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Madai – a safari in the Satpuras

2 March 2007 11 comments

A junior recommends this charming treasure near Pachmarhi, the only hillstation of MP and we are glad to have gone there during our biking expedition. It is that away-from-the-crowd the-road-less-taken type tourist spot. The name is Madai (pics here on Fotki), a resthouse run by the MP forest department in the Satpura tiger reserve. We book our rooms at the Bison lodge in Pachmarhi (bookings have to be done here or at Hoshangabad). We take a diversion on the Pachmarhi-Hoshangabad highway to reach the other side of the Madai resthouse. A boat crosses the Tawa dam reservoir, taking us to the simple rooms there.

Deer welcome us at the resthouse and playfully stroll along us. Just one more foreigner stays in another room and goes on a tiger count with the big officer during the night. How we would have loved to go on a night ride in the park! (Un)luckily, Airtel and Reliance signals are plenty here unlike Pachmarhi and so we are able to speak to our lady love. But it would have been ideal to have had them in this romantic idyll. Post a few experiments, the moon is caught in its natural beauty like this.There are few words to describe the joy of sitting near a bonfire surrounded by deer with moonlight soothing us. There is no electricity in the resthouse, which adds to the charm. Having hot food in such a blissful setting is again incredible. The night passes peacefully, though we occasionally hear sounds from the wild. After all, the tigers and the bears are not far.

The day starts early just like any national park and we are off on a jeep safari at 7am. We spot loads of deer (black buck and sambhar) and some wild boar too. We only see some pugmarks of a leopard. We come to a green meadow where we are delighted to watch our national birds running away. Some bison are also happy to pose for our trigger-happy friend. As we come to the end of our trip, we decide to go on an elephant ride. This is my second such thing in a month’s time, the first having been in Panna during the Khajuraho trip. But my friend has a natural instinct to take pictures and he comes with one (with the shadows) I like most. Soon after this, we hit the road for Indore, having had one of the most unique experiences ever of a lifetime. We will be glad to go back more often!

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Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Orchha – A delightful palace place

23 February 2007 6 comments

Orchha (MP Tourism proclaims it as a medieval legacy in stone – some pictures here on Flickr) forms a part of the tourist circuit of Khajuraho to the north-west. To the south, we have Bandhavgarh National park, which has the highest density of tigers. There is no railway station in Khajuraho and the nearest major one, Jhansi, is 15km away from Orchha, thus explaining the connection. We takethe 8am deluxe bus (the best in its class) to Orchha from Khajuraho. There are plenty of buses covering the 5hour journey to Jhansi and we get down on the highway to take a shared auto to the village itself at 12.15pm. We have half a day to explore the palaces and the temples in this charm of a village. MP Tourism allows stay at one of the palaces called Sheesh Mahal, a luxury one could choose to enjoy and one I could only dream of now. Just like Khajuraho, we spot a lot of foreigners who seem to like it for its quaintness. The eateries are not expensive as in Khajuraho, a lot of Korean food surprisingly. There are the Lonely Planet recommended ones, mandatory to tourist spots preferred by foreigners. The foreigners seem to spend more time by the Betwa river and in the several palaces.

Orchha is a very small village and we go on the day of Sankranti. A Hindu Sammelan is happening at the entrance to the Raja Rama temple, which happens to be the only temple where Lord Rama is worshipped as a king. This has brought in the crowds from the nearby villages of UP. In Orchha at one end you could be part of the UP signal towers, though you are still in MP. After a quick lunch at the first eatery on the road, we proceed to the Jahangir Mahal, the most imposing structure here. A few eateries boast of the Mahal view. We get a guide with us for taking us through Raja Mahal and Jahangir Mahal opposite each other. Both the palaces are full of people today being Sankranti and a holiday. Raja Mahal is comparatively smaller whereas Jahangir Mahal built for Emperor Jahangir, but never used by him is larger and boasts of amazing views of the village and the Chatris (cenotaphs or memorials) by the river. After the very pleasing sights we experience in Khajuraho, palaces are a refreshing change. We spend a little more than 90 minutes at these two palaces. The fact that we have a guide probably helps us move quickly. We do not walk around the palace at all where we could see the beautiful garden Phool Bagh and the camel yard. We also spot some delightful paintings in the Raja Mahal. We are yet to see the temples and our guide has recommended that we walk to the Laxmi temple for more paintings. It is a little away, about a 15 min walk from the main streets of the village.

