Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An excursion to Sakhare lake & Kelwe Beach

"Travel bug has bitten me hard" One of my friend told me. She was correct as come Sunday and I get restless for going on treks, trails or excursions. Last week I had a memorable experience at Phansad WLS & this week we decided to go to excursion at some off beat place. Dr Ajay suggested a pilot excursion to Sakhare lake near Vangoan close to Palghar.

Before our visit no one from the group knew where the hell is this place, also google baba who usually is very helpful when it comes to search- failed here as there was nothing that gave any info about the place. Ajay had google map co-ordinates and that nearest station could be Boisar or Vangoan and thus it was pilot trip that we were embarking upon. Meeting place was decided to Borivali station around 7am.Gang of six which included Bharti, Aparna, Sagar, Mark with Ajay and me reached on time whereas our Jatinbhai and Vipul, who were suppose to join couldn't make it as they had a late night party, got up only when they started getting frantic calls to confirm if they were joining us from Dr Ajay.....

Early morning local train journey is always an wonderful experience for there is enoughhhhhhhhh space when one compares to morning rush in Mumbai locals after 8am when you don't get space at times to board the train forget about getting space to even stand properly. Having experienced rush hour in Mumbai locals on weekdays and when one gets a empty train in early morning on weekends. Its always a welcome change. We reached Virar by 8am just in time as our next train to Vangoan had just arrived. But moment Dahanu - Virar shuttle arrived, it was packed to core and I couldn't help but think what would it be like on normal weekdays. And it was just 8am on Sunday morning !!!! We did managed to get enough space to stand properly, also our journey to Vangoan station was only going to be for 50 minutes. One thing about Vangoan that I could find is that its famous for "Vadapav from Satish" - one and only food stall on the station sells vadapav which is very famous and quite tasty but by the time we reached it was over. But we decided to try it on our return journey.

From Vangoan station east to the phata from where one gets shared tum-tum rickshaws is walk of around 10minutes, As one walks towards phata, you will find huge chickoo farms and loads of raw chickoos on it. Also with rainy season in its last leg of journey in 2012, it was greenery all around and wild flowers blooming everywhere.

Its easy to get tum-tums to Sakhare lake from the phata and journey was around 15minutes. We started our photo shoot as soon as we reached the gates of the dam. It was serene and pleasant sight.

The water was filled upto the brim, I am sure if we had come in middle of rainy season, we would have captured the pleasant sight of water overflowing from the dam. Its not a huge water body but it was beautiful sight of lush greenery around the periphery of the lake and mountains beyond that. We asked the gatekeeper if we could walk on the fenced walls of the dam but were informed it requires permission and being a Sunday, the office was closed. We decided to explore the area surrounding the dam as it didn't require any permission also we could see some villagers passing by on bicycles indicating that there were villages around the lake. We moved along the periphery of the lake, we were certainly not disappointed with the sight of the lake and its surroundings and there was proper road leading to villages ahead.

It was getting hot and humid now with sun at the top and we decided to find some shade near the lake shore to have our packed lunch. One patch of lake shore was ladened with trees with some shade and we had our lunch on the lake shore. It was nice small excursion with the group and it was nice place worth a visit on lazy Sunday.

On our return journey we did manage to eat Vadapav at Vangoan station and true to its words, It was one of the best I had in recent times. It was still 1.30 in the afternoon and Bharti suggested that we explore the famous Kelwe beach before starting our return journey back home. With everyone ready for 2nd excursion of the day we headed to Palghar and from station took a 12km tum tum ride to the beach.

Kelwe beach has one of the pristine and longest shoreline of around 7kms. Lined with tall Suru trees on one side and calmed shore on other, its one of the best beaches around or close to Mumbai. Sun was still burning hot so we decided to walk in the shades of Suru trees searching for perfect spot to rest for a while before we walk in waters to capture the sunset. Being a Sunday there were lot of crowd sitting in groups under the shades of trees but the litter left behind by people were a real dampener along the path. Finally managing to find a perfect place to sit in shades of trees waiting for Sunset at Kelwe beach, we had a hot cuppa of tea and other snacks carried by us. It was perfect place for Sunday evening close to Mumbai yet far away from hustle bustle of Mumbai life.

Kelwe beach has two small forts along the coast, one which is on southern side but we couldn't visit that one as its in middle of sea and is in accessible during high tide. On northern end of the beach, there  is another fort which is in ruins but we did visit that one. Its a small fort but looking at the structure it was more like a watch tower hidden in tall trees but would have been a treat to stay in during its prime close to seashore 200 - 300 yrs ago !!!!

