Winter Trip – Pune , Lonavala and Mahabaleshwar

This was perhaps the most exciting trip that my friends and I had been waiting for after a some-what hectic semester. Our boys had planned it very well. Train tickets, hotel reservations, concert tickets, local transport and other essentials were taken care of by others. I, the jobless jack of this group had too much of free time. So, I sat down and wrote this lengthy travelogue.

Day-1: Pune seems to be a city with one foot in 20th century and the other in 21st. Its buses are archaic. I doubt if Bangalore had such hopeless chunks of metal even in the 80’s. One half of the city seems to be comfortable with rustic the 90’s. On the other hand a part of Pune has Audis , Pajeros , BMWs and other high end cars. A river of drainage cuts through the city , drawing an awkward boundary between these two worlds. I wonder if the city people are concerned about it. We reached YMCA, Pune at 9.30 or something close to that. Our check in time was at 12.30. So, we had two hours to kill. Just like any other hopeless creatures of the internet age, I charged my mobile phone using a plug point in a garage outside YMCA. After recovering from the long train journey (for an hour or so ) from Bangalore, we decided to roam around Pune . Shaniwar Wada Statue of Shivaji in front of Shaniwar Wada Shaniwar Wada is a palace fort built in the city of Pune (in 1746).

Much of it was largely destroyed by an unexplained fire in 1828. However, some of its remnants are maintained as a tourist site. It served as a place for grand events and important meetings. The cost of building this fortress in those days was Rs. 16110. The monument is situated right in the center of the city. The foundation stone for this structure was laid on a Saturday by Peshwa Baji Rao I , prime minister to Chatrapati Sahu , King of the Maratha Empire .This explains the nomenclature of the structure. Apparently it serves as a de-facto cricket ground as well as park for the people of this part of the city. Some of the information boards were missing from their places. A sad decline .

Outside the monument we found a small outlet selling Vada Pavs, Sabu Dana Vadas and Poha. The food was tasty and the prices were very affordable (10-15 rupees for most of the items on the menu). This was my first encounter with authentic Maharashtrian food. Or was it?

Vishnuji Ki Rasoi : This place is perhaps one of the best restaurants I’ve eaten at. Framed photos of Indian leaders like Tagore, Vivekananda , Bal Thackerey , Shivaji and others were hung right in the centre of that place. Maharastrian people , unlike Kannadigas are proud of their local heroes (especially Shivaji). A wonderful playlist of retro songs were floating in the background. There was a placard saying ‘ All good things are not expensive . All expensive things are not good.’ The unlimited meal was quite a loot for 150 rupees. In that way, it summed up our experience in that place. I don’t remember most of the names of dishes that I ate. The Bhakri ( a kind of roti) was a smooth as a fur. The curry won my heart. Halwa, buttermilk and the chutney-pudis were other offerings on the palate that made the meal unforgettable. Usually, I don’t eat beyond my capacity. But here, I broke my own rule ! We wrote a glowing review on their feedback register before we left that place.

The plan to watch the sunset at Khandala failed, thanks to the hogathon in Vishnu Ji ki Rasoi. I was a bit disappointed. Instead, we decided to roam around in Lonavala (which is 5 km away from Khandala). A lot of ‘Con’ (Con is slang for convener==Sandeep) puns were made during the train journey. Our con was cringing. However, our battery of puns didn’t stop even after he slept. We were a bit Con-stipated by the end. Sample Con-Puns Where does the con go for a holiday? Con-go. How does a con transport water? Con-duit How did the con fix a loose pant? With a Con-veyor belt. Zzzz.. Lonavala is famous for its Chikkis. One out of six shops on the main road sells Chikkis. I didn’t buy anything as my budget was limited. However, the special tea with Elaichi made my day. We left Lonavala around 7-50 in a train . We returned to YMCA at nine and slept.

Day-2 : Mahabaleshwar Early in the morning we left for Mahabaleshwar in a government bus. It was a smooth journey as the roads were good. I completed ‘Animal Farm’ during the three hour journey. The scenery on the way to the hill station is rustic, with patches of greenery in the midst of water eroded slopes. Mahabaleshwar is a place where one sees a lot of chicks, couples, donkeys, strawberries, monkeys and desperate tourist guides. The menus of every hotel in this place can scare a budget traveller. We managed to survive on carrots and Vada Pav. I must confess that the carrots were really tasty. I ate a spicy chilly given along with the latter only to regret my decision after munching the green monster. Strawberries ! We hired a taxi and visited a place called Elephant’s head. People come here to click their next Facebook profile pics, all thanks to Nikon cameras and the lucky coincidence of a rock resembling an elephant’s head. Elephant’s Head There was another ‘point’ in the same area called echo point. A lot of monkeys were also playing around in that area.Apart from that, there was nothing interesting. From there, we drove to our next destination. The so called waterfall on the Venna River resembled the toilet flush in our YMCA room. We laughed at ourselves and simultaneously complained about the guide. We should have done a little bit of research before coming to this hill station. The strawberry milkshake (in which there were some pieces of real strawberries) made my visit memorable.

All of us made up for the sleep that we had lost in the morning during the journey back to Pune. It was a comfortable journey as the roads connecting the two places were good. We had to go to the venue from the bus stop directly. The ordinary people of the town seem to have very less or no knowledge about the places in their own city. Unlike Bangalore, nobody had any idea about the directions to some not-so-remote areas of the city. In spite of this, we were successful in getting around the city with the help of Google/Nokia maps. The lazy bum inside me was reluctant to walk, but I caught up with my friends somehow. Within a few minutes we were near the Ramanbaug Grounds for our first concert at the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Festival.

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