September 2016 | Bike Rides Bangalore

Monday, September 5, 2016

Mahabaleshwar - Hidden gem of Western ghats | Day-2 05/09/2016

Places visited: Pratapgad Fort, Mapro Garden, Panchagani View point, Table Land.

This post is on the second day at Mahabaleshwar. If you haven't read the Day1 post, then I would strongly recommend you to read it before.

The previous day was amazing with enchanting viewpoints and waterfalls. Out of various attractions at Mahabaleshwar, Pratapgad fort was one of the must-visit places on the list. Today's plan was to visit Pratapgad fort and Panchagani, later return to home on boarding the bus.

Best of the beast: Pratapgad watchtower

Monday morning: We woke up early in the morning and were all set to step out by 8 am. The weather was chilling and bone freezing cool outside. We departed out from the hotel and headed for the breakfast. Since it was Monday, tourists were few and less crowded. In fact, the place looked better than the previous day. After having the delightful poha and a cup of hot tea, we headed to the bus stand in order to hire a cab for the day. The same driver who assisted us the previous day approached us. He demanded Rs. 2500 to cover Pratapgad and Panchagani as the distance is longer, bargaining for lower terms didn't work :( Finally, we had to agree on his demand and started to drive to Pratapgad.

Mahabaleshwar-Pratapgad: Pratapgad is 20 km from Mahabaleshwar and takes around 45 mins to reach. The road conditions are average with irregularities and minor potholes. This stretch of the drive is amazing with the view of the surrounded valley. The hills accompanied us throughout the journey. The road passes through plenty of twists & turns and ups & downs. It's a treat for people who love to drive through ghat sections. On the other hand, make sure you must have good driving skills if you wish to ride/drive this stretch.
Road to Pratapgad, few pot holes here and there
View on the way
Small seasonal waterfalls along side the road

Landing at Pratapgad/Pratapgarh: As soon as we landed down from the car,  a person approached and offered us the guide (govt appointed) for Rs. 300. We agree that this place is connected with history and interesting stories, but guide charge felt little expensive, so we denied the offer. As we moved further, another person (not govt appointed) approached who offered us the guide for just Rs. 200. We tried to bargain more but it didn't work, so we decided to explore the place on our own. Since it was a weekday the place was less crowded.
Entrance Arch to Pratapgad
Parking spot near the fort.

After two years of hard work the fort construction was completed in 1656. The fort was built mainly to defend the banks of Nira river, Koyna river and Par pass.
Each structure in the fort is designed uniquely keeping the defense in mind. The Battle of Pratapgad between Shivaji and Afzal Khan was fought at this fort.

Quick tip: Don't be a fool like us, hire a guide. Its worth it!

Let me divide the fort into three parts to help you understand the structure well.

The entrance: Unlike other forts, the primary thing we observed was the entrance. It was huge and curved to evade enemies break the entrance gate. The steps are actually greater in heights than normal, to prevent the army elephants to attack the fort. The soldiers /guards were supposed to watch over the entrance gate. If any enemies strike, they would pour hot oil through small openings over the door.
Entrance of the fort
Watchtower: After ascending a couple of steps, we reached a flat ground where there's a watchtower on the right and more steps to the left. The watchtower is the main attraction of this place. The orange flag flying high and bright represented the sensational victory of Shivaji Maharaj over Afzal Khan. The breathtaking views surrounded the forts. This fort is a combination of history and nature. The greenery and the cascading panoramic views left us speechless. 

Steps to the watchtower 
A Panoramic view of the watchtower
You can see the homes of the locals and temple in the background
Panoramic view from the watch tower

Bhavani temple and Shivaji Statue:
Further, we walked to visit the famous temple of goddess Bhavani. There were many shops here selling buttermilk and snacks. According to the statistics, there are around 25 families who still live in this fort since Shivaji's era.
At the top, a gigantic 17 feet tall bronze statue of Shivaji has been instilled. There is also a beautiful garden at this place where families can spend quality time with kids.
Steps to reach Bhavani temple
You will get the tastiest buttermilk here. Don't forget to try it.
Life-sized statue of Shivaji depicting the victory against Afzal Khan

It was getting late so we decided to go back. All of a sudden it started raining heavily and lasted for 15 minutes. We somehow reached back to the parking lot and boarded the cab. The next destination was Panchagani, 40 km further. We had a quick nap in the cab as we were tired.
On the way, we passed by Vanna lake. It is one of the must-visit places in Panchagani. We had to skip this as we were already running out of time. I saw Mapro garden was on the way, I had read a lot about this place hence considered to visit it.

