Thursday, September 21, 2017

Into the land of hills and chikkis... Weekend getaway to Lonavala || Lonavala, Khandala travelogue

Planning road trips and/or weekend getaways are difficult, even so when all your friends are in their early twenties – still in college or in their first job, where getting leaves is always a problem. But my friend Ronaldo does any exceptionally good job at it; I sometimes feel he should start a travel agency. But he has other dreams (of getting into the army and serving the nation), so let this rest here!

So getting back to the weekend trip… This was my third trip with Ronaldo (and other friends). The first one was a roadtrip to South Goa and the second one was the Nasik roadtrip. This trip was supposed to be a roadtrip; and it was supposed to be a roadtrip to Mahabaleshwar. But it ended up being a trip to Lonavala, because this trip was more feasible than Mahabaleshwar (without a car). P.S. I don’t know how!

Why? Some of the peeps ditched us. But Ronaldo, being the stubborn him, was very keen to do this trip, sans a car. So we decided to backpack (travel like poor people, in his words) – take the train, cabs and walk! We successfully completed the trip and absolutely enjoyed it – despite a bit of confusion and arguments. I have a slight backache (from carrying the heavy backpack. Someone please teach me to pack light) as I sit to write this!

We were already on Karjat station (that’s a story for another time) waiting for a train to Lonavala. The Mumbai local’s route ends at Karjat. So one needs to take an Indian railway long-distance train to reach Lonavala; probably a train to somewhere in central or south India (I guess)! We missed the first train, because it was too crowded! Having said that, I have travelled in crowded trains, but we weren’t in a good state – physically and mentally, to get on to that train. So we let it go. And waited for another train.

It did come…an hour or so later! It sure was a struggle to get in, and an even bigger struggle to secure a seat. But we all managed to get one! We were tired af by the time we reached Lonavala. And Rucha has a change of mind and suggested we go to Pune instead. I was game! Defo! Why not? Pune is my second favourite city after Bombay. Remember the argument I mentioned in paragraph 1? This was it. No, we didn’t go to Pune. We checked into a hotel and stayed in Lonavala.

If you are still reading, worry not, all the good things are yet to come. All the bitter memeories end here! The moment we checked into our room, everything fell into place. We rested our aching backs, opened the window panes to let the cool Lonavala breeze run through our hair and soaked in the view in front of us. We checked-in to a budget hotel (I guess I mentioned we all are students or in our first job), but it sure was fun!

Let me introduce ‘us’. So it was five of us on this trip. Ronaldo – the planner! He works in a sports digital media firm. Then there’s me – I’m a journalist with the Goa edition of a leading media house in India. Vaishali and Rucha – who are roommates in their Bandra home and MBA students. Nishchay – who is an engineer, but is in-between jobs, and lives in Pune! So it was three Bombay people, one Goa girl and one Pune guy on this trip!

Getting back to our room in Lonavala – we asked for room service – binged on cheesy sandwiches (with extra cheese) and fries, chilled for a bit and then headed out. It was around sunset by the time we left our room and the adventure begun right then! Finding an auto was a challenge. But we braved everything and headed to Sunil’s wax museum. Oh well, it’s supposed to be cool!

What I didn’t know was, Lonavala has lotsa wax museums (four, I was told); and Sunil’s Celebrity Wax Museum is supposed to be the best of it. All the wax statues are made by Sunil himself. He has met a lot of the celebrities in person and measured them, before creating their statutes. I was pretty impressed with some of the statues. I was pretty impressed by the Rajnikant statues, it looked so real!

Post that, we headed to McDonald’s and binged on some more fries and burger. Before you ask me why we didn’t try any local food, let me tell you – a. We were hungry af. b. We had to find another auto to try and find a restaurant, which was quite difficult at that time of the evening. c. Lonavala doesn’t really have speciality food or Lonavala special-food restaurants, so there wasn’t a point hunting for one.

