Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Backpacking Weekend Around Guhagar

Introduction

The Konkan region offers some impeccable and quick getaways from Mumbai and Pune. Most of the destinations within a 4-5 hour driving distance are getting increasingly crowded and seldom offer the tranquil solitude that one expects from a weekend. But then if you can travel overnight, then some quirky gems await you.

 The natural tidal gorge

Take the Guhagar section for instance - you have the empty beaches, weird coastlines, histoic temples, forts, a light house, a jetty, a power plant and crocodiles! Add to that a dash of the laid back lifestyle and you have an idyllic break that will bring you back here again.

 
Beckoning - at Guhagar Beach

This post is aimed to be a starting point on spending a quick weekend around Guhagar for a solo backpacker. The effective area is the one that lies between the creeks of Dabhol in the north and Jaigad in the south.

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Getting In and Around

Guhagar - for a weekender - is best approached by an overnight bus. Direct services are available from the MSRTC from Mumbai and Pune. Private operators also run their buses which terminate at minor villages along the coast. The route follows the Mumbai-Goa highway up to Chiplun city and then forks off to the west for Guhagar.

Another alternative is the Konkan Railway. Chiplun is the convenient rail head and is in itself a major station on the line. Guhagar is about an hour away from Chiplun.

 
 The Guhagar bus station

Whatever your mode of transport, aim to reach Guhagar by dawn so that you can spend the best time here. From Guhagar ST buses and 6-seater rickshaws are available for most of the destinations from 8am to 6pm.

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Guhagar - The Start and The Base

Guhagar is a small coastal temple town gifted with a long stretch of beautiful white sand beach. The bus stand is the effective centre of the town, just next to the 'T' junction of the east-west road from Chiplun and the north-south road parallel to the coast. The main beach is a half-minutes walk from this junction. The beach is the best place to sit down and unwind on the morning after the long journey here.

 A mid-summer beach morning

 Sands and waters and casuarina trees

Another place where you can unwind - albeit in a different manner - is the Vyadeshwar (Shiva) Temple. The spacious temple with its gentle rhythms and music is perfectly in sync with the setting - one can say it almost defines it! The temple is significant too, revered by many families as their kuldaivat.

 The tops of the Vyadeshwar Temple

The deepmaal at the temple

Walk for a minute or two on the roads leading north and south - varcha pat and khalcha pat - and you'll find yourself amid expansive wadis of coconut, betelnut and mango trees. This is the quintessential Konkan.

 The lanes to the beach

There are a couple of other significant temples here - the Durga temple and the Ufarta Ganpati Temple - both to the northern side. The beach stretches northward and southward until it is interrupted by hills on either side. The beach - though beautiful - is notorious for being unsafe and strict precautions must be taken.

The pedestal for the guard - empty in the morning

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Hedavi - The Southern Tip

Hedavi is the best place on this coastline for a quick dip. The beach is rather small, but virtually empty. The waves are easy, the slopes are gentle and the sand for most part does not stick. Of course, going into the water necessitates that you have a place to change - Hedavi has a few home-stays where one can stay and this issue is sorted as well.

 Inviting waters at Hedavi Beach

 
 Watching the Sun go down

People who don't wish to enter the waters should also visit the beach to see the spectacle of 'Bamanghal'. Bamanghal is a steep and sharp gorge carved in the rocks to the north of the beach by the sea. Time your visit to coincide with the high tides and you can witness the water gushing through the gorge like a huge fire-hose. The route to the gorge starts behind the Uma-Maheshwar temple at the north of the beach.

 Rekindling friendships - rather precariously

Silhouettes around Bamanghal

Speaking of temples, the main attraction of Hedavi is also a temple - the Dashbhuja Ganesh mandir. The temple dates back to the times of the Peshwa. The temple is known for the unique 10-handed (dashbhuja) idol of Lord Ganesha. A math dedicated to Swami Samartha is also quite beautiful.

 The Dashbhuja Ganesh Temple

 Swami Samartha Math at Hedavi

Hedavi is an hour's bus ride from Guhagar on a road which for most part passes through dense mango orchards.

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Velneshwar - The Picturesque Descent

Halfway between Guhagar and Hedavi lies the sleepy village of Velneshwar. The road from either place descends to Velneshwar from a considerable height and offers an amazing view of the palm-lined coast. On a good day the view from the road resembles a tir-colour strip - green palms, white sand and the blue sea.The village is famous for the temple of Velneshwar, i.e. Shiva. The temple sees quite a crowd during Mahashivratri.

