June 22, 2020

Sahyadri Tiger Reserve - An Unknown Forest (Part 2)

Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary

     Koyna reserve is the northern part of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. The Koyna river originates from Old Mahabaleshwar and initially flows west of Mahabaleshwar but then it does not descend in Konkan, instead it turns southward and then about 50km south it turns south east. There at koyna nagar Koyna Dam was built. This dam is one of the biggest dams of maharashtra. Now because of this dam there is great water divide and precisely this has helped to create prestine jungles in the mountain crests of Sahyadri around the Koyna river forming the Koyna Wildlife Reserve.

     The "Koyna wildlife Sanctuary" is divided in following segments as we go from north to south.

1] Shindi / Met shindi (tourist zone & buffer zone starts)
2] Vasota / Met indavli (Tourist zone & Core zone starts)
3] Maldev/ Kusawade (core zone)
4] Pali (core zone)
5] Jhungti (core zone)
6] Dicholi (tourist zone)
7] Shirshinge (core zone)
8] Nawaja (core zone & buffer zone)
     Each of these zones are valley or catchment zones formed by tributaries of Koyna River. It is a high rainfall zone and because of divide of dam backwater all these regions are difficult to reach and hence it has very good quality of forest. Ofcourse there are some villages still existing in these parts of forest as these villages has been there for centuries but they are sparsely populated and most of the area is left untouched.
1] Shindi / Metshindi
     We can reach to this area by road+ ferry boat from Mahabaleshwar. A road from the base of Pratapgad travels south for about 40-45. We also cross Madhu-Makarandgad on the way. They we cross water by ferry. The road further leads us to Tapola. We can also take boat from Tapola or Bamnoli to reach this place.
     After crossing by ferry there are several villages Morni, Mahalunge, Arav, Shindi, Met shindi, Ravandi. Around these villages we find Mahimandangad, Parbatgad, Chakdev. These villages are in buffer of the sanctuary and forest department is interested in promoted eco tourism in these villages. ofcourse exploration of widlife must be done on foot. There are no vehicle Safaris. A trek route can take us from here to Vasota. It is almost trek route of 14 Hrs and no one in the way to guide.
2] Vasota
     To reach here we must travel by boat. We can hire one from Bamnoli or Tapola. You can also climb by foot from village called Choravane which arrives at Nageshwar temple.
     New vasota fort is part of tourist zone but old vasota is part of core zone. We can also visit Nageshwar temple which is part of tourist zone. There is a confirmed siting of 1 tiger in this part of forest. possibly 1 more in old vasota area. Old vasota is also known to have sloth bear population. If you are lucky there is a high chance to spot herd of Indian gaurs- favourite food of Tiger from top of Nageshwar or Vasota. It is very difficult to spot mammals on foot as they are very alert and you are not !!
3] Maldev / Kusawade
     It is a very dense forest zone with just 3 villages and now they are also mostly abandoned. There are no heritage locations around but from bio diversity perspective very wealthy area.
     Officially you can not visit this area as it is part of core zone, even if you have permission normal wayto reach this area is by boat from Koynanagar or from Bamnoli. But there is another way on foot if you are adventurous enough. If you travel from Chiplun to a village called Sakhar then you can climb towards Maldev by "Sarichi wat"
4] Pali
     Another cathcment area defined by the name of village "Pali." But interesting part is that there is a fort named "Paligad" in this area which is highly unexplored and there is absolutely no information about it. Last reference of this fort I got from Harish Kapadia's book - Trek the Sahyadri's. Today this fort comes in core parts of Koyna forest and hence impossible to visit officially.
     As usual there is no way to reach this place except Boat. No roads. There could be a possible way from Konkan but I am not aware of it. Forest is stunning. I haven't been able to witness this part first hand but my friends from forest department have shared some photographs and they are enough to entice any nature lover. There is a big "Sada" near Pali village which is among the first of similar features we find southwards. Sada is a feature where plateau is filled with volcanic rocks.
5] Jhungti
     Another enigmatic area with very dense forest and part of core zone. Approach only by boat. This area has confirmed resident tiger movement. Ofcourse like in forests of plains, tigers of mountains do not stay in one area for long and hence not easy to pin them down to any one specific area but still with high density of forest and high availability of food tigers tend to stay in this area longer.
     Like i mentioned in Pali area, another unknown fort named "Jhungti" is located in this valley. It is suppose to be similar to Jangli Jaigad fort, a small fort on the crest of mountain guarding a route to konkan. With the same logic of Jaigad with can call this fort as Jangli Jhungti
6] Dicholi
     It is a big area consisting of Dicholi & dhokawale villages and around. Unlike other area's this is not really formed of a watershed. This area has lot of flat area and plateaus making it a favorite grazing area for Gaurs and Sambar.
     On the opposite side of dam there are villages called Kathi, Gojegaon, Gawadewadi etc which are out of forest reserve and has facilities of eco huts. With permission from forest department we can take a boat from these locations to Dicholi area and explore the jungle. Being easy to reach, this area has been kept as tourist zone by forest department. Ofcourse all this exploration is on foot and there are no roads around for safari.
7] Shirshinge
     Another corezone area formed by a catchment of koyna's tributary. Shirshinge, Zadoli, Punavli are some villages from this area. Nothing special to mention about this area except now we are almost at the end of the Koyna sanctuary.
     This area is better accessible from Koyna dam. As Koyna dam and its hydropower project comes in very high risk area, forest department and overall administration are very sensitive about who goes in this area. It is more to do with Security of state rather than wildlife. But still wildlife has benefitted out of this protection.
8] Nawaja
     It is the southernmost zone of Koyna sanctuary. It is also known for the 4th phase of Koyna hydropower project where the underwater tunnel takes water from dam in konkan to create electricity. Nawaja is the place where the tunnel is placed under water. It is a highly protected area. Part of this area comes in core zone and part in buffer zone. There is also a ghat roads which services only for hydropower workers and support team. Rest of the traffic moves via Kumbharli ghat which marks the end of Koyna wildlife sanctuary.
     Nawaja is famous for two attractions. First is Ozarde waterfall, an amazing waterfall easily accessible to tourists as it is in buffer zone. Second is Jangli Jaigad to which trek route goes from Nawaja village and is in core zone. Jangli jaigad fort is sitting right on the top of 4th phase of Koyna project and hence not easily allowed to visit. Trek route is also not well marked and it is very easy to get lost in this jungle (not recommended at all !!!). Through Trekdi I have been able to take treks to this fort at least 10 times but now with strict rules of forest department it is tough to get permission.

