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Mumbai City Zoo

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mumbai City Zoo, called the Veermata Jijamata Prani Sangrahalaya or Rani Baug in Queen Victoria’s time. This place was earlier called Victoria Gardens and is very close to Veermata Jijamata Museum also known as Bhau Daji Lad Sangrahalaya earlier known as Victoria and Albert Museum. The zoo can be accessed from Byculla Railway Station on the Central Railway Line. The zoo is at a distance of 15 minutes that too walking from the station and is on the main road.

For instructions on the zoo timings read the info on this photo.

I took a entry ticket of Rs.5 in order to visit the zoo. No charge to taking camera along for photography. I decided to take mine along to get a few photos of animals in the zoo.

Zoo entry timings

At the entrance there is a security check and as always the security is very tight. What I mean to say is that, I had a Swiss Knife in my pocket and it didn’t detect the same and to top it I was not frisked at the entrance. 

What’s the use of the hi-tech security doors when they are not able to detect weapons?

But they do check bags to see if there are any eatables in it, as we are not supposed to feed the animals in the zoo. This is a good check, as there have been instances where people end up feeding animals in the zoo and the animals get food poisoned due to the food fed to them, as they are not able to digest them. Please try to understand that the stomachs of the animals are designed differently than us humans, that’s why they are animals and we are humans.

I then took out my camera and started on my photo tour of the Zoo. It was afternoon when I reached the zoo. Due to the winter the breeze was chilly so didn’t mind the heat. Few visitors. Mostly they were people from outside Mumbai who had come to see the Museum.

I saw a few squirrels there running about in search of food. They were so quick and fast that I had a tough time taking photos of them.

Walking for a few seconds I located two elephants made of creepers. They were quite a nice site to see. But I had come to see real elephants and not once made of creepers, is what I said to myself.
The Asiatic Lion was the first to see. I tried hard to locate the Lion in the cage, but I couldn’t. Then I asked a few people who were gathered there, “Bhaisaheb, Sherni dikaie di ki nahi” to which they replied “Nahi, Hum bhi Sherni ko hi dhund rahe hai” Finally one of the guys spotted the Lion and he shouted “Woh rahe Sherni.” I’ll narrate in English, I couldn’t see the Lioness so I asked the other visitors if they are able to view to which they replied No, later one of them saw the Lion.

The Lioness was busy sleeping in the cage. Trees camouflaged her quite well I should say. Any which ways she was very bored to stand up and pose for my camera. I guessed they are used to dozens of people coming to view them every day.

I then moved on to see the elephants; they were far away but to get a glimpse of them. They were a couple. We can’t get close to them so have to zoom in on our eyes and camera to take a pic.

All over the Zoo, there were instructions stating, Keep Silence, Do Not Feed or Tease Animals, Do Not Cross the Railing, Do Not Litter. I guess people were adhering to these instructions. This is a good thing.

Suddenly I saw a huge crowd gathered around a surrounding. I joined the gang only to spot two crocodiles resting in the hot sun in their surroundings. The crocs were so still they for a minute I said to myself “Are they real”, no movements at all. I was photographing them for 10 minutes and no movement in these 10 minutes. A few of the visitors should me another sitting in an enclosure nearby.

I saw monkeys a few meters away; they looked totally disinterested and sad. None of them were jumping around. They sat quietly in the shade and watched the people pass by. Hanuman Langur

No animals here
I later saw the Sambar, there were three of them, resting quietly in the shade, staring faraway in the distance. I guess they must be missing the life they enjoyed in the jungle, instead of here.

I then moved on to see the Himalayan/ Asiatic Black Bear; I tried to locate the bear, but couldn’t spot him. No crowd to see the bear either. Is there a bear in there or just an enclosure? , Did the bear break free and run away from there? Are the questions that came to my head? No one to answer my questions I walked away to see the Hyena.

The Hyena is guess was just fed by its caretaker and sent to its enclosure. It too was sad to be there.
I saw a few Back Bucks; I guess theirs is the only population which is increasing in the zoo. They are hoarded together and were resting.

Same was the scene with the Spotted Dear.

Hippos were there two, a couple both in the water in the shade. I waited with a hope that they would come out, finally my prayers were answered and they did come out. They were huge like the one I see on Naat Geo Wild or Discovery Channel and were cute like the one that features in Madagascar.

I headed off to see the Rhino, The Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros, but his horn was missing. He was all sad has he had just lost his partner. So sorry for him. All alone. He too I guess had grown old as he looked thin and skinny.

There was an enclosure for the Blue Bell, but couldn’t locate the animal there.
Zoo entrance, built by the British
Also what I noticed is that most enclosures were under maintenance, so I am guessing that these animals were moved to safer places for the waiting time.

The trees here have been numbered, 2336 was the no. I located on one of the trees.

There were a few birds too, but looking at the sad state of the animals I decided to head off from there. The animals looked lost, they were home sick, missing the jungle/ forest their home.

I think that they should take the animals out of here and put them in the jungle where they belong.

I then headed off to see Bhau Daji Lad Sangrahalaya located next to the Zoo.

