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

Monday, September 17, 2012

Trek to Bhaje caves & Iron Fort - Lohagad

It was almost one month since my last trek to Kothaligad and I was getting "paranoid" as missing out on treks in this monsoon season due to commitment at work. Finally after long 3-4 weeks I did manage to get myself a break on weekends. I was all charged up for yet another trek, another place to explore and after some suggestions, Dr Pradhan from Wanderlust group decided to trek to Lohagad - also known as Iron Fort near Lonavala and also cover Bhaje caves on the way.

Lohagad - The Iron fort as its called has history which dates way back to Satavahana period, situated around 52kms from Pune at elevation of around 3052 feet. It divides the basin of Indrayani and Pavana. History shows that the fort was in hands of different dynasties and they built and rebuilt the fort.In times of Shivaji, it was used to store the loots that he got from Surat and there is still a store room where all the valuables were kept.Today its one of the few forts in very good conditions and reasonably intact. On eastern side is Visapur fort and on west side there is extension of fort in form of long and narrow fortified wall called Vinchukaata (Scorpion tail as it resembles it).

Bhaje Caves - These caves are nothing short of architectural marvels, a group of 22 rock cut caves dating back to 200BC located near Karli, They are extension of another set of caves situated close by called Karla caves. The caves literally catches the eye with horseshoe arched entrance with some amazing carvings. The other caves are nothing short of some great skills with meticulous planning which went into making these caves. Its a great heritage site that we have inherited. Its very close to Malavli station (station after Lonavala on Lonavala - Pune railway line).

My trip - Sunday wee hours and I was up at 3.45am, getting ready for my yet another adventure trip come trek to Bhaje caves & Lohagad fort. Meeting point was decided at Malavli station after Lonavala. I even though was up early, could barely manage to reach on time at Dadar to catch Indrayani express at 5.50am. I was the only one with confirmed reservations while other members of our Wanderlust group were in general compartment. Being Monsoon season, rains had turned the entire landscape after Kalyan into lush green table, it was sight worth watching from the train windows. It was first time I saw the mini train to Matheran amidst the mountains winding its way up to the destination from Neral station but wtf !!!! I didnt have cam ready for the pic of lifetime !!!!

On reaching Lonavala station, I rushed to get local ticket to Malavli and then to one extreme corner of another platform where the local train was about to leave in gap of 10mins. I just felt it wasn't going to be my day as ever since morning I was just running to catch the trains. Phew, I barely managed to enter the local train where I found that every member of Wanderlust group had some story to tell. Our Leader Dr Pradhan was indeed a leader who wanted to catch Indrayani express from CST instead of Dadar and when realised he had missed the train from CST, caught a local train to Dadar back and managed to catch Indrayani express in nick of time. And some other members had not even got tickets as they didn't want to miss the train and miss the adventure and thrill of trekking. I was amazed to find so much zeal and enthusiasm for trekking among the group ..... Wow !!!

Starting our trek from Malavli station, we walked from the station to Bhaje caves first as having enquired that it wasn't far away from station. Walk was for around 10-15minutes. As everyone had been running since morning as not to miss the train and the trek, we were hungry by 8.30am and having seen some restaurants on the way, felt the urge to have the morning breakfast. Omlet pav, poha and Indian burger - vada pav with hot cuppa of tea was all that we wanted on a dead hungry stomach.

Just before Bhaje caves, there was huge waterfall in the village and village ladies were busy washing clothes near the waterfall. Giving a second thought, felt that we come all the way from Metro cities like Mumbai and Pune to catch a glimpse and enjoy waterfalls and for these simple villagers, it was part of their daily routine every morning.

We marched forward as we didnt have any intention of emersing ourself in waterfall except capturing it in our lens. Our first destination was in sight - Bhaje caves, we climbed up the stairs enroute clicking pictures and capturing our second destination Lohagad and the village down below surrounded by green carpet of nature. The first sight of the caves and we were all awestruck with grandeur and beauty of the place. The horseshoe shaped entrance with chaityagraha having main stupa and small caves on top and around the main cave were sheer architecural marvel and meticulously well planned. Just couldnt appreciate the fact that such engineering skills exist in 2nd century B.C.

