Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Har-ki-Dun -- My Introduction to Himalayan Wilderness (Part 5)

Preparation, Journey and Day 1: Sankri to Seema Village
Day 2: Seema Village to Har-Ki-Dun
Day 3: A day in Har-Ki-Dun
Day 4: Har-ki-Dun to Seema Village and Visit to Osla
Day 5: Seema Village to Sankri and Return Journey (You are currently reading this.)

Finally, last day of the trek arrived. My regular trekking in Sahyadri had really helped me throughout the trek and I was still in best physical condition to take on another day of arduous hike of 16 kms.

Few members of YHAI group coming towards Sankri had spotted a bear along the trail earlier day. So, we were instructed to hike with the group all the time.

Crisp morning lifted our spirits when we left the camp-site after breakfast. A batch of slow movers were sent early so as not to delay the schedule. Aditi who was sick throughout the trek and did not complete her trek was in bad shape. Over the period of three days, she had lost of fluids and was feeling very weak. As she would not have sustained walking for another 16 kms to reach our base camp at Sankri, a mule was hired for her. Sitting on mule was equally arduous task for her. Onkar Salvekar was constantly with her along with couple of local guys handling the mule.

Crisp morning with excellent sky:

Though snow peaks were receding from the eyesight as we were losing altitude, their images were imprinted in the mind forever.

Excellent cloud formation:

Crossing small bridge along the way:

On one of the snacks joint, I interacted with an Australian guy was planning to hike in Himalaya for a month. He already had hiked at 2-3 places and was effusive in praise of India. He was also fondly talking about the love he had received from all the people. Wishing him my best wishes, I marched forward.

Along the way, I saw a little girl walking merrily with his father towards Taluka village. Her school was starting soon and her father was going to drop her to his relative at Taluka village. She seemed already adept in tackling all the hurdles along the way and at some places, where there were muddy patches, her father took her on his shoulders. It was a great sight and I walked with this father-daughter duo for many kilometres.

It was again a hard walk for most of the members. One of our group members, Sharda was feeling pain in her knees and was painstakingly slow. That made her entire group slow.

After covering more than 70% of the distance, I joined other group members who were just finishing their lunch. I too finished my lunch and lied down on the ground and had a small nap. 

Soon, the spot was swarmed with many trekkers of YHAI group. A lady mistook me as a trek leader of the group and started enquiring me about the group; make of my sack, camera etc. She had seen me motivating the members so she assumed me as a trek leader. When I told her me being the participant, we had a good laugh.

Close to an hour passed and finally our last group arrived with Sharda. By that time, most of the other group members had already left towards Taluka village with second local trek leader. As Taluka village was not pretty, I decided not to reach their too early and lingered with our last group for some time.After some time, I decided to march ahead leaving the last group behind.

Omkar Bedre also accompanied me. I was asked by Omkar to slow down a bit as it was getting difficult for him to match steps with me. So I slowed down pace and made sure not to leave Omkar alone.

The pain in the eyes of this guy stirred me from inside. For the sake of few hundred rupees, this guy  was carrying four to five rucksacks from one camp to other.

We reached to Taluka where I again met Anil Patil sir from YHAI group. He invited me for tea and soon his group left in Bolero for the campsite.

As there were many trekkers in Taluka village, we realized only a while later that few of our group members had already left to the base camp at Sankri with the second trek leader. As our other trek leaders Tejas and Vijay were with the last group, we did not have any option but to keep waiting for them. 

Some photography at Taluka village:

At last, we were joined by our last remaining group. Unfortunately, no vehicle was available at that time to drop us to Sankri. Finally after agonizing wait for more than an hour, Bolero came to fetch us. We were loaded literally like animals in the backside of Bolero and started our bumpy ride back to Sankri. It started drizzling as we were coming back and surrounding mountains were engulfed in clouds which made the entire journey of an hour very soothing despite many bumps along the way.

We were finally back to the base camp. Though the trek was over and we just had to rest, nature was unfolding a lot of miracles in front of us. Right from the camp, we were treated with majestic views of mountains engulfed in the clouds. Whenever layers of clouds turned thin, views of the underlying trees looked absolutely magical.

A small celebration ensued as finally we had made it successfully to the base camp. We giggled, laughed and enjoyed our last night at the base camp together playing different games.

Next morning, after breakfast we proceeded towards Dehradun. Our driver was much sane this time and he drove his vehicle carefully and skillfully and there was not a single puking incident despite a long, arduous travel.

