Category Archives: The Traveler

The places I see from my perspective! So you can experience them too!

Walking down the historic lanes of Gondal

And there it stood, the oldest extant palace dating back to the 17th Century. The stone carvings felt like poetry which had managed to live through centuries – ornately beautiful and overlooking the princely state of Kathiawar it once governed. Naulakha Palace is one of the most beautiful palaces I’ve ever seen in India.

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Visiting this town in Rajkot district of Gujarat was a pleasant surprise – there is so much history all around! However, in spite of having been governed by wealthy rulers, Gondal hasn’t developed much over the years. I would recommend you to remove one day and check Gondal when you are in Rajkot. You can do the following –

1. Get awestruck at Naulakha Palace

This palace was commissioned in the 17th century and had cost Rs. 9,00,000 during that time! The carvings on the rock, intricate designs, delicately carved arches, spiral staircases justify the enormous cost! It is well maintained by the descendants of the royal family and is converted into a museum. Many movies have been shot here – Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, etc

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Entrance to the palace
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Naulakha Palace
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Closer look on the carvings
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Windows have been changed over the years, the stone carvings are still intact

 

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The Durbar Hall has stuffed leopards on four corners, wooden furniture and antique mirrors

 

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The glass painted windows and chandeliers draw your eyes!
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The architecture is inspired in parts from Europe

2. Let blue soothe your eyes at Riverside Palace

This palace was built in 1875 by Maharaja Bhagwat Sinhji (the ruler who uplifted Gondal under his watch till 1944) for his son Yuvraj Bhojraji. This has been converted into a heritage hotel presently and has been given a modern look. It has massive lawns which are rented for wedding purposes.The living room is furnished in typical colonial style with chandelier, antique wooden furniture and sofas; whereas the “Indian room” decorated with beadwork, brassware and paintings, it has now become a heritage hotel. Parts of Hawaizaada and Prem Ratan Dhan Paayo have been shot here.

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The colour gives the palace a contemporary look
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Stairs to the terrace

3. Observe the opulence of 125 year old school

Sangramji High School is one of the biggest campuses of Gujarat. It’s a shame that such a heritage building which is still intact is not used at all. The school grounds are used to learn bike and car driving by teenagers. This place has a lot to offer for photographers.

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The front portion of the heritage school – Inspired by European architecture
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Backside of the school which faces the river
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The architecture is amazing, school didn’t budge even during the earthquake in 2001

4. Find peace at Akshar Mandir (BAPS)

Swami Narayan temple of Gondal has been built over two phases – the same is reflected in the colour of the marble. There are quarters to stay if you are interested in staying inside. Let the calmness of the place enter as you breathe in its ambience and exhale all your worries.

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Entrance to the temple

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5. Walk in the local markets

There is an allocated place for shopping where each area has been alloted for specific purposes like clothes, electronics, utensils etc. Business thrives on sales made in this market. Not many people use online apps. The quality of living isn’t that good; however, people I saw and talked to had a huge smile on their faces and were content with their lives. That’s what matters in the end!

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6. Try Mahavir Vadapav

People from Mumbai won’t find this much different from the vadapav served in Mumbai. However, this place is famous in Gondal and is rightly so. It offers salad along with vadapav and it is quite tasty and spicy. You might have to eat an ice-cream if you decide to have the vadapav and salad along with fried mirchis!

Reaching There

Gondal is approximately 37 kilometres from Rajkot and is merely an hour away. Reach Gondal Chaukdi bus stop in Rajkot using local bus transport. See how well managed the transportation system it. It will leave a smile on your face.

From Gondal Chaukdi there are a lot of buses and private jeeps going towards Gondal which drop you there for Rs. 30-50 per person. Ensure you board a jeep/bus which goes inside and drops you at Akshar Mandir (Swami Narayan Temple, BAPS). Else, they’ll drop you on the highway.

P.S. Ensure you reach either during the morning or after 3 PM, everything is closed from 1 PM to 3 PM. I was able to visit all these places from 2 PM – 6 PM.

7 things to do when you loose your passport in Dubai

Can you imagine the impact of loosing your passport on a solo trip to a new country – a nightmare, right? You cannot travel back to your country unless you get an emergency passport issued by your embassy. Kerul Shah lost his passport in Dubai on his maiden solo trip there; he lists down important things to be done –

1. Do Not Panic – Be Calm

The most important thing to be done is to stay calm, accept what has happened so that you can move ahead to get it resolved. Browse through information available on the web and note down the procedure to get an emergency passport issued.

Kerul: After searching for my passport all around on Friday, I realised I had lost it. I took it as a new adventure rather than pain – You have the power to choose the way in which things impact you. I was cool, didn’t let the loss impact me or let emotions drag me down. It was just one more job to be accomplished in my stay in Dubai. All legal departments are closed on Friday. So I travelled in local metro and did some sight seeing.

2. Register an FIR with Dubai Police

In order to register an FIR, you need a letter from DNATA, Airport stating you have lost your passport; the letter will be in Arabic. After collecting the letter from Airport, submit it along with two photographs and one photocopy of lost passport to Police to register an FIR (You can do it at any police station). Dubai Police will issue a form to be attested by Public Prosecution Office (PPO), Dubai Court and Immigration Office.

3. Attestation from PPO and Dubai Court

Head to Out Metha Metro Station. PPO is a five minute walk from there. Get the form attested in PPO. It’ll take an hour or two. Post that, head to Dubai Court which is the adjacent building and get the form attested there too. It’ll take similar amount of time. The timing is 8.00 AM to 5.00 PM.

4. Attestation from Immigration Office

Head to Jaffiliya Metro Station and reach Immigration Office. Buy a bank challan of AED 120 to be pasted and stamped on the form. (You need to come back to Immigration Office once emergency exit passport is issued.) Once attestation is completed, head back to the police station. The timing is 8.00 AM to 5.00 PM.

5. Letter to Consulate

Police will issue a letter to be submitted to Consulate for application of emergency passport. Applications for emergency passports for tourists are to be submitted at BLS Services, an agency of Indian Consulate. Once the application is submitted, all you’ve got to do is wait for a response. You need to be patient as it takes time (days / weeks), unless you know the right people.

6. Do not Inform your Spouse before finishing above steps

If you love your spouse / parents / kids, do not inform about the loss of passport until all the above procedure is over, so that they do not get worried unnecessarily.

Kerul: I was fortunate enough to get my emergency passport before my scheduled departure. I had decided to tell this tale to my spouse and kids only after I touch Mumbai. I didn’t want them to be worried over a week about me.

7. Make arrangements for your extended stay

You might have to cancel or reschedule flight tickets and make arrangements for your stay. If you have come on a business trip, you can meet more prospective clients and stay busy doing something rather than sitting idle worrying about your passport. Also, make a list of friends / relatives who have settled in Dubai and pay them a visit. You’ll save yourself a lot of anxiety and have some exciting things to tell on your way back home!

