Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Backpacking Ratnagiri In One Day

Introduction

Citing the occasion of my 27th birthday, I set off on a solo one-day trip to Ratnagiri and nearby areas. I had first visited the region for my 25th birthday, and then thrice repeated for good measure. This would be my fifth trip to the region and hence a good trial-room of sorts for my first true solo backpack trip.

Now, usually this region deserves at least two full days. I had a constraint of one. This post is about possible ways to overcome that constraint for a solo backpacker. Information for two day trips and places of interest in the region is easily available and can be covered in a different post.

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Getting In – Konkankanya Express

The distance between Mumbai and Ratnagiri is more than 300km one way. The best way to cover this distance is by train. The 10111 Konkankanya Express departs CSTM at 2305 hours every night and reaches Ratnagiri at 0630 hours the next day. This coupled with typical Konkan Railway delays will mean an actual arrival time of 0700-0730 hours. The train washrooms are mostly OK and can be trusted for the morning chores. The drawback is that since this is a busy route, the reserved tickets sell out much in advance.

 Ratnagiri Railway Station

Almost all trains on the Konkan Railway route halt at Ratnagiri, so other options are available. But, the Konkankanya is best suited to spend most of the productive day-time in the area. Bus journeys take longer, with many options available.

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The First Pit-Stop – Ganpatipule

The first pit-stop is where you would ideally find a place to take a bath and have a breakfast. Ratnagiri city has a few hotels near the bus-stand area which can be used for this. A better way would be to take the first bus out to Ganpatipule.

Ganpatipule, being a temple-town, has a few places which would actually let you freshen up and dump your luggage in a locker for a small token. These are efficient and good on the budget as well. Ganpatipule has three bus stops, alight on the second (middle from either end) stop. A minute’s walk away is a modest hotel to change and lock your luggage.


 Ganpatipule Temple

It is usually sometime around 0800 hours that one would be done with the bath and chores at Ganpatipule. The regular tourists do not start pouring in till about an hour later. A quick and quite darshan ensues, followed by the scenic pradakshina (parikrama/circumambulation) route which starts from the northern edge of the temple, circles the adjoining hill through the east and the south, heads west to the beach and then back to the temple.

The pradikshina marg

Beach activity here is best kept limited to walking in ankle-deep water, due to the notoriety of the undercurrents at this beach.

A 'chaturthi' procession on the beach

By about 0900 hours you are done with the temple and the beach and the shops have started opening up. Time for breakfast. Staying back for lunch here is enticing, especially for the modaks, but the packed one-day itinerary demands that one leave immediately after breakfast.

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The Second Pit-Stop – Ratnagiri

The second pit-stop is a place to lunch at, after some peaceful sights. From Ganpatipule, one can head north towards Jaigad, halting at places like Malgund and the JSW Ganpati Temple or any of the beaches that stretch along the highway on the way. A drawback here is that public transportation and food is scarce in these parts.

The JSW Ganesh Mandir

Karhateshwar Temple near Jaigad

The logical option for a solo backpacker is to return to Ratnagiri.It will be about 1045 hours by then. From here one can hire a rickshaw and head to either the Ratnadurg fort or the Thibaw Palace as per ones taste. I would any day prefer the fort though, walking along the ramparts on majestic cliffs overlooking the foaming sea.

The view from Ratnadurg

One can be back at the Ratnagiri bus station by 1200 hours after covering the fort and then head for lunch. Amantran is locally well-known for its offerings. Post lunch, one can do the Tilak Memorial or spend some time at the Mandwi beach as a pseudo-siesta.

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The Third Pit-Stop – Pawas and Ganeshgule

Returning to the Bus Depot by 1400 hours, one can catch any of the south bound buses to Pawas, 30 mins away. Once in Pawas, head east to the Swami Swarupanand Devasthan. Peace is the calling card of this place. Spend some time here, and have a sip of fresh panna or kokam sarbat before leaving. The ones who are pious at heart would do well to make Pawas their second pit-stop and take part in the aarti which begins at 1200 hours followed by a very tasty mahaprasad.

Entering Pawas

From Pawas, take a rickshaw westwards for 2 kms to the quaint and peaceful Ganeshgule Temple. Spend some time here and then walk for about 15mins downhill to reach the Ganeshgule village. Walk through one of the by-lanes for a minute to find yourself at the sands of one of the most
beautiful beaches in Maharashtra.

Ganeshgule beach

Aim to reach the beach by about 1600 hours so that the Sun has begun its descent and the heat dosen’t sting. The beach is safe for a little play, but venturing too far in the water would mean putting yourself at the mercy of the unpredictable undercurrents. Changing facilities and fresh water are available at a wadi (Ganeshkrupa Bhojanalay) near the northern end of the beach. Ask for a coconut here and they’ll offer you a fresh one directly plucked from the palms in the wadi.

