Friday, April 13, 2012

Jungle trek to Vasota fort

I have done trekking to places like Karnala fort, Tungareshwar and of course Kanheri caves and each time I think about new trek, it gives me a adrenaline rush. So here I was, enrolled with a group of trek enthusiast for jungle trek to fort Vasota in middle of Koyna wild life sanctuary.

The meeting place was decided at Dadar east around 9.30pm from where we hired a mini bus to Satara. It was amazing to see group of 14 enthusiast of different age joining together for the thrill called TREKKING. The road to our base village Bamnoli is about 35kms from Satara passing through the "KAAS PLATEAU" which is also called valley of flowers during July to October.

Our adventure was destined to start not from base village but 4kms ahead so middle of night en route to Bamnoli our mini bus gave away with some mechanical problem !!!! It was 4am and with full moon to guide us we decided to walk down to our base village where another half of our group from Pune had already reached and were waiting for us. It was fun walking down the serpentine road with every one clicking pictures and enjoying the walk and first look of Koyna backwaters from top of hill in moonlight was sight unforgettable !!!!!

After early morning walk, the lite poha breakfast and tea was welcome one at small village restaurant. Our group leaders got the necessary permission for the jungle trek which is necessary & easily available from forest office in Bamnoli village.

So we were now on the banks of lake Koyna on first leg of the journey which is boat ride for almost 90minutes to base of jungle trek,a village called MET INDAVALI which is now a unhabitat village with only a forest campsite and security post before entering the Koyna wild life sanctuary.

The Boat ride through Koyna river is heaven for someone interested in photography as it gives some picture perfect landscapes, surrounding hills and river in background. The natural islands which springs up in the middle of lake gave a prefect wallpaper pictures. The entire area is sparsely populated and only mode of transport in these backwaters is through boat.

Man waiting for the boat

First rays of Sun on the hills
Koyna wild life sanctuary as we came to know from forest dept officials is home to around 4 tigers, 25 leopards and some hundreds of wild boars and bears and other wild animals. With strict instructions from forest authority to be in groups and no permission to swim in the lake Koyna at any point of time we marched ahead to conquer VASOTA FORT.

Marching ahead
At around 2kms from entrance, we came across natural spring of water, which was colder than water we have in our refrigerator at home. There is also a small temple close by which serves as resting point and place of worship for safe and sound journey back.

This is last source of potable water for 4-5 hours journey to the top of fort and back. The trek passes through some dense forest so one does not feel the sun heat even in summers. In the entire trek only the last leg of the journey is where one needs to walk in the sun but for the rest of the journey one passes through jungle undergrowth with occasional sounds by some birdie or some wild animals.

We now a group of 30 people walked our way to our destination occasionally stopping to click pictures or just to give our legs a little rest. One group leader leading us and another following us to make sure we were all together at all point of time. As we moved further, road become more & more steeper winding its way up to the fort. Our occasional stops in between became more frequent as we inched nearer to our destination.

Last few steps 
After a climb of almost 3hours we could see Vasota fort which is now in dilapidated state. I was gasping for breath with my heart pumping billion gallons of blood every minute during last leg of the journey. Mayur - one of group leader motivating me all the time that its almost captured now !!! 
Finally I managed to climb the summit, I was one among the last people who finally managed to reach at the top. But the panoramic view of surrounding hills, dense jungle below and Koyna lake at farther distance was mesmerising. My fatigue from 3hours of climb disappeared instantly with breath of fresh air. It was a WOW experience as if I had captured Mt Everest !!! But for me it actually was as Vasota fort is located at 3842 feet above sea level.!!!!

Sitting under a tree shade with the group on old newspapers and eating a simple lunch of roti & sabji which was packed and carried to the top by our group leaders was one delicious lunch on a dead hungry stomach. Post lunch it was time for some fort exploring ... on eastern side was babu kada ( 2nd deepest valley and just opposite was old Vasota which is now inaccessible for public. We could also see Nageshwar cave at a distance which looked like hop-skip-jump but ideally was 3hour walk from Vasota fort. On other side was a Shiva temple and post to overlook the surrounding areas. The view was just breathtaking ........


