"Isnt it boring with 4 wheelers???" This is what a friend of mine asked me, when I explained how I stopped my long bike trips and started going on 4 wheeler instead. Yup, I had to agree, 4 wheeler is not as exciting as a 2 wheeler long drive ..... except when u r talking about a really looooooooong one!!! So be it .... when I got few days off around Diwali, which combined with couple of leaves became 9 full days, I had to plan for a really loooooooong trip. I chose Mumbai, via Pune and return via Goa ... and may be touch Hampi & Andhra on the way back, if it ever fell short of being a loooooong one!!!
Well ... the trip started on a saturday morning, me and a friend in my good old Versa! Except for some hiccups in Tumakuru (Tumkur), where a huge traffic block delayed us for about half an hour, the first day was a smooth ride all the way. At Tumakuru for breakfast, past pathetic roads near Chitradurga & Davangere and lunch @ Haveri, we were past Hubballi / Hubli and Dharwad by evening and entered unchartered waters. Dharwad to Belgaum section was nothing worth mentioning. But, past Belgaum was a beauty. This stretch of Golden Quadrilateral, completed and inaugurated recently formed a very small percentage of good roads in Karnataka. The sad part was that it was getting dark by then, not allowing us to enjoy the nice road and a few ghat sections en route.
By the time we made it to the border it was really dark, but that didnt prevent us from photographing my entry in to the 6th state on wheels - the great land of Marathas. The road continued to be good and made the night drive experience less painful. The plan was to halt at Kolhapur, few kms past the border and a little above 600kms. Few hours later after a 'no-mood-for-experiment' roti-curry dinner, we kept up to the plan and soon fell into sound sleep.
Next day morning, we did try some marathan cuisine for breakfast at a restaurant just past Satara - a kandha poha to start with :) I felt really good at this point, being in Maharashtra for the first time and looking at people around me. Infact, I liked almost everything about Marathas .... the food ... the road. Yeah ... the road was excellent all the way till the outskirts of Pune. 4-laned, wide and beautiful.
Our next destination was Sinhagad, a famous fort of Shivaji's near Pune. I was told that there is a route to this fort from the Satara - Pune highway, but failed to locate it. We continued our search until we reached Khatraj ghats - the gateway to Pune from south. The ghat road was bad, eroded and crowded and we took a very long time to wiggle through the traffic. About 1 - 1.30 we were in to Pune city and figured out that the road to Sinhagad was long behind us. Nevertheless, there is another access to the same from the city. After wandering around for a long time and querying many people, we could finally locate a narrow road going to Sinhagad. We also learned (later) that except for a small stretch, there is hardly any bypass or ring road around Pune. This was disappointing - given the infrastructure I noticed else where in Maharashtra.
Well ... the road to Sinhagad was a tough one, a muddy, rocky, non-existant one. Fine ... given that this is the case with all major eco-tourist spots. At the foot hills we could spot a group of trekkers relaxing after descending the fort. It would have been a nice spot to trek, but due to lack of time, we chose to use the 4-wheel :) The winding routes going up the hill fort offered some panormaic views. En route, we also got accustomed to some of the Shivaji / Thanaji stories, adding to my admiration for Shivaji and his people.
After reaching the parking area, we had to do a short climb to reach the fort. The fort itself was nothing much, but the views on all four sides were majestic. So were the stories. At about 3, we were on our way back, picked up a restaurant en route and had a nice roti-curry lunch.
Late after noon we were driving from South West Pune to East Pune, through the city towards Aghakhan palace, where the Kasturba Samadhi is located. The great Mahatma was held captive here along with his wife and the place had some memories of the great couple. Strangely, this being a very important monument, there were no sign boards. Fine ... though with some effort we finally managed to locate the place and pay respects to Mahatma and Kasturba.
Now, we had to drive to North Pune towards Dehu road, from where we were planning to enter the Mumbai - Pune express highway. By about 7, we made it to Dehu road, picked up a room there and settled down for day 2.
Day 3 morning, we saw ourselves entering the Mumbai - Pune express highway through the Dehu road toll plaza. It was phenomenal. The roads are 4/6 lane as any other stretch in Golden Quadrilateral, but the major difference was that the road was access controlled, with hardly any disturbances. One can easily keep driving at 100+ speeds without any need to apply sudden breaks. There were sign boards insisting the heavy vehicles to keep to the left lane, which most of them were following. The road is fenced and there is no gap in the median for the entire length. Except for the 6 toll plazas / exits, there is no way to enter the highway, hence making it free of any stray cattle and jaywalking. The express highway is an experience by itself and a very good role model for infrastructure development in India.
