Thursday 23 March 2017

Maharashtra Road Trip

This post is about 3111 km road drive to Maharashtra from Bengaluru covering 9 days. In this post, I have given emphasis on the places visited and specifically on certain tips which you should be aware of so that you don't get into surprises and be prepared for! For those who are only looking for summary, I don't disappoint you either! You can directly jump to the summary section at the end of this post!

The last few long drives gave confidence in the driving, and of course on the machine as well. It was the time to go beyond the previous limits - 1500 kms/ 5 days! When we looked at the map, what caught our attention was Maharashtra! There are so many places in India and in every state. If we have to cover "all" the places, perhaps, we have to travel for an entire year! Well, we don't have that luxury! So we usually pick the top places - a kind of must see places to choose. And that is how we chose the places about which I'm going to provide details.

Purposefully Mumbai was out of the list. We thought this city requires a dedicated visit.
Thanks to my friend Prasad for this tip: Keep RC, DL, Insurance, and Emission Certificate of your vehicle in original. We were stopped by Maharashtra Police in 4 places for verification. As we had all the documents, we were let go.


Here is the route map of this tour: 


I had my car serviced and also bought tow rope and other essential tools for the long drive. Wife packed all the backup food - bread and jam, biscuits, fruits, chiwda (made of poha), and other homemade items. Son picked up a few toys, a book and a pencil set. The stage was set and we started from home at 5.30AM. Our first stop was Kolhapur. 


Kolhapur is famous for Mahalakshmi temple. The distance between the parking area and the temple is around 700 meters. Though camera and mobile phones are allowed inside the temple, taking photographs is prohibited. When we went, the crowd was moderate and we were able to complete the darshan in 15 minutes. Unlike the temples in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the temple architecture in Kolhapur was different and of course beautiful.


There are plenty of stores for shopping inside the temple compound. If you are looking for a famous Kolhapur chappal, come out of the temple and in the adjoining streets, you can see a plenty of shops selling chappals. We bought a couple of pairs.


Our Day 2 the destination was Mahabaleshwar, a popular hill station in Maharashtra. We passed through Satara and Medha to reach the hill station. By the time we reached, it was noon. After a quick check-in to the hotel, we had a delicious lunch at vegetarian restaurant at Food Studio.

We headed towards Pratapgad. Pratapgad (literally Valour Fort) is a popular tourist destination for its fort. One can climb the fort and have a beautiful glimpse of the western ghats.

Tip: Avoid this place at noon as it will be very hot. This place is not recommended for elders and small kids.
The road from Mahabaleshwar to Pratapgad is in a very bad condition. It is very surprising or rather disappointing, considering these two places are very popular tourist destinations in the state. While returning, we bumped into a small water fall. If you happen to spot this, give a small break here and sip masala tea from the tea shop opposite to this water stream. You will enjoy it.

We spent rest of the evening in Mahabaleshwar. After sun set, it was very cold and a typical hill station weather.

On Day 3, after having breakfast, we left Mahabaleshwar. While descending the hill, we chose Panchagani route.
Tip: Panchagani route is more scenic than Medha route.
We had lunch at Pune and headed towards our next destination Ghodegaon. We stayed in Ghodegaon to visit Bhimashankar the next day. Ghodegaon is a small village with a very few hotels. The hotels are very basic. Avoid staying at this place if you can.


On Day 4, we started our journey to Bhimashankar. Bhimashankar is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas in India. It is situated in Sahyadri hills in Maharashtra. It is around 127 kms from Pune. In Bhimashankar, Lord Shiva is believed to have manifested himself in the form of Jyotirlinga. Bhimashankar is also the place from where the river Bhimarathi flows. Since this place is in the midst of a dense forest, the road to reach this place is very scenic and beautiful. One has to climb a hill, pass through remote villages, forest, and ghat section to reach the place.

At Bhimashankar, we have to climb down more than 100 steps to finally reach the temple. Everyone will get a chance to touch the Shiva linga. Public transport is also available from Pune. There are a very few restaurants on the way. It is better to pack your food for a backup.
If you are driving, avoid night journey as it is a remote place and you may not get any help if your car runs into problem.
After the darshan, we headed towards the next destination Triambakeshwar. We had lunch at Nashik.


Triambakeshwar is another Jyotirlinga. There are 3 lingas representing Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheshwara. This place is also said to be the source of Godavari river. There was a huge crowd in the temple, hence we took a special darshan (Rs.200 per head) and it took only 20 mins for the darshan. You are not allowed to take camera and mobile phones inside. Either keep them in your vehicle or at the safe deposits in nearby stores. We returned to Nashik for an overnight stay.

On Day 5, after a quick breakfast we started towards Shirdi. The moment we entered Shirdi town, lots of people thronged us offering a free car parking place and a quick darshan. There are a lot of crooks here. Be aware of them. They will offer a free car parking place. Once you park your car, they will force you to buy items for the temple. If you don't buy, they will curse you and make lots of noise. Don't fall for them. We had a very bad experience, and on top of it, there was a huge crowd. We bought a special darshan ticket. Temple will be closed for normal darshan from 12 PM to 1.30 PM.
Keep a buffer time in Shirdi as it might take 3-4 hours depending on the crowd.
From Shirdi, we headed towards Shani Shignapur, a place famous for a temple dedicated to Shani. In this place also, there are lots of crooks, so keep a distance from them.

