Tag Archives: road trips

A hill fort and a holiday.

For the first time since I arrived in India, I left Mumbai with Kate and Tom and Baby Raj and we went on what was their first road trip in this country; they didn’t own a car to do that with until after I arrived, and shortly after Raj arrived a month ago. Often it’s easier to travel with a very young baby than an older one, and they wanted to take me somewhere out of the city, so… we had a brief holiday in Lonavala and Khandala, only a couple of hours south and east of Mumbai. I was surprised at how soon out of the city we were seeing the mountains rise up before us, and even though we took a baby rest stop, we arrived at our hill station retreat in good time.

The only sad thing about this trip was the shame we brought on our family and probably on all westerners by letting Grandma sit in the back of the car with the baggage, a very disrespectful arrangement in the eyes of Indians. Tom would have been very happy to sit there instead, in one of the  side-facing jump seats, but then I’d have had to take the front seat and witness the constant near-death vehicle interactions, and he would not have been able to help the driver with directions. On the bench in the middle it was most convenient that Wilson in his car seat be next to his mother, and in the back I had lots of room to stretch my legs. I could see the scenery and the motorcycle riders and buses and all behind us — much more relaxing.

But at the hotel, every time we drove on to the property, the guards had to open the back door to check for stowaways or bombs or something, and they were embarrassed and/or amused to have to follow protocol when they could see the “auntie” through the window.

Our hotel sat above the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Mumbai is huge, of course, and Pune is the seventh largest city in India, so it’s not surprising that the smog from both of them extends to the mountains. We don’t know what the AQI index might be up there, but in any case it made our viewing of the mountain vistas a bit sad. Tom says that the air could easily be cleaned up in less than 20 years — look what Beijing did! — so I tried to imagine clearer vistas for coming generations.

The British established these hill stations in the mountains all over India as places to get away for a while from the worst heat, so they have had a couple of centuries to develop into towns where people still go for holidays. Our “twin” hill stations lie in the Sahyadri ranges of the Western Ghat mountains.

Our only full day  was Saturday, and we chose our destination from among several possible outings: Lohagad Fort on top of a hill, built by the locals in the 16th or 17th century as a fortification against the Moguls, who were able to take and control it for only five years.

We drove a half hour or more up the mountain to the starting point, and from the parking lot Kate and I first walked to the one washroom in that village that is for tourists. It was in a stable attached to a house, where two cows and a dog with puppies were housed. While I waited my turn I admired one animal at close range for a few moments before I turned to see a woman looking at me from the doorstep of her kitchen. We smiled at each other, and I said, “Beautiful cow!” She went back into the house and I could hear her exclaiming something that sounded like “Chri-tien!” I could only guess that she had seen the cross around my neck. Maybe she was a Christian, too?

The woman in the photo below was selling snacks to people as they set out climbing steps, and though we weren’t buying anything she smiled at little Raj in his sling. The brown pods are tamarind.

What a good hike we had then! Kate and Tom each carried small backpacks, and they took turns carrying Raj in the Baby K’tan sling. It takes about 200 steps to reach the gate of the fort, but if you want to go all the way to the top, it is more than 300, maybe even 500 steps. No official information is to be had, and reviewers give all kinds of hearsay information. No one claims to have counted the steps. We didn’t either, being too busy enjoying the views and our fellow hikers, Indians who love to have their pictures taken with westerners. We obliged several times, and enjoyed telling everyone that our baby was just one month old.

Monkeys live there at the fort. We watched quite a few of them just playing in the trees, but most of the creatures were carefully scanning the groups of people going up and down to see if there were any snacks available. They particularly love soda pop and will grab a bottle out of your hands. Kate and Tom knew this and in the past she’d found herself wrestling with a monkey over her drink at another tourist spot in India. So we kept what little we had hidden away.

When we reached the top of the fort we kept going, almost to the top of the hill, and found shade under a tree where Raj could have his lunch in peace. An Indian lady came and sat with us for a while, waiting for her husband to come back from the pinnacle. And then we went up there, too, for another perspective on Pawana Lake down below.

