Mahabeleshwar

Alright – first things first – my driver (who will fully admit to this too), made a few boo-boos on this trip.  Firstly, he told us that it was only a 2-2.5hr drive, in actual fact, he should have added an hour to the total time.  It was a combination of his choice of road, coupled with the fact that the (extended) monsoon season here, has seemingly done real damage to the road surfaces – to the extent I was almost texting Col from the back seat and asking him to check the price of a flight to India for my lovely Chiro, Dr Jo.

Secondly, I’m not hugely thrilled at the fact that we ended up atop a mountain, surrounded by aggressive guys demanding money, on horses, so close to the car that their tails swept along the paint.  But anywhoo.  My friends driver tells us that this isn’t ‘normal’ practice at Table Land, maybe it was an ‘off moment’, but I know for sure, that I won’t be going back here.

Mahabeleshwar is a small town a couple hours from Houston, it’s pretty much famous for it’s strawberries, and, while it wasn’t strawberry season while I was in town – I was reliably informed it was only a matter of time before they’re flooding the shelves here in Pune.  They were right, strawberries have landed in Pune – and they’re tasty!  I’m excited, berries here are SO epically expensive, but, I digress.

Having done a little research before heading out the road, I had a short list of places that I wanted to visit.

First on my list? Was a boat trip around Venna Lake.  Venna Lake is one of the major tourist attractions of Mahabaleshwar, it is surrounded by trees on all sides and you can hop in a boat and take yourself on a tour.  There’s two options, you can either take yourself out on a paddle-boat tour, or you can have a guy come on the boat with you and row you around the lake.  You can take a full loop (30 minutes), or a half loop (15 minutes).   We took the 500r, dude doing the hard work, full loop around the lake (because I wanted to see the whole way around! LOL!) option.

Let’s just call a spade a spade, there’s very little by way of safety.  The boats are a little rickety, ours even had the occasional little leak and if you’re expecting life jackets – you’re in the wrong country – this is India, it’s all just a bit ‘thrown together’.  That said? I never once felt unsafe or like I was doomed!  The Boatman told us that the lake is 100 feet deep and this is the natural water that is supplied to Mahabalshwar as well as Panchgani and the lake was foggy and serene.

At the turning point, there’s a temple, you can’t disembark, or get out for a nosy, but you can get a decent enough picture as he’s rowing by.  You also pass-by a park up on the banks as you ‘sail by’, we didn’t pay it a visit, but it looked like a good park from the water.  Even Lewis enjoyed the trip around the lake, he was quiet, well behaved and our ‘guide’ even let him row the boat a little bit.  He was a happy boy. After we disembarked, we happened upon another item on my ‘to do’ list for Mahabeleshwar, strawberries and cream.  It’s a sickeningly sweet cup of syrupy strawberries, ice cream and a whipped, cool-whip-esque type whipped cream imposter – Lewis loved it.  From here, we went to Mapro garden – another jewel in Mahabeleshwar.  Where we took a beautiful walk around the gardens, snapping any number of photo ops as we went – Lewis and I both loved the various props and contraptions to climb in to for snaps. For lunch, we ate in the Mapro cafe, we ordered the (cheap) mocktails (they didn’t have diet coke) which were INCREDIBLY syrupy sweet, (but Lewis loved them, what kid wouldn’t? Basically we drove for hours and let our kid consume inordinate amounts of sugar) we ordered fries (which were delicious – though luke-warm at best), soup (none of us liked) and a pizza – which had way too much seasoning on it, but Col and I managed to eat it.  Reasonably priced, stupidly slow from some counters, and quick from others, it was a mix of hot and cold food by the time we all got to sit and eat.

After lunch, we took a walk through the Mapro shop – full of mapro products and goodies, from chocolate covered nuts, to syrups and gummy sweets – all at a 10% discount AND with taste testing to boot!  We picked up some delicious chocolate covered nuts, sweets for trick or treating, a jar of strawberry jam (couldn’t come and NOT get something strawberry-y) and a couple gifts for people for Christmas.

It was a lovely couple hours spent in a quiet, peaceful and beautiful place.  There was space for Lewis to run riot, you got to watch the farmers out back on the farm, tending to the premature strawberries, (and even the toilets were pretty clean!)  The views were incredible, the food was decent (and cheap) and the we absolutely lucked out on the weather, because it was cool, overcast and rained almost the entire way home.

