Sunday, September 06, 2009

Around Pune

Morachi Chincholi

“Morachi chincholi” literally means village of Tamarind trees (chinch) & Peacocks (mor). It’s a small village around 40-50 kms from Pune away from the main highway. There is an entrepreneurial trust called “Jai Malhar” has realized the potential and built a small ethnic village of sorts spread over 25 acres. For Rs. 200/- one has entire day to relax in the surroundings including lunch and evening refreshments. The place has farm fields, nursery of roses, agriculture school, small zoo, tree house and models depicting rural life of Maharashtra and of course tamarind trees. Tamarind trees are quite beautiful with black trunk and branches and million light green compound leaves which spread over a huge canopy. They are dense and provide lot of shade. The place also has an Astronomy science room giving lot of information for kids. Peacocks were slightly difficult to spot as they remain mostly on trees during the day, visible through the branches of the tree. Only in the evening did they come down and go around. We also had a bullock cart ride and tractor trailer ride on the bumpy rural road. The lunch was amazing with Bhakri, Pithla, Bharli vangi and four types of chutneys. I could go there only for having that meal again :) The trust is a great example of rural sustainable model where you make the best of the locally available resources.


Shivneri fort is birthplace of great Maratha leader Shivaji. His early days of life were also spent on this fort where he got initial training on warfare and politics. The fort as most of the forts is situated on a hilltop close to Junnar town. This was an easy fort to climb and go around. The fort was clean, green and serene with lot of varieties of plants having been planted. The day was beautiful with gentle rain playing hide and seek but sun out and slight wind. The stone building where Jijabai gave birth to Shivaji was a rectangular stone building with windows at one side looking at the valley where Junnar town is now located. There were many viewpoints around the fort where one could look out to valley and distant mountains, fields and villages and admire them.


Purandar fort is another of Shivaji fort but which saw lot of action. It is situated near Narayanpur village, close to Saswad on Pune-Pandharpur road. There is a cantonment inside the fort but the motorable road to fort is very bad and goes around a bit. There is a trek route which is difficult but doable in 1-2 hours. When I reached there it was raining profusely but with breaks. I decided to climb the usual route but got lost a bit. After some deliberations and inquiry from retreating folks, got the correct direction and climbed. Due to rain, the mud had become slippery and the trek route was steep at some places, so it was quite a feat. The hills on which Purandar fort stands and adjacent hills on which stands a sister fort Vajragad creates an amphitheatre of sorts. It was mesmerizing to see these rocky hills covered with green carpet and grey clouds shrouding the top of the hills. On reaching the top I was quite drenched and surrounding were foggy and spooky so I did not venture much. There was a small canteen shop which was doling out hot tea and biscuits to whoever was coming there. On return I decided to go down the road just to enjoy rain and surroundings. Soon I took shortcut trails in the mountain slope, went around a little here and there but eventually managed to come down without much trouble.


Bhimashankar is one of the 12 jyotirlingas. It is nestled deep in the Sahayadri mountains road to which itself is dramatic climbing the hills and going through a forest. Just like any other trip, the journey was destination and we enjoyed quite a lot of scenic vistas around. At one point on the ascent to the hill, we saw a valley with muddy, winding river disappearing into valley further and a small village nestled at the loop. The scene was right out of picture postcard and we envied the people who were living in that village. The temple had a mile long queue of devotees thronging due to Saturday being holiday and it being month of “Shravan”. We couldn’t manage to go around much except Bombay Point which is edge of the hill range from where if we look straight we are looking towards Bombay. That day being overcast, there was no chance of even looking at valley down below clearly however changing views due to clouds shifting was a great entertainment. On return we went upto Babu Genu dam which is over an unknown river visible while ascending towards Bhimashankar from the road.


Koyna Nagar is a small town nestled in the Sahaydri mountains whose claim to fame is Koyna Dam. Koyna dam is quite famous due to its scale. It forms a lake in Sahayadri mountains which goes upto 70 km all the way upto Mahabaleswar (Tapola). It was one of the largest dam projects of independent India and even Jawaharlal Nehru paid a visit here during its construction. It generates 560 MW of hydroelectric power. The dam and its lake behind is the main centre of attraction visible from various viewpoints. There is a Nehru Garden which is a nice place to relax and also to view a short documentary about the dam. The town is around equidistant from two major towns Karad & Chiplun on west and east side. There is a famous fall known as Ozarda which I had never heard of before. But it didn’t disappoint and was in full force. The waterfall is inside a protected park and one has to trek for 20 minutes to reach the base of falls though it is visible from far. The water was in such a force that it created a mist around and one could get wet evening being far from falling water. No one can dare stand under it anyways. Next day our destination was Guhagar, a town at seashore going through the town of Chiplun. It was a nostalgic journey for me having come to this area some 18 years back with my cousin and sisters. We had come from Solapur, stationed at Chiplun and went to Guhagar and Velneshwar. As soon as we rounded the bend at Ghat Matha which is the mountain pass to the other side of Sahayadri mountain I knew I have seen this before. I have a faint memory of that time getting scared looking at the valley below with a small river. This is Kumbharli ghat towards Chiplun. There is a hotel at the pass which is a view point to the valley below. Due to location of hills there is always wind at this point with clouds rising from the valley below. The Kumbharli ghat was so beautiful that we stopped around 5 times at various vantage points looking at the green hills covered with white clouds. Chiplun to Guhagar was low lying hill drive with dense trees around. Guhagar had few tourists who might have come due to it being Sunday. We then headed to Velneshwar where I had even spent a day but I didn’t recall at whose house it was? After Velneshwar, we went to Hedvi and paid visit to Ganesh temple there.


