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Old 15th June 2012, 14:45   #1
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Default Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

From 3rd to 9th June 2011, I did a thousand kilometers solo ride on motorcycle for seven days, to see the glimpses of Maharashtra. This ride was part of a competition – Wrangler True Wanderers.

The trailer:

Last edited by ani_meher : 15th June 2012 at 14:55.
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Old 15th June 2012, 14:53   #2
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Default Re: Solo Motorcycle Tour: Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

It began one Tuesday, 24th of May 2011, with a phone call…

“Aniruddha? Hi, this is Suneil from xbhp…”

Turned out my blog of Kerala tour (Vesta Motorcycle Tours and Travels: Reboot life - Kerala - Kanyakumari - Kodaikanal) submitted at the last minute to the True Wanderers contest was about to be selected amongst the top 10 for next round. Wow! So what next?

‘Would you be available for a ride from 3rd to 10th June? It has to be in your State only…’

The details rolled by, and they really dazed me. A week long ride with such a short notice? That too had to be in Maharashtra. The month was May. Almost all of the state was burnt by the sun in his four months of glory, and all were awaiting the rain. The photographs would all be yellow dried grass! Touring season in Maharashtra is from October to February. Not the peak of the summer!

And besides, I had just returned from an 18 day ride from Kerala a month ago, whose travelogue was selected in the contest. My boss would kill me if I requested a week long leave now.

The questions cluttered my mind, and I requested Suneil some time to think about it before accepting. The problems were overwhelming, but there was a small joy hidden in there somewhere. A possible opportunity to communicate to the world about my dream: to promote safe riding.

It began 3 years ago, on Sikkim trip. I and wife Nandinee went to Sikkim and Gangtok on a very tight budget. It was a wonderful trip, and East India is one hidden gem that is worth exploring. We were travelling by shared taxis to visit the places. The roads were rough at times, and we were bouncing around in that rusty old Jeep for going to Gurudongmar lake. At one of the many halts, I met two foreigners, whose bike was punctured and they were waiting for mechanic. A brief chat revealed they had travelled from North India and now were touring East. Seeing foreign guests roaming around on bike, with huge language barrier and yet coping up nicely, really intrigued me. Here we were, a bunch of Indians travelling safely in a cage, visiting various ‘sites’ which were separated by large distances. And these bikers were having time of their lives. That time I noticed that the journey itself was a sight. Sure there were tourist spots, this waterfall and that garden. But the road connecting them was adventurous yet beautiful, and we were missing up on it completely. Somehow, as tourists we thought our fun was limited only by the places we visit, and certainly did not lie on the roads.

We went to Rajasthan touring on motorcycle in 2010 (Vesta Tours and Travels: Package for adventurous couples - Explore Rajasthan!). This was the best trip we had till that time. Not just the places, but the roads too became our playground. If one counts the number of hours he was actually out on a vacation ‘having fun’ when on a tour in bus or car, he counts the number of places visited. On a motorcycle, you count each kilometer travelled. Places are generally created by humans, where on road it is not the case. You find the masses and the core of the place on road, not in tourist sites. For us, Jaisalmer was not just a town located at 5 hours journey from Jodhpur, it was a place with 220 beautiful kilometers leading towards it. Udaipur was not just a ‘romantic city’, but rather a destination of a twisting road in the Aravali hills. Road is better than the inn, indeed.

When I returned from that trip, many of my elder relatives and ‘settled’ friends were shocked. Some were even trying to prove how it would be dangerous to ride with wife, how car or bus was a safer option, how biking is only for reckless collegians. The fact that we were standing in front of them all safe and sound somehow eluded them.

This made me think a lot. I could see many others like us, either singles or couples, who had motorcycle or a scooter, and yet cribbed about how they couldn’t go out anywhere. Somehow the notion that motorcycling is totally unsafe and equivalent to suicide is deeply imbued in our psychology. This needed to change. Motorcycling is NOT just going from point A to point B, or it is not about speeding alone. It is taking a walk with nature. When one connects himself to his motorcycle and goes rolling on the road, the feeling is enormously satisfying. This needed to be presented and canvassed somehow. I cherished the dream of promoting safe riding as one of the best ways to have a vacation.

And this contest would be a superb platform for it. If I could inspire even 10 new singles or couples to take up safe riding, I have already won the prize.

But where to go? That question remained. North India is blessed with Himalaya at riding distance. East is beautifully abundant in natural beauty all year round. In south, if you are at Munnar or Kollam, you can throw up your camera high in the air taking pictures, and they would come beautiful. Some places are naturally blessed with beauty. But where am I to go in a hot state with dried vegetation?

At this time, my brother said,

‘You travel so much to other states; you have forgotten to appreciate your own. You don’t have eyes to spot the beauty here anymore.’

No way. I don’t think I could miss a place worth visiting, if it is really so. But could it the truth? Was there any hidden beauty in this state in this season? But if I had lost the sight to see beauty in this rocky state, how would one spot it? What’s the definition of beauty? One that brings peace to eyes, or to mind? I closed my eyes, and started thinking, what does the name Maharashtra brings out in me? What pictures and feelings does it bring to mind….

I could see the brave forts that fought for freedom…
I could see the miles long beaches with golden sands and welcoming with open arms….
The views from hills up above, showing the beautiful river passing by, and neatly squared farms brimming with produce…
The abundant jungles that are holding on against shameless politicians and mafias, and are protecting their flora and fauna…
The gentle vibrating mantras from the temples, with masses of pilgrims and innocent faith…
The pulse-racing hot-blooded adventurous spirit of the Marathas…
The years of hard work of un-named artists carving up the hardest of rocks relentlessly, that have lasted centuries of harsh weather…

Damn. How could anyone miss that? I have done small tours in the state, but never one truly appreciating what it is. There is a difference between seeing and looking. I always went around ‘seeing’ places, not ‘looking’ for them. But there are places worth finding, worth looking for. The hidden gems that lie just outside of your eyesight. Maharashtra is not just cities and towns, it is many thousand kilometers of hills and roads and jungles and dried lands and rivers and unmapped villages. From tomorrow, we will start exploring the State of Maharashtra, with small steps. Seven to be exact.

Come with me, on a journey to ….

Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps.

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Vesta is the name of my bike, Suzuki GS150R. It means Roman Goddess of fire and hearth.
Let’s have some rules laid out, before we move on to our journey:
  1. No drinking and riding. I don’t drink or smoke anyway, but yet that’s the rule!
  2. No super-human ride: any commonly healthy person should be able to do them easily.
  3. No skimping on safety, which covers: no racing, no breaking of law, no riding without helmets in town.
As if on cue, it has started raining here for past few days! Still not the regular monsoon, but enough to wake everything up from its slumber.

Last edited by ani_meher : 15th June 2012 at 14:54.
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Old 15th June 2012, 15:04   #3
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Day 1 – Taking the first leap towards exploring
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

Some days are different.
On most days, you wake up, go to work, come back, enjoy with family, sleep. The same scolding of boss, the same travel, the same routine – the same life. On most days.
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

But some days are really different. You know they are rare, and once they come to an end, they will leave with nothing but longing memories. Today was one such day for me. Today I would be leaving for Wrangler’s True Wanderer contest! I would be competing against the best tourers in the country for best trip and travelogue. And how do I start this most awaited day? By sleeping till late, of course. Somehow, my body doesn’t care what state of mind I am in. When it needs rest, it rests. The hell with the owner’s plans.

I was starting pretty late today, the flag off was scheduled at 2.30 P.M. So late in the afternoon usually means you can’t ride too far that day. I had a choice of returning back home and starting the next day. But my old fashioned mind refused to accept that idea, and thus I planned to leave on the same day.

As inevitable, till last minute the packing went on. It has become such a routine now; that if at all I am packed in advance, I would think I am in a dream. So here I was, packing at full speed with wife’s and mom’s help, going through the list of things one more time. Laptop – charger – mobile – charger – camera – charger – damn these chargers. Wish there would be just one BIG connector that is common to all. My backpack is now carrying nothing but gizmos and toys!

Leaving home

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The day’s itinerary was simple. Go to Wrangler showroom about 1.00 P.M., select the denim and wear it, have a few pictures clicked, and then flag off. Well, at least on paper it seemed alright. But making it true in reality was much difficult than anticipated. First was the before mentioned regular lag. Thus we reached at Wrangler at 2.00 P.M., rather than 1 P.M., effectively postponing all the rest of the agenda. Parking is as usual problematic on FC road – for the uninitiated, one of the busiest and ‘hip’ roads in Pune. I was told to park in front of Wrangler Showroom. When I returned after a while, the bike was gone! Damn those traffic cops, I thought, this is the day when they follow all rules! But it seemed the helper at Wrangler had moved it aside.

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The Wrangler showroom people received us well. Mr.Ashish, a senior official of Wrangler was present, and he was personally attending me. I picked up a faded styled denim from their collection. The idea is that the wanderer will wear the same denim for the next 7 days, and the present it back the Wrangler showroom. This is for the promotion of their new series ‘True Wanderers’ that wears a truly rugged look. I am curious how my denim would look after 7 days! After picking up the denim, the photography session started. Felt great to be the center of attention! Felt as if I am getting married again! Even at the time of marriage, I suspect my wife was more the center than I, but this she never agrees. Anyway, so we got our denim, got the pictures clicked, and got flagged off in style.

