Travels with Satish (3 Weeks) – Goa; Satara, Ajanta, Ellora & Pune (Maharastra) – Part 2


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February 11th 2013
Published: February 12th 2013
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Maharashtra

Satara

It was a long but not too eventful drive (given driving styles and conditions in India) to Satara, other than a good old fashioned Maharashtran grilling from the police at one of 3 check points we passed - S mainly and C as she was driving. We assume it’s because they saw a woman driving and a Gori at that - opportunity knocks for a lovely bribe?! No such luck as we have all the documents in order.

The roads were not bad especially the main bit from about midway onwards (after the windy bits across the Ghats) where we were on dual carriageways all the way. What is a bit bonkers are the lorries who tend to treat the outside lane as the slow lane so all cars have to weave in and out (undertaking mostly).

We survive the 8 hour drive with 2 short stops and get back to be met by initially Girish, Prajakta and their lively son Soham, now 6 (and nick named “Rowdy Rathore” after an Indian Film Character), then by Anupam (S’s nephew) who has caught the bus here from Pune to meet us all. We haven’t seen him for a couple of years and he’s grown and changed a lot! For the better we must add. He’s a student at Uni now doing his 2nd year in B Commerce but has retained the Gajendragadkar family charm and is good company.

We failed to realise that as its Republic Day in India, many shops are closed – including the Alcohol shops (it’s a dry day in India………… aaarghhhhhhhh!) No beers. Just as well S has some Old Monk rum at home and we had brought a very small amount of whisky from Goa – they came to the rescue for the night - after that drive we needed some light refreshments. Unfortunately not having learnt from this we make the same mistake on the 30th which is the anniversary of Ghandi’s Assassination – another dry day and no beers again…………. Damn.

After a lovely Idli meal at Girish’s place we watch some FA cup games and hit the sack.

The next few days are spent in domestic bliss and minimal activity – except for M who has a chesty cough he can’t shake off despite medication in Goa. We don’t even have to think about food as Prajakta does all the meals (they usually do for K&S anyhow) so apart from heading into town for beer and bread, we while away the time, very happily, chatting, sleeping, doing puzzles & Sudoku (C and K’s favourites), entertaining Soham (S seems to be honorary climbing frame!), washing and ironing, and catching up on organising bits for the next legs of our trip. Less happily, C also ends up paying a big lump of money to the tax man as we have been advised that failure to pay will incur interest even if we have a valid complaint against HMRC (which is an on-going issue).

The food is a culinary exploration – home cooked veg, chaat, and things we haven’t come across elsewhere - spicy tapioca, a different type of kichadi ….. We also get to enjoy some of the fruit from the garden – fortunately they picked the bananas before the monkeys (Langurs) arrived to ransack the place!!

In order to get some exercise we head up to the Fort (5km round trip) for a walk, though only make it half way once as its too tough for a wheezing M. Unfortunately, M’s cough is not improving so we see Girish’s Dr for some advice and medication including antibiotics….. We never did get to the top this time. Just as well, as there are reports of a tiger being spotted not far away from the Fort by workers cleaning it up the day before.

Spring is in the air and the cherry blossom and kapok trees are just starting to bloom. For us the temperature is lovely – hot in the day and pleasantly cool at night. Kaka still wears his thermals and woolly hat at night!

We have plans to go to the World Heritage Ajanta & Ellora Caves not far from Aurangabad. S has always been keen to go and is to join us and has convinced Girish & family to come along. They have handled the negotiations on hiring a car and driver + the hotel. Kaka is not coming as he would not enjoy all the walking – besides he’s been there. He also decides against coming to Pune with us as he feels it will be too cold for him. So after a fun time (Fenni fuelled) in Goa, and 4 days at his home we are ready to move on.

Aurangabad via Paithan

It’s up at 4.30 am for an early start. Its farewell to Kaka & Girish’s parents who have just returned from a trip to Gujarat. At 5.30 am all ensconced in a Toyota Tavera people carrier with a “cautious” driver, Abhishek we set off first to Pune to drop off our ruck sacks as we will be back here to stay at S’s aunt Shobha’s home for a few days afterwards.

She looks remarkable having lost 28kg in 2 years being on a strict diet + daily gym for an hour and a half. Wow – we admire her determination especially as she is an awesome cook and can’t eat a lot of the stuff she cooks for us on our return. She rustles up hot coffee and Poha for us before we head for Aurangabad via Paithan.

