Saturday, November 01, 2008

Post 437 : Dives, Drives & Drivel...Jumma to Jumma

Travelogue : 24th Oct 2008 (Friday) to 31st Oct 2008 (Friday again!!)
Cast : Wifey, me, Sujish, Bindu, Chakku (Priyanka) and Rohan & (Kishor Rao and a few god-send angels in absentia...I mean they did not accompany us, but helped us like only God would)
Cars : 2, a City (which Sujish drove) and my Santro Xing (Santo Singh)
My Odometer for the trip : 1508 kms door to door, 79 litres of petrol.....(My car gives awesome mileage esp. on long drives even with AC on all the time)
Route :
Powai --> Pune --> Kolhapur --> (Now getting off NH4) --> Panhala -->(now on state highway) --> Sawantwadi (not via Amboli) via normal Kolhapur-Sawantwadi SH --> Panaji --> Varca (South Goa) --> Club Mahindra --> Sawantwadi --> Amboli --> Gadhinganj (now back on NH4) Sankeshwar --> Satara --> Pune --> Powai

Key Distances:
Powai --> Panhala 420kms
Panhala -->Sawantwadi 220
Sawantwadi --> Varca 100
Varca --> Sankeshwar 220
Sankeshwar --> Pune 279
Pune -->Powai 150

Stays :
Panhala MTDC Hill Resort - 24th Night
Club Mahindra - 25th to 30th
(Unplanned) Hotel Senator, Kothrud, Pune 30th

Hotel Ratings :
Panhala MTDC Hill Resort - If you like flora, fauna and insects (and I mean everywhere including your loos) - yes, we had all kinds of insects in our loo, rooms and all kinds of foliage entering via our window. Strictly only for people who are okay with anything goes. Room tariff for non-ac rooms Rs.650 (and the insects are on the house!!)

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Club Mahindra - Great Resort (and the keyword is "resort"), it is structured like a resort, unlike a hotel. Huge property, very classy rooms, very courteous staff, private beach, decent food and lots of gujju guests throw in (am I racial? Well, what the heck, I am half-gujju myself, and yet the community never manages to unfailingly let me down!!) Recommended - Yes, definitely. My sister (Bindu) helped us onto this, she foot most of the bill. Yet if you went yourself, expect to pay 5-7k even during peak per night for one of the finest hotel rooms I have seen in India.

Hotel Senator - Unplanned. Used as a emergency pad at Pune. Decent, clean rooms, absence of any staff at all. Charged us 4400 for the 1 night we stayed. I thought they fleeced us. Recommended, only if you like living in a ghost town hotel ( a la "The Shining" minus Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson)

Day to day drivel:

23rd
There was a lot of debate on whether we should take 2 cars or 1 car for the trip. Rohan was down with viral, which added to the decision matrix. My logic for 2 cars was nothing but BCP(business continuity planning) and the convenience of stretching legs. I have always driven a small car and leg stretching (business class!!) has always been a luxury. The BCP idea would come back to haunt me on the last day (30th) of the trip.

24th
- In the end, the amount of luggage, and the fact that Rohan was still ill, made sure that the 2-car argument won.
- We left home at 8, were at Chembur by 830 in the morning. We left Chembur only at 10 and eventually started the journey at 1030, due to a fuel-fill halt. (I am no fan of early morning driving, so this worked well for me).
- We decided not to halt till Poona, original halt was supposed to Sadanand at Pune on NH4, but we missed it and eventually halted at Shri Vilas. A very decent place to eat. We had Maharashtrian Thali. A genial uncle (am assuming was the owner) kept talking to us in quaint English and ensured we were comfortable and liked the food.

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- Chakku kept playing in the rustic setting of this place.
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- We took another halt for tea and pav, and lovely bhajias at a road-side eatery. Then it was straight all the way to Panhala.

- We reached this place at 7pm.

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- I saw more stars in the sky that night than I have ever seen. The sky is as clean as a soap. I clicked the moon that night.

