Karjat-Bhimashankar Birding Trip (April 14-16, 2006)

Bhimashankar...the name evokes memories of the Jyotirlinga... one of the 12 sacred places of Shiva in India and lots of trees, forest and snakes. I have been to Bhimashankar in the rains and in the winter but due to the climatic conditions, I have never noticed or have not had the opportunity to notice the fauna....except the very rare appearance of the Malabar giant squirrel or "Shekru" as it is called.

This trip was done exclusively as a birding trip, the first halt being Karjat (Van Vihar) where we did a bit of birding on the 14th morning and then proceeded to Bhimashankar for the remaining two days of intense birding. Karjat is another place which is often neglected by the birders but this area has lots of promise and should be checked out in all the seasons. The birds that we came across in Karjat are enumerated in the list at the end of the blog. A total of nearly 100 birds out of which maximum sightings were in the Karjat area..Some of the pictures that I shot are also put up here....Check out this Robberfly....

Birds were calling from all the trees around us and Adesh was as usual identifying them from their calls... the only sore point was the huge loudspeakers that were put up on the top of the temple, which belted out incessant songs in the loudest voice which was not only irritating but also drowning out the bird songs, making them difficult to be heard and identified. The face of Bhimashankar has undergone tremendous change in the last so many years and the booming businesses and blatant commercialisation of the religious sentiments had wrought havoc with the flora and fauna. Now, with the declaration of the area as a sanctuary for the Malabar Giant Squirrel (Shekru) and the area cleared of most of the encroachments except the original residents, the birds and bees are on their comeback trails, which is quite surprising and heart-warming indeed.

We could hear the Shama, the Yellow Browed Bulbuls, the Puff Throated Babbler calling and singing their mating songs. The Oriental Turtle Dove was seen seeking grains and insects outside the tea stall right at the entrance of the sanctuary, the small and large green Barbets making a racket and calling continuously with the bass being provided by the Cicadas.....it was heaven on earth... literally speaking.

One of the most shy birds that I found very difficult to capture with my lenses was the Black Bulbul which, after a wait of nearly an hour, gave me enough glimpse of itself to make the most of my camera's abilities..Hope you liked it too…

Many lifers for me and the others in our group at Bhimashankar, but hardly any for Adesh who has much more experience and seen most of it.

The birding spree continued....and oh yes…I forgot to mention that the drive down from Karjat to Bhimashankar at night was quite eventful, with a sighting of Indian Nightjar but not captured on camera and also an owl which flew right from the middle of the road (not identified)...The Yellow Browed Bulbul gave us a good display and made us all say ‘WOW’!

Being the breeding season for the birds, we could spot quite many birds in their brilliant breeding colours and singing to attract their mates. Many of these had their nests already in place and were either incubating their eggs or busy with the catering services for their young. We could see quite many Pied Bushchat females with worms and insects in their beaks doing the hard job of bringing up their young ones...quite a cheerful sight indeed when we are in the process of destroying their habitat completely.

Some of the raptors that we saw on the way were the Honey Buzzards making their rounds in the sky, the Crested Serpent Eagles using the thermals to gain height and checking out their potential prey or resting themselves on the treetops. Quite many of them were in their moulting stages with many of their secondary feathers being absent or in tatters. One very surprising lifer for all of us and for the first time in Bhimashankar were the 4 Amur Falcons seen flying above our heads in neat formation. The formation was seen on the Ahupe route from Bhimashankar where we had gone birding for larks and bushchats.

We also went in search of the reptile and insect world and unearthed a mine of gold...We found quite many scorpions cooling off their heels and stings under the rocks. We also unearthed a shield-tailed snake and also quite a few of the Tarantula species of spiders under the rocks, lying in wait for their prey. Not to speak of the dragonflies and damselflies which were dancing around our heads and also the butterflies mud-puddling in and around the Gupt Bhimashankar area where there were puddles of water which attracted them like magnets. Also caught on camera was a potter wasp with its very vivid markings.

Birders in this group included Adesh Shivkar, Ravi Vaidyanathan, Parag Damle, Ritesh Bagul, Mayuresh Kadrekar and Animish Deshpande.

Birders in this group included Adesh Shivkar, Ravi Vaidyanathan, Parag Damle, Ritesh Bagul, Mayuresh Kadrekar and Animish Deshpande.