On the side of the caves, was another cave which had around 4-5 huge stupas inside and equal number of them outside, carved out of one rock. It was like small factory to just carve stupas from the rocks. There was another beautifull waterfall next to the caves. From the caves the sight of Lohagad and Visapur was amazing with rains clouds hiding them at times.

Having spent quite some time exploring the caves, we decided to walk towards our main destination - The iron fort of Lohagad for which we had come. Visapur and Lohagad forts are within the vicinity of the caves complex and an experienced trekker can do both the forts in one day. On our way to the fort we came across another huge waterfall where a people had come with their families to enjoy the place. While we climbed uphill, we had a huge company of almost 250 newbie trekkers who had come to trek to Lohagad, that's when we realised that since the place had so much to offer and Lohagad fort being categorised as easy trek, was very popular among trekkers and non trekkers alike specially in Monsoons.

It wasn't difficult climb and within 1hr 30min we were at the base of Lohagad. The place was surrounded by eateries offering hot chai and vadapav, which was always welcome in this rains. It had started pouring now and fort above was covered completely in clouds. Another 30 odd minutes of climb and we were at one of the main gates of the fort. The fort is really in good shape and standing firm even after so many years. We explored the fort as we moved up and as reached the top of the fort, the view of neighbouring Maval region and Pavana river following through it was just beautiful.

But there was more surprise for us as there is huge plateau at the top of the fort which gives stunning view of the neighbouring areas including Tung and Torna forts and river Pavana. Apart from small shrine and small temple, the plateau has couple of water tanks and entire plateau was covered with green grass and small flowers just like we have at KAAS plateau. The place was sheer beauty and with rain drizzles and rain clouds covering the plateau every now and then, it was like icing on a cake.

We clicked and clicked pics of everything that came our way, while we moved towards one end of the fort which is a fortified wall called "Vinchu kaata" as it resembles Scorpion tail. The first sight of Scorpion tail was like "OMG". how can someone built something of this magnitude and rains had painted the entire structure lush green. I have been doing trekking for sometime now but this structure was like one beauty I had never seen before.

Our group had decided to have packed lunch at the end of the tail, enjoying the beauty the place had to offer but going to the far end was little difficult for me with only two ways to reach the end and one had to climb down one rock patch. I decided to quit and decided to wait at the fort while my group lead by Dr Pradhan and others moved ahead. They explored the tail and had lunch at the end of the tail while I decided to enjoy the beauty and my lunch from the fort overlooking the Scorpion tail.

It was 4.30pm already so on deciding to climb down, one of our group member Retd Captain Afzal initiated clean up drive on the fort and we picked up every plastic trash that came across our way. All thanks to our Captain Afzal and in fact we were much appreciated by a group on the way who pledged to do the same from next trek and even clicked our pictures to be posted on social networking sites to create more awareness. Nice Nice ..... On reaching the base, we decided to take share a cab to Lonavala rather than walk back as we were already running behind schedule, We had barely managed our time schedule for the day since the time we left our house for the trek but we didn't have any regrets for we had "One more trek in our cap". From Lonavala station we purchased choco fudge - a speciality of Lonavala from Coopers and walked our way back to bus station hoping to get empty bus to Mumbai but our adventure was not yet over as buses to Mumbai were far less and were crowded to the core. No place to sit but not wanting to waste any more time we boarded bus to Thane and from their we got local bus to Borivali. The travelling to & fro for the trek was more than the actual trek and we were dead tired by the time we reached our homes but again no regrets for the hangover from experiencing the sheer beauty of the place will be something that we will remember and will take time to get over before we start our another trek to experience another hangover !!!!!                                                                                              

Till then Adios Amigos