Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A tribute..

A tribute to all those people who died in the recent terror attacks in Mumbai 
May your souls rest in peace

[I shot this picture a little over a month ago. It shows the beauty of this iconic building which, along with the Gateway of India, symbiolizes Mumbai to a large extent.  The Taj now stands in ruins after the deadly terror attack that snuffed away all those lives in a blink of an eye, on that fateful night of November the 28th, 2008]

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Rajmachi - An unforgettable Trek

This is the story of one of the most exciting days of my life.

I love the outdoors. Trekking, camping, hiking, rappelling, rafting - these are some of the things that get my adrenaline pumping. Last Saturday, was probably one of my most exciting days in the wild. 

We were a group of 9, setting out to conquer the fort on top of Rajmachi village (near Karjat).
We left Andheri at 6.20 AM, twenty minutes behind schedule. We met A and C at the station and caught the train to Dadar where P joined in. She barely made it to the train in time (7:07 local to Karjat), but she made it all the same. Little did we know that this would be the trend for the rest of the day and what a day it would turn out to be.

We reached Karjat at around 9:00 AM. There was not a single cloud in the sky. I had checked the weather forecast the previous day and the Met had predicted sunny weather in the morning with thundershowers in the afternoon with 1-3mm of rain. At least for now, the forecast was bang on. Looking at the clear skies, it was difficult to even fathom that it might rain later in the day. We had a quick breakfast and took an auto to Kondavane village. The trek began from here.

We reached Kondavane by 10:00 AM. It was hot and humid. I had a sheet of paper with brief instructions and directions. This was a mountain where even the professional trekkers get lost. I didn’t want to take a chance. However, I also knew that all it took was one wrong turn for us to lose the way. R hated the fact that I had scribbled down a few instructions. He had a meticulate plan to get lost:)

The paper didn’t come to any use anyway. We didn’t want to hire a guide and decided to do it on our own. We set out walking along the mud trail to Rajmachi. We reached a house where the trail seemed to end. We then asked the local there for directions and he then pointed in the general direction of the village. All we could see was a dense forest with no trails. We then found a narrow trail and decided to take the plunge. There was no indication of the hill, the village, or the fort anywhere. It was just a dense forest, where we cudnt even see the sky. The climb was getting steeper and the air was getting hotter. A started feeling the heat and had to take frequent breaks. Water was soon becoming a scarcity. One by one we started running out of water bottles. 

After a painstaking hour of climbing, we were in the middle of nowhere. D took the responsibility of leading the way. Her tireless enthusiasm ensured that the spirits were high. Breaks became more and more frequent. We had some bananas and guavas and then continued climbing. The afternoon sun was roasting us alive. We met a couple of villagers on the way. We didn’t speak their language and neither did they speak ours. We just got to know the general direction in which to go. All of a sudden we started to see arrow marks on the rocks. I had read online that these arrow marks were meant for those going downwards. So we had to go in the opposite direction. Then the directions started to alternate. Some pointed upwards and some downwards. Now I realised why so many people got lost on this mountain. We blindly followed the trail.

All the while I kept thinking at the back of my mind if I had done the right thing by choosing Rajmachi as a trekking destination, in this weather. I knew a lot of people would’ve rather spent a lazy morning in bed than get roasted in this heat. But nevertheless I knew things would get better as the day progressed. I was silently praying for rain.

As we trudged along we found a meadow which in turn led to Rajmachi village. We reached the village at around 1.30 PM. We met a family from New Zealand who were also trying to scale the fort. We replenished our water stock, and relaxed for a few minutes. We then had a glass of buttermilk to cool us down. Rejuvenated we set out to reach the top of the fort. We saw some citadels and a cave on the way. The cave had a fresh water source with crystal clear water. It took us another 40 minutes of climbing to reach the top. The weather had cooled down quite a bit. The sky was getting cloudy and I could sense them darkening slightly. I knew rain was on the way.