The list of all birds is given below:
1) Black bulbul
2) Yellow browed bulbul
3) White bellied blue flycatcher
4) Orange headed thrush
5) Grey hornbill
6) Crested serpent eagle
7) Grey wagtail in full breeding plumage
8) Malabar whistling thrush
9) Oriental honey buzzard
10) Puff throated babbler
11) Scimitar babbler (calls heard)
12) Blacked naped monarch
13) Brown cheeked fulvetta
14) Olive backed pipit
15) Blyth’s pipit along with its semi albino partner (yet to identify)
16) Oriental turtle dove
17) Nilgiri wood pigeon
18) Pied bush chat
19) Scarlet minivet
20) Golden fronted leaf bird
21) White cheeked barbet
22) Common Kestrel
23) Grey Nightjar (Call)
24) Crimson backed sunbird
25) Alpine swifts
26) Amur Falcon
27) Gray jungle Fowl (Calls)
28) Common woodshrike (calls)

Birds seen at Karjat and on the way to Bhimashankar

29) Black hooded oriole
30) Yellow throated sparrow
31) Spotted dove
32) Jungle babbler
33) Jungle Myna
34) Plum headed parakeet
35) Purple sunbird
36) Thick billed Flowerpecker
37) Rufous tailed lark
38) Tickell’s blue flycatcher
39) Fantail flycatcher
40) Rufous Tree pie
41) Wire tailed swallows
42) Indian Robin
43) Ashy crowned sparrow lark
44) Malabar crested lark
45) Sykes’s lark
46) Magpie robin
47) Amur falcon
48) Common kestrel
49) Shikra
50) Black shouldered kite
51) Common kite
52) Common Iora
53) Small green bee eater
54) Long tailed shrike
55) Black Drongo
56) Caspian tern
57) Montagu’s Harrier
58) Hoopoe
59) Large billed crow
60) House sparrow
61) Shama
62) Savannah Nightjar
63) Blue tailed bee eater
64) House crow
65) Blue rock pigeon
66) Little brown dove
67) Eurasian collard dove
68) Red vented bulbul
69) Red whiskered bulbul
70) Ashy prinia
71) Gray breasted prinia
72) Indian Night jar (calls)
73) Small minivet (calls)
74) Large gray babbler
75) Racket tailed Drongo
76) Intermediate Egret
77) Brahminy starling
78) Rosy starling
79) Common Myna
80) Crimson breasted barbet
81) Spotted owlet (calls)
82) Purple rumped sunbird
83) Red wattled Lapwing
84) Asian palm swift
85) Dusky crag martin
86) Red rumped swallows
87) Little cormorant
88) Indian cormorant
89) Pond heron
90) Cattle egret
91) Grater coucal
92) Asian koel
93) White browed bulbul (calls)
94) Oriental White eye

Animals and reptiles we came across:

1) Wild pigs,
2) Domesticated cows and buffaloes,
3) Hanuman Langurs,
4) Malabar giant squirrel.

We could not however spot the Bhekar (barking deer), Sambar, the civet cats, etc...The only relief was the Malabar giant squirrel that gave us great poses for taking pictures, which was quite rare indeed.

The Spectacular Thol Experience

A surprising and quite unexpected assignment to get some documents signed from our official client set me flying off to Ahmedabad on April 6th. Being a weekend, and my brother stationed in Gandhinagar, I extended my return to Mumbai till Sunday evening.

The Friday went off in a flurry of activity at the clients’ place and I returned home tired that evening, and with the mercury soaring at nearly 40 degree Celsius, it was a hard time keeping up one’s energies.

While chatting casually with my brother that night, he just remarked, ‘why don’t we go to Thol tomorrow for a visit’. The name Thol rang lots of bells in my head and an immediate SMS to Adesh followed. Promptly came the reply, if the migrants have not gone, it’s worth a visit and checkout…….and we planned the trip that night.

 


My brother, though used to trekking, is not a birder and has not been to these birding trips. He called up one of his colleagues who agreed to accompany us and show us the way to Thol. Early morning at 5.00 a.m. all of us were up, myself, my brother, his wife and two kiddos with a basket of eatables to his friend’s place. We picked him up and whizzed past to Thol, landing there as early as 7.30 am. Wouldn’t say it was early, but pretty good time made.

The entry to Thol was itself spectacular with both sides of the road filled with water and lots of ducks and waders vying for attention. The huge flock of Comb duck welcomed us with a flypast, not once but thrice by going around and giving us an encore.

The dirt road goes right along the lake bank and is a wonderful birding route. The road itself was scattered with grey francolin, which would run for cover as the vehicle approached; and yes, the ring dove would be screaming their presence from every alternate tree.

 


The common and purple moorhen were posing for photographs, but the more shy Gargneys and coots would swim off fast when approached.

The lapwings had their areas demarcated, the fields near the water bodies and would scream “did u do it” when flushed out. The fields revealed yet another treasure trove with two adult Sarus cranes with a juvenile, foraging for grains and worms near the water.

