Our visit to Pune was en-route to Bhimashankar, a place at an altitude of 3500 feet above sea level and an abode of Lord Shiva as He has manifested here in the form of a Jyotirlinga. With the visit to Omkareshwar, I had completed the visit to all the 12 Jyotirlingas in the country. I had visited Bhimashankar in 2011 with my colleague and friend Mr Manoj Dikshit. However, Bhavani had not been to this temple and with this visit, she too would complete visiting all the 12 Jyotirlingas. Hence the plan.
Bhimashankar is situated in the Raigad District of Maharashtra state. The entire hill range is known as Sahyadri. Numerous villages and small towns dot the range. My first visit to this place was by trekking through the forests in the valleys of the range. A separate chapter is devoted to that thrilling trek. The road route was not known. We had returned by bus to Pune at that time and did not really remember the road. All I could remember that it had taken a little over 2 hours to reach Pune through hilly terrain.
Naturally, we depended on Google map to guide us on the route. We had started at 8 am after breakfast and hit the NH 48. The Google guide showed us relatively clear roads. Soon we were out the congested part of the city. We passed through an old area of the city and then entered a cantonment area (Dehu). The road was good so far though just two-lane which did not hinder the progress as the traffic was sparse. So far so good.
I was a bit sceptical about the road as I was not finding any bus plying on that road neither any tourist vehicle. The accompanying traffic was mostly local. Google was showing the same route and the distance to the destination was also decreasing constantly. Hence we continued on that route.
At one particular point, when the Google indicated us to take a narrow road going downhill, I stopped. My initial apprehensions are now deeper. I asked one passer-by if this road indeed leads to Bhimashankar. He was affirmative supported by another biker, a milkman, passing by. The road ahead was just a single lane, well made as far as I could see and with hardly any traffic. We had no choice. If we turn back, we don’t know where to go and Google will re-route us to the same road. So, though reluctantly, we decided to move on. Let’s see what lies ahead.
For the next 5 km, the road was steep downhill, narrow but in good condition. But the honeymoon with the road ended there. Soon we hit a very rough patch and Google informed us that we needed to move on this patch for 3 km. The road was completed damaged due to rains and was passing through small villages. We saw school children walking down the road. There were crater-like potholes and there were mounds where small vehicles could tilt dangerously. Driving the car through that uneven, bouncy and potholed path (it can hardly be termed as a road) was a nightmare for me. I was feeling terribly sorry for my car which is not made to negotiate this kind of treacherous road. The stretch seemed never-ending. I had no choice to reverse, such as the worst condition of the road. The only silver lining for the car was that it was not fully loaded. There was no one in the back seat nor there any luggage in the boot. Slowly and carefully (as far as possible), I manoeuvred the car through that difficult patch. A school bus passed by raising some relief that vehicles do negotiate this ‘road’. It was truly remarkable how I managed to cling on the left to give way to the oncoming bus.
About 2 km in that ‘road’, I saw a car coming from opposite direction. I signalled the driver to stop and lowered the window. I asked him how far the bad patch was and if we were on the right direction to Bhimashankar. The driver, a young local boy with his mother in the passenger seat understood my agony. He reassuringly told me that that bad patch is just another 700-800 meters, the road is better thereafter and we were, indeed, on the right direction. I felt better as one feels better after taking a pill in case of a headache. He was right. The bad patch ended in about 800 meters on a T-junction. Now Google guided me to take the right turn. I stopped the car, came out and tried to understand the road condition ahead. It seemed better than the previous stretch but still quite bad. The potholes were stark, the road was narrow, just a single lane, the asphalt work has worn out and it seemed that the road would lead me to a harrowing patch again and through village roads. Towards the left, the road was better and shortly a bus turned towards that. Google insisted that I have to take the right turn and to stay on that road for next 8 km.
By now, I was a little vexed and annoyed about my decision to take this route. This is certainly not the road I had taken in 2011. That road was broad enough and there was a reasonable movement of traffic on that road.
A young man on a bike appeared shortly and I waved at him to stop and asked for his guidance. As usual, he also affirmed that this road indeed goes to Bhimashankar. About the road condition, he said it was better than the last stretch but still not good enough. He assured me that after this stretch, state highway would be there and that is a good road. He went ahead and I followed him.
