. We were not sure of how the traffic along the Mumbai-Pune expressway would be, nor were we optimistic about the weather in Malavli. Still, we decided to step out and I am glad we did; for we thoroughly enjoyed our short outing in the rains amidst the breathtaking greenery and numerous rippling waterfalls all along our route.

Tip: Onwards, we took the Old Mumbai-Pune Highway as the Google Maps guided us and while returning, we took the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Driving on the Expressway was a treat that Sunday with absolutely minimal traffic and gorgeous views all around us!

In little more than an hour, we reached our destination some 2 kms from Malavli railway station. We paid an entry charge of Rs 5 per person to enter the premises. A small parking area for around 10 vehicles was right next to the toll collection point and free.

There are about 150 steps to climb the 400 feet to the caves. The rains had created numerous rivulets and falls along the steps which made the climb a breeze. The view below from the top too was awe-inspiring. Monsoons had carpeted the land lush green below. The rice fields, temples and red-tiled houses set against the Sahyadris were a treat to the eyes.

The Village Below


The History of Bhaja Caves

Bhaja Caves is a group of 22 rock-cut caves situated 400 feet above the village of Bhaja near Lonavala. They date back to the 2nd century BC and the viharas  (rock-cut caves usually provided with a stone bed) were homes to the monks  and places of rest for the weary travellers and traders who used the ancient route between the Arabian sea to the Deccan plateau. The protected monument belongs to the Hinayana sect of Buddhism. The prominent amongst the excavations is the chaityagriha (a prayer hall), housing the stupa with a vaulted horseshoe ceiling with wooden beams covering the dome.  Records indicate that the earlier chaityas were built using wooden beams and later replaced with stone structures. The wooden beams  here at Bhaja seem to be propped up by stone pillars beneath it.

The chaityagriha is one of the earliest of its type and is found to be at least 2200 years old! These caves are renowned for their wooden architecture. The findings of a percussion instrument in the carvings here point to the fact that drums or tabla were in vogue those days and women were quite adept at playing it.

Chaityagriha


Stupas

There are about 14 stupas in the complex with 5 inside the chambers and 9 outside. Stupas are Buddhist shrine containing relics of monks who stayed and died at the very place.  They are places of religious ceremonies and prayers. Some stupas have inscriptions on them revealing the names of the monks and their titles.

Stupas outside the chambers


As we move towards the last cave, we were greeted by a cascading waterfall and the view of a fort (may be Lohagad, Visapur?) beyond it.



Viharas next to the Chaityagriha
More Viharas and the obscure fort beyond in the clouds...



Tip: A couple of hours at least are required to climb up the steps and enjoy these ancient caves. Did not see any guides at the ticket counter; however, one can enquire if one is really interested. The entrance fee is Rs 25 per person for an Indian national


There are no major hotels or restaurants in the vicinity of the steps. However, there are plenty of fast food shacks, bhutte wala and tea tapris to satiate your hunger, if you should feel famished after the small hike.

So, the next time you are in and around Lonavala, don't forget to pay a visit to these caves. They are worth your time for sure :)









Monday, July 8, 2019

Mahabaleshwar - The Queen of Sahyadris



Our journey onwards from Konkan...

We continued our trip through Konkan to Mahabaleshwar. While the Konkan stretch of our journey was all about tranquil beaches, heritage sites and home-style food; Mahabaleshwar was all about the breathtaking landscapes in the Sahyadris.

We reached Mahabaleshwar from Guhagar in under 4 hours. The road conditions were broadly good but a good part of the stretch was under construction for road widening. Nevertheless, once we hit the ghats, the Sahyadris mesmerized us with its sheer expanse and volcanic rocks. I was too excited to be back to the hillstation which I visited once with my parents as a kid.

Reaching Mahabaleshwar, we checked into Le Meridian and put our feet up for the remainder of the day enjoying the amenities of the resort.The temperatures dropped drastically after sunset and made us pull out our jackets. The verdant chilly weather was a perfect ode to the festivities of the Christmas season. We wound up the day with a nice and warm dinner at an in-house restaurant.