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It was almost 4.00P.M. b the time I left Wrangler showroom, and I was 1 hour behind schedule. The day’s running was not much though. In fact, as stated before, none of the rides in this tour are going to be super human one. They are planned to be easily doable, so that anyone can pick something up from this itinerary and leave on his bike.

Nandinee came to see me off for some distance, when it slowly started raining. What started as a drizzle, soon took form of a heavy rain, and washed out everything thoroughly, including my grand plans of photography. This photo was taken by Nandinee, before she took a U turn with teary eyes.

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Pune to Mulshi is the same mechanical route. Dodge bigger vehicles – avoid pot holes – watch out for wandering pedestrians – repeat. This patch hasn’t changed in its character for many years. The development on this patch is amazing though. With many new bungalow plots and ‘holiday homes’ I wonder how long can this little road will hold up against the increasing traffic.

It was raining constantly, with varying intensity of raindrops. I would otherwise get wet inside out, but the Duckback raincoat was doing its job perfectly. Duckback company makes one of the most dull looking rainsheeters that history of mankind has seen. A tea-picker’s bamboo cover has much more style element than this. But when it comes to utility, that is saving the wearer from rain, few could hold a candle against Duckback. I have been using it for more than 4 years now, and I can easily recommend this brand to anyone who values staying dry over looking cool and wet.

As I put some kilometers between myself and Pune, the sky became clear, and though the drops were still falling, they were mostly in form of drizzle. I sneaked a few photographs this time.

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But Tamhini ghaat is notoriously famous for its false indications of weather. One turn and you are in dry area, another one, and you are looking at foggy rain clouds. This ride was no different, and I was expecting it. Whenever the rain gods gave me smile, I clicked the scenery.

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I used to think that Maharashtra rides would only be interesting in and after the rains, as after Jan-Feb, it is all dried grass everywhere. But in this rain, everything was getting washed out. The trees were looking all spanking clean and green, the rocks nicely polished red, and the yellow grass now forming lumps that looked amazing on the black rock’s backdrop. It was a riot of colors, yellow lumps of grass, black rock, red soil, green trees – it was amazing. I half expected the famous Tamhini waterfalls to be atleast making their presense felt by now, but they are yet to come. If the rains continue, in one month Tamhini will be full to the brims with tourists getting soaked up in the waterfalls.

The customary shot of Tamhini valley – Ghal

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I rode hard to catch a particularly photograph. After this ghaat, we are connected to State Highway 60, which goes through some amazing route. One particular turn goes through rocky hills from both the sides, and I am yet to see someone who doesn’t exclaim ‘Need for speed!’ while going through them. The turn resembles the game that well.

There was a time when this SH 60 was smooth. I remember riding through bumby Tamhini ghaat for the smooth twisties on this road. Alas, now the situation is reversed. The roads in Tamhini are mostly in shape, and the SH60 is properly banged up. The road quality deteriorates significantly, once we cross over from ghaat to SH. But paying no heed to that, I rode ahead. But the rains increased so much by then, I worried whether the photography would be possible in this trip or not. Luckily, the rain gave me a window of a few minutes just when I was passing through that section. Here it is, the NFS road of Tamhini:

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My stop for tonight was ‘Lake Resort, Sutarwadi’. I continued on the road, crossing Vile to head towards Kolad. The map said it is after 12 kilometers from Vile. It is indeed within that range, and I was standing outside its gate at about 7.00 P.M. I was pretty dry, but the tankbag and saddlebags were thoroughly soaked up. They showed me my room, and before I could check in, SNAP, the lights are gone.

No matter, I thought, fetching a chair to sit in the Verandah, hoping the electricity would come back again. 5…10…20 minutes, no sign of electricity. Man made, that is. God’s electricity was having a field day. With 3D surround and dolby special effects the God’s drums were playing their beat in full form. It was damn scary to us mere mortals. The fury continued for quite some time. It was about 9.00 that the lights finally came, when I had given up any hope for them.

It is now 11.30 P.M. After a filling dinner at the dining hall, I am typing on the laptop. I should sleep now, but now my mind is taking revenge on the body and refusing to sleep, filling me up full of thoughts.

This ride brings many new things that have not been done by me in any of my past rides. In all rides, I wrote the travelogue after returning from the trip. I had all the time in the world to compose, to select photos etc. In fact, some of the travelogues are posted after 7-8 months of ride. But on this ride, I am supposed to update daily! Well, daily connection of internet in the areas I have planned is a long term plan of government, but I sure do expect to write daily, and upload as and when I get the network.

Another new thing about this ride is that, this is mine and Vesta’s first ride without my wife as pillion. Vesta tours and travels always meant us three, but this time as it was not allowed, I and Vesta are touring together.
The hotel seems nice. A family manages the property. The rooms are surroundings are clean, with each room housing 3-4 beds. I am now going to sleep on 4 beds in total! There is no range of any mobiles save for occasional BSNL and Tata ones. After getting used to electricity and mobiles and internet connection at the moment’s notice in town, it is going to be a wonderful wandering where I am no longer connected by radiations!

Last edited by ani_meher : 15th June 2012 at 15:14.
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Old 15th June 2012, 15:12   #4
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Day 2 – Part I – The hidden beauty in plain sight

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__________________________________________________ ___________________________________
While having breakfast, I was thinking, there can’t be any hidden places so much near to the big towns like Mumbai and town. I was proven wrong in a matter of hours. I was watching wide eyed at the beauty that unfolded in front of me.
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

The electricity didn’t go out thankfully in the night, or if it did, I didn’t realize. I had set up the alarm clock at an optimistic 6.30 AM, and got up at a humane time – 7.30 AM. The breakfast was a grand affair. I think they had prepared a couple’s breakfast, and realizing I am only one staying in the room, served me the combined one.

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I rode to Roha, for river rafting and other river activities. I was told very confidently by a person at the hotel, that the river rafting can be done any time we want. I was highly suspicious of this, as I had read that the river rafting was dependent on the water release by the nearby dam, and certainly didn’t happen all day long. Yet, I reached Wild river center about 9.30. No one was there except a cranky old guard. I made myself at home, clicking pictures here and there.

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Finally the owner came at about 10.00. Got the good news, that the water rafting is not done there. It is done is Vile, which is opposite of this place from my hotel, and is done in morning 8.00 A.M. Some hotel owners had told me that Monday is a holiday for this water releases, but I couldn’t confirm that. So OK, I thought, out goes the water rafting. What else? They had a package for kayaking, river fox and river crossing.
This was my first time doing kayaking. It is really very soothing; you are on your own rowing your boat, not dependent on anyone else except maybe the water current.

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Row left to go to right, row right to go to left, I was instructed. Fine, but how to go straight? All I could manage for first few minutes is to dance on water taking full left turns and then full right turns. Then I realized, that in kayaking, you row straight ‘on an average’. That is you put equal left and right strokes to generally go in straight direction, which consists of oscillating between left and right direction. Nevertheless, it was fun, and really relaxing.

Later came the river jumping. I was made to wear the harness, and sooner than I thought, I was sitting at the corner of a platform, looking ahead to my drag many feet down in the river, and wondering whether I should rethink this part.

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Before I could manage a word of opposition, I was pushed by the helper, and thus was left with no other option to ‘fly’ forwards and fall in the water.

Last part was river crossing, where you cross the river by walking on a rope, and holding an upper rope for support.

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It goes fine for initial steps, and you build up confidence in no time. I was happily sliding along, fully confident that I would finish the crossing. But once you come around center, the ropes start to swing violently, and you are dancing on them as a puppet on strings. Didn’t make it to the end, and fell *** backwards in the water.

On return journey, some heavy rains caught up with me. But now the rains didn’t come as threat to me. The Duckback kept it well away.

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The stop while returning was the Sutarwadi lake. It is on way to Vile – Kolad. I stopped at the village Sutarwadi, and started asking for the lake. Surprisingly, no one knew about any lake! I still continued ahead, putting a 5 kilometer stoploss, that is if I couldn’t find anything in 5 kilometers, I will turn back. After about 4.5 kilometers, I passed through a proper antique village named Dagadwadi (literally society of stones). Asked a grandma hanging out in the courtyard.

‘Where’s the lake?’

‘Lake….no lake. Oh wait… lake! Straight ahead.’

Seeing her confused reaction wasn’t convincing, but yet the stop loss was still half a kilometer ahead. After passing through that rustic village, I continued on the small path, and grasped.


A beautiful lake was visible through the cactus bushes. I hurriedly rode there, parked Vesta and ran to the lake. It was splendid. The coconut plantations on its shores, the wide waterbed made the whole view grand. But it was raining as hell. There was no chance of taking any photo, and this frustrated me a great deal. Come on, I kept on urging the rain, give me two minutes break. But as always, he didn’t listen, and I kept waiting for half an hour standing in rain for it to go away. There was no sheltered thing nearby, except a samshaan ghaati nearby. My photographic urge was telling me to go there and click, because after all, the dead ones are gone! But my superstitious mind was not willing to go there. After a while, I returned to the village, and borrowed a broken umbrella from one of the houses. From under that umbrella, I started clicking photos and videos. It was not to my liking, but something is better than absolutely nothing.