Veg Marwadi Thali

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Veg Marwadi Thali

Had this amazing Veg Thali at Sun Temple  in Dreams the Mall in Bhandup.  Limited Thali at just Rs. 150 and Unlimited Thali at just Rs.200.


It had been a long time that I had been for a trek. My busy work schedule was keeping me away from outings. I made up my mind that this week I will go for a trek come what may. I asked Nimish and Darshan to which they readily agreed.

Where should we go, was the question, I had in my mind. As it had been a long time since we have been on an outing. When I has been on a family outing , we visited Bhandardara. Nearby to it , is the Kalsubai peak. The highest peak of Maharashtra. From the road we could see a minute orange colored structure atop it. The temple of Kalsubai.

Kalsubai peak flashed in my mind and so I informed Nimish and. Darshan about it. They too were on visiting it. How to go about it was the question that was lingering on my mind. So I gathered directions to it on google and so set out that night to explore it.

View of Bari Village
 As planned we decided to board the Mahanagari Express to Gorakhpur at Thane Railway Station. The train was going to arrive at platform no.5.  as announced. When we reached the platform there was no one there, nor were the lights lit. So we were doubtful if the train would arrive here. Let me inform you that we reached Thane Station about an hour early. Finally people started gathering on the platform. But no sign of the lights. Finally the train approached the platform as announced by the Railway authorities at 23:03 pm. The platform was not lit up and there was no indication as to where the unreserved compartments would halt. It would be sheer madness to hunt for them in a 17 boogie train in a record breaking three minute halt. We were just running to see which part of the station had the maximum crowd.

Finally we managed to board the compartment in the record breaking three minute time. Eeeeehaaaa. The unreserved compartment was packed with people. I guess the the compartment was packed with double the capacity. We managed to get a place to stand near the loo. :( some place is better than no place. Now we had to stick to this position till we reached Igatpuri station. The train was supposed to arrive at 1:30 am. We were hoping, there should no be commuters at Kalyan and Kasara. Else travelling would be a major pain.

The train reached Kalyan and then Kasara. The train was flooded with eatable vendors but no commuters , which was a good sign for us. Finally the train reached Igatpuri station at the decided time.

Another view of Bari Village
Now how do we kill time till 5 am. As the first bus to take us to the base village of Kalsubai departs from the ST bus stand which is around 20 minutes away from the station. Walking offcourse. That is the only mode of travel in the morning.

We killed time by chatting about our jobs and how we enjoyed our previous trips and plan the trips to come.  Now it was getting colder and we were beginning to feel it. Luckily we had windcheaters to save us from the cold and also rains incase.

As we were approaching the bus stop, we could hear "dhup dhup dhup" sound. Soon the sound was growing louder and louder. We were eager to find out where the sound is coming from in the dead of the night. We saw a troop of Boy Scouts marching towards us. The leader kept yelling Ek Do Ek and the troop followed him. The banging of shoes on the ground and the heavy panting of the troops was sound to our ears.

Greenery all around
Finally we reached the bus stop . We inquired at the ticket counter , we were informed that the first bus is at 5 am in the morning. The bus stop was also the halting point for some of the troops of the Boy Scouts. I guess only a few made it for the early morning run, the others were fast asleep here.

As it was approaching 5 am, the crowd started gathering at the stop and finally the sleeping troops,had no other option but to wake up.

As this was the start point of the bus. The bus arrived at the depot at 5:10 am. We boarded the bus to Pune which passes from Bhandardara. We immediately boarded the bus, only to find out that it was just us in it. The bus was painted last night as we could smell it. Now we were worried, hoping the seats were not wet with paint else our ass would be painted too.

One of the houses in Bari
Finally the bus took off. As the bus gained speed it grew chilly. Though the windows were closed but we were still feeling cold. Finally the wake of dawn. We could see the water bodies and hill ranges all around as we were travelling, the view was amazing. Sadly I couldn't take any photos as it was freezing  and my hands refused to come out of my pockets.

Finally the bus conductor alighted us at the base village of Kalsubai Fort. I don't recollect how much we paid for the tickets. But I guess it was around Rs. 45 each.

There was no one there. Just the three of us. Finally we saw a man running towards us. We were shocked to see that, he had come to receive us. Wow. He came to inquire if we would be interested in having breakfast. To which he readily agreed.

Breakfast time at Bari Village
The village was indeed beautiful. The fields were green. In fact I could see all possible shades of green there. In between the greenery I could see a cluster of village houses. They were covered with early morning due or fog, which made the sight even more beautiful.

As the time was around 6:45 am now. As we headed to his house we saw the women busy drawing water from the well. Children preparing to go to school. I was I fact happy to see the children going to school.

View from uphill
We finally reached his house. This house was very old. As per him it was built by his great grandfather. The carvings made on the wood was beautiful. He also had a shelter outside his house for cattle. He was a farmer by profession, side by side he also catered to the breakfast needs of Trekkers.

