Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Moonlight trek from Katraj to Sinhgad

Super full moon night happens once in a year when moon is brightest and closest to earth. It was this day ... sorry I mean night when most of the trekking community in Pune come together to do 22kms trek covering 13hills from Katraj to the destination Sinhgad.

The Sinhagad fort stands about 25 kms from Pune and is one of the important Maratha forts having a colourful history linked with it. The fort was formerly known as Kondhana, its literal translation is the "Fortress of the Lion". In 1670 Shivaji's General, Tanaji Malusare, led a force of men who scaled the steep hillside in the dark and defeated the unprepared forces of Bijapur. There are monuments at the spot where Tanaji died, and also at the place where he lost his left hand before his death. There is also a historic bungalow up there, where Gandhiji met the freedom fighter, Tilak, in 1915.

I along with group of 8 from bagpack outdoors started our journey from Dadar picking our colleagues on the way from Vashi & Kharghar. We were expected to join our counterparts from Pune - a bigger group of 32 at Katraj old tunnel - the starting point of our exciting trek but due to continuous delay we could barely reach Katraj at 10pm and our counterparts had already started their journey 2hrs earlier. But nevertheless everyone was quite excited & ready for the most exciting trek. We could also see some other groups were also starting along with us. One liner which aptly describes this trek is "Where there is a hill, there better be a way"

The moon was biggest I had seen, was the guiding source of light in the pitch dark night above Katraj tunnel. With our call of "JAI BHAVANI JAI SHIVAJI" we started our trek. On reaching the top of first hill we could see the red light at a distance which was our destination "The sinhgad fort" which looked quite far but it was not going to let our spirits down.The second hill was our first challenge as it was quite steep climb with everyone trying to climb on the muddy hill which was quite slippery. I finally managed to climb up with the support of the rocks coming out of the muddy hill. Our slogan "KEEP WALKING" we followed our leader - AKSHAY who was leading our way. We were making our way past big rugged rocks, dry dead grass and thorny bushes on muddy patch. Pune city lights in the night was one amazing sight with moving vehicle lights on the highway making it look like glittering diamonds in the night.

Also let me tell you that in this trek, if you happen to change your mind to discontinue the trek, the option is available only when you are at hills 1-2-3 but after that only way is to move ahead which makes this trek quite a thrill as you never know how your experience is going to be. Climbing down on hill 3 was also quite a task as you looking down 4-5 stories down and have to climb down slowly as road is quite muddy and slippery. But one learning from this trek was that it actually helps you overcome the phobia or vertigo problems and each hill that you cover makes you more confident to complete the trek.The wind was quite chilly even though it was summer time and we actually felt the need of some warmer clothes. I couldn't resist thinking what would it be like in winters. !!!!!

We easily managed to climb up and down 5-6 hills in next 3hours talking, gossiping, occasional stops for the group to catch up together and clicking pictures on the way. We were now half way and Pune city light behind us and we were now surrounded by hills. Time was slipping by quite fast. To put it in other words, we were not maintaining the required pace. No one was exactly sure as to how much was left ahead, since after crossing every hillock, Sinhagad appeared equally far. Apparently, there were just a couple of hills to cross before we would hit the base of Sinhagad fort. Our group leader just kept motivating that we only had two more hills !!!!

On one of the hills, my group managed to climb up taking support from the rocks while I got stuck in middle of the hill with no option to go down while climbing up was becoming more & more difficult for me. I took support from thorny shrubs while my group trying to motivate me and flashing light on the rocks to guide me in the night. I waited for almost 20minutes at same place analysing how to climb up, which I finally did with support from the rocks, climbing like a monkey on four limbs. Phew !!!! that was the most toughest and scariest moment in the entire trek. After this climb it was just walk from one hill to another at the top.

It was now 7am in the morning with first rays on sun, It was spectacular view of khadakvasla lake at the far end and hills glowing in first golden rays of sun. We could now see the motorable road reaching to Sinhgad and that was our destination but now the reality actually sank in and we still had 4hills to cover. But now since the destination was in sight we got more zeal and will power to climb and descend the remaining hills. On the way, our group leader Mayur from pune was waiting for us to provide us with chocolates and fruit juice. It was a welcome break and much needed energy booster.

We had lost count of how many hills we had conquered but now the last leg of journey was not that tough as we just had to walk through some dense forest and finally at around 9am we finally reach the tar road. A journey which took 11hours and it was our successful endurance test. We leaped in joy on completion of our successful trek. Factors like scorching heat, long distance, strenuous route, were all won over by enthusiasm and sheer will power.

There was one, I stress ONLY ONE road side tea stall run by a couple which was welcomed by everyone. Lime juice ready for us and hot cuppa of tea with kanda bhajji was most delicious on dead hungry stomach. While waiting for our Qualis to take us back home, no one had strength and all lied down on the road side parapet not minding the summer sun at the top what mattered was place to lie and rest, some even started their 1500CC engine (snoring) ...... We started our journey back to Mumbai happy to have completed one more trek successfully which was surely a test of our stamina, will power - a real endurance test in itself.

ADIOS for now, till I narrate my other adventures in future.

My Pics from My Clicks from the trek

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.