After a long series based on a trip taken a decade ago when the world was a different place and a series of random posts to keep me writing and in the mood for travel, finally the world decided to settle down just enough to allow some travel, albeit with its own risks and precautions.
I still wasn’t quite ready enough to take a flight for leisure purposes just yet. So all travel plans were restricted to places that could be driven to with our own car. With the better half being very queasy at the thought of long hours in a car we decided to dip our toes in first by choosing a place that was within a few hours of Mumbai before diving in and driving (being driven to be precise, neither of us are drivers!) full day to destinations further ahead.
When it comes to travel destinations around Mumbai the choice traditionally has been restricted to either a beach or a hill station. We had already been to Matheran & Mahabaleshwar, the two famous hill stations near Mumbai and although they appeal to the better half, beaches are not really my jam. So the search began for a destination that would appeal to the both of us.
Coincidentally it was also our tenth anniversary and were it not for the godforsaken pandemic we would have definitely been celebrating somewhere further away. But given the circumstances, we were happy that we could at least go somewhere. The better half suggested a fort called Jadhavgadh that had been converted into a resort. I had researched about Jadhavgadh previously but always ruled it out on the premise that there was nothing else close by to see. That big con turned into a pro in these pandemic days as we just wanted a good resort that had something different than the usual hotel. So Jadhavgadh it was!
With a room overlooking the hill booked in the fort for a couple of days (there are cheaper tents that can be booked situated in the lawns around the fort) we set off from Mumbai around 8 am. Thankfully we encountered minimal traffic and soon we were zooming along on the expressway to Pune. After reaching Pune we took the route suggested by Google maps which turned out to be an extremely bumpy under repair highway.(This wasn’t the last time Google maps would try to sabotage our car in 2020!). Inspite of the absurdly bad supposed national highway we reached Jadhavgadh at lunch time which was perfect.
We checked in after a by now routine temperature check and filling of self declaration forms about our health. We found out there that most of the rooms were under renovation which was great since it meant even less people around. ( This pandemic has made me even more antisocial!). So we were directed to our room which surprisingly turned out to be a spacious one, I always assumed forts had cramped small rooms.
There was also a balcony which was along the modified old fort ramparts and looked onto the lawns and a small hill beyond. It was no Mont Blanc but it was pretty in its own way.
We freshened up and went for lunch at the restaurant and had our first meal out of our house in 8 months! (That is surely a record for us.) The food was freshly prepared and tasty so we had absolutely no complaints.
After a heavy lunch we decided to walk around the resort and try and walk it off. The resort itself has a central fort in which the more expensive rooms and the restaurant is situated. It is then surrounded by well manicured lawns on 3 sides. These lawns also have an old Ganesha temple from the times of Shahu Maharaj. So we decided to walk down to the temple and pay our respects.
The way to the lawns via the tower
The well manicured gardens with the tower in the background
The old Ganesha Temple at Fort Jadhavgadh
After paying our respects we decided to walk around to the imposing main gate that we had entered the hotel through and take a photo of it. There was also a pond that the better half had seen photos of, but we would visit it the coming day. Looking at the lawns I had anticipated the presence of at least some birds. That meant that the 300 mm would be carried around the whole of the next day. This was the best chance for me to photograph the main gate using the ultra wide and I wasn’t going to miss it.
The imposing main gate of the Fort Jadhavgadh
We then decided to climb to the top of the fort where there was a at present, not functioning pool ( Thanks to the Pandemic!) and attached to it was a viewing gallery which gave a sweeping view of the flat landscape with the fields and grasslands beyond. We stood there and watched the sun starting to go down.
At the viewing gallery at Sunset
We had barely digested our late lunch when the polite staff at hand informed us that it was time for some tea and snacks. We walked down from the gallery and to the outdoor part of the restaurant. I was craving for a hot cup of black coffee to satiate my caffeine needs and I got just that, with a plate of piping hot pakodas as a bonus. The better half got her filter coffee and we enjoyed our quiet tea time.
The better half enjoying her Filter coffee – The pakodas are long gone
We then returned to our room for more rest. The IPL final was on that day and though usually watching TV on a vacation is akin to blasphemy for us, but this was a special situation. And as I had mentioned earlier there was nothing else to do, so we watched & cheered as the Mumbai Indians battered Delhi on their way to yet another IPL title.