Fresh tender coconut and a tree-house to complete the view

Take the last bus from Ganeshgule to Pawas at 1700 hours. Missing this bus would mean being potentially stranded there. Ganeshgule, anyway, is a beautiful place to be stranded at. From Pawas, catch any bus heading to Ratnagiri and alight at Bhatye beach to watch the sunset and grab a quick bite at the local stalls. Locals come out in large numbers here.

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Getting Out

Leave Bhatye by 1930 hours. Catch any of the buses plying to Ratnagiri. Grab a quick bite and head to the Ratnagiri Railway Station. The 10112 Konkankanya Express departs Ratnagiri at 2200 hours. The train is extremely vigilant during its return journey and will more often than not drop you off at Dadar by 0530 hours the next day.

Buses usually leave by 2030 hours and reach Mumbai by 0700 hours next day.

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Summing Up

The Ratnagiri area is one of my favorites when it comes to travel. There are many lesser known but beautiful places to be seen here only if one is prepared to look. One of the common traits of most of this places is the peace that permeates through them. Cases in point being the Lakshmi-Keshav temple located next to a water-carved ravine and the rare Kanakaditya temple. Evenings at forts have a special sense of nostalgia too.

Inside Jaigad Fort

I like to call this area as my personal paradise. Its close at hand, the people are helpful and at the same time share a lot in common with me.

The trail beckons

I always wanted to write a blog about this place that welcomes one and all. I personally feel that many more people need to know about these places, yet the effect of that knowledge on the future of these places sends shudders down my spine. Some of these places are yet untouched and I hope whoever goes there after reading this ensures that it remains so …

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© One Of The Road

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Gagron Fort & The Ambush At Jhalarpatan

Introduction

I spent my last day of my Rajasthan trip exploring places around the twin cities of Jhalawar and Jhalarpatan. Collectively these were a part of the former Jhalawar princely state in the Hadoti region of Rajasthan. The old princely state now makes up the namesake district that borders Madhya Pradesh to the south.

What promised to be remembered as a beautiful day of fruitful wandering suddenly crashed near the end and ended up as a major lesson for my solo trips.

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Getting There

I was based in Kota, and took the 9:30 am Kota-Vadodara Passenger to alight at Ramganj Mandi in an hour. From there, took a shared jeep to Suket and then another one to Jhalawar. Jhalawar has a rail-head direct connected with Kota, but the train timings were not so convenient.

On the map

I made an attempt to catch a direct train for the return journey, but the train was delayed by an hour and I was in a hurry, so had to discard it. The buses ply regularly to Kota from the New Bus Stand.

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Gagron Fort

Gagron Fort is massive!!! The fort is a part of the 'Forts Of Rajasthan' World Heritage Site. This fort does not have major story to tell like the others, but makes up with its location and its sheer size. The fort is built on a hillock at the confluence of two rivers - Ahu and Kali Sindh. The walls of the fort rise steeply for about a 1000 feet from the river banks and brilliantly complement the natural defenses of the fort. The eastern part of the fort now houses a dargah, and a part of that section is inhabited.

Now - some pics:

Main Gate of Gagron Fort

The green plains of the Ahu

Buildings on the fort with Ahu in the background

The confluence of Ahu and Kali Sindh
The raised ridge of the confluence acts as a natural checkdam

A family walks on the lower pathway of the fort
The inner wall is visible on the right

The Kali Sindh River

A pathway amid the ruins at Gagron

Some ruins at Gagron

The fort walls from the Kali Sindh banks

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Jhalarpatan Kartik Fair

Jhalarpatan is a walled city, a little south of Jhalawar. Further south of Jhalarpatan are the banks of the Chanderbhaga River which host an annual cattle fair for a fortnight in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov). The cattle had long gone, but the stalls still remained and a rickshaw-guy suggested I check them out. Nothing out of the ordinary - I moved on past the walls to the Chanderbhaga Temples.


A ride from a bygone era
Background - Wall of Jhalarpatan

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A Rude Ambush

It was almost 4 pm when I was on the road to the Chanderbhaga Temples. The road to the temple complex passes between rows of small houses and consequently does not see much thoroughfare. Walking on this road, I was ambushed by a pack of stray dogs. The story is much more entertaining when told in person, so I'll skip details. I escaped with a scratch near the ankle, but the rest of the day was derailed altogether.

The Chandarbhaga Temple complex

I took this pic at the temple complex before the langoors and the scratch made me take a hasty retreat.

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The Walled City Of Jhalarpatan

Jhalarpatan has quite a few gates that cross the walls, large and small ones. I decided to take a quick walk through the city before rushing back to Kota to get an anti-rabies shot. The Sun Temple, by the way, is amazing in its architecture and should not be missed.