We walk through the crowded streets, alive with participants of the Hindu Sammelan which is having a session. One of us is advised by a friendly policeman to be careful about our things. The Raja Ram temple opens only in the evening and so we continue walking to the Laxmi temple. The nice walk up here is less crowded and so we find ourselves having the temple pretty much to us. It is thrilling to walk on the little stairs up the temple and peep from the top as some of us discover. We also see the cute colourful paintings recommended to us. We sit here and relax for some time amidst the cool breeze just like this sadhu and that foreigner . We walk back to Orchha.

The more sight-seeing guys among us continue to Chaturbhuj temple, the second biggest structure in Orchha. The views from here (of the main streets and of Jahangir Mahal) are also amazingly good. After that, we stop by for a sizzler (which is very tasty) in one of the eateries just before the bridge to Jahangir Mahal. Very soon, the auto which we had booked to take us to Jhansi (the land of Rani Laxmibhai) arrives. Our bus back to Indore would start at 8pm from there. Orchha has been a pleasing little stop in our Khajuraho exploration.

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Khajuraho – Celebrating life

13 February 2007 2 comments

During the Pongal break (!), we go to Khajuraho (some pics here) on a study tour 😉 Khajuraho is the best known tourist destination in the state of Madhya Pradesh. The first erotic pictures we see at the Western Group are really very very interesting. A sample here. Having only read about the temples in history books, seeing them is an enlightening experience. Khajuraho is full of foreigners and a lot of the kids call out “Hello”, “Which country from?”, “Money” regularly. It is a surprise to see so many exotic restaurants in the village that is Khajuraho. Khajuraho is difficult to reach as it is so away from the main highways and the roads are a shame around the area in MP. We are a group of 8, which includes one of the French guys Arn on exchange here. All the guides swarm around him, promising several things. There is one particularly nagging guy, who speaks fluent French to the surprise of the rest of us. We spend roughly a day at this place, which speaks volumes about celebrating life. The Western Group is the most popular, being in the middle of the village and having the best temples and the most sensual sculptures. We see the Jain temples in the Eastern group, the Southern group and even a being-excavated ruins, all by cycle. Cycling is the best way to explore Khajuraho, as all the temples are within a radius of 4-5km. We have authentic Italian food at the Mediterraneo restaurant, which is a little pricey but Arn likes it. In the evening, we check out the Sound and Light show at the Western group, describing the history of the place.

I must write about our experiences with the MP Tourism office in Indore, which we approached to seek advice about a Khajuraho trip, as it is our first long trip within the state. MP markets itself as the Heart of Incredible India. The marketing manager there was very friendly and gave us a very big tourist map of the state when we asked him for directions. This has proved to be our biggest reference thereafter. Also, we stayed at the dorm in Hotel Rahil, Khajuraho for a pricely sum of Rs.90/-. The staff at the hotel too were quite friendly too and the stay overnight was pleasant. I must also mention the MP Tourism motels spread through out the state (I have been to Khalghat), which serve quality food.

Here’s a very popular image of a playful couple from Khajuraho.

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Biking to Ajanta and Ellora – 2

18 January 2007 Leave a comment

Sorry guys for being late, I was away on a mindblowing Khajuraho trip the Pongal weekend. But that has to wait. Having done one stage of my longest bike ride in Ellora, both of us had a simple breakfast near the caves and proceeded to Daulatabad. There is a scenic ghat section on this stretch of the highway. Daulatabad is pretty close to Ellora (15km) and very soon we passed this beautiful lake Daulatabad lake. The landscape is also pleasing to the eyes. We could have had fresh guavas on the very pretty look-out point, but I was a little sick and we took no chances. Our next stop was the famous Daulatabad fort itself. Every history fan knows of Mohammad bin Tughlaq‘s experiments in failure. The shifting of India’s capital from Delhi to Daulatabad is a prime example. The day being a Saturday morning in late December, Daulatabad was full of folks. We parked our bikes and proceeded amidst the heaps of crowds. There were quite a few guides willing to share their knowledge. But we decided that we could not do much in this crowd Daulatabad fortand so did not go all the way to the top in the narrow stairs. Daulatabad reminded me a little of Golconda. This Chand Minar Chand Minaris the big minaret in this charming fort. School kids were playing in the big courtyard.

