Bye.. Bye.. Mumbai..

13.11.2016:

07.30 hrs – We reached Dadar from where we can catch a shared cab to the famous hill-stations Khandala and Lonavla. Yes, our today’s plan is to explore a bit of these two hill-stations! And this is also a part of my to-do bucket list. A drive along one of the finest roadways of India, the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, which are the highest class of roads in the Indian Road Network. My cousin and nephew dropped us here after we got a cab and our driver is Rahman kaka (uncle). Usually they charge Rs. 150 or 200 for each person, thanks for the demonetization, they asked us for Rs. 300 each and we reduced it to Rs. 250 🙂

We opted a cab drive for two reasons, one – this is the fastest way to reach Lonavla, two – the road is one of a kind and we must try it at least once! Though we got another co-passenger, kaka was not happy and wanted two more passengers to carry on with the drive. As we were waiting, two more guys joined us on the back seat, while Mythri and I occupied the middle seats and another girl occupied the front seat. 8.30 hrs – It took us half-an-hour to hit the Expressway and just for info, an expressway is a controlled-access highway; it is a highway that controls entrances to it and exits from it by incorporating the design of the slip roads for entry and exit into the design of the highway itself. 

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The Mumbai Pune Expressway, officially the Yashwantrao Chavan Expressway is India’s first six-lane concrete, high-speed, access controlled tolled expressway. It spans a distance of 93 km (58 mi) connecting Mumbai with Pune. This expressway has reduced the travel time between the cities of Mumbai and Pune to approximately two hours and also reduced the traffic on the Mumbai-Chennai highway. The drive along this road is smooth as well as fast and soon we were to find why this is one of the most beautiful routes in India. 

The road makes its way through the Sahyadri mountains, a part of the Western Ghats and the smooth road offered us a magnificent view of the rolling hills which are draped with a blanket of brown-colored vegetation, leaving us to our own imagination of these during the monsoon. Am sure that, the road offers magnificent views of the lush green hills, verdant valleys, waterfalls and lakes during the rainy season and making the beauty of this route one of its kind 🙂 . Looking forward for one such views!

Another attraction of this road are the tunnels carved in the Sahyadris and they are very well-lit to provide enough lights for the vehicles moving. This is my first experience on such kind of roads, as I didn’t see as many as the tunnels I had seen on this road. And the speed of the vehicles are insane and one of my wild fantasies is to have a bike ride on this road :-p 😉 . I know it’s a kinda impossible task, but who knows, probably one day I can make it through 😉

10.00 hrs – It took us around 90 mins to reach Lonavla and we were ready to begin our adventure 🙂

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World Environment Day – Gone wild!!

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On this June 5 – World Environment Day, the Kerala Forest Department along with WWF India organized a rain walk from Kallar to Ponmudi, a hill-station located at a distance of 61 kms from Trivandrum. Luckily, as it was a Sunday me and my friends decided to go on this trip, though we don’t know whether it rains or not.

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We chose the route to Nedumangad-Anad-Vithura-Kallar. We set on our bikes around 6.15 hrs in the morning from Trivandrum to Kallar (42 kms). Truly an adventurous and thrilling drive as the roads were pretty narrow and curvy. And the lush green surroundings full of rubber plantations and coconut grooves, along with the early morning breeze enhanced its charm. As this is my first drive on a bike in Kerala, and has no experience on such roads, I struggled a bit at the beginning, but soon caught up my speed. We reached Kallar around 7.30 hrs.

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Quickly completed the process of registration, and watched around to see our group which comprised of some 35 people from different age groups (youngest – 11 yrs and oldest – 60 yrs). I was quite excited. The WWF representatives and the Forest Division Officer, Kerala Forest Dept gave us a quick introduction to the World Environment Day and its theme this year. Once done, they flagged off the walk around 8.00 hrs.

The first one to welcome us is the Kallar river, after which the place Kallar has been named. A bird watching spot. There is the Meenmutti waterfall nearby, but didn’t get a chance to visit it this time :(. This is solely a road trek as they are very much concerned about our safety, but still got good chance of trying the off roads wherever possible.

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Ponmudi is situated at about 3000 feet and is home to mountain flowers, butterflies, spiders, springs and rivulets. The way from Kallar to Ponmudi comprises of 22 hairpin bends, probably one of the highest compared with rest of the hill stations in Kerala. The foothills of Ponmudi has few rubber plantations and I was lucky enough to see how the trees secret the latex and how it is being collected in the coconut shells or polythenes that were tied around the trees. The thing which attracted me the most is the down-hill view. It was almost as if the Mother Earth is wrapped up in a thick blanket of lush-green trees and forests.

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The cloud-kissed mountains, hills with tea plantations, mountain flowers on the road-sides and giant spiders and web right beside the trees, neat and clean roads, the green canopy, sun-rays playing hide and seek, it is simply one-hell of a beauty! Though the first few kms of distance was tiring, coz of the hot sun, it started to rain in mid-way and all of a sudden the climate changed into a pretty cool one. There was a temple dedicated to Karuppaswamy, a friend of Lord Ayyappa, a tea factory and a PWD Guest House on the way up.

