Travel Diaries 3: Halcyon Harihareshwar Part 2

After an embarrassingly long hiatus (I have a feeling I’ve used that word a bit too often in recent times) induced by a sudden bout of illness, today I’ve finally gotten down to bringing the rest of our spell-binding Harihareshwar experience to you.

After spending a serene afternoon on the South beach of Harihareshwar on the first day, we planned to watch the sunrise from the North beach the next.
Well, we couldn’t see it because of a cloudy sky, but found enough reasons not to regret it.

The early hour Harihareshwar

I woke at 4:30 am. (Just to give you an idea of the frenzy around the idea.)

The original Harihareshwar temple, said to have been founded in the 16th century,  was built on top of a hill and had a stone staircase starting down its steps leading all the way down to the sea (more about that later). The modern one is situated on the beach at the foothills, with a similar staircase (yes, originally build all those years ago) leading up into the hills from the temple backyard.

Without thinking much, I scampered across the temple grounds, and started up the stairs (Poor Shubho had no choice but to follow, of course), till I found myself on this deserted leafy trail, leading somewhere.

Harihareshwar beach

Sea view from the top of Harihareshwar hills…

But more was waiting for me even before I found out where.

Harihareshwar beach

Layers after layers of lush white waves – pure and profound –  lapped the North beach sands down below. I wouldn’t have believed such natural beauty exists outside calendars, if I hadn’t seen it here.

Talk about wayside scenery.

But then I didn’t know what awaited me at the end of my hillside escapade.

The rocky North Shore of Harihareshwar

Harihareshwar beach

That moment when you stop in your tracks with your mouth open as a slice of the infinite ocean reveals itself at the bottom of this historical staircase – exactly as you’ve seen in the Maharashtra Tourism promotional materials. The first thing I felt as I stood there was … Freedom. A tiny window cut through the rocks into the blue expanses – as if a window of freedom opening up the cold hard insides of the ancient Sahyadris to the chirpy waves of life.

And then it kinda went to my head.

Harihareshwar beach

You see the little black dot over there – trying to blend into the ocean and the sky and the sun and the rocks? That’s me.

Well it was not just my head but also my feet which were craving freedom. Apparently.

Harihareshwar beach

I don’t blame them for wanting to soak up all the early morning silky coolness of the white waters.

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

No. I didn’t believe it either.

The fact that he could capture all that dance of life, that is.  

Life on North Beach

Dawn broke. The curious seaside ecology started awakening from its slumber.

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

Even the sea itself – as it turned from grey-blue to golden blue.

Harihareshwar beach

Beauty on the rocks…

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the rocky shores of the ocean and listening to the unique booming sound of the waves as they hit the undersides of the rocky ledges protruding into the waters. Like this one.

Harihareshwar beach

The rock formations around the creeks and the bays were astonishing. 

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

We soaked it all up, lazing aimlessly on the rocks throughout the afternoon.

With our hearts full of priceless memories and our legs full of bruises, we were homeward bound by 3 pm.

The last bit…          

Did I mention that the last day of the trip happened to be my Brithday, of which the trip was a celebration? :)

Unduly belated apologies to all those who called me on that day but couldn’t reach due to the absence of network in the truly wild, truly pristine unforgettable Harihareshwar.  

 

 

Travel Diaries 3: Halcyon Harihareshwar – Day 1

Harihareshwar. A quaint beach village in the Maharashtrian district of Raigad, nestled in the valley of the four surrounding hills Harihareshwar, Bramhadri, Pushpadri and Harshinachal. This village was one of our first discoveries on the less travelled trail through the mountains and beaches around Mumbai. About 200 km away from the city, the beaches and coastal formations of Harihareshwar boast of rare beauty topped off with unique geological features.

We started off on a cool November morning around 6:30 am (oh yes we got late L) for a 2 day 1 night trip to Harihareshwar.

The Road to Harihareshwar

We took NH 17 (Bombay – Goa Road) and reached the hilly town of Roha after taking a right turn from Nagothane. From Roha we took the Roha-Murud Road to the village of Mhasala and then to Harihareshwar.

Now let me tell you the beauty of this trail is fascinating.

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

Yes. I had to stop and get out of the car to admire it.

But the road quality is really, really painful (for the driver). Keeping that in mind you’d probably better take the Mangaon exit off the NH17 which is the next exit after Nagothane.