The flock of peafowls which were sunning themselves or foraging for grains and worms would run away and hide in the underbrush……so would the shrikes, bulbuls and doves. The drongos and shikra. however, were bold enough to stare at you from quite close quarters and wonder what I was doing with that long black thing pointed at them and making the sound ‘click, click, click’ when the shutters fell continuously on a rapid-fire mode. A flypast of glossy Ibis and painted storks was also quite a view.

The return was more spectacular with some lovely show by the Purple Sunbird, some close quarter views of the juvenile Black Headed Ibis, the Hoopoe, the Black Redstart and yes the Purple Heron, the Grey Heron and the Glossy Ibis, the Jungle Babbler, Baya, etc….

The couple of hours yielded a treasure trove of birds and first sightings and another visit in December/January is already on the calendars. The trip was an eye opening experience indeed.







Notable sightings and lifers (birds seen and identified for the first time are called lifers) for me were:
1. Common Moorhen (L)
2. Purple Moorhen
3. Gargney (L)
4. Common Coots, pair
5. Comb Duck (L)
6. Black Headed Ibis
7. Sarus Crane (L)
8. Glossy Ibis
9. Black Headed Ibis
10. Purple Heron (L)
11. Grey Heron
12. Cattle Egret
13. White Breasted Kingfisher
14. Ring Dove
15. Long Tailed Shrikes
16. Grey Francolin (L)
17. Indian Peafowl
18. Rose Ringed Parakeet
19. Black Drongo
20. Shikra Male
21. Spotted Eagle (L)
22. Tawny Eagle (L)
23. Common Kingfisher
24. Pond Heron
25. Grebe
26. Common Babbler
27. Jungle Babbler
28. Brahminy Starling
29. Large Billed Crow
30. Ashy Prinia
and the list goes on.........

A Memorable Day Indeed!

Like the previous years, this year too we decided to start from Van Vihar, Karjat for our HSBC Bird Race 2009.

After weeks of bickering and talking to various vehicle owners for renting our vehicles for the bird race and failing in most cases or the costs being too prohibitive, two of our friends, Mohandas and Sanjeev decided to bring in their own vehicles for the bird race. So the two teams, the House Buntings led by Tushar Nidambur and our team the Black Ibis pooled in our resources and decide to hunt around for the species of birds found in our region

We had planned to leave at around 7.30 p.m. from Mulund as most participants stayed in and around Mulund except for a few who were to come from Dombivli. Finally, we all assembled at the corner of Airoli Mulund crossover, arranged ourselves into the Qualis and Honda and proceeded to Karjat at around 8.30 p.m., stopping by at the McDonalds in Navi Mumbai to pacify our growling stomachs and parched throats.The ride was uneventful and the destination was reached at around 10.45 p.m., a bit late than usual due to the bad road conditions and also some very careful driving and negotiating the traffic on the roads.

A scrumptious, finger-licking dinner of rice Bhakri with Dal, cauliflower Bhaji and Bainga Bharit, followed by some rice and Dal vanished into us in no time. Shivaji of Van Vihar did not disappoint us this time too on the food front!!With stomachs full and intent on getting up early next day, beds were soon occupied and dreams unfolded. Before the dreams could reach their end, we were jolted awake by the insistent ringing of the alarms that were set at 5.30 a.m. After the daily morning chores, the ‘gang’ got ready to ‘hunt’ down the birds which were beginning to stir with the first rays of the Sunday sun.

A quick walk down the riverside gave us the first view of the bird that we all wanted to see and had come all the way here to spot – the Brown Fish Owl. This bird has been nesting in this area for many years and it gave us a good dekko by flying off its perch and sitting on a tall tree. The bad morning light made it impossible to take a good photograph of the bird, though we all had a good look at it through our binocs and zoom lenses. With the light coming up, the bird count kept going up and up and up with some very interesting sightings, the most interesting being the Niligiri Wood Pigeon which was quite a find. A couple of photographs of this bird (though very far off on a tall tree) have been captured and are being scrutinized. This bird has not been sighted in this region for the last 10 years and hence was not included in the Log Book, but then these surprises make your day. We got almost around 50-plus species in a couple of hours of birding including a Falcon, which gave us a few minutes of really good open photography options and then flying away.

We returned to our dormitory by around 9.30 a.m., looking forward to a heavy breakfast of some delicious Poha and hot tea. After breakfast a few of them went for a small siesta and most of us, bored of sitting in, went for another round of birding, wishing to spot some more species for our tally. This turned out to be one of the most amazing decisions. We not only encountered a mixed hunting party of puff-throated Babblers, the common Iora, a Verditer and Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher but also got some amazing close up shots of the white rumped Shama, which lent its songs for the hunt.