It was now sunset time as we walked along the beach, clicking pictures and enjoying the waves hitting the shores, away from the crowd which was concentrated on the southern end of the beach. The waves hitting the shores making the rhythmic sound mesmerising and inviting one to sit on the sands and enjoy the evening. After a stroll for over a hour we decided to head back home as it was getting dark and within no time it was like all hell had broken loose, climate changed in minutes and it started raining heavily followed by thunder and lightning. We all were completely drenched as we headed back to rickshaw stand outside Sitlamata temple which is also one of the popular spots near the beach.  After waiting for over 20 minutes in heavy rain and no tum - tum insight we walked to the bus stand. Waiting for bus back to Palghar we had another hot vada pav which tasted even better in cold rains. Back at Palghar station we boarded the Ahmedabad - Bandra passenger train to reach home. Kelwe beach is a perfect place to spend a nice evening or a lazy Sunday with friends or family members with options of range of resorts for overnight stay. I also came to know that food available in nearby resort is mouth watering and worth a try. So again another exciting excursion came to an end. I say excursion because it was not a trail in jungle or trek to some locations in Sahyadri but it was just like true to our groups name - A Wanderlust Adventure.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

"Into the woods" - Phansad Wild Life Sanctuary


So here I am with one more of my travel adventure to Phansad Wild Life Sanctuary.                

Phansad WLS which is located in Murud and Roha Talukas in Raigad district is approx 150kms from Mumbai. The sanctuary covering area of 53sq kms is an amazing revelation, semi-deciduous forest rich in flora & fauna, is home to array of insects, amphibians, mammals apart from being a bird sanctuary. The prize possession of these forest is Malabar Giant Squirrel and Leopards. It was private hunting block of erstwhile Siddhi Nawab of Janjira State. He was one who constructed roads and water bodies inside the sanctuary apart from establishing villages around it like Sarve and Supegoan. These villages have today become model in conservation programmes.

My Phansad Experience : It was one of my first experience of staying overnight amidst dense forest and I was very excited about it. But today as I write this blog, recollecting the entire trip. I had many first time experiences which I never had before and my trip was clearly another feather in list of treks and trails which I have done in last couple of months. It all started with long weekend approaching due to last day of Ganesh Chaturti festival. Dr Ajay suggested a overnight stay trip to Phansad WLS and I was all game for it. But due to festivity around, many of our group members had there own personal commitment and were not available. Friday evening, I got the final confirmation from Ajay that group of 5 people which included Veteran trekker Dr Nanabhai and our brave heart lady Bharti. We decided to meet at Dadar station and catch Rajya Rani express for Roha, overnight stay on station and then proceed to our destination on first rays of Sunlight. Our plan was to travel in general compartment as we had last moment plans and no confirmed reservations, but our plans was on verge of getting shattered on Dadar station as soon as the train arrived, it was like entire Mumbai was boarding the train and within few seconds there wasn't even space to stand in general compartment. !!!!!

A quick discussion and we decided to board reserved compartment without proper ticket, our destination was Roha which was only 4th station from Dadar, We decided reserved compartment as it at least had space for us to stand comfortably and our destination was only 4hrs away. Luckily TC was kind enough and said if we could move to first compartment and at Panvel to move to general compartment. He didn't even charge us any fine !!!!! It was my first, travelling without proper ticket in trains ....Lol,  TC didn't bother to come to first compartment nor we got down at Panvel, instead we got our self comfortable in whatever space we could get to sit and reached our destination - Roha in middle of night. 3.45AM. The station benches were our beds for next 3hrs as having enquired about buses to Phansad and it was at 8.30am. Sleeping on station benches was more than comfy as everyone was tired from our jobs in the morning and we boarded the train in the night so we didn't have any sleep.

With the first sun rays at Roha station we started our walk from station to the bus stand village, village atmosphere, something we Mumbaikars really miss, walking past small village row houses, village ladies washing clothes at near by river, it was lovely early morning walk and more importantly we were excited as it was now start of our adventure.

Morning curriculum in this fashion !!! I envy 
 I wish one could start our day in this fashion !!!!!! hahaha

There are only two buses which goes to Murud - Supegoan one at 8.30am and other 9.30am from Roha bus stand. It takes approx 45minutes to reach Supegaon just opposite Phansad. Since we had sometime for early morning breakfast, Udipi restaurant outside bus stand was perfect place and so was spicy hot missal. We reached Phansad around 9.30am, we quickly settled in our room, which was like depleted structure but good enough for overnight stay in the middle of jungle. They also have one fiber hut which could easily accommodate 8-10 people with 6beds but cost was Rs 1600 and as our group was of only 5people so we didn't opt that one.

