Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Matheran - the red hill station

Other weekend getaways

Other forts and trekking destinations

24th March 2012

Pioneers of the Matheran Railway - Photo courtesy Anand
Toy train of Matheran
          It feels good when a plan falls into place. This time it did, well, almost!!
          Our hotel was booked in advance, our toy train tickets were booked in advance, everyone gave their contributions on time (after endless reminders though!!), no last minute cancellations (infact there were additions, Ashfaque and Sauvagya) - unbelievable!! And to top it all, Randhir was joining us with his continuous blast of 'AAI CHAAVLI'.

          I had once heard an audio of Osho (Am sure most of you would have too!!) where he gloriously demonstrates the usage of the word 'F*CK', usage as a noun, as an adjective, as a verb, as everything!! Our friend Randhir uses the word 'AAI CHAAVLI' with the same enthusiasm. If you say anything to him, 'AAI CHAAVLI', if he's angry, 'AAI CHAAVLI', if he's sad, 'AAI CHAAVLI', if he's happy, 'AAI CHAAVLI' - 'AAI CHAAVLI' 'AAI CHAAVLI' 'AAI CHAAVLI'

          Our equation was simple, the 6:45 a.m. Karjat train from CST reaching Thane at 7:30 a.m. missed = toy train missed at Neral = dissapointment (as some of the guys were going to experience the slow speed jhugjhug gaadi for the first time). No one missed it though and we reached Neral on time. But there was a small problem...
AAI CHAAVLI kya hua...Kya problem...batao kya problem tha...nahi tumhe batana hi padega...

Kya driver daaru samajhke saari diesel pee gaya?
Kya toy train 12 dabbo ke jagah 9 dabbon ki chalayi jaane waali hai?
Kya Mamata Bannerjee ke white sari aur jordaar cheekhon se train bigad gayi - AAMI SHOTTI BOLCHI!!

          Go low on the melodrama you jerk, it was only that bhagya ne hammare saath khilvad kiya aur Sauvagya ko Durbhagya se next train ka hi tickets mil paaya. So we tried convincing the TC (Ticket collector) to allow him to come in the 9:20 train with all of us, but the righteous TC showed us the finger of law and order. Dissapointed, Andy and Sauvagya decided to take the taxi, but the Lord worked in a mysterious way and a guy came asking if we needed an extra ticket as his friend wasn't coming and we grabbed it like hungry lions and for those 3 hrs in the toy train, Andy travelled as Abhijit Raikar.

          Black clouds of smoke arose, the horn blew and our journey commenced in the cute little toy train. The train took a little longer than usual to reach the destination. The scenery was good but a little dissapointing to see the brown dryness engulfing the greenery as the train rose up and above to the hills of Matheran. I thought everybody would enjoy the ride like I always do, but i guess for Mumbaites like us who eat, sleep and breathe trains; except for the scenery it was just another train ride; maybe the continuous smell of diesel got on their nerves. 2 of the very enthusiastic guys even went off to sleep!! I enjoyed every bit of it though.

Toy train - Huffing and puffing to glory

Ganpati Bappa Mourya

          While we yelled at the top of our lungs when the train entered the lone tunnel, while we stood at the door and hung outside everytime the tracks and the train turned to get a better glimpse, while we cluttered to see a Ganesh Mandir on the edges of a secluded mountain (Kadyavarcha Ganpati - Nageshs' claim), while we strained our necks outside the tiny windows to capture the moments forever in photographs; the coochie cooing between Mahesh and Randhir never stopped - AAI CHAAVLI, ye kya hai?? Hum bane, tum bane ek duje ke liye?? Sheeeeeee!!

          There is a tall rock on which a beautiful Lord Ganesh is painted. Keep your eyes open for it, you will see it on the right side of the scenery. Juma Patti station came and we had malai kulfis. Water Pipe station came and we had nothing. Randhir complained of somebody pinching him all the time...AAI CHAAVLI knows who it was. The valleys got deeper and the mountains rose to greater heights as we neared Matheran.

          Landing at the station, we marched to our destination for the day and night, Hotel Sayeban, in the middle of the market, just behind the Masjid. We had 2 huge rooms for the 10 of us with a verandah too. Feeling hungry, we ordered for lunch (Andys only purpose of the trip!!) immediately and what a feast it was. The food was really yummy, with aloo mutter, chana masala for the veggies and chicken curry for the others. The daal along with the salad was superb too !! Sayeban is a nice and economical place, near to the station, near to the market with a kids play area and lots of swings to laze on. The meals are included in the price of the room. With the sumptuous meal down our tummies and the heat rising, some of the guys pushed off to sleep (what a waste!!) while the rest of us played cricket.