 

It was nearly past 11 a.m. when we decided to move ahead and the calls of the short toed Snake Eagle was quite distinctly heard from a distance, announcing that the activity of the raptors had started. By this time we were already joined by a larger group led by Abhijit Avalaskar and we all moved out of Karjat together, heading for the Gandhari Creek in Kalyan. On the route back, quite a few raptors, viz, Kestrels, White Eyed Buzzards, STSE’s were spotted and added to our tally. The flypast of a Montagu’s Harried had us all clicking away and admiring its beauty. The Kalyan creek turned out to be quite good with a dozen more additions to the tally including some waders, ducks and a flock of Red Avadavats bidding us goodbye. Nilje turned out to be disappointing, with very few species being spotted, which was quite unusual.

 

Mahim Nature Park added the usual Koel and Rosy Starlings to our tally, taking it upto 104, which was quite a tally, which we realized once the numbers started rolling in from the other groups.

Our Groups

Group Black Ibis: Ravi Vaidyanathan, Sagar Patil, Vaibhav Ranadive, Atul Kolhe, Sharvani Khare and Sanjeev Jain (our trekker, birder and driver for the current birding round)

Group House Bunting: Tushar Nidambur, Mohandas, Neeraj Chawla, Rahul, Vishal Jain (with Mohandas driving his Qualis and birding at the same time)

Thus ended a very exhausted and hot evening at the Mahim Nature Park, where we all bumped into our other birder friends, exchanged pleasantries over a hot cup of coffee and some veggie and non-veggie snacks. Most of us, being too tired, decided to leave a bit early, most of us reaching home by around 10 p.m. and calling it a day – a memorable day indeed!!

Last, but not the least, thanks a ton to Sunjoy Monga and his team for putting this together and doing it for the fifth consecutive year....with a dream that this would continue to grow leaps and bounds in the coming years with more participants and a much more awareness spreading among the public about the environment and its conservation…


Reminiscences of Joyful Adventures

Our Sahyankan-97 circular describes the route as “The route encompasses the  Koyna-Warna Basin, starting at Koyna Nagar and ending at Kundi, a village around 16 kms from Devrukh in the Konkan. The entire region is covered with dense and yet unexplored forests and boasts of a variety of animal and bird life. Animals like the Bison, Sambar, Bhekar (barking deer) and some other species of the deer family, wild pigs, jungle fowl, rabbits and especially the bear inhibit these forests. We often encounter herds of Bison taking flight as we approach them. The important predators include the leopard, tiger, panther, etc. It also has its share of the flora and fauna as well as the creepy crawlies including snakes, chameleons, scorpions, etc. The route includes Jungli Jaigad, Helwak’s Ramghal, Bhairavgad, Prachitgad and Mahimatgad. Most of these areas have been declared as Protected Areas/Sanctuaries under the Wildlife Conservation Act and need special permission to visit.”

We started off on a very sorry note. The S.T. bus which was supposed to leave Parel at 9.00 p.m. arrived at 11.15 p.m. and left only at 11.30 p.m. It was telling on all the participants who would lounge on the seats for a while, get up and go out for a walk, come back to see if the bus has arrived and again sit down bored and still waiting. It was a scene akin to the scene encountered outside a maternity ward with expectant faces peeping out for the elusive visitor (in this case, the bus) which would take them to their destination. I had heard a bit about Rajshri from another trekker of ours who is a reporter in one of the Marathi dailies, but I was a bit surprised to meet a different sort of person there, all bubbly and enthusiastic and jumping into something which she was not sure she could complete or finish and eager to take in new experiences and learn from them. She had joined in solely for the purpose of gaining an insight into what trekking actually was and report on the varied activities which comprise the art of trekking. Some participants had their parents accompanying them and others had their brothers/husbands tagging along. As the leader of the group, I had the job of ensuring that all the participants had arrived and that acted as the introductory phase of our relationship that would last for the next five days.

At last, the bus arrived. We all trooped in, with 4 of the total 24 who alighted helping haul up the rucksacks on the top of the ST and tying them down so that we do not lose them. Everyone settled down for a bumpy ride upto Koyna Nagar. The group was a cosmopolitan one, cosmopolitan in the sense of a mixed crowd of Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, South Indians, et al. And also cosmopolitan in the other sense that some had long trekking experience while the others were novices and had joined in for the first time (to relish or to hate trekking forever).

The other members, eight of them were to join us directly at Koyna Nagar from Nashik and three from Dapoli. Thus, a full team of 35+2 were to trek in Group 4 which I was leading. As a co-leader, Ajay, who had been assisting Mahesh Bhalerao at Koyna Nagar for the past 3 days, was to join in and give a helping hand. The group had a sprinkle of all age groups with the eldest member being above 50 years of age and the youngest only 9 years old.