Mapro Garden: Mapro Garden is a popular tourist spot in Mahabaleshwar and identified for massive strawberry production. As we entered the garden, it looked magical. A Wonderland!. The place is enriched with strawberry like structures everywhere. The operation has a chocolate factory, strawberry garden, Mapro outlet and a prominent cafeteria. A lot of families were here having a great time with their children. We strolled around exploring the place. Mapro products are available here for good discounts. We bought couple of products to help our thirsty taste buds. However, no strawberries were available as it was an offseason. This place is good to stop by for food and shopping mapro products.
Mapro garden entrance
These cars are decorated with Mapro brand and mostly used inside the campus
These cars are decorated with Mapro brand and mostly used inside the campus
A lot of such decorations in the shape of strawberry
Mapro garden
Mapro products being sold here at discounted price
Mapro products

We arrived at the Panchagani viewpoint. There's nothing much to explore here other than a mind-blowing view of the lake between the sprawling mountains. We spend some time here enjoying the breeze and beautiful view. We then paused at a restaurant to have lunch. The stay and food costs in Panchagani is much lesser as compared to overpriced details in Mahabaleshwar. That's one of the reason a lot of people like to stay in Panchagani rather than Mahabaleshwar. After a nice meal, we drove to our next and last destination for the day Plato point.

Venna Lake view 
A Closer look of Venna lake

Table land: As this place was not on my list, I perceived very little about this place until localites suggested us this spot. This place is formed naturally by the volcano. It is the 2nd longest mountain plateau in Asia which spreads across 5 km. As soon as we landed, some people offered us horse ride to explore this place as its a vast area to cover on the foot. Horse riding is the main attraction here but due to an accident (1 girl was killed as horse carriage fell off from table land) in May 2012, horse carts and horse riding was banned. Now it is partly allowed by the government since November 2012. You can enjoy a horse ride on Tableland but its pretty as expensive as 500 - 700/- per person.
Entrance to Table Land. No vehicles allowed beyond this point
They have good business tactics by giving a free ride to some distance and then forcing you to take the ride. We decided to walk as it was expensive and we didn't want to spend any more. There appeared to be a cave temple adjacent to this place, which is also a restaurant. The food was expensive but is a good place to relax and chat. Even though the scorching sun outside made us tired, the temperature at this cave was somewhat good. Felt like a natural AC was running. We treated ourselves a hot cup of tea. Exploring the entire table land would take hours together on foot, we decided to head back as it was getting late for us to catch a bus to home.
Venna Lake view from Table Land
5 km of land formed by Volcano
Many such restaurants to quench your thirst and hunger.
Way to the cave restaurant and temple.
Shiva statue installed within the Cave
Temperature at this place is very low, feels like a natural AC.
View of Venna Lake from TableLand
Panoramic view of Table land area.
Girl exploring table land on a horse
We returned back to the parking spot and the driver dropped us at the bus stand. Almost 15km from here, we had to travel to catch the bus. So, We managed to get a shared jeep to Wai. The roads are horrible in this stretch. It took nearly 30 mins to reach Wai. There are a lot of direct buses which runs between Wai and Satara. We got a govt bus in no time. We reached Satara at 6 pm. From there, we boarded a bus to Hubli, and then another bus from there to Ilkal. Another 15 hours journey in normal buses till we reached my native. I spent next two days at Ilkal and returned to Bangalore.
It was one hell of a trip I must say. The beauty of the place was worth all the pain we took to reach the place.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Mahabaleshwar - Hidden gem of Western ghats | Day-1 04/09/2016

