Monday, February 20, 2012

Karnala Fort trail - Amazing trekking experience

Karnala about 61kms from Mumbai on Mumbai - Goa highway is famous for thumb shaped pinnacle (Karnala fort) at the top and bird sanctuary around it. It is also stone throw away from Panvel station provided you could throw stone at about 14kms. Home to migratory birds during winter season and heaven to birds watchers, trekkers and nature lovers. The sanctuary is said to be home to around 140 resident birds and 40 migratory birds during winters. So from November to February is best time to visit the place if you would like to spot birds and if you wish to enjoy the greenery then monsoon season is the best time when the forest area is lush green.

Entrance to Sanctuary
Fort from base point
Karnala Fort history: The fort was built during the 12th century. Karnala was of strategic importance because of its command of the highroad between Bhor Ghat and the rivers of Panvel and Apta, watching the trade route. Between 1248 and 1318, it was under DevgYada. From 1318 to 1347, it was under Daulatabad Muslim rulers. Subsequently it was with the Gujarat rulers, with the help of Portuguese. It changed hands many times between Shivaji, Mughals and Peshwas. It 1803, it came under Bhaji Rao and in 1819, Britishers took control of the fort.

My trek : Having read about Karnala in different blogs, I was very keen to visit it before the start of summer heat. So here I was all prepared for Sunday trek to Karnala on 19th Feb 2012. My friends from the  trekking team were to meet me at the entrance of the sanctuary at 7.30am. I was up from bed at 4am and by 5.00am was at the Borivali station to catch a train to Panvel via Wadala. Reaching Panvel from Borivali was quite a task as have to change three trains. I reached Panvel finally at 7.40am. From there walked my way to ST stand only to find that local ST bus at station 1 would only stop at Karnala even though buses bound to Alibaug, Pen pass through the same road. Almost an hour wait in the morning and I still could not get into the bus bound for Karnala. I called my friends to inform that to start the trek to fort and I would probably join them at the top. I enquired about other means of transport to Karnala only to find that auto rickshaws charge Rs 300/- one way fare !!!!! other option was to check for Tum-Tum, the large version of auto rickshaw which takes 10 people at a time and is much cheaper. Tum - Tum driver informed that currently there were no passengers available for Karnala so he could drop me half way to Shildon for Rs 10/- which is 7kms from Karnala and from there I could get another Tum-Tum. Finally I was in for my first Tum-Tum ride and driver assuring me to drop me at the nodal point from where I would certainly find another one for Karnala. I was able to reach Karnala birds sanctuary after changing 3 local trains and 2 tum-tum's at 09.30am. Delayed by almost 2hours !!!

Its best to reach Karnala early in the morning for couple of reasons, if one has to complete 2 trails in one day, one which is called "Hariyali trail" for bird watchers and other "Karnala fort trail". Second it takes almost one hour to reach at the summit at the top of Karnala fort and by the time one reaches at the top, the sun is at its peak which is sure to make one gasping for breath. Also to catch a glimpse of birds its better to start the trek early for once there is lot of crowd and noise, its difficult to get a glimpse of birds which is quite disappointing.

I having missed out the early bird watching advantage, I decided to skip the Hariyali trail and head straight for Karnala fort. The best part that I liked about the sanctuary rules is its a no plastic zone so your bags are checked for plastic bags and pet bottles and if found, one has to give a deposit of Rs 100/- for each bottle and Rs 50/- for each plastic bag which is refunded back on return if you have got the bags and bottles back. I surely didn't find any plastic litters on my way unlike other places like National park which is almost littered with pet bottles and plastic bags everywhere.

I started my trek at around 9.45am though I was all alone, I did have another group of ladies and children for company. The fort is located at the height of 1500 feet from mean sea level !!!! The path leading to the fort passes through dense forest area and one can clearly see that its actually path made by flowing water during monsoon season. The decision to make Karnala a bird sanctuary has helped it to grow as a green oasis. En route one could easily hear the different birds welcoming the trekkers with their chirping songs. It was pleasant to the ears.

