Saturday, December 29, 2018

A trip with dad to Medak Fort and Church, Medak

Forts, Hill stations, Forests, Rivers, Beaches, Mountains and heck,even a cyclone (I was too small to remember anything), my dad used to take us to see many a wonder. We took in all the wondrous sights, wide eyed, amazed and craving for more. We are three siblings. A elder bother and a younger sister. Dad took risks but the results were always worth remembering for a lifetime. I can safely say we had an amazing childhood thanks to our dad! 

Before moving abroad for studies I had a chance to go on a trip with dad. We decided to spend a couple of days in our ancestral home in Lingampet and check out the nearby forts and other old relics of the past like step wells and some old British era mines.

At Lingampet, after our plans to visit those mines were unsuccessful we decided to check out the Medak fort instead. So off we went on a dreary morning in our rundown Maruti 800. The maruti was our backup vehicle in Hyderabad and we used it quite often. Without AC, sometimes, when the day is hot our shirts would be drenched with sweat. It did not matter when we were out on an adventure like now. The day was warm with just a little bit of humidity. We started from Lingampet, drove through the village back roads, at one point stopping for 30 mins on the road as a tractor was being loaded with sugarcane crop, and reached Medak by afternoon. We had lunch in one of the many restaurants on the main road just in front of the famous Church.

We then moved on to the Medak Church. After parking our car, as we entered the church complex. I was awestruck by the size and beauty of the building. I stood in the middle of the path leading to the church. It was enclosed by a fence running on both sides with tall trees beyond it, obscuring the rest of the building and leaving only the spire in view, framing it perfectly. The architecture conforms to the Gothic Revival style and it was built by Charles Walker Prosnett around 1924. The front bell tower or the spire is 61 mtrs tall which makes it taller than the Charminar in Hyderabad.

We walked ahead and seeing that we can enter inside we made our way inside. It was magnificent. This was the first time I was inside a church. There were some people praying at the front. We stood in silence behind them and saw the stunning stained glass on three sides of the front part of the church. These depicted different phases of Christ's life. Though I could not understand the significance of the events depicted, the artwork was spellbinding. The glass gleamed in the sunlight and the effect was magical. The total area inside was quite big. It can house 5000 people at a time, I read somewhere. One more interesting fact is that Medak Diocese is the second largest diocese in the world after the Vatican.

From here we made our way outside and strolled around the church. Overall it is quite a beautiful structure. Finishing our walk we went back to our car and started for the Medak Fort. It was after a long time I was going on a trip with dad and I was enjoying it. 

After many wrong turns we found our way to the entrance of the Medak Fort. The Tourism Dept can at least put up some proper pointers to the place as it runs through narrow lanes of a settlement. On driving up a couple of hairpin bends we reached the starting point. Here, there is an old palace, now renovated and open to tourists. Called the Mubarak Mahal, guests can spend a night here. The location is excellent and views on offer are spectacular. There is a small sitting area in front which is bordered by the boundary of the fort. Beyond the boundary, the town of Medak is in view with its white rooftops spreading out over a huge area. Breaking this cover is the Medak Church, jutting out above the cover of trees surrounding it. This little sitting area with its quaint tables and chairs looks like one of the those exotic roadside cafes in Bond movies where shootouts happen.
Here we rested for a while, had some coffee and took in the views. We chatted leisurely, with dad clearly enjoying the atmosphere and the location. It was around 3pm and I wanted to have a quick look at the fort so I reminded dad about the fort about which he had lost track of, so immersed was he in the present. He didn't want to come as he was tired and was not up to the task of climbing the stairs. So I told him to wait there and rest for a while and I left to explore the fort. 

The stone stairs beside the Mubarak Mahal lead to a Massive Gate which is the one of three Gates leading to the centre of the fort. This gate, called the 'Simha dwaram' features two lions on opposite sides of the archway. The fort was built by the Kakatiyas somewhere around the 12th century. Later it passed into the hands of the Musunuri Kings and then eventually to the Qutub Shahi Kings. I passed through the gate, gaining in height and then reached the next gate, the 'Gaja Dwaram', the Elephants gate. It featured two elephants on either side of the door. Crossing this I quickly moved on to the highest point as I had very less time on my hands. I finally reached the top which has a Masjid there. Also there is a police outpost here to, as I later learned, prevent any untoward communal incidents. The Masjid was nothing but a smallish structure with two minarets and three archways. A typical Qutub Shahi structure. Behind it was the roof of a structure which I guess was a prison because it had three chambers with no entry points, only there was a hole at the top.  I strolled around here for some time taking in the views and and some pics as well. The top of the minars were painted a pretty shade of green and it looked beautiful against the spotless blue sky. Since dad was waiting for me I didn't explore much. I quickly retraced my steps and started my downstairs walk. 

I made a couple of detours to see if there are any more things to see and one of them lead me to a Canon, perched atop a watchtower. It was a sight to see. Thrilled, I looked for any inscriptions on them. Sure enough there were a few, all of them I assumed to be in Arabic but which later I learned were in Persian ( Dad told me it was in Persian when I showed him the pics later). Going down, there were many good points which offered good views of the countryside. I stopped at a couple of them but quickly left. 