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See the rain drops, somehow the camera focused on them rather than on the scenery!

While coming back to the village, I noticed a tree, and started clicking its photos from under the umbrella. I saw in the view finder, and said ‘wait a minute. How come the sky is appearing blue in this photo, when its raining?!’

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I looked up in the sky in disbelief, to find all the rain clouds flown away, and sun shining in its glory. And here I was standing with an umbrella with camera in one hand wearing full rubber raincoat! It was getting unbearably hot under that getup, but the views were totally worth it. I couldn’t believe my luck, 5 minutes ago it was all monsoons, and now it was basking in beauty. Then for a very brief period, maybe for a couple of minutes, everything stood still, including the water. I kept on gazing the view with open mouth, to see the clouds reflected in the lake.

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This view lasted for hardly a few minutes, and soon all the lake was filled up with ripples, letting go of any reflections.

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All this sounds very hard to believe, so this is a video proof. The first half shows the panning done under an umbrella, see the water dropping, and hear the rain splattering on the umbrella. The second half is shot just after 5 minutes. The birdcalls are real, not added afterwards.

After a long round of photography till satisfaction, I returned to the village to give back the borrowed umbrella.

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Vesta waiting for me in front of the house of borrowed umbrella.

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Competing for the top spot in the village! The bullock cart won by majority of votes.

After lunch at hotel, I was all set to visit the next halt. In Kolad, I missed the poster attraction – white water rafting. But I did some things for the first time, and found out the view. While checking out of the hotel, I was glad I made Kolad the first stop of the trip.

Last edited by ani_meher : 15th June 2012 at 15:49.
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Old 15th June 2012, 15:18   #5
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Day 2 – Part II – The impossible friendship
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

I couldn’t help but smile, for I have just shaken hands with King Shivaji and Afzal Khan. After all, how many people would have seen them in friendship?
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

The next halt was at Raigad. I rode back to Vile, and took the newly constructed MIDC road. After travelling on bumpy roads, this smooth road comes as a surprise to unsuspecting traveler.

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Then from Nizampur, there is a left to Raigad via Pachad. There seemed a road as per Google map, and it was confirmed by the locals too. From here, Raigad is about 31 kilometers. The path is very scenic, and passes through rustic villages that seem distant from present time.

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The last few kilometers on this road are in horrible condition. It is a wonder that I didn’t fall off at any turn. At one time, the road is only of red sand, no stones. So all you have to do is to glide and slide along the slippery path. It becomes damn difficult on a 150kg bike laden with luggage. I braced myself for a fall, but luckily didn’t have any.

I had already booked a room on Raigad top from Pune. From there, I had come to know that the ropeway timings are from 8.00 A.M. to 5.30 P.M. I was racing against time to catch the 5.30 P.M. deadline, and thus was taking quite a beating. Luckily, I reached about 5.25 P.M., to find a lot of vehicles and tourists already present at the rope way base. Seems they have now changed their timings till 7 P.M. at least on weekends. This ropeway has proved to be a boon to travelers, especially the elderly or the lazy ones like me. By foot, one has to climb up 1500 odd stairs to reach Raigad. By this ropeway, one reaches the top in 4 minutes. This has greatly increased the number of tourists and thus have improved the economy of the local villages.

I parked Vesta in a secure parking spot, bought the Rs.170 ticket, and queued up for the rope way ride. You have to take a token number, and wait till it gets announced, to take your turn for the rope way ride. One capsule takes four, and there are four such capsules operating. Each takes 4 minutes to go up, and same to come down. So each 16 people batch takes about 10 minutes of refill. But no one seemed to believe in the system, including the watchman who was looking over the rope way operations.

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I waited for half an hour seeing the crowd get dispersed, because there seemed many types of visitors that were interesting to observe. There were groups of trekkers in their t-shirts and bermudas, with a bag weighing almost equal to them, the family men with bulging belling and crying children, the romantic couples who didn’t notice anything else, a full set of actors along with theatrical props like swords and spears; waiting at Raigad ropeway is never a uninteresting. When I got bored, simply went near an empty capsule and got myself in for the ride.

As I was carrying considerable amount of luggage, I was helped by two actors of that drama group, and we introduced ourselves in capsule. One of them said:

‘We are coming for performing a drama based on King Shivaji’s life. I am Afzal Khan, and this is King Shivaji.’

I couldn’t help but smile. So many people travelling in the ropeway, and I end up sharing the cube with Shivaji and Afzal khan! What luck! The actors were nice fellows, and in fact Afzal Khan was contrary to his character, chatting and laughing.

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View from the rope way cube

We arrived at the top station, and got out of the rope way premises. I looked up, and stopped in my tracks.

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There were still a lot of stairs to climb, and my luggage was cutting me by weight, now that it was pretty wet by the ride. Seeing my despair, both Shivaji and Afzal ran to my rescue, grabbed my bags, and helped me carry them to top. When we reached the top, me panting heavily, I thanked them, and started looking for my room. After a brief search, I started to suspect that my room would be down at the rope way station only! I had no energy to go there just to ask whether the rooms are there or up on the fort. But then what to do?

Then I saw a couple going down the fort. I ran to them, and requested to find out at the enquiry below. We decided on the signal that if the hotels are not there, then the man would raise one hand, and if they are indeed there, then he would raise two! I kept on watching them as the climbed down the stairs, becoming smaller and smaller and increasingly harder to spot. I lost the sight of them in the onslaught of incoming tourists. Damn! Now what?

But then I saw two hands up! That good man had asked the enquiry, unfortunately my hotel was down there. So I picked up the luggage myself – with no Shivaji or Afzal to help this time, as they had already checked in their rooms – and started climbing down slowly.

I passed a lot of Policemen going up. They too were panting and resting, and in fact one suggested there should be a mini rope way from the rope way top station to actual gadh top! As expected, the enthusiastic manager had already given the room to someone else. So I was allocated a different room, whose owner would be adjusted elsewhere. It was too deep a track to follow, so I left it at that.

The room is totally not worth the money at all. You get to have a company of insects that are attracted to anything shiny, and have constant music of the rope way operating machines. If you are going to Raigad in hope of rest or calm, forget the rope way rooms and go for MTDC ones on top of the fort. But then you will get killed carrying up your luggage.

There are some tiny nuisances. The order for night’s dinner has to be given in advance, because it comes from the base the fort, and thus can’t be decided on the spot. If you forget to order, you don’t eat, simple.
But despite of the dirty room and sloppy rules of dinner, it was okay, for I was tired as hell. A city dweller, suddenly finding him kayaking and river crossing and climbing up the fort with heavy luggage, is bound to be dead tired by the day end.
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Old 15th June 2012, 15:42   #6
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Default re: Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

Day 3 – King of the forts, fort of the Kings
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The English general couldn’t believe his eyes. He had just come up Raigad for King Shivaji’s enthronement ceremony, and was now staring at two huge elephants at the entrance – Mena Darwaja – decorated beautifully.

‘How did these beasts come up all the way? Elephants don’t climb stairs, not of this size.’ he inquired.

‘The king had them brought up in palanquins many months before this ceremony, when these elephants were just babies. They are raised on the gadh.’ The Mahout answered.

The Englishman couldn’t hide his amazement towards the king’s foresight.


‘So Hiroji, what do you want?’ Shivaji was honouring the workers who have built the Raigad, and was now asking its architect about his desired prize.

‘I will take my prize after your enthronement, my king.’

‘So be it’.

After the enthronement ceremony, when Maharaja Shivaji came to Jagadishwar temple, Hiroji Indulkar, the architect, removed a stone from the steps of the temple, to reveal an inner hidden one containing his name – ‘Always willing to serve, Hiroji Indulkar’ – and asked Shivaji:

‘Maharaj, each time you come to this temple, you will first step on my name. This is my prize.’

‘Sir, please open the gates. It’s very late now. I have to go home.’

‘We can’t open the gates, Hira. As per Maharaja Shivaji’s words, gate is to be closed from sun down to sun rise. We can arrange your stay on the gadh.’

‘But I have a small child… he will get scared if he doesn’t see me. Please…’

‘Sorry lady, king’s order.’

Hira, a milkmaid, regularly served milk on Raigad. On the eve of Kojagiri, a full moon night, she rested on the fort for a little more time and couldn’t return to her house in the village at the base of the Gadh. This gadh was guaranteed to be infiltratable by anyone from any sides of the gadh except from the front gates. But mother’s love overcoming the obedience towards the king, she found an unsecured way and climbed down the fort at night. The word reached the king, and it was evident that there was still a weak point to the gadh. If someone could get down undetected, someone might come up as well. The infiltrator was be handled right in order to set an example.