The Velneshwar Temple

The colourful deepmals

The beach is close at hand, but the slope is steep and the sea tends to become quite violent at times here. Definitely not advised to venture out into the water here.

The road to the beach

The beach and the sleepy guard

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Anjanvel - Big Things Up North

Anjanvel is another sleepy village, but to the north of Guhagar - about 30mins away. The first thing that strikes a visitor here is the sheer number of huge buildings enroute this village. These are the remains of the world famous Enron power plant - or the Ratnagiri gas and Power Limited as it is known now. The power plant is usually associated with Dabhol, which lies on the other side of the Dabhol creek (of the Vashishti river). It was probably better known than Anjanvel, so the name stuck. The road to Anjanvel passes next to the premises of this massive plant.

 The village of Anjanvel

The road to Anjanvel descends sharply from a height to the sea-level when the main village is and then rises again westwards to reach the Gopalgad fort. The fort is now private property (how?) but entry is free. One can take a stroll along the ramparts taking in the view of the sea and the Dabhol Creek.

 The fort of Gopalgad

 
 The moat around the fort

 
 The power plant as seen from the fort

 The fort walls overlooking the sea

 
 The view of the Vashishti creek

From Gopalgad one can head further west to the Anjanvel light house and Takaleshwar Temple. The lighthouse has visiting hours from 3pm to 5pm and offers a commanding view of the sea and the docks used by the power plant. It gets pretty crowded sometimes. There's another viewpoint close by which again offers a good view of the sea and the lighthouse itself. Its a good place to catch the sunset, if one does not have to hurry elsewhere.

 The temple of Takaleshwar with the lighthouse in the background

 
 The radars at the lighthouse

 
 The view-point as seen from the lighthouse

 
 The lighthouse and the radar station
A sandbar used by the power plant is seen in the background

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The Vashishti Creek - Crocodile Dundee

The creek of the Vashishti river is a thriving ecosystem which houses one of the apex predetors - the Indian salt-water crocodile, a.k.a. the mugger. Quite a few of these large beasts populate the area and it is possible to see them up close on a crocodile safari. The safaris are piloted and guided by locals who are quite familiar with the sites and movements of these beasts.

 The boat makes way on the tranquil waters

 
 The narrower straits

 
 The beast takes a nap

Parchuri, located about an hour's bad road from Guhagar is the place to spot these. Safaris can be booked from Guhagar itself. The timings of the safaris vary depending on the high and low tides - low tides are preferred.

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Getting Out and Goodbye

With the weekend about to come to a close, one has to say goodbye to this slice of Konkani paradise. Let the sun set and catch yourself a breather. Gulp down some tender coconut water for good measure. Go to the temple of Vyadeshwar again, about the time it closes. Soak it all in once more.


The buses from Guhagar to Mumbai or Pune leave at about 8pm. The trains from Chiplun leave much later. In most cases, you'll find yourself at your work-desk on time the next day.

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© One Of The Road

Sunday, 7 May 2017

The High Places Of Jaipur

Introduction

The city of Jaipur is naturally endowed with a strong line of defense - the Aravallis that surround it. The hills - and the monuments there - have a commanding view of the city that spreads out below. Commanding views can be had from other places too in Jaipur. And its a fun thing too - sitting perched on a high place dissociated from the groundedness of the city sprawl below and feeling the wind rush on around you as the city goes about in its awkward, urban rhythm; almost like birds, almost.

Lights go on in Jaipur after sunset - captured at Nahargarh

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Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal as a building has a very simple concept - check the city for the usual wind direction, build a thin sheet-like structure with as many windows as possible and then give the windows small panes. Voila! You have a perfectly ventilated veil-like structure from where the royal ladies can observe the happenings of the city below without being seen themselves!

 The one-roomed thickness of the Hawa Mahal

 A view of the Isarlat tower from the side windows

 Isarlat and the giant sundial of Jantar Mantar are seen from this window

The structure was built in 1799 and has five storeys - Sharad Mandir, Ratan Mandir, Vidhitra Mandir, Prakash Mandir and Hawa Mandir - each set out for a different purpose.

 
The levels of Hawa Mahal seen from the inside

Now, Hawa Mahal is not technically a place where one would go just for the city-view. But then, check this one and judge for yourself!

