Thursday, April 26, 2007

Trimbakeshwar

At a distance of 28kms from Nashik is Trimbak – the location of Trimbakeshwar. It is a religious center having one of the twelve Jyotirlingas. A Jyotirlinga or Jyotirling or Jyotirlingam is a shrine where Lord Shiva, is worshipped in the form of a Jyotirlingam or "Lingam of light." There are twelve traditional Jyotirlinga shrines in India.
It is believed that Shiva first manifested himself as a Jyotirlinga on the night of the Arudra nakshatra, thus the special reverence for the Jyotirlinga. There is nothing specifically different visually, to distinguish it from other Shivalingas, but it is believed that a person can see these lingas as columns of fire piercing through the earth after one reaches a higher level of spiritual attainment. Tri Ambakani Trimbaka means The Lord who has three eyes - Trimbakeshwar. The extraordinary feature of the Jyotirlinga located here is that it has three faces embodying Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu & Lord Maheshwar (Shiva). The Shivalingam is seen in a depression on the floor of the sanctum.
All other Jyotirlingas have Shiva as the main deity. The temple, which is at the foothills of a mountain called Brahmagiri on which the river Godavari originates, is known for its appealing architecture and sculpture.
Shrimant Balaji Bajirao alias Nanasaheb Peshwa built the main temple during his regime. The work, which began in 1755, was completed in 1786. It is built of black stone in the Nagara style of architecture and is enclosed in a spacious courtyard. The entire structure is ornamented with sculptural work featuring running scrolls, floral designs, figures of gods, yakshas, humans and animals.
At the entrance to the temple there is this Lord Ganesha figure on which you will see people sticking coins. It is believed that if your coin sticks, your wish will be granted.
It is a convenient side trip on the way to or from Nasik and Shirdi. On the Mumbai Nasik route, just about 30kms before Nasik, there is a left turn for Trimbakeshwar. The road is narrow but good. From the cut off, it is about 40kms.
As you approach the temple, you are approached by the local touts, who will promise to whisk you through to the inner sanctum for a fee of Rs.100/-. No queues. In connivance with local security and police, they will even ensure you get a parking space right outside the temple gate! We decided to go on our own so had to park about 200m away in the official parking lot (the touts had told us it would be a km away!). From the entrance of the temple, right upto the inner sanctum there are barriers erected to ensure all visitors enter via a single file. Though the queue seemed long, we got to get in within half an hour. There were priests all along asking to be hired for special prayers, if any, one had to offer.
Photography is prohibited inside the temple.
Saw a board outside which mentioned that entry is for Hindus only.
If you are returning to Mumbai, you have an option of taking the Western Express Highway via Manor. The distance form Trimbakeshwar to Manor is 100kms and Manor Mumbai is 80kms. The roads are excellent all the way. There is an MTDC approved Hotel apart from local guesthouses providing accommodation to those desirous of spending more than a day.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lonavala

At a distance of just 120 kilometers from Mumbai is Lonavala – the much adored, abused, frequented, clich├ęd hill station since time immemorial. It is the place to chill out when you are at a loose end, not knowing what to do for the weekend or generally bored any time. Just hop on to either your vehicle or take a bus or train to ‘the’ destination. If you don’t have a booking to stay overnight, no problem. You can either spend the day and return in the night or spend the night in some place of your choice provided you are not very picky.

It was precisely such an occasion that I landed in Lonavala last weekend. Had nothing to do and had no booking either.

Left the hot urban grime of Mumbai early Saturday morning and landed in Lonavala in an hour and a half. Loafed around generally, had a leisurely breakfast in ‘Ramakrishna’ and set about looking for a place to dump my overnighter as had decided to stay away from the city for a couple of days. All the hotels/motels along the Mumbai-Pune highway at Lonavala were full. So I ventured onto the other side across the bridge where you will find the famous ‘Cooper’s’ – the fudge people, very close to the Lonavala railway station.

Instead of going towards the railway station, I turned right at the small circle and moved on. Soon on the right-hand side, I spotted a few quaint cottages freshly painted in white with red arches. They looked very pretty in the wooded area with plenty of trees.

The ‘Shivshanti’ hotel turned out to be an MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation) approved destination and they had cottages to spare! The rates were very competitive and the staff very friendly and cooperative. Without any further ado, I checked in and the rooms were very spacious and clean with fresh linen – worth every paisa that I had been charged. All the cottages had a small balcony with a view. After having refreshed myself, I plonked myself there to unwind the city clock and release the stress. There was plenty of greenery around and this at a time when monsoons were about to set in. So one can imagine how beautiful the view would be a few weeks into the monsoon. Had my lunch right there and a nap later, in the evening, drove towards ‘Bushi dam’ – another famous touristy place especially in the rains. But my destination was a few kilometers ahead of the dam. There is a slightly steep climb onto a hill and all of a sudden, this beautiful sight appears - it is heavenly.