Hira was called up on the fort. Though she came up scared, shaking to hear the punishment that was now surely be hers, she was in for a surprise. Hira was rewarded, a new watchtower was to be constructed at the place she descended, and her name was to be given to that watchtower. Shivaji indeed set an example of how to handle people who accidently come across your weak spot.
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Roaming around on Raigad is awe inspiring. The construction itself is sight worthy, but more so are the tales that are associated with it. The grand darbar constructed so that any word spoken at any point of the darbar was heard by the king, the bazaar built at such height so that soldiers on their horses would find it easy to shop, the places for the ministers in government, the palaces of the queens, each place has a history of its own. A wanderer with an open mind can literally get lost in time here.

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Mena Darwaja

It took 11 days for the English to burn down the gadh. They destroyed it totally, not sparing even the Shivaji Samadhi – memorial of death. It was later rebuilt by Lokamanya Tilak’s initiatives.

I first toured the fort with the rope way assigned guide, who takes a group of 30 people before moving on. Later, with the help of a map, I roamed around. The design of the fort is very ingenious. Before constructing the fort, Shivaji had studied the surroundings for months, before deciding that this would be the best place for a gadh.

Geographically, it really is. While being a huge hill, Raigad is not connected with any other hills, and thus making it a safe high point in case of war.
The construction itself is creative. The stones used for building the fort are dug up on the gadh itself, and in the places where this was done, they had constructed deep lakes, some going as deep as 75 feet.

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Balcony ruins

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Palaces of the ministers

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Jagadishwar temple in a distance

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In background, Takmak tok, a straight cliff of 1300ft fall, where criminals would be pushed away!

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Jagadishwar temple

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Samadhi of Shivaji

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The step in the above story – Seveche thaayi tatpar – Hiroji Indulkar – Always willing to serve

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A guarantee by the architect that the temple would remain forever!

Lot of policemen and women were on duty. Why, you ask? Well, there is a statue of a dog near Shivaji Samadhi. It is said to be Shivaji’s loyal dog, which jumped in Shivaji’s burning pyre.

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Now, one caste organization is saying that this isn’t so, and this statue is to be removed or broken. So for protecting the statue and maintaining peace – or peaceful breaking – police presence was huge. But they were not without style.

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Dabangg style!

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Clouds gathering on the gadh

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Sitting atop one ‘shop’ in the bazaar

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Yesterday’s drama group was practicing in the Darbar. Their performance was scheduled this evening. Therefore the place around the Shivaji throne was all staged up with bamboos and sticks, making it impossible to get clean shadow shots.

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Afzal Khan was forcing me to wait for the performance in evening. But as the schedule was quite tight, I satisfied myself watching their practice for a while. His performance was already over. I asked him whether Afzal Khan returns in a dream sequence or something. He reminded me this was a drama, not a TV serial ‘KKingg Shivajii’.

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The actors practicing walk-ins. No prizes for guessing Shivaji.

While returning, I took a detour to Hirkani Buruj, named after the lady in the above story. It is quite far, and I made it only half the way, before being scared away from the gathering rain clouds. A few drops started splattering here and there, and I made a run towards the room. No sooner than a minute that I put the foot in the room had it started raining. Luckily I was spared of the free wash.

After a simple lunch on fort, I was back by the ropeway and on way to next stop of the day – Kashid beach.

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Getting down from rope way

I didn’t dare to take yesterday’s back breaking path. I chose a longer but nicer route. When I started Vesta, I noticed her voice was not as usual. She is usually throaty and roaring on inclines, but this was different. I wondered whether it was about lack of oil. There were no garages on this side of the gadh. The next mechanic was 25 kilometers away in Mahad! I rode Vesta very gently till Mahad, praying she may go well without any hiccup. We reached the mechanic safe and sound, and I had her oil changed.

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Then I remembered, Mahad is a name I read a lot in history books as a child. This is the town where Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar did his Satyagraha for getting the equal rights as mankind. That lake, the ‘Chavdar Tale’, literally ‘tasty lake’, is pretty much in the middle of the town. Felt good that this detour showed me an important part of history which always remains unseen.

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Then it was a speedy ride to Roha. The Mumbai Goa Highway is something I don’t particularly like, but have to take anyways. It is a single lane highway, with most of the times the bigger vehicles showing an attitude to kill.

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I rode ahead, kilometers after lengthy kilometers. Took a left at Roha, and then straight road to Kashid – today’s destination. We cross many hills on this route to go to the sea, so many small ghats are part of the plan. The road is very scenic, with Gulmohars spreading their red color everywhere.

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Finally at around 7.00 P.M. I arrived at Kashid. The village lies some walk-able distance ahead of the beach. I searched for some beach facing property, but then came to know that there are no such hotels in Kashid. So settled for a hotel that was looking good from outside, but sucked to the core once inside the room. It was raining heavily, and I was pretty wet, so I wasn’t much choosy for selecting the room, something that I resented later. Had no connectivity, so internet was out of reach. In fact, when I asked the hotel owner about availability of Internet Café, he understood it as a smoking joint café! That time I lost all hope I had of finding any internet. The night of bugs and insects awaited me. But two days of continuous exertion, the boating and the gadh roaming, took its toll and forced me to sleep.
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Old 15th June 2012, 16:15   #7
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Default re: Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

Day 4 – The Man-made God
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After getting directed from this road to that lane many times, finally I was there, staring at them with wide eyes. This is where they are made! The Gods I am seeing from childhood, the brand name that is ruling the market for past many years. They were peeking from every window, every doorstep, no matter how small or big the house is. It seems all the locality has this one business that keeps it going.
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

The Kashid hotel’s sucking prowess increased exponentially at night, when at about 4.30 A.M. the electricity was gone, taking out the fans. I laid awake turning and twisting on my bed for one hour sweating profusely, hoping that the generator would at least now be turned on, but it never saw the day of life. Finally opened some windows, and drowsed off to the tune of the winds and rains outside. So the wake up was late, and I had too much planned for the day’s itinerary.

I hurried to the road, and Kashid beach stopped me in my tracks. It was looking beautiful and inviting, but there was no time for it, not yet. I promised it that I will come in evening, shot a few pictures and moved on.

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My major halt of the day was at Pen. Pen is a town where every State transport bus stops while going on to Mumbai Goa Highway. But it’s identity is not just its bus stop. It is the major manufacturer and exporter of Ganesha idols. ‘Pen Ganesha’ are exported worldwide, and in the places where Ganesha festival is celebrated in large scales, finding anyone who doesn’t know ‘Pen Ganesha’ is a very hard task, if not an impossible one.

Ganesha has always been my most favourite God from as long as I could remember. As a child, I could instantly connect to his elephant face or the pot belly or his vehicle the mouse or the modaka in his hand. The fascination did not decrease as the years went on, and though I am not as religious now as before, the love for Ganesha remains the same. For this very same reason, I was intrigued by the Pen Ganeshas. I wanted to see their manufacturing place, how they were made? Were they produced in a factory in masses, or were they labor of love, made individually? What exactly is the process to make a pile of sand or plaster of Paris? These were the questions that lead me to Pen.

The road from Kashid to Pen goes through sleepy villages such as Chaul, Revdanda and other small ones. You pass through the coconut plantations, through ruins of history, through busy hustling lives of the villagers. Plus with the Gulmohar trees in full swing burning the sky red, the ride is enchanting.

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There is a turn before 3 kilometers of Alibag that lets you skip visiting Alibag and leads you directly to the road to Mumbai – Goa highway. Pen is located about 38 kilometers from here.

Luckily the rains had taken a holiday, so I was not needed to wear the raincoats today. But that meant my half sleeve covered hands were now open to Sun’s tanning, and he did a beautiful job. No amount of sun screen lotion would help, as one rides with his bare arms in the sun in that heat. The tan would now take days to get off.

Finally I reached Pen. Finding the Ganesha making kaarkhana – or industry is not at all difficult. Everyone knows about them, though everyone will have his own way to direct you towards it. Many times, they will even have preferences as to which shop you should visit and which ones to avoid. I filtered out the information from the noise from their advices, and finally landed in the lane – the Aali – that makes Ganesha and other idols for living.

I parked Vesta in front of a shop cum home, and froze with my finger on the camera’s shutter button. Where should I start from?

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It was mesmerizing. Every small house and hutment was making some idols of Ganesha. Almost every shop had different styles of the idols. I was free to roam around. The people busy in making the idols had no time or inclination to watch me while I was taking photos, and were too shy to stop my camera.

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All the old and young people were involved in the Ganesha idol making process. Each had different tasks, some were brushing off the extra plaster of paris from the freshly minted idols, some were giving it the first coat, some were drawing the ornaments and clothes, while others were simply waiting for customers, having finished a batch recently.

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Ganesha is one God in Hindu mythology that has undergone many artistic modifications over the years. There were hundreds of styles in which the God was made, each as fascinating as others.

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The process of making the idols is an interesting one. I learned it from a sleepy boy, who was waked up by his mother to show me around.
First a sand idol is made in desired design. Its hands are removed, because any such outside hanging parts are prepared separately, and then joined together later. Then the idol is painted multiple times with rubber and cloth, to make a rubber clothing exactly in the shape of underlying idol.