Next day was free for us in Dehradun and we all decided to go for water-rafting at Hrishikesh. Hrishikesh was exceedingly hot and as we waited for our turn to start rafting, sun almost baked us and we became desperate to get into the water. I and Onkar took the front seats and with few instructions which mostly scared all of us, we started rafting. 

Few splashes of water really provided good escape from the sweltering heat and in a short while, we were fully drenched. We were really frightened when our raft toppled in a rapid and Onkar and Ameya fell into the river. With few frantic cries, they were brought onto the raft by our guide and after that all of us became very focused and followed each and every instruction of our guide with best of our abilities. Overall, it was a great thrilling experience which we would remember for a long, long time.

Finally, the enigma of Himalaya was unravelled. Spending some incredible days in the lap of Himalaya was life enriching experience. Sights of gigantic mountains dwarfing humans make you shed all your ego at once. Breathing fresh mountain air immediately lifts your spirit. Initially, there were few inhibitions of hiking in high altitude in unfamiliar conditions but this sojourn in Himalaya has really opened a vast range of possible opportunities to visit this incredible part of region time and again.

I would like to dedicate this blog to simple and healthy people living in Himalaya who teach you that real and long lasting pleasure of life is growing and staying with nature.


Participants: Anurag Saswadkar, Akanksha Saswadkar, Vishnupriya Kulkarni, Sharda Pandit, Saurabh Kshirsagar, Nihar Padhye, Niranjan Keskar, Malhar Gaikwad, Parth Gune, Vedashree Kulkarni , Grishma Pawale, Shivani Khadilkar, Sahil Kargal , Kunal Kargal, Atharva Jogdeo, Madhura Deshpande, Netra  Hendre, Mrunmayi Dharu, Aditi Joshi, Devendra Sawant, Rujuta Dharu, Onkar Salvekar, Pooja Salvekar, Arya Bondre, Balkrishna Naidu, Prashant Kothawade

Yuvashakti Trek Leader: Tejas Joshi

Local Trek Leader: Vijay Singh Rana

Tips for the trekkers:

  • Practice well before you attempt this trek. Regular exercise and few hikes before this trek will hold you in good stead.
  • You can join Yuvashakti or Youth Hostels of India (YHAI) who regularly arrange Himalayan Treks.
  •  If you are a large group, you can directly contact Vijay Singh Rana (+91-9410153260), local trek leader. If number is not reachable, try after few days. Once on the treks, Vijay would not be reachable because of lack of network coverage.
Thank you for reading the blog!

Do visit my home page to easily navigate to my other blogs.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Har-ki-Dun -- My Introduction to Himalayan Wilderness (Part 4)

Preparation, Journey and Day 1: Sankri to Seema Village
Day 2: Seema Village to Har-Ki-Dun
Day 3: A day in Har-Ki-Dun
Day 4: Har-ki-Dun to Seema Village and visit to Osla (You are currently reading this.)
Day 5: Seema Village to Sankri and Return Journey

Part 4 (Hike from Har-Ki-Dun to Seema Village and Visit to Osla Village) Begins

Day four of the trek dawned amidst a lot of verve and enthusiasm for most of the trek mates. While I was also upbeat, there was also a tinge of disappointment. A thought of probability of never visiting this particular place in future welled unbidden tears in my eyes. While I was reflecting on the gone days - days filled with absolute grandeur, days that tested your physical endurance and finally the days that made you ecstatic, I heard shouts of Vijay, our local trek leader from outside calling my name and asking me to bring my camera immediately. 

I rushed outside with the camera to see what was happening. Couple of mountain goats camouflaged with the same coloured mountain had caught our local guides' attention. Sighting these goats was a rarity and considered very pious. Keen to show these goats to everyone, Vijay asked me to zoom my camera to take some pictures. Unfortunately, as I did not have a telephoto lens, we had to take a picture and then zoom it in the camera to see these animals. Nevertheless, we all were thrilled of these sightings and Vijay told us that we were really lucky to sight these animals.

Check whether you can spot these goats in the below picture:

Morning breakfast was served in the open as weather was warm due to full sunshine. It was probably one of the most scenic places on the earth to have your breakfast. Onkar was upbeat in spite of having the tough time with loose motions where tissue papers were constantly his companion. He jumped from the rock and asked me to take his picture and I was happy to oblige him.

 We lingered for a while as everyone was getting ready. Once everyone was ready, we gathered for a group photo outside our campsite and after the photo session, proceeded towards our second camp at Seema village. Onkar and other local trek leader proceeded ahead immediately after photo session as they had to join our group stranded at Seema village.

