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|8th October 2007, 15:17||#1|
Bombay Dandeli Bombay
Hi all. Brace yourselves. Most of you will not survive through this, as these are the ramblings of a man heavily affected by an enjoyable road trip. So, without much ado, here goes..
The idea came from Omar (Sheikh Umar of Fiat Club of India) and initially it was intended to be a Fiat Club drive. But somehow, interest diminished and slowly everyone else opted out. Finally, I was the only one remaining. Both my wife and I had been looking forward to a holiday for quite some time now, so, dropping out of the drive was never on the agenda.
I did some searching on the net and found the exact location of the Wild life sanctuary and the route I should take. I looked up Google Earth and Roads of India for visual and also distance-related information. Map My India was also very useful with turn by turn directions from Borivali to Dandeli. I got confirmations from the Dandeli Tours travel agency. We would reach on the 29th of September and check out on 1st October. We would be staying in a tent!
We had planned to start on the 29th at 6 AM. We were off by 6:20, and though roads were not devoid of traffic, we still made good progress and reached Aarey Road by 6:40. Soon, we were in for a surprise.
The Aarey road is always relatively empty, and at 6:40, it was desolate. An old Fiat was some way ahead and as I slowly closed in on it, visibility reduced. In September, at 7 in the morning, the last thing you expect is a fog; but that’s what we drove into, and a pretty dense one at that. Somehow, that added to our feeling of “Yippee! Holiday! ” Powai lake too was hidden behind a blanket of fog. The Eastern Express Highway was a little better and I did not miss the turn at the Mankhurd-Vashi link.
I had driven on the Mumbai Pune Expressway once before, that too till Lonavala. So, compared to Barnita, I had a little more experience. I told her about a place where we could stop for tea. We had crossed Vashi and Panvel by 7:10 and the going was smooth. The Petra is a great car with superb suspension and soon, Barnita, who had had very little sleep the night before, with packing at the last moment, was asleep. We crossed the toll gates, the first few tunnels, then Lonavala, and soon were approaching Pune. Barnita woke up in time to catch a last few glimpses of the sights around the hills.
I had never come this far before, and so wanted to be sure I did not miss the Katraj turn. As I found, my apprehension was completely unfounded. The road was completely signposted and not once did we feel we needed to ask for directions.
We decided we would have breakfast in Pune and then drive on. We stopped at this place called Ivy Resto Bar and had tea and coffee. The place was a bar in the evenings and was loaded with bottles of Chantili wines. They served good tea and coffee and we were on the road by 9:30.
The New Katraj tunnel was impossible to miss and we were soon on NH 4 towards Bangalore. I had never driven on this highway, a part of the Golden Quadrilateral, and I was impressed with the surfacing, the markings and the design of the lay-bys and the intersections. The roads were a real surprise. Certain stretches of the Mumbai Pune Expressway are still very smooth, but this route right from Pune upto Belgaum, where we left this road, was as much of a delight. Traffic was always sparse. Surfacing was always perfect. The only pothole (in fact two) we encountered was on our way back, around Satara.
The road was good, and the car was performing superlatively. I found as before, that this car could be driven at 120-130 kmph for hours on end. Truckers have always been a disciplined lot, and usually are co-operative when you want to overtake. This highway is never less than two wide lanes each way. So, overtaking is a yawn, except for the time when a trucker driving at 42 kmph is overtaking another at 41kmph. It takes a patient man to watch the entire process, which can go on for 8-10 km. The faster truck will draw up to within two truck lengths of the slower one. The next move is to shift into the faster lane. This can take over a km and that too only if no obstacle presents itself. If a bullock cart or a tractor shows up ahead, the procedure has to be reversed, and the slow truck has to shift into the faster lane and the faster truck has to fall back agonisingly slowly. I did wait for the quicker overtakers to finish before I passed, but in the agonising cases, I would slip past on the left with my horn blaring as a warning. However, this was a minuscule minority of the overtaking moves.
The road was easy and comfortable to drive on. The only challenge was to keep an eye out for pedestrians, bullock carts and tractors. The road never gets devoid of human inhabitation at any stretch.