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Then a plaster of paris is applied from its all sides, to make the die for future idols. After it dries, the die is separated, and the inner idol is removed, to reveal a base die for next iterations.

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The rubber coating that was on the idol is removed too, for placing inside the die.

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It is looking elongated because it is only rubber with nothing inside.
For preparing the batch of idols, the rubber is now placed inside the die and the coats of plaster of paris are applied by hand. Then, the die is sealed shut, and is placed to dry. Once dried, you open up the die, remove the rubber, and Voila! A Ganesha idol is now ready.
Pen’s Kumbhar Ali – Potter’s lane is one of the many lanes that manufactures Ganeshas. It is not limited to the Gods though, as other earthen-made things such as pots too were displayed.

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The last stop in Pen was near the riverside, where the bigger Ganeshas are made. The workshop is a make-shift shelter of plastic and patras, and houses thousands of under-process Ganeshas. I could spot at least 10 workers with many presumably gone out at 2 P.M. Ganesha making is the business that goes all year long, and provides income source to a large number of people.

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Got to learn about the economy of the idols as well. Making a plaster of paris or sand idols takes about same time. But what differs is the money involved. A sand made idol costs bit higher than a plaster of paris one. Also, the finishing of the former can’t match the later. Thus, lured by low price and good finishing, the demand is naturally higher for plaster idols than the sand ones, and so is the supply.

But this is a vicious circle that is taking its toll on environment. The sand is fully water dissolvent, whereas plaster of paris is not degradable. In one of the past tours a few days after the immersion of Ganeshas, I was shocked to see many broken half pieces of the idols, and was deeply saddened to see this result of the Gods who were prayed to just a few days ago. I would request everyone, that even if it is a bit costly, to please go for a sand idol and not a plaster of paris one. It will definitely help the environment, and you will have the satisfaction that the idol you submerged is now part of the earth, and not part of the rubble waste.
Here I bid adieu to Pen, got blessings of the favourite God, rather many of them!

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I started rolling back to Kashid. Much more time was gone into wandering in the Ganesha streets than anticipated, and I had no time for lunch. The animals in stomach were shouting at me, but I had to satisfy them by a hurried portion of Bourbon biscuits, for I wanted to catch the sunset on Kashid, along with roaming around in Revdanda.

Revdanda is one of the very old villages, whose reference can be found out even in Mahabharata. It was once very rich and a center of business in times of sea-trade. But by the rise of Mumbai port, the popularity of Revdanda and surrounding sea ports went on decreasing, and now it exists as a pass-along village on the Alibag-Murud road. It was called ‘Museum of India’, because almost all religions’ artifacts can be found here. While returning back, I knowingly took the inner roads, because that’s where the real road lies, not on the highway.

The inner roads are beautifully canopied by the tall coconut trees on both ways. They are in fairly good condition, and definitely motorable. I would suggest drive/ride on the inner roads; it is very different than passing through the highway.

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There is a very old temple called Rameshwar. It is one of the famous temples in the area, just on the main road. It has a huge pond – Pokharan – in front of it, which was reflecting the temple nicely.

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This is an old lodge ‘Om Aram’ circa 1945! It definitely looked as if hardly renovated ever since. And there were people living in it! Looking at it felt as if I am in the past, living in that time. The presence of the building is surreal.

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Revdanda also housed a fort, which was now in ruins. Many people in the village whom I stopped to ask for directions, didn’t think it was worth anything. Many even didn’t remember it, and kept on insisting that the fort is in Murud-Janjira, and not Revdanda. I found the way around, and entered the rugged road that heads to the fort. It is indeed in ruins completely. It was a Portugese fort, but now only a few walls here and there and some structure is what remains. There was no one in sight, and I was riding very slowly and carefully. Suddenly a man popped up, thoroughly scaring me up.

‘HOLY SH… oh, it’s you.’

The watchman was not happy that I confused him for an apparition, and less so when I asked:

‘So is this all there is?’

Turned out it was so. But however less it was, it had a magical beauty of its own.

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Here I remembered reading that nearby Korlai fort has a lighthouse, whose timings were somewhere around 6 P.M. I wanted to reach Kashid for sunset, but Korlai fort was just on way. So I twisted the throttle and let Vesta roar to speed. I am usually a sedate rider, and mostly tour two up, so I had kind of forgotten what a beast Vesta can be. She surprised me with sudden bursts of acceleration and literally throwing me back sometimes, responding beautifully to the accelerator. Riding her was always a pleasure in this trip.

I reached the little Korlai village, where the main business is of fishing industry. If someone you know can’t stand the stench of fish, and you want to get rid of him for good, bring him to Korlai. I am a fish loving person, either living or dead, so I didn’t mind the stench. The road to Korlai fort passes through the small backroads of the village, and sometimes I wondered whether I would end up in someone’s backyard, so small the roads were. Joined the incline that leads to the lighthouse and the fort.

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On way up to the lighthouse

Finally reached on top from the slippery bumpy road. The Korlai fort stands majestically high up on the hill. I had neither energy nor inclination to climb up. So clicked it from a distance.

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The lighthouse was open, but there was no soul nearby. The door leading to top of the lighthouse was open and unlocked, but the thought that what if someone locks it after I went up scared me enough not to venture in it.

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I got down hurriedly, and went full speed to Kashid beach. This was my last stop for today. Reached there well in time for the sunset.

The beach was pretty empty, except some small groups of tourists. I chose a lone spot, and sat in silence. Silence was indeed my best friend on this tour, the other being Vesta. We spoke in thoughts, and a lot of confusion would melt away. It is surprising how just staying quiet can calm you and enlighten you. I think in schools and colleges, where we learn by speaking and hearing only, one hour should be dedicated just for silence, to learn from within.

The beach was clear of any garbage or filth. The empty sand stretch in front of me was inspiring the artist in me, and so I wrote:

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While I was taking photos, two curious college boys came around me. They asked me why this Wrangler badge was written in sand. After explaining them the True Wanderer contest, they offered me to draw up a bigger Wrangler tag in the sand, and clicked my photo.

I had decided to check out from that insect zoo of a hotel, and didn’t care if I had to sleep in some shop’s cover. Anything would be better than this! Reached Murud about 15 kilometers from here, and scouted for hotels. I noticed that most hotels around the sea charged quite heftily, irrespective of what they offered. The hotel that I finally settled in had to be bargained with to install a TV set! I didn’t turn it ON at all, as was busy writing the blog and editing the photos, but it gave me satisfaction of getting my money’s worth!

Murud had a good range of Reliance, which meant my data card would finally be put to a use after many days. It also has many good hotels, one amongst them being ‘Patil Khanaval’. It is quite famous for its tasty food, and I can confirm that. Today I rode long distances, but meeting the Gods’ creators and venturing in the hidden unnamed streets of small villages made it worth.
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Old 16th June 2012, 09:43   #8
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Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 18th June 2012, 15:15   #9
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Default re: Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

Day 5 – Exploring the forgotten past
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‘These wells are not just architectural wonders. They are in this particular shape not because they look good in the landscaping of the village.’ The learned sage was telling the spellbound audience, listening intently, myself included.

‘These are “Jalayantras”, the ancient machineries s that can be used for a specific purpose. If one has the “key” and the technique of this yantra, he can make it rain. These yantras’ existence is the main reason of this village’s prosperity.’

These wells were here for ages. The villagers took them for granted, and children went for swimming in them. But this knowledge was new to even the most elders amongst us.

But that was years ago.
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The hotel I was staying in was indefinitely better than yesterday’s insect-house. But the owner was stingy as hell. There was no mirror in the room! I had to shave using the webcam. The lag in the webcam image was really confusing, and I kept on thinking that the left sideburn was shaved bit more inside than the right side one!

My first halt was the fort Murud-Janjira. This is the fort that the Marathas couldn’t win, no matter what. The sea fort built by the locals and later captured and improved upon by Siddi, remained unwinnable till the time India gained freedom and all the Princely states were merged with the Indian Union. King Shivaji couldn’t take over it in four different attempts, and so couldn’t his son, Sambhaji. Sambhaji even attempted an ambitious feat - to fill up the sea by stones to connect the fort by land – but even that didn’t bring him victory. Finally he built another fort named Padmadurga to keep watch over Janjira.

Such was the glorious history of this fort, that a visit becomes must. But the rains disagreed, and thus figuratively and literally, washed away my plans of touring the fort. The boats that take the tourists to the fort were closed. So I had to capture the forts in camera from outside only. Janjira remained unconquerable even today, even to a tourist! But I’ll be back!

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The nearby Janjira beach is not much in terms of beauty of either sand or scenery. I can’t imagine swimming in here, because it is pretty filthy, and the sand too is harsh gray one, not the soft while or gold one.

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Even though I couldn’t hoist the flag on Janjira fort, Vesta hoisted the flag on the sea shore.

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The same road to the fort goes straight to Kude, our next stop for today. Maharashtra has many Buddhist caves, in fact it has 80% of the caves that are found in India. Some are totally forgotten, some near are used by slum dwellers for dirty activities, some are now hosting temples, while some are still living life of glory. The Kude caves fall in the forgotten category. As the aim of this trip, I wanted to visit all the places that finally come together to form Maharashtra, and hence, visit to a Buddhist caves was a must.