After spending a little less than a hour in the fort, we left for Aurangabad, our initial destination for the night primarily because it is well-connected. Aurangabad is 15 km away from Daulatabad and we reached it pretty quickly. We hoped to see the duplicate Taj Mahal, otherwise known as Bibi Ka MaqbaraBibi Ka Maqbara, built by Aurangazeb inspired by you-know-what. The Taj in Agra is simply the grandest man-made spectacle my eyes have seen and this Aurangabad imitation pales badly. But the similarities are clear. The Mughal garden and the marble (here unclean) are amazing. But there’s no Yamuna to lend that magical finish here. After this whistle-stop, we went to Panchakki – the water wheel systemPanchakki of those olden days. At this place, we met an Australian STA agent who’s here on a holiday. We chatted with him and wished him a good time. STA is not very useful in India to me. I also spotted the Paithani sarees and Himroo shawls showroom (both Aurangabad specials) here, but this is no shopping trip! We had asked the locals near Bibi Ka Maqbara about good restaurants to have biryani. The Muslim influence hopefully gets very tasty biryani. But the local guys were not very helpful and so we sped off on the Ajanta highway after this 2hour Aurangabad tour.

The Aurangabad-Ajanta road (about 100km) is also very good and we hit our top speeds on this stretch. We had a quick lunch at a dhaba midway and still managed to reach the Ajanta shuttle point at 3.45pm, in roughly 2 hours. This point is 4-5km away from the caves and no private vehicles are allowed beyond here. The MTDC charges a park entry fee, a parking fee, a shopping plaza fee (wasteful) and a shuttle fee, which we paid in 3 different places. Why can’t they make the fee structure simple? The Ajanta caves are located in a beautiful gorge and that explains their charm apart from the fact that they are very very old. We had less time (two hours) to see these cute paintings as some of the caves close by 5.30pm. There are 29 caves in all and the Australian had recommended us to walk to the top on the other side of the stream to have an awesome view. We are forced to drop our shoes at every cave, thus losing some time. The cave guards directed us to the ones worth seeing – which are 3, 5, 10, 16, 17, 29 and we ended up seeing only these caves. These caves are supposedly monasteries and we could see different images of the Buddha in these. Here is an image of the Buddha inside a stupa and here is a mural . The guards did not let us use the tripod and so my companion went livid at them. It is astonishing to note that these murals and sculptures have survived more than 1500 years and some 2000 years and we know what they were meant for! We were tired of our adventure in just about an hour.

We decide that we will go back to Indore riding in the night (just about 330km away) not through the way we came back, but through Bhusawal, Burhanpur and Omkareswar road. The road is fantastic and we ride all the way till Burhanpur in MP, about 140 km from Ajanta and decide to take a break because it has become too cold by 10pm. An early morning start at 7.30am the next day takes us back to our college by 12.30 noon, a distance of 190km, just in time for the new year celebrations. My first long ride has been a great success!

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Biking to Ajanta and Ellora – 1

6 January 2007 6 comments

Now that I’m in Indore, my popular Indore getaway posts will get more additions. I’ve been harping too much on geography the time I’ve been in NZ. But India is where all the history is. Though all of us (read my bschool mates) complain about the huge location disadvantage that Indore has in terms of connectivity to all the happening cities (read good jobs), the fact is that Indore is the heart of incredible India (just like the cute MP Tourism ads promote MP)! If we get 5 days at a stretch, we would be able to go in every direction imaginable and visit places like Rajasthan, Himachal, Uttaranchal, Agra, Khajuraho, Gujarat, Goa, Hyderabad, Bihar, … But we had 3 days to spare just before the year ends. So this will be my first multi-day trip around Indore. Also, I’ve been dreaming of a long bike ride for a long time. In NZ, bikes are so expensive compared to cars and they need special licences. After a little research, we chuck destinations inside MP and plan for the World Heritage sites of Ajanta and Ellora. Aurangabad – the base to visit these 2 places – is a little over 400km away. Two of us start on the 29th morning at 8.30am (planned time 7am) on two bikes. My companion Anupam is a veteran of long trips with Indore-Ahmedabad-Indore and Indore-Mumbai trips to his record.