Kerul: My cousin checked me out of the hotel the day I lost my passport and ensured I was comfortable at his home. It helped a lot, emotionally and I am grateful to him for this. I completed the work for which I had planned my trip and also visited local places in free time.

8. Get an Outpass

Once emergency passport is received from Indian Consulate, show the same at Immigration Office and get an Outpass issued. You’ll have to pay AED 200 for that. Fly back home safely – The Airport charges AED 350. Bon Voyage.

Kerul: Applying for an emergency passport was an amazing journey. I kept my calm and worked on getting things done rather than cursing my fate. I came to know all the roadways and routes of the metro, made new friends and didn’t let the loss of passport impact my attitude or work. Most importantly, I did it all alone, without disturbing my family in India!

Image Source: Here

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Sandhan Valley – A valley of rocks and boulders!

What?

Sandhan Valley Topography
Notice the straight line – That’s Sandhan Valley!

Sandhan Valley or the Valley of Suspense is a narrow 1.5 kilometre long valley with 100 feet rock walls on both its sides carved by water over years in the Western Ghats! Sunrays are not able to penetrate to the bottom and hence the valley always stays pleasant, sometimes even cold. Winds roar across the huge boulders unflinchingly.

Trekking Sandhan Valley

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Trek Grade – Medium

Sandhan Valley is filled with water during monsoons and becomes very slippery to rappel down; November to February is the best time to visit this – Post that, water reservoirs dry up, leading to paucity in drinking water. This is a two day trek; descent starts on Day 1 in the morning at 7.30 post breakfast and is followed by crossing a part filled with water by making a 10+ person human chain(4-6 feet deep, depending on the time you go), a 60 feet and a 30 feet rappel and some tricky descents on huge boulders. Post the descent, we camp at the end of the valley basking in the glory of moon light and start walking towards the village at dawn on the next day.

 

Reaching there

Kasara railway station is a pandora’s box for trekkers! It leads to many beautiful treks in the Western Ghats like Harishchandragad, Kalsubai, Alang, Madan, Kulang and Sandhan Valley. Catch the last local to Kasara and reach there by 3 AM. From Kasara, catch a jeep to Samrad. Taxi services are available; but would recommend you to do this trek only via a trekking organisation and in a group! You reach the base by 5.30 AM.

Things to Carry

In addition to carrying necessary stuff for a trek and camping overnight, please carry the following too –

  • Neck Gaitor / Scarf to cover neck from scorching heat
  • Alum to purify the water you fill from streams (or a cloth to filter water)
  • Odomos
  • Inflatabe Pillow along with a mat and blanket
  • Electoral Powder

How we did it

We registered with Mumbai Travellers – were a group of 34 people with 4 trek leaders. Trekking experience with Mumbai Travellers was good. Would recommend to join a group with a small group for this trek – coz there are three to four bottle necks and two rappelling points where only one member can descend at a time – thus making the procedure more time consuming for bigger groups.

Descending the valley; we crossed through huge boulders, braved the cool winds and crossed 5 foot deep water patch by forming human chains,  rappelled down twice, crossed a cave in military style – crawling on our hands and legs trying not to lift our heads or else, it would bang with the boulders, jumped along the final path and finally set camp in the evening on not so flat surfaced rocks. Playing games and singing songs at the bonfire brought an end to a tiring day only for our eyes to open again to witness the entire lake-side camp bask in the glory of moonlight. It was bright enough for anyone to read a book, if he had brought one 😛 The valley looked extremely calm and beautiful in moonlight – the breeze soothed our bodies and helped divert attention from our aching legs. It looked beautiful in the night.

Our Experience

Siddharth, my trek mate made this poem on Sandhan. As for me, I’m sharing my story through a video this time. Check it out!!

 

Sleeping in taxi and base village for some time,
Trembling, shivering in the cold water, no one wanted to dip in,
Passing the bags and crossing stones,
Many sung songs in tone of their own.

Rappelling was breathtakingly,
sitting on high stones, watching the deep valley,
Jumping on stones to passing the stony cave,
Exhausted and tired, we had no energy saved,
It was a trek all adventure seekers crave.

Under the sky we played funny games,
Attacked on dinner and peacefully slept,
At 1 AM, alone a boy danced, I got to see by chance,
At 3 AM the moon overhead, illuminated the patch,
Only chirping crickets interrupted,
Still the silence and beauty was serene,

The wind at night made us shiver,
Sleeping on stone was once in a lifetime experience,
The upma in breakfast was tasty,
The walk to village was nasty
The village lunch was indeed feasty.

The video – Please watch it in HD mode for clarity!!

Sunkissed at Gorakhgad!

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Friday night 11.30 PM, Mihir and I finally decided to go on a trek next day and rigorously started looking up on the net for treks scheduled the next day – 30 minutes of efforts and we were on on our way to Gorakhgad next morning with trekking group ‘Wandering Soul Riders’!

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Trek Difficulty – Medium with a tricky last 20 minute patch. We had a 52 year old lady with us and she was able to do it easily.

Getting there – Reach Kalyan by 7 AM in the morning. From Kalyan bus depot, catch an ST bus to Murbad (45 Min). From Murbad catch an ST bus to base village Dehri, alternatively you can catch a jeep too (45 Min).

Total Cost – To and fro journey from Kalyan will cost Rs 100 – Rs 150.

Frequency of Buses – There is a bus from Kalyan to Murbad every 15 minutes. Buses from Murbad to Dehri are at an interval of 45 minutes to one hour, so while returning plan your descent according to the bus timings – There is a bus from Dehri to Murbad at 5.15 PM, 6.00 PM and so on (They generally run 10 min late)

What to Wear & Carry – There is 30 minute dense foliage you need to navigate through in the start which protects you from the rains and sun, but also leads to itching. Wear full track pants and a t shirt (half sleeve if its going to be sunny) and carry some lotion or mosquito repellent. Carry atleast 3 litres of water as there is no water source on the top

Navigating through the dense foliage
Navigating through the dense foliage

Our Experience

Boarding the Wrong Bus

We reached Kalyan bus depot at 7 AM and after attendance, rushed in to board an ST bus. Boarding a bus in Kalyan is a different ball game, although there are buses every 15 minutes, it is over its occupancy capacity. People will run towards the bus depending on which spot is it parked (there are 10 spots). Each bus can go at any place, there are no fixed bus numbers. The moment the conductor announces the destination, people will throw in their luggage through windows to reserve their seats and rush in the bus. We jumped into the bus parked on spot 9 (which generally goes to Murbad). After five minutes we realised we had caught the wrong bus, had to de board and walk back to the bus depot! It was humorous the way others looked at us while we were getting down.

Boarding the right bus

Our trek leader was Yamini, a versatile student, pursuing third year engineering, done a one month mountaineering course! We got engrossed in her stories of various treks, her mountaineering experience and voila, we reached Murbad

Boarding the jeep

We had arranged for a vehicle to take us from Murbad to Dheri. However, it turned out to be a jeep. How do you manage to seat 15 people in a jeep? Simple, 4 people sit on the carrier! It was fun!