The next place was Bibi ka Muqbara at Aurangabad. By the time we reached this place, it was dark. Bibi ka Muqbara is a tomb commissioned by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Having seen Taj Mahal, this place did not create much interest. We just glanced from outside and left the place.
If you have seen Taj Mahal, avoid this place.
We stayed at Aurangabad.

The Day 6 was going to be a hectic drive as we had planned to cover Ellora and Ajanta and return back to Aurangabad. The first destination was Shri Grushneshwar temple near Ellora. Grushneshwar is another jyotirlinga in the state. There was no crowd, so we had a quick darshan. Men are required to remove shirts and vests before entering the temple. Camera is not allowed inside. After the darshan, we went to Ellora caves which is 1km from the temple. The car parking is around 600 mts from the entrance. Ellora caves area is huge. I had already noted some important caves numbers, so we stuck to those caves only. Personally, I liked Ellora.
If you visit Ellora, do not miss Cave 16. It is one of the most remarkable cave temples in India. It is carved out of a single rock and the architecture is amazing. You got to see for yourself to believe it!

We also visited other caves (11, 12, and 29).
Tip: Avoid this place at noon as you need to do a lot of walking under the sun. Keep a plenty of water and some food packets. Umbrella or hat is highly recommended.
From Ellora, we headed towards Ajantha caves. Once you reach Ajantha caves and park your vehicle, you need to walk for a kilometre and get into a bus which will take tourists to the entrance. Since Ajantha caves is in the middle of a forest area, the private vehicles are not allowed inside the premises. After getting down from the bus, one has to buy the tickets and then enter the caves area entrance. From the entrance, one has to climb steps and then walk to visit each cave. Like Ellora, there are lots of caves in Ajantha as well. However, I found Ellora to be more beautiful than Ajantha caves.
It would be difficult for elders and children to cover the entire place.
Ajantha Caves

Ajantha Caves

Buddha statue

Paintings inside Ajantha Cave

We returned back to Aurangabad and had a good night sleep.

Aundha Nagnath Temple

On Day 7, we left Aurangabad early and our next destination was Aundha Nagnath temple. This temple is another Jyotirlinga in the state. The road till Jalna is very good, but after crossing Jalna, the road was pathetic. It actually slowed down our journey to a greater extent. Nagnath temple is unique in the sense the Sanctum Sanctorum (garbha guDi) is located below the ground level. One has to climb down two steps to have the darshan of Shiva Linga. You cannot stand in the Sanctum Sanctorum, so you have to sit, have darshan, and come out. Since it is a narrow chamber, devotees are allowed in a batch of 3-4 people at a time to avoid congestion. The temple architecture is also good and photos are prohibited inside the temple premises.
The Priests/Pandits here kept pestering the new devotees (outsiders) to do a "personal" pooja. Even if you say "No", they keep behind you trying to persuade. This is very frustrating.
It was past noon when we finished the darshan. Our next destination was Parli. The road from Aundha to Parli is also in a very bad shape.
If you are visiting these two places, keep a buffer time as it will take considerable amount of time to pass through many pot holes!

Parli Vaijnath temple

This is the 5th Jyotirlinga in the state. It was evening when we reached Parli. After a quick break in the hotel, we took a local auto to reach the temple. The temple is big and there was no crowd inside the temple. We could complete darshan within 10 mins and spent sometime in the temple.

Parli city is dirty, but there are a few restaurants (fortunately) which are kept clean. Parli has a railway station and connected with major cities in India.


Day 8 was going to be another long drive as we had to reach Bijapur at the end of the day. Pandharpur was our next destination. The road from Parli to Pandharpur passes through many villages amidst green fields. Pandharpur is a well known pilgrimage city on the banks of river Bhima. The Vithoba temple (Lord Krishna) attracts millions of people. As we entered the city, the dirtiness of the city was eye catching. What a pity that, the municipal of this famous city has not kept the city clean. We could not find a decent hotel and we had dosa in a hotel which was below average. One has to pass through narrow roads to reach the temple. Car parking will be an issue if there is a huge crowd. When we reached the temple, the temple authorities said there is a huge rush inside and it would take 3 - 4 hours for darshan. As we had to reach Bijapur on the same day, we did not have the luxury of standing in the queue for 4 hours. However, to our surprise, there was an another option "Mukha darshan".
Mukha darshan is a kind of queue where you are allowed inside temple, but you can see the Lord at a distance of approx 20 feet. Usually this queue will not be crowded, and you can have darshan in 15-20 mins.
We had a good view of Lord Panduranga. By the time we were ready to leave this place, it was past 5. We proceeded towards Bijapur and reached the hotel around 8PM. In the last 8 days, one thing we missed was "filter coffee". So when we reached Bijapur (Karnataka), we were desperate to have filter coffee and we gulped!

Day 9 (Bijapur and namma Bengaluru)

Wow, today was going to be the last day of our trip. Today's plan was to visit Gol Gumbaz and then head home. After a delicious South Indian breakfast and a strong filter coffee, we reached Gol Gumbaz. The tomb is pretty big. Specialities of this place is "Whispering Gallery" inside the dome, where even the softest sound can be heard on the other side of the mausoleum.
One has to climb lots of steps to reach the dome. So people having leg pains, elders, and small children are advised to avoid this place.

Sit on these benches to experience "Whispering Gallery"

This was the last place in our itinerary, and we started our journey back home. We stopped at Hosapete for lunch and near Tumkur for dinner and reached home around 11PM completing 3111 kms in 9 days. My car's mileage was on an average 18.5 kmpl with AC ON for the entire journey.


Here is a quick summary of our trip:

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