Sunday, January 28, 2007

Bhaje and Lohagad

26 January was Republic Day. This is not to be confused with Independence day, India has cunningly separated these two events, thus guaranteeing two days holiday rather than one. Republic day entails much marching and showing of weaponry in Delhi, but for the rest of us it's a welcome day off. San, Roshni and I went to Lohagad Fort and Bhaje Caves, which are about 40 km west of Pune. We drove there along NH4, the old highway to Mumbai. The new expressway has replaced it, but it is a fairly decent quality road all the same. Dual carriageway for most of the journey, but the parked cars, pedestrians and numerous junctions with side roads mean that concentration is required.

We turned off and took the road to Malavli, which is the nearest train station to the fort and caves. We continued on and parked our car at the foot of the steps to the caves; a short climb and we were there. The caves are not natural, they were carved out of the rock some 2,000 years ago by the Bhuddist inhabitants of these parts. It's not quite on the scale of Petra, but still mightily impressive. There were many rooms carved out of the cliff, some were for living in, others contained stupas - bell shapes stones containing the ashes of the deceased.

After admiring the stonework we retraced out steps back to the car and drove across the valley towards Lohagad on what may generously be described as an un-metalled highway. It started off OK, but swiftly degenerated into loose stones on a steep incline. Soon we abandoned the car and set off on foot, grateful that we had avoided a few kilometres across the valley in sweltering heat. It was still pretty hot as we started our ascent, Roshni was not helping at this point. She kept demanding to be carried by whomever wasn't carrying her at that particular moment in time. Fortunately she was pretty tired and ended up being carried over my shoulder. This moment coincided with the first of the steps.

Compared to the caves, the fort is a sprightly 500 years old, and was one of many in the area belonging to Chatrapati Shivaji. As is common with many of the forts it is situated on the top of a formidable hill. A hill with a sheer cliff-face. This is where the steps enter the story. The steps are many, and they are large, and I carried Roshni up every single one of them. It was exhausting. The views on the ascent, and from the summit itself, made it all worthwhile. We had our picnic at the top in one of the ruined fort's rooms. The room was open to the blue sky, on one side was the doorway by which we had entered, the other three walls served as watch-posts for several monkeys to gather and eye up our food and possessions.

We had a walk around the summit area and encountered some local lads having their picture taken sitting crudely astride a cannon. Students: they're the same everywhere. There were some splendid views of the Western Ghats, and remains of various fort structures. After that we headed back down. I hoped that this would be easier, but as I was now carrying Roshni and a backpack it was every bit as hard as the ascent. Roshni was awake by this time and sitting on my shoulders, and I was worried that I might slip. The effort in making sure that every downwards step was solidly planted took its toll. Fortunately there was a café at the foot of the steps where we all stopped off for refreshments. By now the sun had lowered into the top of the horizon's haze, which reduced the direct heat considerably, making the remaining gentle downhill walk to the car much more pleasant.


Where on Earth:
Bhaje Caves 18˚43'11.22''N 73˚29'08.64''E (Caves are at the bottom of the hill, Visapur fort is at the top)
Lohagad Fort 18˚42'32.20''N 73˚28'37.41''E

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meanwhile, 100 Miles North

This was a picture from one of the newspapers yesterday. Nashik is a sizeable town, about 100 miles north of Pune. A reminder that the local fauna can be on the exciting side. However, I only see donkeys on my walk to work. Fortunately, both the man in the picture, and the leopard, lived to see another day.

Monday, January 15, 2007


Last weekend our apartment complex celebrated Sankranti. This involved the construction of a bonfire in the grounds, which was lit up at night. Sweets, nuts and popcorn were handed out, and were thrown in the fire as we circled seven times. Actually, many people gave up early, myself included, because the fire was burning fiercely by now, and the walls within the complex grounds forced us a bit too close to the flames for comfort.

After our roasting, the remaining sweets were consumed by the spectators, rather than the conflagration. There were lots of sweets to eat, and any attempt at avoiding them was hampered by Roshni insisting that San and I took hers. After she had eaten a few herself, of course.

The next day we went for a walk to the top of the hill to watch the sunset. We met one of our ex-maid's on the summit. Her party were there to perform puja at the small temple located there. She gave us some sesame seed ladoos, traditional Maharashtra Sankranti fare, along with the words: "til gul ghya, ani god god bola" (let us be sweet to each other and let friendship prevail between us).

The sunset was fairly impressive - Roshni thought it looked like a lollipop. No sign of Comet McNaught though. Unsurprising as it would be close to the sun, the horizon was pretty hazy, and the geometry meant that from our latitude that the comet would barely be higher than the sun in the sky. Still, the sunset was worth watching, and we saw Venus shortly afterwards.