Places visited: Wilson Point, Plato point, Lingamala Waterfalls, Kates point, old Mahabaleshwar temple

Distance: 1500 km round trip
Type: Hill station, water falls, and Temple
Ideal for: Friends and family
Transportation: Train, bus, and cab
Crew: Nabhi, Vijay, Chandu and me

Remember the trips which you plan for years and finally, it happens - this is one of them. It was a long weekend for Ganesh Chaturthi festival, all my friends were free to join the trip. Besides, winter is the best time for vacations. At first, I thought Mahabaleshwar is a holy place but after thorough research, I realized that it has picturesque landscapes, lofty mountains, mesmerizing views, majestic falls, chilled climate. Yes, you guessed it right - it's honeymoon spot ;) The more I googled about the places to visit in Mahabaleshwar more I fell in love with it. The photos of these places were stunning, I couldn't wait anymore to visit the place and see it through my eyes. The plan was ready, the hotel was booked, transportation was taken care of. It's veryyyyy far from Bangalore (784 km to be precise) so going by car would be tiring and expensive, keeping budget in mind we decided to take the public transport.

Best of the beast: Needle hole viewpoint a.k.a Elephant's Head view point
Brief about the place: One of the best hill stations of Maharashtra and a must visit province in the state. There are rugged hills, dense forests, water falls and rivers that flow as though they have a mind of their own. The weather is wonderful and the place welcomes you with same charm any time of the year. This place is also known for its Strawberry production. Another popular hill station, Panchgani, is just 20 km before Mahabaleshwar. Mostly, the tourists visit both places together. It is also famous Honeymoon destination within Maharashtra. If you are starting from Bangalore on public transport then I recommend you to catch SRS/VRL bus going towards Pune, get down at Satara and catch a local bus to Mahabaleshwar. It's around 12 hours travel time to Satara from Bangalore. There are a lot of local buses running to Mahabaleshwar, you should reach Mahabaleshwar within 13 hours if everything goes well. Long story short: We took the train & bus and finally reached Mahabaleshwar in 23 hours :D Long story (You can skip this): I strongly recommend you to skip it unless you are crazy about my stories :P It was long holiday hence the buses were full and ticket rates had reached the sky ( ~3k for semi-sleeper :@), so we chose the longer mode of transport - The train. But direct train to Satara would take nearly 20 hours, we decided to get down at Belagavi then cover rest of the distance by bus. Chanda and I were starting from Bangalore while other two friends would start from Ilkal (500 km from Bangalore) and assemble at Satara. Bengaluru-Belagavi: We boarded the Ranichenamma express at 9 pm from Majestic, Bengaluru. This train is mostly on time and leaves at sharp 9.15 pm and we rested after dinner. When I opened my eyes I gazed at green fields through the window, the fresh air felt great and the scenery was soothing. We reached Belagavi at 9 am, the other two guys had already started from Ilkal and were expected to catch up with us at Satara by 5 pm. We had enough time so I decided to visit my sister in law's home to see my newborn nephew.

Nothing is better than a train journey
Belagavi-Satara: I played with my cute little nephew, freshened up and had breakfast. Without wasting much time we came back to bus stand, we just missed a bus to Mahabaleshwar (scheduled at 11 am from Belagavi). We boarded a Pune bus and reached Satara at 5 pm. I called Nabhi to check their status, he said it will take another 2 hours to reach Satara. Last direct bus to Mahabaleshwar was at 6.15 pm. And, If you miss that then you might have to catch a bus to Wia. From Wia you get a lot of buses/shared-cabs/private buses to Mahabaleshwar. Instead of waiting in Satara we decided to catch the bus and rest at the hotel. Nabhi and Vijay would come directly to the hotel. Satara-Mahabaleshwar: We had to cover 60 km more to reach the destination. After an hour drive, we started ascending the hills. The view became more and more beautiful every second. As we were nearing the peak the area was completely covered with thick fog with the visibility less than 10 meters. It was very difficult to drive in such a case, God knows how the driver managed to drive. My heart was excited about witnessing this awesome climate. We got down at bus stand, It was drizzling, the temperature was so low that we started shivering literally. I started navigation to the hotel. We checked in at 8 pm, 23 hours long journey finally completed.