Jejuri is a small town around 50 km from Pune on Pune-Pandharpur road. It is famous for temple of lord “Khandoba” who was a warrior and killed demons. I have heard of Jejuri many times as being a station on Kolhapur line, people with surname Jejurikar and even a Marathi song “Chala Jejuri la jau”. We covered the distance in hour and a half going through Saswad. The temple is situated on a small hill top but well constructed like a stone fort with steep stair climb. There is a peculiar ritual here is to anoint the deity and several other small points spread around the temple with turmeric which makes the surroundings yellow. Even devotees get anointed with turmeric, the more you put the more devoted you are.

All the photos around Pune are here.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Oregon/Portland/Columbia River

During these recession time, just two days before Obama taking oath as 44th president of USA, I landed into USA in Bellevue, Washington state near Seattle. On very first weekend break, a close friend (Samrat) planned a trip down south in Oregon state to visit waterfalls in Columbia River Gorge. It is one of the many natural beauty sites which have been declared as National Scenic area by US govt. I had no involvement in planning of this trip as I hardly researched anything this time before coming. Samrat being his enthusiastic self and shouldering responsibility of taking entourage of 16 folks including his and two other families hired one of the biggest personal passenger vehicle in US, a Ford 16 seater. It was test of his cheerfulness as he drove 200 miles without any help and simultaneously cheering up rest of the crowd. The weather turned out to not the way we expected. It turned cloudy and started snowing as soon as we crossed Columbia river into the state of Oregon. Other than its natural beauty and liberal city of Portland, Oregon is also know as state with no Sales tax on commodities. This fact was on every one's mind and even on a recreation trip, we shopped at soon to close CircuitCity chain. But before that we first went to see what we came here for, the waterfalls. The mountain slope along Columbia River highway is home to many scenic vistas and watefalls. There would have had many waterfall streams otherwise had it not been chilly winters. This was the first time I saw frozen waterfalls, white patches on otherwise green slopes. Still there was water on the bigger ones. One of them, the biggest, is known as Multnomah waterfall which is the second largest drop in height of water after famous Niagra. Even in the bone chilling weather, the waterfall felt beautiful. There was frozen water around but a huge stream of water still dropping from height. The waterfall is in two stages. There is a beautiful arch bridge built in front of the falls which when looked from a distant casts a spell. Before Multnomah, we went to one more fall called Bridal Veil for which we had to walk a little as it was hidden in forest. The drop was not much but flow was powerful. By the time we were done with these, everyone had enough of chilly weather. So, we headed back to our hotel, Holiday Inn, which we had booked for us in Gresham, adjacent area to Portland. It snowed a little overnight and our plans of going to Mt. Hood were dashed. The reason for that was that in snow, vehicles are supposed to put chains on tyres so that they don't skid. We with rented vehicle did not opt for this. So, soon plan was made to visit the Portland city and have brunch at an India restaurant called "Swagat". The restaurant as if to our convenience starts lunch buffet at 11:30 AM. As we reached there, we were one of the first customers of the day. A bunch of 16 desis getting down from a vehicle which barely fit them would have been quite a sight for the people around. Nevertheless, we had a sumptuous lunch at the buffet though it was only palatable. We were done by 1 PM and we had to start heading back, so we were left with only 2 hours. After lot of deliberations, we decided to park at riverfront of Hood river and everybody goes his way and comes back in time. I chose to stick to riverfront promenade cum park. The confluence of Hood & Columbia river is near by. Portland is also known for Mt. Hood which looms large are visible from most part of the city on clear day. This was Sunday morning and a few Portland residents were out there exercising or just bathing in the precious sunlight though it was cold enough. Portland is know as heaven for gay folks and known for its weirdness. I read that some of local businessmen even pasted stickers all over the city to help keep city weirdness!! The city though did not seem to so busy had a tramway of its own which ran on vehicular roads though I did not try to step into it. After lot of wait for others, we finally headed back to Bellevue. The journey was quick given to beautiful road and day light still remaining. All in all an enjoyable trip.

All the photos can be seen here.