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 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