Saturday, March 29, 2008

Road Trip Deux - Shrivardhan (Konkan)

Ever since we got back from our Rajasthan trip we've been aching to hit the road again and we'd been thinking about heading to the Konkan area for a while now. This is not the season but there was a long weekend and we figured what the hell! However, being the lazy, last minute folks that we are - we waited till the last minute to get reservations and figured that ALL of Mumbai had taken up residence in the Konkan for the weekend.

Starting with Alibag, we worked our way down to Murud-Janjira and then down to Kashid and then finally we found a place in Shrivardhan - by chance - but hey we weren't complaining! Shrivardhan is about 6 hours away from Mumbai - the route to take is to head down towards Pune, take the Panvel exit, then take the Panvel by-pass and point towards Goa(Panaji) - there's a fork in the road for Alibag which you skip and head left towards Panaji - after which your next marker is a town called "Goregaon" - after which you travel over the hills to lovely Shrivardhan. The road is awful and it takes a long time to get there, even though the distance is just 50KM.

We discovered on our way back that we could have taken a fork from a town called "Mangaon" that had a MUCH better road to Shrivardhan, well at least a big part of it.

Shrivardhan is a sleep little town, even on a big weekend, there weren't THAT many tourists in sight - we visited during Holi, which sees a big local festival in town , so there was a buzz - we also found out that the local fisher folk take those days OFF - so NO FRESH FISH! :((( Big disappointment on the food front.

We stayed at a place called "Niwant Sagar", which literally translates to "Tranquil Sea" or "Peaceful Sea" - and really, this place we pulled out of a hat from an internet search was simply phenomenal - they have a minor online presence - here - and the photos don't even tell you half the tale.

Amazing place. The photographs don't show it, but they have separate rooms, amenities are basic - but clean. The location is amazing and its very very peaceful - a great place to go if you want to get away from it all. Reservations recommended - their policy is to give off the entire place to one group - they can house only 10 people in their rooms, although if more people went and didn't mind putting out in the ample covered courtyard - its a good option. Food was average. Beach was lovely, huge - and not super crowded. Highly recommended in Shrivardhan, where most of the other places are run of the mill hotels - this is something different. Definitely on the re-visit list.

Unfortunately, we were only able to get bookings for one night at Niwant Sagar, and had to move off to another place called Shiv Shanti Holiday Inn - newly done up and run of the mill hotel - rooms were clean - the management was all over the place - its been a while since I saw such inept management - but OK - we had a place to crash.

The Shrivardhan beach is loooooong, clean and yes, it has black sand. One can go a good distance into the water, and the beach is not at all rocky - very nice. Again, even on a long weekend, the beach did not appear super crowded. Shrivardhan is not very tourist friendly, the locals that we ended up interacting with behaved as if we were not welcome in their town - we had dinner at a place recommended in a guide book (Sagar Darshan), was very ordinary (perhaps due to the lack of Fish), it was run out of someone's home and we could hear the lady of the house essentially telling the servers to wrap us up soon - like I said - locals were not that warm.

The majority of the places to eat are of this form - run out of some locals home - food was pretty basic - we had some really nice fresh Kokam the next day when we were leaving - not made from syrup. We made a trip to Harihareshwar which is very close from Shrivardhan - avoid it if you are not into religious locales - really tourist central and quite boring.

On the way back we decided to take the route up the coast to get to Mumbai - we turned off the main highway and headed into the interiors, we had a strange experience where at a village called "Shimga" - there were about 50/60 local kids / teenagers and some adults who essentially blocked the road, we hadn't seen too many passenger cars - so I guess its not the road oft taken - but still - so they blocked our way and some guy was demanding 10/- per head to pass - we argued with him - but the crowd was turning hostile and clearly it was a "mugging" of sorts - beyond a point we decided it wasn't worth the Rs. 50/- to get into a fight in the middle of nowhere - knowing that the villagers would totally band behind the locals - terrible experience in our own country - so be aware if you are driving from Murud to join the highway or going to Murud from the Shrivardhan highway. Very disappointing really.

