Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mumbai Dasara!

After returning from the trek, a day of rest was mandatory. Not just to relax but also to reflect upon such a beautiful experience. Most of the day, I slept. Akki had prepared some tasty Kerala Velliappam for breakfast. 

In the evening, after Akki returned she prepared some delicious paneer Pakoda. Later, Deeku and I went out to try some Khandvi and Moong Dhal Bajia. The foody in me was extremely satisfied. 

Ganesh Bhai came home that evening to discuss our Kaas plateau trip. While speaking to my friend Anupam, he mentioned that he was at a Durga pooja pendal in Vashi and requested me to join. Though tempted to do so, it was late already. While mentioning this to Ganesh Bhai, he suggested that we visit the Pendals in Panvel. That seemed like a great idea. 

Akki, Varun, Deeku, Ganesh Bhai and two other neighbours of Akki - Kadam and his wife, all headed first to the Bengali pendal. Durga idols were very impressive; typical West Bengal style. 

We also visited some other pendals where the Durga idols were more South Indian style. Daandya dance was in full fledge and lot of people were dancing to DJ music. It was a festive atmosphere. 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Konkan Kada & Taramati Peak

Continued From Here - Harishchandragad Trek 

Next morning, as usual, I woke up early. The others did too. Warmth of the rising sun began to further enrich the colour of balsams and the yellow wild flowers forming a picturesque sight.

After our morning tea, we left to Konkan Kada, a cliff that looks down towards Konkan (Coast). This place is incredible. It was very scary but enchanting at the same time. Mist played around with the peaks and creating a formidable view. We spent a lot of time there trying to capture and absorbing the beauty of nature.

Sanket tried some cool group photo shoot at the cliff with his GoPro. I am glad, Zeeshan borrowed my iPhone and captured some of these beautiful panoramas. 

We headed back for some Poha and more tea. While Jyothi mam stayed back at the cave, we decided to trek the Taramati peak. The trek was a short one. We took less than an hour to reach the peak. Stretch of forest gives way to grass route and some steep rock climbs at the very edge of the mountain. Apart from two slightly challenging rock climbs, the trek seemed pretty straight forward. 

The view from the peak was as expected, brilliant.

 Picture Credit - Sanket Patil
 Picture Credit - Sanket Patil

I took some long video shots of the moving clouds to turn them into a time lapse video using my iMovie software. Here is what it looks like. 

Thanks to Sanket, we tried some great shots at the peak. Every time we tried to jump, one or more people were still not in air. After almost 10 takes we finally captured this one. Sanket joked - "Last pic;  iske baad sidha niche kud jana." (This is the last picture, If this does not work, next time, try jumping down the mountain.) Except for Dhirendra, we all managed to time the jump well. So, disappointed Dhiru had to be captured separately. 

We got down and decided to leave. Jyothi mam and Rutwik went ahead. Soham, Brajesh and Dhiru enjoyed a bath in the pond and we all began our journey back to Paachnai village. We stopped at the tea stall again for some awesome black tea and Jyothi mam’s portrait photo shoot. 

The village seemed just the way we had left it, the previous day. Not a thing seemed different as though nothing had happened there for a day. Except that the three kids I had observed playing in the swing were out of sight. 

We relaxed for a while, had lunch and left at around 3:00 PM. The lady who had served us food for two days bid us farewell and watched our vehicle pull out of the village. 

We were initially planning on catching the 4:15 PM train from Kasara but that seemed impossible. Our next option was the 5:15 PM train to Thane. Chances of that seemed meagre as well. However, none of us were in a hurry. We were relaxing and enjoying the ride back. 

At a small town, we stopped for a while and Dhiru had a sudden urge to dance. He set his bluetooth speaker on the street and began dancing in the middle of the road. Everyone who had gathered there watched him with amusement. That was truly one of the funniest moments of this trek. I admire his guts to do that and truly it was an impressive performance. 