     I will be writing about Chandoli wildlife sanctuary in my next part. I will also be sharing more photographs in coming days.

Sahyadri Tiger Reserve - An Unknown Forest (Part 1)

     Sahyadri Tiger reserve is the most recent Tiger reserve of Maharashtra notified in year 2008. This tiger reserve is the only tiger reserve in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra.

     This forest is formed of various sanctuaries which were exisiting long before. To give additional protection to Tiger, these areas were notified as Tiger Reserve. This Reserve when formed included

> Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary
> Chandoli Wildlife Sacntuary

and now it is extended upto
> Radhanagarti (Dajipur) wlidlife Sanctuary

     The Tiger reserve has core area of 600 sq.km. and buffer area of 565 sq.km including total 1165 sq km. making it one of the top 10 of Project tiger by sheer size. This tiger reserve spreads for about 100km from North to south but overall width of this forest varies from region to region. This makes it a very unique type of reserve.

     The buffer zone of this forest start south of Pratapgad fort near Mahabaleshwar which coverts to core zone near Vasota Fort. The core zone runs south till Koyna Dam wall and then after small buffer area another core zone starts around Bhairavgad near an abandoned village called Patharpunj which runs till Chandoli village. another long stretch of buffer zone till Gaganbawda fort/ghat and then kicks in the parts of Radhanagri Sanctuary which runs till fonda ghat.

     As per 2009-10 Tiger population estimation excercise it is estimated that there are about 7 tigers in the Project. But it is also thought that this prediction could be erronious as this terrain is highly remote, mountainous to get true population. Also the new protection might have kicked in little bit of population boost. Ofcourse this area is more Leopard friedly than to tigers and hence very healthy population of leopards.

     As all of you have noticed that this Tiger reserve though notified recently holds and old forest and is dotted with lots of Forts and subsequently lot of heritage and stories, I will be covering entire forest part by part. So keep reading !!!

December 1, 2014

Vasota Jungle Trek with TREK'Di Adventures and Tours

It was a nice morning in the village of Bamnoli in satara district to which we reached at 3.30am. I was there on Vasota trek with TREKDI Adventures and Tours. A dynamic trekkers group from Pune. When I walked down the steps of the Bhairav Mandir in which we rested for around 3 hours ,I saw three white ducks walking in a queue .It reminded me of my childhood when we used to play train train. It was such a nice sight.