After covering about 60 kms in little more than half an hour, we drove in to a food / fuel plaza - again clearly marked through sign boards from a good distance and wide entry / exit roads. Another nice breakfast and buying few packs of Lonavala chikkies and Bakkarvadies we took the highway again heading for the Khandala / Lonavala exit.
After hitting the Khandala exit, we checked with couple of people for places to see in Khandala / Lonavala. Didnt hear anything concrete and we headed towards Karla / Bhaja caves. These caves are located about 15 kms to the south of Khandala along the NH4 (the old highway going parallel to the express highway). There is a junction from which Karla is to one side and Bhaja to the other side. We first hit Karla caves, which was nothing but a carved rock cut Budhist monastry cum temple. I think it will be wrong to call it a cave, but the place was worth a visit nevertheless. After Karla, we headed towards Bhaja, which was similar, but smaller and less crowded compared to Karla. There is a considerable climb up to reach the temple. Besides, this place was located next to Lohagad fort. But, as always, time didnt permit us from going to Lohagad.
|View of Express Highway from Rajamachi
Next was Khandala, only to confirm that Khandala / Lonovala is worth visiting only during monsoon. Nevertheless we headed to Bushy dam in Lonovala, which was nothing special but a lake. After that we hit the Lion's point. which offered some breath taking views, drove all the way to the Sahara city and came back for a very late lunch. After lunch, we headed to Rajamachi, which offers some great panoramic views of Kune falls and the Mumbai - Pune express highway. By about 5, we hit the express highway once again, reached Panvel by 6 and then slowly moved to Mumbai and settled down @ a hotel in Chembur.
Gateway of India
It was time to fall in luv with the Aamchi Mumbai. We wanted to try out the local trains, started with a 1st class ticket and then used 2nd class for return. This was partly due to the very high cost (big difference between 1st & 2nd class ticket rates) and also coz of the familiarity. We got down @ CST (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and headed to Gateway of India. Then took a boat to Elephanta caves and spent a lot of time there. We also had a very tasty Maratha meal (rice, very soft chappathis and dal) at one of the small hotels there @ Rs. 35 per meal.
By about 6, we were crossing the Thane creek, heading to Panvel, entered the NH17 to Goa [NH17 connects Panvel & Edappally - near Ernakulam, via Panaji & Mangalore and numerous other beach towns], travelled another 30+ kms and made the 4th day pit stop @ Pen.
On day 5, we had a look at arguably the best fort in Maharashtra, Chhatrapati Shivaji's capital @ Raigad. Raigad is about 22kms detour from Mumbai - Panaji highway just before Mahad. Like Sinhagad, it seems Raigad also has a trekkable route to the top of the hill, but we had to again blame lack of time for taking a motorable route. There is a ropeway connecting a place in the valley, where the motorable road ends, to the sheer rock face. At the valley there is a small photo exhibition of Shivaji forts. Boy .... I wanted to see all of them!!!
Cliff @ Raigad
The rope way trolley was covered from all sides with grills on only one side, thus making it lower on adventure and enjoyment coefficient. But, the views around and the fort itself was majestic and spread around a vast area on top of the hill. There were few vantage points on the top from where one can keep an eye at the whole valley. This along with the sheer heights made this fort impregnable. At one side of the fort, there were deep cliffs about 150feet high - breath taking they were. We spent a long time roaming around the whole place to our heart's content. Then took the ropeway back and had meals once again at a small hotel there.
It was time to hit the beaches now :) There were numerous of them and we had to choose. Arguably the most famous in this stretch is Ganapatipule near Hathkhambe / Ratnagiri. We had missed few already on the way, like the Alibagh beach. Never mind ... we could not have done all of them anyways.
But, it was already past 3 by the time we left Raigad and Ganapatipule was close to 200 kms from there. By the time we reached Ganapatipule, it was about 7 and the sun was long gone down. The beach seemed to be a highly commercialized one popular among Mumbaikars and full of lodges, beach huts and even a shopping complex! The huts were largely aimed at affluent classes from Mumbai and a lot more costly compared to the ones available in Goan beaches and Gokarna.