I joined dad exactly an hour after I had left for the top. So a quick tour of the fort won't take longer than an hour. Again after a short break in the awesome Mubarak Mahal courtyard we left the place around 5 pm. It was beginning to get dark and we didn't want to get stuck in the village roads after dark so we quickly drove and reached home in time for a hot dinner. Quite a memorable trip with my dad! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Weekend with friends in Panchgani, Maharasthra

Times change. Circumstances change. For the last five years I was lucky to have gone on a number of trips with my childhood friends. The time between graduation and marriage is the best time for trips. Young and free, rough travelling is the thing to do and we did many. Over time some friends got married and some went abroad for studies and work. In all probability the rest will get married next year. I too was to leave for Canada for studies. All of this meant the likelihood of trips will drop drastically. With that in mind we planned to have a good trip before we part ways for the time being. So we decided to go on a weekend trip to a Hill station near Pune, as a couple of our friends live in Pune.

Panchgani is a pretty little hill station sitting at an altitude of 1200 MSL. Having a rich history of people of Mumbai and Pune settling here from the times of British, it is an education hub as it features a number of top class boarding schools.

On a bright Saturday afternoon , my friend P revved up his Baleno and off we started for Panchgani. There were 5 of us. First off, Abhishek, who had an epic journey when he missed his train at Hyderabad and took a flight to Mumbai and then a train to Pune. Then Bhanu who came from Bangalore. The two Pune residents were Deepanjan and P. And yours truly.

The drive was event-less and we only stopped when we reached our Hotel in Panchgani. The road was nothing much to write about as it was littered with dhabas, restaurants and hotels. Bhanu rightly commented that it was over commercialized killing the joy of a good ride through the mountains. Our hotel though was a different story. Built in the 1920s, the Mount View Heritage Hotel sits at the edge of a hill offering spectacular views. The hotel itself features victorian architecture and had this warm and cozy atmosphere about it. There was on old Mercedez Benz sitting in a rundown garage nearby and it only added to the charm of the place.

We checked in to the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to see our room. It was much better than what I had in mind. Featuring the classic British dimensions of the time, it featured a high ceiling with support plinths holding up two ceiling fans. The walls were bare with two windows at the front side and two at the rear. A small door led to the room. Four beds were spread over the room with two of them double beds. The room can be booked for 6 persons. A small door at a corner end led to the washroom. All this classic look was a perfect setting for a horror movie.

Well, we got fresh and went outside for a walk in the neighborhood. We had no set agenda and the only thing we wanted to was to have a good time. We strolled around aimlessly. Deepanjan was the  photography enthusiast in the group and he stopped every now and then to take a pic. Sometimes the far off mountain views interested him, other times a butterfly sitting on a flower. With his stopping and starting we moved along with a gentle pace on the road which ran hugging the slope of a hill. The views were spectacular. The air was cold and the overall mood quite pleasant.

We saw a high hill ahead of us where a number of people were headed to and we casually turned our walk in that direction. We sauntered on the winding road leading to the top. The sun was setting down and the blue skies were slowly turning to orange turning the whole area into a delightful mosaic of different shades of colours. It felt wonderful. Friends and a good location. What more can one ask for?

We reached to the top and found out this was called the Sydney Point. It was almost dark now. The views all around were astounding. There was a DJ playing the latest hit numbers of Bollywood which,personally for me, spoiled the overall mood. We sat here taking in the views and the atmosphere. We left the place when it got totally dark. By this time the lights of the town were shining brightly against the darkening sky.

We strolled back to our hotel, meeting a street vendor selling strawberries on the way. Over a pack of strawberries he informed us that the property adjoining our hotel belonged to Amir Khan, the Bollywood actor. Trivia always interests me and this was a good one. For a brief period of time we were the neighbors of Amir Khan.

Later we went to the town for dinner. There was a main street lined with all kinds of shops. There were the usual Kirana, medical and hardware stores. A couple of Bakeries and cafes were what interested me. One, the Roach bakery was the oldest one in town and it displayed this fact in bold letters. It was established in 1902 making it almost 116 years old. Another small cafe with old and withered chairs inside wore an old world look to it. I was tempted to go and have something there but there wasn't enough time so we moved on. Later, back in the hotel room, while flipping through an informational booklet about Panchgani I found that Panchgani is steeped in history. It is actually a treasure trove for trivia hunters. To list off two which intrigued me, One - In 1939 when the Soviets invaded Poland, a lot of Polish people were sent to other countries and some of them made their way to India with an uncertain future. Fortunately for them, Jamsahab of Nawanagar came to their rescue and took them all under his care. Now for the connection, he sent a number of polish students to Panchgani to study. Second- Freddie Mercury, whose actual name was Farrukh Bulsara, studied in one of the schools here.

Coming back, we went to a restaurant and took some chicken dishes back to our hotel. Reaching our room, we settled around the dining table in front of our room and had a hearty meal. Cold weather and hot meals.And friends. Always a super combination.

The next day we woke up leisurely and checked out of the hotel. The day was again pleasant. From Panchgani we drove to Mahabaleswar and did a round of boating in the lake there. From there we moved to the Mapro Farm where we bought some stuff and had some light lunch. From here we started our journey back to Pune. We retraced our way to Panchgani, stopped for a bit on the tableland there and reached pune by night. After a quick dinner in one of the subway outlets we parted ways and returned to our respective places. For the first time I felt a bit of sadness while leaving as I knew I wont be around for the next 1 year and wont be going on any more trips with these guys.

Quick Facts
Altitude 1200 MSL
Distance from Pune - 100kms