The day was cloudy and cool. We reached Yellur, between Satara and Sholapur at 12:30. There was an A1 plaza and we drove in. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone waving frantically. It was a Reliance petrol pump attendant. Apparently, this place was yet to open. Only fuel no food. Back on the road, I noticed a large hotel next door. Stopped there. Place called Hotel Sai International. They served some nice batata wada, sandwiches, lassi and tea. By 1:15 we were off again. By 2, the sky was getting overcast and by 2:30 it was raining. The wipers seemed to press against the window in the wind and made squeaking noises as they cleaned.
By 3:00, we had reached Belgaum. I stopped to ask a bystander the route to Dandeli, since I had learnt from Team-bhp’ian H. V. Kumar, that I would need to drive right through the town. I got the names of the streets to ask for and got off NH 4. Khanapur Road was right past the station and across the town, and I had to drive on for nearly an hour to get out of town. The roads were terrible, and after the NH 4 carpet, felt even more so. The town was also spelt Belgavi, which sounded nicer, and as we went on down the road, we rolled the name on our lips.
We went down NH 4A, which goes to Goa. The road was narrow, single lane, and initially pot holed. A few km ahead, the auto rickshaws and bicycles became less frequent. Trucks were our only company, apart from the occasional motorcycle. As traffic became sparse, the road improved and we were soon cruising along at 80. Our immediate destination was Khanapur followed by Ramnagar. Next we were to look for Londa and Ganeshgudi. This is when I realised that the websites had not given correct distances past Belgavi. Whenever we would stop and ask someone for directions, people would tell us Dandeli was farther and farther away. First it was 20 km, then 25 km, and finally, 35km. It was as if we were driving the wrong way.
I had hoped to reach Dandeli by 4 PM. But at 4, it was becoming obvious, that Dandeli was still over an hour away. We had covered the past 15 km through pretty dense forests. The road was an amazing stretch with nice surfacing, gentle curves and slight undulations that made me forget that I was actually driving to reach a destination. I could have gone on driving like this for hours.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and so did this experience. The road went from great to bad in a trice. Barnita freaks out over plants, trees and more particularly, forests. She was on a trip of her own, exclaiming every once in a while, sometimes on the colour of some leaves, sometimes on the dark foreboding look of the forest and sometimes on simply, the whole experience. Here we were, in the country’s most happening city in the morning, and in a dense forest with not a soul in sight, in just a few hours. But as the road changed to more pot hole than road, I agreed to her suggestion to stop and enjoy the forest for a moment. We stopped and with the engine off, we listened to the forest. Birds twittering, crickets humming and leaves rustling in the breeze. All the pressures of the city were forgotten. What exactly it was, I do not know, because apart from the dense dark look, the forest had nothing particular about it, but somehow, the quiet, the green of the trees and the peace and tranquillity of the whole setting made us feel so peaceful. If one is to stand at a bus stop for 10 minutes, one feels fidgety, but Barnita and I felt we could stand on this deserted road in the forest in the middle of nowhere for hours.
But sense had to prevail. The road was bad and we had to reach Dandeli which still seemed at least15 km away. So, we set off again. Dandeli was finally reached 23 km later. It is a tiny town, little bigger than a village. People either work in the Forest department or in a Paper mill nearby. The Kali River runs through it. Asking some more people, we reached the Kali Adventure and Wildlife Camp, run by the Karnataka government. There were green coloured jeeps parked with “Government of Karnataka” marked on them. I wondered if one of these would be the vehicle for our safari.
We had reached at 5:30 and the manager Mr. Mohan complained that they had waited till 4 before they removed our lunch. I said no issues, we had enough on the way. We were showed to our tent. Ours was tent 11, named “Blue Jay”. All the tents had bird names. Pretty interesting structures. The tent is a 14’X12’ vertical walled structure, green on the outside and white on the inside. It has a sliding wooden door and two windows on each side except one, on which is the bathroom door. The bathroom is a brick and mortar structure with a dressing room attached. Covering the entire tent is a thatched roof on four poles, some way above the roof of the tent and covering some space in front of the tent making a kind of portico where there were two wicker chairs inviting us to stretch our legs.
