Sunday, November 16, 2014

Forts, Caves and Temples - Maharashtra

In the last couple of months I have found a new meaning to life - "Live to travel". I have been lucky to have friends who planned and accompanied me to the various tourist destinations. Frankly speaking (just like Arnab, only I will be talking) I have not gone outside of the 5 southern states. So visiting Maharashtra was like adding another feather to my cap. The entire trip was planned by my friend who is working in Pune. So to summarize the trip we visited 5 major places - Lonavla, Aurangabad, Shirdi, Nashik and Pune.

The sleeper from Bangalore was supposed to reach Pune by 8:30am but we ended up reaching at almost 1pm (Indian Stretchable Time). The plan for day 1 was Lohagad fort, Bhaja caves and the wax museum in Lonavla. But thanks to the delay we ended up skipping Lohagad fort. We saw the fort from outside and headed straight to the Bhaja caves. The journey to the caves is scenic.

(click on the pictures for full resolution view)

 There is a little bit of climb to the caves but it is not that challenging. Bhaja has ancient Buddhist caves and what looks like the shrine of the monks.




From these caves we headed to the wax museum. The entry to the museum was Rs 200 which was not totally worth it but it was on our way back to Pune, so we paid it a visit.



 As we entered Pune again we stopped by Joshi Vadewale to have the first vada pav of our trip. Little did we know then that it will be our breakfast and mid meal snacks for the rest of the trip. The next 3 days were jam packed and we needed some rest after the tiring bus journey. 

We left for Aurangabad early the next morning. This can be called the heritage city in Maharashtra. The first location for the day was Daulatabad fort. There are a lot of stairs that you will need to climb to reach the top of the fort. There are cannons all over the place with the largest one being on the top of the fort. The sign next to the cannon says do not touch but there were people sitting on it. I could not even take a proper picture of it because there was large family and a bunch of kids playing on the cannon.





From the fort we went to the Ellora caves. I had a read a lot about the Ajanta and Ellora caves (History or was it Geography) and it felt good to be there. The feel good factor did not last long as there are a total of 34 caves and I got bored after around 10 caves (I get bored very easily). The first set of caves depict Buddhism and the last set of caves are about Jainism. The main attractions are the Hindu caves in between. Entering these caves makes you appreciate the craftsmanship of whoever has built them. There are a lot statues but most of them are broken or destroyed. 









We wanted to goto Ajantha caves too but it was 100kms from Ellora and after the overdose of caves here going there did not seem like a good idea. But later I was told that the paintings there are amazing and Ajantha caves might be closed to the tourists to preserve the paintings which are fast depreciating due to increased tourist activity. We visited the Gruhaneshwar temple near Ellora which is famous for the Jyothirlinga. From here we went to the last planned location for the day - The Taj Mahal (well a replica). Biwi ka maqbura is a replica which was built by Aurangazeb for his first wife. 



It was 6pm and we had nothing more to see here. The plan for the next day was Nasik and we now had to decide if were going to stay in Aurangabad or head to Nashik. The day was still young so when we checked Google Maps for the route/time to Nashik we realized Shirdi is on the way. So we improvised and started our journey to visit the Shirdi Sai Baba temple. The new plan was to wake up early, visit the temple and head to Nashik. Call it timing or luck, we reached Shirdi by 8pm and the crowd was less. We finished the darshan in less than an hour and stayed at a nearby hotel for the night. You need to be careful about people offering parking near the temple. They make you buy around Rs 1000 worth of "Prasad" in the name of quick darshan. We told we were students (always works) and reduced the spending to Rs 300. 

The next morning we left the room by 6am and head out to Nashik. The weather is ultra pleasant and it was drizzling which made the travel even more awesome (as awesome as the Bangalore weather). The river Godavari flows through Nashik so you will find a lot of temples here which justifies the 'City of Piligrimage' title. Take your time and visit them. Almost all the temples are ancient and built using black rocks.  You can take a guide with you who will probably tell you the entire Ramayana. We chose to skip the guide and just visited the temples. We started with Mukthi Dham which has various idols of Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman. The next location was Panchavathi - the place Sita stayed and  was "allegedly kidnapped by Ravana" from here ( too much news these days! ).




After visiting the temples we went to the Pandulena caves. This place mainly has Buddhist caves and looks like a prototype for the Ellora caves. At this point of time we already had the overdose of caves and were happy to know that there are no more cave visit planned for the rest of the trip.




The next location was Triambakeshwar temple which is another famous temple with Jyothirlinga. There will be huge queue if you choose not to take the VIP entry. But standing in the queue for 2hrs to visit the temple has a charm of its own. With this we ended the temple visit for the day.

 

Apart from temples, Nashik has the famous Sula Vineyard. Since it was a Saturday, the place was overcrowded and we waited 1.5hrs for the Wine tour and tasting. The food here is expensive but you can taste the finest wines. It was more or less like my visit to the heritage vineyard in Channapatna but Sula was bigger and a lot better. 




That was end of day 3 of our trip and we started back to Pune. In these 3 days we had covered around 1100 kms by road. We were supposed to cover Mahabaleshwar on day 4 and reach back to Pune by 6pm for our return bus to Bangalore. For this to happen we were supposed to leave for Mahabaleshwar by 7am in the morning, but we reached back only at 3am and by the time we woke up it was around 9am. So for the final day in Pune we visit the Sinhgad fort which is a large fort on the top of a hill. This place was fully covered with fog with very poor visibility. You get some to eat some amazing sweet corn and you must try the Bhakri (roti) for lunch. The curd is served in small clay pots and are really tasty.






So with that we ended the 4day trip of Maharashtra. And yes, we were not able to visit Mumbai. Considering that it was short trip we covered all that we could and felt that Mumbai deserved more time then we had with us. So ending this post with an action item to visit Mumbai - The city of dreams sometime in early 2015 :)

Credits:
1) My friend Pranam who planned the whole trip and arranged stay/transport.
2) Santhosh and Chaitanya who traveled with me from Bangalore and made this trip a memorable one.


Check my other travel posts too - http://www.gshny.in/search/label/travel
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