Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post 334 : Travelouge Mumbai - Chiplun - Goa - Panchgani - Mumbai (1454 kms and counting)

Duration 14th - 21st Oct 2007, total 1454 kms, driven on our beloved Santro Xing (we call him Santo Singh).

14th Oct Sunday
8.30am depart from Mumbai. Chiplun is first halt supposed to be at 227kms from Bhandup.
9.15am reach McDonald's at Panvel where we take right for Goa/Chiplun. Everyone has told us the road to Goa is "straight" except for this right. Believe me, that is far away from the truth, before you can hit the Chiplun/Goa road, quite a few twists and turns and at least 1-2 times you will have to stop and ask.
9.30am Finally hit Chiplun highway NH 17Take a break for tea at around 12pm. Driving through long twisted ghats (the best part of the drive), finally reach Chiplun Quality Inn Riverview Resort (used to be the TAJ).
2.15pm Check into the hotel. Lunch is ending in 20 minutes, request to keep the kitchen open. The staff agrees and thats the first sign that this relationship is going to rock.
Odometer reads : 244km from start
2.30pm Lunch @ the hotel resturant - Varan, Masala Bhat, Sol Kadi, Poha Papad and Raita. Must admit this must rank as one of the finest preparations that I have eaten in a restaurant. We were gushing over the food. Not too much oil, not too much masala, lovely fresh handmade food, great flavor.
5pm - drive to the river. The actual river is about 70kms downstream, so we drove to one place where we could see the river.
7pm - We come down to the restaurant for dinner. Varan, Steam Rice, Sol Bhindi, Lat Mat chi sabji (Spinach) expected the food was manna. One thing, I shall remember is eating in the restaurant and gazing out to see the fireflies in the garden. When have you done that ever?

River view from the hotel

15th Oct Monday
7am - breakfast at hotel. I ask for thalipeeth and get it. Kajal sticks to egg to survive through this travel. I enjoy my breakfast and tea, and probably for a long time the food shall be a enduring memory of the hotel. What a good start to a vacation.
830am - pack the car up, and begin the journey. Destination, Panjim supposed to be 315kms from here. Odometer now reads 256kms.
Fuel up tank again, about 16 litres.
Drive through ghats and long winded roads (terrible for someone with motion sickness), reach Sawantwadi (the last milestone before Goa), at 2pm. Yes its been a long drive, but we are happy, we have just 60kms more to go (and all things are exactly as they seem :-))
At this point we phone Mariott and ask will they keep restaurnt open for us beyond their usual 3pm and they flatly refuse. After Chiplun, we knew things were going to be hard to match.....
Call it prescience, but we see a Vithal Kamat's hotel and decide to stop for good. The food is good, 1 thali and 1 tea. We shared off an unlimited thali, and was very impressed, though the hotel said they would charge us more of it, they did not.....
At the same hotel, bought some wooden trinklets. I liked them and thought "why not?". Cost us about 80 for the meal and 110 for the trinklets.
2.45pm leave for Panjim, supposedly a 60km drive. The roads are bad, we eventually reach Panjim, Miramir beach and the hotel @ 4.30pm. Really sad roads for a National highway (If only we could peek into the future....)
510pm We are still waiting to check into the hotel, because some huge group is waiting for their checkin. Get into a blast mode, created a big scence at the reception. The folks relented and then checked us into a nice room with a king size bed, a sea view and huge bath tub.
Meals at Mariott, all of them good (not great), healthy since they were buffets, lots of choice. On the first night, my enduring memory around food was Lemon Shorbet Icecream - made with Lemon Rind and Barley....
Odometer Reading 580kms

16th Oct Tuesday
Drive to Sahakari Farms, (supposedly) an organic farm. This was 40kms towards Hubli from the hotel. (around Ponda)

On the way to Ponda, Sahakari Farm

Some very funny stuff being sold at the Sahakari farm (hope you can read it!!!)

Entry fee Rs.300
Greeted with cinnamom, ginger and lemon grass tea. Lots of fluff talk by the hosts.
40 minute guided tour of the farm. Explaining around each herb and spice. More tailored for the fair skin than for us dark skinned "value-for-money-evaulators".
Followed by a small shot of Feni (good) and food (which was very good, because it was made by villagers).
We bought about 3kgs of expensive organice cashewnuts (almost twice the price of normal cashews), hope they are really organic.
4pm back at hotel. Rest for some time and leave for Miramir beach. Kajal and I play in the water like two small kids.
7pm walk back towards hotel. There is Hanuman temple on the way. On a whim, we decide to go in. I circle the shrine 9 times just like I did on several occasions when I went with my mom in my growing up years.

17th Oct Wednesday
Leave at 9am, drive to Anjuna beach. Supposedly there is market here every wednesday.
The drive is about 25kms from the hotel.