Anyhow - we managed to reach Murud, everyone was decidedly in low spirits due to the freak experience at the village and hungry! Murud was nice, small town - we had some good fish FINALLY - at "Patil Khanaval" - which is famous in the guide books - again, nice food - but I've had better in Mumbai. Murud has some nice resorts, we saw the "Golden Swan Resort" which seemed very nice.

Our way back threaded through some nice little towns, Kashid was lovely, I'm told "Prakruti Resort" in Kashid is a must-go resort - jotting that down for a follow up trip - Kashid has been completely bought up by private investors - so you cant even see the beach front till much later.

The landscape gets more urban near Alibag, at which point we joined the main highway up to Mumbai - road back was mostly uneventful - was a good quick break away from Mumbai - we would definitely like to return to Niwant Sagar and Murud for prolonged breaks - Murud is nicer - closer to Mumbai - quicker to the beach! :)

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Mumbai - Day 7 - Fin

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sufferi - Day 5.
Kumbalgarh, Rajasthan : Much Ado - Day 6.

Rejuvenated after a well deserved full night's sleep and at the thought of finally heading home after a long trip - we left Kumbalgarh early at 7.30 AM - KM : 18342 and ready to crank it back to Mumbai.

We felt the same as we had when we were heading to Udaipur, we knew that we *should* stop somewhere to make the journey comfortable - but wanted to get to our end point really bad - on our way up we wanted to hit Udaipur in a hurry and now we wanted to be home really bad - so there.

We knew that we'd be able to make good time in the day and we were only dreading the section after Surat which had construction on it and ridiculous lines to boot. Here is what our line back looked like,this time we decided to track all that toll money!

Kumbalgarh: 7.30 AM
Udaipur: 9.30 AM
...Toll (Udaipur) : Rs. 35
...Toll (Ratanpur) : Rs. 20
Shamlaji: 11 AM
Himmatnagar : 11.30 AM
...Toll (HimmatNagar) : Rs. 25
...Lunch - 11.40 AM
...Resumed : 12.15 PM
...Toll: Rs. 30
...Toll: Rs. 10
...Toll: Rs. 10
Ahmedabad: 1.15 PM
...Toll Expressway: 64
Baroda: 2.10 PM
Bharuch: 4 PM
...Toll: Rs. 14
Surat: 5.30 PM
...Toll: Rs. 25

Traffic as expected was BACKED UP to hell and high water, we decided to stop being nice and totally break the rules - no option! :( All the passenger cars had started to use the oncoming lane to get past the major jam around Kadodara - where humans were manning stupid makeshift lights and had caused a huge backup - sure enough we shaved off an easy 2 hours atleast from our drive time - we went in the oncoming as much as possible and re-joined when the jam was almost clear.

...Toll: Rs. 30

This was the portion where we entered Dadra / Nagar Haveli, yes, the land of the unyielding driver - for whatever reason, it rained like hell - at one point we felt like there was a conspiracy to stop us from reaching home - but seriously heavy rains - zero to no visibility - most cars pulled off the road - but I decided to keep driving - I could hold my line and I could navigate at a slower speed - this really pulled our progress down - but I figured I was confident so why the hell not. Turned out that it was a hour long session of the end of the world and on the other side everything was completely dry!

...Toll: Rs. 25
...Toll: Rs. 30

We're now in the outskirts of Mumbai, we're almost home!

Mumbai: 10.30 PM
Mileage End: 19188

We were on the road for about 8 days, we realized that was our threshold for a road trip! :) We travelled (19188 - 16336) = 2852 KM and we spent about Rs. 30K for the trip. Road Trip Check. Rajasthan, almost checked! Roads were lovely, Rajasthan was well worth the effort. Road trip paused till the next appropriate destination!

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Kumbalgarh, Rajasthan - Day 6

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sufferi - Day 5.

Jaisalmer had taken it's toll and we were happy to be heading home. What lay ahead was a major amount of driving. Jaisalmer's location is such that you have to re-trace your steps all the way back to Udaipur, same route. We couldn't have made it back to Mumbai in one day without it being immensely tiring, so we had planned to stop over at Kumbalgarh, which is between Udaipur and Jodhpur in that triangle.