Nevertheless, there were lodges aimed at the poor traveller also and we had no trouble finding one :) and a decent restaurant which served us another memorable Maharashtrian thali meal.
|Ganapatipule beach temple
Day 6 began in the Ganapatipule beach waiting in a beach restaurant for a simple bread-butter-jam and coffee. Finally, we cancelled the order and walked over to the place we had dinner previous day and saved time! In between we could also roam around the market place and bought some stuff - few bottles of coccum juice syrup and mango pulp. It seems, Ratnagiri is very famous for Alphonso mangoes. Though, we were there at the wrong time when mangoes were not available, we could have the mango pulp :) After breakfast we went to the lodge picked up our luggage and checked out. En route, we also stopped at the Ganapatipule temple, supposedly very old and interesting.
On our Way back, we decided to go to Ratnagiri instead of getting back directly to NH17. We took a wrong road in the beginning and headed to another beach side, with the road offering a bird's eye view of both the new beach and the Ganapatipule - it was worth getting lost :) Road to Rathanagiri from Ganapatipule was narrow but deserted. We hit Ratnagiri @ about mid noon, roamed around the awesome sea fort and hit NH211 (from Ratnagiri to Kolhapur with a junction with NH17 at Hathkhambe 11kms from Ratnagiri) to get back to the highway @ about 1.30. We had lunch near Pali (this time there were no Thalis and we had to go for a roti-curry combination once again).
Post lunch, we realized that time was again against us. There were two more interesting beaches (Devgarh and Malvan) and a fort (Sindhudurg), but there was no time. We had to reach Goa (Arambol beach) by sunset! Inspite of having to cover about 200kms with few small ghat roads in between, a road block by the very Traffic Police for collecting Hafta (they openly told me not to worry about the vehicle papers, but to give them a diwali 'gift'. Fortunately, they were not so forceful and let us go inspite of me refusing to pay up unnecessarily) and a traffic jam @ Patradevi we reached the border by about 5.30. From there onwards it was chartered waters for me :) In a previous trip to Goa I've driven all the way to the Maharashtra border.
Well ... all went well until we reached the Arambol beach. The sunset was about to happen and there was no parking available within 2kms of the beach. After a small altercation with people there regarding parking and driving back to a private parking area (which charged us Rs. 40 for parking) we hit the beach just in time for sunset, only to realize that I forgot to take the camera :( I rushed back but still missed couple of frames. The sunset was beautiful as usual. After getting back to the parking area, we could also manage a nice house for just Rs. 250. Evening was a typically memorable Goan evening with a wonderful dinner at a beach restaurant.
According to the earlier plans, we were supposed to visit the Dudhsagar waterfalls on day 7. But, after checking up with people around, I came to know that the train for Dudhsagar leaves at about 6 in the morning from Panaji. Since, other modes of transport are expensive, if not in a big group and Panaji is far away from Pernem, we decided to skip Dudhsagar (for a 3rd time actually. I hope I'll get to go there some time in 2006). Trekking was probably the best option to visit Dudhsagar, which we could do later as a bigger group.
Instead, we decided to check out few more beaches. After packing up from Arambol, we drove to Mandrem and Morjim beaches. I had a wonderful time swimming in all these beaches. Swimming far in to the beach watching ripples going past you to form fearsome sea waves is a wonderful experience and I lost track of time doing that. Morjim, especially was a very shallow beach allowing one to go far far into the beach. It was also a sea turtle hatching hub and that would mean there is no restaurants around.
When we left Morjim, it was already past 3 and we were extremely hungry. Fortunately we saw a mess kind of a place en route Panaji and decided to check out the place. The place was run by a nice aunty and the food tasted great. Actually their kitchen was almost empty but she served us with whatever is left and all of them were cooked extremely well. My personal favourite was a prawn curry she made, which tasted very similar to what mom makes :)
Now, we had to reach Palolem before the sunset and we managed it this time also by reaching the place before 6. But, parking was again going to be an issue with the parking area next to the beach. Lesson for everyone : Plan to reach any Goan beach by 5, if you are driving your own vehicle and dont want to miss the sunset! Well ... this time it was not as bad, as we could park in front of one road.