There was no telephone in the room/tent, no TV and there would be no room service. Some of it was good and some bad. But then we realised food was buffet which made room service more or less redundant. We left our stuff in the tent and stepped back out. That is when I realised, that in spite of having driven for eleven hours, I was not feeling any fatigue at all.
The Petra is a great car. Pity it’s been discontinued by Fiat. And even greater pity that so few appreciated it. Its suspension is the perfect balance. Its hard enough to handle easily around corners and soft enough not to bother you on rough stretches. Its engine is amazing. Low end torque to make gear changes infrequent in slow traffic. And enough power to push you back into your seat even when you accelerate from 80 kmph. Its steering is heavy, but precise and I have got into the habit of slipping quickly into gaps in Bombay’s everyday traffic jams using the car’s torque and its precise steering. On this drive too, it had excelled. In city driving, the temperature gauge never goes past the ¼ mark. On this drive, it went just past it; you can’t blame it. The engine wants you to push. Take it past 3000 rpm and it seems to wake up from a slumber and it begins to sound as if it were saying, “Now this guy is my kind of guy. Drive man, drive.” And today, drive I did, to my heart’s content.
So, Barnita and I strolled around the grounds, through the grass and the undulating paths. There were trees and trees. And more trees. Next to the place flowed the Kali River. There were birds in the trees. And there were monkeys. In the trees, on the grounds and on the resort building. Small monkeys and tiny monkeys. Luckily, no big monkeys.
There was a triangular lawn in the front with a path around it. The main gate was on one tip of the triangle while the office was on another. Somehow the lack of symmetry seemed just suited in these surroundings, bordering on the wild. There were huge trees growing randomly scraping the sky. The paths were lined with lamps that had inverted mud pots as lamp shades over lights fitted on three feet high poles. In the middle of a path was a mighty rosewood tree, sixty feet into the sky. Maybe more. The tents were set on different levels, and some faced in completely different directions from others. There was something peacefully attractive about the random and disorderly nature of the place.
While the monkeys were small, the mosquitoes were huge. And there were many of them. You just had to stand in one spot for a while, and hordes of mosquitoes would swarm all over you and you would not know which way to run. No, no. Just kidding. Though there were a few mosquitoes and some biting.
As the sun set, the lights came on around the resort; no blinding lights, but nice dim lights that gave the impression of candles and added to the romance of the place. We had tea and coffee sitting under wicker shaded lights on the porch of the resort. Dinner was pretty soon, starting at 8:30 and ending at 10. By 10 it seemed like 3 AM in Bombay. So, no one complained about a too early dinner.
There were quite a few people staying, and I missed Fiat clubbers and PUG’ers. It had been a nice day and those who dropped out had missed something.
We had planned to be up and about early, the next morning, but we were on a holiday and I just could not get myself to leave the bed before 6:30. I sat on the portico outside and listened to the birds and monkeys. I recorded the sounds on the phone. Back in Bombay, I listen to the sounds every once in a while.
Breakfast over, we got ready for the Coracle ride. Not made of animal skin any more, but some synthetic sheets lashed on a circular bamboo and cane frame, the Coracles are pretty hard to navigate. A large circular bench was placed in the middle of a coracle for four passengers and another stool for the oarsman. While it did not move fast, it had a zero turning radius.
We lazed around in the Kali River for about 45 minutes, with a crocodile (ostensibly) for company. We never got to see it though the oarsman kept insisting what looked like a small rock sticking out of the water was in fact a croc’s snout. He pointed at a triangular dip in the clay on the river bank and said the croc had been resting its snout here and slipped back into the water when we entered the water.
He had a lot of info on the flora and fauna in the surroundings and identified a lot of trees including the Arjun tree and the poison tomato plant. He also showed us a bird that picks the crocodile’s teeth. Not my kind of job, if you ask me.
To entertain us, at the end of the ride, he spun the coracle around like a top, and my wife ended up feeling nauseous.