The starting point, as already mentioned, was Koyna Nagar which is a settlement near the Koyna catchment area. We reached Koyna Nagar at 9.00 a.m. instead of the scheduled 6.00 a.m. and lost out on three hours of early morning trekking, when it is most pleasant, with cool breeze blowing and trekkers able to trek long distances without tiring. In the bargain, we had an exquisite view of the Kumbharli Ghat which was full of greenery and partially covered in the early morning mist as we ascended towards Koyna Nagar. It is a breathtaking sight and not worth missing. It kindles the spirit of the wild in you every time you see it and you never get tired of it. It made us forget our late start and filled everyone with enthusiasm to get out and get lost in the wilderness. MB and Ajay (Mahesh Bhalerao and Ajay Joshi) were impatiently waiting at the ST stand. We were greeted to the usual cheer of “Welcome to Koyna Nagar” and “Mujhe laga tum log nahi aayenge, main to abhi hope hi chhod diya tha. Devrukh se yeh pata chala ki Bambai se koi ST nahi aa rahi hai” by MB. The others had already arrived, the participants from Nashik landing there at 3.30 a.m. and the Dapoli trekkers sometime later around 5.30 a.m.
After dumping our sacks in the hotel and freshening up, we had a breakfast of small plate of Poha which was provided to the hungry participants with comments such as “Oont ki muh me jira” from my brother and “Oont ki muh me ek jira” from someone else; we had not eaten the previous night and had survived on tea and khajur which I had bought from outside the ST Stand at Parel to ease our boredom and our growling stomachs. Some were lucky they had packed some food for the night travel and ate it with relish, much to the discomfort of others. Of course, a bit of it got passed around too!

The usual pleasantries followed with MB and AJ introducing themselves after we had had our (breakfast!!) and tea and assembled outside the hotel. Medical certificates were produced and collected and badges and caps distributed. We then jumped onto the van which took us to the point just ahead of Dicholi from where we began our actual trek to Jungli Jaigad (JJ).

The trekking path branches off halfway from the road and climbs up the range. The route winds up the densely forested hill and we reached the Col after about two hours of climbing, which separates Jungli Jaigad from the main range. Jungli Jaigad juts out into the Konkan, giving an excellent view of the Koyna valley below and acts as a strategic checkpost in that region. The only visible constructions on the hill are a small temple, a water tank and a Deep Stambh that still stands majestically. There are no other approaches to this fort, the other three sides being vertical rock faces. It takes around 45 minutes to explore the fort and enjoy the view from the different faces of the fort. The Koyna electricity generation unit is said to be situated directly below Jungli Jaigad around 250 feet below the ground where the waters of the Koyna are directed over the turbines that supply about a quarter of Maharashtra’s electricity needs. By the time we climbed JJ, I had a rough idea about the abilities and stamina of our group and knew about its shortcomings too which, as a leader, I had to stem and balance with its strengths. Kamlakar, who is an expert snake catcher caught a Green Tree Snake, also called as “Harantol”, and we had a good time photographing it, but kept our distance as it was semi-poisonous. He carried it all the way as if he was holding a cat in his hands. Drinking thirstily from our water bottles, munching our Glucose biscuits and sucking the peppermints handed over to all, we rested a while at the top before we started climbing down. The downhill part was easier and the strain lesser. The van was waiting to pick us up.

A little tired and triumphant that we had begun the trek well, we stopped at the garden near the dam, had a beautiful view of the dam and then reached Koyna Nagar for lunch. Being a small hotel, we had to eat in two groups, with the first group leaving ahead for Helwak and the other group following (with sacks it was difficult to accommodate all the 37 inside the van). Helwak is the base village of Ramghal, a cave in which Sant Ramdas is supposed to have stayed and meditated. Ramghal is a large cave excavated on the rock face, facing a deep thickly forested valley. The only approach is a trekker’s path winding up one of the sides up to the cave. Dada Naphade was waiting for us at Dhangarwada with peppermints and a welcome smile. Dhangarwada is the nearest settlement about an hour-and-a-half climb from Helwak. The climb upto Helwak showed up the groupings which normally occur in large groups and the weaker links. It also gave the first hint of what was in store in the days to come. Some like Rajshri, Kranti Janjale and Poonam Kulkarni, having no previous trekking experience, lagged behind and halted every few minutes to catch their breath, while others like Kamlakar Bhoir and Deepak Bapat were full of gusto. The cave is concave, hugging the face of the hill and has an average area of around 3000-4000 sq. ft. It can accommodate more than 40 people at a time. A waterfall overshoots the cave from above, giving a superb view. We reached Ramghal for the night halt, the camp leaders giving us a welcome with hot tea and biscuits and the promise of a good dinner teasing our noses with the fragrant breeze wafting across the side of the cave earmarked as the kitchen site. Dinner was served and we all assembled for a quick introductory session and a camp fire. The tiredness of the day was forgotten with Antakshari and dancing which went on till late at night. The only memory that drove them to bed was the day ahead and the walk upto Bhairavgad.