Later after I freshened up I took a cup of tea and then walked towards the coast of the back waters just alone By then I was also accompanied by two other persons. We captured few awesome movements of the ducks swimming in the waters and then coming out and walking in again. The way they took plunges into the water was a graceful act. Technically their movements set their bodies to make them navigate easily in the waters. Wow!!!

After the duck show I returned to the temple where trek leaders served us breakfast and tea. Since it was a chilly morning I found that tea as a heaven. Waah.

At around 8.45am we were asked to gather around the temple porch to listen to the instructions and to self introduce . Over there I realised that I was going to have trek with people from varied professions....class! I met Veerta the great in the trek...taai atishay dhanya ahet ..madam na pratyek muddyawar apla mat mandaychach asta...haha

At 9.20am we were grouped into 12 and we departed towards Vasota fort coast. The ferry boat was a diesel engine boat with a nylon roof to cover and practically no safety jackets to don. Well! It was 1.5 hrs journey . I never had such a long journey on a boat ever before. The waters were green or sometimes blue...all because of the sunlight that had its reflection onto our eyes. The waters were surrounded by the scenic beauty of the green pastures spread on the tiny hills and mini hillocks. The skies were quite clear and blue and the waters cold although the atmosphere was humid. In the ferry all the trekkers were offered a pouch of Kokam sherbet which tasyed reasonably good. All of us began capturing the pictures from our cameras of varying strengths and capacities. Bhagyashree took a nice photo of mine in which I dipped my hand into the tides thay rose as the ferry swam ahead.

Atlast at 10.45am our ferry reached the coast of the fort . We jumped out and walked towards the gate where the tiger reserve began. It took much time ahead for other ferries to reach the gate. It was a waste of time in the scorching sun ...

Later we began with the trek after our leader Amit distributed the bread loves amongst the trek group.

Initially I was going quite well, took no stops and nothing ....but as the time came to climb uphill and we took height ,my endurance was hampering. This situation was a consequence of my laziness . Laziness in the sense that I took up this physical task suddenly after two months sitting at home for my IPCC group2 studies. I was having palpitations. Haahoo haahooo!! I was breathing heavy. I walked and climbed carrying my fatigue. THe forests were green and lush inside although it was winter. Obviously winter in India is far different from the Tundra region and also this forest reserve was situated along the Koyna dam,so,it was quite obvious that the forest ought be green. There were also few rock benches made by the forest department governing the reserve. There were few patches where there were wild flower blossoms and moths and butterflies buzzing around. In the small cottage like building that I visited just before the trek begun after the ferry , I saw a poster depicting an insect which had a similar body like a twig that can be seen on a tree or a herb. What a camouflage!!! There were also banyans and peepul trees, apart there could be numerous more trees herbs shrubs that I might not come across atleast in this life. Although it was 12 in the noon the air was cool and not hot.

I was taking many stops and sat anywhere with all unknown trekkers and chatted with them on any possible topic. I was able to revive my skills of talking with strangers. The best talk was with Veerta . Madam must have an opinion on every other topic we might converse on.

We walked and walked and finally before the final lap I met Veerta with her best friend (sarcastically) Roshni. She irritated Veerta throughout the climb asking when we will reach when we will reach...atishay ff..

ATLAST I and Veerta together reached the destination .....finally... AND all the anxiousness dissolved. It was like , climbing the HIMALAYA is an interesting activity and amusing whereas when you reach the Everest all the eagerness...anxiety and all that wow feeling dwindles in no time.

We walked to flat land and over there all of us had tasty PavBhaji with shrikhand....

Then I took a short walk to other end of the fort. The view from there was fascinating...it shown me the might of Sahyadris...wollaa..The curvature that the valleys had were all because of the wind pressure. But the bad part was that that the sunlight disturbed all the view when captured in my simple nikon camera. Albeit I was awestrucked. Then I returned to base and from there Amit sir took us too BABU gad . The panoramic view of the hills surrounding the cliff was a nature's creation. Again the curvatures caught my awe. Over there Amit sir in his dense voice payed respect to Raja Chatrapati Shivaji maharaj and the voice echoed back in around 6 to 7 echoes or times. Wow ....speechless.. felt proud.

And then there was return journey to Pune again by walking and hopping down the fort and by ferry towards the bus. 4I reached home at a strike of 1am sharp after enjoying a simple veg thali at a dhabaa and an antakshari in the bus.