Again, as usual, we had a bright sunshine and pleasant weather just perfect for walking and hiking. I got the opportunity to click photos of the area which I had missed two days earlier when we were hiking towards har-ki-dun in the rains.

Along the way, I came across two ladies who were hiking to har-ki-dun. They were a group of 5-6 people and they had laid tent somewhere around 1 hr from har-ki-dun. They were from Mumbai and after a brief chat with them, I proceeded further.

Tents laid for a group of 5-6 members:

We were walking in good rhythm and as we had to descend at most of the places, we covered a lot of distance quickly. Soon, we reached to the location where we had halted for lunch while ascending to har-ki-dun two days back.

Hiking in unison necessary to cover large distances in short time:

We came across many trekkers along the way. Surprisingly, many of them were from Maharashtra. I got excited to see an old gentleman hiking on a steep slope who was on the way to har-ki-dun. I struck a conversation with him and came to know that he was Karnal Thorat ageing 76 years and trekking in Himalaya since more than 40 years. He had hiked with Yuvashakti group before. Talking to him was really motivating and refreshing and his fitness transported me to future years seeing myself trekking in Himalaya in an old age. With few chuckles on my face, I bid adieu to Karnal Thorat and marched ahead.

As per natural walking speed and preferences, we already had formed many groups. I was somewhere in middle and at one point, I saw some of my group members going in the wrong direction. They had taken the wrong trail and walking on a trail in the middle of the mountain while the correct trail was at the base of the mountain. They were far behind and was out of reach of my shouts. Luckily, these group members realized their mistake by seeing few trekkers below and started descending on the steep slope. Soon, they were back on track.

A small hut along the way was looking like the accommodation in one of the most scenic locations in the world.

As other members were still behind and I was walking alone for most of the time, I soon joined Vijay who was perching on the rock waiting for remaining trek members to join. Spectacular waterfall cascading down from the mountain in front presented opportunity for few more photos. 

As there was valley on one side, on the opposite side was the world of gigantic mountains.

My photo clicked by Vijay who was the only one whom I trusted to handle my camera and take my photos.

We were close to the camp during lunch time.

As there was no network in the wilderness, none of us had spoken to family for almost four days. So when I learned about the STD booth in Osla village, I decided to accompany Tejas as he was also going to get in touch with Yuvashakti to provide the latest updates. Most of the members returned back to our camp-site at Seema village but I, Vijay and Tejas kept on walking for about 15 minutes to reach Osla village. On the way, a beautiful temple of Duryodhana held our attention. We decided to visit it after finishing our phone calls. 

Duryodhan Temple (though this temple is known as Duryodhan temple, local people refuse this fact and say that this is Shiva temple and some Bengali author has wrongly publicised this as Duryodhan temple)

Salute to the artist who have carved out such a beautiful wooden artifact which I spotted on top of one of the houses:

In the advanced world of technology where world is at your fingertips, still there are places where communication is still done using the old way.

A telephone booth only way of communication from this remote area of Garhwal Himalaya:

Group members of Youth Hostels of India were already present in STD booth talking to their respective family members; so I waited outside photographing curious and adorable kids in the village.

As I was calling to my spouse, she seemed worried and enquired about whether we experienced earthquake or not. Frankly being away from any network or electricity, we were oblivious to the happenings around. So news of another earthquake in Nepal region did not reach to us. Fortunately, our region was not affected at all by it. Vijay, our local trek leader also said that they had never faced earthquakes in their region. 

After conversation on the phone, we started our return to Seema village.  I was curious to enter Duryodhan temple by opening the gates but couple of YHAI guys who were also in front of the temple advised me not to enter. In their previous visit, local people demanded money from them as they entered inside the temple. Though sounded strange, I heeded to their advice and proceeded quickly to our base camp at Seema village.

Duryodhana Temple at Osla Village which I unfortunately could not visit from inside:

Beautifully carved wooden columns of the temple:

After lunch, we rested a bit in our rooms. In the evening, I along with Ameya Dandekar strolled near the bridge for doing some photography. 

Beautiful river flowing through Seema village:

Local ladies which were at first shy but hearing that we were from Vijay's group happily posed for the photo.

Few group members collected some firewood for camp-fire.

Hot dinner was served which I found very energising after hard day's toil. Sick members who were still suffering from loose motions and nausea hardly ate anything. They were really looking to bring end to their ordeal. They really wanted to be in comforts of their homes.

Camp-fire followed the dinner. Tejas broke the ice by singing a nice and funny song which set the tone for the evening after that, everyone started contributing. After a while, cold started enveloping everyone. I preferred to retire for the day in the cosiness of the sleeping bag and gradually slipped away from the group to my allocated room.

