Friday, January 29, 2021

A trail around the Rajmachi mountains to Shirota lake

Shirota lake

A change in the destination just before we embarked on our journey! Two days prior and till my friend got in the car, we were to go to Peth (Kothligad fort) near Karjat. I had trekked to Peth many times. So we decided to try out a new place on the list. I recently had watched videos of Shirota lake and that’s where we decided to head.

To reach Shirota, you need to take the first exit to Lonavala on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and soon after a few kilometers, there’s another sharp left with boards of ‘Della Adventure Resort & Camp’. As we drove, we saw a few buses of ‘Della Adventure’ filled with staff and tourists; it seems to be a popular place for adventure activities and stay. As you drive towards Shirota, you’ll be amazed at the huge bungalows that line up on both sides. A chat with a chaiwalla en-route revealed that a few of them are available to be hired for a day or weekend. The chaiwalla also gave us a doubtful look when we asked him how far Shirota was; he said the road is bad and in most likelihood, we’ll have to park our car somewhere far from the dam and walk from there. We thanked him and headed in the direction anyway.

After we crossed the bungalows, came the massive entrance of ‘Della Adventure’ to the right and what we were able to glimpse from the entrance looked like an entire well planned and lavish township altogether. The parking space outside itself was huge. As you cross it, the off-roading almost immediately begins and keeps getting worse; I’m sure the word ‘worse’ would be contradictory for bikers who love difficult and dirt tracks. We saw many geared bikers heading in the direction. I have a Maruti Swift and the track indeed proved to be a challenge with loose rocks and gravel all the way. After braving for quite a distance, we stopped at a spot, about 4.5 kms. from the dam (as indicated by Google maps) and decided to walk it out. We had come to enjoy the trail anyway.

Only after a few minutes of sauntering, we could see the peaks and ramparts of the twin forts (Manoranjan and Srivardhan) of Rajmachi to our left. What a sight they are; they reminded me of the time we had trekked to Rajmachi and had camped on Srivardhan fort for the night. The forest began after a while and the weather was still cool. We were the only two walking on the trail except for groups of bikers that we met at intervals. All of them were heading to Rajmachi. It’s only when we hiked quite a distance, that we realized that the road wasn’t worse than what we had already covered by car but walking was much better. A gentle breeze hit us every now and then. Huge magnificent mountains surrounded us, the chatter or monkeys and chirping of birds, the clean air, the pebbled path surrounded by dense vegetation, tiny lavender coloured flowers scattered like small carpets at places, a quaint bridge surprising you with its appearance, sharing of travel stories and making future travel plans – all of this was a welcome respite.

After a while you’ll see a fork in the road, the left one leading to Rajmachi and the other one to the Shirota dam. We were really doubtful if we were on the correct path at a point when the graveled path made way for a cemented one. We thought we were just getting down on the other side of the mountain and then a small opening appeared and we could see our destination. We came to a small village and an another15-20 minute of walking down a slope leads you to the lake. We saw the presence of Della Adventure here too as a vessel brought back a few of their tourists back to the shore. The dam or lake is actually a private TATA property. There was no-one at the lake after the tourists had left and we enjoyed the quiet and the expanse of the lake watching cormorants and herons glide past it and taking that occasional dip. I did go a little further and it looked like you can walk the length of the lake, at least for some distance. The forest was right behind us.

I don’t know if one can pitch tents here since it’s a private property but there were spots along the way that looked conducive and alluring for camping if you can manage water. I really don’t know how safe it would be though.

We chattered away to glory and were ready to leave as it started getting hotter. I’m sure the trail to the lake would be nicer in the monsoons. The only thing worrying me was the drive back through that graveled road but we made it. It was an enjoyable day trip. Thank you Mary for making it happen.

Happy traveling folks. Cheers!

Trail to the lake

Duke's Nose / Nagphani

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Discovering trust on the trek to Deo Tibba, Himachal Pradesh

Why trust? I’ll come to that in a while.
Things happen when they have to happen; you meet people when you’re destined to and you visit places when they call out to you I guess.
It was meant to be because after a lot of mental wavering and rejecting assignments, I took the train to Chandigarh on my journey to Himachal Pradesh, for the Deo Tibba trek in the Kullu region. As usual (this is becoming a regular thing with me), I messed up and reached a different YHAI base camp in the shivering cold at 3 a.m.; that gave me an inkling of how the weather was going to be.