In the innings break we went and had a predictably delicious and hot dinner at the restaurant before returning to the room to watch the rest of the match and sleeping off to a good nights sleep. I thought about waking up early the next day and going to the lawns for some bird photography but abandoned the plans in favour of some more sleep. (Another first for me!)
We woke up much later than we would otherwise on a vacation. That may sound paradoxical to most people but we have a habit of waking up earlier on vacations than we would back home! We got ready and ate our breakfast in the restaurant with hardly anyone else there. Guess we were still too early!
I returned to the room to pick up my camera. I had bought my dream camera, the D500 just a few weeks before this trip. But this was the first time I was going to use it for bird photography from a place other than my bedroom window and was excited to see what thus beast of a camera can do. I had tried the settings and gotten used to the camera at home.I have learnt never to carry a new camera birding unless you want to lose some bird photos because of lack of familiarity with the camera settings. (If you shoot birds on auto, then don’t bother carrying a camera in the first place. Mobiles nowadays will do just fine!)
Just as we reached the lawns near the temple my spotter, the better half spotted a hoopoe and a green bee eater basking on tree overhead. They were in perfect light and it was the perfect small starting steps for the new camera.
A Hoopoe basking in the sunlight
A Green beeeater on the same branch!
Two birds on one branch – The perfect start!
I soon saw something flying in the bushes below and it was a brown headed flycatcher. As I was photographing the pretty little bird I was cursing myself for sleeping in late and wasting the early morning hours when the birds are the most active.
A brown headed flycatcher
I didn’t get much time to regret my actions as what started next was what I will always remember as “Hoopoe hour”. Not one but 6 Hoopoes descended on various parts of the lawns and started pecking away trying to find worms and insects for their brunch. If that wasn’t enough there were Drongos trying to shoo away the Hoopoes as soon as they found a catch and trying to make a quick meal without any effort. There were also the Green bee eater waiting on their perch before swooping down and catching insects in flight for their meal. I was clicking away to glory and got some of the best photos of the Hoopoes till date.
The Eurasian Hoopoe poses for the new camera
The Hoopoe in all its crowned glory
It was totally unexpected to find so many of these birds here and I was thanking my lucky stars that we had come here at a time when the resort was almost empty. Otherwise there would be people of all ages and sizes playing various sports on these lawns and I would never have gotten my ” Hoopoe Hour”
As the Hoopoes finished scouring this part of the lawn and moved slightly away , I bade them goodbye and walked to another part of the resort complex where there was a shooting gallery set up. The staff asked us if we wanted to engage in some air gun shooting. We politely refused as making loud noises was the last thing I wanted to do. (After the better half posed with the gun for a photo!)
I had seen a tree full of flowers here and where there are such abundant flowers there are sunbirds. Sure enough there were a handful of purple sunbirds flying energetically from one bloom to the other. The light wasn’t ideal but I nevertheless got a few photos that I am happy with. I even got to check the famed fast focus of the D500 as I tried catching a sunbird taking off with decent success.
A female purple Sunbird poses for the D500 before taking off
We then spotted some small birds in the creepers along a pole in the middle of the lawn. We started towards it to enquire when we came across a pied wagtail strutting on the lawns. I took some photos before moving on.
A pied wagtail struts on the lawns
The small birds we had spotted were a group of scaly breasted munias. They were flying in and out of the creepers. Sadly they were not in any sort of good light for photography. So we just stood and watch these beautiful little birds fly around. Maybe one of them had pity on me and he flew out and across the lawn and perched on a tree in excellent light. As usual in birding, our patience paid off and I got a decent photo.
A Scaly breasted Munia poses in some good light
We never realised how time flew by just looking at and taking photos of my feathered friends. We looked at our mobiles (no one wears watches any more!) to see that it was lunch time. So we took a few photos of ourselves on the lawns. I had a natural smile on my face thanks to the great sightings and even better photos that I had managed to get.
At the Jadhavgadh lawns happy at the mornings birding
We returned to our room to keep the camera before going to the restaurant for lunch. The plan post lunch was to find and go to the pond that the better half had seen photos of after our lunch at the restaurant, and hopefully spot more birds. But that is the story for another post some other time, some other day, as I have droned on for far too long.
PS – I hope that the writing is not too choppy after a prolonged break from writing. If so, bhool chook maaf!