Monday, May 23, 2011

To the land of Strawberries - Mahabaleshwar

Other forts and trekking destinations
Jaigad | Karnala Fort | Korigad | Kothligad | Korlai FortPratapgad | Rajgad | Ratnadurga | Tikona | Vijaydurg

Other weekend getaways

Finally it happened!! I was off to Mahabaleshwar with my family. This trip was planned in November last year but got cancelled due to unavoidable circumstances...'Har cheez ka apna time hota hai.....', I guess.

After juggling of dates, I finally was able to book our office guest house, though at a price of loosing 2 extra weekdays since all weekends were already booked. Sam and Mandy had been there a couple of times, so took all and sundry inputs from them. This, by the way, was going to be a different experience from them as they are the car-wallahs, and I was not. Monday, 16th was a difficult day in office as my mind was already roaming around in Mahabaleshwar.

Had booked bus tickets online for the first time, hence was a little apprehensive. Our Neeta (Volvo) darling came a good half an hour late and as usual we reached much before time at the bus stop. My nephew lips hummed only one song...'Amaader bus kokhon aashbe??' (When will our bus come??). He's goes gaga about trains and a/c buses and has his questions ready at all times... "Is this an a/c bus or saada bus, local train or engine train...". We bid adieu to my brother and sister-in-law who had come to see us off, while Salman was showing his Dabangiri inside the bus on screen.

Our bus reached Mahabaleshwar by 5:00 a.m. but had to spend another good half an hour for the tax collectors to collect tax (20 bucks) from each person in every bus. Getting down at the market, showed the map to a taxi wallah, and he understood where we were headed. Mawshi at the guest house greeted us at the gates and it was a relief to hear an yes when I asked, "He Premji cha bangla aahe??".

The guest house is a big one, in the middle of the forest, 3 bed rooms, a TV room, a dining room, huge kitchen ruled by Akbar, and the best part is the patio with its sofas and jhoola. The garden seemed to be well decorated by flowers of all kinds and is really well maintained. There's a glass house in front and the servants quarters behid it. It started to drizzle as we stepped inside. The first day I wanted to take it a little easy, so we ventured only to Venna lake and then to the market ahead to buy some fish.
Venna Lake is a beautiful lake like most lakes are. One can horse ride on a flat land near to it...though I feel its boring since you don't trot beside its banks. Boating facility is available; row boats and paddle boats. I feel they should put some benches on the banks of the lake so that people can enjoy the calmness of the lake. There is 'PratapSingh Garden' beside the lake, where you can go for a short walk. Even in the May afternoon, a cool breeze ripppled throughout the scenery.
I wanted to visit the Lingmala waterfalls but our cook assured us that it won't be worth it as there was hardly any water at the fall.
Jack and Jill went up Lingmala,
To see the fall of water,
Tukaram asked 'Kaay zhaala'
as Jill said 'The trickle is getting shorter'

Saw a giant red squirrel jumping on the trees surrounding our guest house the next day. Shot the bloody red guy on my video cam. The mornings are brought to life by the various bird calls. Its natures symphony with the trees dancing to it. Theres a particular bird, don't know which, that whistles just like we do. And the whistling is not uniform, it sounds as if it is singing some song, or calling some one. One can easily mistake it to a person whistling. Had heard the same whistling note when we had visited Lohagad.

Since we were car-less, we went to the market and took the site-seeing tour cab for Tour II viz. Lodwick point, Elephants Head point, Kates point, Echo point, Needle Hole point. Elephants Head Point, further to the Lodwick Point is a rock formation resembling the head of an elephant with its trunk giving meaning to the Needle Hole Point. You would get a better view of the Needle Hole if you walk away from the Elephants Head Point towards your left to an open and small plateau.
There's a column erected in memory of Lord Lodwick who was a soldier and the first to step foot there. The Lodwick Point gives you a good view of the surrounding mountains.
The Echo Point didn't echo :)
Saw two camels near Kates Point for a camel ride. Elephants Head, trotting horses, now camels....anyone for a game of chess??
Visited the Mapro gardens and a young boy scout gave us a guided tour of the entire place as he explained the rare species of plants and flowers and the process of growing and cultivating strawberries....Nice boy!!

For those visiting such mountains for the first time, don't be too excited when your tour-wallah shows you 10-12 points on the itenary, coz most of the points are in the same vicinity of the same's like viewing a building from all sides. Though, have to say that nature never dissapoints you, the commanding height of the mountain peak, the steep valleys below, the flowing ravines (the rivers were dry when we hoo), the clear sky, all converge to present you the beautiful paintings from the Master.
The evenings we spent just pulling our chairs and sitting on the verandah and enjoying the breeze and the calmness and serenity of the place. The climate was really cool and nice, especially a relief from the Mumbai heat.