29th is a plain bike ride day. We start on NH3, cross Mhow, the Narmada at Khalghat and reach the MP border. We are alarmed to find that our average speed is just over 40kmph. The NH3 is the worst highway I have found. To our surprise, soon after we cross the border, Maharashtra PWD takes over and NH3 becomes unimaginably good to ride. We hurry past the sugarcane factory at Sirpur and leave NH3 at Dhule (say Dhuliya). Our lunch in a dhaba takes a long time. Of course, we get our direction tips from mapsofindia.com and mapmyindia.com. Here we take NH211, which goes to Aurangabad and beyond. In spite of we hurrying, there is a bye-pass road at Chalisgaon, which is the most horrrible stretch of the highway. And to our horrors, they have a toll post on this stretch, how sad! Bikes don’t have to pay any toll and so we continue our journey unhindered. The road gets worse as we progress. It is evening when we approach Ellora village. We grab a cup of tea and are close to the Ellora cave sites when we see a few hotels advertising availability.

End December is the peak travel season everywhere! More so in India, as the weather is ideal this time. Anupam suggests we stay here itself and proceed tomorrow. It is also getting cold. We check one good hotel, Hotel Kailasa, which is expensive at Rs.1500 and one passable place where we don’t bargain much and settle at Rs.450 for two beds. That definitely is an atrocious price to pay for an ordinary room. I spot quite a few notices in Kannada. Just like Belur and Halebid attract a lot of Tamil tourists, I guess Ajanta and Ellora attract quite a few Kannada ones. Also, this being the half-yearly holidays of the school kids, there was one big gang in 2 buses from Gujarat. Even before we have seen anything, I start getting a cold and a headache. We pick my favourite pill DCold at the in-demand chemist in the Ellora village. We decide that we’ll have decent food at the Kailas restaurant which has a few white faces too. Hotel Kailas has to be the most convenient place to see the caves, which are a few metres away.

We start by 6am early in the morning. The Ellora caves open at 6.30am, which makes it an ideal place to start your day with. Also, they certainly are worth more time to spend than the Ajanta caves, say half a day or more if you don’t want to miss anything. We are the first to check with the gatekeepers, who ask us to come after a tea and 5 minutes as there is little fog yet. But as we have our tea, the school kids party walk in a file and beat us to the entry. The teachers order the kids around and this reminds me of our own school trips. Educational tours are so much fun! There are more kids coming early in the morning from Andhra. We are the first ticket-takers to the biggest temple in the caves, Kailasa temple. As the 34 caves are spread out, we are allowed to take our bikes inside till the very end, i.e., Cave 34.

Ellora caves are distinct for their secular aspect. They have sets of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves. The Kailasa temple is Cave 16 and stands right at the entrance to the World Heritage site. We start with caves to the other side of the temple, i.e., 17 and above. We have lots of Nandis just like this one Ellora Cave, Nandi . The kids are curious and keep peeking at our sleek digicams. We wait for the crowd to disperse. These kids stop soon at Cave 23 or 24 and are ordered back by their teachers. We continue further when we see a strip of water fall into a pond. Later, a guide book tells us it is the famed Ellora waterfall Ellora waterfall. Both of us walk by the dangerous cliff up thorough the cute stairs to Cave 29. Cave 29 is definitely worth the walk. It’s got the best pillars and the figurines we have seen so far. We see that we could have taken our bikes to this place, but the road is a little long and so we walk back along the picturesque rocks. Our next stop is the biggest attraction here, Kailasa temple.

As expected, all the structures are preserved very well in this temple, thus deserving the entry fee they charge only for this separately. Also, most of the tourists prefer to stop here and not visit most of the other caves as it involves a walk. Those who have their cars can take them to caves 29 and 34 also. The Kailasa temple needs at least an hour to explore properly. But we have 3 hours for the whole of the caves and so we just rush to the first floor and through the prakaram(walkway?) on the ground floor. We spot this beauty on rock, the story of the Mahabharatha Mahabharatha. That’s our last delight in the temple. We aim at seeing the lesser numbered caves too and the Jain caves which are beyond 29.

