Sunday, July 27, 2008

Life is free in Sarasbaug

Sarasbaug – Swan’s park is a neat, family park located near Swargate & Parvati hill in Pune. As the name suggests the park has many free resident swans both white and black.
Yes you read it right – swans are not caged as in zoo, so it’s a great spectacle to witness the beautiful birds having accepted this park as their permanent dwelling.

It’s a great joy to see these beautiful birds from so closely in their natural habitat free of any cages.

Saras baug View in Pune, India

Sarasbaug pond at Pune in India

Centre point of the park has nicely built Ganesh temple and there are plenty of trees and plants with beautiful flowers and green grass. Whats striking is that the Ganesh temple is constructed on a natural small pond. One has to climb around 20-30 steps to enter the temple, not to say that it does give good overview of park’s front and the main road.

White water lily at Sarasbaug in Pune, India

Hyacinth at Sarasbaug in Pune, India

At first sight the pond appears to be just another with plenty of hyacinth and water lilies but on careful observation it’s inevitable to notice plenty of marine life. Yes the pond is full of tadpoles, colorful fishes and huge tortoises.
Infact, hyacinths play important role in privacy of marine life from camera flashes of intrusive humans (like me ) but also protection. Protection from innocent looking swans. Yes they too need to eat something to maintain their looks.

Sarasbaug fish at Pune in India

It’s actually the pond which has contributed to building the community of swans. This small natural ecosystem in the park makes it unique from other contemporary parks and very-very different from zoo.

Trees at the back of Ganesh temple is the place to view the beautiful white swans. They are in plenty in this park. You may not even have to wait to reach the back of the temple to watch them. If you carefully watch the pond, you could very easily find one amongst the hyacinths - catching a fish.

White swans with orange beaks are easy to spot, it’s the black swan which is hard to find. I luckily spotted one taking a quick dip in pond and flying away with its meal. Good sight but felt bad for the fish.

Sarasbaug's twin towers at Pune in India

Also you will see beautiful twin trees at the right side of the temple, which lulls you to be in Kerala backwaters. From the same right side you can see the Parvati hill.

Park has another entrance from left side of the temple. This side road is full of eating stalls very similar to stalls of Mumbai’s Chowpatty. You can really savor on variety of Indian snacks. But for restaurants you have to drive towards the Swargate Bus depot
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Entry to the park is free but it’s safer to park your car in pay and park to avoid risk of car getting towed by authorities.

Nearby places to see Parvati Hill. Peshwa park. Other temples. Bund garden . Sports stadium. Empress or Queens garden.

Monday, July 21, 2008

To Lion from Tiger point, Lonavala

Lonavala is one of the most famous and popular tourist spot in Western India amongst family and youths. Monsoon onwards (June) Lonavala hill station is swamped with people of different age groups. Thought Bushy dam of Lonavala is the hot spot of all visitors and numerous waterfalls are the crowd pullers, but 20-30kms from Bushy Dam is majestic view of Western ghats (ravines) from Tiger point and Lion Point of Lonavala in the Sahyadri ranges. Amby Valley project of Sahara group is about 20-30 kms from Lion point.

Acting on pleasant hangover our recent visit to Tamhini ghat, Lonavala was easiest of the spot to pick. This time we had our family members with us.
Our starting was unexpectedly agonizing, as the driver didn’t know a better way and we ended up taking a much longer route from Chinchwad, Pimpri to reach the old Mumbai Pune highway. I wanted to enjoy the drive from the local villages, hence was biased against the routine Mumbai – Pune expressway route.
After unnecessary drive of 1 hr, the sight of lush green villages was very refreshing.
Roads were surprisingly good and as expected soon we came across toll booth where nominal charges of INR 25.00 was paid.

Flying swans at Lonavala in India
Coincidently just left of toll booth had a swamp full of fresh green plants. The background of hills was further beautified by the cavalry of spotless white birds, which seemed to be feeding on swamps marine life. The site was picture perfect.
Sight of parallel railway track playing a secure host to colorful speeding train in the valley was a bonus of choosing the route.
After cutting through crowded main street of Lonavala, hit a traffic congestion on a narrow road. Soon realized it was due to poorly managed toll both. Though wasn’t too happy in paying Rs 5.00 per head & Rs20.00 for the car as pollution tax, but it made sense. Bushy dam is nearly 4-5 kms from the toll booth and 7-8 kms Lonavala railway station.

