Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lohagad Fort

Trek to Lohagad Fort was supposed to be a bonus of a leisurely stay at Lonavla, however, it turned out to be the highlight of the weekend gateway.

A sturdy fort built nearly 2000 years back, Lohagad is popular on the trekking circuit owing to its location and relatively easier climb.  We drove to Lonavla railway station and then were at the mercy of locals (due to no sign boards) to guide us to Lohagadwadi (10 kms from railway station) which is the base camp for the trek.  The road had many steep hair-pin bends and is relatively empty, but we were amazed to see so many people at the basecamp.

(Alternatively, you could take a hired tempo (Rs 50 per person standing) from Lonavla railway station.  However, most trekking groups take a train from Mumbai/ Pune to Lonavla railway station, take another train to Malavali railway station and trek on the road dodging the cars headed up to Lohagadwadi)

We started the trek at 11.30 am, equipped with cameras, waterbottle, umbrellas and anticipation.  There are huge steps for most part which makes it easy to climb, but the rain and the moss can make the climb challenging.  Trekkers also have company in the form of monkeys (protect your food) and the occasional snake (we spotted a long black snake).  The trek is enjoyable especially in this lovely monsoon, except of course if it pours intermittently.  Rain can also be a dampner as you’d miss out on the stunning views the climb offers, pavna lake, visapur fort and the greenery around.

The fort can be conquered in 45 minutes by regular trekkers, however we took almost 1 hour 15 minutes stopping for every possible photo opportunity and battling the sudden spurts of rain.  While we were climbing up, we had the company of enthusiastic kids from a Bandra school for company shouting slogans of ‘Jai Bhawani Jai Shivaji’ and many youngsters who made us laugh with their funny photo poses!

The fort has four dwaars (gates), the first one being Ganesh dwaar, while the one at the top has hanuman deities on each side of the gate.  The top of the fort has a temple dedictad to shivaji, hanuman and shivji apart from three majars (one in gumbaj structure).   A set of caves on the right of the entrance were used to store the wealth after raids by Shivaji and his sena on Surat.  The fort has a big pond/ elephant pond which is quite an attraction with the trekkers. 

It was heartening to see a very clean and well maintained fort.  But what won my heart were the tunning 360 degree views which the fort offered and a reverse rain phenomenon in which we got completely drenched! (a ledge on the fort where the rain water gushed down while the upward wind pushed the same water back up in heavy, fountain like sprays!).

After enjoying on top of the fort for over an hour, we began our descent through harsh rain, slippery stairs and shoes without soles (my shoes were torn!).  The descent was much tougher, especially on the knees, but the exhilaration of the trek egged us on.

We were drenched as we reached the base camp, but a hearty lunch of vada pav, bhaji, bhutta, tea and jhunka bhakar was a perfect end to a trek. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sula Vineyard - Day trip from mumbai

Wine, they say, should be aged to perfection, because only a perfect wine teases, tingles and lingers on…

Introduced in India by the elite, popularity of wine is growing by the day.  Wine not only is a respectable drink (if there is really a drink like that!), but also a perfect accompaniment to and a versatile ingredient for food.

When I hear the word wine, the mascot of Sula Vineyard – the smiling sun – immediately comes to my mind.  Incidentally, Sula was the first wine I actually tasted and liked (Goa, port wine anyone? :/ ) and hence, a visit to Sula Vineyard was always on the cards.

A week after the annual Sula wine fest (a big party full of celebrities, games, music and wine!), somewhere in February, we drove for nearly 4 hours and 170 kms later were greeted by the grape creepers and sloppy-roofed white building complex of Sula Vineyard. 

The Vineyard has many attractions for a wine lover, a curious tourist and someone looking to get away from city-life.  It boosts of a tasting room, coffee shop, souvenir shop, amphitheatre, restaurants (Little Italy and Soma), vineyards and winery!  What makes the vineyard charming is the décor, the seating and the array of flowers overlooking the vineyard, view of the tranquil lake and the mountains that frame the vineyard.  A picture perfect sight indeed!

After the long drive, we freshened up and headed upstairs in the main complex to read the history of wine and Sula, followed up by coffee and light snacks (complimentary pastry was a little stale!). 


At Sula, you can choose between two wine tasting sessions - 4 wines or 6 wines.  We felt indulgent and opted for the latter. 

We made good use of 45 minutes that we had to spare before our 1 pm vineyard tour began.  Luckily for us, great Spanish numbers were playing in the café and my friends and I broke into an impromptu jig (cross between salsa and ballroom) which was much appreciated by some-shocked and some-amused Sula visitors.  

With still more time to kill, we did our mandatory photo session (yes, we love to pose!), made friends with two old charming ladies who took a detour to experience Sula and took some more pictures!

At 1 pm, we all assembled (like school kids!) near the grape-stomping area to hear what our guide for Vineyard-tour had to say.  After being acquainted with history of Sula and basic wine types (red, white, desert? :S) we uncovered the mystery behind wine-making including step-by-step process, brief about the equipment used, type of grapes, maturity process- and ended up in a room that stored barrels and barrels of wine.


Post the half hour vineyard tour, I knew that Sula grew their grapes at Nasik and Dindori estate, I knew the basic of technique that adds colour to wine to make it red/ pink, maturity process, how wood used for barrel lends flavour to wine and a lot more than my mind could process. 

After the gyaan, we headed to the small wine tasting room (more like a bar), over-looking the sprawling vineyard and the distant lake.  We waited patiently for the friendly staff at Sula to bring out their fare (err….wine!) and clean glasses to begin our wine tasting session. 

Our anticipating bubbled out of our glasses as our guide began the session with two sparkly wines (Normal and Rose sparlking wine).  We clinked our glasses, chirped out ‘cheers’ and savoured the sparkly wines in small sips as we sought answers from the guide for our questions.  Next to tickle our senses were the Dindori reserve chiraz – spicy and fruity variant, followed by two white wines (unfortunately no chenin blanc/ desert wine to sample in the wine-tasting!).  

The wine-tasting session not only was a learning experience in terms of how wine is to be enjoyed but also a sample of quaint art of wine appreciation/ evaluation.  Inspired by the opulence of Sula wine, we all shopped for our own favorite wine to take back home.

It was already 3 pm and a remedy for relentless sun and hunger pangs was to unwind over wine and food at Little Italy (all vegetarian restaurant, though I would have preferred the non-veg serving Soma!).  The décor of little Italy was in sync with the theme at Sula  – Medietrranean vibe, walls decorated with empty wine bottles,  small tables made of discarded barrels and the choiciest selection of Sula wine to accompany our Italian lunch. 

After much disagreement over what to order, we settled for a white sparkly wine (unanimous choice) to go with our pesto pasta, pasta in red sauce, special pizza and garlic bread.  The food was both good and comforting, while the wine gratified our souls.  However, the desserts (brownie with ice cream and Tiramisu) were disappointing, yet not disappointing enough to dampen out enthusiasm of visiting the smaller York Vineyard (15-minute walk from Sula – close to the lake!).

Overall, Sula is worth a visit and I may even re-visit this place during wine fest next year :)


Sula know how:

Winery open from 11 am to 10/ 11 pm
Tasting room and wine tasting sessions held between 11.30 am to 5.30 pm
Wine tasting session INR 150 for 4 wines/ INR 250 for 6 per person (incl tour of Vineyard)
Wine stomping – INR 350 per person
Staying options – Beyond, Sula’s wineyard resort (supposedly expensive and we did not get a chance to see it!)
Restaurants – Little Italy and Soma (non-veg)
Wine and souvenirs can be purchased at the coffee shop!


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