We check with the security guard and find out that Caves 10 and 12 are the ones not to be missed out. We start with Cave 10 and explore the big Buddha statue inside a stupa. We glimpse at the Hindu caves 9 and less and decide that we have no time for it. Next we see Cave 12, Teen Taal Teen Taal. It is quite spectacular. The top floor is serene and is good if you want to spend a quiet moment away from the crowds, who don’t seem to spend much time in the Buddhist caves.

Our last stop at Ellora is the Jain set of caves, 33 and 34. We take our bikes out here, which is a little far from 16. These caves are also delightfully carved, the stand-out example being this statue under the peacock , the description of which I overheard it from a guide and then realised the presence of the peacock feather. The gullible Anupam had bought an Ellora picture book, but at a bargain price of 20 though the printed price said 55. We could always refer to it if we needed any info or we should be able to get more info on the net. One more cave later, which is full of the Jain tirthankaras, we conclude our Ellora visit. What an amazing treat for the good year we had!

PS: Some more pictures on flickr.

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Tincha Falls – a photo log

11 August 2006 10 comments

Tincha Falls is a waterfall about 10km off from Simrol, a village on the Indore-Khandwa road. Tincha village now has tar roads and so the ride is pleasant. From the village, the falls is just a km away and the genial villagers help you find the way easily. It helps that there is a signboard where we need to turn right from Tincha village.As we enter the falls area, we are enraptured by the huge flowltincha-falls-the-full-view.jpg and the valley the-stream-the-valley-and-the-green.jpg. We decide to get down to the bottomgetting-down-to-the-stream-it-looks-ominous.jpg. Two villagers show us the way before they disappear in a jiffy. That is the most difficult stretch of the whole trek down. Two of us first venture down the-first-movers.jpgand the third descends past the difficult stretch the-difficult-stretch.jpg. After spending some time seeing the rushing waters tincha-falls-the-broad-view.jpg and the white vapours tincha-noise-the-white-clouds.jpg which do not allow us to get anywhere closer, we begin our upward climb. We are glad to be on top! On our way back, we see a farm family at work. There is a cute treehouse tincha-village-the-tree-house.jpg, which captures our attention.

Having enjoyed Tincha Falls, we proceed further towards Khandwa till the first dhaba after the first ghat stretch. Here my friend provokes one of the numerous monkeys, that responds with this snarlthe-provoked-monkey-at-the-roadside-dhaba.jpg. Undeterred, we ride till the second ghat where the view is amazingindore-khandwa-road-the-second-ghat-view.jpg. After a quick halt, we reach our original destination Choral village. It is Rakhi day and it is very colourful there. The joyous villagers do a Dandiya right in the middle of the road,choral-village-rakhi-umbrella.jpg stopping all traffic in the busy road. These sisters seem to be carrying some Rakhi plant rakhi-plant-in-choral-village.jpg, for all I know. We stop by the Choral river, just in time to see a train crossing the bridgea-train-on-the-choral-bridge.jpg . What amazing sights we have seen in a span of 4 hours! We are truly blessed to be here during the monsoons 🙂

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel

Patal Pani – a pleasing waterfall

6 August 2006 8 comments

1 Aug 2006: The monsoons have enriched our environs. After an early morning class, 3 of us decide to go to Patal Pani on a whim. The clouds are out and it rains often. That only adds to the delight. Well, a bike trip in the rains is the most pleasing to the senses. We go to Mhow. In spite of going there so many times, we get lost. The newness of a familiar place! We ask a dozen people and end up on the other side of the rail track – an alternative road to Patal Pani. Last year, we had gone via Kothariya. My natural instincts prick up and we prefer to explore the new route. What a tragedy it proved to be!

We struggle past the slushy routes. We are immensely relieved when we reach the silver falls without any mishaps. The green meadows, the grazing cows, the missing crowds and the gushing waters make up a great sight. Here are our pictures. You have to see them. Maybe, I shall experiment with a photopost. Determined to go all the way down, we discover the route. We are the only souls at the bottom. The pond is muddy and we could not enjoy a refreshing dip sadly. The climb back up is tiring. One of us has hurt his feet and we decide to turn back, though I wish we could walk through the railway track past the tunnel and find some more spots of rare beauty. Thus ends another sweet little trip. Here’s what I have written last year.

Read more…

Categories: Indore getaway, Travel