Road Tripping To Ratnagiri

I have been forever wanting to road trip to Ratnagiri, but not use the regular NH66/Goa Highway. So when the chance came to go visiting a friend in their village home, I jumped on the chance and drew up an alternate route, which passed through rural landscapes, along the Arabian Sea, having to  cross creeks … Read more

Tungareshwar : A Wildlife Sanctuary Near Mumbai

Grasshopper in Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary

That Mumbai lies at one end of the Western Ghats can be seen from the beautiful hills just outside this large mega-city. Barely 50-55km from Mumbai, after Sanjay Gandhi National Park ends lies the beautiful forest of Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. Located on the hills, the highest point here is about 660 metres. We had driven … Read more

Lonar : The Ancient Town

We completed our Lonar trip with a day spent in the town, exploring the Daitya Sudan Temple. The earlier two posts, about the Lonar Crater and the Lonar Crater Temples are also worth looking at. This ancient village/town has more to it than these two areas, and in our limited time, we tried to explore it.

Lonar is a tiny village/town in Maharashtra where, about 50,000 years ago, a giant meteor crashed into earth, creating a large circular lake of 1.4 km diameter, which has saline water. In the circumference of the lake are 10 ancient temples, perhaps from the 9th Century AD.

The Lonar MTDC Resort is the place to stay, although an old PWD Guesthouse is also available on prior notice. We recommened MTDC anytime, as here it was neat, clean and rather unoccupied.

The town has an ancient temple called ‘Daitya Sudan Mandir’. Legend has it, Lord Vishnu had killed a Daitya, Lavanasur, here. Next to the temple is a Bramha – Vishnu – Mahesh temple. The idol of Mahesh is missing and has been replaced by an idol of Garuda.

The temple of Daitya Sudan is considered a fine example of the Hemadpanthi style of architecture. The temple has three niches, each dedicated to Chamunda, Surya and Narasimha. Each niche feels like a complete temple in itself. The walls and ceilings of the temple are elaborately carved with various figurines depicting various scenes from the scriptures, scenes from everyday life and stories. Try and keep a day only for this temple.

Apart from the temple, we came across a fascinating ancient ‘step well’ from the times of the Chalukya Dynasty. Locally called the ‘Limbi Barav’, the well is in a state of dis-repair, but fenced by the Archaeological Society Of India. On each of the four walls is a niche for idols which are now missing. On the east side is a balconied pavilion. There are Saptamatrikas carved on the space inside the balcony, suggesting there must have been an idol of a goddess. These seven ‘mothers’ can be “Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Varahi, Chamunda and Narasimhi.”

 

PWD Guesthouse Lonar
The old Public Works Department Guesthouse is located favourably overlooking the Lonar Lake.

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Temples Of The Lonar Crater

Lonar Temples

Almost slipping down the steep path to the lake, we saw the first of the 10 temples inside the Lonar Crater. The dense monsoon vegetation gave way to glimpses of a gorgeous temple made of stone. We reached closer to take pictures. It’s a Shiva Temple, and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is working on its restoration. These temples were built during the Chalukya Dynasty’s rule, around the 8th/9th Century AD. What did the people think of the brackish lake waters? What did they do with it? Some say it has healing powers.

I tried to keep a track of the temples with the photographs, but failed, as time erased some memories. Too much information to keep track of! But here are my text notes:

1st temple in the forest trek : Shiv Temple : 9th Century by Chalukya Dynasty
2nd temple : Rama Temple : Chalukya Dynasty in the 9th Century AD
3rd Temple was full of bats. It was a Shiva Temple also 9th Century additions by the Yadavkalin Dynasty.
4th Temple : Shiv Temple 16 positions are shown carved in rock here.
5th : Padmavati Temple : It has regular Puja happening here. The goddess inside is Swambhu.
6th Temple : Shiv temple again.
7th Temple : Shiv Temple without the Shiv Lingam
8th : Shiv Temple
9th : Daitya Guru Shukra Acharya : He found Sanjeevini in Lonar Crater and would treat Daityas. This temple was his vaidyashala.
10th : Kumareshwar Temple also by Chalukya Dynasty. This is also a Shiv Temple.

The last temple on top is Gaumukh Temple made by Hoysala Kings. Later additions were made by Nana Saheb Peshwa and Ahilyabai Holkar.