A quick Poha and tea at WLS and we were off, on our way to explore WLS. Our first destination was "Dharnachi Gaan" Gaan - meaning a stream. The trail of 2.5kms passing through thick undergrowth, we came across some amazingly beautifull butterflies, and importantly we had company of veteran Dr Nanabhai who made the walk interesting by giving us some important information from his knowledge of Insects and Botany. It was like Bhul Bhulaiya trail and at some places we reaching a dead end but our another colleague Amogh clearly leading us to right direction. We also had two dogs from WLS as our guides and we were amazed to see that they actually knew the way and would show us the correct path.After a walk of nearly 1hr 30min we could hear sound of water gushing in middle of thick vegetation. We had reached our destination - "Dharnachi Gaan". It was small stream of fresh water flowing out of nowhere in middle of dense jungle. The water was cold and gave a respite from the hot and humid climate. It was not the stream but the entire trail with arrays of butterflies, mushrooms, insects that we came across and the information given by Dr Nanabhai which actually made entire trail interesting.

Dharnachi Gaan

Our Guides

We were back at our base hut by 1.30pm right in time for lunch made by village ladies working in WLS. A full veg meal was just what every one's hungry tummy was waiting for.... It was now time for quick nap. Life was suddenly becoming interesting and royal by any standards.... Roam around in middle of jungle, full delicious .. sumptuous meal, nap royal under the shades of trees !!!!!  what more one can ask for ...........

Around 3ish after a cup of tea, we were off to another trail "Phansad Gaan", there are quite a few trails and treks that one can do in entire WLS and we were off to another one now. It was ascending & winding climb again in middle of thick forest growth. On the way we came across huge spider webs blocking our path, and it seemed that we were the first souls passing through the path after a long time, may be after the rains. We were now passing through the territory of someone we all fear and indicators on the tree "Sawdhan" reminding us every now and then as we moved ahead.

Our two guides - dogs from WLS were with us again and they stopping and their ears alert at smallest sound on the way. It was like some "Ram Gopal verma or Ramsay brothers horror movie scene" and on top of it, all of sudden sun was covered with clouds and thundering of the clouds was last thing that we expected. Our center of fun was now Bharti - our brave lady who was worried lot and all scared.  We had walked for over one hour now, We reached a spot of dead end with trees fallen and no way to move ahead, decided to sit in middle of nowhere, we sat talking, cracking jokes and clicking pictures. It had started to drizzle and was turning dark even though it was only 5pm so we moved back leaving our trail in between.

Dead End

Looks like some animal climbing but its just a bark of the tree 
Reaching back to our base and nothing to do, we sat in open structure covered from top, perfect place to chillax in open, while we narrated some ghost stories, passing our time and we were the only 5 people now in the entire WLS. Bharti - our only lady in the group was a scared soul not wanting to hear the ghost stories. It had started to drizzle and with insects troubling us every now and then we moved back in our rooms. We had enough food with us to survive in the night so we didn't order any dinner which was welcome by village ladies as they wanted to be part of the Ganesh Visarjan festival. Around 8pm there was power cut and it was pitch dark outside, we did have our ammo of batteries though, we decided to do small walk in open around our base. It was one hell of experience with no one else except us in vicinity, only the sound of dhols used in Visarjan festival from villages close by. It was amazing feeling away from hustle & bustle of city life, no worldly things to wile our time away except our mobile phones which again didn't have any network. A perfect feel of how life would have been earlier when people didn't have access to TV's, electricity and electronics equipments which we cannot live without today.

After a good night sleep, we were up early at 6am and by 6.45am we were off to another trail Chikhal gaan trail which was approx 6kms from the base. It was my first early morning trek before the first sunrays. Also our reason to start early was that we had to move out by 10am. On our way, we came across a diversion where we also had another option to go to Sarwat lake or Chikhal gaan. Our Leader Dr Ajay decided to take first option of Sarwat lake, we walked in middle of dense forest amidst early morning mist, it was clear marked road (best part about the trails here -its marked clearly unless you reach a dead spot !!!!). The first rays of sun piercing through the thick forest was worth a sight and was also instrumental in me getting THE picture of the trek..... It was just wow sight, never before I had seen something like this.