I can imagine how lovely it all must be when the monsoons turn everything lush and green. The air quality is better then, too. Kate and Tom want to return.

I took the above picture trying to catch the situation with the men giving food to the dogs who also hung around the area. Monkeys were climbing on the walls and peering down from various places trying to get in on the deal.

We took about 2 1/2 hours in all, slowly climbing all those stairs, walking and sitting around at the top, me taking pictures of flowers, and then slowly descending the often steep steps on our increasingly wobbly legs. Tom took this picture looking down as we were on our way:

When we got back to the car, only then did we buy something to drink in the safety of our vehicle, and we drove down the bumpy road to our hotel.

The town of Lonavala is about 2,000 ft. elevation, high enough to be a little cooler than Mumbai, especially at night. It really was very pleasant in the day, too. They are famous for their chikki, a yummy kind of praline made with jaggery, and every third shop along the narrow streets of town seemed to have a big CHIKKI sign above it. I bought an assortment including Rose, but didn’t open it until we got home.

Breakfast at the hotel was a stupendous affair. Evidently you must offer breakfast items of every possible sort to please tourists from various cultures with their traditions and dietary rules. That means the full English breakfast of bacon, sausage, omelettes, roasted tomatoes, toast, beans… (I didn’t see any mushrooms, though!) And plenty of vegetarian items: mixed vegetables, potatoes, dal, coconut chutney….

The mostly self-serve area was so huge, I didn’t even see (or need) the place with fruit, cereal and doughnuts, and I didn’t have a dosa made for me, but I ate bites from Kate’s and from Tom’s. Tom’s was a cheese dosa, so light it could be served upright as a cone. And the omelette that was started cooking before my eyes was the most elegant and perfect rendition I have ever eaten.

One more thing we did in the mountains was visit Lion’s Point lookout/overview, a large and rocky parking lot on the side of the mountain not requiring any physical exertion to get to, and providing plenty of photo opportunities for the humans, and soda-stealing opportunities for the monkeys. There were shaded areas with chairs if you wanted to stay a while. We bought some ice cream and kulfi, and showed off Raj.

On the road up to Lion’s Point and down, our driver had to shift gears constantly to maneuver the frequent and steep hairpin turns. High rock walls lined the road through neighborhoods where you could see the occasional cheerful bungalow or villa on the other side, with lots of tall trees and vines spreading their shade and flowers beyond the walls to the road. I could imagine some British colonial writer like Rumer Godden living in one of these places a hundred years ago.

Lower down I had glimpsed an occasional farm near the highway, and on the way back we were on the lookout for one so that the driver could stop, and I would take a picture. But as it turned out, they were much farther down, where the road becomes a freeway with few exits and no shoulder at all.

We returned to Mumbai quite content and with stiffening muscles from our intense stair-climbing. Everyone thought it had been a great first road trip, first hike, first expedition out of Mumbai for little Raj. He had been pretty happy the whole time, often on one or another of our laps as in this picture.

He seemed glad to be home, too, and to just lie on his play mat listening to the familiar white noises and to feel the lack of vibrations and jerks he’d been introduced to lately.

Huckleberry Cat was very curious and no doubt relieved that we were back. I wonder though if he was surprised that we all returned. Perhaps he had hoped that the small strange creature would not. For some reason Huckleberry attached himself to me as never before and sat on my lap for long sessions of nuzzling and snuggling. When I tired of that, he jumped up on the desk to sit by me while I typed. He “talked” to me a lot all evening, but what was he saying? I told him that Raj is here to stay, but I didn’t break the news about my own coming departure. He will discover that soon enough.

In the meantime, I wonder if he could somehow help me to squeeze the overflowings of my mind into a few more coherent posts about India?

Oregon rain, rivers, and beaches.