Our Jeep from Murbad to Dehri. 13 people in one Jeep! :P
Our Jeep from Murbad to Dehri. 15 people in one Jeep! 😛

Starting the trek

We reached Dehri by 10 AM, had breakfast and started walking towards the huddle point near a temple. It was sunny, something we hadn’t prepared for (we assumed it will be pleasant or raining). After brief introduction, we started walking through greenery making our way amidst huge bushes, some had flowers, some had thorns. But all lead to itching.

Time stands still, beauty in all she is!!
Time stands still, beauty in all she is!!
Now imagine having a home here!
Now imagine having a home here!
View after completing the dense foliage
View after completing the dense foliage

Floral Pathways

There were sunflowers for a huge stretch amidst tall grass, wild orchids in all different shapes and sizes, mushrooms, spider webs and lots of earthworms.

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There were huge spider webs we had to make way through.
There were huge spider webs we had to make way through.
This one caught my eye! Sunlight made it even more beautiful!!

Halfway Through

As per local folktales, the mountain behind resembles face of a man from one angle
Halfway through and you can see our excitement!

The path ahead was no longer mucky, but had rock steps. The sun was right above us and rocks were too hot to walk on or take support of. But the thought of making it to the top beckoned us!

Doorway to heaven!
Doorway to heaven!

We tried walking as fast as possible to make it to the orange door upstairs which was like an entrance to heaven – a cool spot which protected us from the sun.

The Orange Door and stairs to go ahead - Group Pic
The Orange Door and stairs to go ahead – Group Pic

Reaching the Cave

Trek leader Yamini assisting fellow trekkers climb the final incline before the cave comes in sight
Trek leader Yamini assisting fellow trekkers climb the final incline before the cave comes in sight
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10 minute walk to the caves from the orange door

After reaching there, there is another 5-10 min walk which took us to the cave! The cave was magnanimous – could accommodate close to hundred people inside!

We sat there in the cave, soaking in the view

Nearby moutain as seen from the cave
Nearby mountain as seen from the cave
The eyes which want to read, travel, write and stare into infinity - Aarti, a fellow trekker
The eyes which want to read, travel, write and stare into infinity – Aarti, a fellow trekker

After taking some rest, testing our walkie talkie and clicking some action pics, we decided to go ahead for the final climb towards the Shiva temple.

Fresco on the cave walls
Fresco on the cave walls
When Drama > Action ;-)
When Drama > Action, Badlapur turns to Dostana 😉

The Final Climb

Coming to the final ascend, we crossed a small water tank, which had many kinds of fish in it, we managed to spot a salmon too! The walk up was tricky, but made easy by strategic holes drilled on the rocks. Luckily, since it wasnt raining, rocks weren’t slippery.

Lord Shiva temple at the top
Lord Shiva temple at the top

View from the top

We reached the top at 1.30 PM, the view from the top was amazing. Sun shined highlighting the various shades of green! There were huge mountains on one side and deep valley on the other.

Sitting on the edge admiring the view

Sitting there on the edge

I saw an upright green wedge

Separating the Present from the Past

I stared silently at the shadow it cast

High Jumps

No trek is complete without high jumps!!
No trek is complete without high jumps!!

Lunch with Monkeys

As we began to descend back to the cave, (our lunch point) we realised almost all had finished their stock of water. Getting down to the cave was trickier than climbing up, but it was made easy by Yamini through rope she had carried, we rappelled our way down!

We had lunch inside the cave consciously trying to avoid monkeys but they managed to locate us. Finally, we shared food with them and had a great time.

Naveen and Dinesh trying to lift the imaginary Goavardhan Mountain (Cave)
Naveen and Dinesh trying to lift the imaginary Goavardhan Mountain (Cave)

The Descent

We started the descent at 3.15 PM and managed to reach down by 5.15 PM. Since our water sources had depleted, the walk seemed long under the scorching heat. Walking back the same route still felt different, the mere change of angle made scenery more beautiful!

On our way down!
On our way down!

We saw a lot of butterflies in varied sizes and colours.

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The Conclusion

We made it to the base village and ordered nimbu paani at a shop. It was like elixir of life!! It totally refreshed our tired bodies and hot heads, a vibe of energy sparked inside and along with it the aliveness of completing the trek!! We proceeded to catch the 5.15 PM bus (which came at 5.30 PM) to Murbad and from there took a connecting bus to Kalyan Station and managed to reach home by 8 PM, right on time for dinner! 😉

The trek was an amazing test of our patience to bear the heat and persistence to go on.

Group pic at the caves with the banner
Group pic at the caves with the banner

Trek Group Contact Details –  I would definitely recommend ‘Wandering Soul Riders’. Trek leader Yamini was well equipped and well trained to handle various situations.  You can connect with them on facebook here. Contact Number – 7303055000. They do trekking, rafting, rappelling and bike rides.

Flag Hoisting at 3994 Feet!

After two back to back weekend treks, we ended up at Harishchandragad on Independence Day. It was special due to the day as well as the place we chose! Harishchandragad is in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, and is one of the most challenging treks in the Western Ghats.

History & Folklore of Harishchandragad

Harishchandragad fort is quiet ancient, with its origin dating back to the sixth century. There are caves situated all over the fort, believed to be carved out in the eleventh century. Kedareshwar cave is one of the biggest and hosts a big shivlingam which is surrounded by water. The lingam is surrounded by four pillars that essentially represent the four yugas of life on earth. The general belief is that the current phase is the Kali Yuga. The day the fourth pillar breaks down will be considered the end of this era.

Kedareshwar Cave
Kedareshwar Cave

Why Harishchandragad?

Konkan Kada (Konkan Cliff) is one of the main reasons why you should visit this fort. Situated at 3994 feet high, this cobra head shaped cliff faces west and looks down upon the Konkan

Taramati Peak – the topmost point of the fort at 4679 feet boasts views of all surrounding mountain peaks – including Naneghat and other Murbad forts.

Trek Grade – Medium with some tricky parts

Routes to the top

There are three known routes you can take –

  1. Pachnai Route – One of the easiest route but less scenic – it will take 2.5 to 3 hours for ascent and 4 hours for descent
  2. Khireshwar Route – Easy to medium route – takes 3.5 to 4 hours for ascent and 4-5 hours for descent
  3. Nalichi Vaat (Passage through the gorge) – Difficult route, lies towards extreme end of the mountain. Popular among climbers and experienced trekkers, Nalichi Vaat involves a near 80 degree climb, involving steep rock patches and is not recommended for monsoons

How we did it

Making our way to the top
Making our way to the top

We chose to ascend by Panchnai route and descend via Khireshwar route. We took at last local to Kasara and reached there on 15th August at 1:18 AM. From there we hopped onto a car to reach the base camp at Panchnai (3.5 hours). While we got down at Khireshwar, we hired a car till Kalyan station (2.5 – 3 hours) and then boarded a train from there.