Rushikesh sambare

February 24, 2014

Kalavantin - A Night Hike to Remember

'To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties that they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that men love the mountains and go back to them again and again. The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits" - Sir Francis Younghusband.

     As year 2013 was coming to an end, I was yearning to end it on a high. I was mulling over an idea to climb Lingana with my friends of Wild Trek Adventure (WTA) Group. Lingana is supposed to be one of the most strenuous climbs in Sahydari mountain range and you need to have technical expertise to climb the same as approach to its summit was destroyed in the past. Unfortunately, my wish was nipped in the bud as my wife vehemently opposed the idea of scaling Lingana calling it as insane and urged me to look for simpler option.I tried to convince her citing WTA's technical expertise and safety precautions to make this climb successful but to no avail.  Humorously, I even tried alluring her with the amount of insurance that I had for my life in case I wouldn't return alive but still it bore no fruits.I was disheartened but understood the concern of my wife and decided to look for other options and zeroed on hike to Kalavantin pinnacle near Panvel which also involves rock climbing but is many times undemanding, safer as compared to that of Lingana.

      I joined TrekDi group for this hike and we started off around 10.15 p.m. from Pune.We had a group of 8-9 trekkers with 2 trek leaders - Vikas and Shubham. TrekDi had arranged a comfortable 17 seaters for such a small group. Apparently, this trek did not get much of a response but fortunately organizers did not cancel the trek and went ahead with the small available group.

      Hiking with strangers has its own advantages; you get to meet a lot of new people from the varied backgrounds, you forge a lot of new friendships, you meet lot of inspiring people who fill your life with so much of positivity.

     Our target was to reach Thakurwadi village, starting point of our hike, around 1.30 a.m.. Journey to reach this village was eventful. As we were on the way to Thakurwadi, it was post-midnight and we came across a village bustling with a lot of activity and where many cars were parked. Food stalls were open serving tea and food. I was surprised to see so much of a rush at such an unearthly hour and surveyed in the other direction to notice that there was night cricket tournament being played. It felt wonderful and brought back some nostalgic moments of my childhood where we used to play such night cricket tournaments in our village. After asking the direction to Thakurwadi to one of the stall owners, we carried on further.

     After driving for 10 minutes on a straight road, we came across a diversion but our driver drove straight ahead instead of taking a turn at diversion. Soon, we reached to the dead end of the village only to realize that we had lost our way. As there was nobody awake in the village, only practical option was to return back to the diversion and hope that the other road would lead us to our destination. Fortunately, it turned out to be the correct route and we saw the board indicating the direction to Thakurvadi village. We soon reached to the village only to realize that we again had come in the wrong direction. We were supposed to reach to a big banyan tree which was the starting point for the trek but there was not any banyan tree in the near sight and the route was going farther from the Kalavantin peak.

    It was already close to 1.30 a.m. and villagers were sleeping like a log. We experimented with GPS but it deserted us at the wrong time because of some network issues. We desperately needed to get hold of somebody who could guide us. Fortunately serendipity came our way in the form of a man sleeping in the temple. We tried to arouse the man from the sleep indirectly by making some noise and chiming the bell in the temple but the man didn't move an inch. As we were in dilemma whether to wake up this man forcefully, he finally seemed to have opened his eyes. Ceasing this golden opportunity, we politely asked him way to the banyan tree - starting point for hike to Kalavantin. He gave details regarding the correct route and even offered to accompany us till the banyan tree. He said that he would sleep in other village and it would not be a problem if he accompanied us. What an amazing fellow!

      We happily took this man along and soon reached to the banyan tree. After expressing gratitude to this god sent man, we began our hike in the direction of Prabalmachi, the base village of the fort. There is no road connectivity to this base village and you have to hike for 2 hours to reach to it. You can imagine the plight of the villagers who still haven't been provided with the basic amenities in the 21st century where India is believed to be shining. Fortunately, our government seems to have woken up from the slumber and seems to have started some kind of work to make this village connected by road. Hopefully, in few years’ time, the road to this village will be a reality making the life of these villagers much easier.   

     As we commenced our hike, Kalavantin Pinnacle and massive Prabalgad were glowing in the resplendent moonlight and it was sight to behold. It was moment to take the first photograph and I took out the camera and pressed "click" button only to realize to my dismay that I had forgotten the memory card at home. Though I made sure to fully charge both the camera batteries, I forgot to check whether memory card was inside the camera. I felt wretched to come to term with the fact that I had to do this trek without clicking any photo. As luck would have it, my trek-mate Rishi Kasne, who also takes keen interest in photography was carrying extra memory card and he offered it to me. With the borrowed memory card, my mood sharply turned  from somber to ecstatic. By the way, I still have to meet Rishi and copy the photos that I took in his memory card.