The scenic road passes near the sea, and through many villages.

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The following scene repeated quite a many times, before I reached Kude.

‘Maai, does this road go to Kude village?’
‘Are you going that side? Give me lift, I will point you to the way!’
*the lady sits on the pillion seat*
‘Okay, let’s go.’

The ladies were chatty, and told me that the main business of the surrounding area was prawns farming. There were many square ponds formed for this. Some even commented that though the size of the prawns is huge, their taste is not as good as found in sea. This is very common perception, and perhaps truth, that river fishes do not taste as good as sea fishes, and it was confirmed here.

One more interesting thing I noticed. I had recently gone to Kerala, where I had seen these farmings. But in Kerala, they have created some ingenious methods to keep the free-loader birds away. They tie a rope across the farm, with many empty bottles filled with stones tied to the rope. Once in a while, someone rattles the rope, which causes a commotion by the stones in those bottles, and the birds fly away. Here, there were hired workers for the same job! Travelling around to new places indeed teach you a lot, I thought, but didn’t attempt to educate the farmers.

There is this bridge that one has to cross before reaching Kude. I was hearing it for a long time now ‘Pass the bridge on the river’, and here it was.

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The road to Kude caves starts from being a kuccha road, and deteriorates with each hundred meters. In fact, for last few hundreds of meters, calling it a road is a cruel joke. But after riding through the Nizampur-Pachad road to Raigad, this road was not to hard either for the bike or for me.

The vehicle goes all the way to top, if you dare.

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There are two storeys of caves. The first two contain carved walls, whereas others are simple accommodation with varying luxury.

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Some have verandah and sitting hall, some have nice big bedroom, and others are simply a sleeping accommodation.

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There were some tanks formed near caves, and the water on the upper floor tank was very clean and used for drinking by the watchman and locals. I didn’t try it though, because I didn’t want to take any risk towards health, however remote.

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The textbook village of Kude, nice red houses, tall green coconut trees, the square ponds for prawns farming, and the nearby sea.

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Visiting such caves is always a calming experience. Years of hard work must have gone for creating these halls in the rocks that have lasted centuries of neglect. If one closes his eyes and tries to connect with the history and lets the imagination run loose, the visions you see are splendid. You see the main ‘Guru’ with his disciples giving out the discourse. You see the neighboring villagers approaching the sages for advice and blessings. The small joys in otherwise serious setting. The settling in of new pilgrims. The departure of old timers. The happiness and sorrows of people who lived far ago, and yet that transcends through time. It is a magical experience indeed.

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It was time to leave Kude caves. I had to catch the boat from Murud – actually Sagarmanda, some 9 kilometers away from Murud – to Dighi, for reaching Dive agar.

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While returning back, again stopped on the river bridge. It is prettily set amongst nature, and it would look beautiful in or just after monsoons, where all the surroundings are shades of green.

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While returning, I stopped at village Khokhra. There were the tombs of the Murud fort’s ruler Siddi along with others. The place is a silently still image, and with hardly any tourists, it is as if you are watching a picture exhibition.

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I rode fast for checking out of the hotel, because the launch that would take me to Dighi jetty was scheduled at 2.45 P.M., and it was almost 2. Today too, I had to miss lunch. Damn, this is becoming regular, I thought. Came back, picked up the already packed bags, and rode back to the Jetty. Half way on the road, I saw something on my key chain. Oh no, it’s the hotel’s key! I forgot to give it back in excitement of catching the boat. And I didn’t even remember the name of the hotel. That stingy owner will now have to spend against his will!

While riding, I was wearing helmet with visor shut, but the jacket was worn with its zipper open, because it was hardly 9 kilometers distance. Usually in night, you see all these insects trained to be kamakazes flying straight at you, especially your bike’s headlight and your face. Riding in nights many times had imbued a habit in me: always ride with the visor shut. As I was riding full speed, I could see an insect, perhaps a bee by the size of it, fly towards me, and SNAP, it stung me hard on the open neck.

I shouted under my helmet where no one could hear. The stinging was sharp, and was paining a lot. I kept on thinking whether a bee’s stinging is poisonous, and how long it will burn, while still being in agony, still being at full speed. I guess it wasn’t a bee, because the sting only lasted 2-3 days as opposed to weeks for that of a bee, but this taught me important lesson. Don’t leave your neck open, especially when you have option to cover it!

I and the launch arrived at jetty at the same time. I was shocked to see the size of the launch. It was pretty small, not the big ones used usually, where you ride your bike right into the boat. Here they were picking up the bike to load and unload, and were not particularly careful at that. At each bike’s pickup, they would call its owner and tell:

‘If something is to break on your bike while transport, we are not responsible. Do you agree?’

Only when he said yes did they pick up the bike and load it. I waited till last making up my mind whether or not to go. Finally there was no other bike left.

‘You, sir. Do you want to load the bike?’
‘Yeah, okay.’
‘If something is to …..’
‘NOOO!! Think positive men! Nothing will happen!’

I kept on encouraging them, and pointed the camera for video shoot. Whether because of my encouragements or the camera, I do not know, but my bike was loaded gently.

The boat ride is pretty rough. It is not as smooth sailing as its bigger counterparts. The small boat is at sea’s mercy, and the sea keeps on tossing it here and there, occasionally splashing water inside to check whether everyone is awake.

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It took about 20-25 minutes to reach the other side. The same drama repeated while unloading the bike at Dighi. The camera trick worked again.

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Dive agar is hardly half an hour from here. The road goes through backyards of the sea, and so scenery is a constant companion. The road too is beautifully laid.

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I remembered a sage telling about the square wells being the Jalayantras. I decided to search for them.

Dive agar is a prosperous village in this area, and you can see the well-to-do-ness of the area while travelling. I decided to do a roundabout tour of the village, to see the sea and the square wells – called as Pushkarani by locals.

Konkan’s Khajjiyar!

Conquering the Dive agar beach

I noticed that many old temples in the village are now being renovated, with the laterite stone. When completed, they will look beautiful. Even while in construction they were looking grand.

Finally found the well I was looking for in front of Rupnarayan temple.

I kept on looking at it in wonder and disbelief. Could it really be ancient machinery used to bring rain? Was the sage saying the truth? But what reason he had to lie? And if it was indeed true, how unfortunate we are, to have forgotten such science!

Dive Agar is famous for its gold idol of Ganesha, in fact it is called – Gold Ganesha of Dive agar. But this is not factually correct. The gold mask along with ornaments was found while farming, and the lady donated the whole brass box with all the gold to the village Ganesha temple, where it is kept on display. But many times I noticed that people pray at the mask, and don’t see the main idol! The Ganesha idol in the temple is hundreds if not thousands of years old. It was placed when this village started to take shape. I visited the ‘Prakat-Sthan’, the place where these ornaments were found. It is on the street right behind the temple, so you have to take two rights or two lefts for reaching there.

It is a small temple built in a Wadi – an area for plantations. Many interesting flowers too were blooming around in the vicinity.

A cranky old grandma scolded me for taking the photos, but I was already done and on my way out.

It was 6.30 P.M. already. I started rolling on the beautiful Shekhadi road to Shrivardhan, in hope of catching a good sunset, and I was not disappointed.

The night’s halt was in an ashram near Shrivardhan. Today’s ride was mostly on sea roads, and it was very enjoyable. I visited three beaches in twenty four hours, Kashid, Murud and Diveagar. I would recommend Kashid for the sea lovers who don’t care too much for amenities, Dive agar for the tourists who require food and shelter, and Murud in the last, to those who don’t care too much about either beauty or amenities.
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Old 18th June 2012, 15:30   #10
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Default re: Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

Day 6 – To the last color in rainbow
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

‘Welcome to Mahabaleshwar, Sir! Need a hotel?’
‘How many people?’
‘Just myself.’
‘Just one? But here we give rooms only to couples.’
‘Oh, come on! Where will I find a girl at this time now?’
‘No Sir! It’s not like that! There have been incidences here, that a single man comes, and commits suicide!’
‘Do I look suicidal? With this helmet and jacket and all? I would have jumped in the Poladpur ghat if that was my plan!’
‘We had such experiences past Sir. In night the person is alright, and by morning he is gone.’
‘Well, if the hotel doesn’t kill me in the night, I’ll be around in morning too.’
‘You must be from Pune.’
Guess the sharp tongue is indeed an identity of Pune!
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

Ashram morning was totally different than my past experiences of hotels. The atmosphere was lovely; the rains had taken the morning off. This gave a good chance to roam around and photograph the interesting place.

It is ‘Shri Swami Samartha Ashram’, which houses a temple of Swami Samartha of Akkalkot. Swami Samartha was a saint in Maharashtra who lived around 1920s. His glory lives on long after his Samadhi, and there are many followers in Maharashtra and outside.

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But the temple is not the only attraction of this Ashram. This Ashram is constructed on a big land, which mainly houses Ayurvedic plants along with a spice garden.