After that, we caught hold of a gardener who showed us around the huge nursery and showed us many varieties of plants and saplings. The Karnataka government is doing a lot for the wild life there. Many fruit trees are being planted across the forests for the benefit of animals and birds. We picked a few lemons. The scent was wonderful and later, back in Bombay, I enjoyed dal and rice with the lemons squeezed in. Reminded me of Calcutta and the “Gondhoraj lebu”.
In the afternoon, we went off on the safari. It was a long drive of about 3 hours and that is when I realised, the 2.2k they charged us per night per head all inclusive, was very reasonable. The jeep we were in was well maintained and the ride through the forest was delightful. We went down mud tracks through dense forests I would not have the guts to walk through alone. Shashi was our main guide and also the driver. He has been in the forest department for 25 years, and was a storehouse of information on the habits and likes and dislikes of animals and birds. He kept us entertained for the whole 3 hours. Of course we did see some animals (bisons and spotted deer) and birds (serpent eagles and peacock and peahens). Oh, and we also saw hornbills at the resort itself.
We think of cows and buffalos as relatively docile creatures, but believe me, wild bisons are a completely different ball game altogether. We were driving down a straight stretch of the path when about fifty metres ahead, a herd started crossing. Shashi took the jeep slowly forward motioning us to keep silent. There were calves in the herd and two large bisons stopped blocking the path protecting the young ones from harm. And they gave us a look that I still remember. There was nothing menacing in the look. There was an air of supreme confidence and responsibility, as if they knew this was a job to be done and done well. The look also conveyed in no uncertain terms, that we were unwelcome intruders in their home.
I really am extremely impressed with the bison. It’s a majestic beast. Tall and muscular, over 5 feet at the shoulder. Unlike the lazy buffalos they walk in brisk steps. The bisons we saw had a tuft of white on their foreheads and the horns curved outwards, downwards and then upwards again, like Rana Pratap’s moustache.
After the herd had crossed into the forest, we reached the spot where they had crossed. The last bison was still waiting some 30 metres inside the forest, and again gave us that look. It was the look of an emperor surveying his subjects. Then he turned and moved into the forest with his herd.
Now when I walk past a buffalo, I do not feel uncomfortable; I have stared a bison in the eye. Well, almost.
That night we slept peacefully, having enjoyed the holiday which was ending the next day. In the morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we started back for Bombay at 9:30. Took a wrong turn, but were quick to retract and correct ourselves. The drive was bad for the first 23 km, and then as we reached the smooth road, I started enjoying the drive again. It had rained last evening and the surroundings and the potholes were wet. But soon all that was left behind and the drive was there to be enjoyed. We reached Belgavi pretty soon and after checking for the right route to the highway, and some jostling through city traffic, we were again on the NH4 carpet. The road was even emptier now, and we reached Yellur by 1 PM, and stopped at the same place for lunch. In the vicinity of Satara I noticed a truck some way ahead suddenly swerve and slow down on an empty stretch of road. Surprise of surprises, there were two potholes, fairly large and potentially damaging. I felt thankful I had not chosen to drive this way in the night. At 120 or maybe even more, I would have not stood a chance and would definitely have damaged the suspension badly. But that had not happened, and we sped on, enjoying the road. We crossed Pune through some traffic, with a spirited young chap in a Ford Fusion charging along like he was about to miss his non-refundable flight, overtaking from any direction he could and generally making a nuisance of himself. Thankfully, that was a temporary discomfort and soon order was restored and we went on in peace.
One thing I must say, is the frequency of toll booths is irritating, some coming up in less than 45 minutes of the last. I guess this is how the roads are so well maintained, with bus bays and truck lay by’s with baths and toilets, but still, it would be even better if we could have some sort of an electronic wireless payment system which did not require us to stop and hunt for small notes. Some toll booths have come up with ingenious solutions. One gave me a small chocolate instead of a two rupee note. One had different sets of change ready for different denominations of cash we could give them.
The Pune Expressway was fun and I enjoyed squealing tyres around the bends around Lonavala. And then we had crossed Panvel and after a short tea and kokum juice break, started again. I checked the tyre pressure. I had started the day at 30 psi and now after 8 and a half hours of driving, it was at 34, which was still all right.