MTDC Resort at Harihareshwar

It was 2 in the afternoon when we reached Harihareshwar. A silent sleepy hamlet. Very few people on the road. And a complete absence of mobile networks (I’m not lying), compensated for by a neighbourhood mom and pop store with a PCO housing a BIG land phone. I felt I’d been transported back in time.

Now we all know managing accommodation in any well-known and well-located MTDC resort without prior booking is some sort of a fairy tale.

You wouldn’t believe this – when we reached the one in Harihareshwar just ONE of their tourist cottages was still available – everything else was already occupied – and not just that, a couple arrived just about 10 minutes after us and could not be accommodated.

Harihareshwar has two major beaches – the North beach and the South beach. The MTDC resort is a cluster of cottages spread over a wooded area right on the South beach. Our cottage was just about a few hundred meters away from the sea. They have cottages which are far closer – in fact there’s a beachside MTDC-owned restaurant where the waves literally wet your feet – but unfortunately maintenance work was going on all around the beachside constructions when we visited, so we missed out on the surreal look-at-the-sea-from-your-porch experience.

Lodging at Harihareshwar

The room rent was Rs.2500 per day for us. The room was ok, but not great (true to the comments tourists have made about them all over the internet). But we hadn’t driven 200 km to admire the beauty of the interiors of the room, so we couldn’t care less about that. (As you can see, we have no photos of it.:D) And hey, it did have a big French window opening into a porch overlooking the woods. And none of the windows had any grills. :) :) However I wouldn’t suggest keeping them open at night unless you want to be devoured alive by the mosquitos.

The only irksome part of the MTDC lodging experience was that the authorities were too hung up about us vacating the room strictly within the scheduled check out time – something that’s unusual in most hospitality establishments.

Food at Harihareshwar

Both veg and non-veg food is available at the MTDC restaurant. Each meal cost us about Rs. 600 – 700 (for both of us). The food is quite tasty here (oh and did I mention we had lip smacking freshly fried Pomfrets on one occasion? ;)). But as with almost any Indian restaurant anywhere in the country in any price band – some dishes here can be spicier than you expect. :D

As I mentioned, the original MTDC restaurant was right on the South beach. The makeshift one was right beside the entrance to the MTDC compound, and had open air seating arrangements …

Harihareshwar beach

… perhaps annoying the serene woods around… 

Harihareshwar beach

… but definitely to the delight of their princesses.

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

So all in all – as I’m sure you already understand – don’t choose to stay in the MTDC property if you:

  1. Would like a 5-star room.
  2. Think you would faint at the thought of dry leaves falling into your curry.
  3. Are a proud animal-hater.
  4. Don’t care much about staying close to the sea.

After a quick lunch we started down the wooded trail in our backyard, wandering lazily until we stopped in our tracks to see this.

Harihareshwar beach

The South beach of Harihareshwar

If you really want to know what “pristine” means when used to describe a beach, come to Harihareshwar South. For almost two hours we walked barefoot on the sands and the rocks, with not a single other soul around.

Apart from these souls, of course.

Fauna of Harihareshwar

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

Yes. A jellyfish-like creature of the ocean that was throbbing (don’t ask me its name or anything)!

We spent around two or more hours soaking up the last rays of the day on the Harihareshwar sands and waters.

We lost track of time as we imbibed all the sparkling blue serenity around …

Harihareshwar beach

Harihareshwar beach

… sometimes literally.

Harihareshwar beach

Flora of Harihareshwar

Harihareshwar beach

Apart from the usual Jhau party at some distance from the sea, a vast part of the South beach was covered with those strange white shoots. Do you know what they are? We’d suspected they’re aerial roots or pneumatophores of mangroves but there’s a tiny glitch with that explanation.

Where are the mangroves??

Check out part 2 of this series, Travel Diaries 3: Halcyon Harihareshwar Part 2, where I tell you about our adventures around the breathtakingly craggy North beach. 

Travel Diaries 2: Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat in Mokashi, Khopoli

Sometimes we don’t get what we strive to achieve for years. But how cool is it to suddenly receive a gift from life which you never planned for?

Shubho and I happened to have a fabulous trip up there around the Tapola lake in the Sahyadris, and I just thought it’ll be plain wrong to not share the experiences with my friends here and lo! Most of you seemed to just love that post (if the shares are anything to go by) and since then I’ve received many requests asking for more of our romantic getaway experiences.