Bushy dam was overly crowded and with local parking rates of Rs 20.00, decided to skip and continue ahead. It was indeed the right .

Waterfall crowd at Lonavala in India

Passing Bushy Dam, we stopped at Tiger point of Lonavala, 15-20 minutes from Bushy dam . The view was spectacular and many people were enjoying the waterfalls. Some couples were unnecessarily brave for climbing down while holding their 1-2 year baby, especially because the waterfall was close to ravine and rocks were very slippery. Some youths did trip but thankfully on the wrong-side of ravine.

Lion Point at Lonavala in IndiaView from Tiger point of Lonavala is very good, especially of the dome like peak with a flatbed holding the dam’s water. Apart from the view ensure to savor the salty baked corn with lemony tinge, it costs only Rs 5.00 & 7.00. But a must do to enjoy the monsoon rain on the high peaks.

View from Lion Point at Lonavala in India
Less than 5 kilometers further is Lion point of Lonavala. Its one of the best places I have seen. The view is very spectacular - due to the unprotected cliff which is thousands of feet high. Getting close to the edge enforces a feeling of great adventure & thrill. Down below you see open flat land with small villages and local farmers busy with their cattle in the farms.
The panoramic view is nature’s extravaganza and its might.

On the right side you see the same dam, visible from Tiger point, but you also see the rugged muscles / scales of the strong mountain on which the natural water repository is housed and excess water being drained as spectacular waterfall.
Left hand side has peak which locals call as Shiva ling, while to me looked more like gigantic Hershey’s kiss me chocolate. Peak could have been easily used in Charlie’s Choclate factory.

Shiv-Ling or Hersheys Peak at Lonavala in India

In between is open cliff called the Lion point of Lonavala, due to geographical arrangement the wind from lower stratum gets blocked by the tall mountain which causes a wind force of 40-60 kms/hr on the cliff. Yes the headwinds were too overpowering, yet there were many youths braving to the edge of the cliff but we practiced discretion is better part of valor.

Natures bouquet at Lonavala in India20-30 kms further is Amby Valley, location of Sahara groups most reputed housing projects where many Bollywood, cricket celebrities and well known industrialists have bought prestigious property worth a fortune. Roads leading to Amby valley are world class and lulled me to believe of being driving in USA.

In the clouds at Lonavala in IndiaOn our way back clouds had captured the Lion point and visibility was almost zero. What a day it was proving to be – being in the clouds at thousands of feet in one of the most beautiful valleys of Western India. Place where it was bright sunlight had no visibility in less than an hour. Nature’s magic had been constantly unfolding in stages displaying its might and beauty in phases. For me it was sign of warm welcome by Mother Nature to all the visitors. Else why it would have been so articulate and precise in her grandeur?

Nearby Places:
Mulshi Dam, Tamhini ghat, Karla Caves, umpteen waterfalls, water park near Lonaval station. Khandala. BhimaShanker
For Mulshi Dam, Tamhini ghat after crossing INS Shivaji (Indian Navy), take left towards Mulshi to enjoy beauty of Tamhini ghat on same day.
Plenty of restaurants to eat and enjoy, including Smoking Joes Pizza joint.

Drive Slow especially while driving down the steep hill. While climbing, Be watchful of oncoming traffic
Administration of Lonavala has done good work by deploying cops patrolling to avoid past nuisance created by youngsters after getting drunk and create the place more family oriented. Indeed, toll money is being used properly by the administration - good reason for me to pay the toll.

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From Mumbai its 3-4 hours drive at a distance of 120-150 kms.

From Pune it takes about 1 hr 15 minutes to cover distance of 40-50 kms.