There are hardly any people there, fortunately, and one can select the best spot on a cliff to sit and drink in a fabulous sunset!

Apparently, this is called ‘Lion’s point. This information was supplied to me by another spectator who too did not appear very sure about the name. However, if you wish to go there, just go a few kilometers beyond the crowded Bushi dam and you will find the heavenly sights unfolding right before your eyes. The name is immaterial. This is a sight worth traveling all the way. It is guaranteed to de-stress, rejuvenate and maintain your mental hygiene!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bhandardara

Bhandardara – the perfect weekend getaway for the stressed out Mumbaikar! Situated at a distance of about 180kms, it can be reached in about three to four hours from Mumbai.

Get on to the Mumbai Nashik highway (NH3) and just beyond Igatpuri, you will see an exit to the right for Bhandardara via Ghoti village.

We left Bandra around 0730hrs and reached Bhandardara at 1130hrs including a half hour breakfast break at ‘Bhagat Tarachand’ a pure veg. restaurant which is fastidiously clean, airy and serves wholesome food. If there are no tables available you can opt for self service too. This restaurant is about 80kms from Mumbai, just before Shahapur. Or you can halt at ‘Manas Resort’ near Igatpuri or the Prestige food plaza. These are some of the good places to take a short break on the way.

The roads overall are excellent except for the roads in the Ghoti village which are narrow and crowded. The signage all along to Bhandardara and back is good to ensure you do not lose time asking for directions.

The MTDC resort overlooks the placid Lake Arthur which is formed by the dammed waters of the Pravara river.

Legend has it that Shri Agastya Rishi meditated continuously for a year, living only on water and air. Pleased with his tremendous devotion the Lord came down to earth, blessed him and left leaving behind a stream of Ganga - now known as Pravara River.

The Wilson Dam built in 1910 on the Pravara river, is almost 150 meters above sea level. When the sluice gates of this dam are opened, the Randha waterfalls are in action. The water cascades down 45 meters - an ideal place to relax and enjoy nature. Besides being a scenic spot, these falls are also used for hydropower generation.

If you are energetically inclined, hike up to Mount Kalsubai, Mahrashtra's highest peak at 1646 m. This is a day's trek from Bhandardara, and can be combined with Ratanwadi, 22 km away; the 8th century Amruteshwar temple; and the 400-year-old Ratangad Fort where the Maratha warrior Shivaji rested on his laurels. The ancient Agastya Rishi Ashram on the banks of the Pravara River is another attraction. The ashram is mentioned in the Ramayana as the spot where Ram met Agastya Rishi.

In Bhandardara, you can hire a guide to take you around for fees ranging between Rs.100/- to Rs.200/- for the day.

If you just want to chill out you can do exactly that and maybe go for a boat trip across the lake. The fishermen, when not using the boat for fishing, will gladly take you around the lake for a small price. The price varies depending on the season.

Fish lovers can enjoy the freshly netted catch from the lake. The MTDC restaurant serves a pretty good ‘Fish curry and rice’ and is a multi-cuisine Value For Money eatery.

The MTDC accommodation can now be booked online at www.maharashtratourism.gov.in

The railhead closest to Bhandardara is at Igatpuri, 45 km away on the Central Railway. From Igatpuri, State Transport buses and taxis take around one hour to get to Bhandardara.

From Bhandardara, you can also visit Nashik(70kms), Shirdi(110kms) or Trimbakeshwar(70kms).

