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A Travel Blog from India: December 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

Blessings of Shirdi Saibaba - Day 2 - Great Central India road trip

Total Distance - 600 KMs
Departure time -6.30 AM
Arrival time - 9.30 PM
Road condition - Mixed
Breaks -Two hours in Shirdi. Half hour in Maheshwar.
Max speed - 130 KMPH (I never crossed this limit throughout the trip)
Best stretches - Yeola - Malegaon, Malegaon - Dhule, Sendhwa - Gujri

After good sleep, we get up early and want to get out of Pune before the traffic picks up on the road. We are able to leave the hotel by 6.30 AM. The hotel guys had arranged to clean the car at night. But the heavy overnight mist had drenched the car and I have to wipe the wind screen again.

HVK had recommended us to take the university road and then straight on to Nagar road and then to Shirdi. Being Sunday, there isn’t much traffic in the morning. Even morning joggers seems very few and reluctant to get up from their beds. Pune looks nice early in the morning with tree lined roads. We easily get onto Ahmed Nagar road – some parts of which is still getting done up.

Leaving early, we hope to reach Shirdi in three hours. Traffic increase dramatically on the highway – trucks to Industries in Pune –Nagar belt who latch on to the right side of the road , pilgrims going to Shirdi on weekend and two wheelers – all delaying the drive.

Maneuvering the traffic and crossing Nagar takes time. We heave a sigh of relief as we leave behind Nagar. But our joy is short-lived as we reach Rahuri beyond which the road is bad with many potholes – some of them quite deep – which reduce our speed drastically. We reach Shirdi at 10.30 AM and went to our regular parking slot in front of Gate No 4.

I had stuck “ARMY” sticker on the car after lot of deliberation and after hearing the views of some "drive" loving friends. I have never done this on any cars so far. After reading HVK’s story of getting detained by cops during his trip to Gwalior a year back, I felt this may be useful. The first instance of its utility was in Shirdi.

I park the car and the attendant comes close.

“Saab, aap fauji hai”


“saab, apke liye, special entrance hai, usme jayiye, zaldi darshan hojayega”

“Sach?” I couldn't believe my ears as we were expecting to spend at least two hours in the queue being Sunday and I had never used this privilege in the last three visits.

“Haan, saab. Aap ka ID dikhayiye aur special entrance me jayiye”

" "

For the first time I am using my Fauji privilege in my life. Fortunately, I am carrying my ID.

We take Puja materials and join the special darshan queue meant for NRIs – I don’t know why NRIs should get this benefit -, Faujis, Senior citizens etc. I show my ID and buy the special darshan ticket by paying Rs 100 each.

We are ushered in from the special darshan gate and are also fortunate to enter the temple before 11.30 as the darshan gets closed during Aarthi around 12 Noon. We had good darshan of Baba and Brinda is thrilled. We come out of the temple around 11.30.

Since we had not had any breakfast and had survived on Varrier biscuits and tea, “our stomachs were on E”. We decide to have early lunch in Shirdi and then proceed.

“Why not have Italian lunch”, my wife asks

“What? Italian in Shirdi??”

“Yeah, you remember there is Little Italy in Sun-N-Sand hotel we stayed last time?”

You have to grant to our wives to remember these kind of stuff!!

“OK” I agree (Can I say NO??)

We go to the hotel – a familiar place having stayed twice there – and get the chef to cook for us as we are the first customers. Food is excellent and now we start our long journey to Dhar.

We leave Shirdi around 12.30 PM and proceed towards Manmad. We check the road condition to Manmad in the hotel and the guys say it is good (I have not understood what they mean by “Good”). I take it with a pinch of salt and my fears come true as we leave Shirdi behind. Till Yeola toll gate, the road is bad after which it turns out to be good.

The monsoon has transformed these places lovely. We drive with green hills flanked on either sides at a distance. There is a rail track running parallel and we notice a goods train passing by. The bogies are painted in blue – thanks to railways to get rid of dull rusty colors – it presents a lovely scene with the hill in background. We stop and click.

The train and the hill

The hills of are different hues and shapes. Suddenly we see this unusual hill at a distance. It is stunning and looks like a huge Buddhist stupa. I am not sure what is this named. Even the locals were not of much help.

Is this a Hill or an ancient Stupa?

It turns out to be a pleasant drive as we reach Manmad and then to Malegaon. At Malegaon, we join NH 3 at the bye pass.

We are happy to see nice 4L NH 3 as we leave behind Malegaon. Again our joy is short-lived. The road is good till Dhule after which  we start maneuvering numerous diversions till Sendhwa. It kills speed.