The road was still bad. A couple of trucks and bus passed by. Except for the road, the hilly surrounding was beautiful. We passed through small villages, minor streams coming alive in rains and lush greenery all around. The guy kept leading us and in a couple of road junctions showed us the correct turn.
In about 20 minutes, the 8 km ordeal was over. We could see a small town and a T-point. The biker waved us to stop. He told us to take the left turn at the T-point. We thanked him profusely for guiding and paid him Rs.100 as a small token of gratitude.
As we took the left turn, the road was suddenly broader and better. It was a concrete road till the outskirts of the town and thereafter it was asphalt. The usual route (which we came to know later and by which we returned to Pune in the evening) is by NH 60 and SH 54. However, the Google map showed us a different route. The distance was just over 100 km and time to be taken was around 3 hours. Google map always shows the fastest route as also the least congested route. However, from our experience so far, we understood that Google does not take into account the road conditions and the motorability. The route we took as per Google was through NH 48 to Dehu Road till Chas where we got on to SH 54. Up to Chas, it was all village roads passing through various villages such as Khalumbra, Bhamboli, Kivale, and Argadeshiwar etc. From Chas, the road was better and to our relief, we could see some tourist vehicles. The road winded uphill along a huge lake called Chas Kaman Dam. The dam was always on our left and gave company for almost 15 km to a village called Valad.
Though we were climbing all the time, the hills never seemed to commence as we were passing through villages and plenty of agricultural fields. The climb slowly became a bit steeper after a village called Mandoshi.
About 20 km after Mandoshi, we took a left turn near a village called Taleghar and shortly we entered the wooded area of Bhimashankar Reserve forest. About 2 km from Taleghar on the road, sharp upward turns were aplenty. We faced the subsided road at two places where the road has suddenly caved in creating a gap of 2 feet at least displacing the top cover and exposing the loose soil in that gap. Some locals have tried to fill the gap with loose soil and boulders but the incessant rain had thwarted their efforts. I had great worries about negotiating the car in those two gaps considering the low ground clearance of my car. Fortunately, I could negotiate unscathed and heave a sigh of relief.
Till now we had faced mostly cloudy weather with little drizzles at short intervals. The moment we entered the wooded area, the dark clouds descended and engulfed us. The visibility diminished, slow initially but then rapidly as we drove further. The headlights were on long beam along with the blinkers. About a couple of km from the parking, there was absolutely zero visibility. I drove dead slow, kept all my attention to the curving of the road and just guessed the road by looking for the tiny square signals embedded on the road at the bends. Soon the silhouette of human beings and vehicles came alive in that severely limited view and we knew that we have arrived at the destination.
The entry to the hilltop of Bhimashankar was nothing but spectacular. We were literally on cloud 9 as they say. We were engulfed in rainy clouds, wet yet no rainwater, no sun and a heavenly feeling in a hundred per cent pollution free environment. The visibility was just a few meters. We carried umbrellas but there was no rain, just dark and misty clouds hovering over you, enveloping you, embracing you and welcoming you into its heavenly refuge.
I wanted to show the forest and the trail that I had taken with Manoj 7 years back while trekking to Bhimashankar. There is a welcome gate now towards the reserve forest. But beyond that nothing was visible. There is also an observation deck at a cliff. But that too was unapproachable.
The temple is 140 steps downhill, sitting amid a small valley. In fact, the temple is in the deepest part of the valley whereas all other constructions are on higher slopes. The steps are not too steep and well-spaced till the very end. Now there are some improvements and the path is mostly covered to save the pilgrims from rain and sun. There are shops selling puja items, eatables and sundry. We observed a particular flower called ‘Gaurimallika’, not seen elsewhere.
There was not much of crowd so to say. A small queue of around 50 people waited patiently for the temple gate to open and constantly chanted ‘Om Namah Shivaya’, ‘Bol Bom’. It has rained throughout and coupled with the wet weather the premises was slippery and many of the devotees were drenched.