In a couple of minutes he bought us breakfast in the form of poha and tea. Both were amazing. We enjoyed every grain of it. Cost wise it was a bit expensive, but for that kind of quality and quantity, we didn't mind paying him Rs. 200 collectively.

One of the metal ladders on the way up the peak
He informed us that there is a bus to Igatpuri railway station at 3:30 pm. We decided to board this bus on our return journey.

At 7:30 am we kickstarted our trek. Crossed ankle length water from a waterfall , muddy and slippery roads to reach the trekking trail. As we kept climbing higher the view kept getting better. The hills were covered in fog so we could hardly see how tall they were.

The trail was slippery and mucky as it had rained the night before. But as there were sudden rain showers it was quite pleasant. We saw crops being grown on the  plateau as we were climbing uphill. The entire sight was beautiful.

Kalsubai Temple
We finally reached the metal ladder. We thought we had reached the top. Now we were searching for the temple when the fog around us cleared and we noticed that we still have a long way to go. We met a farmer on the way,when we inquired with him, as to how long it would take, he told us that we had covered  just 25% of the journey.  We were fooled by the fog a couple of times till we reached the top.

After crossing three metal ladders we had finally reached the temple, the Kalsubai temple. Services are held here. We had our snacks here. The weather was so cold that I was literally shivering here in the wind cheater. The fog was so thick that we could hardly see around us. For a moment we thought as if we were walking in the clouds. The same feeling I had got on my trip to Lohgad  in the winters. It took us 4 hours to reach the top.

We were hoping that the sun comes out and shines on us so that the fog disappears and it gets a bit warmer. But our prayers were not answered and the weather remained unchanged.

Flowers all around us
Finally at 12 noon we decided to head back to the base village.

The last metal ladder which we climbed was really steep. At a 80 degree angle. I was not getting the confidence to get down. So I asked one of the locals to watch over me wholi I was getting down. Once I made it to the bottom of it I got the confidence to get down from the other metal ladders.

The valley was blossoming with flowers. Blue colored flowers which made it even more beautiful.

We started to descend and gained speed on the muddy and slippery trail and in a matter of 2 1/2 hours we were at the base village. That was fast. Surprisingly none of us slipped while descending.

Three of us atop the Jeep
We immediately headed off to the bus stop hoping to get a ride to Igatpuri railway station. The time was now 3 pm. In a distance I could see a ST bus approaching the bus stop. I only hoped that, it was not the bus we needed to board. Sheer bad luck, that was the bus.

We inquired when the next bus would be, as there were many who couldn't board the bus. They told us, that it is at 4:30 pm.

We didn't want yo wait for 1 1/2 hours and so wre on the watch for an empty jeep, that could reach us to Igatpuri. But all the jeeps that passed by were packed.

Finally our prayers were answered. A jeep came by heading to Kasara at 3:45 pm. Though the jeep was packed, there was place on the carrier. Yes you heard it right. We travelled to Kasara on the carrier. The journey was fun. It was chilly and as the jeep gathered speed it gre more chilly. Though we were wearing wind cheater we were still feeling cold. 

Finally at 4:45 he dropped us to Kasara station. We immediately ran to book tickets. We not only got the tickets but all managed to board to CST bound fast train.

All that I can say is, this journey was fun :) 

Photo of the Day - Gas cylinders, anyone?

Friday, March 28, 2014

I found These Gas Cylinders stacked on the road at Dindoshi.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

I was planning on visiting Raigad fort for quite some time now, but due to some or the other circumstances could not visit this fort.

Finally a sudden decision to visit Raigad was made, with Pravin Kamble as my trek buddy.

Maha Darwaza

We wanted a direct bus to Raigad Fort from Mumbai. As we didn’t get any direct buses after making a couple of inquiries a day in advance  we decided to take a bus to Mahad and then from there change to a bus plying towards Raigad. From Mumbai buses run around the clock to Mahad and from Mahad buses run around the clock to Raigad.

As decided we met at Dadar Railway Station on the Western Side and walked to the nearest ST bus Stop. The ST Bus Stop is very close to the place from where private taxis and buses ply to Pune.

At around 10 pm we finally got a bus to take us to Mahad. We hopped on to this bus and within2 ½ hours time we were at Mahad. As it was night and thanks to less traffic on the road we were there in 2 ½ hours time which was surprising as we were expecting to reach in 4 hours time.  The bus journey cost us Rs.130 for two.
Coronation Place
As it was January the weather was very cold outside. Was feeling cold in the jumper I had worn.

Now we had to kill time at Mahad ST Bus station as bus to Raigad Fort was at 3:45 am. This was not a direct bus, but a bus passing through Raigad, going to Sandoshi as instructed to us by the attendant at the bus stop.

This bus arrived at Mahad ST Bus station at 3 am but departed for Sandoshi at 4 am. Now it was very cold at the bus station itself. 
View of the fort from the Ropeway
Was shivering from the inside and wanted a cup of tea to keep me warm. Could not locate any stall serving tea in the morning and so had to take my chances and see if I can locate a tea stall at Raigad. The bus had arrived from Borivali in Mumbai and had left Borivali around 11 pm in the night. That means there is a direct bus that passes from Raigad to Sandoshi. Eeehaa.

