Thursday, May 19, 2011

Segment II: Ellora to Maheshwar

We left Maheshwar at 7.00 am on 6th may. I was very optimistic regarding the route and the comfort it would offer me. I preferred to stick to the suggested route of SH 211 and move on to NH3.

I moved to Dhule via Chalisgoan. Eighteen kms before reaching Chalisgaon we had to traverse through ghat. The jam on the ghat halted us for around 1 hr 45minutes.

I was amazed even though I was held up. On the ghat road, we were lined up on one side and the opposite traffic was moving one by one. We got our turn and we moved on. There was no overtaking to quicken the jam. The responsible behavior of trucks, busses, even cars was very interesting to see. One careless overtaking could have increased the jam several fold. There was no police but we ourselves managed for over two hours. Later I knew it was a normal process of conducting the traffic on jams.

This attitude was similar in most parts of my journey. Sadly, such careless overtaking during jams seemed to be the legacy of Mumbai and the neighborhood.

Later on NH 3 the drive was smooth but not continuous. Roads under construction provided diversions at several places with dangerous and inconspicuous speed breakers. Traversing though trucks was not a pleasant experience. The local trucks drive with attitude and it takes efforts to avoid dents. Yet we had to pay toll of Rs 67 after at Chalisgoan bypass for under construction roads. It was like spending oranges on a patient in ICU.
I had to wait for a good petrol station for filling but I had to refill almost on emergency with only 50kms fuel to spare. Bypass roads, road under constructions do not allow easy access to petrol stations. I had to fill ordinary petrol by paying in cash. I knew that credit and debit cards do not work on high ways.

We moved into MP without noticing much change. Palasner had a jam. Local drivers suggested a detour to Sendhwa. We survived the jam and took the Sendhwa bypass. It was a good road, smooth, lesser traffic and no tollgates. It has become a habit that if we travel smoothly on roads for 10 kms, we feel indebted and wait for a toll booth to repay the debt. It was a long-long smooth drive. We started enjoying MP roads.

At Tikri bypass we had to pay Rs 57 and learned that I have to use the road only for 3 kms before I turn toward Maheswar. I felt bad to spend at much for 3 kms. Yet I was happy that I recovered enough extravagance, already.

After turning 13 kms from NH 3, we reached Maheshwar at 2.30 pm. The total distance was 320kms, with average moving speed 50.4 kmph, average speed 35.25 kmph, total time of 9 hrs, moving time of 6.2 hrs, max speed of 119 kms/hr. gaining a peak elevation 1557 mts. Idle time was on 1.5 hrs jam, 1 hour for lunch, fueling and three halts.

We stayed in Narmada resort run by MP tourism. It is on the banks of River Narmada. We stayed in air-conditioned tents. It is a beautiful accommodation. Tent from out side but had all the comforts and privacy of a suite. The resort is huge place touching the river. The resort has lovely gardens and laws, courteous people and good food. It scores four out of five. We rested on the day of arrival. On the succeeding days we had been to Mandu and Bagh caves.

Maheshwar to Mandu
Next day we set out for Mandu, said to be around 40 kms from Maheshwar. The day before we spoke to a senior guide Mr Tiwari who deputed his junior Bablu Srivastav to accompany us to Mandu and Bagh caves. As usual we left Hotel at 7 am to reach Mandu at 8.30 am. We left Maheshwar, on SH1 drove for 13 kms and turned on to NH 3 at Dhanmod. On NH 3 we drove for about 5 kms, at Hotel Plash took a left turn on SH31 towards Gujri.

In between, we were eager to turn left and the locals warned us that it is a katcha road and the better road was ahead. We corrected our mistake. Least we imagined that the day later we were to travel by the same road for Bagh caves.

The Dhar-Mandav road took us to Mandu. In between we had to pay a toll of Rs 18. In the last stretch we had some ghat section. The roads were narrow. There were trucks to be careful with while intersecting or overtaking. Most trucks were compassionate to small vehicles. Road surface was good, at certain villages, we could find cemented roads for 3 to 4 kms.
Bablu was to meet us at the central point at Mandu. We recognized each other unmistakably at Jami Masjid. Mandu calls it self a city of music and romance. It is the romance of Baj Bahadur, Rupmati and the opulence of Afghan architecture. The monuments are witness to the extravagance of the regality between 11 century and 16th century AD.