We did this trek through Trek Guru but would not recommend it to others for lack of planning and awareness of the leader.

Our Experience

Harishchandragad being one of the most beautiful treks in Western ghats, my expectations from it were quite high. I was waiting thinking about the view that would greet us at Konkan Kada.

I was running late for catching the last local from Ghatkopar to Kasara; somehow I managed to board it and we assembled in the predecided coach. We were a group of 10 people. The entire coach was filled with trekkers – the biggest one being a 50 member group of Trek Mates India headed to Kalsubai. After catching up with friends and making new ones we reached Kasara and walked our way out to find this –

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There was not other way out than to cross the parked train!

We had to climb the parked train in order to get down on the other side. The way to Pachnai base was uneventful, with almost everyone sleeping. The road wasn’t that good and there were no street lights. The silence in the car made the sound of rains lashing over the rooftop feel like thunderstorms.  We reached there at 4.30 AM and opened the car door. The strong gush of wind filled our chest – painful at first, but pleasant once we got used to it. After resting, listening to music and having breakfast in the morning, we started the trek at 6 AM.

We huddled up, introduced ourselves, listened to the instructions. Virendra in our group had got us small flags! Pinning them with pride, we began walking; unaware of which mountain were we going to climb, thanks to the fog.

View from Panchnai
View from Panchnai
With our flags!!!
With our flags!!!

As we started climbing the incline, it started raining. Mud underneath became mushy and difficult to have a grip on and surroundings became more foggy.

After crossing some waterfalls, we came across a point where there were huge boulders and a small route on the edge to walk on.

Seems like Lord of the Rings movie scene!

We crossed around 4-5 small waterfalls, some bathed in all of them (our Bahubali – Mihir). We reached the temple near Kedareshwar caves and walked straight towards the cave first.

Way to Kedareshwar Cave
Way to Kedareshwar Cave, slippery due to algae but manageable

In Hinduism, there is Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the organiser) and Mahesh (the destructor). We need to destroy and make space to create something new and organise it. Lord Shiva/Mahadev/Mahesh is one of the coolest Gods – He dances, smokes chillum and has a third eye, which when opened leads to destruction. We embody all three forms.

There was a group of Lord Shiva followers who had reached there without footwear. They took a dip in the cave waters, chanting ‘Om Namah Shivah’ and paying respect to the indivisibleness of the linga and yoni – from which life originates. After praying to the shivlingam inside the huge cave, we proceeded towards the temple.

Temple of Shiva and Ganesha

The temple was in ruins and engulfed in various climbers and creepers. There was a small lake besides the temple. Wild flowers adorned the roof of the temple. As we walked past the main entrance, we worshipped the linga, and then bowed to Lord Ganesha, the vanquisher of obstacles. It is said you should always start something new with blessings of Lord Ganesha.

Lord Ganesha
Lord Ganesha
Animals carved on the temple walls, beautiful pillars make me wonder how this temple would have looked in its full glory
Animals carved on the temple walls, beautiful pillars make me wonder how this temple would have looked in its full glory

As we were soaking in the glory of the temple, a group of 15 individuals came and asked us to be a part of flag hoisting! We felt pride in the fact we got to respect our flag at such 3994 feet! They were past members of NCC and we did the flag hoisting in correct spirit and procedure. As we sang our national anthem, drops of water fell from the sky and our Tiranga flew higher in the wind passing by. Patriotism filled our nerves and we got goosebumps, thinking of the soldiers who stand guard our borders in sub-zero temperatures for our protection! Standing there, I felt free – Freedom to think, envision and be what I want to. I imagined a possibility of hunger free India and thanked Modiji to bring  back hope and rekindle my dreams of better India. I take pride in saying India is my country and I am doing my bit for its progress!

After the emotional moment, we began to walk towards Konkan Kada, passing through plateaus filled with greenery – be it grasses or flowers. Our trek leader didnt know the way to Konkan Kada and after crossing many non existant paths through dense bushes, he acknowledged the fact that we were lost and it would be better to head back from where we started.

There's magic in the details, all you need is an eye for it!
There’s magic in the details, all you need is an eye for it!
The one where we realised we are lost and decided to head towards the way we came there
The one where we realised we are lost and decided to head towards the way we came there

We came back to the mid point where we ate lunch and then began to descend through Khireshwar route. The descent was eventful with many a skids and falls – Some ouchs to loud aaaaahhhhs!

The View
The View

It took us nearly 4.5 hours to reach Khireshwar base camp. Sometimes the fog would make way and we could see the scenery!

Some clicks when sunshined bright!
Some clicks when sun shined bright!

As we continued our way ahead quoting Suits and Game of thrones, we came to a tricky descent. The railings were shaking and the descent was steep. The fun of quoting Arnab saying ‘ The nation wants to know why the railings are shaking?’ left us and reality struck us. Our group leader stood last and guided from behind while we helped each other take necessary grips and get down. 😛 While each step taken wrong could lead to serious injuries, we managed to cross it and enjoy the view the route rewarded.

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Lakeside view!

After completing the tricky part, rest of descent was manageable, we ran through the woods, where roots of huge trees acted as stairs. As we lost sight of some members, we would shout ‘O A’ and they would reply back ‘A O’ (to confirm they are following us).

 

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The wind was strong enough to change the flow of waterfalls! Some flowing at different angle while some defying gravity and not falling down, creating reverse waterfalls.

After finishing the major chunk of descent, as we waited for rest of members to catch up, we dipped our shoes in running water and our aching toes got some much needed relief! Though, its another story that we had to walk further for an hour with wet shoes on!!:P

Trekkers beginning their overnight trek as we move down to end our journey!
Trekkers beginning their  trek as we move down to complete ours!

We reached the final viewpoint on the route and saw the deep valley beneath us. It was breathtaking!

The last viewpoint
The last viewpoint

Another 45 minutes of comfortable descent and we had reached Khireshwar base! We got out of our wet shoes, changed our clothes and began to walk towards the main highway (approx 7 km from there)

We made it to the base!!
We made it to the base!!

As we crossed around one km, it started raining again and we felt its better to board a car directly to Kalyan station.

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This is where we came down from! The top is engulfed in fog

After some inquiries from houses coming on our way, we waited at a dhaba and then booked a car from there to Kalyan directly. The wait was worth it for all our legs were aching badly.

Sunset from the Car!
Shades of Sky

We got network once we touched the highway, made necessary calls to our families (yes, I’m alive :P) and watched with baited breath as the sun made its way to the horizon.

On our way back, Malsej ghats was totally crowded, people had parked their cars and were bathing on the road in small waterfalls. It was like we re entered the concrete jungle, filled with people, noice and pollution.

Sunset!!
Sunset!!

The trip ended with us running from one platform to another in Kalyan trying to figure out on which platform would train to CST come first and announcements kept changing (there are two platforms for CST – one from Karjat and one from Kasara). That was quite funny, as we were running (or trying to run) with our luggage!

