09-Aug-2009

Matheran-Karla-Bhaja

Just when the monsoons have started retreating, I have discovered the pleasure of travel in this weather. Good Chennai kids don’t travel during the rains. You stay put at home, and complain about how it is pouring and amuse yourself with indoor games. Considering we get so little rain, rain needs to be treated with the respect due to it.

Not Mumbaikars.

Come rains, and everyone is out taking a walk under the clouds.

I learnt this early on, when I first moved to Mumbai. A friend’s colleague had organised a hike to Matheran. To my great surprise, we were not the only people out. Walking in the blinding rain and coping with slippery paths, were packs of brightly dressed people. We followed them. Though only upto a point. I am not sure at what stage we lost sight of them since I was busy concentrating on urging my foot to take the next step. We blundered on our own, and scrambled up the hillside, occasionally using nothing but tiny bits of grass as a grip to prevent us falling into wide abysses. When we eventually reached Matheran, I was relieved to just be alive.

Years later, one Himalayan trek under my belt, I had still not gone back to Matheran. But a couple of weekends ago, D decided to make plans. And we were on our way.

I discovered there are fairly conventional and pleasant ways to go to Matheran as well. One can take a private car or a train and shared taxi upto Dasturi Naka. From there you have the choice of taking a toy train (not operational in the monsoons), hiring a horse, taking hand driven carts or just walking up to the top.

We chose the last option and spent a lot of time lingering over the views. We had not realised till then that away from Mumbai the rains had still not had finished putting up a spectacular display. From the market to the Verandah in the Forest, where we were staying, it poured and poured. It continued to pour through the day and the next as well. Which was good fun, because I got to act like a good Chennai kid in the rains. We read books, watched the rain, played cards, ate huge amounts of food and griped occasionally about how it was pouring. When the rain let off a bit, we went for long walks and marvelled at the stunning views in the countryside, full of fresh looking vegetation punctuated by white waterfalls.

One trip had hooked me and Saturday, I was back traversing the area around Mumbai. This time the destination was Karla and Bhaja caves, a spot I had been eyeing for a while. Both of them are located close to Lonavala and a train to Pune gets one there in about 2.5 hours.

We got off at Lonavala and hired a car for the day (1000 rupees to show both spots and bring us back to the station). The driver was a teenager who told us later on that he had learnt driving a couple of months ago. We could have guessed the way he took the curves upto Karla. Perhaps the Ekvira temple at the top protects its tourists, since we got there alright.

Karla is more than 2000 years old and is built on the same lines as Ajanta- Ellora, though much smaller. There is one main cave, or the Chaitya and a lot of smaller caves which served as living rooms for visiting monks. The most interesting feature is the curved ceiling decorated with wooden beams, in an imitation of wooden architecture from that period.

As luck would have it, Karla and Bhaja also seemed to be a major picnic spot for school kids. Swamping us were about 1000 school kids, all intent on throwing coins on the Stupa to see if they could hit the top.

So much for calm Buddhist meditation.

We moved to Bhaja after an uninspired lunch at the nearby MTDC hotel. Bhaja was much calmer, largely because they were fewer kids. But also, because Karla has a living temple in its precincts, it tends to attract more people who linger longer.

Both places had lovely views. The weather was pleasant, with an occasional drizzle adding to the charm. It is the best time to visit both places, because I am fairly sure the uncovered stone steps leading upto the caves are likely to be very tiring to conquer in any other season.

Rounding off this weekend, I managed to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. There have been millions of remakes of this movie, some of which I have watched. The shower scene has been endlessly analysed. What new stuff can this movie offer, was the major thought that was playing in my head before turning on the TV.

It was brilliant. The movie had a pace that set my pulse racing the way only books have done in the past. I can’t wait to watch the rest of the movies in the ten pack set lying in my house. And I would suggest anyone who can't resist good movies do the same.