In the Ghats for a day

When you live in Pune and it rains and you want to get away, there is a beautiful getaway called Lonavala that beckons you. Problem is, it beckons majority of the population around. Net result is chaos.

Last week I got an invite to spend the weekend in a resort at the very top, somewhere in that city and I jumped at the offer. Already dreaming about the rain and clouds and waterfalls and cool breeze, I wondered how to go, since taking the car was not an option. Well, driving on winding broken single lane mountain roads is not something I do very often, but the excuse I have is better- my car was being used by family so…So. I decided to take a train. Not having ridden in a train for quite a few years now, my first thought was, how difficult can it be, it is just about an hour and a few minutes away, with trains almost every hour, all I need to do is reach the station and board the next one.

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A view from the train

But then wiser and saner thoughts prevailed, maybe I should get a reservation. A dialogue with the hubby resolved the situation and he booked a ticket for me. So far so good. Reached the station almost 45 minutes in advance, years of non-practice does that to you. Waited with stamping legs and straining ears at the entrance for about half hour till the platform was announced. Managed to board without any incidents, just observing that the platform was decidedly cleaner than what I was used to in the yesteryears. Provided you don’t look out when the platform ends.

The train was cleaned twice in that small journey- nice. It was decidedly hard to resist the constant chant of “sabudana vada, veg cutlet, sandwich”, but the most interesting was “water pani” which I realised meant plain water and not “chilled pani”. Now, not having travelled this route before, I wondered how I would know my station was arriving and how long would it stop for and will there be enough time to get down. Yeah, I know, I am a totally inexperienced traveler. But outwardly, I was cool, even though I was doing the math in the mind, so many minutes from Pune, shall I ask Siri, what was the last station that went by and so on.., I did manage to get down at the right station quite safely. It is a different matter that after that, I had to climb up and down the bridge multiple times to find the driver. I mean how was I supposed to know “towards the city” didn’t imply towards the platform no 1.

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It is gonna pour

Sitting in the cab, with cool breeze blowing my hair, and rain drops down my cheeks, well, I was smiling away, I had arrived, and the rest was going to be a cool breeze (literally). Till I found traffic jam and jam and crowd and hawkers and no one following traffic rules. Well, this feels just like Pune, I thought with a grimace. Small congested roads, directionless people and honking all around. A little more than an hour, a packet of chips and several bumps and potholes later, I reached the resort.

It was as beautiful and serene as expected. Ah the beauty of a hill top resort when it is raining is beyond compare. Gorging on good food, good company, love and laughter. Even in 45 acres of property, we could find hordes of people coming from the dry state and debating whether to be upgraded to purple from white and other such nonsense. No, this is not a gyan session on Club Mahindra.

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6 am from the balcony
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Ah the colours

A day of relaxation, chai in the balcony, long morning walk, lot of selfies and a huge breakfast spread. We hogged so much, needed to lie down awhile. But then finally it was time to leave. The lime water in the tummy kept bubbling up and down as we encountered the familiar potholes again, somehow kept it from overflowing.

We stopped at the tiger’s point, or was it lion, or jackal, not sure. Some animal, definitely. Any self-respecting hill station in India has to have a Lion or Tiger’s point, and a sunset and sunrise point. Amidst a mass of humanity and cars and a breathtaking view, we too decided to do what the tourists do, walk, eat and click pictures. All around us were couple with the girlfriend perched on the boyfriend’s back, posing away, and few I-am-a-cool-dude guys posing on the cliff edges. Thankfully nobody fell off during our watch. After about an hour of touristy thingy, we followed the bro, the leader, who kept going in weird directions till we realised he was looking for relief and so we hastily retreated and went back to the car, relieved.

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At the animal point

Next stop was Bhushi ghat. Now that is a place, I would absolutely not recommend unless you are drunk and rowdy and enjoy sitting in dirty slimy water and throwing it around on yourself and others. The walk is long and bad, uneven stones does wonders for your back, the place has some broken steps with no railing and a sure chance of falling on the rocks, stairs that lead nowhere and a lot of smelly people sitting in smellier water, on the steps and throwing it around. Just not worth the time. The river on the other side that overflows at times. Not for me.

Came back to downtown, tired and happy and in dire need of ginger chai. Unfortunately, my train mode of transport did not work this time, simply because I did not get a reservation. Too many people, too little time. How will you go back, maybe come to Mumbai with us and then go back Monday. No way, I want to be back tonight. So, a cab, me and a 60 km drive back to home. With memories. And an agreement to go back again, with kids.

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The memory

 

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Majuli – बीच मे

Literally meaning- in the middle of. Majuli is the largest river island in Brahmaputra in Assam, almost 50-by-25 kms across, largely populated by the Mising tribe, speaking Mising, weaving stuff and using bamboo.

Phew, Wikipedia can tell you much more by just one click.

When we decided to spend a couple of days in Majuli, I wasn’t sure what to expect, not having done my usual homework.