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Though it’s a road trek, we tried the off-road ways at the hairpin bends, and trekking through the tea-gardens wherever there were possibilities. It took us around 4 hours (around 13.00 hrs) to reach till the Government Guest House located on top of this hill. We had a good Saadhya (Malayali Lunch), which consisted of the local variety of rice, Aviyal (mix veg curry), Poriyal (a fried stuff), Sambar and the Pepper Rasam with a Papa, provided by the staff there.

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The Government Guest house is good enough and very clean. It has a balcony from which we can see the panorama of Western Ghats. Kudos to the forest department people for maintaining the roads and the surroundings so neat and clean! This environment day turned out to be a memorable one for me, as I was really entwined with it. Started our way back around 15.30 hrs and reached Trivandrum by 16.45 hrs. A good week off 🙂

 

Kappil – the confluence of sea, river and the backwaters

About 53 kms from Trivandrum and 7 kms from Varkala, Kappil beach is one of the most picturesque destinations of Kerala. It is not just another tourist spot, but a must visit place.

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On the west is the true blue Arabian Sea and the east is Edava Narayan Lake. The true confluence of backwaters and sea with some lush green coconut grooves.. Road runs as such for about 1 km. Kappil has its own fishing community, and the true fun is the backwater ride.

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Ponnumthuruth Island:

Situated about 12 km south of Varkala. Have to board a country boat from Neduganda and take a tour through the backwaters for about 30 minutes to reach Ponnumthuruthu. Ponnumthuruthu, the name literally means Golden Island. This lush island is a perfect gateway for those who seek a break from the hustle and bustle of the urban life.

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This island is known for the Shiva Parvathi temple, which is more than 100 years old. A royal family owns the island and the temple.

In all, this place is for a good drive and fits in for a short trip.. 🙂 🙂

Gandikota – Grand Canyon of India

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Probably one of the least explored places in India. Situated on the rivers of Pennar, in the Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh, and is one of the best places in India. Truly an equivalent to the Grand Canyon.  Gandikota derives its name from two Telugu words, “Gandi” meaning gorge and “Kota” meaning fort. But, why this name? Coz, the river Penna forms a Gorge in this tiny village and there is a fort just on the river side, which is believed to have been built during the later half of the 13th century.

Places to Visit:

# Gandikota (Gorge Fort): It is a stone fort built upon a bill. Guarded by a huge entrance gate that is some 20 feet high and 101 bastions each over 40 feet high, it still remains a very imposing structure. Believed to have been built during the later half of the 13th century AD. Gandikota impressed the French traveler Tavernier, so much that he opined that it resembles Hampi, Vijayanagara in its massive monuments. And the Mukhadwara (entrance) of this fort welcomes us to enter the Gandikota village.

# Juma Masjid: It’s wonderful to see a mosque and a temple in the same complex of that tiny village. It was quite a big one and we can find a “Charminar” here too. Yeah, there is a charminar backside of this mosque. There is a granary just beside the mosque and had a vaulted roof. One can enter inside and see how the kings used to store their food treasures here 😀

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# Ranganatha Swamy Temple: On walking a further from the granary, one can find this temple. The temple is not in a good condition, yet people from the nearby villages come here to offer prayers to the Lord Ranganatha (Vishnu). The temple is located on an elevated platform. But the art on the temple walls has not lost its sheen.

# Pennar Gorge: A few steps further from the Ranganathaswamy temple, there lies thousands of rocks, small and big. Trust me, there won’t be a trace of what you are searching for. One has to take the pain of climbing up and down those rocks carefully, keep a watch on the surroundings and on their own footsteps and hunt for the treasure. After few minutes, one will find the treasure of nature’s beauty. The awesome Pennar Gorge. Stacks of rocks arranged in a perfect manner as if it was a book shelf, a mighty gorge and the river Pennar flowing through it. The beauty was beyond description. It just needs to be captured by one’s own heart and soul.

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# Madhavaraya Temple: While all the above mentioned places are on side, this temple is on the other side. It takes some time to reach this place from the gorge. This is probably the biggest structure among all the ones present in this village. The main sanctum of this temple is also elevated and there are good number of mandapas surrounding this temple. Truly a majestic structure.

Gandikota is yet another majestic creation of the mother nature. For the folks who love going on long drives, the stretch from Proddatur to Gandikota via Jammalamadugu is really a must try. Especially, if you plan to visit this place in the months of December and January, trust me, you will never regret. Coz, the mother earth will be covered with a blanket of sunflowers during this time, just like the below pic. For trek lovers, this place is worth trying as one can trek down the rocks from the fort hill to the pennar river flowing down. Don’t miss the sunrise 🙂

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Wait a minute, what about the food? If you wanna try the desi spicy food of Rayalaseema, you should try out eating Dosas with that Red chilli Chutney in the breakfast and Hot & Sour Soup in the dinner. I bet you will cry 😛

How to reach? 

Kadapa is well connected with the major cities like Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Bangalore by road. One can reach either Proddatur or Jammalamadugu and from there can catch an auto or a cab to drive to Gandikota. And the drive will be smooth as the condition of the roads is too good.

A special thanks to my friend Ruthwik for suggesting me to pay a visit to this place and to my loving brother Vijay for joining me in this beautiful journey.