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Until a few decades back, many of the roads in interior or rural India were simple dirt tracks carved out through jungles and forest. These were not all-weather roads and driving on them in the monsoons presented a serious challenge, even if you were in a proper 4WD vehicle. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana or the Prime Minister’s Rural Roads Scheme and the rapid growth in population have changed all that. Now nearly all roads have been tarred and made all-weather. Fortunately for nature and off-road driving buffs like me, few dirt roads still survive and most of them are to be found in protected forest areas like the Western Ghats.
The desire to once again go on an off-beat expedition struck sometime this summer. Coincidentally, I came across certain articles on the Western Ghats and how parts of this vast mountain range have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sealed the deal, and I decided that this was the region to head to. Just one call to my dear old friend Rammy Nagpal and he was on board for the journey too. But where exactly should we go? I had heard of a noble family from Kolhapur that had converted their over 100-year-old ‘Hunting Lodge’ near Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary into a home stay kind of resort.
A little online research and I soon had their contact details. An email was sent to the Ingle family, saying we would like to visit their property and explore the region. Before long we had established contact on the phone and I was speaking to both Gauri and her husband, Ruturaj Ingle. Ruturaj had apparently heard of me, and very graciously said, ?Please let me organise your journey in the Western Ghats. Come for at least a week, and I and my wife will accompany you and show you around.” And when I asked if we could do some off-roading, Ruturaj very casually replied, ?Yes, sure we will.”
That was all that was needed. Next I contacted the good folk at Toyota and they very kindly said they would be happy to provide their new diesel Fortuner with 4WD and automatic transmission for our journey. We were good to go. A date was fixed and on an overcast Sunday morning in the first week of June, Rammy and I hit the road for Kolhapur where we were to meet up with the Ingles. The previous evening, directions of how to get to their ancestral house had arrived by mail. The directions were so accurate and concise that I immediately knew Ruturaj was a seasoned motorist. This made me even more confident that though we had never met before, we would get along very well, and I told Rammy I had a feeling we were in for a memorable and exciting trip.
After leaving Mumbai at 7.00 am, we reached the beautiful stone mansion of the Ingles at 1.45 pm. The Ingles, who are a well-known ‘noble family’ from the Kolhapur region, warmly welcomed me and Rammy into their lovely home. Just opposite the mansion is their Hotel Padma that has a restaurant which serves traditional Kolhapuri cuisine, including the famous tambda and pandhra rassa. These rassas are not meat curried dishes but are plain curries, like sambar or rasam. You can pour them over rice or dip your rotis into them. We went across for lunch and Gauri , who looks after the day-to-day running of the hotel and restaurant, informed us that the specialties are their thalis, especially the mutton one that comes with mutton sukka, mutton fry and mutton lonche. This thali was delicious and Rammy, who ate the vegetarian one, also enjoyed his meal very much.