Paithan

We detour off the main highway to take the slow and bumpy road to visit the Aiknath Temple dedicated to the saint whose remains are in the shrine. Girish and family are keen to visit as it’s a good opportunity for them having come this far.

We mention the “cautious driver”, however, in this case he seems to be almost nervous to overtake or undertake as you do in India. Both M & C avoid looking at him to ensure that back seat driver syndrome (irritation and annoyance) don’t set in. It’s a new experience and discipline for us and we take to anticipating an increase in travel time to any destination by about 50% of the time that it should take. Hey ho!

After brief visit and blessing at the shrine and a look around the surrounding village – a pretty run down and dirty place - we make a quick trip (thanks to all the midges) to see the large dam built near the town – which in part explains why it’s so dusty- then head to see some gardens which have a children’s adventure park – to tire Soham out. Unfortunately, all the rides are closed so all he gets is the simple playground and some rather uninspiring water gardens and then we get back onto the road for our hotel. This part of the country seems like the stories of rural India, dusty, dirty, with very poor people on the breadline eking out an existence in small hovels by open drains etc.

Eventually we arrive at Aurangabad at about 7pm. It was the Capital for Aurangzeb, the last Great Mughal Emperor (reign: 1653-1707). The Muslim/Mughal influence is around in what is today a big and bustling city.

We are booked into the Hotel Atithi with roof top restaurant & pool – unfortunately by a fly over, but thankfully next door to a beer selling store! The settling into the place is a bit of a comedy of errors out of Fawlty Towers. S gets a room where he can’t use the front door key (and they are aware of this and quite sanguine about it as they say they will let him in and out using the Master key!), Girish’s family room is not ready despite him having rung them 2 hours before with an ETA. We get away ok. They reluctantly swap S’s room to one someone has just vacated and they proceed to just tidy the bed – no sheet change etc, till prompted to! Customer care obviously not a strong point here. Then one of the TVs doesn’t work and they eventually fix it. One good point was that they did provide breakfast and free drinking water as part of the deal.

There’s TV in the room so we watch some of the Women’s (one day format) World Cup Cricket. India get knocked out despite being hosts. There’s plenty of cricket & footy, an India MTV type channel of oldies songs, a Comedy Channel + beers from the shop (with surly service) next door which keep us going after each days travel. Beers – Buds as they have no Kingfisher Premium (or mild as it’s known locally) for Rs 120 each.

The breakfasts deserve a mention – surprisingly it’s not the set English, Continental or Indian option as we had thought. They have a buffet with all the Indian options – idlis, parathas, vadas, Poha etc. in addition to the English toast and eggs with jam etc. as well. So we all pig out a bit – fuel for all that walking is our excuse. The coffee was a bit of a tricky issue – they couldn’t make it hot, and getting black coffee for S was definitely a step (challenge) too far for them ………. It seemed like they had to import it from Kenya (the time it took to arrive)! And that on demand and after a few reminders too!!

The other item worthy of note at the hotel is its roof top restaurant which is popular with locals as its packed most nights and the food is pretty good while the prices are surprisingly reasonable. We try various non-veg dishes (Mutton Biryanis, Fish Curry & Mutton, Tikkas) with awesome Methi Aloo while Girish & his family stay with pure Veg and Sohi as he is now known sticks with a plate of chips most nights.

One morning we have the delights of being serenaded very loudly at 7am as we are going for breakfast (due to a planned early start to Ajanta) by a Wedding band that strikes up and makes a real din only to be told by the hotel manager to shut up or move elsewhere as the guests are still asleep. They dutifully go to the front of the Hotel in all their gaudy finery and continue.

The city has its own attractions notably the Monument (Bibi-qa-Maqbara) called the poor man’s Taj as it is and has a Taj Mahal design and is a tomb built by Aurangzeb’s son for his mother Rabia-ud-Daurant. The city has its own caves 2 km out but not as splendid we understand like the big draws. In any case we don’t get the opportunity to visit – thanks to the cautious driving of “speedy”.

Worthy of note is that Aurangabad is famous for its Himroo and Silk Sarees and they have factories and shops all over. We resist as C doesn’t plan on wearing a Saree any time soon.

Ellora

We decide to do the Ellora trip first as it’s only 30 kms from Aurangabad to give us an easier day in the car after our long journey from Satara as the trip to Ajanta will be a long day.