We boarded the CST fast train which was filled 300% higher than capacity!! But hey, that’s Mumbai! With the natural massages we got as we braved our way from one end of the coach door to the one on the other side, we finally reached our respective destinations with happy memories!

Harishchandragad is definitely one of the most gruelling and gargantuan treks and I’m glad we could complete it without injuries! We couldnt see the view from Konkan Kada due to zero visibility. For that we’ll be going back in winter!

That brings me to what I learned in this trek – life doesn’t go as you always expect it to be. There are some days which are great and some which aren’t so great. Accept that and move on rather than being disappointed. For what you hold right now is still worth much more than what you don’t have… 🙂

PS – If you like my posts, please enter you email ID in the ‘Get Updates’ tab and hit enter. Confirm the mail in your inbox. Posts will be delivered through email. To read more of my trekking experiences, please click on these – Dudhsagar Falls, Kalsubai, Kashmir Trek

Dudhsagar Falls

USP – India’s fifth largest waterfall. Picture a four tiered waterfall in the background and a train passing by underneath it. Incredible!

The Pic which got Dudhsagar on my bucket list!
The Pic which got Dudhsagar on my bucket list!

Legend of Dudhsagar

The Konkani name for the falls, which literally translated means “sea of milk”, derives from clouds of milky foam which rises up at the bottom of the falls.

The legend tells the story of a powerful and wealthy king who ruled a kingdom in the Western Ghats. The King had a beautiful daughter, who used to enjoy taking a bath during the hot summers in the picturesque lake near the forest on the edge of the King’s palace grounds. It was her habit to finish her bath and have a jug of sugared milk.

One day, when she was finishing her usual jug of milk she found herself being watched by a handsome prince standing amongst the trees. Embarassed by her inadequate bathing attire, the resourceful Princess poured the sugared milk in front of her to form an improvised curtain to hide her body, while one of the maids rushed to cover her with a dress.

Thus was the legend born; the sugared milk (dudh) poured down the mountainside and continued to flow as a tribute to the everlasting virtue and modesty of the Princess.

Trek Grade – Easy but Lengthy

Path to waterfall – Walking on railway tracks – Dudhsagar lies between two railway stations – Kulem and Castle Rock. You can start walking on railway tracks from either of the two stations and reach Dudhsagar. Distance varies on the basis of route you take.

Reaching Dudhsagar (Weekend Trek)
1.       Catch 17318 Hubli Express from LTT on Saturday Morning at 9.05 AM and reach Londha station on Sunday early morning at 12.08 AM. From there catch 06948 Ubl Vsg Link Express at 2.15 AM and reach castle rock at 3.05 AM. Get down 10-15 minutes after castle rock station when train halts and start walking towards
Dudhsagar.

2.       Instead of the above, book a train to Pune and catch 06948 train from Pune to Castle Rock.

3.       Catch 12201 LTTKCVL Express on Saturday 4.55 PM and reach Madgaon station around 2.15 AM. From Madgaon reach Kulem via road. Start walking on tracks from Kulem. Approx distance one side is 14 KM.

Way back
1.       One side walk to Dudhsagar falls can range from 12-15 KM. After reaching there, one can walk back to Sonalium Station (approx. 5 KM) and from there board a train and get down at either Kullem / Madgoan

2.       From Madgaon catch either the10112 Konkan Kanya Express which leaves Madgaon at 4.45 PM and reaches Dadar at 5.30 AM next day or 12620 Matsyagandha Express which leaves Madgaon at 7.15 PM and reaches LTT at 6.35 AM next day.

How we did it

We decided to catch Saturday Morning Hubli express and reach Londa station and from there catch train to castle rock. However, since connecting train to castle rock was running late due to a derailment incident in Madhya Pradesh a week ago, we had to book cars which picked us up at Londa and dropped us at Kulem. We started walking from Kulem at 2.30 in the morning and reached the waterfall by 6.30 (approx. 14 KM). From there, we took the jungle trail and finally reached Sonalium station, boarded a train to Madgoan and reached Madgaon by 1 PM. Our connecting train was Konkan Kanya Express scheduled at 4.45 PM.

Our Story – Raj Vora and Associates

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Dudhsagar was on my bucket list since 2014. A random chat with college friends in May led to initiation of the plan and everyone was game for it! As planned, tickets were booked in the
coming week. After lot of browsing, we finalised to not do the trek through known trekking organisations since they take 100 people+ in a batch but manage it on our own and hire a guide at the falls. Dudhsagar was the first trek organised by my friend Jugal and me! After months of discussions, listing down things to be carried, making food, travel and other arrangements, finally we were a night away from the journey day; I wasn’t able to sleep,  butterflies running in my stomach – hoping this trek goes as planned and we all enjoy together.

S4 coach
S4 coach

We assembled LTT platform 2 near S4 coach on Saturday at 8.30 AM to board Hubli Express. Jugal had made a sheet having details of seating arrangement, and named it Raj Vora & Associates – The Trekker’s Choice; hence the name! There were shy hellos between people who met first time on one side and long hugs between people catching up after a long time on the other. After initial round of introduction and chats our train journey started towards Londa station, making its way through green rice fields and vast expanses of skylines filled with banana and coconut trees.

Our train rushing beside rows of well cultivated fields
Our train rushing beside rows of well cultivated fields

Some people slept, rest stayed awake, for they couldn’t miss any moment – be it interesting conversations or watching clouds pass by or reading a book by the window seat.

Picturesque landscapes
Picturesque landscapes

The sunset was scenic with sky hitting neon notes towards the end as we digged into theplas and cheese dips followed by sweetness of soan papdi and ice halwa 😛

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Between our conversations on paragliding, adventure sports, start ups, photo printing, college days, articleship stories, go pro, dogs, random somethings we arrived at Londa station at 12.08 AM Sunday morning – our bags filled with food and water, our hearts brimming enthusiasm. We had hired three cars to Kulem as our connecting train to Castle Rock was running late by eight hours.

It was dark, foggy and sound of small waterfalls kept humming in the background as we moved swiftly towards Kulem under sky full of stars, braving the harsh winds. As we glanced up at the sky filled with stars, we hummed along counting stars!

‘Lately I’ve been, I’ve been losing sleep
Dreaming about the things that we could be
But, baby I’ve been, I’ve been praying hard
Said no more counting dollars, we’ll be counting stars
Yeah, we’ll be counting stars’

After a couple of Ed Sheeran songs (Nikita Manral’s deep meaning songs :P), late 70s Jazz (Yash’s favourites), Adele’s lovebites, Ylvis’s The Fox (special mention for the Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding! chorus by Shubham, Suraj) we shifted back to desi tunes (sung by all of us)!!