So, I sped on, with a Civic, a City an Accent and a Santro for company. At one straight stretch, I noticed on the right lane, some police vehicles and a number of policemen standing on the road. Instinctively, I slowed down from the 130 I had been maintaining. But too late. A whistle sounded, and another policeman on the left further down the road signalled me to stop. I did. There were about 15 cars already there. In the rear view mirror I saw the Civic, the City, the Accent and even the Santro stop behind me. A policeman asked for my licence. I asked why. He said I had been speeding. I said but I was driving along slowly. Sabka photo aa gaya hai, he threatened. I listened to the others and their excuses. The Civic guy says why do you people have to bother us on this open road? The City guy puts on a pitiful expression and meekly says What happened? Speeding! But I was only following that guy. You could have given him an Oscar for abject humility. I wanted to be driving again, so, to cut matters short, I quickly paid up the 200 rupee fine and was off again, not at 120, but at 100 now. The road was so good, it would be unjust to drive slower.
Slowly traffic got dense and by the time we left the Eastern Expressway at Powai, it was bumper to bumper. Boring as usual. That is when I realised we had not felt like listening to music for a moment till then. Quite something, considering I never drive without music in the city. Two hours of the jam and we reached Malad. From there to home was relatively comfortable. We reached home at 9 PM. 11 ½ hours since starting. Great trip. No fatigue again. Raring to go for our next road trip.
|8th October 2007, 18:20||#3|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Feb 2006
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|8th October 2007, 18:46||#4|
Join Date: Oct 2005
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Dada... fantastic write-up. Very well written with the right dose of humor and vivid description. Kudos to you.
Shudhu duto kotha... Please do post some pics when you post a travelogue. Pics only add to the fun quotient of such a vivid write-up/ Second thing is to give some breaks in your paragraphs. Maybe even break them into sections with right names. Such monolithic piece of writeup can be a little tiresome on the eyes. Its also very easy to get lost while reading and then to hunt for the line you were in.
But, as I said, amazingly descriptive travelogue.
|8th October 2007, 18:49||#5|
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|8th October 2007, 19:30||#6|
Sorry AK, my mistake. Thanks for correcting me. Kolhapur it is.
And Spadival and Zappo, I have a few pics too, though none of the drive itself. I was too engrossed in the driving, to stop and click the views I enjoyed. I have not completed uploading the ones I liked. In a day or two, I shall post links to the pics. But sadly, I did not get a face shot of the bisons.
Accept Zappo's suggestion as well, to split the text into sections, but I guess the damage is already done. Bhool hoye gachhe dada.
And one more thing guys, I wrote all that because I just had to share it. But honestly, I did not expect any of you to read it through, leave alone pick out errors. I am impressed with your patience guys.
Last edited by prabuddhadg : 8th October 2007 at 19:34.
|9th October 2007, 14:36||#9|
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Join Date: Feb 2006
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Dada awesome trip..also mention about the mileage your petra gave throughout the trip
|9th October 2007, 19:01||#10|
A lot of the negative publicity of the Fiats for FE is incorrect. You have a car that is heavy and solid, easy and comfortable to drive, and it lets you drive the way you want to; cruise if it suits you or go roaring across the place if that is your style. Considering all that, the kind of FE one gets is not bad at all. People seem to ignore the benefits like great comfort coupled with driveablility. I am happy. I guess that is what counts finally.
What do you think?
|11th October 2007, 15:37||#11|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Thanked: 7 Times
I wish the trip would have got materialised as proposed
We spoke just after the trip! I know, it was my idea, but I couldn;t make it purely due to personal reasons. Not due to cost, as others may have decided to drop!
Fantastic narration....it made me feel as if I was there. I am surely making this trip in November!
Great Write Up!
|13th March 2008, 16:46||#13|
Join Date: Jan 2008
Thanked: 6 Times
Excellent travelogue. I enjoyed every word of it and almost lived it. I have been planning to go to Dandeli for long, but never did get a chance. Now that I have read your travelogue, I will plan a one in near future.
Nice one once again. Keep them coming....
takecare and drive safely
Indica DLS/HH Splendour/K Nova/Hero Winner
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