Finally when I reached the Dobhi base camp (4820 feet), the correct one, I was told that the next group was to be merged with us as they had only 12 registrations in our group. So, it was supposed to be a group of 50. One by one, people started to trickle in and introductions were exchanged and judgments were being formed, as they almost always do. And these judgments change, almost always again. And they did!
The first two days were spent in acclimatizing ourselves to the weather and the place. Our trekking destination was perched right there, overlooking our campsite, a snowy dove with its wings spread, static, as if posing – the magnificent peak of Deo Tibba. The snow clad peak and its neighbouring mountains allured us with its grandeur. Out there in the clear blue skies, birds without feathers flocked together. In a plethora of colours, they contrasted against the blue and stayed there, in the air, suspended for a while, dillydallying as if lost in thought, before they touched the ground, only to make way for new ones to join the fun. Dobhi, it seems is a paraglider’s haven and the sport apparently has picked up in a big way which was evident from the continuous burst of the winged fancies in the sky. Flowing beside the campsite is the river Beas and on the first day itself, we found a beautiful place beside the gurgling waters and sat there with our feet dipped in its iciness, soaking the tranquility of the scenery.
For the acclimatization walk, we were taken to a small hamlet on a nearby mountain. The whole region is filled with apple orchards and we saw a few cabbage plantations as well. ‘Woh ghar dikh raha hai, wahin jaana hai’ proclaimed the guide. Ashwini was disappointed as we trekked on both days and came back but he still didn’t spot the house.

The trek

Jagatsukh to Tilgan Camp (7000 feet)
We went in a hired bus from Dobhi to a small town called Jagatsukh from where our trek was to commence. We (my tent mates) were surprised to see people lined up at the Katrain market en route to wave to LK though he denies that. The initial part of the trek wasn’t very exciting as we walked on cemented steps in alleys, the path meandering between and beside houses.
The latter part of this short trek was through the forest. All of us were happy that there weren’t any more cemented steps to tread on. We came across another small group where we broke for lunch; they had their tent pitched and were swaying as one of them played one track after another on his guitar – he had a very soothing voice. As we continued trekking post lunch through the dense pine forest, like magic, out of nowhere came a beautiful open space surrounded on one side by the peaks, now being slowly engulfed and shrouded by the blackening clouds, and on all other sides by the sloped forest. It was picture perfect. Everyone wanted to stay there. Our campsite was adjoining this magical realm. It started thundering in a while.

This campsite will well go into our mental treasures as this was where the invisible bhalu (bear) was introduced. The bear traveled with us everywhere but we never saw it. We did brave scorpions though, in the toilets, in and outside our tents. A special mention to Archan and Alankar who fought the crawling creatures with no swords or knives but with the most ergonomically and practically designed weapon – chappals (did I mention, they were LK’s).
Tilgan camp to Sarotu (8000 feet)
The trek to Sarotu was a very short one. Again it was through the forest and we reached our next campsite soon. A sudden musical rendezvous started as we sat on a rock to enjoy our tea, one member after another joined in and vocal melodies filled the evening air as the exuberant cotton balls in the sky showed their adroitness in changing shapes, beguiling us as we failed to concur which arrangement was the best fit on the canvas. We could see the town of Manali from here.The bear was lurking around; somewhere.
Sarotu to Dumdumi (9500 feet)
It rained. And everything changed. Ponchos, wind cheaters, raincoats, bag covers were out. The trek turned moderate as the ground turned slushy. People started slipping and falling but we managed, staggering, helping each other on the way. This was a longer route than the previous two days and every bit of it was enjoyable, more so for the bit of challenge it imposed. The rains never left us though it was more of a drizzle. As we reached the campsite, which was at a considerable height, the Deo Tibba peak felt so near. It turned freezing cold suddenly; the rains wouldn’t stop. This was the highest altitude we would trek; we weren’t going to traverse the peak (double the altitude).
The sky was a mesmerizing delight. It was something that’s going to be embedded in my memory forever. It looked like a huge alien spaceship engulfing the skies, inch by inch, multiple horizons sprouting up with a multitude of snowy fluorescent peaks rendering it into an artist’s and photographer’s delight.