We get there in about an hour. After the customary Rs 250 each for C & M - it’s only Rs 10 for the rest. The Ellora site is the best example of Indian Rock Architecture caves chipped out over 5 centuries by generations of Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Monks – mainly Monasteries, Chapels and Temples. The Caves line a 2km long escarpment. There are 34 caves in all; 12 Buddhist (AD 600 – 800), 17 Hindu (AD 600 – 900), 5 Jain (AD 800 – 1000).

The grandest is the awesome Kailasa Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva – halfway between a cave and a rock cut temple built by King Krishna 1 of the Rastrakuta dynasty in AD760. It is an engineering marvel executed straight from the head with zero margin for error. It’s quite spectacular and one can’t help marvelling at the vision and craftsmanship of generations of devotees whose painstaking work is preserved and enjoyed even today. No draughtsmen, no CAD systems, sheer precision in communicating an image and design to over 70,000 workers to make it a reality over time. We spend about an hour alone here.

There is the opportunity to get a view from the top perimeter of the cave which gives it a sense of scale and grandeur. The temple covers twice the area of The Parthenon in Athens and is 50% higher. It is really a special place and reasonably well kept having been literally sculptured out of the mountain face and put up with hordes of visitors over centuries.

Hindu cave number 15 is the best of the type – The Das Avatara (10 Incarnations of Vishnu) one of the finest in Ellora. The Jain caves may lack the artistic ambition of the others but are exceptionally detailed; Cave 32 is the best (The Indra Sabha or The Assembly Hall of Indra).

As the caves are spread around they allow cars and rickshaws to go to strategic parking areas reducing the need for visitors to trek all day around the caves in the heat. Good planning. The time to enjoy the whole site takes about 3 hours, by which time we’re ready for a beer or two!

On the way back, we visit a few other temples nearby - more notably the Ghrushneshwar dedicated to Shiva (one being one of the 12 holy temples for Hindus to visit in India – men remove their shirts/tops etc & go in for blessings.

We then take a little detour to a small Muslim village called Kuldabad which is famous for Aurangzeb’s simple (by request) Tomb. It is opposite a mosque which is famous for having a cloak worn by The Prophet Mohammed and is displayed to pilgrims each year in April.

We finally get back at about 4.30 pm and have a room service “lunch” with beers at 5pm!

Ajanta

So it’s up early, for breakfast and the long drive (105kms) to Ajanta. Unfortunately we have a puncture so have to stop for a tyre change. We sail along until Soham decides to be suddenly sick having stuffed his face with Parle G biscuits. We stop to clean up - the culprit, his Mum and the car at the back – thankfully with some water from a kind village lady by the road side. So after another false start we eventually get there at about 11 am.

After the usual entry fees we start the quest to see the 30 Buddhist caves known as the “The Louvre of India”. These 2nd Century BC to 5th Century AD caves are now a World Heritage site. They lost their prominence when the Ellora caves came along and left to ruin and were overgrown and abandoned when they were rediscovered in 1819 by a British hunting party. They line the steep face of a horse shoe shaped rock gorge bordering the Waghore River flowing below. If you don’t fancy the walk and steps to get to the caves, you can pay Rs 800 to be carried in a Sedan chair supported by 4 locals. We only see Japanese tourists take this option. The caves are walkable.

The caves are renowned for their ancient Frescoes which are pretty badly damaged and have to be seen in dim light to preserve the paintings remaining, and visitors can do with bringing a torch with them. We end up taking 4 or 5 pics of each painting as in poor light it’s hard to see if they will come out ok, and tripods aren’t allowed. The other challenge to contend with is the huge number of school kids on day trips. Like swarms of locusts they rake through the caves but fortunately their schedule is tight so we sit put for a while ‘til they go through.

There are 5 Chaityas (prayer rooms) & 25 Viharas (Buddhist Monasteries) among the caves though many are closed permanently or under reconstruction. We think Ellora is more impressive overall but do end up with some good photos.

Once again in need of a beer after all the walking and viewing we hit the MTDC Resort for lunch – Kangaroo beer (!!?? Never heard of before – it’s Australian), and snacks to see us through to the evening. We also find a Havmor ice cream stand – sheer happiness for C – which sells Bombay Kulfi. Not quite as good as the Chowpatty Kulfi in Gujarat but still yummy.

Daulatabad

On the final day of the trip we go to Daulatabad – not far from the city and this is the surprise package of the lot for us as its Girish’s choice – we hadn’t even heard of it. It’s a 2 moat fort on top of a hill which requires steep steps up and in places dark passages through bat infested caves to get to the top. This is where they used to pour water in and smoke to drown & smoke to death anyone who made it past the first moat. Brownie points all round though as we all make it eventually.