At Kulem, equipped with torches, walking on the tracks felt manageable, taking the cement rods and avoiding the pebbles. And then rains lashed us! It got cold, foggy and unpleasantly wet. Our feet were wet within first half hour of the trek! Luckily, rains stopped after that for some time giving us a breather. Walking in pairs of two, we followed the trail as it went through tunnels formed by trees. We switched off the torches for some time to soak in the darkness and let the dim moonlight guide us. Suddenly we saw flashes of green, orange and red here and there – fireflies!! It was beautiful. Shubham followed Nikita leg-by-leg; never missing a beat proving why he’s such an awesome dancer 😀

The tunnels we passed through were enormous, made of bauxite. Trains would sound horns as they neared and we would move sideways to make way. It was like old hindi movies. First, darkness
and just the sound of train coming and somewhere from the corner, a bright yellow light slowly advancing towards you… the sound getting louder and the light getting brighter.

Arpit guided the way with his Marauder’s map tattoo on his fist! Finally we were 4 Km away from the falls and saw the break of dawn. Things started getting brighter and sound of magnanimous falls echoed around. This acted as a motivation to move ahead and we kept walking ahead, managing our way through the tracks, not caring much for the pebbles in our way.

Each turning was a frame to capture
Each turning was a frame to capture

Break of dawn added life to our aching toes and made us feel like dancing our way to the falls.

Nature at its best!
Nature at its best!

As we passed the last tunnel before we reached Dudhsagar, we started brisk walking and then practically running towards the destination. It lured us with its sound. It was sheer love – not being able to see it but could feel it all over 😛

Crossing tunnels can be tricky when trains pass by
Crossing tunnels can be tricky when trains pass by

We had to wait at view point for some time for the fog to clear in order to see the gushing waterfall.  I could recollect William Henry quoting –

‘No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night’

And then finally we got to see it… My knees gave way and I bent down to honour the sheer force of nature. So pure. So white. So divine.

Love at first sight..
Love at first sight..

I almost felt like I’ve entered a movie and Bahubali is playing. THe sheer grandeur of Dudhsagar though, is more than graphical waterfall in Bahubali movie.

Waterfall ke saath selfie to banta hai!
Waterfall ke saath selfie to banta hai!

After spending half hour admiring the waterfall and watching monkeys raid our food bags, we then proceeded towards the jungle trail. We were extremely tired and wished if we could board a train. And voila, a goods train arrived having railings both sides for people to stand. The driver was kind enough to allow us to board the train and gave us a free ride till for about 10-15 minutes. The sheer fun of getting into a goods train was out of the world!

Aaj main Upar!! All aboard the train
Aaj main Upar!! All aboard the train

As we then proceeded towards the base of the waterfall following the jungle trail, we encountered a small rivulet joining the waterfall and jumped in! We played around, calming our overworked legs and throwing water on each other.

Into the woods... In a rivulet
Into the woods… In a rivulet

We then had tea, poha and theplas and began a three kilometre easy walk to Sonalium station which had come on our way earlier.We took in the last view of the waterfall and bid adieu!

The last view!
The last view!

On our way to Sonalium station, we stopped by at a place and clicked a lot of pics. Little did we know, we would have a leech attack there!

The one before the Leech Attack!
The one before the Leech Attack!

Sohini, was everyone’ s best friend after the leech attack. 😛 She treated everyone, running with salt grains and turmeric the moment she heard some shrills or loud screeches. Leeches were found on legs, hands, neck and even head! So be careful and avoid clicking pics in the jungle near Sonalium.

After an eventful photoshoot we waited at Sonalium station and caught the first train to Madgaon station from there. We reached Madgoan at 1 PM and checked the cloak rooms. They were extremely clean and had Goa street art by Mario de Miranda!! At 5 bucks a person (ya supercheap and decent!), we bathed there and finally sat awaiting our train at 4.45 PM. It felt like we sat after ages! So much relief just by removing wet shoes and feeling our numb toes! We got lunch from a nearby punjabi restaurant and had it at the station itself.

Graffiti on Walls
Graffiti on Walls

Finally we boarded our train and all went to sleep, got up to have dinner and again went to sleep :P. The trip was awesome and everyone had big smiles on their faces in spite of the pain in their toes!!

With our Precious!!!
With our Precious!!!

Photo Credits – Geet for awesome GoPro clicks, Jugal for pics clicked from his HTC phone.

Kalsubai Dobara!!

Its past July and I haven’t had a chance to go on a trek yet. Every weekend passes by with some commitment or other; finally a group discussion with friends on Thursday led me to Kalsubai peak on Saturday, 1st August 2015. This was my second trek to Kalsubai; I last visited in November 2014. This post is about my experience of trekking for the first time this monsoon season and a photo trail of the same. For details about Kalsubai trek wrt how to reach there, the map, things to carry etc, please click here.

We went through Mumbai Rangers. A batch of 10 enthusiasts hustled their way through their jobs and assembled Friday night at Dadar Station from where the bus was scheduled to depart. After casual hi hellos and getting to know each other, the journey to Igatpuri began…

Alright, some context here, 7 of us were Chartered Accountants, 5 working at same place (Ernst & Young Indirect Taxation)! Hence there were  a lot of common topics to talk on and we mixed pretty soon. Our trek leader Girish was the music director for the journey and played soft tracks throughout the way which lulled some into sleep and rest into singing them along!

Mumbai seems so beautiful when roads are clear; expressways, breeze, rains and fog – what else can we ask! After a halt at a dhaba, we reached Igatpuri around 3.30 AM and proceeded towards Bari village. It was dark but the light from the full moon reflected on the clouds and made them look beautiful. I was observing the slow pace with which clouds moved along and moon played hide and seek amongst them when some people started telling stories of bhoot pret to a worried soul. 😛 The stories spanned across India and ended at Bhangarh fort after constant pleading from the worried soul.  Its another story that the person whom we were frightening that night, in turn became a person to be feared from the next morning… 😉

After sleeping in the vehicle for a couple of hours, we had poha and tea prepared at the village and began our ascent. Our aim was to reach the top first  before bigger trekking groups (We were the first to reach the peak that day!).

Launching the next book cover of author Amish with Mihir ;-)
Launching the next book cover of author Amish with Mihir 😉

After 15 minutes of steep ascent, we reached the base temple of Kalsubai. Its for people who cannot climb the mountain for darshan. We became mowglis and tarzans on the banyan tree and unleashed the craziness within. We met Fluffy (yes, we named the dog like Hagrid would have done) here and he followed us all the way up!

Wherever you go, carry your own sunshine!!
Wherever you go, carry your own sunshine!!

The climate kept us enchanted with occasional rains, surprising sunshine here and there and constant winds; we couldnt see the peak from the base due to fog.

Greenery all around
Greenery all around

After around one and half hour of walking we reached halfway of the route. Its a big plateau like region with the backdrop of 7- 8 waterfalls!! Monsoons had turned the mountains into various shades of green as opposed to when I had visited last November. Here are some candid pics –

Aaj Main Upar!
Aaj Main Upar!
Charting the way ahead
Charting the way ahead

The way ahead was a bit difficult due to complete invisibility for sometime coz of the fog. However, as we climbed ladders which came in our way, we surpassed the layers of fog and the path kept rewarding us with natural beauty for each step we took ahead.