Mound made by Ants

Snake pit

Dead leaves nest

On my way I did capture bird nest which was unique for the dead leaves of the trees were placed at top between the branches to make a nest. I tried my best to capture the bird in my lens but I could not. So I decided to move further.

The path is not easy to trek as one has to climb small rocks and at times certain patches are mounds of mud which can make one slip easily. But the best part in the entire trek was growth of certain trees which has branched in such a way that it provided support in the climb and it was strong enough to hold person's weight. I even came across a branch which had taken a form of swing and was strong enough to withstand weight of couple of people sitting on it and swinging.

The trek is little difficult for it surely makes one gasping for breath at small intervals. Having taken tips from other blogs on the net, I was carrying enough water and packed sandwiches for my journey. I would still suggest one should carry at least 2-3 litters of water for this trek as by the time one reaches at the top, It surely would leave you dehydrated as I was to experience it myself.

Barely one km from the fort on the way, one is able to view the dense forest and other mountain cliffs on the eastern side, but I could not get a clear view due to winter fog. Before one reaches the fort base, there is a flat plateau which gives you amazing view of the western side also. I was amazed to find the Mumbai- Goa highway looking like tiny road which is cut from the mountains and above the mountains I could easily view two lakes at the top. It was hazy view due to fog but the lakes were clear enough. I am still wondering which area was that !!!

Mumbai - Goa Hwy

After a climb for almost one hour and ten minutes. I finally reached the base of the fort. The fort has steps to reach at the top but before one could reach the steps there is one dangerous spots where one needs to climb. One slip and one can find himself in bushes or at least 20-30 feet down and the spot has enough space for only two people to stand. I in my enthusiasm was able to reach this spot but then the fear stepped in. LOL !!!!!! I could not climb up and nor I could go down, I suddenly found my hands perspiring and my "MERRELL sports shoes" became slippery. Some climbers coming down and going up offered me help but I was breathing heavily and no strength to either go up or down. I stood at the same spot for almost 20minutes before I finally got some strength and with helping hand from one of the climbers was able to reach at the top. The 360 degree view from the top was amazing.

Having read that one can see Haji Malang, Prabalgad and Matheran mountain ranges on the North east and Dukes nose, Rajmachi on the south side. Honestly I could not figure out which was where and also due to wintery fog, one could only get a hazy view. But it was truly and amazing experience at the top but the sun at its peak was surely taking its toll. I spent quite some time at the top and then decided that it was time to take descend as my legs were now showing signs of fatigue and cramps were to set in.

On the way and also at the fort I came across so many expats and foreigners, school children's who all had come to experience the adrenaline rush of trekking to Karnala fort.

I started my descend back at around 12.30pm. It took about 45minutes to reach the base point. My heart was beating at the top speed and I was prespering profusely but delighted that I was able to complete my trek which was one hell of an amazing experience.

I saw a man selling "Limbu pani" which was just what I needed at that time, I quickly gobbled 2 glasses. I also realised that how important and necessary it was to carry atleast 2-3 litters of water for such treks as I was only carrying 1.5litters which eventually was finished in only one leg of my journey at the top. I also saw one community kitchen run by local women serving waran, bhat, chappati and mix veg sabji. It was one amazing lunch and much needed for I was dead hungry after my trek. In case if you are in group, you could inform them to prepare lunch before the start of the trek and you would have your lunch ready by the time you complete your journey. Mission accomplised with one of my successfull treks, I decided to go home back as my legs were now giving me indication of tiredness & fatigue.

My friends decided to go for "Hariyali trek" which I plan to do in my next trip to Karnala.