A small gate of Jhalarpatan

Ram Temple - Jhalarpatan

Sun Temple - Jhalarpatan

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The Next Plan

The Jhalawar district and the neighbouring Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh have some untouched beauties that beckon. But all these places are severely hard to reach for a solo backpacker.

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Other Places In Rajasthan

Mount Abu || Udaipur || Chittaurgarh || Bundi || Badoli

© One Of The Road

Friday, 18 March 2016

Baroli Temples & The Hadoti Countryside

Introduction

I'd arrived in Kota at 11 in the morning of Makar Sankranti (15th January) from Bundi. Kota has its share of things to do - most notable being preparing for IIT - but I decided to chuck them in favour, of Baroli Temples, located about 50km away on the road to Rawatbhata (Atomic Energy Station). Rawatbhata being close by, I thought I would be able to spend the rest of my day there.

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Getting There

My hotel was near the Kota Junction Railway Station. From there, I took a rickshaw to Ghodewala Circle. Frequent buses depart for Rawatbhata from this point. A ride of 45km till Baroli lasts about an hour and costs Rs. 50. Rawatbhata is further 5km away.

First things first ... immediately to the right after the entrance

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Baroli Temples

The Baroli temples (pronounced as Badoli) belong to the 10th century and are among the earliest ones in Rajasthan. The temples are made out of soft sandstone (similar to that used in Chittaurgarh's Vijay Stambh) but the architecture and artwork reminds one of the Hemadpanthi and Chalukyan Temples found in the Deccan. The temples, unlike other monuments in Rajasthan are located in midst of dense green trees and lawns.

I'll let the pictures take over now:

First up is an old Shiva Temple in a pond

A little further, the main complex begins with this small shrine

Side wall of the Ghateshwar Mahadev Temple

Ghateshwar Mahadev Temple

Another angle

The Ashtamata Temple

Side profile of the Ashtamata Temple

Inner artwork of the Ashtamata Temple

Some amazing ceiling artwork

Masterpieces

Ganesh Temple

Vamana Temple

A subsidiary temple

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Jawra Kala

I wrapped up the Baroli Temples by 3pm and then decided to spend some time by the river Chambal, which had appeared so tranquil in the small glimpses I managed from the bus. On enquiry, a local carpenter suggested to head for the village of Jawra Kala, about 1km up the road, from where the river would be accessible.

The distance was covered by hitchhiking on the bike of a local Gujjar - he drove, I was in the middle and the carpenter at the back - Swades style! Further in the village, asked around for directions and was quickly guided to the river. River banks are one of the best places to sit for a quiet introspection.

Lush fields near Jawra Kala

Chambal bannks

The sun and the Chambal

I returned to the road to wait for a bus back to Kota, only to be told that the frequency would be less today on account of the festival. So I stuck my thumb out, pointing towards Kota, and eventually snared a truck. The truck was empty, the driver was returning after dumping some cement at the Atomic Station and offered me a ride till Kota. And this, my friends, was the start to a bumpy ride back to Kota.

The Rawatbhata Road

Saarthi

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Jawahar Sagar Forest

The Rawatbhata Road, once outside of Kota city limits, passes through the Jawahar Sagar forest on the banks of the Chambal. Jawahar Sagar is the name of the dam at Rawatbhata that supplies the Atomic Station. The area inundated by its backwaters houses a forest reserve which is soon to be converted to a tiger sanctuary on account of saturation of the famous Ranthambore sanctuary. This fact is well-known in the area, judging by the number of hotels being constructed.

Cattle crossing the narrow road

The road in these parts is truly a forest road - narrow and hardly well-maintained. In contrast to roads in other sections of Rajasthan, this road almost feels like ones in Maharashtra. The road connects small Gujjar and tribal hamlets by the banks of the Chambal. The tribal hamlets dominate the higher and drier sections of the road, while the Gujjar hamlets are seen in the lower plains towards Rawatbhata.

The sun sets

The road will be shut in the coming years. I'll be returning before that happens though.

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Other Places In Rajasthan

Mount Abu || Udaipur || Chittaurgarh || Bundi || Jhalawar

© One Of The Road

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Bundi - Of Havelis, Kites & Bandar-Log

Introduction

"Sir, furst time Bundi?", the bus conductor asked as we left the Kota Highway onto the deviation for Bundi. I nodded my head and he continued, "Bahot badhiya jagah hai, Sir. Verry butiful." I smiled and beamed inwardly. And sure enough, as we rounded the bend, the towering Taragarh fort and the city spread at its foot was truly a sight to behold.

The Taragarh Fort dominates the skyline here

So, finally I was coming to Bundi, the founding city of the Hadoti region and the much revered land of step-wells, lakes and palaces vaguely mentioned in traveler forums. It was almost 5pm and the long day of traveling through the Mewar countryside was finally coming to an end. Yes, I was tired, but I had a lot to look forward to.