Finally after a 45 minute journey through the cold we alighted at Pachad Naka. The ticket cost us Rs.50 for two.

Pravin and Me
Finally at Pachad Naka which is the base village for the Raigad Fort we located a tea stall which was just starting business for the day. We were the first to give him business for the day. Had a hot cup of tea at Rs.10 each.  The tea reduced the shivering in my body to some extent.

We then decided to wait till dawn to start climbing the fort. Dawn was around 1 ½ hours away. What will we do sitting there for that long? Finally Pravin said, let’s start right away. Now we faced another problem.  After we started walking and were about to exit the base village we noticed that there were no street lamps nor were there any stars in the sky. Pitch black.  On Pravin s insistence we decided to move on in the dark using his mobile phone as a torch to show us the way in the dark.

As the approach road to Raigad had proper stairs we didn’t face much problem climbing up. We took ample rest on the way and finally at around 630 hours we were at the base of the two huge bastions of the fort. For the record at 7 am we were atop the fort.

We entered the fort via the Maha Darwaza.  A narrow or not so narrow entrance flanked by two huge bastions on either side. Just imagine what if the enemy had attacked via this route. They would have been ambushed by the soldiers atop the bastions.  

Remnants atop the fort
We hurried to reach the Coronation Point of Shivaji. Why? As it was morning we wanted to capture some good shots on our camera of the morning sunrise on the statue.

We were then greeted by Hunger Attack. Our stomachs had started growling as we hadn’t had anything since last night. We finally managed to find a few other trekkers on the fort who had camped there for the night and they gave us directions to the one and only hotel atop the fort run by MTDC.

I always wanted to camp on the fort for the night, but with a strength of two, it’s a bad idea. So maybe someday when I come with a big group will keep this option open.  Which might never happen as, I always travel in a twos or threes company. LOL

A little bit of history of this fort.  In 1656 A.C. Chhatrapati Shivaji took charge of Raigad Fort from Jawali’s Chandrarrao More. The Marathas ruled it from the 12th to 15th century. The Maratha’s lost the charge of the fort in 1436 A.C. after beaten by Bahamani King Alluddin Shaha II. Later on in 1479 A.C. and 1636 A. C. AhmadNagar’s Nijam and Vijapur’s Aadilshaha ruled respectively. Aadilshaha renamed the fort as ‘Islam gad’ and hand over the charge of the fort to Siddi of Janjira. In 1674 Shivaji Maharaj made this fort his capital and was coronated King at this place.

Rajyabhishek (crowning ceremony of King Shivaji) is an important event in the History of India and is held in the month of June each year and attracts a huge number of travelers and followers of Shivaji Maharaj.

Shivaji's Palace
Raigad Fort is located around 2850 feet high from the sea level. There are around 1737 (a rough figure) steps leading to the fort. In April 1680, the King Shivaji passed away and Aurangzeb took charge after beating Shivaji’s son Chhatrapati Sambhaji. Chhatrapati Shahu’s army re conquered the fort in 1734 and ruled over it till 1758. The British latter attacked on Raigad Fort in 1818 and destroyed most of structures including King Shivaji’s and Queen’s palaces. Now what stands atop the fort are just ruins which stack plenty of history.

Guides are available at cheap costs, as low as Rs.100 to show the main points on the fort. But we planned to explore the fort in entirety and so decided to skip the services of the guide.

We had Misal and tea at the MTDC hotel at a whopping price of Rs. 172.  Too high a price to pay for breakfast and as it was the only hotel there; they do have a monopoly on the prices. But do remember that breakfast is served post 8 am in the morning and tea is served all day long at Rs.20 a cup. Tea is served from the vending machine. The hotel also offers choices in biscuits, cold drinks and ice cream to choose from.
Throne of Shivaji Maharaj
The hotel is situated very close to the MTDC rooms available on the Fort and the ropeway leading down to the base village below. The price of one way ropeway is Rs. 110 and return journey is Rs. 175. It takes 4 ½ minutes to reach the base village. Shortest travel time.  Please note that the ropeway operates based on the passengers taking its services and that there are no timings for the same.

Tickets to the fort are available at both the entry points of the fort being the ropeway and the Maha Darwaza, it costs Rs. 5 for Indians and Rs. 100 for foreigners. No charge for Still Camera and Rs.25 charge for video cameras.

Most parts of the fort are in ruins and Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has done a pretty good job in maintaining what remains of the fort.
Nagarkhana Darwaza
There are plenty of places to see atop the fort , a few of them are Maha Darwaza, Chit Darwaza,  Hirkani Burj , Lahandarwaja, Palakhi Darvaja , Nagarkhana Darwaza, Mena Darwaza, Queens Palace and Shivaji Maharaj Palace, Palanquin Gate,  Gangasagar Talav, Bazaarpeth, Samadhis of Shivaji Maharaj and his Dog Waghya, Beautifully carved Twin Watch Towers and Jagdishwar Temple. Though sign boards were missing at a few places.