As we near Palasner, we see a pile up of vehicles. The road is single lane, other one being kutcha road under widening. A long line of trucks - must be more than a KMs - in front of me. I tell my wife that it will take at least an hour to get out of this mess as they are not moving at all. I wait for some time. I remember P Kumar’s - another friend - adventure of going behind an ambulance to beat the jam in Ichapuram during his GQ drive. The advice is to follow the local vehicle to get out of the mess.

I notice an innova with local registration taking the Kutcha road. I tell Brinda that this is our chance and let us follow the guy. She consents and I am after him. He drives quite fast on the road and thanks to Scorpio, I keep pace with him. We come and join the line at the place where the bottle neck is. He pushes the car into the lane and I follow suit. I have to grant it to truck drivers that they do oblige the carwallahs in all this. We join the line and go at snail pace for another ten minutes and cross Palasner.

Now we are on Toll road and breeze to Dhamnod. It is evening and I tell Brinda that Maheshwar is close by.

“Why don’t we see Narmada Aarthi and then go to Dhar” she asks

“It will take at least an hour and half and I am game”

“Let us do it”

We take a detour and go to Maheshwar. We ask local for directions and confirm timing. They confirm that the aarti happens around 6.30 PM. Fortunately, the road from Dhamnod to Maheshwar is excellent and I drive fast to make it in time. The road goes through the town. the navratri fervour is alreday high and we notice stalls selling Durga idols - like stalls selling Ganesha idols in Bangalore. This was a big surprise to me as i always thought that Durga pujs is popular only in Bengal.

Durga idols on sale

We cross the small barrage on Narmada as the setting sun sprinkle brilliant colours in the sky.

Sunset over Narmada
From the main Chouraha, the road to ghat is very narrow and I am generally scared to take the beast into these small roads. With prayers on my lips, i get in. We reach the ghat at 6.30 PM and park my vehicle. Brinda has already seen boards’ advertising “Maheshwari sarees”. She is thrilled. I hold her back saying that we will come next day for shopping.

There seems to be no signs of any aarti at ghat. Weekend picnickers from nearby villages are still hanging around. I go to the temple and ask the Pujari about the Aarti. He says the Aarti will be at 8 PM. He also confirms that the Narmada Aarti is not the same like Ganga Aarti in Banaras. What a disappointment.

We depart and hit the highway. After driving for ten KMs, we see the signage for DHAR and we enter. It is now misery all the way to Dhar. The distance is small. The road is bad with potholes and is broken throughout except for small good patches in between. It is night and it is a ghat road with huge truck traffic. We thank that we are in a Scorpio and not in a car with low GC.

There is no other option unless we go all the way to Mhow and take the road from there. We take two and half hours to cover a distance of 50 KMs from Gujri to Dhar.

We reach Jhira Bagh Palace at 9.30 PM.

Next post - Jhira Bagh Palace Hotel  

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Great Central India Road Trip - Day 1

Total Distance - 900 KMs
Departure time -5.30 AM
Arrival time - 7 PM
Road condition - Excellent
Breaks -Forty Minutes in Davanagere and twenty minutes in Kolhapur
Max speed - 130 KMPH (I never crossed this limit throughout the trip)
Best stretches - Tumkur - Chitradurga, Davanagere - Hubli, Dharwad - Kolhapur

Brinda returns from office only at 11 PM on the previous day after handing over the charge. She generally returns home by this time and plans for coming early did not work. We had completed packing all the stuff two days earlier. The idea of sleeping early and getting up early did not happen and we could get sleep for four hours as we got up at 4 to get ready to leave at 5.30 AM.

It is still dark as the Scorpio move towards NICE road. Staying close to NICE road is advantageous and within five mins we are at Bannerughatta road entry of NICE road. We had seen long queue in front of the toll gate early in the morning on earlier occasions and am expecting a repeat. I am surprised to see no crowd and could pass through it quickly.

The NICE road look lovely and the previous day’s rain has brought freshness. It is slightly misty and the sun is trying to come out in the horizon. I am expecting a beautiful sunrise but the clouds play spoilsport. The second toll gate on NH 4 - where NICE joins NH - also spring a surprise with easy pass-through. From now on, it was a blissful ride till we reach our pre-determined breakfast stop @ Sri Kottureshwara Benne Dose Hotel in Davanagere for "Davanagere Benne Dose".

I find this place is very convenient. You don't have to enter city proper at all. As you enter Davanagere Bye pass, drive slow, look for a board which says “User fee road ends" at a distance. You should now become alert to find a White board on the other side of the road and a median. (Easier to make out while coming from Mumbai side as this board has names of "Vidyanagar and Davanagere" written on it). Take right turn and drive straight for two KMs and you will reach the entrance of BDT Dental college opposite of which is the hotel.