    It was a wonderful night with the full moon. Moonlight hikes are absolutely fun. Hiking amidst the serene surrounding with soothing moonlight guiding your way, at a time when your part of the world is dreaming, is absolutely a divine experience.  I was expecting a chilly night and was wearing a full sweater but as soon as we started our hike, we were drenched in the sweat and most of us, removed our sweaters. We took occasional breaks and reached to the plateau of Prabalmachi around 3.30 a.m.. There was already a group of campers camping just outside the village; some sleeping, some chatting. I struck up a conversation with them; the group had come from Mumbai and one Puneite from that group felt happy to see group belonging to his city and immediately waved and shouted to inform us him being Puneite.

     On entering the village, we were greeted by the cacophonous barking of lots and lots of dogs. Their noise was frightening to the core and we were feeling like thieves surreptitiously sneaking into the village but we just moved on ignoring these dogs. We were searching for the shelter to spend remaining few hours of the night. We didn’t want to sleep in the area open to sky to avoid our mats and sleeping bags getting drenched on account of the due. Soon, we spotted a small house with the shade in front and we decided to lie down under the shade.

      Few of my trek mates were already hungry because of climb and chose to munch from the packed lunch; I just tucked myself inside the cozy sleeping bag and tried to get as much rest as possible. It was almost 3.45 a.m. and we hardly had time for 2-3 hours of nap. All the dogs in the village were active throughout the night barking unnecessarily and it was irritating to the hilt. As if it was not enough, roosters started crowing vociferously around 4.15 a.m., almost two hours before the dawn. It is amazing how internal clocks of these roosters make them crow few hours before the dawn.

      Few of the trek mates had not prepared well for the chilly night and hadn’t brought anything to pull over. It was becoming very freezing and they just could not lie down and got up to see whether they could light some fire to get some warmth. I sympathized with them; actually I was also shivering inside the sleeping bag as I was not wearing sweater and socks and somehow cold already had penetrated inside the sleeping bag. Cursing the sleeping bag manufacturer, I got up again, wore the sweater, monkey cap, socks and again tucked back into the sleeping bag. At last tiring body felt warm with this extra cushion of clothing and stopped paying heed to external noises and went into the trance. I had a sound sleep of 1-2 hours before I was awakened by a sound of “tea is ready”. Apparently, our trek leaders had already woken up and finished with preparing the tea and started cooking the Maggi. I was not willing to get up but the thought of hot tea and the prospect of amazing early morning hike washed away all the lethargy, tiredness and I gradually came out of the sleeping bag to join my other trek-mates who already were warming themselves near the fire.

     After breakfast, we set off for the climb after confirming the direction from the villagers. Once you start your trail correctly from the village, it will automatically take you to the col between Kalavantin and Prabalgad. Ascent till the col is steep and it will take around 20-25 minutes to get there. The route passes through the small rocks and boulders and you need to be careful to avoid any slip. It is dreadful to twist your ankle on this way with careless hiking as real magic awaits you further which you just don’t want to miss because of the twisted ankle.

     Once you reach to the col, you get nice views of Matheran plateau  which is hidden from you as you are climbing. You can easily distinguish Matheran plateau from other mountains because of towers erected on it. The whole view of the giant mountains on all the sides is just breathtaking and you feel rewarded for all the toil and efforts that you have taken to witness such a grand vista.

     I had listened to and read a lot of interesting stories about the steps of Kalavantin fort and as we were about to start the actual climbing, I was thrilled at the prospect of climbing these much talked about steps. At the very start of the climb, you need to climb a small, slanting rock patch with proper grooves. This can unsettle few especially in the rainy season when the rocks get slippery. In the winter, it is not such a big deal and you can easily do it. You have a zigzag route to follow and you soon reach to the steps carved in the rock. Sometimes, whenever steps change the direction, they become too narrow to your comfort as there is a steep fall on the other side. You need to keep your weight on the right side; proper shoes and careful steps can make this ascent easy. You can have testing time if you do the same hike in monsoon when there is a moss and steps are slippery. I even noticed some bolts on these steps which I assume are used to tie ropes in the monsoon so as to ensure safety. As you climb the steps to reach the summit, massiveness of Prabalgad on the other side just make you spellbound. Overall, all of us did quite well and negotiated these steps without any hiccups. I would say that with proper precautions, this climb is straightforward in winter.