We entered the sanctum sanctorum by 1 pm and was out in next 5 minutes. This happens in almost all the temples where you make months of preparation to go and the reverence lasts only a few minutes. The floor was wet and slippery. By 1.30 pm we were out of the small temple premises. From a vantage point, I took some snaps of the temple which seemed a very old structure. I complimented the people associated with its construction hundreds of years earlier in such a challenging spot.
The public convenience facilities near the temple are deplorable. We wanted to visit washrooms which are constructed a little ahead of the temple. The male section was open while the female section was locked. There was no water. Two 1000 litre capacity plastic tanks were empty. We had to buy a water bottle to wash our hands.
Since we saw a sparse crowd at the temple, I asked a temple employee the reason thereof. On my last visit in 2011, I had followed the trail left by the villagers while trekking in that forest. It seems that the ‘Shravan’ month as per Hindu calendar has yet not commenced for the locals. By next Saturday, it would begin. The local villagers would then throng the temple and there would be a huge crowd by then.
It started raining when we were having lunch of Puri Bhaji in a shack sitting on plastic moulded chairs. The raindrops on the tin roof sounded hoarse and scary. Soon our lunch was over and so was the raining.
Nothing much has changed in these 7 years since my last visit. I could locate the three-room hotel where we had stayed for the night at a tariff of Rs.150 per night. There were two such hotels and I did not see any addition. There were, of course, some resorts have come up a couple of km from the temple which we saw during our return.
The cloud cover was stagnant. While buying roasted corn from a woman vendor we were informed that the weather remains the same for four months. She was using a manually driven bellow to fire up the charcoal to roast the corns. Vendors elsewhere can use the technology instead of using hand fans. Roasted corn is a delicacy in such damp weather.
Our vehicle was parked just outside the bus depot. This time I was not taking any chances with Google. There was no network also. I asked a driver of a commercial vehicle about the return route. He understood the road we had taken while coming up. He advised to take the straight road near Taleghar and not to take the right turn there. To make us understand more clearly, he informed that today there is a weekly village market and the right turn would come just after the market ends. We needed to drive straight past the market. We noted to be cautious while negotiating that stretch lest we might stray into that treacherous road all over again. We thanked him.
Our journey was now complete. We felt a divine satisfaction. Both of us have now completed the visit to all the 12 Jyotirlingas in the country. The last one was more special due to the timing – our 25th wedding anniversary, the period – Shravan month as per Hindu Calendar, the weather – clouds covering from all directions and above all, the exhilarating road trip, started on bad roads but ended smoothly. We have reached the farthest point of this road trip. Now it is return time. This evening we would be back in Pune. Tomorrow we would be at Indore and the day after, we would be back home.
Feeling content and happy, we resumed our return journey. For the next two km, there was the same cloud cover. We drove cautiously and soon we were out of the clouds. It was still cloudy and there was no sun. However, it was clear on the ground level. Visibility was now not a problem. At one particular point, we stopped the car to have a better view of the valley down below. However, the clouds descended again with high winds and blocked the view in all directions.
We found the weekly market from a distance and were alert. We drove straight past the market and now we’re on a decent road. A road sign announced Pune 120 km. The driver had told us that on this road, we may have to drive 20 km extra. Never mind! We wanted to reach safe, especially not hurting the car anymore. In the rainy season, the entire hill range comes alive. It is grinning with various hues of green everywhere. The grass is lime green, the trees are of various hues – ranging from emerald to parakeet to seaweed to moss and all that, the paddy fields swayed with pear green lustre. As we come down – this time without being flummoxed with road conditions, we enjoyed the surrounding natural landscape more. There was a huge dam in a place called Dimbhe. On this road, the localities were better developed than the other route. We passed through small towns aplenty.
The SH 112 took us to Manchar where the road merged with NH 60 which eventually took us to the city of Pune. By 5 pm we were back to our hotel. What a day! We had all the thrills of a road trip – bad roads, no roads, bad technology, elegant views, helpful people, terrific weather, good roads, beautiful vistas, a very satisfactory temple visit and a very safe return. Such a trip would remain forever etched in the memory. My both trips to Bhimashankar – the first one by trekking, and the second one by car are now truly memorable.