So here’s the second helping. :)

Off to Village Mokashi, Khopoli

Our quest for discovering the gems off Maharashtra’s beaten track had started with an early November trip to the Lake of Kalote. A mere 70 odd Km (or 2 hours) drive from Mumbai, Kalote is a natural lake situated in the village of Mokashi, near Khopoli, off the old Mumbai-Pune highway. We started around 6 in the morning, and were already in Tudor Retreat – a quiet lakeside farmhouse – by 9.

The Lakeside Farm House Tudor

Situated around the banks of the Lake Kalote, the Tudor Retreat is a 10 acre plush green garden and meadow complete with resident farm animals. Including the don of village Mokashi…

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

An almost three feet bird-zilla, aptly named “Fighter”, who unfortunately had hurt its leg at the time, and had to be carried around from place to place.

I instantly made friends with (most of) the inmates. Not this one though.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

We took up the Tudor day-package – which included a one-room cottage for the day, along with breakfast, lunch and evening snacks. The price might make you faint so I’ll tell you about it only in the end. :P

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

The Tudor Greeneries

The cottage had an inviting porch outside, complete with the romantic cradle. We started off our day with a satiating breakfast here in the midst of the greens, the silence and the chirpy melody.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

After breakfast we started out on a stroll around the winding leafy trails among the quiet green acres. The towering hillocks all around with their grass burnt brown were almost scaring me with their solemnity.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

The silence was tangible – punctuated only by the sounds of the gang of egrets, gossiping as they perched listlessly on the trees or promenaded in the fields.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

To our surprise we discovered a machaan by a quiet side of the lake, hidden away from the main cluster of  Tudor cottages. To our disbelief we also found it unlocked. And to your utter shock you’ll now discover that I promptly took the opportunity of going right in, climbing straight to the top and…

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Shubho had tried to discourage the whole idea but I’m sure he wouldn’t regret the view of the Kalote lake that he captured from up there.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Lake Kalote – A Picturesque Blue Nest Of Peace

I wouldn’t have believed that anywhere within 100 miles of a major Indian city there could exist a lake so clean that it would actually act like a giant mirror – like those pictures in children’s books.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Look! The waters have found a way to even replicate the pink glow around the Sun.  

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

We met quite a few friends of Kalote here. From little cormorants…

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

… To yes – boating tourists! :D

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

A Lazy Lunch in the Lush Lea

 Lunch was simple, home-cooked and abundant, topped off with a delectable gulab jamun in the end. J But most importantly, it was out in the open, in the middle of the grassy pastures, and right in front of those grave and dignified Sahyadri uplands.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

After some more frolicking around among the bounties…

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

…And snacks which included so many pakoras that we packed some of them for the journey, we turned back, with a fresh scoop of life in our hearts.  

Travel Trifles

For those of you who still want to know more:

Our cottage – It was basically a clean but no-frills four-walled space with a tin-roof, a bed, a bathroom, a TV and an AC (all in working order … but then we never checked the TV :D). We had no plans of spending a lot of time inside the cottage anyway, so we were happy. Especially with the porch and the cradle as I’ve already said. J

Food – The biggest good news – both veg and non-veg are available. We had a simple eggs, toast and coffee breakfast. Coffee was too sweet, as you’d expect in most Indian villages. So far as lunch is concerned – I totally savoured the refreshing home-cooked-ness (no it’s not a real word) of every bite. However chicken was a little too spicy. Snacks consisted of onion pakoras which were hot and a lot but not very crispy.

Cost – Now, the biggest news – Tudor Retreat charged us only Rs. 2500 for 2 people, including the cottage for the day and 3 meals! (I did warn you.) The overnight charge would’ve been Rs. 4000. Add to that a fuel expenditure of about Rs. 1000 for the trip. So total cost of trip = Rs. 3500 for 2 people.

Contacts – Tudor Retreat, Khopoli. Contact person: Mrs Khan / Saif bhai, Contact # +91 98 210 26639

Other tips & trivia:

  • There’s no clear road-sign on the Mumbai-Pune highway indicating the way to Lake Kalote or Village Mokashi. We went around in circles many times confusing people and getting confused. Follow Google maps, and if you’re coming from Mumbai you need to take the first left turn after Nishiland water park.
  • There’s absolutely no road from this left turn to Tudor Retreat. It’s all a rustic ride through Mother Nature. So be very careful with your car.
  • It’s good to carry a change of clothes as it might get very hot in the afternoon.

Here’s a nice little practical summary for you.