Bablu took us around Roopmati Mahal, Baj Bahadur Mahal, Hosang Shah Tomb, Darya Khan Tomb, Malik Mughis Masjid, Jamu Masjid, Jahaj Mahal, Shiva’s Temple gifted by Akbar to Aishwaria Rai, and several other less significant monuments. We had detailed photo sessions at all these places.

By one in the afternoon, we were tired, hungry and wanting to retire. MP tourism has a Hotel at Mandu. Hotel Malwa has excellent ambience and good food to offer. I drove back to Maheshwar.

The entire journey was 176 kms with average speed of 30 kmph, climbed an elevation of 1627 mts. It took 9 hours with 5 ½ hours running time.

Maheshwar to Bagh Caves
The day later we left for Bagh caves. Our guide was from Mandu. He requested us to pick him up at Brahmanpuri on way to Bagh. We left our hotel at 7 am.

From Maheshwar it was 13 kms on SH1 and turned to NH 3. Straight three kms we turned left to Bharmanpuri. From Brahmanpuri took MDR to Manwar on SHW 36 for 35 kms then turned left at a board showing bagh caves 40 km. The road took us to Dehri on SHW 39 to Bagh village. Into the village and out 4 kms we were at Bagh caves.

It was all a 143 kms drive on different terrains with speed varying between 20 kmph to 80 kmph; most of the time it was 20 kmph. A distance of 143 kms took four and half hours to reach. It really takes good reason for some one to travel this route to see less known rock cut caves.

For the first time we felt that, the guide is also doubling as local security for us. The last 40 kms belt is famous for the Bagh and Tanda communities: traditionally known as dacoit tribes. Until recently, Bagh tribes used bow and arrow on strangers. Least hurled stones at cars that come their way and looted. How recent? The answer was neither convincing nor comforting.

Bagh caves is managed by the Archeological Survey of India. The monument is very well maintained. It looked clean, may be due to scanty tourist traffic. On the way to caves there is a museum with frescos restored from the caves. On our way our guide Babloo invited a local boy, conversant with caves.
The caves are at a height of around 40 meters. The steps leading into caves connect a bridge over River Baghini. It was a wonderful sigh. One can imagine the magnificent location the caves must have enjoyed during 7 century with hills, river, forest and pristine atmosphere for meditation and monastic living.

Bagh caves are a cluster of seven caves each used as a monastery and shrine. Five caves have stupas. One cave has painting in plaster on pillars and three other have paintings on wall. The ceiling is painted orange. The colors are dark even till to date. Some of the paintings are restored and displayed in the caves, at the entrance and at the museum down below.
Cave 2 has Buddha, Bodhisatva and Padmapani carved. Cave 4 has paintings. The entrance had some Hindu gods carved after 7 century AD. We photographed the entire cave cluster. Sadly, there was power cut during our visit. The power would come back only at 4 pm. No way we could wait for three hours and get late on strange roads.

I had to photograph objects that I couldn’t see. I had a small torch. I focused the torch on the object, which made a beam of 2” dia. I focused my camera lens on that spot, composed my imaginary object and clicked with a flash. I got some photos, head cut in some images, lower part cut or partly composed object. With series of trials I was getting some good photos. I was sure that this may be my only chance to photograph. It was now or never. It took 90 minutes to cover the caves.

Now, we have very rare photographs of Bagh caves not know to public, yet. We have photograph of a tunnel leading to Mandu in cave 7, paintings on pillars, stupas of different shapes and similar.

It was a great photo adventure in shooting at low and no light conditions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Segment I: Home to Ellora caves (Aurangabad)

Sitting in the car we generally recite the trip objectives and our will to accomplish. This is to reinforce the confidence, relive stress and indent the plus factor in you. My wife and I rolled out at 6.08 am.

I had to continuously power my GPS navigator and my android phone, which is bit lavish on battery.

I used the inverter to connect the charger to one and the other I connected it to the USB. I mounted both the instruments for clear vision of skies for GPS. I needed to protect them form heat and Sun, during the day. I programmed them, but in excitement I forgot to record, the trip and save the track.

In the first leg, I had to pay toll twice once Rs. 29 at Thane and next Rs 50 after Ghoti.

It was 332 kms from home Thane-Mumbai to Ellora caves. It was an 8 hour drive. GPS advised Thane- Nasik- Sinnar – Shiridi- Vijapur - Devgoan – Ellora as the shortest route. It may have been shortest, but a bad choice. By saving 15 kms on a shortest route, I faced a bad patch of 100 kms and one additional hour of driving.

The lesson: Do not follow GPS blindly. Use local wisdom if not yours, in selecting the route.