We then headed to the busy market area and wandered around for a bit – until we stepped into Super Chikki store. Did I just say Lonavala didn’t have a special food – I am sorry! The fudges are to-die-for. I ain’t kidding. The chikki and fudge stores in Lonavala have the yummiest confections. You’ll pretty much find three or four chikki and fudge store on every lane. And you are really confused wondering which one to enter. Worry not! Trust my recommendation.

We went to Super Chikki – which is located in the busy area (that seems like a market) along the old Mumbai-Pune highway, and also very close to the railway station. They can be spotted easily once you reach the market and they are open from 10 am to pm. Or you can just call them 09772566601. Just FYI, they also give free home delivery in Lonavala. It’s owned by the Rajpurohit’s, originally from Rajasthan and have been into existence since 1963.

Getting to their food – they have over 25 varieties of chikkis, ten varieties of fudges, jellies and farsan. Knowing me, I tasted almost everything I could get my hands on and ended up buying a few kgs of food from here. They do give you a taster before you buy. Please try the chocolate hazelnut fudge, and thank me later! Though my friends here insist on the chocolate fudge, I suggest the chocolate hazelnut one; umm… because this is my blog (I am getting beaten up for this hahaa) Nevertheless, you can pick from among the varieties they have. So worry not.

We did pick up some food and beer and chilled in our room before we retired for the night; because we had an early morning next day. Did I say Ronaldo was more like our tour planner? So he managed to book a cab for the next day (which wasn’t exorbitantly priced like the other cabs in the city) and off we were, driving around Lonavala.

We first headed to Bushi Dam after driving past the scenic Lonavala lake. It was misty and we could see the hills in a distance. The weather was pleasant and the view before us was spectacular. Bushi Dam was a lot more crowded than expected at 8 am, perhaps because it was a Sunday. The crowd did ease a bit in a few minutes and it got more pleasant. The vast stretch of water with a hills in the distance is definitely a view you wish to wake up to every single day!

A short hike from Bushi Dam takes you to two spectacular waterfalls. Though its a few minutes trek to reach the waterfalls, it’s advisable to just soak in the view and relax at the base of the hill where the water meets the dam. And that’s exactly what we did. The pink and yellow flowers, the gushing water and the beautiful view in front of us was everything we needed to rejuvenate us for the week ahead!

After a while, we stopped at a local chai stall for corn pakoras. And were they yumm! I definitely love gorging on some hot onion or potato fritters when I am in the hills. You know that if you have seen my Amboli Ghat roadtrip post. So stopping by for some pakoras was mandatory, and discovering corn pakoras (through another blogger friend) was the best thing! We packed our pakoras and headed to the hills.

There are several viewpoints in Lonavala and the most accessible ones are the Lion’s Point and Tiger Point (I don’t know why they are called that). Lonavala also boasts of several forts – Rajmachi and Lohgad being the more popular ones and other heritage sites like Karla caves, which did catch my fancy, but weren’t really accessible. Also, most of them include a trek, which none of us were up for. 

So our Lonavala trip was more of a chill-in-the-hills-before-you-get-back-to-work-on-Monday types!
The view from the cliff (at Tiger Point) was bombdiggity! Words fall short to describe the beyond-beautiful scenic valley, lofty cliffs, waterfall and lake in the distance. The sun playing hide-and-seek through the clouds, the cliff reflecting the light to form a bright hue of green and the waterfalls gushing down in the distance and the spectacular view of the Lonavala lake beyond that, combined with pleasant weather – perfect!

The view is definitely something I won’t get over anytime soon. Probably that’s what we miss in the cities and that’s precisely why we need a vacation of this sort. It sure clears your mind of the clutter and gives you a sense of peace! I could get used to this… but this pretty much was the end to our awesome trip to Lonavala – the land of the hills, the land of chikkis… We were lucky enough to get a good deal on the cab to Mumbai. The drive back to Mumbai, via the winding roads in the Khandala ghats; crossing tunnels, mini-waterfalls and a misty horizon was the perfect way to soak in and enjoy the beautiful weekend gone by!

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