We walked through the ruins on the fort. Though what stands now are just walls with loads of history stacked in between them. Had we taken the services of the guides, am dam sure we would have heard unique stories about these historical monuments.

We located an Indian style toilet on the premises, the second one after Lohgad Fort.  See photo attached. We were wondering where the other end of this hole led too.

Indian Style toilet atop the fort
The Jagdishwar Temple is beautifully carved. Though from a distance it looked like a Masjid to me, I was taken aback when I came to know it was a Temple. The temple featured Islamic architecture. In its premises is the stone statue of Nandi Bull.

There are ruins of what I believe are houses all over the fort.
Structures a top the fort
Please note that lemon water, butter milk and cold drinks are available at small joints put up by the villagers all over the place. We patronized a few stalls for quench our thirst for a glass of lemon water for Rs10 for two.

The highest most point of the fort offers a jaw dropping view of the other hill ranges nearby, the villages and the valleys below and off course the fortification of the fort.  We located a bunch of kids hanging around a cave in its premises and tried to reach there, but sadly we got lost down the way in the wilderness and had to return back to the main road.
Jagdishwar Temple
I located just two cannons on the fort premises that too near the walls of the fort.  Finally after walking for 4 ½ hours we explored the entire fort.  

We finally reached the main entrance or the Maha Darwaza. We met a bunch of school children here who had also come to view the fort. I lost count of the no. as there were two many of them flanked by their teachers.  They gave us company while getting down from the fort. The children had carried food and water to have on the fort.
Shivaji's Samadhi
In an hour’s time we were at the bottom of the fort. i.e. Pachad Naka where we had lunch in the form of Egg Thali for Rs. 182 for two.

Had our full and again we were on a prowl to see some more historical monuments.  It was around 14:30 hours and the sun’s rays were the harsh. The weather hot as hell but that didn’t dampen us from exploring the Jijamata Wada.  Ten minute walk from here lead is to Jijamata Wada again an ASI protected monument. The Wada almost looked like a mini fort on the ground. Fortification as good as that of Raigad Fort. From the Wada the Fort was clearly visible.  The Wada had ruins of broken down houses all over the place. It took us around 30 minutes to see this place. The good news is that parts of the Wada are being reconstructed to restore it to its past glory.
Samadhi of Shivaji's Dog, Waghya
We then walked ahead for around 30 minutes in the hot scorching sun to locate the Jijamata Samadhi. But no sign of the same. At Pachad Naka there is a board stating that it is around 1 km from there and we walked for at least 3 km but no sign about the same.  Finally we met two localities’ on cycles who advised us that the Samadhi is around the corner. Finally we reached the Samadhi.

The Samadhi is enclosed in a garden and is quite a peaceful place. Here lies the Samadhi of the Mother of Shivaji. The Greatest Ruler Maharashtra ever had. We paid our respects here and then headed off to Pachad Naka from where we were planning to board a bus to Mahad. As always the ST buses are unpredictable L we then boarded a rickshaw at Rs. 50 for two that landed us at Mahad Bus Station.
The time was now 5 pm and there was no sign of a bus to Mumbai. Finally after making a few enquires we were informed that there is a bus at 6:30 pm to Mumbai. This was our only hope to take us to Mumbai.

We finally managed to board the bus and got a place to sit in the bus also. Woohoo. The ticket cost us Rs. 152. I guess the ticket prices differ from conductor to conductor as we were charged Rs. 130 to reach here from Mumbai. Never mind the ticket price at least we are in a bus heading to Mumbai. Finally at 10:45 pm we were in Dadar. From where we departed to our homes.
Jijamata Wada
I enjoyed my trek to Raigad Fort. It was an easy trek as there were steps to climb up and down the fort so it didn’t put much pressure on my knees and legs. Thank God. But what I liked most about it is that there are plenty of ruins atop the fort that give me a feel like I was living in that era. Also have to mention that the ASI is doing a good job in maintaining and renovating this place.
Jijamata Samadhi
Thus ends my trek to Raigad Fort. See ya soon, on a different trek after all there are many more to conquer.  


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My brother had been planning this trip for quite some time now. As the place is Bhandardara he didn’t want to go on the weekend as it would be crowded there.  There are only a handful of hotels up there. So he decided to go on a Thursday.  As that was one of the days in the week, when my nephews have an weekly holiday in school.
On the highway
Now I had to make the choice whether I should join them or not.  Finally I got my holidays confirmed for both Thursday and Friday and we decided to head out on Thursday morning.

As a family we have done two road trips previously. The MurudRoadtrip followed by the Ganpatipule Roadtrip. But this one was special. Guess Why?  The above two road trips were done in hired private vehicles. This was to be done in our own Honda City.
Houses in the midst of the greenery
Ashley had made the arrangements for us to stay at Yash Resorts located high up on the hills of Bhandardara.  He was the man who had planned the entire trip.