Also there was one stone oil ghani (traditional machine to extract oil) I am still at lose as to why someone had to built this one here and that too at height of 3842 feet above sea level !!!!!! Crazy fuc.... LOL

Oil Ghani
Our descend to the base was not difficult but it certainly took around 1hr 30min to reach the base back. But one needs to make sure that they are back at the base by 5 - 6 pm as there is fear of wild animal attack and also the boats to Bamnoli village stop by ferrying by evening. One our way back to village Bamnoli via boat ride I could capture sunset over Koyna river.

It was hell of a experience I never had before. I plan to continue with this type of treks as much as possible.

See you in next trek..........................


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Nature trail to Shilonda

I have been part of nature lovers & trekking groups for quite sometime now and I have made it a habit of going for morning walk at least on weekends to National park in Borivali if I don't really have any other plans. With my interactions with different trekkers and being part of B.N.H.S, I actually came to know recently that there are at least 3-4 nature trails within National park and you require special permissions to go there. One of them is Shilonda trail......

When I came to know that B.N.H.S has planned Shilonda trail, I was quite excited and I decided to join them. So here I was on trail to Shilonda on Sunday morning with B.N.H.S group. The trail started at 7.30am in morning from the gates of the park. With formalities of enrolling complete, the group comprising of about 25 people were on their way to Shilonda around 8am. The trail actually starts 1km inside the national park. The sign board indicates the same on one of the route to Kanheri caves.

Even though its a restricted area which requires special permission to visit from forest dept but again its a unmanned post where no guard to stop anyone who does not have required permissions. Its a walk among the deciduous forest which concludes at 2nd stream. The walk would be around 3kms one way and it can be complete within 4-5hours in summers even after watching the nature at its best. The group leader Sanal from B.N.H.S informed us that this trek is heaven in monsoon when its a completely different world. I was pretty disappointed with myself as after having reached National park realised that I was carrying a camera without memory card, I left the card at home !!!!!! So this trail was without any pics from my camera. This was major disappointment for me as I just could not capture all that I saw on the trail but It was fun filled trek with so much to know from the expertise of group leaders from B.N.H.S.

The first amazing thing that came our way was "GHOST TREE", the reason its called that way is because the bark of the tree is white is colour and with leaves shedding complete it was like a tree with no leaves and bark of the tree milky white. It stands aloof from other trees nearby. As per our grp leader, on a full moon night and pitch dark in night this tree glows with its white bark, hence called "GHOST TREE".. interesting nature !!!!!!! 

Another tree was called Kukshi which flowers during summers, interesting thing about this flower is that its small in size and when it falls from the tree or even if you lift it and leave it to fall, It falls down like a spiral or a helicopter. We also came across Karwanda tree, fruit which is used to make pickles. Yet another tree called KUSUM, this tree had shed all its leaves and new leaves which were regrowing are initially red in colour making the tree stand out from nearby dried trees.The trail was turning out to be interesting with grp leaders sharing their expert knowledge about the forest.

On our way further, we came across nest from ants on top of the tree, these ants are called "PAGODA ANTS" as they built their nest which is like shape of a pagoda. Another ant's nest was called "WOODPECKER'S NEST". The interesting thing about this ant is that they are carnivorous and can attack even humans but woodpecker bird lays its egg in this ant's nest and even scientist are yet to find out why these ant's don't attack the bird's siblings. !!!!!!!!  Yet another ants nest that we saw is called "HARVESTER ANTS" which builds nest in the mud which is form of a circle and a funnel opening in between. At times these ants can store wild grains upto one Kg in these nest !!!!! also the nest is so amazingly built that during rains, water would run from the sides of the nest rather than collecting inside and destroying it. !!!! nature truly at its best ....

One tree was called "ELEPHANT WOOLY CREEPER" whose leaves are used to cure puss infection by tribals. Our grp leader also pointed to one of the tree which was the same kind of tree from where Krishna used to climb and trouble gopis. It has got reference in our Krishna epic. Some other trees that we came across were SPIRAL GINGER, WILD TEAK TREE, WILD JASMINE plant, KUDA tree used to cure upset stomach, MAHUVA tree whose fruits are alcoholic and used to make ARAK by tribals and can also make elephant go in tipsy after eating !!! One of the plant we came across was called "WILD BHINDI" and its also called GENE BANK as in case the "BHINDI " that we eat at home, if the crop fails for some reason then scientist can use the wild bhindi as hybrid to get our "BHINDI " back. 