Kumbalgarh is in the hills and has a bizarre story surrounding its naming - more on that in a bit. Heading back out of Jaisalmer early morning - Nov 1st 7.15 AM - KM : 17860 - point that baby home and hit the gas! We make our way back through the now familiar roads - our plan is to keep driving till we hit Kumbalgarh, since we know we can nail the times due to the good road conditions.

We bypass Jodhpur by 10.40 AM and head towards Udaipur - the turnoff to Kumbalgarh is via a small place called "Sayra" - which we hit around 2 PM - the approach to Kumbalgarh from this direction has some bad roads - it seems like most people visit it from the Udaipur side. We reach Kumbalgarh around 4 PM - hungry and tired as hell - this place has two decent places to stay, we're staying at the cheaper of the two - Kumbal Castle - the other is a heritage hotel - pricey and we didnt feel like shelling out that lil extra - called the Audhi.

Kumbalgarh is a solo fort out in the wilderness, nothing much to write about really - not much for the regular tourist, no guides in sight - just plain fort. We managed to find one bored government employee who was manning the gate to talk about the fort - mildly interesting trivia - named after a "rishi (saint)" Kumbal - who was approached by the then king to find a location such that would never be conquered - the rishi told the King that he should sacrifice a human to find such a place - obviously no volunteers were forthcoming and it turns out that the rishi in an amazing "walking the talk" agreed to sacrifice himself - according to legend the rishi says - slice my head off - my body will keep walking and will map out the fort - but he had to name the fort after the rishi. A lil nutty - but hey made for interesting listening in an otherwise mundane fort.

The fort is lighted at night to give a spectacle - but we skipped that - weren't very piqued by the thought of it. Day 6 ended with us holed up in our room - tired and watching the Haryana chief minister blabber about something on Doordarshan - the only channel available!

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Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sufferi - Day 5

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3.
Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4.

Day 4 in Jaisalmer was like drinking from a hose, too much beauty pepperred with touristey cliches (bedsheet shopping?!, camel safari pushers, the pushy guide). Day 5 we decided, the pace had to be controlled and we'd try to look at Jaisalmer one more time at our own pace. Good intentions all around!

Morning dawns, we stroll out of Mandir Palace and head back to the fort, this time there is a sense of recognition or atleast we think so - we're steering clear of the tourist traps we've seen yesterday. We are armed with a map of the fort and begin our self-guided tour of the fort - its lovely to look at the lattice work one more time and really absorb the designs we see everywhere - but turns out that bus-loads of more tourists have arrived and we're also not having that much luck navigating the old fort bylanes by ourselves - we remember from our trek the previous day and manage to re-visit some areas that we wanted to check out again.

We had decided to take the camel safari, neither of us likes camels,nor were we thrilled at the prospect of a bumpy ride from our previous experiences with the camel - but after much deliberation we felt that since we had come out so far - it would be a shame to miss out on the camel safari's that are such a staple in Jaisalmer - so - we ended up with a compromise where we opted to take a camel cart - which we felt was not on the animal and might be slightly more comfortable. Safari booked.

Outside the fort there is a Govt. approved "Bhang" shop - found that very puzzling - a government approved shop that sold hallucinogens - very nice! :) We bought some for use later when we were back home - hey it was government approved after all! The rest of the afternoon was a little aimless, we went back to the old market and I guess we were looking to recapture the feel of Jodhpur, but Jaisalmer is waaay too touristey.

We made a beeline to "Sam National Sand Dunes Park", we had a liaison who drove with us in the car - which he then took onwards to the "camp" while we hopped onto our camel cart - much to the amusement of the ton of foreigners who were all hopped onto the camels. Now, the idea is - the camel drivers take you some distance into the park - to the sand dunes to see the sunset and then drive you to the "camps" for the evening entertainment under the stars - sounded good on paper!