We didn’t get everything that we wanted to do, done, in Mahabeleshwar and I could definitely see myself going back there in the (near) future (BRING ON THE STRAWBERRIES!) despite the intimidating beginning to the trip, and the drive alone was pretty to look at, if you’ve not yet gone for a visit, I think there’s enough to justify the trip – especially if you’re inclined towards horse riding.

Aga Khan Palace, Pune.

We drove past this place on our way to somewhere else, but you can’t see it from the road.  As we drove by, it was mentioned that Mahatma Ghandi was imprisoned here and it piqued my interest.

Aga Khan Palace, situated in the Yerwada area of Pune is one of the biggest landmarks of Indian history. Sultan Mohammed Shah, Aga Khan III, had the palace constructed in the year 1892. The aim behind the construction of the Aga Khan Palace was an act of charity by the sultan, to provide employment to the people of the nearby areas, who were drastically hit by famine – this majestic building is considered to be one of the greatest marvels of India.

It took 5 years and 1000 workers to build it, at a cost of Rs 12,00,000.  The palace is spread across an estate of 19 acres with a built area of 7 acres.  The gardens are beautiful and well tended to, though the building itself is in a state of disrepair – I have since visited the national war memorial and museum and the contrast between the two tourist attractions, is stark.  As we walked around the grounds there were any number of people there for photo sessions – maternity, family, ‘seniors’, or even ‘just because’ pictures were happening all around – and with good cause too, the place was very pretty indeed.

   

Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturba Gandhi and his secretary Mahadev Desai were interned in the palace from 9 August 1942 to 6 May 1944, following the launch of Quit India Movement.  One of the major attractions of the Aga Khan Palace comprises of the samadhis (memorials) of Kasturba Gandhi (wife) and Mahadev Desai (long time aid).  Since both of them breathed their last breaths in here, Charles Correa got their samadhis built in the grounds of the palace itself.  Gandhi’s ashes are also interred at the Gandhi National Memorial of Pune.

The rooms that were used by the Gandhis, now serve as a museum to them. They are spartan and simple in taste. The museum inside the palace complex has a rich collection of pictures, depicting almost all the important incidents in the life of Mahatma Gandhi.  There are personal items of Gandhi’s on display like utensils, slippers, clothes, and letters as well as a number of statues – most notably one in the first, main room, of Gandhi and his wife, the palace also served as the venue for the famous movie ‘Gandhi’. Since 1980, the management of the museum, samadhis and campus of the Agakhan Palace is under the Gandhi Memorial Society.  Prince Karim El Husseni, Aga Khan IV, donated the palace to India in 1969, in the honor of Gandhi and his philosophy.

Opening hours of Aga Khan Palace:

Open all days 09:00 am to 05:30 pm

Entry fee for Visiting Aga Khan Palace:

The entry fees for Aga Khan Palace is mentioned below. We have listed the entry fees for Indians, the entry fees for foreigners, camera fees and other charges if applicable.

 Address: Pune Nagar Road, Kalyani Nagar, Pune, Maharashtra 411014
Telephone: 073857 46855
Approximate visit duration for : 1- 2 hours

On Saturdays, we sightsee!

So, Saturday’s have become our tourist days, we get up lazily, have breakfast, hop in the car – later than we tell the driver to expect us and off we go a-galavantin’.  Thus far, it’s been pretty local, but he’s encouraging us to go further afield over the coming weeks and months.

A couple weeks ago, we went to Pune Zoo – I had intended on doing a whole big post about the zoo itself.  A weekly ‘sight-seeing’ post of sorts.  However, this zoo wasn’t quite like every other zoo in the world I’ve been to, so I’m writing a half-assed, deflated, ‘meh’ post about it.  Partly to remind me of the ‘meh’ when people come to town and go ‘OMG HEY LETS GO TO THE ZOO’ and partly in case anyone new to Pune thinks it’s a Zoo, like we know Zoos to be.  It’s not terrible, it just wasn’t quite what we expected and left Lewis a little frustrated is all.

Alright – first things first, you want to go for a couple hour walk around a pretty, enclosed, mostly shaded area in Pune? Go here.  The paths are good for skate boards, scooters and bikes, it was largely cool enough for even us to go for a dander around, and it was a pretty enough walk.

HOWEVER.  If you’re expecting exotic zoo animals – you may want to re-think this place.  So.  They have elephants, but they were in a little tin hut down a hill that you can’t get to, when we visited.  I dunno if our visit was bad timing, or this is where they lived, but even with maximum zoom on my iPhone, it was too far and too dark to get a picture of them.