As we climbed up, the view was breathtaking, the breeze majestic. Our voices echoed off the hills. It was funny to see that only male voices echoed :)

Within 40 minutes we were at the top of the fort. The greenery, the breeze, the mist, the views, it all made the climb worth it. We then descended and went back to the village by 3:00PM. After having a quick lunch in the village and replenishing our water stock, we set out on our way back. R wanted to take the route to Lonavala. This was an 18 km hike along a path cutting through the hills and forests. 4 others wanted to go via the steep route via Karjat. We tossed a coin. The decision was to take the Karjat route. R wasn’t convinced. There was 10 min of indecision. We then started to hear thunder in the distance. The light was dimming. The weather system sure was ominous. I realised that taking the Karjat route in the rain would be treacherous not just because it would be slippery, but also because we wouldn’t have spotted the trails with water flowing down everywhere. 

Off we went on the route to Lonavala. Barely had we walked for 5 min, when the sky erupted into waves of thunder and lightning. It was so loud that P was spooked out of her skin and yelled in surprise. It soon started pouring and we loved it! We trudged along the path in the heavy rain. There was water everywhere. It almost looked like we were walking in the path of a waterfall. Soon we were finding it tough to find our footing as the flowing water meant that we didn’t know where the ground was level.

It was getting darker. The rain was getting heavier. We had to cover 18 km in the 2 hours before sunset. It was a battle not just against the weather, but also against the clock. We didn’t have torches or matchsticks. So spending the night in the jungle wasn’t too wise an idea. We then met a bunch of trekkers who were climbing up from Lonavala. They told us they had been walking for 4 hours. This started playing tricks in our mind. Everyone was depending on my information that it was just 18km of a mild descent which would take around 2 to 2.5 hours or so. We increased the pace. We then met another group of trekkers. They warned us of a stream that had bloated and was overflowing because of a flash flood. The water was above hip level they said. They asked to go back and spend the night in the village. We decided to move on and see for ourselves. What we saw there was a sight we will never forget. The stream was quite big! And it was flowing with a roar. We saw a bunch of people cross it hand in hand and it was quite dangerous.

(This video is from another location. But it was very similar to what we experienced)

The other trekkers told us that it would be smooth sailing once we crossed this stretch. We could see the path on the other side of the stream. We decided to cross the stream on foot. We held each other's hands and formed a single file. We were being guided by the other trekkers on the shore. I could fear in the eyes of P and D. A being the tallest in the group, took the lead. We found the current manageable. It was only that the bottom was slippery and we didn’t know where to put our foot because of the rocks. We somehow managed to cross the raging stream and let out a collective scream in the end. There was euphoria, excitement and the adrenaline was pumping everywhere. We were pushing ourselves to the edge here for sure.

Once we crossed the stream, we started walking at a brisk pace. We made sure that C set the pace for the rest of the team. I asked C to walk as fast as he could. Everyone else would follow him in a single file within 10 ft of each other. We walked at a brisk pace for 2 hours. Dusk was setting in.

We saw a beautiful sunset, the evening colours, the freshness, the greenery, the massive rock faces, the lightning....it was magical. The rain had stopped by then. All of a sudden we saw the Duke's noise. We now knew we were within 10 km of Lonavala. We pressed ahead. By the time we reached Lonavala, it was dark.

We were walking in darkness along the trail. Every 10 seconds the entire valley was being lit up by sheet lightning. This helped us find our way.It was almost like the heavens were showing us the way. We then spotted the Mumbai Pune expressway and made our way to the Lonavala station at 7:15 PM. 

We were just in time to catch the train to Dadar at 7:35 PM. The train stopped at Khandala. The train was jam packed and we were drenched. A bolt of lightning had struck an electric pole on the track and the lines were jammed. We got off the train and got into a taxi and reached Mumbai by 10.45 pm.