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We finally reached the last part of the trek, there was a small hut there and a well. Out came a guy wearing chef’s hat and apron! His presentation thrilled us. As much as we were enticed for stopping by to have tea and kanda bhaji, the peak beckoned us ahead.

The ten minute way up was totally foggy and we were disappointed that we wont be able to get any view from the top. We reached there, did darshan in the temple and waited for something to happen.  Some cloud to move and make way for the sun, or fog to go away for some time. Our prayers were heard and we caught a first glimpse of green as fog started rising up.

First view from the top
First view from the top of Maharashtra as fog clears!

As fog played the game of shadows, our warriors drew their swords out (Smartphones and DSLRs) to shoot at any possible visiblity! And began the longest photo-session of the trek…  People ran helter skelter towards backgrounds where fog was moving, jumping theri way into frames, photo bombing and shouting at their highest volume asking others to click pics 😛

Igatpuri Dam view
Igatpuri Dam view
Green mountains!
Green mountains and waterfalls!
Its amazing how the roaring wind soothes our mind and calms us down!
Its amazing how the roaring wind soothes our mind and calms us down!

The sound of temple bells echoed in eternity, miles across green lands and travelled longer distances with roaring winds!

Pray and you shall receive!
Pray and you shall receive!

 

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On our way back we halted at the hut and had kanda bhaji with tea; and tried our hands at drawing water from the well. Descent always takes a toll on toes and ankles. We could feel them getting numb.

Pausing to soak in the vastness
Pausing to soak in the vastness

That’s when the trek leader promised to take us to a waterfall if we reach down in time. The donkeys were shown the carrot and it acted as a great motivation – for we were the first to reach down to the base camp at 1 pm having sufficient time to explore around. We also got a chance to eat the carrot! 😛 Kalsubai waterfalls are very muddy but standing beneath the waterfall sends an amazing vibe of being alive right from the head to the toe! I would recommend getting drenched in the waterfall to everyone who does Kalsubai.

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As I stood beneath the waterfall, there came a moment when nothing mattered. There was no past, no future. Just the force of water drilling my head and calming my nerves. It was sheer bliss. I seemed empowered, my baggages washed away and a lighter me emerged in the present!

A video which best summarises what I felt –

Have You Felt Breathless?

We finally changed clothes in the village and headed on our way back in the bus. It was an amazing trek, friends made it all the more memorable!!

Now the aim is to trek regularly and share the experience with you guys!! This weekend we are headed to Dudhsagar Falls.

 

5 Things to do in Ooty

Ooty / Ootacamund, also called the queen of hill stations is a beautiful place in Tamil Nadu.  It is pleasantly cold round the year and windy!

Here are five things to check out in Ooty –

1.  View Game of Light and Shadows at Dodabetta Peak

Dodabetta Peak is the highest peak (2,623 m) in the Nilgiris, about 10 km from Ooty. It lies at the junction of the Western and Eastern Ghats and offers beautiful vistas of the Nilgiri Hill ranges. What’s more, you can observe clouds pass by in slow motion, casting their shadow over spans of greenery-flooded land. Dont believe me? Check out the image!

View from Dodabetta Peak
View from Dodabetta Peak

2. Spot thousands of colours blooming at Rose Garden

Government Rose Garden in Ooty is the largest rose garden in India, established in 1995! It is internationally recognised as one of top 35 rose gardens! It has hundreds of varieties of roses. There is a rose for every possible colour down here! (Black is not a colour, if you thought that :P)

Types of roses and what does it mean?
Types of roses and what does it mean?

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Layer one of Rose Gardern
Layer one of Rose Gardern

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3.  Spend time with your family boating at Ooty Lake

Ooty lake is right in the centre of the city spead over 65 acres. It isnt as clean as Pykara lake, but has more boating options. The food court at boat house is also good!

Entrance to Ooty Lake
Entrance to Ooty Lake

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4. Check various types of plants and trees at Botanical Gardens

Government Botanical garden in Ooty is one of the biggest ones I’ve seen in India. Spread over 22 hectares on lower slopes of Dodabetta peak, this garden was laid out in 1848! And has since then been maintained in a great way. The Gardens have around a thousand species, both exotic and indigenous, of plants, shrubs, ferns, trees, herbal and bonsai plants.

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Flowers at Botanical Garden
Flowers at Botanical Garden

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5. Visit the local market!

There’s no better place for learning about a new city other than the local market. The local markets at Ooty are quite different from the ones I’ve seen in Mumbai. For first, they don’t allow the customer to pick vegetables. You have to take what the vendor gives! So rotten fruits and vegetables thus are dealt with.. Else, there are few vendors who allow the customer to pick but at almost 30% more expensive rates!! There a lot of banana shops, which  sell raw bananas. Seeing them in such abundance made me go crazy!

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Go bananas!
Go bananas!

Reaching Ooty– Nearest airport is Coimbatore. Distance from Coimbatore to Ooty is 93 km (approx 2 hrs, 30 min)

Ooty is also well connected through roads and railways. It is 535 km from Chennai, 80 km from Coimbatore, 18 km from Conoor

Where Road Romances the Sky!

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Abound with joy, I take the open road

Stretched across acres of greenery

No distance seems far, the sky so near

I put out my hand and taste the milky clouds…

Tea estates in Ooty
Tea estates in Ooty

We are on our way to Coorg from Ooty – around 250 kilometres (five hours). The visual treat of shades of green is amazing. When you leave Ooty, you cross large tea estates and 100 – 150 feet nilgiri trees.

Niligiri trees

Halfway through the route, you cross Tamil Nadu and enter Karnataka through Bandipur National Reserve.

Peahen at Bandipur Reserve
Peahen at Bandipur Reserve
Crossing Bandipur National Reserve
Crossing Bandipur National Reserve – Notice the colour of the sky, even though its noon!

After completing the ghat, once hill roads are over, roads are adorned with various fields on both sides!

Stopping by some banana plantations
Stopping by local plantation

Karnataka roads are well built. Also, the sky never stops surprising . It always delivers. Each mode has a different view, a different sky altogether.

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It reiterates there are a thousand views for everything that happens and everything you do. Stop adding meanings.

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As I pass by acres of greenery, time has stopped and now it’s just me, the road and the sky. Coconut trees and banana plantations go by. How can there be so much abundance of nature in one place I wonder… The calmness and stillness of the moment makes me want it to linger more.

However, things must end to make way for new. Quoting Robert Frost,

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep…

 

Mounting the Insurmountable!

Life is an adventurous ride; it has its own ups, downs, bumps and ghettos. 😛 Still it is beautiful! Going solo on a trek was in my bucket list for 2014. After a brief search for the most picturesque Indian trekking destination, I enrolled with IndiaHikes for the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. (Yes, camping each day by the lake beneath starry skies. To know more click here)

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The purpose of the trek was dual – First, to start working towards being fit for adventures like these. Second, to break free from the virtual world of internet and be IN THE MOMENT… Away from all hustle bustle and free to find answers to my questions. This post is about the former.