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Tamaal Patra – a spice ingredient not unfamiliar to cooks.

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The ‘Magai paan’, that is used for making the paans in shops

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I spotted an interesting tree in the campus of ashram. It’s one branch was dried out, and other was blooming in greens. It resembled life itself. One part is always drying slowly, while other is trying to stay green all the time. It is us who can decide whether to dry out or to be green. High or dry!

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But the main attraction of this ashram is the Rashi Nakshatra garden. For understanding this, we need to have little understanding of what a Rashi and a Nakshatra means. If one divides the sky up above into 12 equal parts, each part is called Rashi, and if it is divided into 27 equal parts, it is called Nakshatra. Whenever one is born, depending on where the moon was at the time of his or her birth, the Rashi and Nakshatra is calculated. This information can be found out in the horoscope. Now, it is a known though widely debated that each Rashi has a set of attributes of personalities, and persons of same Rashi will react in mostly same ways. In fact, there are some stage-shows around this concept.

An extention of this hypothesis will be, the persons of same Rashi will face similar troubles and illnesses, of psychological, physical and spiritual nature. Ayurveda has given a solution for this. Each Rashi and Nakshatra is assigned a list of trees. If the person of that Rashi spends time in the vicinity of his assigned plants, perhaps meditate in their presence, then their vibrations will cure him or her. This concept is practised in the Rashi Nakshatra garden. This is the first project of its kind in India. The trees in the Garden are not just planted straight from the nursery. Each has undergone ‘training’ in form of Mantras and Yagyas for hours before being planted. Thus these trees are said to have far more healing power than the normal ‘non-trained’ plants. In the making for almost 10 years, these plants are all grown up now, and certainly give a nice feeling to roam around in them.

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There are also many flowers in the ashram, some are very rare. A botanist or an Ayurveda practitioner will have the time of his life here. But even a layman like me can have a relaxed afternoon here, just in the company of these well trained plants and beautiful temple.

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There is also a Navagraha temple, which is the first and so far the only one in Konkan. These are the Navagraha idols placed in the temple.

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After lunch, I left the ashram for Mahabaleshwar. But not before getting blessings from Swami Samartha.

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In the seven colors of Maharashtra that we are seeing, hill station is the one that is not yet covered. Therefore, the next halt is Mahabaleshwar. The road is pretty straight forward, from Shrivardhan to Goregaon to Mahad and left to Poladpur. While going, I noticed some Buddhist caves on the left of highway, near Mahad. I stopped in anticipation, but then saw the height at which they were located. No way I was going to climb so many stairs, not with this much luggage or even otherwise. So I satisfied myself by clicking the Pala Caves from a distance, and moved on.

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The rains keep on tricking me again and again. Few drops would fall and then everything would go dry for a while. I didn’t take any risk and dodged the raingear to prepare for any amount of rains.

The road till Poladpur is straight and bit boring. But the Poladpur ghat is interesting. Many twists and turns, but no hairclip bends, this ghat is very enjoyable on a bike.

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I would love to get cornering shots, and tried it once. Set up the tripod, kept camera on timer, hurriedly went back to bike and rode back down the turn. Came up at speed, started the corner with a nice lean, and at the time when the camera shot picture, an Omni van came in opposite direction effectively ruining what could be a good shot. Tried the same process again, this time it went okay.

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This became very boring very fast. Getting down the bike, removing the tripod from the tied luggage and setting it up took far too much time, and the results were always in question. I found a better way, to use humans as tripods! There are some workers working in the ghaat to remove the occasional fallen branches and rubbles off the road. I would hand them the camera will timer on, and would tell them just to hold it steady while it is taking shots. It worked beautifully for some pictures, and terribly for others where the villagers just couldn’t grasp the concept of keeping the camera steady.

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I arrived in Mahabaleshwar at about 7.30 P.M., where it had started raining as well as fogging. Soon the fog went from bad to worse, and the visibility reduced by a great extent. Getting a hotel for single person was difficult, as the first thought of the hotel manager would be:

‘Oh no! A suicidal maniac!’

Got tired searching for good hotels, and settled in an okay one, which charged more than it deserved. Yet, that would be my bed tonight. Tomorrow I would go back to home, where family was awaiting me. Mahabaleshwar was the first place that I and Nandinee visited after marriage. Tomorrow I would leave Mahabaleshwar to meet her after 7 days. With a smile on my face, I slept for the last time in a hotel alone on this trip.
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Old 18th June 2012, 15:39   #11
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Default re: Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

Day 7 – Homeward bound
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

‘Please God, please God… let it be visible… please God.’

Climbing huffing and puffing over those steep stairs, I was praying to all Gods I could remember, may it be visible. Climbing up in that downpour with all the rain gear, a heavy backpack and a helmet was not easy, and I was particularly a non-athlete clearly not built for this. But having come this far, I wasn’t going to go back without even checking. I had to know whether it was really worth the hype.
Grasping the stitch in my ribs by hands, and trying to pull a roomful of air in each breath, I finally reached to top panting, and exclaimed:
‘Damn it! I said please, God!
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________
A foggy wet Mahabaleshwar wished me good morning today. My list of points to visit was ready, but there was one little problem in the plan. I depended on the visibility, which was at premium today. Still, I hoped for the best, filled my fill with heavy breakfast, and went out for hunt.

M’shwar hotels have a peculiar checkout time of 9 A.M., extendable to 10.00 A.M. As there was no chance I could return so fast to the hotel, I chucked all the costly things in the backpack to carry, and kept the rest of the luggage with the hotel to collect later.

My first spot was Babington point. In tourist season, M’shwar resembles a maze where you are a rat trying to guess which road goes where, and whether or not it is a one way. The rat in me misjudged a road, where I just couldn’t see the sign or the policeman at the entrance of a no entry zone, and swiftly ended up getting caught by the policeman up on the no entry road.

‘Hold it! This is no entry road. License please.’

Oh no! What idiocy?! Let’s pay the fine and be done with it.

‘Give your license to me, and collect it from court at 12.00 noon, after paying Rs.100 fine.’
‘Any other option, Sir?’
‘Pay Rs.100 to me and forget about the receipt.’

I am all for anti-corruption, but in this case, I had no option to bribe. Roaming without licence in a town that lives off tourists is asking for trouble. After paying the bribe, a car passed on the same way where I was caught?

‘Why aren’t you catching him?’ I demanded.

The constable looked at the vehicle and replied:

‘It is a lawyer’s car!’

What the hell! Since when are lawyers above law? If it would be Judge, it would be understandable, but a lawyer?! Damn.

This dampened my spirit of braving the points despite of the fog, and my logical side of the brain started thinking: What’s the point of visiting all the view points if all the views are going to be white fog? It had a good point, and I heeded to its advise. That cut down much of my itinerary for today. But the main point for today was Connaught’s peak.

Yesterday, I was asking around to travel agents about the lesser visited points in M’Shwar. One unanimous suggestion was Connaught’s peak. There were no pictures of that point in any travel agencies office, because no bus or tourist group goes there. Only a few handful tourists visit it. And no one had any doubt that it was the most beautiful point in M’Shwar. This naturally intrigued me. A point unanimously agreed upon as the best one, yet secluded from common visitor? Wow!

But the rain and fog were against me. I wouldn’t mind the rain much, this were after all his glory days. But the fog I had deep problems with. I always thought rains would melt away fog, but it was disproved by M’shwar where all day rains were accompanied by various thickness degrees of fog. I found my way to the Connaught’s peak, and rode towards it. Suddenly, the road just ended, with stone stairs starting in front of it.

With no board to show the direction, no one to ask whether this path leads to the peak, I had my doubts whether to park Vesta in the middle of nowhere, and whether to start climbing on those spooky stairs with layers of green moss showing the lack of visitors. But I hadn’t come this far just to get scared away by atmosphere. Braced myself, and started climbing the steps.

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By half way, most of my energy was gone, and about 3/4th way, I was drained to the limit. For some reason I couldn’t fathom, I had kept the helmet on my head rather than keeping it locked on bike. This meant I was carrying an additional weight of 2 odd Kilograms more than necessary. The last few steps took real determination.

The description I heard of the place was enchanting. It was supposed to look like a green sheet of cloth laid from this hilltop to the other, all around. When I reached the top, unfortunately the fog had reached much prior than me. I waited a while on the peak, to the fog to give me some opening for shots, but no avail. Whatever I could see was beautiful. It was indeed a sheet of green, a dark foliage of green trees, stretching across hills. I am sure this would look beautiful in October-December season, when fog is on holiday.

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Climbed those big stairs down, which was much easy now. The fog and the rain were combined forces that were ruining the tourists’ plans today, including mine. I decided to reduce the list of points to visit today, and headed for echo point.

Parking was erratic at best. Everyone wanted the best spot and big cars were feeling they were two wheelers, and thus were leaving the cars wherever they wished. As I don’t think there is a tow van in M’Shwar, they had no fear. I had trouble maneuvering Vesta near the points, and couldn’t imagine the car driver’s plight.