So as decided we. We comprises of Ashley, his wife and two kids, Our Parents and me, left for Bhandardara at 7 am in the morning.  We left early because we didn’t want to be stuck in traffic, and wanted to reach Bhandardara at the the expected time.
Racing an outstation train
So the first pit stop was the gas station.  Filled our car tank to the brim with Petrol. Hit the highway.

Initially when we started off he had building for co. on either side of the road. Soon the buildings were replaced by farms and hillocks. Guess what, in no time we were on the highway headed towards to Nasik. 
Magnificent Hills
The journey was very smooth as we were not stuck in traffic both within the city and on the outskirts of the city.

As Ashley was driving I was the official photographer for the journey.  As the mercury outside was rising the glasses of the car were rolled up. All snaps were taken from the car.
Countryside at Bhandardara
We ran parallel to the railway line so even raced the train to some extent.  Reminded me of the Hindi movie Dil Chata Hai, where they race an outstation train on their journey to Goa.

The sides of the roads had all the possible shades of green, once could think off. Greenery all around.
Countryside at Bhandardara
The blue skies, brown hillocks either covered or not covered with trees in various shades of green. The green farms and the farms filled with hay. The farmer’s houses far away in the distance covered with mango trees around them as a nice sight to see.

Second Pit Stop. Finally after 2 ½ hours we decided to take a break to have refreshments. It was just 9:30 am and I felt like it was noon. The sun shining angrily at us. Made us sweat even more.  In no time we were done and decided to head to Bhandardara. This was the last pit stop before we could reach the Resort.
Countryside at Bhandardara
To head to Bhandardara we had to leave the Nashik Highway and take the curvy and narrow and not so good road. The ride was a bumpy ride all  the way up.

Bhandardara is located in Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. It is approx 185 km away from Mumbai and around 191 km away from Pune.  It is rested high up in the hills.  It can be accessed only by road. There are a lot of places to see in Bhandardara.  The highest peak in Maharashtra, Mount Kalsubai is located very near to it. It also has the Wilson Dam, Arthur Lake, Amriteshwar Temple, Ghatghar, Ratangad Fort and Radha Falls in its vicinity.

Amazing reflection of the hills in the water bodies
The three good resorts here are, the MTDC Resort, Yash Resorts and Anandvan Resorts. We were putup at Yash Resorts.

We finally reached Yash Resorts at 11:30 am. Rest for sometime there. The place was very well done up. Rested there for some time and then decided to head back to the hills and valleys.

We had our lunch at Anandvan Resorts. It was quite an expensive lunch and then started off.
Wilson Dam
The narrow, curvy roads that went up and down the hills and valleys gave mind blowing views of the hills, valleys and water bodies.  Not a soul wandered off alone, on these roads. The villages, a cluster of houses were far away from each other.  A ST bus  and Jeep (local modes of transport passed us by.) No one dared to overtake us. As there was no one around.

The views all around were amazing. Especially the colors nature had to offer us.

The hill ranges around reminded me of the movie Cars, which features Lightning McQueen when he is driving up the hills of Radiator Springs with Sally Carrera for company. Even my nephews shared the same feeling. 
They have watched the movie a zillion times now. And never get bored watching the movie.
We reached Ghatghar; saw the Wilson Dam and the Sahayadri hill ranges from there.  The view from up here is amazing. A photographers delight to shoot photos from here.

We reached Amriteshwar Temple, The temple is beautifully carved. History states that this Shiva temple was made by Shilahaar family when they ruled over Maharashtra in 900 AD. The temple is active and services are held here.  The temple has two statues of Nandi outside it. As per the villagers there, they informed me that kirtans are held there in the morning and evening.

As it was growing dark now we decided to head back to our Resort. It took us around 3 hours to see the place in entirety. A car is a must on these hills.
Amriteshwar Temple
Finally at 6 pm we were at the Resort.  As it was a weekday the resort was half , full. We had a good dinner at night and immediately headed off to sleep. As we had to start for Mumbai the next morning.

The temperatures drop to 16 degrees at night here.  The days are pleasant and nights chilled. Wrapped in blanket I slept in the night.

Next morning woke up to the sounds of the birds chirping near the window pane. Wow for a change the birds had replaced my alarm clock.  The chirping was soothing to my ears.
We then headed to have our breakfast at Yash Resorts Cafeteria and then headed back to Mumbai.

I didn’t wish to bid farewell to this beautiful place but had to, as we had a long journey back to Mumbai. 

Usually I don’t do a place again. But I would love come back to this place again in my lifetime.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

After my last failed attempt in conquering Mahuli Fort, I took a vow that I would be back to conquer it again and so here I am. In my blog about unconquered Mahuli Fort I listed the reason that led to my downfall and so decided not to repeat the same on this trip.

Mahuli fort is around 2815 ft above sea level. It is located at Asangaon, around 91 km from Mumbai on the Central Railway Line on the Kasara side. This is the highest point in the Thane District. The forest around Mahuli Fort is a Sanctuary.  Alternatively by road, it is on the Mumbai-Nashik Highway. Manas Mandir is located very close to Mahuli Base Village.