@ Le Meridian - Enjoying the Christmas Decor


We already had chalked our plans  for the next 3 days of our stay there.  Two to three days is a good enough time to explore this hill station. There are so many places of interest on this single hill station that there is never a dearth of things to do atop this verdant mountain. Scenic vistas, age-old temples, Venna lake, the busy local bazaar, fresh, luscious strawberries, Asia's second largest tableland in Panchagani, adventure sports like paragliding, parasailing, trekking and many more. You name it and this place offers it all.


@ Pratapgad:

I am a big history buff and was longing to tick off our trip with a visit to this historic fort. So we started driving towards Pratapgad at around 9 in the morning,  stopping on the way to pick some farm-fresh strawberries from a roadside vendor. There are a quite a few strawberry farms on the way  with the farmers selling their fresh produce to  the passers-by. Strawberries are the local produce of this region and is found in abundance here.

We hired a guide at the base of the fort and set forth to refresh our history lessons. Pratapgad literally translated as the Fort of Valour, is one of the must-see places around Mahabaleshwar which stands a testimony to the courage and determination of Shivaji Maharaj. Shivaji had disemboweled Afzal Khan with his wagh nakh (tiger claws) on this historic fort and had vanquished the threat to his pursuit of Hindavi Swaraj.


The entry door to the fort


One of the numerous buruz(s)


The Bhavani Mata temple in the fort was built by Shivaji in the 17th century. The ashtabhuja (eight-handed) idol of Goddess Bhavani, draped in a saree, graces the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. Alongside it, is the legendary sword of Kanhoji Jedhe, Shivaji's captain, who single-handedly killed 600 soldiers of Afzal Khan in the battle of Pratapgad.

Afzal Buruz



Shivaji had ordered a dargah to be built at the fort, known as Afzal Buruz. The fort has two parts to it, namely the lower and the upper fort. The upper fort housed a number of important building including the Mahadev temple. The royal court used to be held right in front of this temple so that no would dare to lie in such a holy place. The fort is still owned by a scion of the Maratha empire and is a popular tourist spot, being just 24 kms from Mahabaleshwar.

It took us a little under 4 hours to explore the fort and have a leisurely lunch at the restaurants/dhabas inside. Lunch was fabulous with a healthy, rustic spread of pithala, bhakri, bharit and thecha. Oh god! It was truly spicy yet quite a gastronomic experience.


The spicy and rustic (and super healthy too!) lunch at Pratapgad


Tip: Try and visit this fort in the morning hours for it gets really crowded in the afternoon.


The lively Market Road


@ Local Market:

In the evening we visited the local market to check out the local fare. It was a big, long street, hustling with tourists, numerous restaurants and eateries on the side and yet very very clean. This is something which really impressed me there - everything in Mahabaleshwar was spectacularly clean and maintained. :) The entire place just became all the more inviting with its crowded, yet clean surroundings. At the end of the day, we ended up buying a few funky ear warmers, some lovely, gooey fudge and again more strawberries ;)

The ubiquitious Strawberry vendor


The must-try dessert of Strawberry n Creme'

Tip: Do try the Strawberry Cream dessert here at the local market!





@ Panchagani Plateau:


Panchgani Tableland

The drive to Panchgani plateau took us an hour from our resort. On the way, we stopped at Mapro Gardens and ended up buying lots of flavoured syrups, strawberry crush, honey, jams, etc. The place houses a restaurant as well and has good arrangement for parking with all the crowds thronging in there.  Breakfast options are plenty here. The Vitthal Kamath restaurant opposite too is a crowd puller.


@ Mapro Gardens



Resuming our ride, we stopped just short of the tableland at a point named Parsi Point.  We were glad that we decided to stop there as it is really popular scenic point with amazing views of the Krishna valley and Dhom dam. It has a small temple within its premises adjoining a games area. Not to mention the food vendors out there who were doing a brisk business with all the tourists vying for their quick service.


The fruit vendor @ Parsi Point


Finally, with all our stops in between, we reached the tableland, Asia's 2nd  highest plateau after the Tibet plateau. It has an astonishingly flat volcanic surface nestled amidst five surrounding hills. That's how it gets its name - Panchgani. One can easily spend a couple of hours on the tableland. Horse riding is a very popular tourist activity there. A visit to the caves situated under the tableland is also interesting. All in all, it makes for a nice walk around the place taking in the scenic views of the Deccan plateau.