Finally, penultimate day of the trek was coming to an end and with the realization that next day would be last day of the trek before the return travel, I drifted off to sleep.

Click here to read Part 5

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Manikgad - A green escape near Panvel

Second week of July! It should have been raining everywhere but alas! Rain god had really taken the umbrage. Actually it began well in the month of June but then there was quite a bit of hiatus. Unpredictable weather increased the cases of cold, cough and fever and I was the victim of it. At the start of the week, I announced the plan of Manikgad hike on Saturday 10th Jul, 2015 to my trek mates but during the week, I developed the throat infection and even had to miss my office for Thursday and Friday.

Things were looking very difficult when I developed fever on Friday. My participation for this hike really looked difficult and I asked my trek mates to proceed without me. Tushar, my brother and trek mate took the leadership and made sure to call local contact and decide on the final plan. All plan was set perfectly; only hanging part was my participation. By evening, I started feeling better and decided to join my trek mates.

Everyone gathered at Tushar’s place around 5.30AM and we departed to Khopoli via Pune Mumbai expressway. Near Lonavala, there was torrential of downpour and all of us thought that finally we would be hiking in real monsoon. But as soon as reached Khopoli, rain abated. We took a left turn from Khopoli towards Adlabs Imagica. Our route was Khopili-Rasayani-Vadgaon. After enquiring and getting confused many times, finally we were on the right route towards Vadgaon. On the way, we crossed Pune-Mumbai expressway 3 times much to our surprise and confusion. In our opinion, we should have crossed expressway only once.

As most of the restaurants were closed in the wee hours of the morning, we kept on driving and reached very near to Vadgaon. As we still hadn’t breakfasted, we stopped at a small snack’s joint. As we didn’t have many options, we had to breakfast on Vada-Pav which was unexpectedly very tasty. Tea followed the breakfast and after felling satiated, we thanked the snacks vendor and proceeded towards Vadgaon.

After reaching to Vadgaon, we parked our car in front of a shop and enquired about Rahul Jambhulkar’s home. Immediately, a person came with us to show us Rahul’s home and Rahul came out of his home to greet us. Rahul was very polite and offered us water and provided us with the guide.

Ram was our guide’s name and we started our hike with him. Though we all were wearing comfortable shoes, Ram was hiking with his old slippers. Not to mention, he was super-fast and we had to shout to make him stop as we were lagging behind because of photography.

Some spells of rains had really done wonders to Mother Nature and whole lush green carpet as far as eyes could reach was looking very soothing to the eyes. We were ecstatic to see the quintessential rainy sights - puddles in the fields, recently manured fields; cattle grazing without care of the world and overcast skies. On top of that, Manikgad stomped its presence by towering above the nearer hills.

You need to climb a hill and walk on a flat terrain for about an hour to reach to the base of Manikgad. There are two routes available to reach to the top; one route is a short-cut but a difficult one and not often visited by trekkers. Other route is a long cut but a simple one but frequented by many trekkers. We had kept both the options open.

Hill climb also has some misleading paths. Some times you feel that you are going away from the direction of the fort. So having the local with you is a big help. After a climb of about 15 minutes, we took our first break near the rock where steps were cut for making the climb easier. Though the sky was overcast with no bright sun rays and climb was through the trees, there was a lot of humidity in the air; quintessential Konkan weather. We were relieved when we reached to the plateau and fresh and soothing breeze invigorated us.

We perched under a tree; gulped some water; marveled at the thumb Shaped Karnala pinnacle reminiscing our trek to it few months back; saw a local couple who were heading towards their plant for local made brew.

Flocks of butterflies were fluttering on the small flowers on a single bush. There were so many of them; probably it was a breeding season and butterflies of myriad colors made us wait a bit longer around the bush and we got few wonderful snaps.

Trail was distinct and soon we reached to a place where we had option to choose the route. Ajay was slipping frequently and after taking his buy-in, we proceeded towards the short-cut which we were told was not as easy as the other route.

Gradually, we entered the forest once again. There were many interesting patterns formed due to interweaving of tree roots.

We soon came out in the open where we had the close look of the mighty fort; standing majestically tall; looking impregnable with the high, vertical ramparts. It was a sight to behold.

Sandeepak, Ajay and I, three of us were strolling slowly soaking In all the majestic vista around and we joined Tushar, Chinmay and Ram who were waiting for us at the base of the fort. Tushar showed us the shortcut and it made the head reel. “Man, how are you supposed to climb it without any technical gear and expertize?”
“It may not be as difficult as it looks. Let’s go as far as we feel it is easy. If anyone finds it difficult, we will turn back” it was my assurance to the team and we went ahead.