Dumdumi to Karabhandari (8000 feet)
Snow, Snow, snow. We trekked through and on snow, had snowball fights. The previous night we were hassled about the rains and how difficult it would be to trek today on snow. The sky got clear, no rains. The highlight of today’s trek was the crossing of a wide stream. We discovered how difficult it is to walk over ice. This and the previous day’s hike were the highlight of this trek.
Descent to Jobri Nalla
Descending is always tricky, challenging, yet fun. This was to be our last campsite. We trekked on the decline through the forest and amidst changing sceneries for almost four hours to reach Jobri Nalla. We had been only in each other’s company and nature for these few days so it felt disappointing when we saw PEOPLE, CARS, WRAPPERS close to the campsite. The tents were pitched overlooking a dam. Everyone’s eyes were fixated on the astounding mountain before us.
The last day was another long trek back to Prini and then taking a bus to the base camp. The highlight was spotting the grand eagle and debating if it was a vulture or an eagle. It was disappointing to not sight a variety of birds; the only ones I saw were magpies, bulbuls, mynahs and the eagle. A few of us were fortunate though to collect eagle’s feathers as souvenirs.

Now for the trust factor. We had in our midst, a group of 14 visually challenged persons and quite a few of them were first time trekkers. 4 of them couldn’t see at all. The guides and a few of us volunteered and helped them throughout the trek. It would be an understatement to talk about their achievement. All you had to tell them was to keep their foot left, right, raise, there’s a stone here, there’s mud here and they followed your instructions and most importantly their instincts. No-one complained, no-one ever gave up. They fell, they rose. They showed us their will, they showed us their way. They won. They won our hearts. A salute to them! A big thank you to Kuldeep, Chethna, Geeta, Anubhuti and everyone else who never left their hands and helped them in every possible way to accomplish this feat.
Trekking teaches you a lot of things. The first day, it was difficult to wake up at 5:30; the next day onwards it wasn’t. The camaraderie you share with your trek mates, even though for those limited days is priceless. You tend to forget who you are, you carry less mental baggage. You just BE!
Every moment cherished, every moment lived. Thank you YHAI, thank you friends for being part of my life when I lived some more.

Apart from the trek itself and the beautiful lap of nature, what made this trek memorable was:
  • the special group and their liveliness
  • met great people and made amazing friends (hopefully at least a few will keep in touch)
  • the variety! Kids, teenagers, middle-aged and the experienced elderly. A right mix of genders. Helpful people. People from Maharashtra, UP, Gujarat, MP, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Delhi, Karnataka etc.
  • conversations I had with everyone
  • a lower dose of Gujarati. It was an overdose in the last YHAI trek.
  • my tent mates, the guffaws at small things, teaming up and conspiring against LK to beat him at ludo
  • the teas, breakfasts, lunches, snacks, soups, dinners and bournvita that we had; more importantly the way we had it. It shows that you’re in the midst of good friends when you get to eat 7 gulab jamuns when the restricted quota is only two (than you Priyanka, Kanika, LK and all those who shared)
  • can I ever forget the singing sessions? Well I won’t try to! Especially the last day’s morning session in the base camp (thank you Alankar for the music, thank you Kanika, Anubuti and Priyanka for your brilliant vocal renditions)
  • the camp fires (Thank you Nilanjana Madam, Titli, Poulomi and everyone mentioned above for sharing your talents, thank you Pillai sir for your sweet speech).
  • new lingo learnt – Jhanki, bakar, kantri (courtesy Vakil sahib)
  • the interminable clatter on politics in our tent (You AREN’T welcome Alankar, Ashwini and Kapil)
  • Kalu, Snowy, Shruti and a few others

A few tips:

  • Kullu, Manali, Dobhi can be reached by bus from Chandigarh (9-10 hrs) or Delhi (around 14 hrs)
  • The trek starts from Jagatsukh
  • In case you have forgotten to get any trekking equipment, there are markets in Kullu, Katrain, Patlikuhul (all near to Dobhi)