Kintan came up with this plan to conquer Mahuli as he too was eyeing it for the last three years. And as always we spread the word amongst our friends and finally it was just the two of us who originally agreed on it, who ventured out to conquer Mahuli.

We chose the monsoon as the rains has just set in Mumbai and that it would be cooler in Mahuli and that we would not have a problem and heat.

As decided on Whatsapp, I boarded the last local at 0:33 hours local to Kasara from Dadar and Kintan joined me at Mulund Station.
On my way to Mahuli on a foggy morning
Though this was the last train plying on the Kasara line it was comparatively empty in comparison to the last local to Karjat, which is jam packed.

As we crossed Kalyan the weather was quite cool. Though there was no sign of rain and we were enjoying the ride in the train. It was just the two of us in the compartment. All of a sudden Kintan got up from his seat and started turning off the fan switches, when asked he said, “Lets save the Railways some money on the electricity bills” I was impressed. Infact we should all switch off fans when not in use. Now you will ask me why not the lights. We can’t do that as the switch of the lights is located in the motorman’s cabin.

At 2:17 am the train was finally at Asangaon Railway Station. We had planned that we would start trekking in the morning and so we decided to take a short nap on the platform.

There was another group of 3 more trekkers who too came with the intention of conquering Mahuli.

We then roamed on the platform hunting for a place to lay down our sheets for our nap. Most of the best places were already occupied.
Mahuli range in a distance
Finally we got a place. Kintan opened his bag and too my surprise he pulled out a foldable mat and an air blown pillow. I was stunned to see it. As trekkers usually come with sleeping mat and sleeping bags. He at least had that; I didn’t have either but a few sheets of Economic Times.

Wow the big bag accommodates all this, wondering what more surprises come out of it. Reminds me of the magician’s hat.

Now we had 2.5 hours to take a short nap and then head out of the station. As I was about to fall asleep suddenly I heard a noise and it was growing closer and suddenly it honked and in a fraction of a second an outstation train zoomed ahead waking me up.

Never mind that was just one and the last one and I tried to sleep again, when I was attacked by mosquitoes. They were quite irritating so I decided to switch on the Anti Mosquito application on my android phone. To an extent they stopped hovering around me and the effects of the application were short lived and mosquitoes surrounded me again and to top it more and more outstation trains zoomed on either side of the platform making it difficult to sleep. So here I was a nocturnal animal all awake on the station.
Soon Kintan too joined me as he too was not able to sleep. We then decided to walk out of the station to the rickshaw stand. As it was now 4:30 am the crowd was gathering for the first local to arrive at 4:51 for CST. Kintan then inquired with a few locals regarding the rickshaw availability and the cost for the same. We got mixed reactions from the crowd about the rickshaw.

We had tea at an outlet outside the station at the cost of Rs.5 each.
Finally the ladder that takes one atop Mahuli
We finally exited and striked a deal with the rickshaw driver standing there. Rs .250 to take us to Mahuli Temple. The last resort before the Fort. We turned around to see the other group but they had already exited out of the station. So it was just the two of us.

The reason why the cost is so high is because the driver would charge us for the return journey too as he would have to come back empty. We still exercised our option and boarded the rick.
It took us around 30 minutes to reach the Temple. The road was good till Manas Mandir later the condition of the road worsened. It was a bumpy rollercoaster ride. At certain places there was water filled in the road. Kintan had to then check the water level by throwing stones in it and then we moved ahead. The rickshaw driver predicted that it would rain heavily that day. And we were hoping that his predictions turnout to be true.

As we reached the temple we were greeted by the Pujari (Head of the Temple) who asked us if we would like to have some tea. How nice of him to ask us for the same. But as we had, had our tea we started on our journey at 5:55 am.

Mahuli Village is located at a distance of 2 km from the Mahuli Temple.
Kintan and Me atop Mahuli
The temple was full of trekkers who had come the night before and were sleeping in its premises. Good we had not come here earlier or else we wouldn’t get to sleep at all as it was totally congested inside.

There are proper arrows marked on stones so that one doesn’t get lost on the way to Mahuli and religiously followed the arrow marking. A group named Raaje Pratisthan has redone the arrow marking on the trek.

The atmosphere was superb. All cloudy and the peaks covered with dew all over, an amazing site to see.

On the way we were greeted by mosquitoes and other insects that refused to let us go and kept biting us all the way up to the fort. Firstly there was no rain so it was getting hotter; we were sweating and now the insects to add to our agony.

No wind or breeze till we reached half way up. Finally we were greeted by breeze. That was the best feeling so far. We sat down to enjoy the breeze when suddenly the dew started clearing and we could see the pinnacles standing in front of us. Awesome, Truly Awesome.

The climb as steep in certain places full of rocks, loose soil, slippery soil but that didn’t stop us from reaching our summit.

Aeoo Aeoo is the code used by trekkers to communicate with each other as it travels faster the Help and can be easily heard from a distance as per Kintan.

Remnants on the fort
We kept motivating ourselves and took our time to climb up the fort; we crossed three small hill ranges to reach Mahuli. Finally at 8:55 hours after three hours of climbing we were at the ladder that lets us climb up the walls of the fort.