As I moved up the elevator to my 7th floor room, the sight of the evening sky, with the riot of flaming colours, the breeze running through my hair, the river crossing, the hot morning, the climb to the top of the fort, all these images flashed in my mind....it surely was the best trek of my life!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Trek to Kotligad

Kotligad Fort

Type :
Hill fort

Fort Range :
District : Raigad Grade : Medium
Peth, also known as ‘Kotligad’, is situated in Shahapur Taluk, approximately 30Km North East of Karjat. This fort stands tall in the company of various other forts like Rajmachi, Dhak, Siddhagad and Bhimashankar, a witness to our illustrious history.

Kothaligad is more commonly known as the fort of Peth because the village of Peth is situated at its base. This fort though small in stature has a vast historical background. Mughal chronicles provide us a lot of information on this fort. This fort was more of a ‘defense station’ than a strong fort. Peth was mainly used for ammunition storage. Peth gained importance during Sambhaji’s era.
History :
Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb ordered his warriors ‘Abdul Kadar’ and ‘Ali Biradarkani’ in November 1684 to capture the forts belonging to Sambhaji’s empire. Abdul Kadar had a fair idea of importance of possession of this fort. Control over fort means control over Konkan region. He made a concrete plan to conquer the fort. In his efforts, he went in the surrounding region and kept people thereof as his servants to get inside information from them. As soon as he came to know that arms and weapons were traded here, his group of 300 gunmen reached the base in November 1684. The Marathas forced most of them back, but some still managed to reach the ‘Magarkot Dwar’ and started shouting ‘open the door’. The Marathas inside the fort opened the door on the assumption that these shouting Mughals were ‘own men’ who came for picking up the weapons for war. The Mughals immediately rushed in and the battle started. They could win the battle with help of ‘Mankoji Pandhere’.

The next day, the Marathas surrounded the fort. Abdul Kadar’s position became critical. The ammunition in the fort was destroyed and used in the battle. Although the Mughals were occupying the fort, they were helpless as the Marathas looted ammunition and food sent to them at their base camp, on its way. About 10-12 days later, Abdul Aziz Khan sent his son Abdul Khan to help Abdul Kadar. But Maratha Sardar Naroji Tryambak was hiding in the valley to prevent him to approach the fort. When another war broke, the Marathas lost and Naroji was killed. Ehmat Khan killed Naroji and hung his head right in the middle of the road. Now, the Mughals had total control over the fort. The Golden keys of main door of the fort were sent to Aurangzeb as a symbol of victory. After confirming the victory, he rewarded Abdul Khan. The Mughals renamed the fort as ‘Miftahulfateh’, meaning victory key.

The Marathas continued their efforts to conquer the fort. In December 1684, the Marathas tried to stop Mughals moving towards the fort. Seven thousand Marathas constituted a strong battalion and fought with Mahamatkhan. But success was far away. In April 1685, 700 Marathas attacked again. About 200 of them climbed the fort with the help of rope ladders. Battle started between two parties and a lot of blood shaded. The goddess of victory again favored the Mughals and the Marathas lost the battle and the fort.

After 130 years in November 1817, Bapurao, a Maratha Sardar with Bajirao II fought with British and won the fort.

Ways to get there:
We took the local from Dadar to Karjat at 7:07 am. The distance from Karjat to Ambivali is about 30 Kms. We got down at Karjat station and took a share auto (a 10 seater) to Ambiwali. Its a 45 min ride which takes you through some nice scenery. Once we reached Ambiwali, we took the auto walla's number and made sure he wud come back and pick us up in the evening.

A path leads to village Peth from Ambivali. From Peth, a tiring pathway leads to the fort door.

On e can also get down at Neral, another railway station on Mumbai-Pune route and reach Kashele by local conveyance and catch a bus for Ambivali from there.