Next day, we again took the guided tour (Tour I) to Arthurs Seat, Tiger Spring, Malcolm Point, Hunting point, Castle Rock Point, Savitri Point, Marjori Point, Elphinstone point.
As I mentioned before, most of the points are different angles of the same peak. Malcolm Point, Hunters Point appear as you walk towards Arthur seat, definitely the best point in Mahabaleshwar. Tigers Spring was again a little trickle on the way to Arthurs seat, but am sure will be a site to see in and after the rains. An old woman was selling the water from the entrepreneur in the mountains. Malcolm Point, before the steps to Tiger Spring is named after Sir John Malcolm who was one of the earlier individuals to step here. Mahabaleshwar was earlier known as Malcolm Peth.
Arthurs Seat and Elphinstone point on the drive below the Arthurs seat are undoubtedly the best panoramic views that you can get in Mahabaleshwar. One can view the Savitri and the Koyna rivers on either side of the mountains and from the Elphinstone point, you can see the mighty Pratapgarh staring straight in front of you. While strolling towards the Arthurs Seat, keep watching to your left in the distance and you can see a rock formation imitating a dinosaur...believe me when I say, it DOES look like a dinosaur!!
On the way back from Elphinstone Point, we went to Castle Rock Point where you actually walk the narrow path on the cliff of the mountain....whoops frightening when you see the deep gorge below. One wrong footing and you will be left to Heavens mercy. Living...err..walking on the edge, you reach the Savitri Point and take a left to reach back on the road. Marjorie point is just on the bend of the road and from here the dinosaur looks more like a turtle...need to get my eyes checked I guess!!
Next we went to Old Mahabaleshwar or 'Shetra Mahabaleshwar' which is the location of the Shiv Mandir and the PanchaGanaga temple. Mahabaleshwar got its name from 'Mahabali' (Lord Shiva). There is a huge Nandi on the outer temple. The PanchaGanga temple is very beautiful and is the origin of five rivers viz. Krishna, Savitri, Gayatri, Venna and Koyna. All the rivers come out of a cow’s mouth which is carved out of stone. The water was very cold and sweet. As usual some great devotees didn't deter themselves from filling Bisleri bottles with the water as others waited helplessly in line to touch the holy water.

Next days visit to Pratapgarh was a dissapointment as we took the Asiad bus (Government bus) which gave us hardly one hour to visit the fort. The climb up to fort itself would take more than an hour so we satiated ourselves by reaching upto the Bhavani Mata Mandir and then walked down. However, having visited other forts, was dissapointed to walk on the tiled stairs of the Pratapgarh Fort, and I don't think it is well maintained either. Hardly saw anything on the fort due to the time constraint as the same bus was to take us back...what a bloody waste. As we waited in the bus for some of the late latifs, a couple was coochie cooing in the jungle nearby and the litle girl behind my seat started shouting from her window "Didi jaldi aao, bus nikal jaayegi" about embarassment!!

More than visiting the various points of Mahabaleshwar, what I really like was the weather, the calm and serene surroundings at the guest house, no cemented cardboard monsters, being in the middle of a jungle, the early morning and evening bird calls, strawberry, cabbage plantations you see everywhere and the bloody red strawberries of course. The mountains are always enticing and relaxing.

Some gyaan for fellow travellers, coz an intelligent man is one who learns from his own experiences and a VERY intelligent man is one who learns from others experiences.
  • Having your own vehicle is preferable to reach and wander around Mahabalshwar
  • Taking the taxi to take the guided tours are fine, but if you ask them to drop them even 2 kms away, they charge you nothing less than 200 bucks.
  • Other modes of transport are the ST buses and share jeeps (expect 20 people to be stuffed like chickens)
  • All points have the board "Use of plastic is strictly prohibited and will defaulters will be fined". So, if you read it follow it.
  • Most of the main points are far away, so if you have your own vehicle, you get to spend more time, unless your wife wants to ride the dinosaur or feed the monkey :)
  • Enjoy the climate, the breeze, the greenery, the surroundings, enjoy everything...make it count.
  • Be patient to get a glimpse of the different species of birds and enjoy the plethora of colorful flowers you will find everywhere.
  • If you want to take the bus to Pratapgarh (there are nly 2 buses, one at 9:15 and the other at 9:30), reach the bus stop early for the tickets as the staff issuing tickets are the most inefficient lot. You can actually avoid the Pratapgarh tour if you don't have your own vehicle as it takes an hour each to go and come and an hour to visit the fort, which is too less a time to visit this vast fort. If you enjoy the bus ride through curvy mountain paths and fill yourselves with the scenery of the mountains and ravines below, you can hop in.
  • I booked my bus tickets at You can also book them at Very efficient travels. They sms you the bus details in advance.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Trip to Ekveera, Karla Caves and Tikona Fort