On our way, we were alerted about the strike on Nashik Highway. At that time, we had no clue of what this strike was about. I only learnt from the newspaper, the next day that the villagers were protesting against an hideous act of molestation by a teenage boy on a child. More than 20 vehicles were burnt. For us that meant deviations and delay in catching the 6:18 PM train. The route we took had a severe traffic jam. Somehow, our driver speeded and made sure we reach the station on time. We reached the station 3 minutes in advance. We got off the vehicle and ran towards the train. Some of us quickly bought tickets. That last bit happened in extreme haste but it was fun. Had we missed that train, we had to wait till 8:15 PM for the next. That would not have been difficult either with this super exciting group that I was with. 

On my way back to Mumbai, I recollected the best moments of the trek and the beautiful images of Harishchandragad, Taramati peak, Konkan Kada reappeared before my eyes. This trek had been an incredible one both in terms of the location and the group. We did not reach the top on time to watch the sunset or go to Konkan Kada on the first day as planned. So what? We went there the next morning. We could not catch the 4:15 PM train, but that did not bother us, we were ready to wait. We were a group that was accepting everything that came by and no body took it more seriously than required because, I think we all knew that in such treks what remains most memorable is that which happen unexpectedly. 

No matter what we plan, how much we organise, any travel is bound to surprise us. And after all, the things we did not plan for are the ones that shall turn memorable, like - Meeting 7 new interesting people, black tea served at a cave, Sitting together at a view point, looking at pitch darkness and listening to music and humming the songs, GoPro photo shoot at the cliff, Our several takes before the final perfect jump at Taramati peak, Portrait shoot at the cave, Dhiru’s dance performance and our run to catch the train, minutes before its departure. So when I see the images of Harishchandragad, along with its spectacular views and flowerbeds, an amalgam of emotions shall also bounce back before my eyes. 

I always feel that travel and treks make me a better person by boosting in me the enthusiasm that perhaps hides in the nature, by developing in me the positivity to accept things as it is and by making me adaptable to anything unfamiliar and unknown. On the contrary, monotony drives me crazy and pulls me down into a ditch filled with limited knowledge and hypocrisy. I wish to travel more; at least once a month, so that the lessons that my travels teach me can flourish into the monotonous side of my life by influencing and inspiring it and also shielding me from its negativity. 

Harishchandragad Trek

For the past three years, I have been visiting Mumbai during the Monsoon; specially timed around the Ganesha festival. Meanwhile, I also go on a trek in the enchanting Sahyadris which would have just begun to colour itself entirely in light green. This year, I thought of doing something different. I decided to visit my sister during the Dasera festival and planned to rope in a trek around the same time. For weeks, I browsed through the web page that lists all the treks arranged by different groups in the city. I had trekked with a group last year and somehow, I had not liked that a lot. There were about 25 odd people on that trek and many who knew each other already, formed sub groups. Moreover, there was always a rush to get to some point before breakfast, lunch or dinner. That to me was a little frustrating because, it did not allow us to enjoy the nature at leisure or walk in a relaxed pace. That experienced, it was a conscious decision on my part to look for a better group. 

I went through the Mumbai trek list and firstly decided on the trek. Harishcandragad seemed the most exciting of all. Google images made me immediately zero in on this location. Now, there were three groups offering this trek on the same weekend. Among them, Abbarent wanderers (AW) seemed to me, the most appealing. Their website was neat and impressive, their plan was sufficiently detailed and seemed to allow flexibility. On their blog, I read about their adventurous journey to the Himalayas in a Tata Nano and found that very interesting. When I conversed with the organisers Sanket and Hemant, I was almost certain that I would trek with them. My niece, Deeksha wanted to join me as well. 

I reached Mumbai on the 7th of October. The flight was uneventful. I took a taxi to Panvel and reached my sister’s house a little before midnight. Woke up Akki and Deeku, packed our bags, had some delicious parathas and retired to bed. Like always, I was anxious about the unexpected moments and adventures that were to come.; to pleasantly surprise me. 

Next morning, Akki dropped us at Panvel railway station and we took the 5:45 CST local to Kurla as suggested by Hemant. Once we had crossed Vashi and entered the main city, we witnessed unpleasant sights along the railway track. Unclean slums filled with garbage made me further supportive of the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Movement) initiated by our Prime Minister. At 7:15 AM, the Kasara local arrived. The train took us out of the busy city setting and introduced us to the first patch of greenery, as we approached Kasara. 