Ambivali to Peth – 45 min
Peth village to top of the fort – 1 hour

Fascinating Spots :
The pinnacle of the Peth can be seen from the village. It looks like a filed surface. On reaching the top of the fort, we see caves carved in huge rocks. The first one is the cave of a Goddess, besides which is a water cistern and the last one is the spacious Bhairoba cave. A flat floor and well-sculpted pillars are a specialty of the cave. Along the Bhairoba cave, steps are carved leading to the pinnacle.

Some canon balls are scattered in the fort. Kalwawantinicha Mahal, Nagfani, Siddhagad, Malanggad, Chanderi, Prabalgad, Manikgad, and Matheran all these surrounding historical places are visible from top of the fort Peth.

Accommodation Facility :
The cave on the fort is the best place to spend a night.

Drinking Water Facility :
Although there is a fresh water spring inside the fort, it is best to carry your own water.

Time To Reach :
One and a half hour hike from Ambiwali to the base of the mountain (Peth village). And then an hour's trek up the hill to the top.

From the horse's mouth:

We left SP at 6:15 AM. We were 15 min late. We reached Andheri station at 6:30 AM and caught the train to Dadar. One more team member joined us at Dadar and the 10 of us set out to Karjat on the Local at 7:07 AM. We made sure to buy return tickets at Andheri itself.

Once we reached Karjat, we had a quick breakfast with Vada Pav & chai. We stocked ourselves with fruit, chocolates and water bottles. Two of our illustrious team even went shopping for jackets. The weather was perect. Gloomy , cloudy weather, with a gentle breeze and a lazy drizzle. We walked up to the "bridge" from the station. Here we caught a "tum tum" which is the name for a share auto (10 seater). We paid Rs. 35 per head for the ride to Ambiwali. The auto was pretty noisy , but the scenery was pretty nice. Eveything was green and the roads were pretty well maintained.

We told the auto wala that we wanted to trek upto Peth, so he took us to the point where the path leads to Peth. We met a local there who serves food to trekkers. He gave us his card and mobile number in case we needed any help. He also asked us to get in touch with his brother, one Mr. Sreeram Savant at Peth for food and refreshments at Peth.

We then started our 5 km hike. It was a clear path along an incline that led all the way to Peth. Midway we found a waterfall and we deviated from the path to the base of the waterfall to cool our heels in the crystal clear water. After spending half an hour there, we resumed our hike. We deviated from the path further ahead once we spotted some green (really green ) meadows. We hiked up the meadows and it gave some really nice views of the valley below. It showed us how high we actually had hiked so far.

We rejoined the main path after some time. We reached Peth Village at around 12.30 pm. We met Sriram Savant and asked him to prepare some food for us. There were quite a few options as far as the menu was concerned. We decided to scale the mountain and come back for food on the way down.

We set out to scale the mountain. The terrain was rocky with dense undergrowth. It was slippery because of the rain. There were water pipes that ran along the path. We later discovered that these pipes were once used to bring down water from the natural springs at the top to the village.