 The vista from the top ...
L-R: Isarlat, Jantar Mantar, City Palace and Nahargarh

Hawa Mahal is a ticketed monument located on the Bari Chaupar. Entry costs Rs50 per person.

And this is the front view we all came for :)


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Isarlat (Sargasuli)

Isarlat is one of the more neglected monuments in the Jaipur tourist circle. Ofcourse, one reason for this being that the tower - a victory tower at that - is no architectural marvel nor one replete in any significant artistry. As one ascends the unadorned and slippery concrete slopes (steps?), the entire point of this 140 feet, seven storeyed structure seems to be more and more pointless.

 The Isarlat (Sargasuli) Tower

 The sloping stairs and whitewashed walls

Its only when one gets to the small top storey, feels the wind rush about and sets his eyes on the expanse of the city spread out below, that the effort seems worthwhile. One should excuse the pigeon-poop though.

 Looking over the City Palace and Jantar Mantar

 Looking towards Nahargarh

Isarlat is a ticketed monument located near Tripolia Bazaar. Entry costs Rs50 per person.

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Nahargarh Fort

Nahargarh is the quintessential sunset point for the city of Jaipur. This small fort lies on the spur of hill overlooking the north-eastern part of the city. Consequently, the sunsets over Jaipur are best seen from here. The Madhavendra Palace with its nine apartments is the main monument on the fort and sees a flock of visitors at sundown.

The terraces of Madhavendra Palace

Frescoes at the Madhavendra Palace 

The main sunset point though is occupied by the Padaav restaurant whose only apparent USP is the location. Entry to the restaurant cost Rs100 in addition to the Rs50 entry charges for Madhavendra Palace and gets you a seat with a view with a complimentary drink of your choice.

 The sun sets over the Padaav (left)

Ofcourse there are other places which offer a brilliant view and they can be found with a bit of exploration. Be warned that the security personnel may not take kindly to these adventures (for obvious reasons).

 
 Sunset over the fort walls

 
 Just after the sun disappears

The fort can be approached by road via the road to Amer and Jaigarh. A better approach is a short trek via the Nahargarh road. The trek leads to the tank/lake of the fort - immortalized by the 'Paathshala' of Rang De Basanti. The Madhavendra Palace and the sunset point is a short walk away.

The trek/bike path up to Nahargarh

 The stepped tank of the 'Paathshala'

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Galta Ji Temples

At the eastern periphery of the city, beyond the eponymous Galta Gate lies the temple complex of Galtaji. The route from the gate ascends a small hill with a Surya (Sun) Temple on top. As one ascends this path, one gets the feeling of slowly losing the bond with the city below.

 
 The path ascends

The Sun Temple

The view from the top

And then the path descends on the other side to the Hanuman Temple - the tranquility and peace at this point is beyond compare. You've just walked 15mins away from one of the busier roads of Jaipur and now find yourself in a place which feels far, far removed from the chaos of Jaipur.

 
 Looking over the valley of Galtaji

Galta Dham lies beyond this point and has a pond fed by a trickle of water from the mountain, a few temples and an two ashrams - all nestled in a shallow valley between hills.The ashrams feature beautiful frescoes.

The pond at Galta ji

A priest at the gate of an ashram temple

 Some frescoes at the ashram

The area also has quite a lot of monkeys and is popularly known as the Monkey Temple. Its a fun thing to watch them go about their lives. The monkeys, thankfully, don't disturb the people on the trail.

Class: Animalia ... Mode: Resting

Monkeys at a tank near the Hanuman Temple

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Jaigarh Fort

While tripping through Jaipur, I was a little short of time. That lead me to miss the actual highest place in the Pink City - the Jaigarh Fort. The fort houses the Jaivana - one of the largest cannons in India. I trust the view from there would be fantastic at the very least.

 The Jaigarh Fort as seen from Amer

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Getting Around

All the places listed here are easily approached by public transport. And yes, public transport is actually efficient to a decent degree in Jaipur. If not, rickshaws are aplenty.

Camels are an option too :)

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Signing Off

Jaipur actually has a lot to see. There's the City Palace, the Amer Fort and temples, the Jantar Mantar complex, the Gaitore complex, the Jal Mahal ... the list goes on! Add some bargain shopping to that and easy accommodation (even backpacker class) and then there's no reason to have given this place a miss. For those of who who plan to head there soon, do keep an eye on these perches!

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© One Of The Road