Tip: Enjoy horse riding on the plateau and do stop at the Parsi Point to take in the scenic views.


Venna Lake 

On our way back, we stopped enroute our hotel at Venna Lake. The evening around the lake was bustling with enthused crowds queuing up for the boat rides and horse riding.  We indulged in some gaming activities for a while like shooting balloons and ring toss and then diverted all our energies on gorging on delicious corn pattices and pav bhaji!

Tip: Do not miss the corn pattice there for anything else in the world! 



@ Old Mahabaleshwar:

Our last day in Mahabaleshwar was spent exploring the local temples and view points in Old Mahabaleshwar also known as Kshetra Mahabaleshwar. Photography was not allowed inside the temple premises. So there are no photographs to capture our moments but the memories are still fresh in our minds. We visited the Mahabaleshwar temple, an ancient temple where the shivling is in the form of a rudraksha. It is a well-preserved temple said to be more than 400 years old. The hill station owes its name to this very temple. The Panchganga temple in the vicinity, as its name suggests, is said to be situated at the confluence of five rivers - namely, Gayatri, Savitri, Krishna, Venna and Koyna.

Both the temples were well-maintained with ample of shopping and eating stalls lined up on the way to it. It was a serene experience visiting the temples inspite of the thronging crowds. The Kshetra Mahabaleshwar with all its positive vibes, is a lovely religious place to visit.

With half a day still left, we decided to visit a few popular view points of Mahabaleshwar and ended up visiting Arthur's Seat and Tiger's Spring. Arthur's Seat is said to be the place from where Sir Arthur, a British officer, used to stare at the mighty Savitri river which drowned his wife and daughter. Inspite of the tragedy, the point does offer a scene to behold.

Tiger's Spring is a natural, thermal spring near river Savitri. It is a 10 minutes walk from Arthur's point. The water is claimed to have spiritual powers. We did not try drinking it though. :) There are many points in the vicinity which could be reached by walking some distance. However, we decided to skip them as it was getting very crowded with queues of cars piling up on the narrow roads.
We got lucky by a few minutes to avoid the long, serpentine car queue in either directions and could escape the mad rush!

Mahabaleshwar can get really crowded during holidays, especially because of its proximity to Mumbai and Pune. Excess crowds can be a  disappointer; however, it is a gem of hill station in the Sahyadris, to be visited at least once in your lifetime.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Roadtrip to Konkan

Our December vacation was a road trip from Bangalore to Maharashtra and back. Yes! we always wanted to do a road trip in our Bimmer.  This trip was not only about enjoying the car but the joy of exploring an unknown territory spread out all around us, prompted us to go ahead. Additionally, having our car handy all the time was a real boon in an area like Konkan.

Who says it is always the destination which counts! Sometimes the journey too can be as interesting, if not more, as the destination :) This road trip was beckoning us to explore the ever changing landscape as we passed along the Karnataka-Maharashtra border. As we kept on driving, not only the topography and natural landscape changed but also we witnessed a perceptible change in the social and cultural landscape - the farmlands, the type of crops, the small villages along the way, the local dress of the village folks, the temple structure, the local houses  - everything kept changing as we cruised along. Not only that, but to our good fortune, the food too changed flavours and texture as we entered Maharastra. Experiencing this firsthand was possible only because of the road trip that we took, which was a gorgeous, no-hassle drive with good roads and service throughout.

This is the route we took when we started from North Bangalore:

Bangalore-Mangalore Highway (NH75) --> NH48. Continue on NH48 for almost all of the 7-8 hour drive --> Belgaum

We stayed overnight at Belgaum before proceeding to Konkan coast the next morning. Our itinerary was planned to the hilt but we had to change it last minute to accomodate some unwanted events - which I can, however, call a blessing in disguise :)

Itinerary

1) Drive from Belgaum to Ganapatipule in Konkan and make that our base for the next 3 days. 

2) That was to be followed by driving to Dapoli, some 4 hours away up north and spending another 2 days there.

No, we couldn't reach Dapoli at all as our car experienced a burst tire in the middle of a jungle while we were on our way. However, we could drive for more than 40 minutes in that situation  (thanks to tubeless tires!) to the nearest Shringartali village, where a car garage helped us assess the situation and change our plan. So deciding against driving to our hotel in Dapoli, which was another 65 kms away, we decided to check in at the nearby resort -Mango Village in Guhagar.