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The Streets Of Bundi

Bundi, in a broader sense, is like many old towns of India with narrow streets lined by short blue buildings on either side and electric cables looking like random lines that dissect the blue sky. Much of Bundi's land is sort-of shaped like an open bowl with gently rising edges, until it steeply rises near the fort.

Narrow lanes - Blue Houses

A gentle climb

Yes, there are people too, a lot of them and still more on festive times. Oh yes, I reached Bundi on 13th January - Makar Sankrant was on 15th, but the kite-flying would commence on 14th - so a festive season.

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Hotels? ... naaa ... Havelis

The best places to stay in Bundi are the havelis - old residences of the noblemen and merchants - revamped for the modern look. Bundi is dotted with such havelis and most of them do cater for the budget travelers.

Dev Niwas Haveli

We checked into Dev Niwas and were positively flabbergasted with the place and the decor - whitewashed and art-deco walls, some antiques, old narrow staircases, wooden doors - and importantly, all within budget if shared.

Random artifact in the haveli

Dev Niwas haveli interiors

There's also Haveli Katkoun where we had our dinners. We had a butter chicken which was in no way a butter chicken, but was made so well that I can arguably call it among the best chicken dishes I've had while traveling.

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Taragarh Fort - Palace

The huge palace of the fort dominates the north-western skyline of the city. The rest of the fort spreads out gently eastwards. The palace was the seat of the Bundi royalty, but has been lying unused since 1911, as the owners (then subjects to the British) realized the futility of the maintenance expenses of what was now a single large house.

The hike up to the palace and the fort starts near the old elephant stables - also converted to a hotel. The road steeply rises up to the ticket counter. One then enters the palace through the Toran Pol. The palace, for most part is not well maintained, yet one can get a glimpse of the former beauty of the place - the old paintings, the marble jaalis, the old archways and the royal seat.

The royal throne of old yellowed marble

The main painting collection is in a locked room - called the Chitrashala. The attendant opens the room for the visitors only. The reason for this is the monkey infestation rampant in Bundi - more on that later.

View of Bundi city from the palace walls

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Taragarh Fort - Fortress

The fortress is a further 30 mins hike from the palace. The trail begins at a small gate where the watchman gave us sticks that may be used as protection against the monkeys. Glad I never had to use them. The fort has old ruins, step-wells and a massive bastion. A part of the fort is used as a wireless relay station by the Rajasthan Police.

Old ruins on the fort

The palace as seen from the fort bastions

The Shiv temple on the fort

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Step-Well of Raniji Ki Baori

Bundi has quite a few step-wells - I have personally seen seven of them. The most famous one is the Raniji ki Baori with beautiful arches and sculptures.

The entrance to Raniji ki Baori

 A close-up of the arches

A random stepwell in Bundi

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Sukh Mahal

This is a small lake-side palace in Bundi by the Jait Sagar. Its claim to fame is that Rudyard Kipling stayed there for all his 2 days when he visited Bundi. I would, in any case, love to own a house like that.

Artwork decorates the Sukh Mahal

Sukh Mahal and the waters of Jait Sagar 

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The Kites and Bandar-Log

The entire city of Bundi was gripped in kite-flying frenzy on the 14th of January as colourful kites jostled for space in the foggy early morning sky, accompanied to seriously loud music. I, being just a beginner level flyer did not dare to have anything to do with the actual kites, but just helped with the manja (string) and the firki (spool). I did manage to mess up that too.

Kite fever = good business

This pic was meant to be for the kites - early morning of 14th Jan

Unaffected by this frenzy were the monkeys of Bundi - the red-faced monkeys and the black-faced larger langoors - referred to as the bandar-log by Kipling in his Jungle Book. The monkeys live in the forests of the Taragarh fort and descend down to the city on their search for food. The menace is so intense that one of the security guys at our haveli always carried an air-gun to keep them away

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Getting In

Bundi is best approached by road from Kota. My itinerary, however, did not permit that, and so I ended up taking the 7:30 am direct bus from Udaipur to Bundi for an exhausting 10 hour ride.

Bundi has rail links too, but trains are not that frequent. Connections to Kota, Jaipur, Chittaurgarh and Udaipur are available.

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Some Touristy Stuff and Closing Note

The tourist scene in Bundi is very much dominated by foreigners. Indian tourists are mostly the day-trippers from Kota. Consequently, the food heavily caters to the western palate. Signboards in Hebrew and French were common. There's also a flourishing miniature-painting business here where they paint Mughal style miniature paintings on backs of old post-cards - worth a look.

Taragarh under lights

Its a different world in Bundi, quite unlike other places I've been to. I liked it here

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Other Places In Rajasthan

Mount Abu || Udaipur || Chittaurgarh || Badoli || Jhalawar

© One Of The Road