Though the weather was dewy there was not a drop of rain, but the soil was still moist.

We had a few foto sessions and then headed off atop a cliff to have our breakfast in the form of chakklis and biscuits. From atop there we could not see any other hill range nor the valley below because the dew was so strong. It looked like we were walking in the clouds.

The dew droplets accumulated on the green grass was lovely and very refreshing to our eyes. I am guessing that it might have hardly rained and the fort and its surrounding were green all over. In my unconquered trip the grass had turned to hay, golden hay all around. What a shift. Amazing.

Now we had decided that we could descend the fort at 1:00 pm and we had three hours to see the fort in entirety.

Without wasting any time we finished our breakfast and started on our mission. There is very little fortification on the fort. Only near the ladder entrance can we see the fortification.

There are many paths here which can be walked upon to see the fort.
We were the first atop the fort that day. There was a water body there filled with water. It had two XX marks near it. Kintan then educated me that, it means that the water is not portable. It is denoted by either a XX sign or a skull and two bones. Danger sign.

We then followed the path and it went straight down and let us to a tree which had a shiv ling places next to it. It had a few caves there and led us to the entrance of the fort via the Kalyan Darwaza.

Kalyan Darwaza had steps all the way up to the fort from the base but it was bombarded by the British and so this way is not access able. But there are a few professional trekkers who come up via this route.

There are a few inscriptions carved on huge stone blocks lying there.

As the Kalyan Darwaza is not access able by all hence alternative route via the ladder was designed to enter the fort. No idea as to who built the metal ladder there. A big thank you to him for the same.

After viewing the ruins and we headed off on the path not knowing where it leads too. We kept walking on it for around 30 minutes. The path was leading somewhere, none of us knew where. The place was a jungle and a good location for shooting spooky films. As we were not heading anywhere we decided to return back. On the way we met some locals there. Around four of them. They were equipped with Catapults’ the moment they saw us approaching the started hiding it. I guess they are up to something I told Kintan. Maybe hunting for birds there. This place is full of exotic birds, flowers and insects. After inquiring with them they told us that this way led to Palasgad. One of the three forts atop here.

They told us that no trekker visits this place as there is nothing to see there, neither fortification nor any ruins.

Steep climb on the way to Palasgad.
But we could view it from where we were standing and decided to head back to the Kalyan Darwaza.

Now we were not alone on the hill. Instead of the rain pouring in people were pouring in. Kintan told me that atleast three trekking groups are planning a trip to Mahuli today so he estimated around 60 other people on the hilltop.

After a few inquiries with the other trekkers we followed another path that would lead us to Bandargad. They told us that if would take us around 45 minutes to reach the end of this hill and from there is a ladder to climb the other hill.

I guess this path is not used much by trekkers as we were the only ones on this path. We saw a few broken structures on the way. Huge stone blocks that had arrows other inscriptions on them. We walked on the path and finally reached the end of Mahuli and saw another hill there. Both the hills were joined by a piece of land and had valleys adjoining them.

A thin path lead to the other cliff. A small rickety staircase and then some rock climbing skills would take you up the fort. As both of us were bad at rock climbing we decided to sit and view it.

A little latter some locals came there equipped with catapults’ hunting for birds. We inquired with them and they told us that, it is the only way to go up the fort. Plus there is another way from the valley up to both the forts but that is used by the villagers as the climb is too difficult.

The villagers told us that atop Bandargad is located another Kalyan Darwaza and some broken monuments. God alone knows how much of it is true.

As we were about to leave we saw three locals atop Bandargad with huge sacks on their head. We were wondering how they would get down with that weight on their head. So we waited, after noticing no movement from there we headed off to the ladder at the entrance to have our lunch as we had to descend at 1:00 pm.

We had lunch in the form of dhokala with chutney and ketchup as add-ons along with chakklis and water to digest it all down.

We had ample water supply with us today, as both of us had carried two litres each, we were left with 2 litres to go.

Now Mahuli was getting packed with trekkers. There were around 100+ trekkers atop the fort. One of the trekking groups had come with 60 trekkers. Out of which some were atop and some far below. Wondering when the guys below would reach the top.

The return journey made me a little bit uneasy as the valleys were scaring me to the core making it difficult for me to trek down, Kintan was there to guide me down the hill and in two hours time we were down at the base.

We refreshed ourselves by bathing in a small stream and then headed off to have a chilled bottle of cold drink to quench our thirst followed by Poha.

We had walked for 9 hours in a row and our knees had suffered from the beating.

There is a refreshment store near the temple; we finally shared a mini man to get a ride to Asangaon station at 100 bucks on our heads.

Finally in 30 minutes time we were at Asangaon station for the 4:00 pm train only to find the train arrive at 4:15 pm. We got window seats.

We finally managed to conquer Mahuli and its neighbouring forts being Bandargad and Palasgad. Three for the price of one. Eeeeeehaaaaa.

We had a great time in Rs.275 per head.

Damages in the form of leg pains I will know tomorrow

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