          We finally ventured out, starting with Khandala point, the nearest to the market area. The mountains and the valleys are always a pleasure to watch. A man with a telescope was probably making people watch others freaking out at the Bushi dam in Khandala. The next on the list was Charlotte lake. Not much of water in the lake, but we saw people (read couples) in abundance. Needless to say, we saw a lot of monkeys and they saw Randhir and said "AAI CHAAVLI, tu idhar kidhar". 

View from the Khandala Point 

Pisharnath Temple

Echo Point

Sunset at Cecil Point
          A visit at the Pisharnath temple was on the agenda. I had looked on the net for some info on the deity but found nothing. So, a little chat with the priest revealed that the idol (Shivling) is a 'Swayambhu'. A cow herself poured milk over the idol and that's how the Shivling gained prominence and a temple was built around it.
          Offering prayers, we left for the Lords point just behind the temple. From the Lords point you can see the 'Kalvanticha Durg' in the distance. Next was Echo point and boy, it was crowded!! All along we went asking for Cecil point but nobody seemed to know. Having boasted a lot about this pictureque spot, I was hell bent on showing my friends Cecil point but somehow was lost. The Echo point, a little ahead of the Charlotte lake, was swarming with activity. Aunties were hanging on chords doing valley crossing, yelling at the their best. In the near distance, you could see the Honeymoon point and further away the One Tree Hill point which was reserved by us for the next day. Gutsy people were doing the entire stretch (valley crossing) from the Honeymoon Point.
          It looked scary for the weak hearted like some of us. The search for Cecil (Cilya for the locals) point again begun only to realise that it was the nearest to Charlotte lake. This is really one of the best spots in Matheran and we spent watching the sunset at the edge of the mountain while a group rappelled below. Sight of every chick and hen made our jaws drop and periodic gasps of 'AAI CHAAVLI' came from Randhir. Bachelors broke free, married men were off the leash, eyes wandered, hearts thumped but it stopped at that dirty minds!!
Sunset at the Charlotte lake

          At the Charlotte lake, we saw a guy lifting his girlfriend for a pic and Randhir went 'AAI CHAAVLI, te bagh kaay kartayet'. We returned to the market area to have our tea and snacks and do a bit of shopping. There is a beautiful Ram Mandir have idols of Shri Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. Another temple of Hanumanji is exactly opposite the Ram Mandir. We took their blessings before returning to our hotel. 'AAI CHAAVLI' got a little excited yet again while we played cricket (ek tappi out) and hit the ball out of the hotel.

          As we had dinner of some mouth watering biryani, the topic of discussion were the couples hovering around. Mahesh knew exactly their plans, what they were thinking and saying even though they were metres apart from us - kudos to his hearing skills!! The sweet dish was 'Shahi Tukda' and it was awesome and we all had as many helpings as we could.

          Post dinner we went for a walk to the market and had paan. Back at the hotel, some of us played cards while others watched TV in the other room. Nishant, the sadist must have watched atleast 20 movies and millions of songs in a span of 2-3 hrs while we drank and gambled to glory. He didn't even miss out the Home Shoppe ads. And all this time Maheshs' attention was focussed on the adjacent room occupied by some other couples and he said he could hear voices which in the morning he confessed to be the sound of their AC - paaaathetic - Maybe he was missing Randhir who was busy with about swapping!!

          Finally we slept at around 3:30 am. Getting up after sleeping for a couple of hours, we decided against our plan to have an early morning walk through the forests to Alexander Point and then One Tree Hill point. We were more concerned about the Mega Block hitting the Central and Western lines and so walked to Dasturi Naaka at the earliest to catch a cab to Neral and then take a train back home. We saw some scenic spots, the scenery opening up as we walked to Dasturi Naaka. Some old local women carrying haystacks looked so surreal and made a picture perfect.
Don't forget to have wada paav just outside Neral station. It's good!!

          By the way Andy won all the money at our game of cards followed by Sushant!! Thanks guys, hope you enjoyed it.....Travel safe..Travel more!!

