Chai corners, melas (village festivals), forts, temples, ancient houses, and loads of greenery to feast your eyes on. The Deolali-Nashik Road belt looks like – a melange of cultures, including the native Maratha culture. Once you board the train from Mumbai to Nashik, it is a different picture and food aroma at every station the train halts.
Having spent my childhood in Maharashtra (born and brought up in Mumbai and Nagpur) and being away from the state for nearly 12 years, this visit filled me with nostalgia and flooded me with fond food memories.
Our journey started from Coimbatore to Mumbai on a flight, and the second part of the journey to Nashik was by train (most awaited!) from Mumbai. While I was in my birth city Mumbai, the first meal was the delicious Vada pavs (packed lovingly by my favourite aunt) that I dug in shamelessly! After spending three precious hours with her, our train adventure began. We boarded the train to Nashik.
It was Navratri, and we were visiting my aunts who live in Deolali, a quaint little town near Nashik, with a culture and life of its own. Morning and evening walks are a delight looking at the greens around; most importantly, you can breathe fresh air that you rarely get in city limits. A market across the road is within walking distance, and you get to feast your eyes on tiny accessory stalls, small kitchen items, dresses, footwear, colourful Diwali lamp stalls, and stalls with wooden and plastic toys. There was a fantastic mela, a fair full of Giant Wheels, and all the fun rides for adults and children. The place wore a festive look, dotted with aromatic food stalls. It felt like I was in another time zone altogether. No one was in a hurry to rush home, prepare dinner, put kids to sleep, or prepare for school or work the next day. Lazy strolls around the market are all you need for your dose of unfiltered joy and happiness. All everyone wanted was to enjoy the ambiance. This place will make you pause and reflect on life – a perfect breather in a highly stressed life.
Even the police officers guarding the mela (fair) area were calm and relaxed while navigating and controlling crowds (extremely crowded). It was a stark difference from the city police officers, who would be stressed and burnt out while managing groups. The people around also respecting the law and following rules was a pleasure to watch. This made the environment peaceful. As they say, it takes two to tango!
Saptashrungi Devi Temple
We reserved a day for sightseeing in and around Nashik. The Sahyadris were blissfully green post the showers a day before and abundantly moist. So, we decided to explore a place called Vani, where the famous Saptashrungi Devi temple is located atop a hill surrounded by sapta, or seven mountain peaks in one of the ranges of the Sahyadris. Thousands of pilgrims throng the temple in trucks, minivans, cars, and even rickshaws. In addition, there are buses to take pilgrims atop the hill temple. This temple is known for its powerful Devi presence; hence, pilgrims vow to visit the temple once it is fulfilled.
As we started driving again, we spotted small tea stalls at almost every corner. Most boards had “Amrut Tulya Chai” written, which excited me since I finally got to taste this particular chai I wrote about. ‘A Chai Lover’s Soliloquy.’
Amrut Tulya in Marathi means equivalent to nectar. Honestly, these are small cups or chai shots of nectar (small paper cups), and you will not be satisfied with one cup. Here the nectar is pure organic jaggery that they use to sweeten this special masala tea (the tea shop owner said the suppliers and makers are secretive about the ingredients!). They get these tea packs which they use to brew tea for customers.
Our next halt was at the most famous and not-to-be-missed Sula Vineyards. This is an out-of-the-world experience every wine lover must have! The moment you enter it until you are out is as surreal as possible. You can experience a reel version of the Vineyards in a movie, get a tour of where the wine is made – first-hand knowledge from how the grapes are grown till their production and processing, and a wine tasting room where you can select the wine of your choice. They even have several multicuisine restaurants where tourists can relax with a glass of wine and delectable cuisine. We returned with bottles of my favourite wine and lots of pictures for wine memories!
P.S.: The place is a visual treat for photography lovers!
Being a foodie (and a native), authentic Maharashtrian cuisine is something I have been craving for. So this time, I satiated every bit of my tastebuds; with my aunts’ yummy meals – Sabudana khichdi, Poha, Zunka bhakar–Pithla, Bhakar vadi, traditional lasun (garlic-dry coconut-red chillies) chutney and Misal-roti and gravies using Goda masala (a Maharashtrian specialty).
Historically, Deolali is a small hill station, one of the oldest military centers in the country to have begun the Air Force station, the School of Artillery of the Indian Army. It used to be an old British camp and is currently a part of the Nashik Metropolitan Region. You can spot army officers and guards in uniforms as you walk around. They coexist beautifully with civilians who respect the military area boundaries. Deolali is just 12 km (roughly half an hour’s drive) away from Nashik city. One can explore homestays too in Deolali and Nashik – traditional old houses converted for guests to enjoy the native culture.
Back to Mumbai & Then Home
Our five days in Deolali and Nashik flew past, and it was time to bid farewell. Our flight was scheduled from Mumbai. We boarded the morning train from Nashik, heavy with memories of the visit. The next part of the journey was even more exciting. Minus our delay in getting our cab thanks to the infamous Mumbai traffic!
Our first stop was at a leading Gujarati eatery called Thakkar’s Bhojanalaya in Kalbadevi. The traditional Gujarati thali is sumptuous and fills you with aromas as soon as you enter the place. A huge thali was kept, and we feasted on every dish placed on the plate. Beginning with the jaggery rotis (wheat and bhakri) drizzled in ghee to the various sabzis (dry cooked vegetables), gravies and savouries (pakodas), and the delectable desserts – Gulab jamun, special barfi, shrikhand, and fruit custard. This thali is worth every penny you pay!
Following this, we visited the Gateway of India and walked around the Queen’s necklace – lazily enjoying the breezy sea air, soaked enough to take us back home.
Anyone visiting Maharashtra, do make it a point to visit offbeat places there so that you get to taste native delicacies better and interact with the locals who will give you a lot about the history and culture of the place. Festivals are the best time, though!
Travelling is an incredible adventure; everyone must take a break from their routine and plan a trip to a favorite ! This time was indeed a foodie’s memoir for a lifetime! So signing off till I visit yet another exciting city and flood you with more food.