Today we would be commencing our return journey to home. Noida is about 1500 km from Pune by road. We had planned the return journey in two phases. Today our destination is Indore, about 600 km away. We had checked the Google map. The route would be NH 60 till Dhule, about 350 km and then NH 52 till Indore. The time to be taken to cover the journey was guessed at a little over 11 hours as per Google, though I had covered the similar distance in about nine hours – from my Noida home to Chittorgarh. The difference is, of course, the road condition. From the Pune city, the NH 60, for the next 100 km or so is just a two-lane road with a lot of patchworks and voluminous traffic. Over and above, getting out of the city itself was going to take a hell lot of time.
We had checked Google for the route to NH 60 from our hotel. It seemed congested. Last evening we had gone to the local market in an autorickshaw. I had asked the auto driver the route to NH 60 from our hotel. He guided me properly and advised me not to take the road suggested by Google.
Today, we left the hotel by 8 am. We took the road as suggested by the auto driver last evening. About a km on NH 48, we took a right turn through an underpass and reached Wakad Chowk where we took a right turn again and kept on moving till Kokne Chowk. Just to be sure that we were on the correct path, I stopped before a circle and asked another auto driver about NH 60, Bhosari and Manchar. He was munching breakfast of Poha, a local delicacy and smilingly offered the same to me before guiding me. A great soul indeed. He told me that we were on the correct route. Just ahead in the circle, we need to take the 3rd exit and …… we would be on NH 60. I thanked him, got back to the driver’s seat and vroomed ahead.
The city remained with us for the next hour. We faced a huge traffic congestion at Chakan which took us 15 minutes to cross. Passed by Manchar, Narayangaon and still, it was just a two-lane badly maintained road. By 11 am, we had covered just about 100 km. 3 hours since we started and just 100 km! However, soon the 4 lane road began when we paid a toll charge of Rs.75 at Hiwargaon Panda in Khed. Now the road was better. But for the rumble speed breakers, I was cruising at 100 kmph. I wanted to cover the lost ground as far as possible.
In this road trip of 3600 km, I was stopped only once by the traffic for checking documents. This happened about 50 km before Nashik. There was a road barricade. The constable asked for my papers which were shown to him duly. The RC card, my driving license, the insurance policy document and the Pollution Under Control (PUC) certificate. The PUC was issued from Delhi and was bilingual with Hindi on top. The constable could not understand that and repeatedly asked for PUC. I had to explain and finally, probably he understood.
We reached Nashik by 1.30 pm. The road led us near the Nashik Road rail station and immediately, I recognized the surroundings. I have been here a number of times before. NH 60 passes through the city just like any other city road – congested, slow and ill-maintained. In the next 20 minutes, we were out of the city and were on our way to Dhule. For the first time, a road sign to Indore was noticed and I heaved a sigh of relief. We were on the correct course. Mumbai was just 180 km away and I was apprehensive that were we going towards Mumbai?
It was 2.15 pm when we stopped for a cup of tea. The restaurant was entirely made of bamboo which was brought from Assam. There was a beautiful white rose garden inside the courtyard.
The NH 60 is on and off either 2-lane or 4-lane. In my entire trip, I found NH 60 a bit neglected and not maintained as NH 48 or NH 52. We continued our progress. We passed through Malegaon and then Dhule by 3.30 pm. We had covered the last 350 km in 7 and half hours, at an average speed of roughly 60 kmph out of which the first 100 km was @ just 35 kmph. Indore was still 250 km away. We reached the MP-MH border by 4.45 pm. By 6 pm we passed through Khalghat ring road and by 7 pm we were at our Hotel Grand Bhagwati on NH 52 in the outskirts of Indore.
It took 11 hours exactly to reach Indore from Pune, a distance of 600 km at an average speed of 55 kmph. The Grand Bhagwati (TGB), is a 5-star property with great facilities and fabulous rooms. We found the hotel, constructed in sprawling premises, very tastefully done with lawns, ballrooms, fountains and an array of mural works. The dinner was a buffet. The hotel offers only vegetarian dishes. The dinner was sumptuous with at least 3 dozen varieties of dishes. We enjoyed the dinner and after that strolled around the property. We knew that the next day’s road trip is going to be tough. It would 900 km and about 16 hours. We must have proper sleep tonight.