At the base I also saw some birds caged for people to see, One of the cage had a peacock which was in mood of dancing with wings wide open and feathers upright. It was just mesmerising. I had only see it in movies and pictures of peacock dancing with wings and feathers upright. It was delightfull to watch and also it seems the peacock was given a signal that it was happy that I had successfully accomplished my trek. I only wished I could capture the dancing peacock in open rather than in a cage but nevertheless I did take pictures which would have been my best pic ever if the bird would have been in open and not in cage.

Nevertheless I bid adieu to Karnala with one of my successfull trekking experience and hoping to come back again to complete my another remaining trek of "HARIYALI TRAIL"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Elephanta caves - UNESCO World heritage site

Elephanta caves are network of sculpted caves off the coast of Mumbai in Arabian sea. Its 10kms from Gateway of India and takes approx 45minutes by ferry ride. The caves architecture dates back from 5th to 8th century. The total of 7 caves are UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE divided into 2 sections, 5 larger ones devoted to Lord Shiva and 2 smaller ones are devoted to Lord Buddha.

These caves are architectural marvel and heritage that every Mumbaites is proud of. The island earlier called as Gharapuri in local language but during the Portuguese rule, It was named as Elephanta after finding a rock cut elephant sculpture which is now placed at Bhau daji lad museum at Byculla.
The island has two hills called Stupa hills with thick forest cover on them. There are three small hamlets or small villages of fisherman folks on three different corners of the island but being strategically located off the coast of Mumbai, Its also a part of restricted area which comes under Indian Navy. The island is quiet and picturesque with monkeys scammering around. The forest cover is also home to migratory birds and breeding ground for eagles.

The one hour ride from Gateway of India is quite an experience as we can see the Mumbai shoreline and also huge merchant ships and tankers anchored off the coast of Mumbai in the middle of Arabian sea.

From September to March, different parts of Mumbai becomes home to migratory birds. Elephanta island is one such area which is home to migratory birds due to protected forest cover on the island.
The island is nesting ground for eagles which are common on the island. While Seagulls are common site when travelling in ferry to Elephanta island. Amazing to see these birds following the ferry boats and also fishing in the Arabian sea.

Seagulls at Mumbai Harbour

Nesting ground for Eagles

The Elephanta caves complex is collection of shrines, courtyards,inner cells, grand halls arranged in symmetry of Indian rock cut architecture and filled with exquisite stone sculptures of Lord Shiva and other Hindu gods and goddess. The sculptures in the main cave which is also called Shiva cave depict different form of Shiva like "Nataraja- the dance form of Shiva" "Yogishvara - lord of Yoga" "Ardhanarisvara - half man, half woman representation of Shiva".

The main cave also has Shiva Lingam in a cave with all four sides having a door on all four corners. But this is not a temple of worship as temple needs to have a "DHAJA" or a orange flag at the top of the temple complex.

The main cave also has a very prominent carving of "TRIMURTI" described as master piece, the most important sculpture in the cave complex.

The 20ft three headed Shiva represents three essential aspect of Shiva - CREATION, PROTECTION, DESTRUCTION.

The cave also has carvings depicting Shiva slaying the demon Andhaka and Shiva's marriage to Parvati.

The main cave complex which consist of 3 large caves as seen from the top of the hill.

The caves 3, 4, 5 are smaller caves as compared to main caves 1 & 2. Also as per the tour guides and experts on Elephanta caves mentions that these smaller caves were abandoned due to the not so solid nature of the rock and also because the rain water gets accumulated in these caves during the monsoon season and caves are submerged under water for almost 3-4 months of monsoon season.

Apart from the caves, the other attractions on the island includes two canon's at the top of the hill which indicates the strategic location of the island just outside Mumbai. Also a man made pond for water conservation and to supply water to near by hamlets and the Navy installations nearby.

                                    The jetty as seen from the top of Stupa hill.

The road leading to the canon's at the top of the hill passes through thick cover of forest and also gives a 360 degree view of the island.

The toy train which ferries passengers from the jetty to the main entrance of the cave is a joy ride worth taking and cost Rs 10/- for a return journey.