    You need to negotiate a small rock patch (Grade: Easy) to reach to the summit. Some people climb it without any ropes but it is advisable to take safety precautions if you have non-climbers in the group. As most of the trek-mates were novices in the field of rock climbing, our trek leader, Vikas ascended ahead; tied the rope to a big rock and suspended it down where other trek-leader Shubham tied the ropes along the waist of the trekkers and soon, one by one everyone reached to the summit. Only 2-3 steps in the rock patch were tricky; otherwise it was an easy climb.

     Once on the top, we just reveled in the beauty around. The whole forts of Matheran range – Haji Malang, Chanderi, Navra-navri, Peb were looking breathtaking. The whole Matheran plateau was also clearly visible with the towers on it clearly making it distinguished from other mountains. Also, on the other side, Karanala was looking very inviting with its thumb like peak and Manikgad was standing prettily with its hat like plateau. We just luxuriated in the sights of these majestic mountains.

     As we were spending few sublime moments on summit, coterie of hikers joined us comprising of three kids aged 7, 8 and 10. These innocent looking kids were trained rock climbers and two of them already had climbed Lingana summit once under the supervision of adults. I was dumbstruck to hear this incredible piece of information.

     There was nothing much to explore on the summit. Though Kalavantin was built as a fort, it was mainly used as a watch tower in the past. Therefore, after getting rejuvenated by the cool and fresh breeze striking our faces, immersing ourselves in the picturesque views, capturing adjoining stunning mountain ranges in the lenses of camera, it was time to descend - to transport ourselves back to the practical world.

     Everybody climbed down using the rope one after another. Descending was easier because of all the safety precautions. Vikas, our trek leader descended only after ensuring everyone came down safely from the rock patch. We soon started coming down towards the col. One of our trek mates had very slippery shoes and he had to climb down slowly, sitting with the support of both of his hands. As we were coming down, other group had arrived at the col and they waited for us to descend. Shortly, we reached back to the col and other group started their climb.

Once everyone from our group reached to COL, we started our way back to the base. Shortly, we arrived at the house where we had left all our rucksacks. We put our feet up for a while and ate a packed lunch. After thanking the villagers for their help, we set off for our further descent to Thakurwadi village around 12 in the afternoon. Sun had started to beat and along the way, we took one to two breaks in the shadow of the trees to get some respite from the heat.

     Reaching to the base was relatively uneventful barring one incident where one of our trek-mates, an orthopedic doctor twisted his ankle while descending. I offered him the muscle-sprain spray that is always part of my rucksack to relieve him from the pain. Orthopedic doctor being offered help from an IT professional for an ankle sprain, what an irony!

     We finally reached to our parking spot around 1 p.m.. When we reached down, we were approached by couple of mini-bus drivers who were hungry and did not get any food in the near vicinity. We offered them whatever was remaining with us and they happily accepted and expressed gratitude towards us. We refreshed ourselves, changed the clothes and started our journey back to Pune. We halted at Malavali to have tea and cold drinks and reached back safely to Pune around 5 p.m.

     On the whole, my initiation to the world of technical rock climbing, stunning panoramic views of mountain ranges from the top and chilly night spent in the outdoors made this hike one of the treasured ones.

     So, what are you waiting for? If you have strong legs to climb and are willing to come out of your comfort zone, hike to Kalavantin in the Panvel region will fill you with absolute joy.

Tips for the hikers:

>> Hike to Kalavantin can be combined with that of Prabalgad. It requires 2 days though.

>> Reaching Kalavantin summit requires basic rock climbing. If you are a non-climber, it is advisable to go with experts who provide safety equipment for climbing.

>> Prabalgad has many misleading paths. So take help of guide or join a group who have done this trek earlier.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the Mother Nature clean!
- Prashant Kothawade

January 30, 2014

Self Accelerated Trek of Sahyadri…”Junglee Jaigad”

     If you are a slow trekker or getting bored of trekking long distance I advice to try this trek during early monsoon. Surely you will excel like superman while trekking. Because the moment you stop for rest, you will be sucked by leeches. Leeches are segmented worm present in freshwaters mostly in rainforest area. 