One needs to watch for millipedes in this mountain. There are scores of them. Red in color, although they are pretty harmless, they do tend to gross you out by there sheer clustered presence all along the path. Half way up the mountain, we met a couple of locals who were going down. They advised us to take the left path as it was less slippery. I vaguely remembered reading on a blog that one should take the right path but i prefered to trust the locals more. So , away we went on the left path only to realise that it was getting steeper with with every step. To add to it, the cloud was moving in reducing visiblility to a few meters. We finally reached a spot from where we could see the vertical face of the last stretch to the top.
We sent two scouts to see if it was possible to scale this rock face. However, it proved to be tough. We did discover a cave in this stretch. All of us climbed to this cave only to realise it was the wrong route. We trekked back to the fork and we were all but ready to go back down when one of the team members discovered a new route and a few steps carved in the rock. We all re-assembled and decided to scale this mountain at any cost. We then set out to the top. It was extremely slippery and dangerous in some places. One wrong foot could have sent us falling several hundred feet. But we managed somehow to reach the archway or the entrance to the fort. Here we saw a temple and a few caves which were awesome spots to spend the night. We also saw an underwater spring with crystal clear water. The caves had a lot of bats as well. From inside the cave , we saw a set of steps carving upwards. We climbed on to these and realised each step was close to 1.5 feet high. These steps were carved into the mountain and it was really beautiful. Once we reached the top, we had a sense of accomplishment. We had made it inspite of the odds, the rain, the slipping and sliding. However, the view from the top was a disappoitment as there was a dense cloud covering. We were literally amidst the clouds and hence everything was white!
We could barely see a few meters around us. We then set out back down. The downward trip took us an hour as it was extremely slippery. Once we reached Peth, we had a yummy meal waiting for us. We finished the meal and then hiked back to Ambiwali. The 5 km hike was special because it started pouring very heavily. It is a special feeling to walk in the rain in the wilderness. We reached Ambiwali and the share auto was waiting for us as expected. We took the 7.40 local from Karjat to Dadar and were back home at 10:00 pm. A wonderful weekend getaway and hopefully the first one in a new series of weekend treks for us.....

Things to look out for:

1. There are a couple of forks on the route up the hill. Be sure to stick to your right always. We kind of lost our way mid way and had to then retrace our steps and "explore" the hill before we reached the right route.

2. The rocks are extremely slippery in the rains. So be sure to wear the right footwear.

3. Lunch can be arranged in Peth Village. Ask for Sriram Savant. He provides home food for trekkers going up the hill. The food was quite good!

Its all in the eyes!!!

Ain't she beautiful ?

Friday, August 29, 2008

The King...well almost

Phew! If only looks could kill, i wouldve been a goner long back.

This guy caught me taking photos of his better half and you can just see the aggression in his looks. His ears were up, his eyes staring into me, an open threat, he was almost disgusted with my presence in his backyard. His cold stare, not blinking , not taking me off his sights for even a micro- second ; the message was clear - I was being asked to get out ASAP!

It was simply amazing to shoot tigers at such close range. It is not the first time i am doing this but shooting tigers always gives you a thrill, they set your pulse racing. These are such majestic creatures. They are so beautiful yet dangerous. It is like playing with a knife edge.

They are so huge, you wonder how fast they grew! This guy is all of 24 months old. Its a pity that tigers are being poached for their skin and teeth and what not. How on earth people can kill these lovely animals i dont know.

I wish i could do something to stop it.....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tete-a-Tete with a viper

This guy had wandered into somebody's living room a couple of days back. A panic call to the forest department ensured he was caught and taken into custody right away. Here i was in the National Park with this forest official who promised to show me his esteemed guests. He was venomous, potent and mean.

I have never touched a snake before. I used to be repelled by all reptiles. Photography has taught me to appreciate these beautiful creatures. The snake's scales are so smooth, you have to touch them to believe it. These scales enable them to slide through the roughest of terrain easily.

It took all of 2 min for me to get comfortable with the snake's presence. I dont know how i did it, but i somehow lost my fear. I was infact staring him eye to eye, 4 inches from my face. I managed to get some nice front on shots. All the while he was trying to smell the air around with his olfactory sensors in the front of his face and through his tongue. He kept flipping his tongue at me , trying to size me up.

Snakes are beautiful creatures. Very potent if you dont know how to handle them. They are as scared of us as we are of them. They are shy creatures who would not approach you unless you encroached upon them.

The world is so beautiful!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Travelogue: Mcleod Gang again

I love the transition from green to white in this snap! Oh nature is so beautiful !

The deep blue skies...pure white snow... the mountain breeze...heaven!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

Travelogue: On the Road to Dharamshala

Breathtaking views from my bus , on my trip to Dharamshala. You can find this place near Mandi. I love the calmness and the stillness in these pics. Definitely looks like heaven on earth. Himachal just seems to get better and better by the day!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008