Karnala

KARNALA Barely a hundred kilometers from Mumbai is an amazing spot, which is a haven for bird watchers, picnickers, rock climbers, weekend hikers and Fort spotters. At a distance of about ten kilometers from Panvel on the Mumbai Goa highway, it has become quite a popular getaway for Mumbaikars who wish to unwind during the weekend. There are plenty of options available for those who wish to stay overnight too. I went there on Saturday evening and stayed at Hotel Karnala, which is about three kilometers from the sanctuary. As a matter of fact the owner happens to be one of the oldest hotelier or restaurateur in the area. Hotel Karnala offers the basic room with a bathroom with/without aircon at very reasonable rates. He will even organize to drop you and pick you up again on request from the sanctuary. Early on Sunday morning I started trekking up to the Karnala fort, which is at height of 445m above sea level. As per the board at the base, which gives all the details, the distance to cover to reach the fort is three kilometers. It took me around one and a half hour to reach the top. Believe me every minute was worth the effort for the views all around, accompanied by birdsong interspersed by hooting of the owls. Unfortunately I am not very familiar with the avian species; otherwise the experience would have been so much richer. I intend doing some homework on that score before going there again. The thumb shaped rock on top of the Fort is a landmark that can be viewed from a distance, and is used by rock climbers for their adrenalin rush! Having reached the top was my thrill pill and the views that it afforded were spectacular. I have tried to capture as much as I could on the basic digicam that I have, to share the wonderful moments of a thrilling morning. Enjoy!

Daman in the rains..

Daman in the rains! Had heard plenty of Goa in the rains, but Daman, well decided to check out this Goa wannabe and drove out the 200kms to Daman this monsoon. Daman, which used to be a Portuguese territory, became part of India with Goa and Diu in 1961. The Portuguese took control of Daman in 1531. There is still a Portuguese feel to the city with the fort, churches, and ancient Portuguese houses. Daman and Diu now make up the Union Territory of Daman and Diu and are governed from Delhi. The Daman Ganga river divides the town in half. In the southern part of the city known as Moti Daman (or Big Daman) is the old Portuguese area where the government buildings and old churches are located. A large wall surrounds it. Most of the hotels are located in the northern part of the city, Nani Daman (Little Daman). The roads all the way are superb. Daman lies about 15kms off Vapi along the Mumbai Ahmedabad highway. There are plans afoot to convert this highway into an expressway like the Mumbai-Pune one and the efforts are evident in the widened roads and smooth surfaces all along. The dhabas that used to dot the countryside along the route have disappeared and replaced by restaurants, which are few and far between. The route somehow seems to be accident-prone as we saw quite a few trucks that had rolled off the highway into slushy land and had to be towed back by cranes. This led to frequent traffic hold ups, otherwise the journey is pretty quick and pleasant. But one should be warned about the lack of prominent signage for the turning into Nani Daman. It is very easy to miss it if it does exist as we did not see any and had to ask around for directions. Once you reach Nani Daman, it is just one straight road to Devka Beach. This is where the action is in Daman. Devka Beach is around 3kms of promenade lined by Hotels, wine shops and bars and restaurants on one side and a park on the beach on the other. It is bargain time in Daman during the monsoons and we got a fantastic bargain in Hotel Shilton at Rs.500/- per day for an air-conditioned double-bedded room that faced the beach. There are plenty of Hotels along the road and it is advisable to check out as many as possible to get the best possible rate. Some of the hotels offer Health Club facilities, swimming pool, indoor games like table tennis and carom, which can be useful during rainy days when you might not be inclined to step out. There is nothing actually much ‘to do’ in Daman. It is a place where you can go for long walks on the beach, sit around in the park or in your hotel room facing the beach and watch the sun go down. In short just chill! Liquor is cheap and freely available, hence Daman is a big bar for the residents of neighbouring dry state of Gujarat. In the park and on the beach you will find hawkers peddling beer and nuts on the sly. Daman is also being promoted as a conference and rest and recreation center for the Corporates in the industrial belt of Vapi just across the border.

Malshej

MALSHEJ
If you love the mountains and wish to spend some time communing with nature, without having to spend too much of time or money, Malshej is the perfect weekend getaway from corporate Mumbai! On the State Highway 222, at a distance of 140kms from Bandra, Mumbai, Malshej is the sole resort to assist you unwind in any season – summer, winter or monsoon. As a matter of fact, in the monsoons the bird (winged variety) watchers flock to sight the flamingoes which home in there too and the resort was named Flamingo resort when a private entrepreneur had leased it. Now MTDC has it back under its control and the bookings can be done at the regular MTDC rates at their offices. To reach Malshej you have to take the highway to Ahmednagar (Nagar, as it is popularly known) via Thane, Kalyan and Murbad. The roads are good and a pleasure to ride on, especially the ghat section and the traffic beyond Murbad is sparse. A point to note is that there is no petrol/diesel pump beyond Murbad until Junnar a distance of about 60kms, so if you are running short on fuel please ensure you fill up at Murbad. The ghat section begins soon after crossing Murbad and is notorious for dacoity between sunset and sunrise, so it would be wise to cover the distance in daylight. The views of the mountainous region are breathtaking all the way to the top, which is Malshej. Once you reach the top, ensure that you do not miss out on the tiny board that announces and directs you towards the only habitation in the area – MTDC. There is a neat ramp built all the way to the MTDC office. Settle in to your room and throw away your watches as time by the clock is of no consequence except while checking in/out which is 12noon. The views from some of the rooms are spectacular and may restrain you from going out on to the cliffs but let me assure you that you will not be disappointed if you do step out. There are plenty of awe-inspiring sights of mountains and valleys that will make you utter those famous words – if there is a heaven, this is it…! There is no television and the only communication would be through your cell phone and that too if your service provider is ‘Airtel’. A few minutes walk will take you to the rock on which you have to sit if you wish to receive or make calls on your Airtel mobile! Am not being funny, dead serious! Therefore, you are literally cut off from civilization and you may rejuvenate your mental and physical strengths on the mountainous heights of Malshej, just a couple of hours drive from stress driven Mumbai, for as long as you wish!

