Tuesday, 20 May 2014

An Unforgettable birthday at the 'Old Magazine house'.

When Aari asked me where I wanted to be for my birthday, a forest seemed to be a good choice to me. Fortunately for us, there just was such a place, 130 kilometers from our home- called "Old Magazine House" at Ganeshgudi in Karnataka.

We started our drive at 0700 and most of the drive is on NH 4A. For some reason, the Goa section of the road is very well maintained, pothole free, well marked and with proper signage boards. But the very second you cross into Karnataka, the road becomes as bumpy as it can get. The entire stretch of some 30 kilometers was filled with massive potholes, many of them big enough to sink in an entire wheel of a car.

We had our breakfast at a place called "Wild Mushroom" restaurant. The place is a part of a resort, but they also allow non- guests to share their buffet breakfast. ( And Yes- No wild mushrooms served here  ;)

We reached "Old Magazine house" well before check-in time, and we were quite delighted to be welcomed by varied melodious calls of many birds. 

We had a lovely 4 days stay, at the below cottage- in the midst of shady trees, cut off from the world for a change-no pesky calls and refreshingly clean air. 
It felt really nice to wake up one morning, and to hear Aari sing happy birthday, accompanied by the melodious whistle of the Malabar whistling Thrush. The call of the animals and the chirps of the birds filled our day- A perfect place for a candlelight party. 

The joy of eating snacks, watching the monkeys play their mirthful pranks was simply exhilarating. 

Aari and I were in splits of laughter watching the Grey Langurs, and their hilarious acrobatics. 

It was also the first time, we witnessed the graceful leap of the Indian Giant Squirrel or its funny way of eating berries hanging upside down. 

Not to be left out, the Hornbill too partook its breakfast along with us. While we heartily ate poha, it merrily munched on a juicy scorpion. 

One of the not to be missed ritual at the Old Magazine house was the community bath, the birds enjoyed. Splashing water and diving were just two of the many ways in which they played their water games irrespective of the species. During bath time, they were just birds- irrespective of their colour, shade or size. 

These four days seem to drift by so fast and at the end of our time we did not want to return back to our unreal world. The world here seemed so real and so peaceful. Just like this macaques, we went through a whole range of emotions during these four days. From happily amused to peacefully sleepy. 

Just looking back to return to this real world again. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Lonavala- Nashik- Kholapur- Goa ( Via Chorla Ghat) drive

Our drive from Lonavala- Nashik- Kholapur to Goa ( via Chorla Ghat) was about 880 Kilometers long, of course, with a lot of stops.

Our drive from Lonavala to Nashik totaled to 222 kilometers; most of this drive was on good well maintained roads. A lot of traffic around Thane and Mumbra played spoil sport reducing our speed frequently to a snail's pace.

Despite the ban on trucks carrying things protruding outside its frame, blatant violation of this still occurs. We spotted a lot of vehicles on the way which had overhanging cargo which ranged from wooden logs to metal rods.

A badly loaded truck topples on the highway. It seemed to us that the vehicle was top- heavy.

Once the Mumbai- Nashik toll road starts, the drive was a pleasurable one on the four lane highway. We had driven on this road previously during the monsoons, and back then, mother nature's green carpet left us mesmerised . This time though, it was all dried grass, however, the trees still had their green canopy intact. 

Along the Mumbai- Nashik highway, telephone booths are provided for emergency calling. We wondered if they actually worked! A small key is required to open the box, having said that, we could not locate the key anywhere around the box. Thankfully, a phone number too is provided and hopefully, that works for any one requiring emergency assistance!

After a short stay at Nashik, we had to drive back to Goa. We always drive via Amboli ghats, this time for a change, we decided to try out the Chorla Ghat road. Little did we realise what was in store for us!

Nashik to Pune via Sangamner is a two laned road; four laning is in progress and may take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to complete the work! 

Above and below, are pictures of the work of four laning in progress. 

The condition of the road itself is pretty good, although, lots of trucks and heavy vehicles make driving here a pretty tiring task. Since we traveled on a weekend, we also had to encounter traffic going for weekend breaks from Pune to Nashik, which further contributed to the traffic volume.

If driving on this highway, be prepared to be very patient. Idiots like the one above are all over the place. As you can see, the vehicle above was not only overtaking at a curve, but also, cut in front of us quite dangerously.

We had our breakfast at a very busy Vithal Kamats; food was fresh, also, it was heartening to see a ramp for wheel chair access! The toilets were pretty well kept and had wheel chair access too. 

Once we crossed Pune, the heavy traffic reduced a wee bit, but, the condition of the road at Satara is below average. Pot holes seem to be appearing which may worsen by the time monsoon sets in, a lot of poorly done patch work too, adds to the bumpy ride. 

Trucks carrying a lot of interesting things were spotted during our drive. We saw trucks carrying buses, elephants, cattle, etc... 