First traverse was thrilling with valley on one side and narrow path to walk onto. With similar experiences of earlier hikes, we negotiated it safely but very cautiously.

As we entered the gorge, it started pouring heavily. There was absolutely no shelter and we had to bear the brunt of rain lashing us. I had to cover my camera with rain cover and we slowly started our ascent through the gorge full of rocks. At times, we had to help and guide each other to avoid anyone from slipping. Only once Sandeepak made a large boulder to roll down but luckily it stopped automatically before hurting anybody.

Slowly and steadily, we negotiated thrilling patch and feeling of utmost satisfaction was palpable on everyone’s face.

Nice sky with clouds welcomes us as we reached on top of the fort. It was hard to imagine that it was raining so hard just a while ago. We marched to the uppermost part of the fort.

Water cistern:

Remnants of the broken entrance:

Water cistern on the western side of the fort:

Temple in the open:

Series of water cisterns:

We decided to have lunch near the temple. As there was no shelter on the fort, we just perched on the grass and everyone brought out the food they have brought.

As we just started eating, another spell of rain hit us hard and we had to immediately cover the food with plastic. We were forced to stand up and have lunch in the rain. Rain really remained unpredictable and it made us look fool at times. It was funny though.

As we were having lunch, my friend and prominent trekker of Sahyadri Onkar Oak called me. He seemed very happy on the phone and conveyed the sweet news of him winning the second blogger award in Girimitra Sammelan. I was delighted to hear the news and equally delighted to hear the news of my other friend Sandeep Wadaskar winning the first award and my cousin Sanjay Amrutkar winning the third award. Onkar asked me to convey this news to both Sandeep and Nana as he was not able to reach them. With few whatsapp messages, news was conveyed to them. Meanwhile again rain stopped and we began descending via the longer route to make our exploration of the fort complete.

Longer route also went through a lot of thicket.

Rocks of varying shapes and sizes covered with moss posed lot of challenges. I slipped on them once or twice but with only minor bruises.

Sandeepak on one of the traverses:

Ajay posing for the photo with Manikgad in the background:

After walking for an hour, as we were trudging on the trail outside the forest, we heard shouts from the forest. We guessed that few trekkers must had lost in the forest. With a lot of shouting and with the help of Ram, our guide, the lost group was safely rescued from the forest. One of the members had hiked on Manikgad many years before and he insisted on not taking a guide and apparently had lost the way in the forest. This whole rescue efforts took almost an hour and we were just waiting for the group to join us safely. Before this lost group arrived, we spotted few local boys on the way to the fort and asked them to wait and help the other group to reach on top of fort safely. Once few of the members arrived and once we were confident that others would also be back safely, we again resumed walking.

Manikgad (left side pinnacle is called "Mankichi Lingi"). Group mentioned above was lost in the forest surrounding Manikgad.

A dog followed me for some time and as I turned to take his photo, he got scared seeing the camera and ran away with full speed. Probably, he got scared to strange looking object in my hand.

We again passed on the bush with many butterflies and again stopped to click few more snaps.

Soon, we reached to village. I was behind others and still clicking pictures. Finally we entered the village. As we had reached much before than anticipated, I strolled leisurely watching houses of some really bright colors.

Spending time with village kids:

After reaching to Rahul’s house, we were given water to freshen ourselves. Hot tea was served later and we chatted with Rahul and his father and they proved to be perfect hosts. Their hospitality touched us a lot. Rahul came to see us off and we were soon off to Pune.

Finally, Manikgad which had remained elusive for a long time was conquered. It was truly a satisfying hike. Manikgad with its massiveness left really an indelible impressions on my mind. Thrilling short cut to reach on top provided some real adrenaline rush. Remnants on the forts transported us back to glorious history. Verdant carpets of grass provided some spectacular feast to the eyes. Truly a remarkable day of hike!

Trekkers: Ajay Deshpande, Chinmay Kirtane, Prashant Kothawade, Sandeepak Phadke, Tushar Kothawade
Local Guide: Ram
Special Thanks: Rahul Jambhulkar and Onkar Oak

Tips for the trekkers:

  • Don't do this trek without local guide. There are many misleading paths that can get you easily lost.
  • Best season: Monsoon, post-monsoon
  • This trek can also be combined with Karnala and Sankshi Forts.
  • No food facility available on or near the fort. 

Thank you for reading the blog!

Do visit my home page to easily navigate to my other blogs.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!