Our visit to Lonar is posted here in an earlier article.

Shiva Temple at Lonar
Shiva Temple at Lonar

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Lonar Crater : Born Out Of Alien Impact

We were in Aurangabad, and nothing much happening on the work front which required us to turn back, were tempted to visit Lonar. About 60,000 years ago (they say around the Pleistocene Epoch), a meteor is supposed to have struck this place in Buldana district of Maharashtra, created a massive crater about 6.7km in circumference and 1.2km in diameter. The impact must have created huge tremors, fires, whatnot, but it has also left a very unique lake here. Lonar crater is the only known hyper velocity impact crater in basaltic rock anywhere on earth. In 2007 biological nitrogen fixation was discovered in this lake.

The drive from Aurangabad to Lonar takes about 4 hours at a normal pace. The roads are not too good. But the journey is beautiful with agricultural fields on both sides, and apart from Jalna, not much ugly industrial landscapes.

We stayed at the MTDC Lonar (there aren’t too many options here), and were pleasantly surprised. They cooked to our tastes, and rooms were fairly good. We were also lucky to get a good guide Ramesh. We decided to go for a trek of the entire crater the next morning.

The climb down is kind of steep, but not too stressful. The walk around the Lonar crater is around 7km, starting with a moderately steep descent and then through a trail in the thick forest. Through the trail we came across a total of 10 ancient temples around the lake.

The lake waters are a rich green due to some kind of algae. The outer circumference waters have a neutral pH of 7 and the inner waters are a high alkaline or around pH11. We had read the lake forest has chinkaras and gazelles, but only found traces of wild boar, a couple of hyenas, grey langoors, fruit bats, grey hornbills, grey tits, Indian koels, alexandrine parakeets, oriental magpie robins, Indian robin, black winged stilts, red wattled lapwings, collared doves, peafowl, and heard grey fantails, and perhaps a few other birds I am missing out. We had visited in August, so everything was fresh and green, and the weather cool and breezy.

So this is Part One of our Lonar visit, which covers the lake. Part Two will cover the temples around the lake and Part Three, the other temples in the city.

Lonar
The drive to Lonar from Aurangabad is beautiful and we fell in love with this gorgeous evening light.
Lonar Crater
Our first glimpse of the lake was in the dark, but with just enough light to get a shot.

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Mumbai to Puducherry : Roadtrip

I am always all too eager to hop into a car and drive off to beautiful destinations, rather than take a flight. And when this meeting came up in Puducherry, we thought for maybe 5 minutes, and decided to drive. And we didn’t regret for even one kilometer. Almost. That’s how began our Mumbai to Pondicherry road trip.

We planned the route from Mumbai via Hubballi, Bengaluru, Krishnagiri and then Puducherry. The road passes through some diversions till Kolhapur, but then becomes a beautiful highway, passing through miles and miles of farms. We got our first taste of authentic south Indian snacks at the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka, at Hotel Satyawati.

We picked Hubbali (before Bengaluru) for a stopover. Hotel Shoven, found on TripAdvisor, was a clean and affordable place for the night. We recommend. We do not recommend making a pre-booking at The Gateway Hotel, Hubballi, as you apparently cannot cancel 2 days before the booking. Weird. We lost some money there. Still fighting for it.

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Dhodap Fort : Gorgeous Hills Away From The Crowd

Many a time one wants to get away from the maddening crowds of the city, to reach somewhere serene. Such places are increasingly difficult to find, and we found one by happenstance. About 50km away from Nashik, towards Dhule, there are these beautiful hills which have the Chaturshringi Temple and the Dhodap Fort. This fort, at 1472 meters above sea level, is the second highest hill fort in Maharashtra. We drove till the base village of Dhodambe, and then a tiny hamlet of Kanherwadi  from where a trek takes you to the fort. We didn’t go for the trek, but spent some time in the hamlet and taking walks in the breezy meadows around the hills.

Full of lush old forests, the hills are a treat. I was sad at not having carried my binoculars and long lenses for birding.

We hope these beautiful landscapes remain unspoilt and untouched, for all future generations to enjoy and recharge in.

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In the village of Kanherwadi.