On the way to Mahabaleshwar
The first view of the hills while ascending

Lifestyle of the locals at Mahabaleshwar and surrounding villages

I wish I was riding the bike on these ghats :*
We had booked a budget hotel, covered with damp walls, closed windows, not a great view and was stinking because of continuous rain. Seriously, would not recommend this for a family. We freshened up, stepped out to have food, also to explore the place. It was bone-freezing cold!! Completely fogged up. In spite of wearing thick jackets, we continued to shiver with numb hands.

Shanti Palace: Budget hotel

Typical view of the town near the bus stand

There were a lot of tourists, mostly couples. That is when we realized it's a hot honeymoon destination. There is a shopping street where you can find a lot of shops, food stalls, play areas.

While we were having dinner a girl on the other table asked the waiter to get room temperature coke as the one she got was too cold to drink. He replied with a smile "We don't keep it in the fridge, its the room temperature coke". Now you can imagine how cold it was. (Don't make fun of the girl for ordering the cold drink in cold and expecting it to be warm. Girls have rights to do anything :P ). We had our dinner and took a parcel for the other two guys. By the way, the restaurants are overpriced :@

Somewhere near the bus stand. You can imagine the climate at evening
Nabhi and Vijay returned to the hotel at 11 pm. It took them 15 hours of the journey so they were equally tired as we were. After this tiring journey, we deserved a much-needed sleep. We didn't have a room heater, Poor us !! So, we had to ask extra blankets to get some good nap and survive the night. Day 1:
Sunday Morning: Next morning, we were all set and stepped out at 8am. As expected we had no other choice than Vadapav for breakfast. We proceeded to the bus stand to hire cabs for local sightseeing. Getting a cab shouldn't be a problem as there will be a lot of cabs lined up near the bus stand. They have their standard rate card, you can choose any sightseeing plans accordingly. As we wanted to explore the whole place, these plans weren't satisfactory as they had time restrictions. This made us hire a car for the entire day at the cost of 1500 for local sightseeing. The driver had the route map of 5-7 places to show us. 1. Wilson Point: Wilson Point is the highest point in Mahabaleshwar at 1439 m. It is the only location in Mahabaleshwar where both sunrise and sunset can be seen from the same point. Curious !! It offered a spectacular picturesque of Mahabaleshwar in all directions. Standing atop the Wilson Point, we could see Old Mahabaleshwar, Babington point, and many other places. One should definitely come here to watch the sunrise or sunset.

Road is very narrow, only one car can go on it. Driver said its a one way so you can check the google maps while driving here.

View of the old Mahabaleshwar, not clearly visible in the photo though

Watchtower at Wilson point to watch sunrise and sunset from the same point

There we are, madness goes high when you are in such a beautiful place
Very narrow roads at some places, be careful if you are a noob driver

2. Plato point and Kings chair: This place has two viewpoints i.e Plato point and King's chair. Besides, there is a Ganesh temple from where one has to walk nearly a kilometer to reach these two points. After visiting the temple we started walking towards the viewpoint, it's 15 minutes of a hike through the thick forest and loose soil. An old aged man offered us to guide through the area for Rs. 50, he showed the plateau and pointed at villages amidst the forest. The only means of transport for those villagers is by walk for around an hour. Plato point offered a scintillating view of the surrounding green area. Kamalgad, Tableland, and tower of Wilson point can be seen from here. He showed us a chair like structure which is naturally created by the volcano which is named as King's chair. We spent a lot of time taking pictures and enjoying the landscapes and the greenery. Though it was cloudy the view wasn't blocked. We spent more than an hour at this place (we should have spent only 30 mins :D yeah we are photo freaks)

Ganesh Temple, from here you have to hike to reach King's chair and Plato point

Because of the rain, there is greenery everywhere

The photo was taken while descending on our way back, don't get confused :P

The lonely chair needed someone to sit on it :P 

Plato point, observe the rocky surface. It's created by the volcano ages ago. 