Getting up in the morning and finishing our daily chores, we had breakfast of Shira and hot piping tea and proceeded towards Bhairavgad. The pack lunch was Bhakri and Bhaji to be eaten on the way. The road to Bhairavgad, our next stop, winds up the opposite side of Ramghal to climb the top of the hill, just above Ramghal. It then winds through dense forests where sunlight seldom falls on the ground below.

We also come across the abandoned village Juna Waghena which was completely destroyed in the Koyna quake many years ago. There are numerous streams on the way and the group had a whale of a time bathing in one of the larger streams where we stopped for eating out pack lunch after about three hours of walking. We had to reach Bhairavgad at around 3.30 p.m. (the camp leaders need their rest too, and rightly deserved it!) and we had lots of time at our disposal. We would, under one pretext or another, stop on the way to catch our breath. This had a soothing effect on those who were not used to strenuous trekking but bored the hardcore ones. But I had to control the group and strict instructions not to proceed too much forward were well heeded. A placard declaring that a further walk of 45 minutes would take us to Bhairavgad (a great feat for those tired legs!) greets one and all, the smaller print on the placard declaring ‘by the pace of an ant’ is not easily noticeable and people wonder whether they have to take a break or not.
A further five paces away, the jungle abruptly opens into the clearing near the Bhairoba temple. The view is superb and very unexpected for those expecting a further 45-minute walk. The temple is large and can accommodate around 50 people easily. There is an open clearing outside the temple for camp fires and other allied activities. The clearing is coloured brown with dried grass and offers a contrast to the greenery around. Being surrounded by thick jungles, it is said that we can spot groups of Gava (Bison/wild buffalo) basking in the sun. The camp leaders received us with gusto and remarked that we were the first group out of the first four which had given them time to rest, the previous groups reaching Bhairavgad between 12.30 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. giving them no time to rest. After the usual introductions and instructions, we all sat down to have hot tea, a welcome break after tiring walks.

The second day had its victims too, with Rajshri complaining of severe pains in both her knees and Rupal Dave lagging behind and needing a lot of coaxing and cajoling. Poonam and Kranti, thank goodness, had their husbands, Sachin and Dinesh, to prod and coax them along and they would reach the camps tired and worn out and at the end of the group. They also had a good helping of Electral and Energal to give them enough energy to pull along. I can understand how they would be feeling as I have gone through the phase myself in my early trekking days.

The route to Bhairavgad fort winds its way from near the temple, and with a little climb, we reached the fort. It takes around an hour to go around and admire the view. Bhairavgad too, like Jungli Jaigad, juts out of the main range and offers an excellent view around. The tank at Bhairavgad contained cool crystal clear water and everyone satiated their thirst. On the way is a natural rock formation which looks very much like a stone throne carved out of the rock. After a little look around, and the sun fast setting, we sat down to have Sukha Bhel, an item well appreciated, and after filling our bottles and cans for the night we proceeded back to the temple for our night halt. Water being scarce, we had dinner on Patravali. Camp fire followed with guys and girls responding with jokes and one-liners and reminiscent old but still popular songs. The gusto with which camp fire was held at Ramghal was missing, indicating the tiredness of the participants and the desire for a much-needed rest.

After eating a breakfast of Poha and sipping hot tea, we once again tread the dense forest paths, carrying our pack lunch of Bhakri and Pithla, to reach Patharpunj, a village which connects us to Prachitgad. We cross through the most dense forests with rivers/streams flowing down. One of the rivers on the way helped us freshen up and we all had a whale of a time immersing ourselves, again and again, into the chilly crystal clear water flowing by, thus relieving us of the tiredness and the sweat accumulated due to long continuous walking. Note that I have not mentioned ‘sweat and grime’ – there’s no grime as the pollution is minimal. The pack lunch, after the bath, is just the thing that refreshes you and gives you energy to proceed with the trek ahead. But eating the already stiffening cold Bhakri with the cold Pithla truly needs a good deal of exercise for the jaws and the will power of the participant. Just before we enter the “Sada”, there is a small turning to the left which leads us to a huge cave in the valley. It is believed that this cave leads all the way under the Sada, to Prachitgad, a distance of about 3-4 kms. A portion of the ceiling has collapsed and the rocks are green with moss and algae. We dare not enter the tunnel for fear of snakes, scorpions and wild animals. Stepping out into the open, we sight the awesome stretch of black volcanic rocks wherever our sight travels and ringed by thick green forests, aptly named “Sada”. It is just the surprise, both in terms of colour and background to make everyone gasp with astonishment and awe. Paths are visible through this maze that lead into different directions and villages at the base, viz., Rundhiv, Chandel, etc.