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Nandur Madhyameshwar : A Little Known Birding Haven

We had heard of Nandur Madhyameshwar, and had been wanting to visit this Important Birding Area (IBA) for a very long time. And we ended up visiting twice in one year.

Our first trip was in the monsoons. As expected, the lake was full of water, the surroundings lush. However, monsoons are not a great time for birding. We did spot a lot of resident birds like Terns, various Bush Chats etc, but no migratory birds. Winters, however, are a different story altogether. Tens of thousands of migratory birds make these wetlands their winter home. The area is pretty much a flat land and hence approaching birds for photography is difficult.

From the Maharashtra Forest Department website: “Nearly 24 species of fishes have been recorded in the reservior including Ompok Maculatus, Puntius Gawa Mullya. So far more than 230 species of birds are recorded from this area out of which 80 species are migratory.

Migratory: White Stork, Glossy Ibis, Spoonbills, Flamigo, Goose Brahminy Duck, Pintails, Mallard, Wigeon, Gargenery Shoveller, Pochards, Cranes Shanks, Curlews, Small Pratincoles, Wagtails, Godwits, Weavers etc.

Resident: Black Ibis, Spotbills, Teals, Little Grebe, Cormorants, Egrets, Herons, Stork, Kites, Vultures, Buzzards, Harriers, Osprey, Quails, Patridges, Eagles, Waterhens, Sandpipers, Swifts, Grey Hornbills, Peafowls etc.

Animals: Ottar, Palm Civet, Fishing Cat, Jackal, Mangoose, Wolves and many species of snakes etc are available.”

We drove from here to discover the fabulous Karanjgaon, Pink Village Of Maharashtra.

Nandur Madhyameshwar in the monsoons. The metal structure is the dam.
Nandur Madhyameshwar in the monsoons. The metal structure is the dam.

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Walwande : A Not So Happy Trip

We had recently visited the village of Walwande near Jawhar in Mahashtra, as part of a Rural Tourism Initiative.

Walwande is a small village on the Jawhar – Vikramgad Road. The primary occupation is agriculture.The land seems fertile, with the monsoons having coloured it green. We had our meals at a local villager’s house, and they were the most delicious meals of this trip. Somehow, home cooked food is so yummy!

Rural Maharashtra
The drive to Walwande from Mumbai taking the NH8 then right through Chiroti Naka goes through some lush farms.

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Diveagar : A Beautiful Beach Town

Having delivered a couple of films, and a hectic round of pitching etc, we decided in November last year, to drive down to Diveagar and Harihareshwar. The drive itself was extremely scenic, and we booked ourselves at the MTDC ‘Exotica’ in Diveagar. We were very apprehensive about the quality of stay and food, (we always look for a clean, dry room with a non-smelly dry toilet, but it seems its too much to ask for in most places) but were pleasantly surprised. More so with the food. Not having much time on hand, we stayed only for a night at Diveagar, and left the next morning for Harihareshwar. We really wished we had spent another day at lovely Diveagar though. Its a tiny but beautiful sleepy little beach town, and we had one of the most amazing meals at a home stay kind of place called ‘Patil’s’.

The drive through coastal Maharashtra is divine, and I hope it never becomes too touristy.

We had the most amazing experience on the way back, via Pali (since we don’t like driving on NH17, we are always looking for alternate routes). The sun had set and the remaining light was fading fast. While driving, we saw a shadow fly past us and overtake our Skoda Yeti. We slowed the car to realise it was a Barn Owl, which had sighted a rodent on the road ahead. I stopped the car so as not to disturb the hunt, and also to get a better view. The Owl swept down and landed in a pool of light from my Yeti’s headlamps for its kill. A few seconds of chase, and the Owl flew away with its dinner. We were too mesmerised to even think of taking photos. Moments like these make such road trips unforgettable.

 

 

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Panoramic shot on the way. Frequent photo opportunities like these make the journey more fulfilling.

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Purushwadi : Firefly Sanctuary?

This blog post is from our trip last year.

In June last year, we headed towards Purushwadi, a small village near Sangamner in rural Maharashtra. We had heard the valley at night turns into a heaven of fireflies at the onset of monsoons. Having been deprived of firefly sightings thanks to rampant use of pesticides and habitat destruction, we were really keen to see ‘the million fireflies’ that were promised. The promises were delivered! And how!