Lake Kalote, Tudor Retreat, Khopoli, Mokashi

Let me know when you’re starting off by leaving a comment. ;)

Our Romantic Holiday in Tapola, Panchgani & Wai near Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Sometime back I wrote about taking a break from the same old to rejuvenate your relationship.

As some of you know Shubho and I headed out on a weekend trip to Village Tapola on the foothills of the exquisite Sahyadris this Saturday. It was a uniquely enriching experience, which I can’t resist sharing today. While this post is not going to be a “5 steps of…” direct application manual for anything, may be you’ll find a life lesson or two in our experience of connecting and rejuvenating in the midst of Nature.

Or may be not.

In any case, you’ll love the pics. ;)

So on with it…

Starting out for Lake Shivsagar, Tapola, Mahabaleshwar

Our attempts of spotting off-the-beaten-track getaway sites around Mumbai had yielded us the tiny village of Tapola, Mahabaleshwar this time.

You wouldn’t believe, we actually managed to wake up at 4 am on Saturday morning! And by 5:30 we were already on the road.

I still don’t believe I did it.

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

The winding trail through the Western Ghats is an experience in itself. In most parts you’d hardly find any other soul around, and looking up at the Ghat heights from the road makes you feel humbled by Nature’s sheer dimensions and magnificence. I just felt grateful to have the opportunity to be in such surroundings…

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

However in a long drive there are always stretches which are boring and monotonous, with nothing interesting around to gawk at.

Note to couples #1: You have to be really careful not to fight somewhere among these! I was not. Unfortunately he paid the price.:(

The boring details…

We reached Panchgani, a hill station surrounded by five peaks, about 20 km from Mahabaleshwar around noon.

Gotta admit – I didn’t really expect to find suitable room with this view …

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

Note to couples #2: Choose your room carefully on a romantic getaway. To us, the most important aspect of such trips is rejuvenating our souls and reconnecting with each other. That said, to me, the view from the room is of supreme importance – much more than whether the room has an AC and what the bath shower looks like. A great view from the room makes me feel right in the lap of Nature – I can spend hours sitting in front of the window.

Lake Shivsagar in Tapola, an idyllic boat ride…

Lunch was the first thing on our minds after a 6 hour drive.

Note to couples #3: I know you’re ravenous when you’re waiting for food at a restaurant. But don’t get your restlessness get in the way of conversation (Shubho has a long way to go here). Take the wait as an opportunity to relax – because you’re forced to be idle at this time. You won’t believe how many things we’ve discovered about each other in pointless conversations during this time. On this particular occasion, the restaurant being an open air roadside shack with mountains all around helped, of course.

After lunch we drove down to the village of Tapola, a 1.5 – 2 hour drive from Panchgani. Lake Shivsagar in Tapola is the reservoir of the Koyna dam – one of the largest freshwater lakes in the Sahyadris. The sparkling blue lake surrounded by towering Sahyadri mounts all around makes for a gorgeous view to tourists – especially because the driveway takes you right up to the banks of the lake. You have to suddenly brake when you discover that the road has ended and there’s nothing but a magnificent blue vastness ahead.

OK I know you don’t want any more of my boring words now…

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

The best part is you get individualized boat rides here – just for your travel group, instead of combined tours. An experience you wouldn’t want to miss…

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

Please congratulate Shubho on getting the two of us back to Panchgani from Tapola – it was his first drive in the mountains at night. :D

Sydney point, Panchgani

We’d set out with only Tapola in mind (yes we’re crazy enough to drive for 12 hours over one and half days to visit a single lake). But we had some time on Sunday morning before we headed back, so we decided to do a bit of sight-seeing around Panchgani.

Sydney Point is one of the most well-known Points in Panchgani, offering a panoramic view of Krishna valley, Koyna river, Dhom Dam & the valley of Wai.

The sudden explosion of blues, browns and greens in front of your eyes as you reach the peak of the Sydney hillock is a dizzying experience.  

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

Silence, Solitude and Beauty around Dhom Dam, Wai

Looking at the picturesque Wai valley and Dhom Dam from the Sydney Point, I felt I couldn’t leave the Ghats without touching all the pure intense blueness below. So off we drove to Wai, about 10 Km away.

What followed was an immersive experience of silence, utter solitude and serenity on the banks of the remnants of the Koyna around the Dhom Dam.

Tapola, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, Sahyadri

With our hearts overwhelmed with the beauty and tranquillity all around, we headed back home, with the promise of coming back again and again.