After Sunset @ Palolem
The sunset was beautiful and reminded me that the sun going down in the sea is one sight I'll never get bored watching. Yet, in Palolem it was really special, with hardly any clouds and the sun painted the whole place golden red. Palolem is strangely a south facing beach with the real sunset falling in between two small hills towards the far west of the beach. This peculiar orientation helps the sun cast its golden red shadow all over the beach. Unfortunately, the same phenomenon meant that I had to walk for more than a km to reach the actual sunset point. Me and the camera was a li'l late to reach there. Nevertheless, what I saw was to stay etched in memory and I had no room to complain.
Stay was again arranged for Rs. 250 underlining the fact that accomodation is easy and cheap in Goa. But, food was not, which we found out late in the evening, yet again :) The best part of the dinner was our waitress with a few mysterious glances, deadly curves and a subtle flirtatious smile on the corner of her lips ;) I got drunk without taking a single drink!!!
Next day after breakfast (at the same place where I could exchange couple more glimpses with the same girl), we noticed something really encouraging and worth mentioning. There were people cleaning up the whole place displaying badges indicating that they work for some organization contracted by the government. We had seen similar sites in Arambol also and later noted that there were some restrictions on the restaurant owners on littering the beach. But, still people does not seem to have understood the significance of not littering and discouraging plastic. A perfect example was our own girl @ the restaurant who threw away a plastic straw the previous day, when it was returned saying 'no plastic'. A full lecture on this topic by my friend seemed not to have touched her!!! People had to realize that the beauty of these beaches, if not taken proper care of is going to vanish, jeopardising their own livelihood. With all these, the people who are cleaning up the beaches was a welcome sight.
Finally, it was time to say good bye to Goa once again. I left, promising to come back again at the earliest. The drive towards Karwar / Ankola till Yellapur was 'been-there-done-that'. The road was a bit more eroded than before, but still very much driveable. We stopped near Yellapur for an early lunch, since 'fish-curry-meals' is at its best at North Kannada and we would have missed this luxuary once past Yellapur. For a final time in this trip, we hogged on fish - curry and masala fry.
North Kannada is also famous for water falls with numerous water falls dotting its landscape. While passing through Yellapur, we had to check out one more waterfall and this time it was Satodi. Well ... to make the long story short, it was hard getting there. The way to Satodi was about 36 kms of hard, rocky, gravel filled and confusing road. After enquiring with many and losing our way couple of times and discarding few people's advice that only an SUV / jeep can make it to through this road, we finally made it to a junction where the motoreable road ends. After walking about a km, we made it to the falls, which was less than 100 ft tall and crowded, yet wide and graceful.
Satodi falls near Yellapur, North Kannada
Next destination was Hosapete (Hospet), near Hampi and we were late yet again after a long tiring drive to Satodi. It was dark by the time and the road from Hubballi (Hubli) to Hosapete was unknown to me (Part of NH63 connecting Ankola, near Karwar to Gooty near Ananthapur in Hyderabad, via Yellapur, Hubballi, Gadag, Koppal, Hosapete, Ballary / Bellary and Guntakkal). We drove slowly past Gadag, had dinner @ Kamat Yatri Nivas, Koppal and reached Hosapete by about 10. This is when we realized that the Hampi utsav was going on and it is very hard to get accomodation at Hosapete or Hampi at this time. After checking up few hotels, we got an over priced room in one of the hotels. Damn ... wasnt Goa better???
A Temple Gate @ Hampi
We didnt spend much time @ Hampi, about 13 kms of Hosapete. Just drove around the place, some snaps at couple of gates and we were headed towards Ballary and then towards Ananthapur. This part of the world is pathetic, totally famished people and non-existant roads. Looked like canals are the only places were water is available and people crowded those places for literally everything. Fine ... since the roads were anyway bad, we decided to take a state road to Ananthapur, starting just before the Karnataka - Andhra Pradesh border. This turned out to be a good move finally since, this state road was better than the NH63 past Hubballi.
The rest of the journey was trivial. We were at Ananthapur by about 1.30, having lunch (rice-curd-dal) at a road side dhaba by 2, outer ring road by 4.30 and home by 5. At home, the trip meter read 2900 kms. It was indeed a long journey, taking about 9 days but we were both ready for more. Versa did stand up to the challenge, without any trouble whatsoever, especially @ the trying terrain near Satodi. It needed a service to get ready for the next time I sing "On the road again ..." :)
Mumbai trip was special for me in many ways, but the most important one being the fact that, this is the first time I drove past South India. Hopefully this is the first of many more to come. This was my first time in Mumbai city itself, but this happening city obviously needed much more attention!