Monday, June 20, 2016

Of fireflies and Palaces.

Indian Bloggers

When I was in school, over five decades back, we used to go to our ‘native place’ near Mangalore from Mumbai, every summer, to escape the urban summer heat and relax in the rural ambiance. Those days there was no power supply in our town and we used to light up ‘Petromax’ lamps every evening. At sundown we would sit out in the courtyard and chat/play away into the night and discuss the various formations of stars and planets in the cool dark sky. Spotting the milky way was another favourite pastime. Another fascinating activity was the arrival of the fireflies. They would come in pairs and then tens and keep flickering away. Sometimes we used to catch them and hold them in our palms and stare at them in wide eyed innocence. Ah those were the days alright, the good old days.
A few days back I got a notification from Canvas N Chrome, an adventure travel company, that they were organising a ride to Jawhar, around 130kms away, where we would be able to spot fireflies! And as a bonus they would also show us around the Jaivilas palace in Jawhar. As I registered for the ride I was looking forward to be transported to my childhood that was lit by fireflies and dreams of milky ways!
All of us met at 11.30am in the Fountain Hotel on NH8 near Mira Bhayander and started off on our wonderful ride to my dreamland! The ride on NH8 was a smooth one upto Manor, from where the road narrowed down right upto Hotel Leaf in Valvand, 10kms before Jawhar city. On the way one of 

the bikes gave up and had to be deposited at a local garage to be trucked back to Mumbai the next day. All our efforts could not revive it.
Having reached our Hotel for the night, we offloaded our baggage, refreshed ourselves by having 

some excellent lemon tea and moved on to check out the Jaivilas palace in Jawhar.
This beautiful palace was built by Raje Mr.Yashwant Rao Mukane in 1913.The pink stone used for 

this was brought from Sakhara which is 12km away. The legend goes that when the work of building the palace was completed, the quarry from which the stone was extracted was destroyed.
It is kept locked now and apparently a room is kept in liveable condition for the erstwhile royalty who visit this place once in a while.

The palace ground is beautiful with lot of flowering trees giving it a very joyous ambiance. The view from the rear of the palace also is lovely, a photographer’s delight.

Nobody is allowed to loiter after sundown as there are leopards prowling around and the watchman told us stories of how a couple of dogs were mauled away just a few days back. Those made us make a beeline to the exit and back to Hotel Leaf for some yummy fried chicken filets washed down by lemon tea.
By this time the fireflies were calling so off we went into the darkness glittering with clusters of fireflies on surrounding trees. It was a spectacle to behold!
Posted below is a short clip of the fireflies extravaganza on display but of course it cannot replicate the real deal!

Tried to scour the skies for milky ways but to no avail as it was cloudy and there was some ambient light from neighbouring Jawhar town.
I rode back satisfied.

This is not a sponsored post.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Glide like a bird

As the temperature rises in Mumbai the urge to escape to cooler climes rises proportionally.
As I scan the sky trying to plan out something different I see birds soaring and gliding around and it kindles the desire in me to do something similar !  
Google to the rescue and am talking to a very friendly person from ‘Temple Pilots’ regarding para gliding that can be done just a hundred kilometres from Mumbai!
The booking is made for a joy ride which is a tandem flight with a licenced instructor and all that I have to do is sit in the harness and enjoy the flight while the Flight Instructor takes care of the rest.
The meeting point is in Kamshet which is about ten kilometres from Karla so we decide to stay 

overnight in MTDC Karla, as our flight, subject to weather conditions, is fixed for the evening, as the mornings have not been very conducive for para gliding.
So we meet up with our contact from the Para gliding outfit at 1500hrs and then move on to the take off point which is another ten kilometres away on a scenic narrow road uphill. Having parked in the allotted space we then walk for about five minutes to where the action is. The excitement builds up 

as we see people arranging the gliders, checking the wind and generally preparing for the evening action. We are about ten of us who have signed up for joy rides and are asked to gather for a short briefing about what to expect. We are told that the flight would last for approximately ten minutes

and the payment would be post flight. The order of who would fly when, depending on various factors like wind, weight of person etc., would be decided by the person in charge of the operations. Being on the heavier side I get the opportunity to watch others take off before I was called for my turn. Here is a short video of a take-off though due to poor wind conditions they had to land below

the hill while all of us landed on the spot from where we took off.
Before I knew it I was harnessed and 1,2,3… take off! It was exhilarating. I had a GoPro camera strapped on to shoot what I saw and here is an edited version.