Our trail was full of singing, chirping of different birdie, but with too much noise from the group and the children, it scared the birdies and that was quite disappointing. We also saw KARVY STEMS, the plant which flowers once every 7-8 years and its due now next year in September. One of the tree that we came across is called "RAIN TREE" common on Mumbai streets, its called so because lot of insects sit on the tree and secrete after eating which keeps dropping down hence called "RAIN TREE". The forest dept has built on the way MACCHAN close to small pond used especially by them during Leopard census. But we didn't really wanted to see Leopard on the way but we also didn't see any leopard pugmarks which surely would have made everyone jump with joy !!!

Finally after a walk of almost 2hours we crossed 1st dried stream which according to our leaders is in full flow during monsoon and difficult to cross due to sheer force of the water. But on the dried banks of the stream, there was growth of "MEXICAN POPPY" the seeds of this plant is like mustard seeds and is used to adulterate mustard oil !!!!

Our trail reached its end at the second stream which was again dried but became our resting place for eating snacks and small knowledge sharing session before we started our journey back. On the banks of the stream were some undergrowth of vines called TARZAN VINES and as per our grp leader, its an indicator that this forest is healthy and full of fresh air. It was an amazing trail and wonderful experience for me with lot of information gathered and I sure will be back as part of B.N.H.S trail again to Shilonda during monsoons hoping to see a different world all together. This trail is surely a must do with B.N.H.S group.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Visit to Sula Vineyard at Nashik

Think about wine in India couple of decades back and all that one could think of was our Goan port wine. Champagne Indage was one of the pioneering company of wine producers in Maharashtra in the early 80's but today  Indian wine has captured the imagination of young & old due to India's answer to some world class wine produced by "SULA VINEYARDS" at Nashik.

My visit:  In last 2 years each time I paid a visit to Shirdi, I longed to visit Sula Vineyard at Nashik but the plan would always get postponed. But that was till last weekend, on one of my trip to Nashik & Shirdi we had a whole of Sunday at our leisure, I and papaji decided to pay a visit to Sula. At approx 13 kms from Nashik on Gangapur - Savargoan road, lies this beautiful Vineyard which also allows tour of the facility and tasting of some exotic wines ever produced in India.

The Vineyard complex has around 15acres of land where wine grapes are grown, also they have grapes crushing, fermenting and storing cellars, bottling plant and of course open deck restaurant on first floor where one can sit and sip wine while getting a cool breeze and amazing view of lake and mountains at a distance. Apart from the upper deck restaurant, they have another restaurant LITTLE ITALY and at a distance of 3kms, a resort called "BEYOND" in case if one has plans to stay for a day or two. They also conduct SULA FESTIVAL every year in Jan - Feb when there is music, dance and wine combination.

On our visit to the place, we found that they conduct the tour of the vineyard and wine tasting sessions every one hour till late evening. For a price of Rs 150/- one can get the tour and 4 wines to taste and for Rs 250/- one can get 6 different wines to taste. Its a fun session as you take a walk around the complex with tour guide explaining how the grapes are crushed, fermented with yeast and how wine is produced and stored in huge aluminum and steel cellars before it gets bottled for sale.

The whole process from grapes being crushed till it gets bottled, takes over a month. The grapes crushing season usually starts from November till March. If one plans a visit during this time, one can be lucky to be part of grapes crushing where huge wooden tubs are filled with grapes and one can stomp on the grapes to crush it. We really missed that fun part...

The Vineyard has around 1500 acres of land on which grapes are grown for wine making and to supply the ever increasing demand of Indian wine lovers. The tasting session of different wines is also fun when one is made aware of the different wines like RED, WHITE & SPARKLING and how to taste wine and understand different flavours. The best part about the vineyard is the UPPER DECK restaurant which is open and one can get amazing view of the lake nearby while enjoying the drink.

After spending some time at the place we also visited the lake which is around 3-4kms from Vineyard. On the way, we also came across another winery called YORK Winery which also conducts tour and tasting sessions. We really didn't try but would certainly love to take a tour of this winery as well in future and taste some more world class Indian wines.

The lake located nearby is place worth a visit with water not so deep and dry banks allowing us to drive our car deep inside. The water was just ankle deep at some places and one can enjoy a quite walk in the water with soft sand sinking below your feet.

It was overall a nice experience at SULA and its definitely worth a visit.