Thursday, April 14, 2016

My first trip towards the North of India, Maharashtra on a Mahindra Scorpio SLE

Disclaimer: This blog does not encourage you to take long distance trips nor asks you to speed up your vehicle beyond the stipulated mark as and when mentioned on the highways. Drive responsibly. Slow down as you reach villages.

Left home exactly at 4.30 am. Road to davanagere are good. Tolls all the way. Reached Guru kotureshwara hotel, davanagere (14.453710, 75.915252), at 8.30. Turns out that is the perfect time for breakfast. The place is too modest. Just the size of a small room. Ur order is limited to set dosa or benne dosa. We opted for the benne dosa. Had to wait approximately 20 minutes. All this while I was just watching with awe the chef was continually going through the motion of belting out 10 dosas at a time with such perfect timing and finesse. He exactly knew when the dosas were fried just right. The aroma is unbelievable. The hotel is truly Japanese ideology. It just doles out what it can do best. The first bite presents my tongue with a medley of salt, chilly, pepper, mixed in the preparation of the batter itself. and all these harsh flavors moderated by oodles of butter. U also get a handful of potato mash and coconut chutney. But, believe me, u can have the dosa as is or with any other side dish u want and it will taste the same. We ordered two dosas per person in the beginning itself and that was an excellent decision.As a side note, we returned to this hotel again during our return journey at around 1.00 PM in the afternoon and the activities in the hotel are the same. They are outstaffed and out of space. Had to wait a good 15 minutes before my order was taken.

It was the time to hit the road again towards kolhapur. The stop at kolhapur was only for having kolhapur mutton. Again excellent tolled roads all the way and reached hotel opal, kolhapur, (16.703068, 74.250572) at around 1.30 pm. Parking is available. The layout of the hotel was very confusing and sonny rightly called it bhul bhulayya. The rooms were spacious. Toilets were clean. Ac working. With another small bed. By the side of the double bed. Just right for a couple with a kid. The restaurant serves all Maharashtrian delicacies. Had a Maharashtrian thaali which had all the regular food u can find to be specifically Maharashtrian. If u had Hyderabad dishes u will be at home with all the spicy nature of kolhapuri food.

Did not want do go out much. Sonny pressed us to visit the mall just next door. Went there and did the unthinkable. Watched a Telugu movie. Woke up in the morning and headed towards the restaurant for breakfast. The assortment was truly Maharashtrian. We had misal pav, upma, poha, sweet curd. The misal was a revelation. The taste and the ingredients going in r unique. A mixture of healthy and sinful ingredients. U have bhujia on the one band with varying thickness and shapes which is to be drowned in a spicy, oily curry of sprouts. The combination is a spicy and very tasty did efor use with any Indian bread, but normally used with pav. The poha is nice, mildly fried and spicy. In the South the poha ingredient is used to make a variety of kheer. Was thinking of visiting phadtares misal kendra, udyam nagar, (16.694454, 74.233168), but decided against it after having it in the restaurant itself. Checked out of the hotel and drove towards Mahalaxmi temple, kolhapur, (16.660884, 74.211154). Be very careful while visiting this place. It is somewhat hidden in the centre of the city. Google maps was totally confused. Ask the locals. And be careful there are a lot of mahalaxmi temples around kolhapur. The next stop was rankala lake, kolhapur, 16.693724, 74.209255. It is a big lake and I did not see any boating activity. Maybe it happens in the evening.

Time to hit the road again. Headed towards hotel panorama, mahabaleswar, (17.924890, 73.656868). This decision was solely based on the availability of swimming pool, nearness to market, parking and ac rooms. Not disappointed. It had all our requirements. It was located right in the heart of the market area. Had lunch at the hotel and it was ordinary. U receive a food coupon on arrival and u have no option but to use them. At checkout i was told that there is a balance in my food coupons and was advised to take a parcel. Decided to take a sandwich. One issue, the room was not serviced, though we gave the keys to the reception and instructed them to do so.

The market area was unique. It displayed nothing else than whatever was grown or fabricated in house. It rarely had the usual fare. Had a mixed fruit ice gola. Mahabaleswar is red, red with strawberry plantations. If u like strawberries, then, there is no better place than here. Everything is strawberry. Juice, ice cream, fudge, chikkie, u name it. Sone juice making companies are housed here. Maple is one among them. The maple restaurant is huge. Pizzas sandwiches, juices, mock tails, ice creams, sinful. U have a plethora of fruit concentrates, bottled pulp and plenty of ready to drink mock tails. Bought pina colada and a mojito. Sonny bought a chocolate drink, The better half bought a rose based drink. Visited venna lake boat club, mahabaleshwar, (17.934275, 73.668901) row and pedal boats r available.

For lunch we headed towards panchgani, (17.923644, 73.798307), another hill station approx 18 kms. Hidden here unknown to the lesser mortals is jafer bhai's Delhi darbar (17.921530, 73.796844), Do not miss this place, if u r not a delhite. Ordered a chicken starter and two mutton biryani. The ambience is nice with a bit of parking available. The starter was spicy, juicy, creamy and fresh. They just called it darbar special. Next was the biryani. If u r two, start with just one biryani otherwise u will struggle plenty to finish ur meal. Enough about qty, let us talk about quality. The biryani is aromatic, just spicy enough with a medley of colors and flavors. The mutton juicy, tender, spices spread throughout the core, indication of good marination and nice dum style cooking. A good biryani doesn't require anything to support it except itself. This was proved once again here. Here u r served only the biryani, no curds nor any other curry. other masala. It was not required. Excellent fare. This space is a haven for meat lovers. I just enjoyed every byte of food at this place

Next destination was shirdi. The route took us through the most gruelling drive. Pune is a concrete jungle in the most realistic sense. The traffic drove me mad. Approx 100 kms of hateful driving. My beast was huffing at the traffic. It did not hide its dislike for the traffic.