We cut across this rock strewn plateau and continue ahead. The group which proceeded ahead is seen far ahead as specks of colour in the dark background and I and Ajay, along with Rupal and Rajshree tagging behind, follow. After walking through the Sada for about an hour-and-half, we enter the path visible in the dense surrounding forest to make our way towards Prachitgad. Prachitgad too, as the previous two, is isolated from the main range and appears suddenly as we reach the periphery of the main range. Most of the fort walls are intact and imposing. We are greeted by a banner welcoming us to Prachit, hung on the fort walls by Lamba and his gang. Prachit is totally cut off and is approachable only through a Col edging across the rock face and climbing up an iron ladder giving access to the fort. Cool clear water is available throughout the year in a series of interconnected tanks cut into the rocks of the fort. These water tanks are not visible until you go near them, being well protected and hidden by the overhanging trees and Karvi above.

Jutting out of the main range gives it an advantage of easy visibility of the plateau around. It was also strategically important, looking over the Konkan. We receive a warm welcome from Visu, Parag Oak, Lamba and Gora Patil who had come up to the water hole at the Sada. This place is called the “Haad” as we find skeletal remains of a bison killed long back by the villagers. We catch up with the rest, the path being narrow and full of scree, the participants ahead have slowed down and the pace is snail-like. Poonam has to be literally forced to go down the slope and it took the supreme effort and an hour for Parag and Visu to get her across to Prachit. She was greeted with “Hip Hip Hurrah” and piping hot tea. We help ourselves to hot tea and toast, and as usual, Kunal Patil, nicknamed ‘Howrya’, sits down near the heap of toast to make a meal of it. The sunset is beautiful and the participants who were lazing around, run to their sacks to remove their cameras to capture the sight.

As soon as the sun sets, the temperature around goes down quite a few degrees and out comes all the Kaan Topis, monkey caps, gloves and jackets. Supreme efforts have gone into the setting up of the camp at Prachit, thanks to the camp members, who have put in days of hard labour cutting the Karvi and flattening the place out so that tents can be pitched. Having received no help from the village Nairi below, they had to transport the luggage themselves, all 430 kgs of it, in two days, upto to Prachitgad, which is a 6-hour climb from Nairi. Hats off to them for all their efforts. These incidences, albeit not publicized, reveal the back breaking toil that Chakram puts into every Sahyankan to make it a success. It just takes the participants to comment on the ‘shortcomings’, but none appreciate the efforts that go into the programme.

The dinner at Prachit, as very characteristic of any camp headed by Lamba, starts with a sweet corn soup and continues with Jeera fried rice, Dal fry, Loncha, Lasoon Chutney and Papad; the thought of it still makes my mouth water! The fervour with which camp fire used to be held in the previous camps has gone down further and I could observe only a few of them grouping around and singing old songs. The usual gang was myself, Amita, Shruti, Venu and the two Virs - Kalpana and Madhuri. I also had the additional responsibility of handing over medicines to the needy and remove the sprain from Rupal leg and put a pressure bandage on. Rajshri complained of severe pains in the knees and a little knowledge of accupressure and stress relieving exercises helped her a lot. A private orchestra was going on in the girls’ tent with old melodious songs reaching our ears in the tent nearby and a joke session in the men’s tent interspersed with laughs and guffaws pierced the silence of the night. The night was clear and we could see stars that are usually not visible from a city like Mumbai due to the background lights interfering with the starlight. We can see the strip of stars, called the Milky Way, flowing across the sky.
Getting up early in the morning, we had a longer distance to cover that day; and finishing off a breakfast of Upma and Loncha, we set off for a short sightseeing trip of Prachitgad interspersed with comments and commentaries about the various views around by Lamba, after which we were handed over a pack lunch of Theplas, artfully packed to look like Hot Dogs, and bottles of jam and packs of loncha and shown off. Proceeding from Prachit, we take a short route (around 9 hours) skipping Rundhiv (now abandoned and relocated) to reach Chandel which too is in the process of being relocated. There is a good road all the way from Rundhiv to Chandel, built for the purpose of relocating the villages, these areas being declared as Abhayaranya or reserved forests for wild bison.