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- Food was thalis for all of us. Veg stuff cost us 50 and non-veg 100. Nothing really to crow home about in terms of the content. I thought Vilas was better.

25th
- I woke at 545. Had just finished using the rest room when the lights went off, and you just cannot use these rest rooms without the light. For one, you cant see, and second you might be gobbled up by a snake!!
- It was just starting to light up, decided to go out and walk. Reached the hotel office, and it was locked. Brilliant!! In the days of 24 hour service, at this place if you need anything between 9pm to 7am - things can wait
- Meanwhile others wake up as well. We all start walking in the garden, when we discover we are surrounded by a bunch of langurs (monkeys)
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- Sujish, wifey and gang start feeding fruits to the monkeys.
- The staff ambles in at 7am. He is over-slept, not brushed his teeth, let alone taking a bath. I ask him about the "electricity" and he cooly tells me won't come back before 2pm (!!), and I am muttering under my breath "duffer, had you told this to us yesterday we would have gotten up early and taken a bath.". I ask him about geyser and hot water, and he looks lost, says he can try and arrange if needed.
- About the monkeys - he looks at them and says, "oh yeah, these are the brown faced ones. Had these been the red faced langurs, they seem prone to slapping humans". We thought we had not heard right, but he repeated, he said, "tey kana khalti marnar" (they will slap you on your cheeks).
- Breakfast was tea and poha, of which I had only tea - an ultrasweet chai.

- We started from here at around 9am. (all MTDC resorts have a 9am checkout, my suggestion - dont live at one unless you don't have a choice (like we did not, all other resorts were booked out).

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- One last point, we met these 2 aunties at the resort. One was a Parsi, the other was a Anglo-Indian. They had so many stories to narrate and talk. They knew the Bambai language of talking, they had lived a lot at South Mumbai, they now had a house at Calangute beach, they had dogs and hence could not carry them around, they had lived together for 22 years - in short, sweet knowledgeable and talkative aunties.

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- We drove 220 odd kms and reached Kamats at Sawantwadi, a lovely place to eat, overseeing a huge pond. We ate thali, dosas and wadas and gulped down cups of tea.

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- From Sawantwadi to Club Mahindra is exactly 100kms. We reached the resort by 7pm.
- We went out of the resort to eat that night, we ate at hotel right outside the resort. Did not look like the place knew how to make anything vegetarian. We had pomfret fry, fish curry and rice. Decent average fare.

26th

- We got up late.
- I went for a long 12 km walk along the south goa beachline. Enjoyed it quite a bit.
- I had forgotten my socks, and my entire soles got blisters, because sand entered my shoes and starting abrading my feet.
- I returned and we decided to go down to a place called Joecons (outside Taj Exotica) highly recommended by Kishor (Rao).
- We ordered crab ( a live one was shown to us, it was huge). The grotesque part was, we knew this was the crab which would be dead in a few minutes and make way into our tummies.
- Bindu and I decided to have wine. (Wine seems to be my new found calling!!).
- I ordered Madera (www.sulawines.com)10234374
- 2 whole bottles
- Bindu quaffed down about 500ml, I managed to empty about 1.2 litres - 100ml was still left in one of the bottles.
- This is one wine I really loved, goes to the top of my pile of favourite wines.
- I was light headed, did not speak much, else wonder what would have spilt out !! Slept for 4 hours after I came back.
- The crab was cooked goan style, with a sweet chilli sauce.
- Joecons, highly recommended for the food, wine and the experience

27th
- Spent the morning blogging for sometime.
- Around afternoon, we left to take off to a place called "FunZone" within Club Mahindra. Binud and I played chess on a gigantic board, a huge square table converted to a chess board.
- I played chess after a long time, and felt nostalgic about it. Used to play a lot since I was 5 years old. My mom taught this game to me (Thank you mom!!)
- In the evening, Kajal and I drove out to Margao to find socks for ourselves. We ended up with socks, 250 gms of salted cashews, a full tank of petrol, air for the care-tyres (the lazy chors at Goa charge Rs.10 for 4 tyres - unbelievable!! - and take 10 minutes to fill air per car) and about 35kms of drive under the belt.