The drive was very comfortable up to Nasik. At Dwaraka circle, we lost our way. There is a massive construction going on. After all, it is the ‘city under construction for a Country under repairs’. I had to depend on GPS. By the time, I felt comfortable with driving. I was deep into an alternative route.

I was advised that I carry a Google latitude enabled phone with GPRS, Wifi and GPS, switched on, all throughout. My son from a distant land, Switzerland and my daughter jus in the neighborhood while at home, were tracking my movements and me. I was also answerable to my adopted son and a former student of mine from overseas.

Initially I felt like a prisoner of war escaping with a radio collar. So many watching my whereabouts, so many tracking me, I felt every thing other than lonely. I am just joking, indeed I felt very cared for.

On day One, they kept calling us periodically to check the coordinates. With GPS devise, mobiles ringing, my navigator-wife was enacting the communications officer from the Army Signal Corps.

Keeping the arduous trip ahead I had unknown concerns about my car. Is the pick-up nice? Is the engine making additional noises? While shifting to higher gear, when the clutch is pressed; I used to get engine raving as if accelerator pedal is lowered. I had serious doubts about the condition of clutch. It took me along time to infer that the raving of engine was because of my bad footwork. I think I was tense, within.

While driving I had to keep in mind constantly, that I am stranger once I am out of my RTO zone. Normally, our observations depend on the nativity of car; local, out of district, out of state. We grow cynical and aggressive in commenting driving skills with farther car registration. I had to play very careful while overtaking local vehicles. These are the lessons we learn from long distance sorties. “Cars we own, roads we share.”

The drive was very comfortable with cabin temperature of 24 degrees. In the last leg, we blindly depended on GPS and it faithfully brought us to the destination.

We checked into Hotel Kailas at around 2.30 pm. Hotel, bang on the road, just 500 mts away from Ellora caves and Ghishneswar Temple. The Hotel’s proximity to monument is the major reason to call it a good place.

The hotel was basic in amenities. Air-conditioned but has no remote; usage as per hotel settings, hot water available only when the Sun rises; no hot water when you need early in the mornings, room service non-existent, no phone in room and you need to travel to the reception to enquire or order, staff are courteous but of no tangible use. So the hotel scores a maximum of 2 ½ out of 5.

Kailas doesn’t seem to be very appetizing in its menu as well; we were flirting with neighborhood hotels for food. Garikapati is a roadside hotel just opposite Hotel Kalias, excellent food, and automated cooking processes. We were surprised to see highly advanced mechanized systems in use. However, it had no walls, a large shed seating around 75 persons, managed by a family from Andhra Pradesh. Food was good, hygienic, and professional managed. This place scores four out of five. It is highly recommended, specially, for vegetarians.

In the heat of summer we planned to visit Ellora caves. We thought of hiring a guide so that we may be more enlightened compared to our bookish acquaintance. Another surprise, the official guide demanded Rs 750 for two hours. We though it better to limit experiences to our bookish knowledge of caves.

This was my second trip to caves. Together with my wife, I visited the center of tourist attraction, the Ellora Kailas Temple. I had already covered (Photo documentation) Kailsh temple thoroughly. Yet, it was enjoyable. I was playing unpaid guide to my wife.

Being passionate about Buddhist cave architecture, I concentrated on caves 1 to 10; known to be Buddhist monasteries and shrines of 7th century AD.

I took quite some pictures, good ones. I could over come excitement and shoot at calm. Later I moved to caves 1 to 14. It meant quite a bit of walking. I was enjoying my presence, clicking picture. Lo! camera alerted ‘no memory, card full’ I was scared, surprised, wonder struck and frustrated. I had only my Nikon D 5000 with me, no camera bag, attachments, accessories, cards, battery. I had left them in the car to reduce payload. I wondered, my 8GB card showing memory full with around 50 pictures at 8 mb per shot. I feared some problem with card, camera or specially, with me.

I had to walk down to the car, take another card and all photo-rations. Again, I walked up to the farthest cave and shot.

So the lesson: do always carry the entire kit with you when moving to farther places, irrespective of load and luggage. Secondly, check that the card is formatted before use. My 8 GB card had four movies on it, so poor thing didn’t have a heart to accommodate my photos as well.

Always carry a point and shoot camera. I always carry a Sony-point and shoot camera for crisis management and back-up for those ‘once in a life time’ pictures.