Dr Nanabhai and Dr Ajay clicking pictures of every insects, every butterfly or every living creepy soul they could sight. As we moved deeper the jungle sounds began to fill the air. Prominent among them was Cicada, loudly announcing its presence to his to be mate. Early morning walk in dense forest, Sunrays trying to creep between the trees to reach the grounds, air filled with jungle sound.... What a experience, still getting goosebumps while I narrate the experience. Almost 2hrs walk and distance seemed too far more than the indicators on the way which showed, lake was only around 4.5kms away. Amogh, Bharti and me leading the way while Dr Ajay and Dr Nanabhai were behind as they were trying to click as many creepy creatures that could lay their eyes on. On our way while we were waiting for Dr's from our group to catch up, we found that we were actually standing in areas full of leeches. OMG !!!! we could see tiny little creepy things clearly doing somersault moves on our shoes. not one, two but 4-5 of them at the same time ....and it was moving up fast !!!!! We removed them and trying our best not to allow these blood suckers to feast on our blood or for that matter sneak into our shoes or trek pants. I really felt for the first time.. how important and helpful my full trek pants and ankle protection full trek shoes were. But not wanting to leave the trek in between we decided to move ahead, making sure those creatures don't move up our shoes. The main reason was the entire area was dense and thick forest growth and soil was moist due to rains and on top of that sun rays not able to reach the grounds due to huge trees. It was walk of over 3hrs when he reached the lake. The lake was surrounded by thick growth but our minds was stuck on those blood suckers down below and we were right in middle of leech's country. In no mood of waiting even for a minute more, we headed back and trust me it was due to these creepy tiny little blood suckers that we were back to our base in record time of 90minutes. It took little over 3hrs to reach the lake and only 90minutes to come back. We were sweating profusely, panting but no one wanted to stop even for a minute in blood suckers country. We only relaxed once we were sure that we were out of reaches of leeches and none were on the ground, minutes away from our base. Phew, luckily none of these blood suckers could creep in, except one which was on legs of Dr Nanabhai, as soon as he removed it, blood started oozing out.. It was really a close shave for everyone and also first.

We skipped Chikhalgaan as it was another 4kms away and it was now 11am and time for us to move out but we decided to skip it for our next visit. Reaching our base, we found that there was some ministers visit today and entire police officials army from nearby areas had come there. We met one Mr Naik - who was from Roha - Sarve village juridiction. Had a small talk with him only to find that he was really a different breed of official who was really into conservation programme. Gave insight about some Vulture conservation programme going on at Chikhalgaan, also how he and his team had found some rare species in the forest never heard of before. He was also part of wild life consensus programme. He runs a website ..... It was nice to meet such interesting people.

We had our quick breakfast with tea and were now out of Phansad WLS, bidding adios with such wonderfull memories and experience, promising to comeback again with bigger group and complete the  trails that we missed. Dr Nanabhai suggested that adventure shouldn't end here and wanted to take the ferry ride back home. We all were game for it but one problem was the bus stand was cool 90 minute walk down from the sanctuary from where we could get transport for Alibaug. As we started our walk down, saw a truck filled with bricks coming our way. A request to truck driver and he agreed to drop us at the next village. The truck was filled with bricks and sitting on the top, getting the glimpse of surrounding picturesque areas, it was ride of a lifetime. My another first time experience....

After reaching the base village, we took a tum-tum ride to Revdanda village from where we could take another bus or tum tum ride to Alibaug, Passing through few virgin beaches and also the famous Kashid beach. It was a pleasant tum -tum ride. We took another tum-tum ride to Alibaug and from there ferry ride back to Mumbai - Gateway of India. It was clearly a wonderful adventure trip that we had just completed. Looking back we thanked the truck driver who gave us the ride of lifetime and had it not been for that ride, it would have been really tough for us to reach Mumbai, saved us clearly 2-3hrs.

One thing was clear that Phansad was lesser known and less visited sanctuary near Mumbai but best part of visiting such lesser known and visited places is that you have the whole place for yourself. Important about this WLS is the role which its playing in Vulture conservation programme - a near extinct bird, also home to some species which was suppose to be found elsewhere but not in this part of India, Its was home to some amazing Flora and Fauna which was very unique to this place, especially Malabar squirrel which remained elusive in our tour but hoping to catch a glimpse of it in our next visit. It was yet another memorable experience, another adventure, another journey coming to an end till I experience yet another one........................ ADIOS

I am enlightened