28th
- I spent the morning in the bed.
- After lunch we spend time in the pool. I dont know swimming yet, Sujish tried to teach me some swimming, with which I was moderately successful.
- In the evening, Kajal and I visited two shops nearby - one called Manthan, and the other called Home Muesem, both run by Kashmiris
- Manthan had good stuff, but very expensive
- Home Muesem, had more exquisite stuff - especially carvings and sculpture, which I am really fond of.
- We bought a wooden chess board, a sleeping Buddha (Which we had been searching for long) and a Tibetian singing bowl.

29th
- Early morning, I was shaken and stirred by wifey, we supposedly had to rush to the beach. I pulled myself out of the bed and reached the beach, to find Sujish, Bindu and the kids waiting on us with a boat-ride. We were going into the high sea to spot Dolphins.

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- It was a 40 minute ride in a small powered boat. I enjoyed the deep sea ride though we did not spot any Dolphins
- In the late morning Kajal and I drove onto a Cashew buying trip. We initially planned to drive to Margao, but we enjoyed each others company so much!!, we decided to drive to Panjim, we bought cajews from Gomantak Cashews, opposite Kajuwallah. This is 100m behind the HP petrol pump, near the river-lake. The guy out there seems honest and explained the stuff to us well. Its here that we had picked up cashews last time also. (Recommended, pick up the cashew ladoos - cashew pieces in glucose paste - a la chikki, they are mouth watering and yum)
- There was some obscure book sale, where we sauntered around to find a rare book on Tabla bols and on Raga Asavari (do you now believe in destiny??)
- In the evening we went Go-karting. This is 38om circuit at Nuvem.
- I raced first with Sujish, Rohan and myself. They had an option of a 2-seater, where the other person just sits, and I get to drive. I took Kajal along and we had a blast.
- Rs.150 for a 10 lap ride. Not too cheap, not too expensive either.

30th
- I had convinced everyone that we could drive straight through to Mumbai and hence reach a day earlier.
- We started from Club Mahindra (Varca) at 9am
- First stop was Sawantwadi, Kamats Hotel (again!!). We had brunch there and then proceeded to Sankeshwar.
- The road from Varca to Sankeshwar, has a few bad stretches, lots of ghats, but overall a decent drive.
- Watch out for the waterfalls at Amboli Ghat