Umpqua River

Two new pieces of equipment helped immensely to make my Oregon road trip a joy: the first good raincoat I’ve ever had, and my new iPhone. The way they accomplished this was by helping me to relax so that I could be receptive to all the people, scenery, stories, and weather that came my way.

Vine Maple

Not long ago I figured out how to use the maps feature on my cell phone, and now I engage the help of the eternally patient lady who tells me when and what direction to turn. She is the only navigator I’ve ever had who knows all the roads, and even if I miss my turn several times, she never gasps or raises her voice or shows the least bit of anxiety about the situation. She doesn’t shame me.

I’m really poor at orienting myself – I get turned around so easily and even after studying maps, I often go the opposite direction from what I intend. This makes me a unlikely road-tripper, because if I explore new places the threat of getting lost keeps an undercurrent of anxiety flowing. I wasn’t quite conscious of this feeling until it was gone.

Going north from home, I almost always stop at Pippin’s near the top of California, because it’s about five hours away, and that is certainly long enough to drive in one day. I get to see Scout, Ivy and Jamie, and often take a walk, hold a purring cat, and see some new flower or insect.

lotus

I smell the trees, which perhaps because of the density of the forest make their aromas intensely present. Getting out of my car in their driveway, I am handed a delicious and rejuvenating drink in those first whiffs of pine and cedar and fir.

Ivy showed me her Hole, the spot she has appropriated where the furniture does not come together the way her parents would like, but where a child can be glad of the wonkiness, and fit snugly.

 

Oxeye Daisies

This time, I continued to Pathfinder’s in southern Oregon where my third grandson in that family was graduating from high school. I wore my raincoat when we went to the ceremony, where the mist turned to drizzle turned to rain, and at one moment all of the graduates, who were sitting in the open, stood up and donned ponchos. We the audience had roofs over us, but we sat on metal bleachers and our legs and backs stiffened with the damp and cold. Our particular group was snacking on Peanut M&M’s and Red Vines during the whole evening, leftovers from an afternoon graduation party we’d enjoyed in the rain, under umbrellas and awnings. I felt a special camaraderie sharing the mildly uncomfortable local weather with my people. It was for a good cause.

My raincoat was a recent purchase that I think God must have prompted me to accomplish, because after trying in late winter to find a really good and proper raincoat, something I’ve never had, I had given up and decided to wait until the fall when there would be more selection. Then I got a 20% coupon for a store that was having a 40% off sale, and I couldn’t resist trying again, and succeeded. I put my beautiful rain gear in the closet for next fall, not having any idea at the time that I would soon be needing it.

Pathfinder and Iris took me on a Sunday afternoon outing that included a visit to Mill Creek Falls and Pearson Falls on the Rogue River. The rain seemed to have let up that afternoon, but the woods were very moist and lush. The Rogue River is a beauty!

Rogue River

Mill Creek Falls

When I left my family, I drove farther north visiting the Oregon Coast and the town of Astoria where I’d been with my late husband four years earlier. At that time we’d said we must come back for a more leisurely visit, and this was my chance to do just that.

I wanted to climb the Astoria Column again and stare at the misty rivers that were the waterways and/or neighborhood for Lewis and Clark, that winter that they spent on the Pacific Coast before returning cross country to make their report to President Thomas Jefferson. And I wanted to walk on Oregon beaches and collect more sand samples to add to my tiny collection.

I took all day getting up the state. I kept trying to take pictures of the oxeye daisies that were sprinkled everywhere and waving so cheerfully even in the rain. But the ones that are weeds in Pippin’s flowerbed are the prettiest.

I stopped at Manzanita Beach and walked with a friend – um, having forgotten my raincoat ! in my car, so I was exposed to the gentle and mild Oregon rain that fell that afternoon, and felt better for it. That’s how Oregonians do, anyway! A change of clothes was also waiting in my car.

