Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

The good thing about living in Bombay is that there are places you can escape to for the weekends. It was one of the things we most looked forward to when we moved here from Hyderabad. Before the summer heat kicked in, we wanted to make a trip to Matheran...India's only town that doesn't allow motorized vehicles (apart from a mini train that plies passengers from the city to the town market).

We had left Rummy at his kennel the previous day. It takes us 2-3 hours to get there but that is the only decent place we have found so far to keep him. The boarding facilities near our home are small apartments that keep several dogs at once and they have to be tied up the whole day. For this first time we felt Rummy had grown attached to us. He kept turning back to look at us. We felt horrible.

Our original plan was to drive up to Neral station and then take the morning train. However, mid way we realized that we would not be able to make it in time because we had not taken into account the deteriorating state of the 'roads' in various stages of disrepair since the monsoons. We drove all the way. The route has no facility to 'relieve' yourself (ladies beware) which is expected when travelling in India, but it also doesn't offer a secluded bush since you travel through several hamlets bordering the main city. (We had to make use of the hospitality of a relative on the way.)

We reached Dasturi point around 10:30 in the day and it was crowded. Extremely crowded. We were worried that this trip might not be the escape we had planned. We parked our car and paid the entrance fee of Rs 25 each. We decided to walk instead of take the horse or carriage option. We were accosted by the horsemen for most part of our walk, but we realized that even they had to make a living.

The hotel we opted for was the furthest from the entry point. The Verandah in the Forest is about 5 kms (we were told). It seemed daunting for us who would not even walk for 30 to 40 minutes everyday if it wasn't for a dog! But we were resolute. We had packed light with only a small backpack each (Husband chivalrously carried mine for most of the way). It wan't too hot, and the path was mostly shaded by trees. It would've been a prettier sight during or just after the rains. The air was fresh and we tried to walk as fast as possible through the market crowd to get to quieter place.

Monkeys were all around trying to see if they could nab something from someone. Husband bent down to photograph one and had a bag (MY bag) nearly snatched. As we went deeper, the crowds dissipated. It was quieter and lovelier. We reached the hotel in just over an hour...not too bad.

It was an oasis in the crowd we had just left behind. It is a 19th Century colonial bungalow lovingly restored. Its Parsi heritage is visible in the old photographs and artifacts around the property. The rooms take you back  a century. They are clean and spacious. Even though all modern amenities (excluding television and telephones) are provided, they have kept to the original essence of the building as far as possible. The Reading Room has light that filters in through stained glass, the verandah offers a great view, and the dining room serves scrumptious meals - the perfect place to go and do absolutely nothing!
We went to the Charlotte Lake nearby in the evening for a glorious sunset, and then to Echo point which had several tourists who felt that screaming out the names of their beloved would be very endearing. One of my pet peeves - people coming to nature spots for peace and quiet then disrupting the peace and quiet. There were many of them here (and a large boisterous group at the hotel).
 


Husband is an early riser and so armed with a camera, he went exploring. His photos always make me want to get up early and go along with him, but my body just doesn't seem to cooperate. We were to leave in the afternoon. We checked out before noon and decided to find a place to eat in the marketplace. Being a Sunday, it was as crowded as a popular mall on weekends.


We went into a restaurant right next to the park and ordered a simple dosa. After just one bite I saw for the first time Husband wasting food - it was THAT bad. We saw a vada pav vendor, aptly named Famous, but he runs out of supply barely an hour after he opens for business. We missed it, but were told that his food is something to write home about. We went in to another restaurant that looked unpretentious and finally had some good food. The staple Vada Pav did not disappoint and neither did the dosa. Finally fed, we shopped for the famous chikkis, natural honey and Kolhapuris and made our way back to the bustling city.

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