     Weekend treks are routine for me and Dharam & this time we planned with TrekDi famous for its haunted, remote, rarely visited & scenic place selection. Before departing from Pune, it was a sudden shock when we were asked “Hope you are carrying saltwater & turmeric powder since its only remedy to remove leech from your body part? “We were not prepared to face the attack but decided to move ahead. We travelled in the bus the entire night on the route little known from Pune to Koyna Town. To the Best of my knowledge, “Jungli Jaigad” is located in dense forest of Koyna Wildlife sanctuary just near Koyna dam. This is also a part of Tiger reserve sanctuary, however we couldn’t spot any tiger during our trip.   

     In the morning when I woke up I understood why this fort is famous for its beauty. All over it was covered with a green carpet along with cold drizzling water. I took my umbrella and started hunting suitable place for the nature’s call. Immediately we had breakfast & proceeded for obtaining necessary permission from forest. Around 9’o clock we could start the actual trek from Koyna village. Our bus took us till the entry point of forest which is approx 20 km from Koyna village. We left our bus on pakka road inside the forest & started getting prepared for trek. There was only hot discussion about how to save ourself from leeches. Finally we tighten our shoes & made sure that every entry point for leech is seized. 

     We started the trek and after few meters of walk I could see neither brown color of soil since was covered with wet leaves nor blue sky since was covered with dense forest. No one daring to stop even for water during the trek since leeches have tendency to climb on stationary human body. Due to fear of leeches we even didn’t realized that we reached on top with super speed & that’s the reason I name this trek as self accelerated trek. First time I could see some clouds when we reached on top of fort and guide told that on other side of yours there is a Konkan valley. However I couldn’t see even a valley. As like other forts of Shyadri, most of the structures on top are ruined except never lasting feeling of heavy rain with misty clouds & divine flow of wind was something I could never forget.

     No one dared to take out their camera but Dharma’s desperation to capture these incomparable moments forced him to take out his Sony Camera. And below are few last scene captured by his beloved camera who accompanied us for more than 50 treks/camp we did within Sahyadri. On the same day it died after sinking in rain water. After clicking few pictures we had our packed lunch which was almost moist & wet but had no other option. We started our retuned trek after lunch & with the same pace we reached to forest internal pakka road. I opened my shoes & socks, was very confident about entry of leech but finally found 3 leeches sucking my blood with all the patience inside my socks. 

     Eventually we realized that we have to walk for five kilometer since bus is at gate and there is no coverage due to obvious reasons. We were tired & screamed but finally started walking towards bus. I never knew that best part of trek is waiting ahead. Due different pace of speed there was no one around within my eye sight except breezing wind, blood storming rain & scary voice of forest due to friction of air, rain & trees. I don’t know what that was but felt like someone following me, may be my own soul, supreme power or some wild animal. Let it be whatever but I can’t forget & compare that 5 km walk with any walk of my life. Finally it was relaxed feeling when spotted bus standing between flowing water & blowing wind since that was the only shelter available for us. We all managed to change our clothes inside of bus only. 

     Everyone was victim of leeches & must have personally donated 350 ml blood for welfare of leeches. Everyone wounds were blooding like anything but feeling of completing such dangerous & wild trek was forcing us to forget our wounds. The bloody & wet floor of bus was giving feeling of scene after some terrorist attack or bomb blast in bus. 

     Our trek ended with a short trek to huge water fall on the way of Koyna dam at botanical garden.  I thank TrelDi team for arranging & choosing such nice & adventurous trek. It refreshed my memory of trekking in rain forest of Assam & I wasn’t aware that such trek is available within Sahyadri. It was nice experience to trek with TrekDi team and hope for future event with them. I must advise all enthusiastic trekkers to attempt it once during early monsoon only and that to with full preparation, acknowledgement to forest & guide is must for everyone, else you will surely end up with big trouble. 

---   Birjukumar Mistri

December 11, 2012

Torna – Highest Peak in Pune District

Torna – Highest Peak in Pune District

Joys of life are found in simplest of gestures. It may be a simple compliment by a stranger, an appreciation by a boss, a friend trying out a restaurant recommended by you and in this case getting people who have never trekked to trek [with me :) ] I know by the end, they would feel joy which is unknown unless they trek and I wait to see that in their eyes, hear them say those words, feel connected with nature and crave to do it all over again.