Reached mtdc shirdi, aka, travellers inn, around 3.30 pm. It is just at a distance of 100 metres from the temple. The moment u near the temple there will be touts and they will virtually catch u by ur hand and take u to their shop and give u all the required pooja things and charge u starting from INR 450/-. But there is really no need except u know what u r doing. Back to the hotel, had a coffee. It was good. For dinner we decided to have it in the in-house restaurant. Food was also good. Had a masala soda just to wash things down, just in front of the hotel, was good

Checked out around 9.00. Drove to etrange resort, 8 kms from ellora. Came to know that very day that ellora caves are closed on Tuesdays(Ajanta caves are closed on monday). Also came to know on that day, ajanta caves are 112 kms from our resort. No option but to visit ajanta. And in all the reviews, ajanta gets more brownie points. Got out the beast and headed towards ajanta caves. The road is good for 80 percent of the distance. The other 20% is nerve rattling. Reached around 1.30 pm. The last 4 kms are to be covered only by mtdc buses which are available every 10 minutes in both AC and non AC versions. There r three ways to climb the hills.
1. Crossing the bridge available, it will take u directly to cave no 9.
2. Climb the steps, the hardest and the best way. It will take u to cave no 1 and will in reality take u from 200 BC to the next 800 years.
3. If u can't walk then there are people to carry u in a palki like chair

Don't use cameras with flash, it is supposed to affect the paintings. Drinking water is available along the entire distance of the caves. Chilled water is available somewhere around the 9th cave. Do not forget to take guide. If u don't take a guide then, don't visit the place. U will not be able to appreciate the art, history, evolution of techniques, phasing out of ideas and ideals. There is an mtdc restaurant at the hills, for info. The best time to visit is the monsoons. It will be more picturesque and cool. If u head out in the summers wear chappals and carry an umbrella. Of course a water bottle.

Came back to the resort, had food. Half handi of mutton masala, semi gravy and chapattis. Both were prepared well. Nothing out of the ordinary. The chef, seeing, us south Indians had just made the mutton fiery enough. He admitted that he did not want to take any risk. The last course was kheer without dry fruits and it did taste good. Swimming pool was not clean, disappointing day for sonny.

The resort is good. It has a conference hall which can be converted to a dancing hall with a computer ready to accommodate a DJ. A swimming pool. Made to order dishes, a further free area after the swimming pool for other games. Negatives, don't go in summer, guests r minimal. It is a very solitary place. All the facilities might not be as u thought it would be. No WiFi. No shops nearby.

There was one big issue from stayzilla, through which I booked the resort, they booked a double AC room and then three days later, I get a call telling me though I booked an ac room, the amount I paid was only sufficient for a normal room. So if u book through stayzilla, confirm with them about the room and all the amenities. I also received a link to provide feedback, but it takes me to the homepage, so......

Had a veg sandwich in the morning and left for ellora caves. Reached at 9.00 AM and then came to know it is open from morning 6.00 AM to evening 6.00 PM. Biggest mistake of the day. Again beware of touts and head towards mtdci nformation centre. It is a huge campus with facility for an expansive vehicle parking. From thee again, mtdc/msrtc operates buses to the ellora caves. Just remember the caves are spread across a distance of 4 kms. If u buy a ticket here u can catch any bus moving within the ellora campus and move around between the caves. U r totally lost without a guide. Not much paintings to see here. They r damaged. But the carvings r more pronounced here.

My 2 cents tip when u go to any place if art is

1. Look closely at the face. Lot of feelings will be expressed here. The intent of the art piece is evident from the face.

2. The other portions of the body will reinforce this feel.

3. Keep the religion, race, creed, language, color for later. The artist talks to u irrespective of all these.

4. Majority of the carvings and paintings are serial and follow a certain progression. The progression is visible in the quality also, a result of learning.

Its time to go home. The route taken, hotels chosen have been affected by this blog post on team-bhp. I am stressing this here because, I wanted to skip pune altogether in my return journey. The route to be taken to do so was taken from this blog. Couldn't return home on the same day. Rented a budget hotel at kolhapur and called it a day. I don't like driving in the night when surroundings and people r not visible and I cannot taste the local food, the local fruit.

Honorable mention regarding food. On my return journey I tasted a twist of the venerable dum biryani. With the regular masala, this had fried corn chips, deep fried onions, lots of cloves and plenty of pepper. The concoction was tasty and crispy. The mutton definitely was beautifully dum cooked. There was only one chicken item, fried chicken. No twist here, but tasty. I don't remember the hotel name. Who cares. U might find a different twist in some other place. For a foodie, is there any limit......

Everything about any trip starts with and ends with the "drive". There is a catch 22 here. Whether the destination or the path to the destination, which is more important or which comes first. Without path you don't reach the destination and without a destination you cannot formulate a path. It is "very" difficult to single out which was more beautiful, the journey or the destinations. My jumbo did a 140 Kmph as effortlessly as it did 160 Kmph. I have a suggestion for the RTO of India. The driving license for a two wheeler should be given only and only if the driver passes the test given for cars also. These two wheeler drivers spoil the entire fun of a "drive" in a car. They should be shown "this" fun of driving a car and then they will know how not to destroy the journey for all the car drivers.

Almost throughout the journey the roads were good owing to the pune highway. With fuel guzzlers, it is always better to fill up when the fuel gage reads half way.