We generally have our lunch at Hotel Sai International situated between Satara and Kolapur. This time, we were delayed and hence settled for lunch at Hotel Mahendra. The service at their restaurant was pretty fast while the food was tasty and reasonably priced. The toilets were clean although, not as clean as Sai International! We recommend Sai International for it scores higher than Hotel Mahendra on all fronts.

We were quite put off as we entered their restaurant, since, as soon as, we opened the door to the restaurant, little did we know that our next step would be on a lowered stair (the tendency being, when you are at a new place to look ahead, in this case, the interior of the restaurant). The picture below is taken from the inside of the restaurant! 
We stayed overnight at 'Hotel Maratha Regency' at Kolhapur. It is our second stay here, we seem to be quite comfortable with the place. 

We had our breakfast at Nipani. When we first visited Nipani three years ago, there were only two restaurants here, today, the place is teeming with restaurants! We had our breakfast at Satyawati, we do not recommend Satyawati.

From Kolhapur all the way up to Belgaum, the road is in very good condition and truly, is one of the most pleasurable roads to drive on! The toll is quite reasonable and more than justifies the pleasure of the drive!

The roads are lined with trees; the Gulmohar trees being in full bloom, tantalised us! It was delightful seeing so much of greenery at Belgaum, it certainly does make a summer's day heat bearable!

The windmills dotting the landscape was a heartening sight! We truly hope that more such alternative and sustainable sources of power are tapped upon!

Despite the lovely road, unavailability of adequate public transport has forced people to travel in truly cattle class style.

We also witnessed a very horrible way in which sheep were transported for slaughter. They were cramped in an over loaded tempo with the leg of one sheep dangling outside the rails and it continuously struggling to move its leg! All this just to titillate our taste buds! Really!?!?

If  using Mapmyindia navigator for this route, a note of caution: Mapmyindia has inserted a road that connects Belgaum and Chorla,well, a road that does not exist!! The above is the extract of the route from mapmyindia. About 20 kilometers of this section is mudroad. So, best, avoid the road that passes through Bettageri, since it is not completed. A few vehicles do use this road, but we believe that in monsoons, only a 4WD will be able to traverse it. An excellent off roading opportunity for enthusiasts! 
The photos below will speak for themselves about the road condition.

Having said that, the main road, that connects Mapusa to Chorla is in good shape, the road is narrower than Amboli Ghats and took us longer to reach our destination as safe overtaking is possible only at few places because of its narrow nature. 
Overall, it was a lovely drive, and as usual on Indian roads, filled with the unexpected! 

P.S. : Recently, the WHO had made a list of most polluted cities in the world. 13 Indian cities featured in the top 20. The pollution control board vehemently contradicted the study with all audacious theories of theirs. I think, they only need to drive on one of the highways and see the kind of exhaust being emitted from the vehicles! The number of vehicles spewing black smoke is mind boggling! We wondered how much of PUC certification really happens!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Drive around Pavana lake - Lonavala.

We had set aside this day for birding at Lonavala; being on a holiday mood, we woke up late and realised that it would be too late to go out for birding. So we made an impromptu decision to take a drive around Pavana lake and enjoy the landscapes and waterscapes. 
After a lovely breakfast at hotel Rama Krishna, we headed off towards the lake. ( Map of our drive at the end )

The drive as we anticipated was quite picturesque and we lost no opportunity to stop at strategic points to enjoy some views. 

The roads have steep curves, but are well maintained and its a pleasure to drive on them. The only section that was back breaking was a section of five kilometers towards Tung fort. The road is very bad and we were wondering if Zeita's suspensions would be able to deal with it!

Above and below are two views of the Tikona fort. Aari wondered and asked me how come the fort was so small. Well, as I write now, I feel, it may have been more of a watch tower than a full fledged fort.  To reach the fort, there was a further 300 meter trek, but that one for some other day. 

Above, a lovely view of Pavana lake, during monsoons though, the lake dresses up differently. 
We continued driving around the lakes periphery, and came across some lovely natural formations. 

Defacing of rocks though is quite rampant along the way. Especially, by the below restaurant, which has been using many of the rocks as its billboards. I wonder if it is even legal to do something like this!

Near Chavsar, we took a detour towards another fort called the Tung fort. ( I think even this too may have be a watchtower). The road though was terrible and filled with potholes.  Aari and I stopped besides the base of the Tung for a break and we were delighted to see a group of endangered Black footed grey Langurs. 

It was quite a view, watching the relief on the Langur's face as he completes his Nature's call. Well, our birding idea alteast, ended up with some monkey watching!

Before you get any ideas, I was scouting for vantage points to photograph the Langurs.

We then returned back to Lonavala, by 1300 Hrs, and had a lovely buffet lunch at Avion. Below, is the map of the route that we drove. It was a lovely drive and we enjoyed every bit of it, despite, the summers heat.