8th Aug 2010
‘Peellaan (plan) ke mutabik’

these words from Bhalla were enough for Teja’s face to go red with anger in Andaz Apna Apna. But!! We planned, planned and planned more for 3 weeks to go to Ekveera and Tikona Fort. This was supposed to be our 2nd trek after the mighty Harishchandragad near Malshej Ghat which had set my adrenaline pumping.

The initial plan was to stay overnight at Karjat at a friends place and then leave in the morning. Initially it was to be a group of 8 guys from Dombivali and 6 of us from office. We surfed the net, collected all the info, got excited by the amazing photos taken of these places, almost got inside google maps and could see ourselves gliding down the orange strip between Thane and Kamshet on google maps – what would we have done without the internet???? (A special thanks to Amit Kulkarni – we loved your pictures of Tikona and that partially inspired us to take the trek). Though, as happens usually, the usual people at the usual time in the most unusual way thought that they usually had better things to do and as usual they dropped off!! Long story short – after all the subtractions and divisions, Nagesh, Srinath (Chubby Cheeks), Kaushal (Major) and me were the last guys standing!!

Chubby stayed at my place on Saturday as he had come all packed up on Saturday. The overnight stay at Karjat had got cancelled. All four of us were to get together (Major from Matunga, Nagesh from Dombivali) at Thane and leave at 6:00 am sharp. The most eventful event happened at the very beginning of the trek. The moment I started my bike and asked Chubby to sit – TTTRRRRRRRRR – the cloth on his pants failed to expand as per the instructions of his expanding thighs and bum and gave way – ‘Shit! Majhi pant fatli’. I was worried he would want to change his pants as we were already getting late, but that didn’t happen and we met the others at Cadbury’s naaka. At the Airoli bridge, we had chai and then embarked on our journey…Chubby behind me and Nagesh behind Major.
After having missal paav and wada paav’s at Khopoli, we continued towards our destination. We had a photo session break at the Mumbai-Pune expressway at the bifurcation for Lonavala and Khandala and a little ahead we had another break as the scenery was really good. I guess on the left I could see Dukes Nose, below was our return path on the Mumbai Pune Expressway, and ahead lay the mountains of Lonavala. Some monkeys observed us from the distance and as they got closer, we decided it was time to leave. It’s a real pleasure to ride in the mountains inspite of the ups and downs. Lush greenery, clear blue sky, the fresh air are a welcome affair.

Ekveera Devi Mandir
 At around 8:30 – 9 a.m, we reached Ekveera, Karla Caves after taking a left on the road to Kamshet. It was over crowded and the on the way, the road was filled with drunkards who seemed to have started early or never stopped from the night before. We had difficulty finding a place to park our bikes, but finally we found a spot and allowed our bikes to doze off a bit. We took the road up instead of the stairs to Ekveera. Chubby was on steam as he couldn’t find a place to answer Natures call. Half way up, Chubby’s prayers were answered and after he returned, we continued our way to the top on the stairs. It was really crowded as the place was full of worshippers. We decided en-route that if we stand in line to get a chance to enter the temple, it will get very late; hence we were to take our blessings from outside. The Karla caves in the background of the Ekveera temple is a beautiful site to see. You HAVE to stop and think for a while about the artisans and people who carve these caves out of a mountain and turn them into such grandeur. It was very dark inside the chaitya. The dome shaped stupa and the carvings inside were beautiful. The lion pillar outside was equally a sight. It gives you an amazing feeling to go into restrospect and think about the period when Buddhist followers used to stay and pray in these caves. Near the stupa, we saw a strange sight. People were throwing coins and some kids were behind were fighting to collect them in the darkness with a small torch in their hands. Guys…please preserve the place!! Coming out of the main cave with the stupa, we visited other smaller ones the right side of the Mandir. It is said that (Nagesh Baba said that) in one such cave, if you make a wish and a drop of water falls from the roof, then your wish will definitely be fulfilled by Chitala Devi. We did go to that cave and there was this old woman sitting at the corner of the cave and their was saffron smeared on one end of the cave walls. She asked us to make wishes and prayed for us. Nagesh was the one to make the wish and just when he commented ‘ Lagta hai Devi naraaz hai’ – he was rewarded by a drop of water. So we know for sure, his wish is gonna get fulfilled. We were the unlucky ones, rather paapi ones – no droplets for us. After paying homage and roaming a bit on the top, enjoying the waterfall near the main cave and clicking pics, we started on our descent. Once down, I clicked some pictures of a woman selling hens in a tokri. People buy them as sacrifices to the Devi. While having chai, we decided to skip lunch and get to Tikona Peth, the forts base first as we were already running late and didn’t want to end up riding in the dark. On the way back, the ‘Gataari’ element was in full bloom as we passed ‘fully tuun bewdas’ in the middle of the road. They were completely high and weren’t moving even if brought trucks to their faces. We were looking out for Mr.Wahlekar as he was also in Lonavala with his friends, celebrating Gataari.