My B&B was in the hilly part of town, above the Columbia River, and my room, “Little Hummers,” was up high enough that I had this view of the river the night I arrived late:

Another thing I liked about my lodging was that it was just a mile from the Column, so one morning when I woke hours before the scheduled breakfast, I set out on foot up the steep hill behind the hotel, and then climbed 163 or so steps to the top, where you open a heavy door and step onto a balcony in the round from which to view three rivers and the ocean. It was barely eight o’clock and I was the only one in the park. It was sublime.

If you cross over that bridge on the right, you land in the state of Washington.

The Youngs and the Lewis and Clark Rivers

When I returned to my hotel, I stopped on the sidewalk in front to dig in my bag for my key, and when I looked up this deer was calmly considering me. She had a young fawn hidden in the bushes; that evening I looked out my window to see them picking their way across the grass in the dusk.

This same day I visited Fort Clatsop, and while waiting for my friends to join me, I studied this map at length. In the car I had been listening to Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West by Stephen Ambrose, without the aid of maps, of course, so this was my chance to imprint the picture into my mind.

I never get tired of hearing about Lewis & Clark and the many things they and their Corps of Discovery did and discovered, so it was fun to visit this park again. I spent the rest of the day in Astoria, and didn’t get showered with either rain or sunshine.

Japanese maple along the waterfront

Back down the Oregon Coast I drove, to the town of Newport where the Sylvia Beach Hotel stands above Nye Beach (Sylvia Beach is the name of a person). I was so bushed from lack of sleep, and from hauling my bags up three flights of stairs, that I crashed on the bed for a quarter of an hour and enjoyed this view out my window, as the breeze flowed in:

This was the first day of my journey that the sun shone, and it was wonderful. I knew that rain was forecast for the next day, so I needed to take advantage of the afternoon. I went down to the beach and sat with my back against a log, and let the sun pour down on my face until it had gone away and down. I left my windows open all night and listened to the surf!

Yes, the next day was stormy. I tried walking on the beach in my raincoat anyway but the wind was blowing too hard, and sand stung my face. So I took a nap, and then enjoyed the howling of the wind and the rocking of the building the way the regulars at this hotel do, by sitting in the library reading, stoking the fire occasionally, and feeling cozy. The people I talked to said that rainy is their preferred weather for a sojourn here.

There is no TV, no wi-fi, but there are lots of books, and comfortable chairs and couches for settling into. It’s a hotel all about books, authors, and reading, and each of the many rooms – more than 20 – is themed after an author. I was in the Jane Austen Room, but other rooms are decorated to remind one of Dr. Suess, Agatha Christie, Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Tolkein… I very much enjoyed my time here, and was somewhat sorry that it was a sort of introductory stay, that is, too short.

I am moving right along in my tale of my expedition, because I know this is a too-long post, but my pace of travel was actually more relaxed than usual. I made sure I didn’t hurry – I was on vacation! The morning of my departure from my Jane Austen room and that rejuvenating place, the thought crossed my mind that I might skip breakfast and get on my way early. But why? I forced myself to browse the library, to eat the most civilized and hearty breakfast in the leisurely fashion it deserved, chatting with other lodgers.

Then I took a slightly longer route back toward home, so that I could stay on the coast as long as possible. I turned inland at Reedsport, not knowing – because my Oregon map had slipped off the seat and I couldn’t find it – that my road would wind along the Umpqua River from there, the most beautifully deep green waterway, a peaceful companion on this leg of my trip.

I must have added at least an hour to my journey, stopping many times to walk up and down the roadside and through deep wet grass, trying to get a good picture of the river through the thick stands of trees and shrubs and every kind of plant all tangled together. When I was able to frame a little bit of water in my viewfinder, it eventually dawned on me that under the clouds, the dark surface is reflecting so much of that green foliage, it’s often hard to see where the woods end and the river begins.

These were the last images of Oregon, and then my route took me back to California and familiar roads and scenes, and home again. This road trip was a bit of an experiment, to see how I liked it. Oregon is not too far, and it’s very diverse. This tour was mostly in the western parts, but I know from experience that I like the eastern parts, too. I hope more exploratory road trips are in my future, because this one was happy.