Plato point, observe the rocky surface. It's created by the volcano ages ago.

The mountain range and different villages visible in the photo, it's not that clear here

Dar ke aage jeet hai :P 

Panoramic view of the mountain ranges at Plato point

The mountain range and different villages visible in the photo, it's not that clear here

The Kind and I : King's chair

Note: Old people and those with knee pain are advised not to visit this. Instead, they can stay at Lord Ganesh Temple and others can proceed to visit the King's chair 3. Lingamala waterfalls: I wasn't sure about this waterfalls at Mahabaleshwar. When the driver said he will take us to waterfalls we were overwhelmed. From the parking space, we had to walk through nicely paved steps and lust green path covered by trees on both sides. We hit the dead end where there was a board written - 0.5 km to the right takes to the viewpoint of the falls, 200 meters to the left takes to the backwater of the falls.
There are two points here, Duh (small waterfalls) and Dhabdhabha (big waterfalls). 

Walking towards the Lingamalawaterfallss

You hit the dead end to see this board,a left turn takes you to small waterfalls and a right turn takes you to the big waterfalls
We took the longer path first. The cascade plummets from a height of 500 feet and its stream unites with the water of Venna Lake. Not only the waterfalls looks mesmerising, the surrounding mountain valley is also a treat to the eyes. After taking some photographs we moved to see the smaller waterfalls on the other side. 

Valley through which Lingamala water falls flows

View of the majestic Lingamala water falls (Big falls)

A closer look of the water falls

Panoramic view of the water falls and the valley through which it flows

Water falls from the height of 500 ft.
At this point, water falls down from a short height and there's a natural pool created in front of the falls. People were playing in the water, even we got tempted to get into the water but we didn't have an extra pair or clothes so we had to just stand there and watch. Water was too cold to survive with the wet clothes on, we just enjoyed the view and spent around half an hour at this place.

Back water of the falls, people crossing the stream. You are allowed to explore the place

The small water falls, a natural swimming pool is created next to it for people to play in the water

The best time to visit:
July to October, when the waterfall is at its peak flow. The waterfall can be dangerous in the rainy season, so it is not at all advisable to swim.

Entry Fee: Rs. 20 per person.
Timings: 8 AM to 5 PM

We headed back to the parking space, the roads are narrow and it's very difficult to get the cars moving as many people park their car on the roadside causing bottle necks to the vehicle movement. Some how the driver managed to get the car out of this place, we headed towards the most awaited destination of the trip - Elephant's Head view point.

Kate's Point: Kate's Point and Elephant's Head Point are the most picturesque viewpoints of Mahabaleshwar. Don't get confused here with different names for the same view point, Kate's Point area has 3 points in total; they are Kate's Point, Echo Point, and Needle Hole view Point or Elephant's Head Point.

Kates point. Its on the head of the elephant head
A small water falls to the right can be seen from the Kate's point. If you cross the water falls on the other side you can see the elephant's head view point (the one on which you are staning now)

Elephant's head point a.k.a Needle hole viewpoint: Elephant's Head Point is situated next to the Kate's Point. Without wasting much time we rushed to see this vantage point. Extreme to the right, there were people enjoying the view of the Elephant's head point, we rushed there. There was a small waterfall at this place, I guess its seasonal as it was a tiny stream of water flowing. Once you are at this point you can see the first view of the Elephant's head. The overhanging cliffs of this point are similar to the head of an elephant and its trunk. Thus the point got its name as the Elephant's Head Point. One can see a natural rock formation with a hole in between, thus giving the name Needle Hole.

Panoramic view of the Elephant's head point to the left to the Krishna river on the right

Its also called as needle hole view point as the gap in the rock looks like a needle hole

I don't have words to describe god's creation. It gets more mesmerising as you keep looking at it

Closer look of the Elephant head view pont. The red structure you are looking is Kate's view point (mentioned in previous photos)

Spectacular view of the Sahyadri range

How could we miss a group photo at this point :P
(from left): Nabhi, Vijay, Chandu and me
If one wants to see nature's very own artwork then this point definitely serves as a treat to them. Travellers can experience a spectacular view of the Sahyadri hill ranges from here. Sandy patches offset the lush green surroundings of Mahabaleshwar. Apart from a fabulous view of the hills, one can increase thrill by making the most of the beautiful sunrises and sunsets here.