Very disappointing place. These beaches (bitches) give India bad name. Extremely commercial and extremely "rip you off" kind of place".
Return to the hotel, have meals and then drive to 18th June Road, which is supposedly Panjim biggest market. Buy cashews and some other stuff.
Sujish and Bindu fly in from Mumbai to join us. Its their anniversarry (the 11th) the next day (happy annivessary to you).
We walk out in the evening with them, procure 2 bottles of port wine. Come back to the hotel, and we all sit at the pool and guzzle the wine and cashews. (Wine supposedly very good quality cost us 15o per bottle).

18th Oct Thursday
We decide to drive to Donna Paula, which is bad, and instead hit on another beach (forgot its name). Turned out that this beach was earlier cordoned off by Cidade-de-goa as a private beach, but now there was a very shady approach to get there. Get there we did, and boy was it worth it. It was hot, but Bindu and Kajal played for an hour in the water. I walked around collecting amazing sea shells. A corner of this beach has some amazing shell stuff. Sujish order cocunut water and beer for us from Cidade de Goa. (Next time I come to goa, its at Cidade De Goa).

View from Dona Paula, supposedly used as props in the movie Ek Duje Ke Liye
Beach at Cidade De Goa

We finally drove back by 2pm. Had lunch at the hotel, and kept sitting at the table long past 430pm.
I decided to head back, while the other three hit the beach (this time Miramar).
We met again at 7pm at the coffee shop where we spoke about a start-up idea Sujish had. Finally it moved to the topic of venture capital......(and lets leave it at that).

19th Oct Friday
Big day, day to drive from Panjim to Panchgani. Slated distance 357kms.
Kajal and I grab a quick breakfast checkout by 8.30pm. Hugs and kisses for our brothers and sisters (Bindu is my sister, and Kajal is Sujish's....dont even ask me how, long story).
Odometer reads 759kms.
Everyone tells us shortest route is via Satara. So we hear, and (how the dumb have fallen).
Along the way we are told, go via Poladpur (which is 30km after chiplun), but we shudder, that means 345kms to Poladpur and another 80 from there to Panchgani.
Mid-way we see a diversion to Kolhapur and confirm from others that this shall lead us to Satara through a shorter route (no one told us quicker).
This is about a 90km stretch to Satara via ghats. Its isolated, lonely (and hence lovely), but with frigging no roads. Its NH4 , but NH (national highway) is a complete flooze. Its craters and boulders and pebbles which make the road within certain sections of it.
On route, Kajal and I stop at an isolated spot, eat vadapavs we had packed along the way. Use the bushes for nature's call. Guess what, its a great feeling to know no human being on either side for 30kms, save an isolated truck.
Guess, when we entered Satara.....?????. 4.30pm yes, thats it. I was driving at 20kmph through the entire ghat. My back worse and tired than ever in the whole trip.
We had passed Kolhapur, Sindhudurg, Sangli.
Satara, came and brought with it the real NH4.
We were tired, 160kms more to Wai (from where panchgani is 20kms), seemed like a death wish.
2 minutes we pondered, and we said, lets pelt, we have to do what we have to do.
Guess when we reached Wai ???? 610pm, including a 10 minute break for tea.
We reached panchgani at 655pm, and into the hotel at 7pm.
Had a big fight with the restuarant for charging us for meals which was supposedly part of the package. Point is, they still did not understand. I knew I would hate my stay here.
I would waste your time with reviews Blue Country Resort, Panchgani, completely sucks.....Its appaling how bad this place can be.

20th Oct Saturday
Drove to Mahableshwar. Best part of this place was something called the Mapro Garden. Its run by Mapro, a Govt. Of India enterprise which sells Jams, juices and other agro produce. This place is really lovely. Its fashioned exactly like a US hershey or kellog's theme experience. We not only bought stuff here, we spent time here and finally even had great sandwiches and pizzas here. Really good stuff. Highly recommended for anyone going to Mahabaleshwar.
Went to Elephant Head Point and Lodwick Point. Not very commercialised at all. Had fun trekking up and down these places.

Lodwick Point

Lodwick Point

Elephant Head Point

View from Elephant Head

Mapro Garden

21st Oct Sunday
9am drive out of Panchgani to Mumbai. Expected drive 270kms
On the way have fantastic vada pavs at Joshi Wadewale, Pune. (80kms into the journey).
Reach Mumbai at 1.45pm, tired and still driving.

Overall Hotel Ratings
Quality Inn Riverview Chiplun - 5 star rating from me - greatest food on earth (than home), simple lovely village idyll, Rs. 4900 including all meals per night.
Mariott Goa - Snobbish place, 3 star rating from me, costed 8800 per night including all meals.
Blue Country Resort, Panchgani - 0 stars, very shady place, avoid at all costs. I really hated it, bad food, bad rooms, bad service, dirty resort. Complete waste of 3800 per night. Please take my advice, choose Dhanbad Hills or choose Mahableshwar, that will be better.

Final odometer reading 1454kms, I had exhausted 84 litres of petrol for this trip, average 17.3km/litre.

I enjoyed this trip, so did my wifey, for many reasons. Just the fact that we so much of rural India in the drive, made all of this worth it.

Next halt - Banglore in Jan 2008.