ASHTAVINAYAK and some….

ASHTAVINAYAK and some…. Ashtavinayak is a group of eight Ganesh temples in Maharashtra that are considered very important by the devotees of Lord Ganesh. These eight temples house the ‘swayambhu’ or ‘self-formed’ idols of the Lord Ganesh, hence the importance and high reverence attached to this octet. A pilgrimage to the Ashtavinayak is considered to be a milestone in the devotee’s life. The eight temples/idols of the Ashtavinayak in their religious sequence are: 1. The Moreshwar Temple at Moregaon 2. The Siddhivinayak Temple at Siddhatek 3. The Ballaleshwar Temple at Pali 4. The Varadavinayak Temple at Mahad 5. The Chintamani Temple at Theur 6. The Girijatamak Temple at Lenyandri 7. The Vighnahar Temple at Ozar 8. The Mahaganapati Temple at Ranjangaon Each of these temples has its own individual mythology and history the details of which can be found at http://www.ashtavinayaktemples.com/ Since we set out from Mumbai, and most of the temples are around Pune, we did not abide by the suggested religious sequence of visiting the temples but planned our own. On day 1 Mumbai – Pali (112kms) We headed our car onto the Mumbai Goa highway (NH17) for Pali. The road was excellent right up to Nagothane from where we had to turn into a side road for Pali. The distance from the turnoff up to Pali, which is about 15kms, brings you down to earth after a smooth ride. On reaching Pali we saw a few ‘Free Parking’ boards displayed but all those were empty except for the one nearest to the temple, where there were just a couple of cars parked. Having parked, we set out to visit the temple when we were accosted at the entrance of the parking lot by a mother-daughter combo selling ‘puja thali’ (offerings for the puja). Apparently the parking was free if we bought the offerings from them! Or else we had to pay Rs.10/-, which anyway was the cost of the ‘puja thali’. So we did the smart thing, bought the offerings and proceeded towards the temple. No photography of the idol is allowed in the sanctum sanctorum so had to be happy taking a snapshot of the temple from outside.
The Ballaleshwar Temple at Pali.
Our next destination was The Varadavinayak Temple at Mahad at a distance of 44kms from Pali. We had to head towards Khopoli and on our way out of the parking lot we spoke to a driver just driving in. He was apparently coming in from Mahad and gave us very scary stories of the road conditions. But we moved on regardless and were pleasantly surprised to find that maybe only a couple of kilometers of the 44kms to be traversed were bad, well awful. It took us about an hour to cover this distance. The parking here is free – no strings or offerings attached. You can see the temple premises from the parking spot, which is on one side of a lovely pond.
The temple view from parking spot.
The view from the temple of parking spot.
When we were standing to pray, we were told that we could actually enter the Garbagriha (sanctum sanctorum) and offer our prayers, but no photography please! So after offering our prayers, when we came out, we were directed to a spot where the ‘mouse’, which is considered to be the vehicle of Lord Ganesh, was installed.
We could stand behind this mouse and take photographs of the idol.
In the same premises there is also a Datta mandir and a small space housing 3 deities
Shani, Ketu and Rahu along with Hanuman.
The facilities for the visiting devotees are good here. There are clean washrooms (pay per use) and place to rest, eat and pray or meditate. The overall ambience is very pleasant. Now it was time to have some lunch and head for Pune. We got onto the expressway via Khalapur and raced to Kailas Parbat – the lovely vegetarian restaurant in Lonavala. After a satisfying meal we left for Pune. The distance to be covered from Mahad was approximately 110kms. In Pune we checked in at Hotel Sargam – a fine new hotel in Yerawada. The rooms, food and the service were very good. Did some more temple visiting in Pune like visiting the
Dagdusheth Halwai’s Ganpati temple