I had kept the window curtain drawn open last night so that the early morning rays come in and I could get up early. Our window was in the eastern direction. I was awake by 4 am. I left the bed by 5 am and by 6 am I had gone down to clean the car windscreen. The car was dirty but there was not much I could do about it. By 7 am we were ready and went for breakfast. By 7.30 we finished breakfast, came back to our room, took our luggage, came down, settled the hotel bill, checked out and by 8 am we bade goodbye to the hotel staff and the city.
We set the Google map for direction to Ujjain. It completely bypassed the city and showed us the way to Ujjain through a well-maintained road meandered through villages and through fields where mainly the soya crop was swaying majestically. The Indore Ujjain road is a 4 lane road. We were yet to get on that road and we thought that Google misled us yet again. Fortunately, this time, it was not the case. The road shown by Google was superb, sparse traffic and the village surrounding on a cloudy morning made the drive enjoyable. About half an hour in that road, we came upon the highway to Ujjain. Now we did not really need Google guidance. This road, till our home at Noida, is now known to us. I had kept a sharp eye on the milestones while coming from Chittorgarh to Indore on 29.07.2018. On that day the route was new to me. Not today.
The distance to be covered was approximately 900 km and Google had estimated the time to be taken as 15 hours and 30 minutes, non-stop, which was of course not possible. We need to stop regularly for washroom requirements, tea and refreshments and to stretch the limbs. I expected that we could reach home by midnight. By the end of daylight, I wanted to reach Jaipur. The road from Jaipur to Delhi is like the back of my palm. The stretch from Ujjain to Jaora, a known stretch now, was just two-lane winding through fields, villages and small towns. Once this stretch was taken, we were on NH 52 which was fabulous all the way to Chittorgarh where we would take NH 48, another fabulous road till Delhi via Nasirabad, Kishangarh and Jaipur. We could maintain a decent speed and passed through the milestones on expected timelines.
By 6 pm we were past Ajmer and now looking for a decent tea joint where we might find proper washroom facilities. However, none was in view and we had to stop at a petrol bunk to fill the tank and we found the washroom facility at that bunk ok.
At about 7 pm we stopped for tea at Highway Junction, a recent facility in sprawling premises just 30 km before Jaipur. We passed Jaipur through the by-pass before 8 pm. It was dark by then. However, it was a known road. We have been to Jaipur a number of times. Shortly after 9 pm, we stopped at another branch of Highway Junction to have dinner. Our estimated arrival time at home would be past midnight. In an hour we passed Pataudi. The traffic now increased as the ‘Kanwaria’ trucks, with loud music, started appearing. We passed the Manesar toll by 11 pm. The home was just an hour away.
We faced a traffic jam in Delhi near RTR flyover (under construction) and near AIIMS roundabout which extended our journey time by half an hour. By 12.30 night we entered MM society and we were at our home after a gruelling drive of 16 hours with stoppages at 4 places.
A long cherished dream was fulfilled. The endurance capacity was also tested and I think I passed that test convincingly.
The road trip cost me Rs.18000 in fuel expenses and Rs.3000 in toll charges. The toll charges came almost one rupee per km. 90% of the toll charges seemed to be fair as the concerned roads were maintained excellently. Roads in Rajasthan and MP were in very good condition whereas in Maharashtra, our Road minister’s own state, the road conditions need a lot of improvement.
The car, a 2012 Honda Civic 1.8V Petrol gave excellent service without a single breakdown – not even a tyre puncture. The fuel efficiency was about 16 km/litre. The ‘Caravan’ by ‘Saregama’ proved to be an outstanding companion. I plugged it into my car audio system. The old melodious songs made the journey a memorable and smooth affair. Bhavani learned to be an able navigator and handled the Google map with ease after initial hiccups. I reinforced my confidence to drive long distances. Now I desire to visit all those places by driving down where I have been on public transport, air and rail. I am confident that I would be able to fulfil my desire in near future, God helps me.