At the railway station, we met up with our trek lead Sanket and our co-trekkers - Dr Jyothi, Brajesh, Soham, Dhirendra, Zeesham and Rutwik. Since Rutwik had missed the train, he had to catch a fast train to Kasara. After he arrived, we took off on a hired jeep towards the village of Paachnai which is about 100 kms from Kasara. 

We took the Nashik road first. On the highway, the driver was alerted of the RTO checkpoint ahead and thus he, for reasons unknown to me, decided to take a diversion. The road to Paachnai was not in a good condition but the views that this route bestowed was so brilliant that it allowed me to ignore the bumpy ride. Village girls dressed traditionally and  carrying a Kalash (A pot; the mouth which holds a coconut) forcibly stopped vehicles and prayed before requesting donation. Seems like a practice in the area during the Dasera festival. The route passed through the famous Alang-Madan-Kulang mountains (One of the toughest treks in Maharastra) and Kalasubai (Maharastra’s highest mountain).

Paachnai is a very small village with not more than 10 houses. Magnificent mountains walls covered the three sides of the village. They reminded me of the "Wall of the North" from the Game of thrones. The village was almost deserted except for three kids playing on a swing, next to a small school building. 

AW has teamed up with a villager to take care of the food and we directly went to their house. A middle aged lady was cooking chapatis for us. Her son Bhaskar told us that the village does not have electricity during the months of Monsoon. Reason being, the authorities do not bother to repeatedly rectify the faulty power lines. We had some tasty Chapatis with Pitla, some rice with dhal and potato curry. A spicy chutney called Techa, made of peanut and green chilly was very tasty. 

After lunch, we began our trek. A short round of formal introduction was done before starting. The trek was not very long and would have probably taken us about 1.5-2 hours to reach Harishchandragad. However, Dr Jyothi could not walk fast, so we matched her speed. The good thing about that was that I got to capture the spectacular view in leisure. Since we were a small group, we bonded really well over this journey. Brajesh, Soham and Dhirendra who knew each other from before, lightened up the journey with their witty talks. And the view, of course was mesmerising. 

I absolutely loved this one part of the trek, it had a rock cut cave with water droplets continuously falling from the top and forming a crystal screen like appearance. 

In this cave, was a villager preparing black tea and obviously we wanted to drink some tea there. With a tinge of lemon it tasted like heaven. Dhirendra is extremely fond of tea and where ever we stopped he wished for a cup. Being a tea fan myself, I appreciated and welcomed the idea. 

We took much longer to trek up to our base camp but the view from the top was just amazing. There seemed to be no rush. It was getting misty so obviously we could not have viewed a good sunset. The base camp is a vast plateau like region filled with wild flowers, caves, a few ponds and an intricately designed Harishchandreshwar temple. That view made me forget everything else and admire the beauty of nature and some of man’s most thoughtful creations that perfectly complimented and blended with the nature.

At Kedareshwar cave, three of four pillars supporting the shrine is broken. People believe that the pillars represent the four yugas (Eras) - Satya yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. When the fourth pillar breaks, that would signify the end of Kali yuga that we now live in. 

After a walk around the area, we headed towards the cave. Bhaskar and perhaps it was his wife, were up there already, cooking dinner for us. 

Sitting there with the rest of the group, silently observing the lights fade behind the beautiful temple, lush surrounding and carpet of flowers, I felt so much in the moment. Nothing else worried me. All I knew at that moment was right there! All I was thinking about was right in front of me. That feeling is unmatchable. 

We sat there chatting until the dinner was ready. We had food using some flash lights and then headed uphill to relax. We found a spot for oversells that overlooked the base camp and we played music on a blue tooth speaker and sat there chatting and singing songs. It was a magical moment. There was no hurry in anyone to go anywhere, do anything. We were all right there, in that moment, talking and thinking only about what was happening right there.

At 10 pm,  while others stayed back, Dr Jyothi, Deeku and I returned to the cave and dozed off almost quickly. A few other groups in the neighbouring caves played loud music but nothing bothered my tired body which badly needed some rest. 

Continued Here - Konkan Kada & Taramati Peak