Jhugjhug gaadi in the forests
Living on the edge
Towards Lord point - Photo courtesy Nagesh
The gang at Echo point - Photo courtesy Anand
Having a gala time at Cecil point
Chain - Maheshs' idea
Rickshaw walla - Look at Nagesh ( Neo from Matrix didging bulets)

Train nahi to hum sahi
Rail rokko andolan
Mathera excerpts - Photo courtesy Anand
Posing - Photo courtesy Sushant
Krupya dokka baher kadhu naka
Toy train
Chatpata Imli
Off to the rising mountains
Twisted are the ways of the world!!
At Khandala point
Valley crossing at Echo point
Sunset from Charlotte lake
Motherly love

Having fun
Spread like an eagle - Cecil point - Photo courtesy Sushant
The tallest cricket ground
Scenic valley towards Dasturi Naaka
Tracks through green

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary (Phansad Vanya Jeev Abhyaranya) - Kashid

Other weekend getaways

20th Feb 2012

Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary

Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary
There is something about colors...and then there is definitely something when you hear the luring voices made by this fanciful wings of colors!!
A bit of innocence, a lot of teasing, a bundle of shyness, elusive haughtiness; your patience is tested by the smallest of flutters.

What is the fun in bird watching? I ask myself, and there are no ready answers!!
Is it the rawness of walking in the midst of nature where you can be with yourself, is it the deafening silence of the forest
that makes even your breathing sound as the drums of a rock song, is it the delightful fright of being pounced upon by a wild animal or is it the common ugly human mentality of trying to capture something elusive and pride yourself later...maybe none, maybe all!!

But one thing I am sure, being armed with my Canon DSLR, being on the pursuit of the winged chirpiness, walking meaninglessly or rather meaningfully amongst the wilderness DOES MAKE ME HAPPY!!

This time I got another friend of mine hooked to it and his excitement told me that he now enjoys this hobby!!

The Phansad Wildlife sanctuary (Phansad Vanya Jeev Abhyaranya) is about 20 km from Kashid. It doesn't seem to be a popular destination as I hardly saw anyone for the 2 days that I visited the sanctuary. The encore of the sea at Kashid beach is more
delightful for all and sundry, it seems. Take a left when you see the Phansad board when you go beyond Kashid. The sanctuary is on the road to Roha.
You can take your vehicle inside the sanctuary and it might be advisable to do so as the sanctuary is well spread and
covering it on foot would be rather difficult. The attendant at the entrance told us that with lady luck shining, you might see Sambhars, deers crossing your path. The Shekru (Giant brown squirrel) is also found here, however we didn't see any. We did see a big squirrel, but it wasn't a Shekru.

The sanctuary is a dense jungle with pathways leading to different open spaces in different directions. We landed at the sanctuary at 4:30 pm the 1st day, thinking it would be time for the birds to come home and we could get good sightings, but this was not to be. Though the chirping, whistling, cooing indicated our friends were there, but they preferred to stay elusive. The dense foliage makes photographing the birds difficult with the branches and twigs eating up your focus. There are watch towers inside. At the entrance of the sanctuary, we saw tents for accommodation. I think it would be a great idea to stay overnight in the tents and venture on your bird watching expedition early morning. The tented accommodation costs around INR 400.

What lies ahead....
Watch Tower OR watched tower??
And I stared into the shining sun (Pink Floyd)

We saw the brown kingfisher and some other birds the 1st day but not many. A funny incident worth mentioning happened. Right from the time we started our trek from the entrance to wherever we went inside the sanctuary, a dog watched over us, sometimes
guiding, sometimes just being there. If he ran ahead, it waited for us to catch up, if we didn't it found us, if we were to tread ahead, it just followed, if we stopped, it stopped, it waited for our idiosyncrasies to get over as we stood gaping at the trees to catch a sight. Why he did this, we didn't know, but he did and we liked it...our saviour for the day!!

Armed Guard
Walking on one of the pathways, a caretaker coming out of nowhere told us that he had spotted a flock of green pigeons (do they exist?) and barbetts, a little away from the sanctuary, at a place called Devrai where tiny fruits borne on some trees seemed to
be the reason for the flocked fancies.

So next day we parked our car at the sanctuary and ventured to Devrai, which is a small village. Crossing a field and asking for directions we came to an open space across the field with a small temple. We looked and we looked, we glared and gaped, but all we could see was a kingfisher. Just when our disappointment caught up on us; like magic a flock of around 20-25 birds, out of nowhere took the air-borne route. We now knew we were at the right place and could see the small fruits mentioned to us earlier.
At the village of Devrai
Did we lose the green??
At work!!
 We held our patience and were rewarded. We saw many varieties, the names I have to search over, but we did see many, some perfectly camouflaged, some not so shy. Had seen a drongo many times before but this was the first time was seeing it sipping
nectar from a flower. Though the photographs aren't something I am very proud about, but the field trip and every drop of sweat spent on that sunny morning and afternoon was worth it!!
The Kingfisher
Camouflaged.....look in the centre and zoom

Why do u look the other way, my black beauty??

Sipping nectar