No doubt its an excellent spot for photographers, experience seekers, nature lovers and nirvana seekers. With its mesmerising beauty, the place manages to attract explorers throughout the year.

After seeing this place we were speechless with this natural beauty. I wished to sit there and watch the view for the entire day. We moved to see the next view point called as echo point.

Echo Point: As the name suggests if you shout at this point loudly then the voice hits back from the hills and echos through the mountains. You can see the reservoir and krishna valley from here.

Echo point beside the kate's point

This is the echo point, if you should loud standing at this point the sound echoes through the montains and reaches back to your ear

The reservoir which can be seen from echo point

A closer look into the reservoir

We spent a lot of time here enjoying the nature. We spent more than 2 hours here taking photos and posing from each and every corner. It was 3.30 in the afternoon we still had enough time to see another place, we decided to visit Mahabaleshwar temple. Next 20 minutes of the drive took us to the most sacred place in Mahabaleshwar.

Mahabaleshwar Temple: As soon as we got down from the car it started raining heavily, we underestimated the nature so didn't get the umbrella. Half drenched we entered the temple. The temple is quintessential of the Hemadant architectural style of South India dedicated to Lord Shiva. Enclosed by a 5 ft high stone wall. Swayambhu, which is the 500 years old self-originated lingam, is enshrined within the sanctum sanctorum. This self-originated lingam is in the shape of Rudraksha and is called Mahalingam, which is considered to be superior to the twelve Jyothir Lingams. After having darshan of one of the rarest form of Shiva we waited until the rain stopped. The climate changed all of a sudden with clouds covering the entire area and the temperature dropped steeply.

Darshana Timings: 4 am to 12 pm & 4 pm to 9 pm

The entrace gate of the temple
 Temple is constructed in Hemadant architectural style
5ft high wall encapsulates self originated Rudrakshi shaped lingam

The rain starts to pour all of a sudden
Running around

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Self originated shiva lingam in the shape of Rudrakshi

Climate changed all of a sudden

From clear sky to the cloudy weather

Panch Ganga Temple: Next to the Shiva temple there is another temple called Panchganga temple which is the origin of seven rivers. The 4500-year old Panchaganga temple is built at the origin of 7 rivers – Krishna, Koyana, Gayatri, Savitri, Venna, Saraswati, and Bhagirathi. Out of them, springs of the first 5 flow continuously whereas the spring corresponding to Saraswati comes alive after every 60 years and the one corresponding to Bhagirathi comes alive every 12 years. The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna and has a beautiful idol of him. Panchganga Mandir is a site of major religious importance and is thronged by devotees all through the year. The temple has a beautifully carved gaumukhi, out of which the waters of the five rivers flow. The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna and has a lovely idol of him. The legend behind the temple is closely linked to Savitri's curse on the Trimurtis, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, who flow here as Koyna, Krishna and Venna rivers.

Panchganaga Temple
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Inside Panchganga MandirSrc:
Gaumukhi, out of which the waters of the five rivers flow.

Our spirituality is drowing in modernization 

We came back to the car, it was already dark we were done for the day. we came back to the hotel at 8 pm.

After freshening up we came out to have dinner and explore the shopping street. We walked on the shopping street for a while checking if we could buy anything but sadly everything for sale was only for girls. Its, not men's place to get anything at this place.
Even though it was very cold we didn't want to miss the strawberry milkshakes here. As Mahabaleshwar is very famous for growing strawberries how can we miss it. We tried a couple of flavours of strawberry milkshake and it was awesome. We had dinner at a small hotel who was serving regular meals. After stomach full meal we headed back to our hotel.

It was very cold in the night, but still we managed to get a good sleep.

Read the next part where we visit Pratapghad fort and Panchagani.

Important Tips: 1. You can catch any bus going to Pune from Bangalore and get down at Satara. This is the simplest route instead of making things complex like us.

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