I use Canon Rebel Xt when I need to use auto settings. It is best with auto settings. Nikon D 5000 is not good with auto, often you need white balance even with auto. I use Nikon D 5000 in lowlight conditions where I have to use manual adjustment and shut off flash.

The entire area became desolate by 7.00 pm. It was difficult to get dinner. Hotels looked closed, but one of the hotels offered to feed us. It was a working meal. I forgot, earlier during the day we got to shop briefly. We bought Paithani sarees as souvenirs, indeed expensive souvenirs.We retired rather too early at 9 pm planning for the next leg of the journey to Maheshwar.

Ellora Photographs

Monday, May 16, 2011

3000 kms drive through Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh

The route

Finally I decided to take up the Sanchi circuit. Mumbai – Ellora – Maheshwar – Sanchi – Pacharhi – Pench – Akola – Manmad – Mumbai.

When I thought of a long drive I had two routes in mind. Firstly, Sanchi as destination, second Coorg as the farthest point. Both had comparable distance of just over 1000 kms; as a circuit, connecting few other points will amount to around 3000 kms. The decision was a matter of ‘now or later’ between two routes. I selected the first route covering Maharshtra and Madhya Pradesh for my May 2011 odyssey.

I consulted my travel agent to draw a driving iternary to Sanchi covering important archeological sites and wild life sanctuaries within about 14 days. I was suggested a route covering Ellora – Maheshwar – Sanchi –Jabalpur- Kanha – Akola- Mumbai. It looked too shallow. I thought of including Kahajuraho and /or Bharhut. Just one change increased the route to over 3500kms. I worked again on the route points of interest vis- a-vis, personal limitations.

I had done 2000 kms drive earlier, comfortably. Being on the farther side of fifties, this time I wanted to grant some comfort during the drive. I wanted a two-day break in between the entire journey where I can rest and provide proper care to my car.

I included two days at Pachmarhi. This sounded more appropriate for drive during summer months.

My travel agent did the hotel bookings and roughly suggested the distances and road conditions. Being summer I insisted on air-conditioned accommodation, hotels away from city on a budget of Rs 2000 perday.

Estimated distances

Mumbai - Aurangabad 349 kms

Jalgaon - Maheshwar 339 kms

Maheshwar - Bhopal 288 kms

Bhopal - Pachmarhi 225 kms

Pachmarhi - Pench 272 kms

Pench to Akola 338 kms

Akola to Manmad 358 kms

Manmad to Mumbai 236 kms

Local drive 600 kms 3000 kms

The drive iternary included Ellora Caves – Pitalkhora, Temples of Maheshwar, Navdatoli - Bagh caves, Sanchi - Udaygiri caves Vidisha, Pachmarhi, Pench and Ankai Caves. It was expected to be a 3000 kms drive, including local drive between points of interest.

I ensured that on any day the total driving time did not exceed six hours, considering distance and driving conditions. I plan to cover this distance between 1st and 16th May 2011.


In the process of preparation I had three objectives in mind; in the same order of perference, safety, convinence and comfort.

I started studying the route suggested by google maps and my MapmyIndia GPS navigator. I took the print outs of maps. For navigation, I have google maps on mobile, mapmyIndia navigator, printed maps for each section of drive and state maps. Such a back up is more of a habit than necessitiy.

As a ground rule I prefer sticking to National highways and use select State highways recommended with local wisdom. It may add few kilometers extra to my route but give me and my car some extra comfort and safety.

I drive Maruti Swift Vxi with ABS and K series engine; with premium petrol I get speeds of 80 kms per hr at around 2000 engine rpm. With that kind of vehicle i draw 13.4 kms per lt on city roads.

Vehicle condition being excellent, there is little concern on fitness of machine. I have now to concentarte on the road conditions, my conditions and issues of safety on remote roads.

The gadgets on car icluded an inverter (160 watts /240 v AC), laptop connected to car audiosystem, tons of music and chosen films in three languages, dedicated GPS navigator, dedicated digital barometer for weather forecast / altitude / temp, emergency lamp, binoculars, and a pepper spray can for self defense, independent cell phone with google lattitude indicating my location to my childern at Mumbai and Switzerland, state maps, detailed segment maps - hard copies, soft copies on laptop.

Contingency and route logistics included car maitenance/repair kit, medical kit , relavant emrgency rations on board, detailed information on vehicle service stations, insurance listed garages, specific mediclaim hospitals, on route. Phone numbers and refernces of few local citizens on way.

Th car check-up, maintenence and toning up was done ten days prior to the jouney. Me and my car waited eagerly for the start of the jouney.