On the way, after about 4 hours walk, we come across Kalavati Ranichi Vihir, a pond carved out into the rock and filled with crystal clear and very cool water. Filling our water bags, we proceed ahead. We reach Ram Nadi, a further hour away, where we stopped to have our lunch and also refresh ourselves by taking a bath/wash. A further one hour walk down reaches us to Chandel. Taking a breather, we proceed to Kundi, the village at the base of the Sahyadri range, the route of which is completely downhill and takes approximately 2- 2½ hours to traverse. The sun beats on us mercilessly and thirst parches our throats. As is usual with large groups, it splits up into sub-groups with some proceeding ahead and others remaining at the fag end, usually accompanied by me and Ajay to push them along. We reached Kundi around 6.00 p.m. and dropped our sacks from our aching backs and stretched our tired legs. The hot tea was very welcome and some even proceeded to the river, around 15 minutes from the village, to take a dip. The dinner is even better received and relished. The camp being located in a school, we proceed to spread our carry mats on the verandah outside and make ourselves comfortable. The electricity playing truant that day, water was scarce and we had to fill up the water bottles from the nearby well. The depth of the well water being around 70 feet, it took much effort to pull the filled-up plastic Postman can attached to the rope. After dinner, as usual we assemble for camp fire and a fire is lighted in the ground opposite the school and we gather around to tell jokes, sing songs and recount our experiences.

The next day dawns and we are ready to conquer Mahimatgad. The route to Mahimatgad is tricky and winds its way along a circuitous route to reach the top of the hill to the fort after a 1½-2 hour climb. It looks over the entire Konkan and gives a panoramic view of the entire region. Remnants of the fort darwaza, fortifications, a few cannons, flagpoles and temples remain on the top. It takes around an hour to look around and appreciate it. The water tank at the right of the fort entrance is the only water source and the water is lapped up by the thirsty crowd. Two of the Machis are unapproachable due to growth of Karvi which has not been cleared. The path, especially up to the flag pole, is very steep and full of scree and getting down is a real adventure in itself. After a look around, we proceed on our way back; we had a deadline of reaching base before 12.30 p.m. and had to hurry back. Returning back, we are welcomed by the delicious aroma of Chapatis and Kheer. We sit down eagerly to finish our lunch and wrap up our things; the trek was coming to a close.

Mr Toro, who was in charge of the Devrukh ST bus stand, was the chief guest accompanied by Krishnabhau Naphade - Lamba’s cousin. Speeches were made and the participants were given a copy of the Souvenir and the certificate for successful completion of the trek. The participants were cheered by applauses and ‘Hip Hip Hurrahs’ and Ninad Kewle got the most. He was just 10 years old, trekked the whole distance without a murmur and, on the top of it, he had blisters in his toes which burst in the middle of the trek causing excruciating pain and making it difficult to walk. He made it through sheer will power and Band Aid helped lessen his pain.

Totally exhaused at the end of the days, he would quietly have his dinner and go to sleep while the others would be complaining and cursing their painful bodies. He was a source of inspiration to all and sundry. The others who were applauded the most were Poonam and Kranti who had finished their first treks and were enriched by a new experience which they had never had before. Their confidence and morale had gone up considerably and, if given a chance, I am sure would participate in the treks to come with more gusto. Will also remember Rajshri Mehta, who in spite of her weight, had the sheer guts and will power to pull herself through the five days of the trek. Hope to see some of the experiences she gained in these days to appear in black and white. The Dapoli gang of Dr Kale, Dr Sardeshpande and Dr Gaikwad would be remembered for their unique behaviour of stopping in the middle of the trek, collecting dry twigs and making their own tea on the roadside, even though they were not supposed to do so. This made them lag behind and reach every camp late, thus missing the hot tea offered. The other person, I bet, who would be remembered by all is Kunal Patil who exercised his tongue more than his feet and being a kid would be chided and warned by everyone not to put his foot in his mouth and get scolded. He would never heed the advice, and he nearly got a sound beating from his elder colleagues at least a couple of times due to his comments but escaped due to others’ intervention. Chetan Dabhade, the youngest in the group, was the quietest and the quickest of us all. He would always be in the forefront, flitting over rocks like a lamb and was one of the first to reach our destinations each day. He would carry his rucksack and not a single complaint was heard from him in all these five days.

The feedback forms which were distributed the earlier day were filled up and collected. We had just enough time to group ourselves for some group photographs and rush to the bus waiting to take us to Devrukh. Killing our time in Devrukh by going around the town, exchanging addresses and after having dinner, we climb up the steps of the ST bus to take us back to Mumbai.

Thus ended one of the most memorable treks, a trek which I would remember for what all it taught me and what I had to learn from others as well as mother Nature. It was also a lesson in leadership – what a leader should do and should not do. 

 

Ravi Vaidyanathan

Ravi is a hardcore nature enthusiast with varied interests in outdoor activities, viz. Trekking, Ornithology, study and identification of flora and fauna of India,Nature and Wildlife Photography, writing blogs and articles for newspapers, co-coordinator for the India Bird Races, moderator for a few biodiversity portals, etc

 



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