Within the grounds are a minaret, mosques rebuilt as temples, original temples, lookout towers, cannons and an open air museum showcasing the main artefacts. We thought an hour would do it but takes 2 and a half – and not just due to the climb.

As we drive back Soham throws another sickie – but this time Prajakta is prepared with a plastic bag so the collateral damage is minimised!! As we face a long journey back to Pune (and even longer for Girish and family as they go on to Satara) we stop off briefly at a warm (AC not working) Café Coffee Day for coffee and snacks then hit the road again arriving late in Pune at 6-30pm to stay with Satish’s aunt, Shobha, for the next 3 days.

Pune

Girish and his family depart after a brief stop at Shobha’s place after which we and S take to the road to find the local beer shop (Beers Rs 105 each here). We also find the “Hot Chips” shop next door – a den of savoury delights doing a roaring trade in crisps (proper ones - without crinkles for C!), peanuts and all sorts of other snacks we have never seen or heard of before. Dinner is a lovely Kichadi cooked specially for us by Shobha, for which we are very grateful as this is forbidden fruit for her.

Over the next few days we sample some fabulous home cooked lunches – veg, daal or kadi soups, chapatis – all of which thankfully Shobha can enjoy (she just steers clear of the rice). We also get to try some alphonso mango pulp (made last year as a way of preserving the excess crop) which is just awesome. And a new dish for us – apee – for breakfast, which are little rice flour balls stiffed with onion, chili and spices and cooked in a special griddle. Soooo good!!

S has a quick phone call exchange with Yogesh, who is in town with his wife Indie from his home in Oz. He’s originally from Pune and has known S for many years. We’ve met him a few times in London when he’s been over, and we’re all planning to meet up for dinner the next couple of nights.

We take the opportunity to do a bit of shopping while we’re here. It is certainly a big city, busy & bustling, with significant development everywhere it seems and adverts on TV and the roadside for the many flats for sale (8 lakh to 80 lakhs - £10k to 100k) in large blocks. We like the feel of it though. It doesn’t seem so dirty and traffic congested as other cities and many of the neighbourhoods – such as where Shobha lives – are very pleasant with neighbourhood shops and facilities. The centre of town has all the main high street brands you see in the UK – Nike, Addidas, Sony, Baskins & Robbins!!! But intermingled with traditional chaat stands, fruit sellers and local stalls. We’re on the hunt for shorts but without success, though M does get some new boxers and T shirts (which C will doubtless “borrow”).

Yogesh stays with his sisters, Sadhana and Viju, and we head across to see them in another pleasant neighbourhood, and join Yogesh & Indie for a sunset stroll to a local viewpoint. The sunset isn’t great but it gives an ideal opportunity for a detour to the bottle shop on the way back for some beers and rum!!!

Sadhana and Viju are lovely and good company – and when they hear of our travel plans ahead are determined we should also go to Dharamsala and Manali!!! It sounds enticing but ……

We head out with Indie and Yogesh to Olivia, a restaurant S has recommended. The meal is pretty good though they seem to be determined to fill us up with snacks while we wait for each course – and even bring some during the meal!!! Next night Viju and Sadhana join us too at Mahesh – recommended by Yogesh. It’s a bit flash but the food is good – it specialises in fish and especially dishes from Mangalore.

As this is our last night with Satish, we take the opportunity to present him with a thank you gift we brought in Haridwar 4 months ago. It’s a T shirt with the slogan “Slogger” and “Cricket. A way of life”. Slogger is S’s nickname and he’s just about the most cricket mad person you could hope to find. We couldn’t resist it even though we thought it may be a bit small!! He seems to appreciate it and even gets it on the next day saying it will give him the incentive to lose a few kilo’s so it fit’s properly.



And so finally we reach the end of our travels with Satish and we head off to Pune station for a 33 hour train journey to Kolkata. We’ve had a fantastic time: meeting up with all his family (Anupam called in again while we were in Pune as this is where he lives); enjoyed Girish and family’s and Shobha’s hospitality; had some lovely lazy days chilling with S and Kaka in Goa; and eaten and drunk enough to sink a battleship!! Felt like a real holiday.


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30th September 2013

Dear Sir, thanks for taking time and writing such detailed information about pune Regards Sharemyroute.in

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