Sam Sand Dunes, Jaisalmer, RajasthanCamel ride was super bumpy - add to that hordes of small kids / adults etc all trying to push you to buy cold drinks / snacks / water and what have you. You got to note that this area has no commerce other than tourism - so the locals are very pushy - our camel driver made it a point to let us know that he would *really* appreciate a tip - OK. Anyhow, we make our way to the supposed "serene" sand dunes and it starts with a low hum - then it grows louder and suddenly over the next sand dune are a zillion tourists and really, there were a zillion tourists - I felt like I was back at Juhu beach - we took pictures if you dont buy it! :)

Sunset, Sam Sand Dunes, Jaisalmer, RajasthanWe navigated to a dune which was mostly slightly away from the human beach - and decided to settle down for the sunset - to bide our time we tried to take atleast one picture without any human entering the frame - yes, it was very hard! It might sound kind of snobbish, but the intent is to sound amused that soooo many (we included) tourists had shown up. Oh well.

Sunset check. Hurried exit to entertainment camp - check. Tip to camel driver - check. So, the camel drive ordeal complete (yes, it was a bad idea and its overrated) - we make it to our camp - traditional greeting with drums and "tikka" - we head to our place around the campfire - and its a big one - for whatever reason we had managed to purchase the "VIP" tickets - it was about Rs. 200 / head, so we got to sit right up front.

In our session, we had a huge group of students from Goa I think so there was a buzz all around. It got dark and the campfire and the entertainment kicked off. There were the staple Rajasthani folk songs, followed by dances, in which the speciality dancer performed some gimmicky dance moves - picking blades with her eyelids etc. OK - was cool to see.

This thing went on for about 3 hours - about 1.5 hour too many - ultimately the session devoloved into Bhangra / popular Hindi movie songs - dinner was served and we were more than ready to get out of that place. On our way back we felt glad that we had taken in a more intimate folk experience in Udaipur which was timed just right and had the right blend of crowd and atmosphere.

Another long day - we were done with Jaisalmer and were ready to start our trek back home to Mumbai. Jaisalmer - check.

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Raghu Dixit - The Review

So, the album finally launched, here are my thoughts. I felt the album might have been tailored to be a bit more populist and I dont blame him for doing so - hey you've got to earn dough don't you! Good effort - hopefully his brand of music catches on and his next album is more booming vocals and more indo-folk-fusion - which is what Raghu's brand/genre to me is.

First, you can buy the music online at Music Yogi or its now widely available in most music stores, I've seen it my local Planet-M and at Crossword too.

Album starts off large with "Hey Bhagwan", reggae/guitar comes to mind, its also the first video Raghu has released - good start. If that song woke you up, the next "Mysore Se Ayi", ofcourse is a Raghu classic, the album version is good but its a kind of song that amazing live and its Raghu at his best blending folk / rock. You're just getting over the solo music piece at the end of when "Gudugudiya Sedi Nodo" kicks off, by far the best song for me on this album - its in Kannada, I had to read the lyrics to understand what it meant - its by a Kannada poet, first the song blows your mind and the lyrics are just phenomenal. Amazing song and amazing soundscapes.

After the high of "Gudugudiya..", comes "Ambar", which I felt was a needless love ballad that goes on and on, not for me and not what I would associate Raghu with, after this point the album seems to go into a "populist" mode (for me) - lets add a ballad, a "foot tappy" Hindi rock song "Khidki".

"No Man Will Ever Love You Like I Do" is soulful, perhaps he wrote it for his amour! "I'm in Mumbai Waiting For A Miracle" follows - which for people following Raghu is ironic because he's really beeen waiting quite long for a miracle! :) Lyrics are predictable and I've heard better songs about Mumbai - a throwback to Remo Fernandes (Bombay City) - ah the good ol days.

The album ends with "Soruthihudu Maniya Maligi ", another Kannada song - nice, but not even close to Gudgudiya, which for me was the gem of this album, I've heard "Mysore" too many times perhaps!

Good beginnings - Raghu's forte I think is his live performances and his crazy booming voice - I read someplace (facebook) - where someone referred to him as having "big pipes" referring to his vocal strengths - thats fits totally. Its a good start for Raghu, hopefully his next is more indo-folk. Just for support I'd say go buy the album - but objectively it was an average attempt for me. Good sound - but the only song that pulls me back is Gudgudiya.

BTW the album design is PHENOMENAL - I dont buy too many physical CD's nowadays - but probably the best designed CD I've seen ever. Kudos to his brother I think who designed it.

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