They have two tigers, and while it’s great for the tigers to have such a wide open enclosure to roam around in (bigger than any Western zoo we’ve been to) but it made it *incredibly* hard for us to see them – we heard one of them roar, but we didn’t get o see either of them much at all.

They have monkeys, but, again, the enclosure is huge (yay for the animals!) and they have little caves they can run around in – we got lucky and they wanted to come out and play, but, again, this doesn’t fall under the traditional ‘zoo’ definition, which is hard to explain to a three year old who wants to see elephants and tigers!

They have plenty of antelope, deer and buck to look at.  We liked looking at the crocs, the turtles and the snakes in the snake park section – there was definitely plenty around that section to look at and Lewis was fascinated.

I think my ‘meh’ came from the extra 30 minute walk around to get to the elephant enclosure with a tired kiddo desperate to see elephants and when we got there, they weren’t out to play and we had to walk back, I was peeved.  If they just continued the path a little bit beyond the elephants you wouldn’t need to turn back on yourself at all, so it was frustrating and resolved in Col carrying an exhausted Lewis back to the entrance.

I felt like the biggest attraction at the Pune Zoo? Was us white folk.  We were stopped every few feet and asked for pictures of Lewis.  People constantly wanting to touch him, and be in his space – this one is taking a lot of adjusting.  For the first few weeks we have asked him if he wanted his picture taken, but, I have gotten slowly more firm at just outright saying no thank you.

It’s different if people ask me for pictures – which they do, and I feel like a freakin’ celebrity.  I mostly say yes, but only if I get to take one too.  Lewis (as you can see from the photo above) gets stared at.  A LOT.  This class of little kids were just fascinated by us every time our paths crossed.  It was draining.  My friend said that I’m probably giving them the one white-person picture they’ll get in their lifetime, and it doesn’t really do any harm.  But Lewis just gets overwhelmed and hides when people try and insert themselves in to his space, so we are getting actively more non-compliant, and in some cases maybe even verging on rude when people ask for his picture.

The weekend after the zoo, we went to the Shaniwar Wada Fort.  Now.  If you look at Trip Advisor – the list of things to do in Pune, and, India, both typically revolve around temples, dams and forts.  Shaniwar Wada was our first fort to visit, it’s in the centre of Pune itself – this was my first trip in to the actual city of Pune, so it was novel.

Shaniwar Wada was built in 1732, it was the seat of the Peshwas of the Maratha Empire until 1818, when the Peshwas lost control to the British East India Company after the Third Anglo-Maratha War.  Following the rise of the Maratha Empire, the palace became the center of Indian politics in the 18th century.

For almost 70 years, this fort remained home to the ruling Peshwas until the Maratha Army was defeated by John Malcolm of the British East India Company. In June 1818, then king Bajirao II, abdicated his throne to John Malcolm and went into political exile at Bithoor, near Kanpur in present-day Uttar Pradesh, India. After the British took over the region, fort became of residence of British officers for a decade until 1828 when a major fire broke within the fort. What caused this fire is still unknown but the entire fort was destroyed in it. The fire burnt for seven long days and after it was extinguished, only the huge walls and gates remained, everything else was destroyed. The fort was abandoned after the fire and no one has lived here ever since.”

Shaniwar Wada translates to “Saturday Building” since it was founded on that day. Around 1,000 people once lived in the fortress (though our driver told us 15,000 – slight exaggeration!!) Today, the site hosts important public speeches and events.

I believe the most important thing for kings when they built their forts in ancient times was that the fort should remain standing for centuries, as a sign of their power and rule over the region. They designed the walls to withstand any attack and keep the royal family and people of the kingdom safe…  Now after all the kings and queens are long gone, what remains is pretty much these strong and silent walls of several forts all over our country. There is no kings rule left anymore but these forts still remind people of the king who built them.” 

As I mentioned above, the common theme among all of our sight-seeing adventures, thus far (and probably forevermore) has been the white-girl effect.  The people are curious, but friendly and respectful – for the most part.  I have found the occasional man snapping pics of Lewis and I without permission – which, I guess, is only to be expected as I drive around the streets taking pictures of the people and the locale here, it’s just a little more uncomfortable when they’re in our personal space doing it.

Typically, it’s parents throwing their kids at us for snaps that they really aren’t convinced they want in the first place – but there’s always the one smiley kid who takes to me and wants to come walking along with me! LOL!

We’re knocking tourist places off our list brave and quickly here in Pune, we’ve also added Aga Kahn palace and Mahabeleshwar to our ‘done’ list over the last couple weeknds, and I’m trying to decide where we’re going to go this weekend, maybe some caves, or another fort!