Sunday, 25 December 2011

Binsar to Naukuchiatal

It was the last leg of our 12-day family holiday in Uttarakhand and we were sitting in the balcony of Manipur Villa reliving our holidays and looking at the western skies that had acquired a rosy hue :

The next day, we were to travel from Club Mahindra's resort in Binsar to their Naukuchiatal resort near Kathgodam. It took me some time to remember the name Naukuchiatal but that was made easy once we knew its meaning ... Nau konewala talab i.e. nine cornered lake.

Driving in these areas is a different experience. While the roads were mountainous and sometimes hardly wide enough for one vehicle, the surroundings were breath taking. The first sight of snow peaked Himalayan ranges is always an experience.

But over the past 10 days we had got used to both the roads and the presence of Himalayas and it was now time to descend to the lower heights. We were to start after a leisurely breakfast and I had time enough for some bird watching within the resort premises :  


Part of our 120 kms drive from Binsar's Manipur Villa to Kathgodam was passing through winding roads overlooking a valley in outskirts of Almoda town when we came across this magnificent sight of several Steppe eagles circling in the valley.


Soon after crossing Almoda, we were driving past River Kosi on the right. The road was hardly with any tarmac left on the road and our driver informed us the reason ... landslides and the havoc played by the floods of the earlier year. I missed many a photo-opportunities on this stretch of the road as we were not allowed to stop here.

But when we did stop after some 20 kms of a bumpy road, the sight was welcoming: 

Malta trees along the stream next to Santoshimata temple
This halt was at a place named Kaichi with a neat and compact Santoshimata temple. Maruti Restaurant which is just next to this temple does a good  business with the travellers who get down for Mata's darshan.  It would be criminal not to try out bread and onion pakodas with a hot cup of tea at this spot. 

The manager at Club Mahindra Naukuciatal resort had suggested on phone that we should not miss the opportunity to visit the Butterfly museum near Bheemtal located about 10 Kms before the resort. Just when I was wondering about the name of the lake, our driver informed that it was formed when Bheema, the Pandava brother hit the ground at that spot by his mace. 

Locating the butterfly museum turned out to be quite an arduous task. The museum was said to be off the main road about 2 kms as per a local. At one point on the narrow dirt track just wide enough for a car, I even decided to turn back as our journey was taking us nowhere. But our driver's persistence and enthusiasm paid off and very soon we were in front of an old bungalow. We had decided to just breeze through the butterfly museum-cum-Research centre but the moment we entered the one room museum, I knew that it was one place where I always wanted to be and we spent almost an hour.  

Soon after the conducted tour in the butterfly museum, we reached the resort. We had selected this resort only for an overnight stay due to its closeness to Kathgodam station but since the sun was still about half an hour from setting, we decided to walk down to Naukuchiatal which was behind the resort. I had also bird watching in mind but though there was some good birds activity in the bushes, I could snap only one bird which happened to be a new addition to my collection of species - a Bartailed Tree creeper. And the last picture before it was too dark was of the lake itself.

We left the resort early on the next day to reach the station and on the way took only one short stop when we came across these Poinsettias :

The looks of Kathgodam station was a pleasant surprise and though the train was late by more than an hour we were happy just lazying around and walking along the platform in such pristine weather and surroundings.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Mumbai to Nagpur

Driving to Nagpur by road was the only option left when our train tickets to Nagpur were still wait listed 2 days prior to our scheduled travel date. Tatkal quota overflowed within a few minutes of opening the bookings. These were Diwali days.

Started around 5:30 am from home and hit the Eastern Express Highway at Mulund exactly at 6:00. Going was good until the car stalled at Bhiwandi toll post. Our plan was to reach Nagpur the same day but I was not sure now. A little push and the car started and I put my worries at rest.

Expert at Spark Battery Works was available just outside Bhiwandi even at that early hour. But as it normally happens, the patient behaved well in front of the doctor and we continued. Another hiccup was experienced only when we were just about 10 minutes from my Parent's place in Nagpur.

We took to the road again with full confidence after getting the green signal from the expert. We took our first of several photo-stops when we were nearing Nasik (also known as Nashik) near this temple. In my memory, this temple seems to be perpetually under construction. Even today one could see some stone work in progress in the foreground.

The pleasure of driving on a 4 lane double road (about 145 kms) which started at Mulund, Mumbai ended when we were just short by 23 Kms from Nasik. The next 60 Kms must have been the slowest of the whole of 860Kms drive. It was both traffic on the Nasik-bypass and fly-over construction.