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somewhere at Kaziranga

The terrain from Guwahati to Majuli, via Kaziranga is interesting, with a mix of potholed roads under the guise of construction, ability to see elephants and Rhinos lazing around (try using binoculars, else they are just a speck). And a horde of two and four legged creatures crossing the highway including but not limited to

  • ducks- full family evening walk with two baby ducks and parents
  • pregnant goats (why was every goat I saw, expecting? I guess it is something to do with fertility)
  • chickens who were not too chicken to cross the road
  • cows
  • elephants
  • and of course, humans who know no better than to cross roads and drivers paying no heed to screeching tires and cursing drivers.

Having reached Jorhat by nightfall, with the accelerometer fooled into thinking we had walked all the way, we decided to spend the night in a dubious hotel where waiters did not understand the meaning of Jain food and that cooking is possible without onions too. And promptly refused to serve us. Sigh, somehow passed the night since our गुटखा eating drivers wanted to leave at 6 am sharp and with a family of 7 ranging from 17 to 70, trust me, it is near-impossible.

The route to Majuli took us through a ferry that takes humans, luggage and two and four wheelers. So 8.00 am saw our cars lined up door to door, while we were all on the ferry roof, holding on to dear life as we sailed across the river. An uneventful 45 minute but photographic journey later, we entered what looked like the Run of Kutch.

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As you enter Majuli

Yeah, you heard me right. It is an unending stretch of white sand, which my brother promptly declared to be quicksand. I was a trifle doubtful as cars and dogs seem to be running fine on the same. The banks rose sharply to about 8-10 feet into this stretch as our ferry eased its belly into a nook made for this purpose.

It is indescribably beautiful. Stretches of white sand, followed by stretches of blue water, wherever you see, warm sun, no human construction, save bamboo huts and boats close by.

We drank in the sights using our cameras and eyes, sipping #AssamRunsOnChai positivi-tea. After about an hour, post a refill and release, we decided to drive into the city.

Majuli no longer felt like an island, a couple of kilometres inland. It looked every inch a normal dirty Indian town, with its full share of Oppo and Coke and Kurkure hoardings. Seriously, these guys are everywhere, including no man’s land.

As we moved past the dirt roads, we could only see bamboo huts on stilts. Since water comes in easily during monsoon, a few kilometres inland, the tribes mostly live on first floor, ground floor being left for scavenger pigs who also contribute to the स्वच्छ भारत अभियान. Toilets have arrived at the village, you can actually see a lone one concealed by a crowd of huts. Shy girls weaving clothes, unruly children playing around, mind you- no men.

Moving on, we crossed the north India in the East, stretches of सरसों के खेत, where the kids had their DDLJ moment. A few brick houses, and lots of bamboo and banana trees later, we landed at our resort. Yeah, the place has a resort, and it was all bamboo. The huts, floor, lamps, tables, chairs, झूला, washroom shower panels, and the toothpick stand. (and we also ate boiled bamboo shoots).

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Our home for the next two days

Lovely place, awesome food, decent service. It was surreal to see nightfall at 4.30 pm, so we decided to light a bonfire, try some local beer (made from burnt husk) and play अंताक्षरी and dumb charades with the kids. All of us middle aged people trying to enact Bollywood movies was seriously hilarious and we had a riot. (The word came to mind as I am writing this, the news on TV is shrieking riots at Pune).

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The DDLJ view

Of course we had teething problems like no lights, no water, specially no hot water, plethora of mosquitoes and red ants.

The city does not have a sunset point (strange, all man defined tourist places ought to have a sunset or a sunrise point, basic qualifier), but a bamboo bridge (yeah, and you can also drive on it) from where you can see the sun set. Not really being subject to the sight of sun setting from the high rises we stay in normally, it was a pretty serene view.

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The bamboo bridge

Next day saw us take a long walk in the woods early morning. A dog with a curled tail discovered us, (couple of them actually) and escorted us through the walk and all the way back to our adobe. Funny fellow, maybe he didn’t want other dogs in his territory.

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walk with the dog

Post local breakfast of curd and jaggery with a fibrous poha kind of stuff, delicious, we decided to go traditional and visit temples. Learnt that the island and its people are mostly self-sufficient. They grow the rice and सरसों and vegetables locally, and just buy the spices.

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the Mising villagers (but they are not really missing)

We had just missed Raas Leela that is quite a well-known three-day fest.  The city has a few Satras which are places of Vishnu worship as well as art and culture. With one showing mask making, some featuring artefacts, and some famous for its dance forms. The only issue was we had to take the shoes and socks off at the gate while the actual places were about half a kilometre in. (why socks?)

One fellow these guys worship is Garuda, whose statues are found everywhere, protecting the gates. The island probably has more goats and cows than humans, you can always see dozens grazing in the fields. Mr Gadkari decided to visit the place a day after us, announcing a sanction of some 330 Cr INR for Majuli development. If only I knew my चरण धूलि would make such a difference, I would have blessed the place long back.

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The Garuda