From Kamshet, we took a right towards Pawna dam. Riding through villages and muddy roads in between, we got up the ghat to the final ride towards the forts base. We stopped at a spot near a tower….we HAD to…the scenery was completely breathtaking…great…simply great…a sight to treasure…something that no camera can capture…a thing that completely belonged to that moment!!! Beyond the Pawna dam was the Tung fort like a hat kept on the water. Nagesh describes it as a submarine. Tikona fort was also clearly visible. We clicked a lot of photographs with Tung and Tikona in the backgrounds. The climate was also very good with lots of breeze and it wasn’t feeling hot even though it didn’t rain. Clicked lots of photos of my bike. It was the perfect location for the Avenger ad. – Feel like GOD!!

Tung in the background

After satiating ourselves of the surroundings, we jumped on our bikes for the final destination – Tikona killa. We kept our bikes near the Mandir at the base and started our trek at around 3:00 pm. The initial walk was through muddy sludge and in no time our floaters and legs were submerged in ankle wide mud. We could hear voices coming down the hill and knew we were in the right path, but we did miss a shorter route. Sloshing merrily, after a while the ascent started. The climb was enjoyable and the scenery was simply beautiful. We came across a group of kids with their Sir coming down. It felt good to see children coming for such treks on a Sunday instead of watching movies and playing video games. It seemed we were the last group going up as every one else was getting down. That gave us an idea that we should hurry up, else it would get dark soon and would be difficult getting down. We were accompanied on our way up by 3 sardarjis. On the way up the first cave, we stopped at a small shelter where a ‘mawshi’ was selling tea and pakodas. We settled for tea. There was another cave nearby which was painted red and occupied by a Sadhu Baba and had a pond in front – really nice. The last climb is a bit dangerous and steep, especially in the rain as it gets slippery. Again we came across one or two families and all of us got a chance to give them a helping hand. Reaching the top felt so fulfilling. It was simply beautiful and we got a real blessing from the skies above when we saw a complete RAINBOW. I don’t even remember when was the last time I saw one. It was a panoramic view. We could see the path we came from…the entire region below. We now understood why this was such a strategic location. One thing I noticed and found amusing was that all the temple tops we could see from there looked almost identical. At the summit, there is a small yet beautiful Trimbakeshwar Mandir with a small Nandi bull outside. Below the temple were small pathways heading below - ‘Chor vaats’, which might have been for storage.

Bas aur thoda

There is a pond at the top, a little behind the temple and behind the pond, the scenery is again breathtaking. One can see Lohagad from there. The fort was left all to us and the Sardarjis as there was no one else. After our photo session, we started downwards, and after having chai and kanda bhajis at Mawshi’s, we (Major and Nagesh) found the short cut that we had missed and after Majors’ certification that it was relatively safe, we took that route. It was a bit slippery but okay. Chubby fell once on the way down and it was a Kodak moment. His instantaneous reaction was putting his hands up and saying ‘Jai Maharashtra’. We spent a little time at Pawna dam watching the sunset - another sight not to miss.

Sunset at Pawana Dam

Heading home, we did what we dreaded i.e. ride at night, and believe me it’s not a very enjoyable experience and is not safe at all. Could hardly see the road ahead of us and with lights blinding your eyes, no street lights, it’s very very difficult to ride, especially in the rains – please avoid. Anyway, after buying chikis and fudges at Lonavala and later having dinner at Malwani's, we were on our way. On the way, at the near the Sion flyover, which we took by mistake, saw a very sorry sight - a decent looking guy, highly intoxicated was walking naked in the middle of the highway. Don’t know what’s happened of him – prayed for him – guys avoid things you can’t handle. We eventually reached Thane at around 12:10 pm. Another expedition came to an end!!

Thanks to Nagesh, Kaushal and Srinath for making it happen as it almost got cancelled. Cheers!! Start planning for the next one….
Kahaani khatam hai, ya shuruat hone ko hai
Subah nayee hai ye, ya raat hone ko hai!!