The 4-lane 120Km road that started just after Pimpalgaon, a small town - about 50 Kms outside Nasik - was a good drive but then another photo-stop was a must at the following spot :

Very soon a breakfast stop was also due which we took after Malegaon. Nothing much to speak of this restaurant nor the others that we stopped for our very-late-lunch at 3:30 pm and the last just before Amravati at 8 PM.
This butterfly waiting just outside the restaurant greeted us after our breakfast.

The stretch of this 120 Kms, NH3 took us just beyond Dhule until the road split - the straight road NH3 over fly-over going to Indore while the right turn (beginning of NH6 or AH46) below the fly-over, to Nagpur.

NH6 is a 2-lane road with no sign of any construction for 4-laning. My major thought on this about 425 kms+ 2-lane stretch was whether we would be able to make it to Nagpur the same day. The road reminded the 'good old' roads of eighties when we travelled in our Fiat of 1963 model.

On this 425 km stretch, we crossed familiar towns some of which often used in antaksharis we played during our childhood .... Bhusawal, Varangaon, Malkapur, Nandura, Khamgaon, Shegaon, Akola, Badnera, Murtizapur and Amravati.

Here was another temple that we came across when we were nearing Bhusaval.

Good part was that the highway bypassed these towns and in some occasions we had only a small glimpse of what could be waiting for us, had we taken the route through the towns. Only town which I would have liked to pass through was Shegaon known for the Saint Gajanan Maharaj but as it happened, the town was a little away from the highway.

Further photo-stops were when we passed this giant Hanuman idol in Nandura, the sun-flower plantation when we were nearing Akola and then a spot by the side of the road where red chillies were being dried.

On the way somewhere just before Bhusawal it was nice to see Tata Motors - Day & Night Service centre. Though it was not much help to us, its sight was very comforting and wondered if some day Mahindra and others would have similar stations.

Later I was also taken by surprise when we crossed Akola airport. Had never heard of it before. Need to check if it was operational though my using it is unlikely.

The following picture shot somewhere just beyond the half way did not require any stop :

Just around 8 PM we took another stop for some food at Prince Restaurant just before Amravati bypass, still about 150KMs from Nagpur. Still on a 2 lane highway we were not sure if it would be prudent to go to Nagpur the same day but then we took the decision that we should. The road guide that I had printed from a 2 year old blog did indicate that somewhere soon we should expect a 4-lane road that should speed up our journey.

We crossed several toll posts charging varying amount from Rs 10 to Rs 100 but by now I had come to conclusion that roads charging Rs 10 for the toll could not be depended upon. The free ways were as good or bad as the ones charging Rs 10.

The final stretch of 4-lane highway was about 110Kms and took us straight into Nagpur just before 11 PM.

Into the city we must have been just about 3-4 kms from my parents place when again the engine stalled. An insignificant push and the remaining short distance was covered quickly. Mechanic later assured me that I need not worry about it until I return to Mumbai. 

Now it was time for Diwali celebrations ! Happy Diwali to all of you !

Following travel-log should also be interesting to some of the readers:

SrPlaceKm countDist from MumbaiTimeComments
1Western Express Highway, Mulund44935006:00:004 lane road starts
223 Km milestone to Nashik4507313808:00:004 lane road ends
3After Pimpalgaon on NH34514020509:45:004 lane road starts
4Breakfast break (20 Kms after Malegaon)4522028510:45:0035 minutes halt
5Right turn to Nagpur on NH3, Dhule exit4526132612:05:004 lane road ends
6NH6 (AH46) starts4526132612:05:002 lane road starts
7Lunch break near Malkapur4544350815:35:0045 minutes halt
8Nandura - Huge Hanuman idol on NH6 (AH46)4547153616:45:003 minutes stoppage
9Diesel Halt just after Shegaon exit4549856317:28:0010 minutes halt
10Photo stop - Sunflower cultivation4551057517:45:003 minutes stoppage
11Akola airport on left4555161618:24:00 
12Dinner break - Prince restaurant, 4562869319:55:0030 minutes halt
13Amravati by-pass starts4563069520:28:00 
144-Lane road starts - NH 64566272721:32:00 
15Nagpur arrives4580286722:48:00 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Goa - A new face

Goa shows different faces to different people.