From Pune two routes are either via the Mumbai-Pune expressway where toll of Rs 84.00 is charged or travel on NH 4 (old Mumbai - Pune highway) where you get to enjoy the countryside beauty more and toll is also much less.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wild West glimpse at Tamhini ghat near Mulshi

Tamhini ghat near Mulshi on Google Maps

Scene of Mulshi lake region in Pune, India
Tamhini ghat is part of mammoth Western ghats of India, also known as Sahyadri ranges, starting from Western and central state of India and crosing over the southern Indian peak. For nature lovers it’s another quick and great escape from urban Mumbai or Pune. From Pune, it’s a day’s trip. Without indulging in trekking or other adventure it can easily be completed in half day.
After series of monotonous, tiring weekends we decided to take a break and go for a days outing. With advent of monsoon, Mulshi lake was natural choice since its only 1-2 hours drive from my house. The drive is scenic since its on a small hill overlooking the busy Banglore-Pune-Mumbai highway. Within 5 kms of the toll you are already away from urban Pune and driving through towns.
Tarzan pose of bird We started at 11:00pm & after taking some photos of scenic route stopped at village to buy fresh buns for our pre planned brunch in Mulshi lake resort which was still about 45 minutes away.
On the way crossed Paud town, which is known for its police station, law court and a road connectivity to phase 3 of Hinjewadi’s Rajiv Gandhi IT and Bio Technology park.
This IT park hosts multiple big campuses of Infosys, TCS, Wipro etc.
Paud hill resorts
Immediately after Paud in next town you saw pack of hill hotels and resorts on asingle hill, but it’s the neighboring hill reclining farming which forced us to stop for few more photos. View was reminiscent of Darjeeling in Assam, India.

Village hut with Dish Antenna in Mulshi, India From there onwards, it’s all rustic villages separated by vast fields in between. After crossing Mulshi Dam, now in control of Tata Power for hydro electricity generation, came across Yoga retreat centers till we reached the resort for our brunch. Had a quick feasting on Missal Pav (blend of spicy curry of potatoes, lentil with dry mixture).

Fine resort at Mulshi Lake, India Location of the Green Table resort at the foothills of Mulshi of cloudy peaks and on the shores of Mulshi lake is ideal. But the landscaping of the small resort is very well thought and immaculate. It was truly amazing to see the beauty and variety of the flowers and plants in the small resort.

Butterfly at Mulshi lake, India
Blooming flowers were attracting many colorful butterflies to draw the nectar. It was indeed a retreating view of butterflies feasting on flower nectar – a sight I witnessed for the first time in my life.

View of Tamhini ghats gorge, India
On resort owners recommendation we decided to travel 30 kms further towards Tamhini ghat. After reluctantly driving we came across mesmerizing view from height of thousands of feet overlooking of cascaded peaks with abrupt valley.

Cloud cladden peak in Tamhini ghat, India

Tamhini ghat flat bed, India
Sight reminded of Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA, with added tinge of cloud clad peaks better than smoky mountains in Tennessee, USA. Few kms further saw flat landresmbling the wild-wild west western landscape of mid western USA, e.g. Monument valley of Utah.

Spiralling road towards Konkan, India

The declining road reminded me of view from peak of Mt Washburn of YellowStone national park in Wyoming, USA.

What is remarkable is that single place offering contrasting views i.e. green and cloud covered Smoky peaks and few hundred meters below one sees dry and barren land. Sight reflecting India’s unity in diversity.

The place is relatively secluded especially after leaving Mulshi lake, yey you would come across villages and off road restaurants. Venturing alone in Tamhini ghats should be avoided as I have heard occasional cases of robbery. If not in a group then daytime travel is recommended. Its safe to travel during daytime.
Also there are many sharp turns and in monsoon season one should drive with good care, especially whenever a heavy vehicle is passing from other side. As there aren't road dividers.

Nearby Places:
Mulshi Lake, Mulshi Dam, Konkan Region, Mulshi Rustic Villages, farms, Mulshi Yoga retreat centers with plenty of options to eat and sip warm tea/coffee in the clouds

How to reach
We started around 11:00 am and from Chandni Chowk, Kothrud in Pune, turned onto toll road going towards Konkan region and Goa. Toll charge is Rs 25.00 for normal car. Came back home by 7:00 pm.
A positive note on commendable effort of Maharashtra government for having regular bus service in remotest places. Something for American government to learn from, especially after petrol prices soaring to $4.5/gallon. Please note that I traveled by car and advise you to start driving with full tank due to regular mountainous terrain.

Nearby Places to see:
Lion point, Tiger point, Lonavala. Karla Caves. Khandala. BhimaShanker

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