and the Ganpati temple in Saras Baug.
And then of course how can one leave Pune without visiting the famous ‘Chitale Bandhu’ and buying their famous savories and sweets! On Day 2 Onwards to The Chintamani Temple at Theur at a distance of about 25kms from Pune on the Pune Sholapur highway. A smooth ride all the way. We did the distance in about 40minutes. The parking is free here though unfortunately the restroom/toilet facilities here are pathetic. But the best part is that photography of the idol is allowed though we are not allowed in the Garbagriha unless you have paid to do any special Puja. Next destination on the route was The Moreshwar Temple at Moregaon at a distance of about 65kms from Theur. The ride again was a smooth one and we did it in an hour and 15minutes. About 100metres from the temple premises is the entry for vehicles where there stands the toll parking charges collector. There is no ‘Parking lot’ as such but park wherever you find space between shops in the market place outside the temple. In the temple no entry into the Garbagriha and no photography please. On the way out from the temple I asked an old hawker if any clean toilets around. His reply, “Of course there are clean toilets. Not like in Mumbai!” And truly the pay per use toilets were clean and odorless. The Siddhivinayak Temple at Siddhatek at a distance of about 70kms from Morgaon was next on the list. This again is off the Pune Sholapur highway and a smooth ride. Previously one had to cross the Bhima river by boat to reach Siddhatek from Shirapur but now the bridge is almost ready though the ramp leading on and off is still to be paved. But traffic is allowed and if one has a low chassis vehicle you have to be careful, otherwise no serious problems. Here too entry into the Garbagriha and photography of the idol is prohibited. Plenty of parking space for a fee of Rs.10/-. No decent facilities for meals or washrooms. Generally seems very crowded once you enter the premises. Made a quick exit after offering our prayers. The Mahaganapati Temple at Ranjangaon at a distance of 100kms from Siddhatek beckoned and off we went on the Pune Nagpur highway. The ride was smooth for most of the way except for a couple of real awful patches that rattled the car and occupants for about 15kms. Took us about 2 and half hours to reach. This is the most organized in terms of parking (free); washroom facilities and a decent restaurant where one can have a reasonably filling snack too. This temple is on the highway so one of the most accessible hence popular, from Pune. No entry in the Garbagriha but photographs of the idol allowed on payment of Rs.25/-. Having offered our prayers to the Lord and snacked on the local Batata Wadas, we set back for Pune, which was about 50kms from Ranjangaon. The ride back was a very smooth one and took us just about an hour.
The sunset enroute added to the pleasure.
On day 3 We bid Pune goodbye at 0700hrs for The Girijatamak Temple at Lenyandri. The distance to be covered was 100kms from Pune via Junner. The road was good except for about 5kms from Junner. It took us about 3hours to reach, which includes time taken for typical Maharashtrian breakfast of ‘Kanda Pohe’ at Narayangaon. Girijatmaj Vinayak's temple is in the 8th of 18 Buddhist caves known as Ganesh Gufa, or "Ganesh caves." The parking lot is at the base and the fee is Rs.10/-. The entire temple is carved out of a single stone and faces south. It is located on a mountain, and one has to climb 207 steps to reach the top. We took about 30minutes to climb and 20minutes to get down. In front of the main mandir there is a large hall, approximately 53 by 51 feet. The main mandir hall is 7 feet high and has 6 stone pillars with cows, elephants and other animals carved on them. You may photograph the idol to your hearts content! No questions asked!
At the door of the temple's sanctum sanctorum was this engraved marble.
After descending we had a refreshing glass of sugarcane juice and then off we went to The Vighnahar Temple at Ozar, a distance of 30minutes of bone rattling 15kms. At Ozar, it is pay Rs.10/- and park in a huge parking lot. The facilities for devotees here are very good. For a small sum you can have meals at the temple and there are rooms and dormitory available if you wish to stay over. You may photograph the idol but at a price of Rs.21/-. We were in time for the afternoon puja and felt blessed, as this was the last of the Ashtavinayak temple to be visited. Now it was the home run back to Mumbai but decided to take a break at Malshej, 40kms of ‘under reconstruction’ road from Ozar, where we spent a wonderful communing with nature at the MTDC resort. The Malshej experience may be experienced at http://photings.blogspot.com/2006/10/travelogue-malshej.html The total distance covered was 850kms of which around 10% of the roads were bad, otherwise it was a superb driving experience. .