Now I know what is meant by ‘free as a bird’! The beauty of latching on to air currents and fly to soar and glide is meditative when all you hear is the wind and are at peace with the world. This is what differentiates it from flying in a microlight or any other aircraft where there is the hum of the engine. Paragliding is like riding a bike instead of driving a car but with the added advantage of merging in the sounds of nature.
The landing too was perfect! The experience ethereal!
There are many paragliding outfits in Maharashtra and all of them charge the same. After a bit of research I zeroed in on ‘Temple Pilots’.
This is not a sponsored post. I have paid for the activity and I think it is worth every Rupee!
The charges for a joy ride are Rs3000/- per flight on weekends and Rs.2500/- on weekdays. Please confirm these rates with the operators.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Andaman islands

Indian Bloggers

The desire to visit Andaman Islands was sparked off by the stories read and heard about the torture

and death of Indian freedom fighters, who were incarcerated in the Cellular Jail in Port Blair by the British.

 Much later did I learn about the natural beauty of the Andaman Islands that was on display.
As luck would have it, the destination presented itself while I was surfing the internet for a holiday, and I got some real good deals on the air fare and the travel and stay package in Andaman. The best part was that we would be landing in Port Blair on the 15th of Aug, our Independence Day,  and a visit to the cellular jail on that day was the least I could do to pay my respects to the brave souls who had sacrificed their lives so that we could celebrate this day!

The day we landed in Port Blair we went to Corbyn’s cove for a lovely walk on the beach in the 

evening, had some tangy ‘jhal moori’ followed by a cool drink of tender coconut water. Water sports

seemed quite a popular activity there though we did not participate but enjoyed watching.
And then we headed to the ‘Cellular Jail’ to attend the Sound and Light show. It was all lit up in celebration of ‘Independence Day’ and there was a festive atmosphere.

Once inside we sat on the chairs provided and waited for the history to unfold. The history would be narrated by the Peepal tree in the premises which was there even before the jail was built and hence had seen and heard everything that went on over all these years. The sombre voice over was that of Om Puri, an excellent choice. At the end of it one is left with humility and a sense of pride for all the bravehearts.
Next morning we took the ferry to Ross Island which was the erstwhile Administrative Headquarters for the islands till it was destroyed in 1941 by an earthquake. The headquarters were then shifted to Port Blair. Ross Island is comparatively a small island and one can complete a walk around in an hour. The ruins are there taken over by nature. It is maintained beautifully by the Indian Navy along with a tiny museum and a few spotted deer too!

Museum on Ross Island

As per Wikipedia “Ever since Dr. James Pattison Walker arrived in Port Blair aboard the East India Company’s steam frigate ‘Semiramis’ on 10 March 1858, this island remained under British occupation till 1942. From 1942 to 1945, the island was under the occupation of Japan. However, the allies reoccupied the island in 1945 and later abandoned it. During British occupation, this island was the seat of power of the British.”
Now it was time to indulge in some water sports like Scuba diving, Sea walk, Snorkelling and a ride on the glass bottomed boat to view the coral reefs that was being conducted on North Bay island where we were ferried to next.
I did the sea walk and it was an amazing experience!! You are taken to a floating barge in the sea and after a briefing taken down to the sea bed with professional divers who guide you all along. They also

take your pictures as you are not allowed to take your personal cameras. These pictures are then transferred onto a CD and given to you at no extra charge.
At the end of an exciting day we ferried back to Port Blair and the morning after we were back to the ferry station to be ferried across to Neil Island. On Neil Island we were driven around to a couple of beautiful beaches and at Bharatpur beach we took a glass bottomed boat ride to view the coral reefs. 
Was beautiful! And then post lunch and souvenir shopping, we went to see what they call Coral

bridge. Then it was time to take the ferry to the famous Havelock Island!
Havelock island is generally where all the tourists head for to relax and indulge in water sports but since we were there at a time when the water sports had not reopened yet, we enjoyed ourselves going for long walks on the beautiful beach and visited the famous Radhanagar beach which is touted

as one of the best beaches in Asia. After a couple of rejuvenating days in Havelock we ferried back to Port Blair and spent the last evening in Andaman visiting Chidiya Tapu.

The local cuisine is basically Bengali as the early settlers there were Bengali and they outnumber the Tamil settlers.

Was a wonderful enjoyable holiday and a destination that everyone should visit, be it for relaxation or water sports or a walk down history lane.