Road leading us to Velhe
So here we were, Smitha, Vishal and I heading towards Torna with TrekDi, a group that was new to us to explore yet another fort, which happens to be the tallest mountain in Pune District. Smitha is a professional photographer with varied interests. And the thought of climbing a beautiful mountain without her DSLR did not appeal to her. Hence, though it is bulky and heavy, she got along her priced possession with the passion for clicking some brilliant shots. On reaching Velhe, the base village, we freshened up, had some good breakfast and readied ourselves for the mountain in front of us. For a first time trekker, Torna is a tuf trek and Smitha realized that within the first 15 minutes but with the support of her husband Vishal and Abhishek from TrekDi, Smitha hiked, one step at a time till she reached the peak. You see, there’s one thing about trekking in groups. Once you start, there is no turning back. You can take all the time you want but you HAVE to complete the trek.

The first climb of Torna
For Torna, I think I was in the best form. I had done almost 8-9 treks back to back, my endurance level was at its best and at times from being the last one in the group, I would hike at great speed to be the first one within minutes. I loved it. Loved to see myself hiking so well. I could run at some points after a good climb. The feeling is exhilarating.
Torna is a beautiful mountain. Though the route to Torna is simple as far as directions are concerned the route is quite steep at certain parts of the route and one needs to be careful to not miss the foot trail. The Torna trek route can be divided in three parts – an initial climb up the hill, a plateau and the final rock patch to enter the Torna fort via the Bini Darwaja. The height of Torna from sea level is 1405 metres and offers spectacular views of Sahyadri Mountains. Once you reach the top there’s a lot more to discover.

The fort
TORNA was the first fort conquered by Shivaji Maharaj after he vowed for Swaraj at Raireshwar. He put the garland (Called Toran in Marathi) of his first victory on this fort and therefore the name –TORNA. TORNA is also called prachandgadh because of it vastness.

Perfect weather for love
The huge waterfall on your side, a well carved out path, beautiful plateaus and gorgeous shrubs push you towards the peak. Just before you reach the pinnacle, you come across yet another beautiful waterfall and this one is the most beautiful of all. The rocks are wet by the not so ferocious waterfall and covered with pink flowers. It is gorgeous. I can do Torna again just to see this waterfall again.

Pictures cannot do justice to this spot!
We walked around discovering more forts, darwazas of these kilas, taking pictures, sipping on some hot tea and enjoying the rain. We reached a temple for lunch where we sat in circles, chatted and gobbled up fruits, rotis and some bread. After a round of photography we started descending. Apparently you get a really nice view of the fort from the top but we couldn’t see much as it was hidden in the clouds.

Outside the Temple
While trekking down we tried at least 20 times to capture some good pictures. But every time we pulled our cameras out, the clouds would immediately hide the view as if to protect it from the eyes of people who haven’t visited Torna. The game went on for a long time before we managed to get some out of this world images!

Gorgeous view from Torna

View made beautiful by the sun!
The leaders of TrekDi are a combination of teenagers and a few grown ups. One of the leaders, Abhishek from TrekDi is highly knowledgable about the flora and fauna in the Western Ghats and he is your man if you need to know anything about the mountains. Also he is an epitome of patience and did an amazing job of encouraging us!
All in all a MUST DO trek for everyone who is looking at exploring the Western Ghats!
Trek Details:
Date: Sep 2, 2012
Time: 6AM PM to 6:00 PM
Place: Torna Fort, Velhe Village, Maharashtra, India
Organisers: TrekDi, Abhishek: +919423213153
With thanks copied from her personal blog:

A Feedback for which TREKDI Aims

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts; therefore guard accordingly."
                                                                                                                                                                   -Marcus Aurelius
Yes, its well said by marcus, it is in our mind how we guide our self to achieve it. I would like to thank one and all for being with this trekking event on 7th,8th and 9th of December trek to the KULANG.
Wow, its simply superb and an amaaaaaaaazing experience. walking on the rocky mountains, stories about Shivaji maharaj by Sachin sir, Staying in caves, cooking (obviously i haven't done this) and eating there, chit chats, Antakshari, playing some games etc....
Absolutely this happened because of you....I enjoyed this most. I don't have any more words to describe.
I would like to give big applause to TrekDi team for their enthusiasm to make this event successful. The way they have taken care for us. Specially the food is marvellous.Even though we didn't carry our own plates and cups. Four (Myself, Kunal, Omkar, Pruthvi) of us sitting and eating in one common big plate. Its nice time yar.
 Last but not in least, Special thanks to our Super man (Sahil) for making our team so cheerful and creating some fun.

I hope we will meet each other and keep in touch.
"Learn to write ur pains on sand so dat winds of forgiveness can erase it away..carve ur joys on stone where even rain cant erase it"

Thanks and Regards
    Naveen .T.C