3) Finally, we had planned to spend our last leg of the vacation in Mahabaleshwar, a picturesque hillstation in the Sahyadris, before returning to Bangalore and Home Sweet Home!



Ganapatipule:

This little seaside village got its name due to the popular Ganapati Swayambhu temple, which is situated right next to its beach. It's basically a small little temple town boasting of gorgeous beaches, a Prachin Konkan museum and awesome authentic food. There are breathtaking views and beaches at every 5 min drive from the main part of the town. Ganapatipule beach, Aarey Waare Beach, Malgund beach are all beauties with white sandy stretches spreading across miles.

Aarey Waare Beach from the road

Another secluded beauty!

My son's sand art @ Ganapatipule Beach

The beaches are no doubt gorgeous but what we loved the most in Ganapatipule was the local Brahmani thali and the fresh snack items found in almost all eateries all throughout the day! Bhau Joshi Bhojanalay and Mehendela's Swad Dining are two such eateries which literally served mindblowing authentic fare. Take a look for yourself 😋😋😋

@ a roadside khanaval (dhaba) on the way to Ganapatipule - clockwise from left- methi chi bhaaji, batatyachi bhaaji, varan, koshimbir, ghadichi poli, papad, lonche (unlimited and fresh-off the stove fare)

@ Bhau Joshi Bhojanalay in Ganapatipule - Solkadhi (drink)  and aamras in the vaati - clockwise from left- pithala, sreekhand, bhendi chi bhaaji, poli

@ Mehendale's Swaad Dining - clockwise from left - Modak, bhopla mirchichi peeth perun bhaaji, koshimbir, papad, lonche, thecha, varan, kalya vatanyachi usal, dahi, poli and aamrakhand.


I can safely say that Ganapatipule was a culinary destination for us more than a sightseeing destination. We ate and ate and in between did a quick day trip to the nearby Ratnagiri as well 😁 . Visiting Tilak Ali Museum, the birthplace of Lokmanya Tilak and the Ratnagiri fort, is time well spent. The town is also a good place to shop for all the Alphonso mango preserves like aamras, aam papad, aamba burfi, dry chutneys, kokum agal and syrups.


Tilak Ali Museum (The word 'Ali' stands for a narrow lane in Marathi). The house is situated in a really narrow lane as were the roads in those days


View from the Ratnagiri fort


Well, for us, Ganapatipule was all about relaxation, beach hopping, a bit of sightseeing in and around it and of course, gorging on delicious food...how are you going to plan it?



Tip: One can buy conches and shaligram (holy stone) from the Prachin Konkan museum. 




Guhagar:


Sunset @ Guhagar Beach


This was the next leg of our journey. We were glad that we stayed back at Guhagar instead of driving up all the way to Dapoli. Mango Village Resort is a lovely place tucked away near the scenic Guhagar beach. Little independant bungalows dotted the resort village with a restaurant that again served mouth-wateringly delicious local food. A small clubhouse, a play ground and a Ganesh temple at one end of the resort completed the 'village' feel.

Mango Village Resort @ Guhagar



The best part of Guhagar is its beach. This gorgeous white sandy beach stretches for around 6kms in a straight line till it merges with the horizon at one end. A silhoutte of a whitewashed temple at the other end  with the setting sun in the background reaffirms the beauty of the entire landscape. The serenity, solitude and beauty of the beach during the golden hour of the  sunset made all of us feel really light-hearted and happy. It is difficult to describe in words how vastly this magnanimous nature can influence us lesser mortals!




The beach was spotlessly clean and was flocked by sea gulls at one spot. The setting sun casting its orange light on the flapping sea gulls made for a lovely sight. One can easily spend hours there gazing at the blue sea, enjoying the breeze and doing nothing. It is a must-visit spot if you are in Guhagar. We spend a lovely evening there chasing the sea gulls and leaving our footprints to be washed away over time.

Tip: Guhagar is a small village with a lovely beach and a couple of lakes nearby. It is a retreat for a perfect relaxing weekend. So do not expect many commercial activities and establishments like water sports, restaurants and the usual buzz in there.

My next blog on Mahabaleshwar is in the works...till then...adios...