The Benne Dose - butter dosa - is out of the world. Cooked on wood-fire - yes it is - you should see to believe the quantity of butter which is thrown on the dosa to make it crisp and tasty. We snapped up two plates of dosa each - which would sustain us till the evening.

From Davanagere to Kolhapur is a great drive as usual. Monsoon has turned the place green. The stretch between Dharwad and Hubli look lovely and so was the green expanse as you enter Belgaum. Hidkal dam on Malaprabha river near Belgaum was full and the back waters look beautiful as we leave Belgaum.

We reach Kolhapur and want to go to the famous Missal Pav stall near Shivaji University - recommended in "Highway on Plate". But the fact that we have to enter the city deterr us having had a bad experience of driving in Kolhapur ten months back. The Missal Pav here is supposed to be the best. Anyway, we will try next time. We stopp over for a bio cum coffee break at CCD in Kolhapur strategically located on the highway.

As we leave Kolhapur, we start feeling traffic hassles of driving in Maharashtra. Two wheelers increase dramatically and truckers don’t leave right side of the road. I  manoeuvre through the traffic as we moved towards Satara. The traffic increase after Satara and we slow down considerably. We reach Katraj tunnel around 6 PM.

Our hotel is in Hinjewadi on the highway as we wanted to avoid the city. We take an hour and half to reach our hotel. Heavy peak hour traffic and reckless driving make driving miserable. Hotel Sadanand Residency is decent no frill kind of hotel. We freshen up, order for some snacks, open the chilled beer bottles we had carried. It is a welcome session after a long drive. We are to do similar distance the next day.

So sleeping early and getting up early is the mission. But, "Just Dance" show hosted by Hrithik Roshan on Star Plus - it was Semi Finals - ensure that we don't hit the bed before 10.30 PM only to get up at 5 the next day!

Next post - Day 2 - 25 Sep 2011 - Blessings and Bad roads!! (Pune - Shirdi - Manmad - Dhule -Maheshwar - Dhar)

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Great Central India Road trip - Getting the vehicle ready

Readying the VehicleNow that the route plan was finalised and the hotels booked, the next act is to ready the vehicle for the trip.

To tell you frankly, i have never done such an elaborate preparation of the vehicle for my road trips like i did this time. Even when we went to Chhattisgarh in March this year, i took the car after service and drove off.

I get a check list for longdrive from a friend and start working as per the list.

The first in the list were wheels. I take the car to Madhu's and get a top up of Nitrogen, rotation, balancing and wheel alignment done.

Wheels done, I take the car to my reliable workshop of SKS Automobiles on Hosur road fifteen days before the D-day. These guys are damn good and the team is extremely friendly and do a good job.

I tell them that i am going for long road trip and want a thorough servicing of the vehicle. Eyebrows rise when they hear that we are driving all the way to Banaras. I tell them that i don't mind leaving the car for another day if they need to do a good job. They are happy with my suggestion and i take the car after a good service including changing of oil.

I start building up the other accessories as per the check list. I do not want to leave anything to chance. At some point of time i start wondering at the details i am looking at and whether i am overdoing things. I put all the accessories in a small travel bag. This time i also purchase a compressor.

I take the car two days before the D-day to Madhu's to get the top up of Nitrogen. Pressure tested and diesel topped up, the Scorpio is raring to go.

Scorpio ready to leave on the long journey - parked in front of our house


This trip being a long one, we decide that we take two suitcases - one for each and an additional huge travel bag to carry stuff which we invariably buy on the trip.

Then there is the camera bag - DSLRs are huge -, laptop bag and an extra haversack as well. The last one is the Ice box with beverages.

We buy a crate of water bottles and keep it in the car so that we don't have to go in search of water bottles on the road. In the hind sight, this was a good idea as the places we were driving through were still hot and we did not have to go in search of water whenever we wanted one.


a) Map - I always carry "Map my India" India road atlas on my road trips. This time I found it inadequate, especially while driving in cities. It will be better to use state road maps published by Eicher.

b) Books

Lonely Planet - India (2009 edition)

Highway on my plate - wanted to explore the local cuisine

Architecture of Indian subcontinent by Takeo Kamiya (An amazing book)

Print outs of articles on Bhopal, Banaras, Indore, Lucknow and Calcutta published in Outlook Traveller

c) Medicines - Since we travel quite a bit, we have a set medical kit.

d) Additional pair of footwear

e) This time i also carried my Army ID card - i generally don't take - and it was extremely useful.

f) Printouts of Hotel confirmation

We also carry additional memory cards to make sure we don’t run out of memory to store the pictures. Two cameras Nikon D3100 with Nikkor Zoom lens and Sony cyber shot. The Point – and - shoot camera is useful to take pictures in markets etc while the Nikon was useful for special pictures.