It is beaches to foreigners. To some Indians it is temples or churches.  To some others it could be fish curry and rice. And before you say I am forgetting something, which I won't, it could also be Feni - Goan liquor made out of coconut or cashew.

Goa is surely different than other states. When young, I often heard that it was one of the safest places where people did not lock their doors. And windows, often circular in shape, had no grills. But I don't mean this, when I say different. It is the mood in the air. Visiting is believing.

I have visited Goa many times both on official duties as well as in personal capacity. On this occasion, apart from the official responsibilities, I also decided to explore the Goan Nature. My free time permitted me one of the reserved forests and my other interest was the only bird sanctuary in Goa that is Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.

I decided to visit Bondla wildlife sanctuary on a late afternoon. The timing was not ideal for such a visit but I had no choice as the other free slot. the next day morning was reserved for Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary near Panaji. Bondla WS is about 35 Kms from Margaon . . .मडगाव् in Goan official language Konkani - कोंकणी.

Incidentally, Konkani is my mother tongue too and is spoken by another 3 million + population on about 800 Km stretch of west coast of india.  

The Spotted deer and the Great Malabar Squirrel in the Bondla WS, both of whom waited until I clicked their pictures were my achievements of about one hour that I spent there.  

When I had made enquiries about Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary I was informed that the migratory birds were yet to arrive. But Nature always has surprises and my visit to the sanctuary next morning was a good experience. My journey to Chorao island across Ribandar, Panaji where the sanctuary is located also gave me a glimpse of Goan life.

Most of people residing on Chorao island need to take a ferry every day to reach their working places on the main land. I just imagined myself doing that every day. But I later wondered as to the shock a Goan would have if they see the rat race we  Mumbaikars go through every day to reach their office places.

Following picture is a sight of main land as seen from Chorao island. The ferry crosses Mandovi river in about 15 minutes. There is a charge only for the vehicles. The BS is just there on landing on the island.

This sanctuary is full of mangroves and it was a wonderful experience of walking through the sanctuary. Unlike many other bird sanctuaries, it is necessary here to take a fixed route which is paved by concrete blocks  and return the same way. Did not see much of bird life and the picture below was a typical view during the walk.

Though I could hear many bird calls, only birds seen were the waders in a few places. I have always seen these waders doing what they are best at - wading. here I found them sitting on branches of the trees.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)

Common Redshank (Tringa totanus)

When I completed my tour of the sanctuary in about an hour and came out, a friendly local Goan offered me to take me in his canoe in the Mandovi river with a promise of many more waders. But on seeing the type of canoe that I was to travel with my precious camera, I did not dare. But he had also an alternative suggestion at the cost of loosing his own business - walk along the Mandovi river on the opposite side of the sanctuary and there he assured, was a lot of bird life.

His advice turned out to be good and here are some pictures taken out side the sanctuary on the same island:

This is the most common wader we see in all the places but I am never tired of snapping them on my camera whenever it is seen in such natural surroundings.
Greater Egret (Casmerodius albus )

My biggest surprise on this tour was the variety of butterflies . . . both inside and outside the sanctuary. Unfortunately I do not know their common names, leave alone the scientific names. I will surely update this blog when some of butterfly experts - I think they are called Lepidopterist help me.

Grey Pansy


Danaid eggfly

Chocolate Pansy

Thought this commonly seen butterfly is not the most exotic of the species, I often become nostalgic when I see one. I grew with them in Mumbai and in those school days we often caught them. More than catching them we were interested in seeing the yellow colour that its wings left on our fingers. 

Grassy Yellow

I have a special place for this butterfly with damaged wings. When I posted earlier a similar injured butterfly my good friend Ajith promptly send me this link : Repair a Butterfly

I wish this butterfly too gets this medical assistance. And soon enough.

Peacock Pansy

This female Indian Koel was sitting in a bush at the end of my Chorao tour.

Asian Koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus)

I was also amused at this bird. This night heron was sitting in the same place near the landing of the ferry. The bird was still there after more than 2 hours of my Chorao tour and in fact it bid adieu in his own style with a comic face. Please see it for your self.

Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)

Small Blue Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) with Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

Though, churches were not my focus on this Goan tour, one can not miss them anywhere one goes and when I happened to pass through Old Goa, I did stop and took some pictures. One of them is now converted into an archeological museum.



Business side of Goa also went well. But I still have some unfinished work here that will bring me back soon. Very soon.