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- Sankeshwar to Bombay was 400+ kms.
- Started from Sankeshwar at around 3.00pm
- I pelted at around 100km, because the roads were great. We halted at Kaveri for tea. By630, we were 200km from Bombay and 85 from Pune. We had just gotten off a hotel, post a nature break. Not even a km on our journey, my car felt as if it were driving on craters. I stopped on the kerb, and got off to check.
- The left rear was a complete mess. In fact very little was left of it.
- I knew how to change tyres, but never had done it in recent past.
- It did not help that the light conditions were deteriorating.
- I followed standard procedure - loosen all four nuts, then raise the jack, and start removing the nuts.
- 3 of them came off, but the 4th refused to move. By now it was 7pm.
- Very dark in the middle of nowhere. We waved to a local rickshaw-wallah for help. He got down with his passengers, and tried helping.
- His conclusion - the nut is stuck. They tried to put another nut back in, in the hope that with that as a leverage the stuck nut might come out unstuck. Did not help.
- Problems compounded - now both nuts were stuck.
- We decided to break the 2 stuck nuts - using the tyre spanner we manage to do that.
- Problems continue - The wheel now comes off, but the drum is not moving (rotating). Conclusion by others - we are deadbeat. We need to leave the blinkers on, leave the car in the middle of nowhere and return tomorrow for the car. (Remember, we are on a highway 85 kms from Pune - the nearest city).
- By now, my brain is now working too much. I am feeling despondent - but my hope is alive. So I request the gang, saying lets put on the wheel, if the drum does not move, then we shall abandon the vehicle. No one seems to buy that as an option.
- Eventually we decided to give up
- Hope rises - One of the passengers of the rickshaw, finally says, look this is a power steering car - maybe thats why the drum does not move
- Suddenly everyone thinks thats a possibility, we quickly put the wheel on, remove the jack. I get into the car, and start the engine. Thats when they see me push the hand brake down - and they tell me "hand brake on hote ka?" - yes, obviously, I had parked on a highway. "manun-ch drum nahin chalath hote" (thats why the drum was not working)
- I put the car into gear and lo it works.
- We were told, dont drive beyond 40kmph, we might have the wheel coming off again. We start onward again, with that word of advice.
- I offer money to our helpers, they refuse - I was so touched - they had wasted 1 hour of their time, along with passengers - not a single person complained - and in the end they did not do it for money or any gain - (If god would send his angels -- I think he already did !!)
- We now drove slow and steady towards Pune - 85kms away - nursing the car at 30-40km. I called up my friend/colleague, Kishor (Rao) who lives there. He was re-assuring, saying the will figure out a place for me to stay.
- Every ten minutes for the next 2 hours while I drove to Pune, he kept calling to check my status. Very touching and very helpful.
- We stopped at Joshi Wadewaley - for dinner and nature break at around 10pm
- By the time we reached Pune - 11.45pm, Kishor had booked us into Hotel Senator at Kothrud

31st
- Decided to fix the car before I left Pune
- Kishor (Rao) again helped. He helped us via Nitin Gokhale and Dinkar Shetty to a Hyundai Service center - Maa Automobiles opposite Kirloskar Bungla in Model Town. The shop floor manager - a guy named Rich (or something like that) was a complete a***hole, made me wait 3 hours for something worth just 10 minutes of work. Finally I fought with him and got it done via another shop-floor mechanic (a nice genial tamilian).
- Got out of this place at 1pm with brand new nuts on my left rear.
- Put in air into the car tyres - was aghast - all tyres were between 24-26 psi - no wonder I had a flat yesterday
- At a puncture stop ahead, picked up a second hand tyre and tube (Rs. 400)
- Got back to the hotel, immediately checked out, got onto NH4, had lunch at Joshi Wadewaley.
- Drove straight through from there to home.
- Instead of the Mumbai entry, took the Thane entry - ended up at Bhiwandi bypass - its like a crater field for around 7kms. You cant drive beyond 15kms in this stretch.

Key takeaways:
1. Goa (except for the hospitality industry) is full of rude drivers (all cars have an ugly body language) and people. I disliked the place - maybe its good to be there only for a holiday - I cant say there beyond a week.
2. In pune "saral" means nothing. Look out for hand gestures when a person says "saral" when you ask for directions. Invariably, they will indicate a right turn and say "saral".
3. In pune, no one (and I mean no one) knows one thing beyond their own back and front yard. To go from Paud Road to Tilak Road, I had to ask 25 people and 50% of that help was utterly wrong (not just useless).
4. Interior Maharashtra has decent, helpful angels - just pray they find you when you need them.
5. If you drive for a holiday (like I always seem to) , never plan to drive beyond 630 in the evening, and never drive beyond 80kmph, unless you are in a raving hurry to pee.
6. Check tyre pressure once every 250kmph. It will be worth avoiding the blowout (on the drive after the incident, we saw so many other cars with similar blowouts - we had learnt our lesson)
7. Those who help you in need - the nameless angels & Kishor (Rao) - keep them close to your heart. They deserve all the good karma they can get.

Next stop:
- Given that we drive so much, we decided it might be best we upgrade to a new car
- We might decide to adopt children in the near future (really!!...now why is that?)
- Mount Abu in Feb 2009 (hopeful to make that happen)

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