I started practicing 60 days before the trek. The guidelines required us to be fit enough to run 4.5 km in 30 minutes. After two months of jogs, walks and cross training, I was able to achieve this target. To some this might seem insignificant, but it was a major barrier to be crossed for me.

All set for the trek, I caught the morning flight to Srinagar and met people with whom I was going to do the trek. I was in touch with Chery, one of the best photographers I’ve met till date. Chery and his friends were regular trekkers and this was their second trek together. We boarded the booked cars and our 4 hour journey towards the base camp (Sonamarg) started with a stop at local Kashmiri Restaurant for lunch. (That’s another awesome story I’ll share next time ;-))

Due to bad weather – rains and lightning, we had to stay at a local Kashmiri’s home for the night. That guy was friendly and rented two of his rooms to us. We soon gathered all our backpacks at one end, making place to accommodate 16 people (12 stayed in other room). We then huddled up to listen to Vivian, our trek leader. After completing all formalities of signing disclosures, taking the green pledge, and providing legal identity documentation, we waited in silence for Vivian to say something about the weather. Trek would start the next morning depending on the weather. If rains don’t stop till 4 AM, then chances of starting the trek were bleak. All of us were pretty much in a state of denial about the thought of returning back if the weather doesn’t clear up. But our hope kept us on.

After having quick dinner, we decided to go to sleep as there was nothing else to do. A brief decription of the room – it was small to accommodate 16 people and their luggage. There was a dim bulb in the center of the ceiling. We opened our sleeping bags so that all of us could lie down for a while. The wooden windows were closed to avoid the rain from coming in. The door was closed to make place for an additional person to sleep.So here I was, lying in a sleeping bag in the corner of a room with 14 strangers and a bulb which didn’t throw much light! The way we had fit in the room was worse than the way I had filled my backpack :P. I was awake, thinking about Mumbai, thinking of a possible plan B, what if this trek isn’t gonna happen, see, you should never try something you have never done before; you won’t be able to enjoy the journey as you like everything planned and trek is just the opposite! I shunned these thoughts and tried to sleep amidst the sound of rain showers banging the windows!

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The entire situation seemed quite funny the next day when rains stopped. Hardships faced became a binding force amongst us and a matter to laugh upon! Rains stopped at 3 AM and clouds had gone, sky was clear by 6AM and the trek was on!! Excited with the thought of having what we had planned, we boarded the cars to reach the base camp from where the trek would start. There we met the batch which had started the previous day and were stuck at base camp. So we became 52 from 28 – with two trek leaders and three assistant guides (one had to leave with 7 people who discontinued the trek)

Walking on the first day was more uphill. (Sonmarg to Nichnai via Shekdur) We passed green pastures and huge maple trees and silver birch trees for the first hour. Then the walk became narrower and more inclined – that coupled with the bright sun burning us out! (We didn’t mind it at all!) Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is the only trek in India where there is no major uphill climbing – For each ascent, there is an equivalent descent each day as the lakes are located at the base of the mountains.

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Three hours into the trek and we were greeted by this view – a fallen tree trunk on green meadows and magnificent snowy mountains all behind. From that moment till the end of the trek, each walk was amidst bountiful nature too beautiful to be true!! I was broken by then – stopping moment by moment to catch breath under the pretext of clicking pictures. And as time passed, I became the person to walk the last on the route…

There were so many doubts in my mind; I felt I will not be able to make it. I was too busy catching up to see nature around! Finally we reached the last human point of contact on the route – The Maggi Point. Everyone had already assembled and were having lunch. I just put my bag down and slept for 10 minutes – that’s the most rejenuvating sleep I ever had in my life! After getting up I realised I was so famished! I ate three rotis with packed sabji and got up with others to walk towards Nichnai. We were halfway through! That worried me more rather than making me happier – there was still halfway to go…

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Vivian asked me to walk faster and try and match others. I did that for another hour; but after that, my body seemed to oppose what my mind wanted to do. Those 60 days of exercise didn’t seem to be working at all. There was a huge internal fight going on, I wanted to just stop and camp then and there! Vivian had lost hope on me and I felt very lost. People had moved on and here I was trying to catch up behind – being hit by all repetitive thoughts – Trekking isn’t for me, I shouldn’t have tried this. What if Vivian asks me to leave the batch as I’m slowing down the group? That would be such a shame! A fellow trekker Ranjit stopped by with his friend Sampada to walk with me.

I didn’t know much about Ranjit. He was fit enough to be with the gang ahead. I asked him to carry on and I’ll manage my way. However, he was adamant and said trekking is about enjoying the moment, you don’t need to pace, you just need to enjoy the walk with friends! ‘I can reach first, but what’s the point if I don’t enjoy with my friend Sampada’… It doesn’t matter if we reach late by half hour! So we started walking again, at my pace but consistently without taking any breaks. Taking breaks and starting again impacts knees and leads to cramps. We stopped that cycle. Talking to Ranjit was fun; we got to know each other. Ranjit is a national mountain climber – he has won the international mountain climbing competition held in India! He explained, ‘If you are trekking for the first time, your pace wouldn’t be as good as others, and if you try and match them, your body won’t support you. That’s the reason why you’re getting so tired. Walk at consistent place and you’ll make it!’ He motivated me to continue and didn’t keep showing the carrot (lying about how far the campsite is – it’s just 10 minutes away)

Ranjit climbing a boulder

Ranjit climbing a boulder

Ranjit and Sampada’s company made me enjoy the journey. I was no longer eager to reach the campsite. Ranjit would passionately climb big boulders, challenge me to reach to a certain point as he would take another route. He was one person I LOOKED UP to that day. The moment I stopped pretending to be walking fast and accepted I am slow and I’ll go at my own pace, things changed. Whatever was stopping me ended up empowering me! Ranjit’s words filled me with optimism and hope for a future of enjoyment! I didn’t feel sorry any more for the fact that I was slow; for like others, I had come to enjoy nature’s best at my own pace.

Ranjit helped me build confidence and trust in myself. And it worked! He was sure I’ll make it. On second and third day; I walked at my own pace, enjoyed nature and clicked awesome pics. On day 4 of the trek, I reached the lunch point first! And I ensured everyone stopped by for others to join in – We played UNO during that time!!

Sometimes all you need in the moment is a person to Look Up to and guide you!

I want to specially thank Ranjit, Sampada, Chery, Siddharth, Abhineet, Punitha, Chandan, Kiran, Irfan, Tarun, Karthik, Amit, Aarti, Himanshu, Kruti, Rohit, Udit, Swati, Homi Sir, Farida, Abhinav, Ritwik, Bhatiji, Ramneet, Amit, Vipul for making 7 days of trekking memorable!!

PS – I got this idea to write this post from Housing.com’s LookUP logo!

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Source – Housing.com