We leave a copy of the itinerary with my parents and couple of friends. I also add good friend H V Kumar (HVK), the guru of Indian Highways on to Google latitude so that he knows where I am.

My mom prepares Rave Unde (Sooji Laddu) and Chakkuli for munching on the way. We also pick up the famous sweet-salt biscuits of Varrier bakery in Rajajinagar – Bangalore’s own Kayani Bakery – enough for us to last for fifteen days. The idea was to follow in the footsteps of HVK of munching biscuits/banana instead of spending time in lunch so that we could reach destination faster.

All set and ready to go. Wake up alarm set at 4.30 AM. The d-day has arrived.

Next post - Day 1.......A smooth ride to Pune and benne Dose (Butter Dosa) in Davanagere!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Great Central India Roadtrip - Route Planning

Planning I think it was in mid June when Brinda called me from her office on a afternoon.

"I have to take "Mandy" of 10 days this year"



What do you mean by "Mandy"????

"Mandatory leave, Let us plan to go to Varanasi this time in September last week. No excuses "

"OK, let me start working on it".

I love such instructions. Normally i do all the initial planning and will be finally approved by her. Isn't it same with everyone!!

It is now my turn to talk to my boss in the USA and get the green signal.

Our road trip to Chattisgarh and Kanha in March this year had given us confidence of doing long road drives. Hence the mode of travel was a foregone conclusion. Even my parents are used to our wanderlust and consented as well!!

Route Plan

I love planning these trips as it gives me a chance to play around with places. Since we had lot of time on hand, it gave me flexibility to include many places. This is how we started

Version 1

Bangalore - Hyderabad - Pench - Jabalpur - Bandhavgarh - Khajuraho - Lucknow (via Ayodhya) - Varanasi (Via Bodh Gaya) - Calcutta - Puri - Vijayawada - Bangalore

I give a call to Dr Abheek Ghosh my friend in Nagpur to check on Pench. A fantastic guy, he is passionate with wild life conservation and colloborates with Forest authorities in Pench and Tadoba on different projects and knows every nook and corner of these parks. He confirms that the park will not open before 15 Oct. He also says that all national Parks in MP will open only after 15 Oct. What a damper to start with. I am back to planning board now that we are not doing national parks. I need to look for places to fill in those days.


a) Pachmarhi

b) Bhopal

Version 2

I rework the route and decide that we can go to Pachmarhi from Hyderabad and then to Bhopal and beyond. The new route looked like this

Bangalore - Hyderabad - Pachmarhi - Bhopal - Khajuraho - Lucknow - Varanasi - Calcutta - Puri - Vijayawada - Bangalore

We start looking for accommodation in all these places and call them up for reservations. Some of the hotels are on "must stay" list of ours and we knew that we have to book at least two months in advance not to get disappointed. This was true of Hotel Ganges View, a fantastic hotel in Banaras (more about it later).

Now, another problem erupts - TELENGANA AGITATION.

The agitation was peaking and with no signs of any resolution, we were is a dilemma whether we should go via Hyderabad. In fact, the complete stretch of road after you leave Anantapur till Maharashtra border on NH 7 goes through Telengana.

Is it worth taking a risk and get stuck in the beginning of the trip which will ruin the whole plan?

I was not prepared to take the risk. Speaking to some of my friends in Police/Army in Hyderabad confirmed my doubts.

Dump Hyderabad. What next??

I go back and rework the route. We all experience EUREKA moments. This was the one for me. I tell my wife that we go via Pune. It will also give us a chance to visit Shirdi on the way. My wife is overjoyed as she is a staunch devotee of Sai Baba.

I rework the route. Pachmarhi is dropped and Mandu is added instead. I tell my wife we can go to Maheshwar as well.

"Isn't it the same place which is known for Maheshwari sarees"
"Yes" comes my reply.
"I will shop for sarees there"
"Yeah, you should" (can anyone say No to his wife!!)

The plan is now firmed up and the Version 3 (Final version) of the plan looked like this

Bangalore - Pune - Dhar - Indore - Bhopal - Khajuraho - Lucknow - Varanasi - Calcutta - Puri - Vijayawada - Bangalore

You must be wondering as to how did Udaipur and Orchha figure in this whole plan? I will come to that as we progress on our journey .

We finalised the itinerary which looked like this. The journey to start on 24 Sep and end on 08 Oct. The last leg of journey being on 08 Oct from Vijayawada to Bangalore.

The Journey continues.......Next post - Readying the vehicle etc....