Luckily, fog took a 5 minute tea break here, and I clicked some pictures to have documentary evidence that I was in M’shwar. Otherwise all other photos resemble studio photos clicked with white screen in the background.

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While returning, I stopped to have this customary strawberry icecream. I usually don’t touch icy products, but in hill-stations, I make exception to that rule!

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Lastly, I visited the M’Shwar temple, which gave the place its name. It is an ancient stone temple, said to be 4500 years old! It is also an origin of total 5 different rivers! Really a geographical wonder. As always, photography was not allowed in temple, so my description alone should suffice.

There were many stalls selling local products such as juice and jams. This one particularly had a nicely set up stall.

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A hot steaming sweet corn masala dish is perfect in rains!

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Came back to hotel to treat myself to a heavy Rajasthani lunch. It was so much buttery and with sweets, that I was drowsy for a long time! Not a good decision to have heavy meals just before a long ride.

Checked out of the hotel, and joined the road to Pune via Panchagani. The fog was omnipresent, which ensured there was no point in taking a halt in Panchagani for sight seeing.

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I rode straight down till Wai, a village famous for its Ganesha temple.

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When I was sitting in front of that huge idol, I noticed something peculiar, and thought my eyes were deceiving me.

‘Pujariji, what’s in Ganesha’s right hand palm?’
‘His tusk.’ Ganesha’s one tusk is broken in a fight per mythology.
‘But then where is the blessings giving hand?’
‘There is none. This Ganesha idol doesn’t have that blessing structure.’

It was a first time I saw a Ganesh idol without a blessing hand, and in the chat that followed, learnt quite a few things. Wai is mainly famous for its Shiva temples, and such Ganesha temples or even other Gods’ temples are very rare in the area. In fact, this was one of the first few non-Shiva temples in Wai. The town Wai houses total 365 temples, and hence is called Dakshin-Kashi, or Kashi at South.

There is a Shiva temple just opposite the Ganesh temple. I visited there on the recommendation of the Pujari. The Nandi in this temple is carved from one stone, and looks nice.

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After Wai, I moved to my last stop in this trip – Menavali. This is the village where Nana Fadanvis, a philosopher, minister and statesman of the Peshwa’s Maratha Empire lived. His wada or bungalow still stands, though there is not much left to see in it except historical importance.
My main reason to visit Menavali was to visit its beautiful Shiva temple along the river. This temple is made as a backdrop in many regional as well as national movies, more notably Gangajal, Dabangg, and Swades.

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For some reason, this beauty kept on giving me scathing looks all the time I was there!

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The river was nicely reflecting the temple. In morning, usually this ghaati is filled by local woman washing clothes, and getting good photographs is impossible. Luckily no one were there at 4.00 P.M.

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The temple is very dark inside, and in fact I didn’t venture in it, because I couldn’t see anything inside the entrance. Prayed from the outside, and moved on. By this time, the village kids were jumping in the river for afternoon swim. They were more than happy to pose!

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While coming back to highway, spotted this farm in full swing. I was thinking whether to set up a tripod, when I spotted a villager going by cycle somewhere. Stopped him, and handed him the camera. Turned out this was the first time in his life to hold a camera in hand! Still the photos turned out okay.

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There is this old gate between Wai-Menavali that one has to cross.

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My drowsiness was not showing any intention to wear off, so after a quick tea break at the Wai turn, I was on my way home. Rode full speed on the Pune-Banglore highway, and covered up good distances.

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It was about 7.30 P.M. that I reached home. The odometer read 980 kilometers since I rolled out last Friday afternoon. Nandinee and Aai were waiting since evening. They had made preparations as if we were bringing Ganesha home!

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It felt real nice to be in the family after seven days. Seven wild days, spent alone at various places, to get the tastes and flavors of Maharashtra. The odometer read close to a thousand kilometers. A thousand kilometers of wandering across my own state. Exploring what is hidden and forgotten from the common sight. Bringing out what we have taken for granted. Learning about the stuff that we hear since childhood. Connecting to past. Reaching out for glorious future. Seven days of wild ride with no company, no worry, no prejudice. Only an open mind and a motorcycle.
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Old 18th June 2012, 15:41   #12
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Default re: Vesta Tours and Travels - Solo motorcycle tour:Glimpses of Maharashtra in Seven Steps

35 years later….
__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

‘Grandpa, look! Daddy gave me a bicycle! I am going to explore all the of neighbourhood now!’

‘That’s good, kid. Did your daddy give you a helmet too? I will gift you one today evening.’

‘Great! Grandpa, Daddy was telling that you were a motorcyclist in your days?’

‘Why, he is lying! I was a motorcyclist even in his days!’

‘And you were selected from all over India for a Wrangler jeans contest?’

‘That’s true kiddo. I roamed in Maharashtra alone on a motorcycle for seven days that time. Your Grandma still taunts me sometimes for that freedom.’

‘So what happened afterwards? Did you win?’

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Old 18th June 2012, 15:43   #13
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__________________________________________________ ___________________________________

When I came to know I am one of the ten finalists of the Wrangler True Wanderer contest, it was a moment of mixed reactions. There was joy of course, of being selected from all India, and having a chance of winning the prize as well as the honor of the best travelogue. But there were doubts and confusion too. How far should I ride? Where to go? What to write?

That time I decided that there will be two aspects of this tour. First, this ride will not be about me. This will not be about how long or fast I can ride and how adventurous or carefree I am and stuff …no. This will be about ‘motorcycling’. Every time someone mentions how motorcycling is risky, and a ‘young reckless men’s game’, it hurts inside. Sure there are people using motorcycles to act illegally and be reckless. But that does not belittle the activity. Having tasted the elixir myself of riding across states on motorcycles and wandering freely, I felt that the ‘fun’ of motorcycling needs to be portrayed. It is not just a transport vehicle; it is a ‘touring’ vehicle as well. Therefore, the rides that I will be doing will not be of any stuntman-type in nature, neither will the require nerves of steel and all that heroic stuff. These rides will be such that any commonly healthy person, any new comer or old timer, any single or couple can pick up any part of the itinerary as per the available days and liking, picks up his bike and pillion, and goes riding.

The second aspect was selection of the places. June start is not exactly the best month of Maharashtra, and certainly not all of its spots. It is nice at some places, not so much in others. But then selecting only beaches or temples or forts alone, would make this tour as a projection of that particular view. But this was a chance to explore and to show my own state, and Maharashtra isn’t certainly limited to just one of such aspects. It is a culturally and naturally diverse state, and every variety of its beauty needs to be given justice. Therefore, we decided these seven flavors of Maharashtra:

1. Forts
2. Beaches
3. Hill-stations
4. Sanctuaries
5. Temples
6. Adventure sports in rivers
7. Buddhist caves

This definitely didn’t cover all of the Maharashtra’s types of places, and I was sure I left quite a few. But these points were good for a start, and I hoped that I would be able to do justice to them through the camera and by the pen (or rather keyboard!)

The packing went on till last moment because of non-surety of what can be needed and what not. But soon the confusion regarding the ride all melted away once the tour started. Riding a motorcycle has this power; it melts away all your worries and tensions. The rains accompanied me throughout the journey, but never troubled me much except in Mahabaleshwar. In fact when the rains went away in Sutarwadi and clear blue skies smiled at me, when Shivaji and Afzal helped me transport my luggage all the way up Raigad, when people would ask kindly and nicely about the journey, when a person in Dive agar gave me two freshly sharpened branches of trees for putting on flags, when the Mahabaleshwar hotel offered a room for single person, in all the simple gestures and interactions of people as well as natural powers, I saw a glimpse of the selfless helping nature that I thought to be long lost.
I have come to the conclusion that the system, the people and the environment, is indeed a non-zero-sum game. It is not just give and take cancelling out each other. With each transaction, there remains something more above the cancelled events – something positive, and this is what pushes us up as humankind. There is an intrinsic good within most part of the system, and little smile and little appreciation from your side can go a long way to help yourself.

Motorcycling is mainly about freedom. Visiting places, travelling, enjoying are all parts of it, but the base of it is freedom. The main purpose of this ride was to motivate and promote motorcycle touring. If at least ten singles and couples gain interest and confidence about it by this write-up, I have already won the prize.

Have I seen all of Maharashtra? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. But I have ‘sampled’ its beauty, and it is extremely inviting. The next few rides are going to be in the same state, each exploring its different parts at a time. This is just a start, with many more such rides (hopefully!) to follow!
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Old 18th June 2012, 15:45   #14
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This concludes my solo journey of thousand kilometers for seven days. I did not make it to the top of the contest, but had the fun of my life while touring. I hope the readers enjoyed sharing my travel as well.

Each suggestion and comment goes a long way to boost the writer's spirit!
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Old 18th June 2012, 16:14   #15
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Someone like me would subscribe to the thought that an adventure of a week would be something to cherish for ever.

While graduating form college, I had the thought to cover as many forts as possible through bike rides and treks. However, over time other things took priority and this dream remains unfulfilled as yet. Thanks to your thread and the awesome pictures, I am reminded of this pending niggle and I hope to set it right.

Needless to say, but its a great account and I am glad Vesta tours and travels continues.
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