Finding the village was easy, we were asked to meet someone at a particular Petrol Pump on the Sangamner road. This person from the village sat in our car and guided us to the spot. The journey was beautiful and at one point we had to cross a river via a rusted bridge, which was so narrow I was scared it would scratch the car. But it was just wide enough and we soon reached Purushwadi, 1000m above mean sea level.
Grassroutes, an organisation of nice people, “committed to helping the urban world meet and discover rural India” (though I am not sure urban tourists in untouched rural India is a load of good), runs small tent accommodations in Purushwadi. They are clean, with clean toilets. The highlight is eating with a village family in their hut, and tasting the pure village food. Dal, farm fresh sabzi, (vegetable) , and rotis made of pearl millet (bajra) flour. The simplicity of the meal and way of village life is absolutely wonderful. The best part is that village folk apparently benefit from this as rural tourism.

The economy of the village runs on agriculture, (which made me very happy) and lies between rivers Murkundi and Mula. The landscape is hilly, lush green, breezy and, well, just awesome! After lunch, we walked through the village lanes and reached a mango tree. We then plucked fresh ripe mangoes and trekked downhill to a beautiful quiet stream. This was the most mesmerising moment for us, with out feet soaked in cool stream water , and hundreds of small fish nibbling our feet giving us a natural foot spa, and we relishing our juicy mangoes. A perfect idyllic village moment that I have always dreamt of.

As the sun’s heat mellowed down, we trekked our way up into the valley and took a walk around the damn. Village goats and stray dogs kept our company through these trails. The open fresh air was totally rejuvenating. Then we started heading back reaching the village hut well in time for our dinner. Soon the sky began to turn dark. And there it was, our first sight of one firefly. Just that one firefly that hovered around us, leaving a disappearing trail of light in its path was so beautiful to watch and that we were not even thinking of what was coming next.

Soon one firefly became many and we saw hundreds of them around a tree right outside our tent, in the same trailing action. It was time to go into the valley with our guide. It was absolutely dark, no contamination of artificial light. Only a half moon shone above us. With every blink of our eye the number of fireflies kept on increasing. In no time we found ourselves amidst a carnival of fire flies all around us, and unbelievably standing as though decorating our entire path. Was this real or were we imagining these surroundings, it was truly a shot straight out of James Cameron’s Avatar, and better. Their soft blinks and fast but magical flights left us speechless. We kept walking and finally reached the narrow bridge. As we stood at the centre of the valley, we saw something that will remain etched in our minds for as long as we live. There were hundreds of trees, each tree was dotted with a million fireflies. They were blinking together but in a choreographed rhythm. Like disco lights that would go up on one tree and then the next one and then the next. This was nature at its best performance and we were mere spectators. This was music. This was magic! The swarms of firefly families had painted an unforgettable image before us that no photograph can ever capture. We were there with our eyes wide open, dazed and amazed while the time stood still. An now as we write about it, we feel an urgent need to go back and relive it all over again. Don’t think we will ever check Purushwadi off our travel list. This is definitely a place where you want to keep returning to.

[box type=”note” width=”100%” ]We strongly feel such a beautiful phenomenon must be preserved, and would love to nominate Purishwadi as a Firefly Sanctuary! The best way to preserve a habitat is to leave it alone. Even if you do visit, please minimise your eco-footprint. Ask your organisers to help preserve the habitat.[/box]

Best time to visit Purushwadi for fireflies in the first week of June, just before the monsoons!

From Wikipedia: Lampyridae is a family of insects in the beetle order Coleoptera. They are winged beetles, and commonly called fireflies or lightning bugs for their conspicuous crepuscular use of bioluminescence to attract mates or prey. Fireflies produce a ‘cold light’, with no infrared or ultraviolet frequencies. This chemically produced light from the lower abdomen may be yellow, green, or pale red, with wavelengths from 510 to 670 nanometers.

There is a website I found urging saving India’s Fireflies.

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Sunshine through fresh leaves.

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Nighoj Kund : The Natural Potholes

Nighoj is a tiny village between the Kukadi and Ghod rivers, about 90km from Pune. We had read about the naturally made ‘potholes’ in the small gorges of the river Kukadi, called Nighoj Kund, and were very keen to visit it.  We chose to drive from Mumbai via the scenic Malshej Ghat, catching the NH222, crossed … Read more