Monday, 27 July 2009

Khandala - The Trek That Wasn't

The plan was to trek to Duke's nose on Saturday, spend the night in the area, and visit Lohagad fort on Sunday if possible.

So I wake up at 5.30 to meet the guys at Borivli Stn. at 7.00. I'm not even sure who the guys are. RV and BB are in, and RV said he might be getting office mates. He calls as I'm getting ready and tells me there's only going to be five of us in total, and I should drop down to his office instead so we can all take a colleague's car.

I do that. It doesn't take me long. Travelling to Mindspace brings back memories. The rick from Malad station follows that all too familiar shortcut through the chawl area. I'm at RV's office well before 8.00 A.M. He takes me inside and to their stifling pantry and introduces me to the rest of the gang - HS (who was with us last week), and AM - his boss. Not many people seem to be around. Their graveyard shift has just ended and they're making sandwiches, waiting for BB and I.

BB arrives and we play foosball. AM and I on one side, BB and HS on the other (it's a miniature table - three prongs a side). My side looses. I hate loosing. Especially at a game I have no valid reason to suck at.

We leave in AM's car for Khandala. Stop for a second breakfast along the way, at least for the others. Didn't they just eat?

We continue driving and see interesting sights along the way. Waterfalls along the road, a tank on the expressway, monkeys, geeks (as BB calls them) getting out of their cars for pictures. I'm reminded of how few times I've made this trip.

The Khandala exit is closed for some reason so we're forced to head to Lonavala instead. RV doesn't like this. Still, we stop for alcohol and then drive to Kamats for food.

I watch the others eat again. Seriously, these guys are thinner than I am. How much can they stuff down? It's only afternoon and this is their third meal of the day. I'm still full from my 6.00 A.M breakfast.

There's a change of plans. RV and AM would like to be back home by evening. Which means skipping Duke's nose and going to Buffalo falls instead. We go there. It's beautiful. We've had beautiful cloudy cool weather all day.

We do the five minute trek down to the falls and start drinking. Get buzzed. We're all in an extremely jovial mood. Smiling and laughing a bit too much. This is the best part of the trip. Getting high a few feet away from a roaring waterfall, anything we say or do instantaneously becoming a joke. We go under the falls. Get wet. The water's not as cold as Chinchoti. I go in last, BB leading me by the hand there and back.

We go back to the car. BB checks with her friends again to see if we can make this an overnight trip. Their bungalows are all unavailable. We decide to go back to Mumbai as well.

Dry off and drive back to the city. Now I'm hungry. I open a packet of theplas in the car, somewhat explosively. The packet bursts open. Theplas flying everywhere. I end up eating most of them. Then start on the banana chips. Yum. And that's my lunch.

RV parts ways with us in Mulund. AM drops us off at Powai and we take a rick to Jogeshwari. HS and I take a train home. The guys leave me with an entire tandoori chicken for dinner. We hadn't had time to eat this at the falls. It's an excellent meal. I've got to treat them next time.

A very enjoyable day with excellent company. Next time I'm spending a longer time at the falls, even if I have to go back all by myself.


Sunday, 19 July 2009

Chinchoti Trek & Biker Movies

So I met up with the guys on Saturday morning at 7.00 A.M. RV and his friend HS came direct from work, while HG came from home.

We caught a 7.30 train to Naigaon, and a rick to Chinchoti. Both RV and I haven't been here in a while (it's been almost two years in my case) and we weren't too sure about the route to the falls, though we soon found it after asking around. HG and HS haven't been here ever.

The walk was quick. We did stop to take photos a few times, getting huge bites each time. Odomoss only seems to be effective against city mozzies, not these jungle ones. I've never encountered mosquitoes on my two previous treks here.

The sky was lovely and overcast throughout the day, and the recent rains had left everything cool & bright green, like what we saw in Rajmachi two weeks ago.

Apart from the mozzies, another new for me were the many streams we crossed on our way to the falls. Of my previous two trips here, the first in the summer and the second at the end of the monsoon in October, I didn't come across any mozzies and just saw one large stream.

In fact, my first trip here was also my first trek. It was May 2002, I had just finished my FY in college, and was whiling the time away at home during my summer break. The I.C parish organised a trek to the SGNP, and I quickly joined in, trekking being something I'd always wanted to experience but had never gotten the opportunity to in my two years in Mumbai and sixteen years in Muscat. So we gathered one fine Sunday morning in the second last week of May, only to be told by our group leader that our permissions hadn't come through yet, and so we'd be going to a place called Chinchoti.

We walked to Dahisar station, caught a train to Vasai, and a bus to Chinchoti, from where we started what could only be described as torture. The place was terrible - bone dry, extreme humidity, waterfalls with no water, little breeze & dry brown grass everywhere. My group and I even climbed halfway up the exposed boulders of the main waterfall. And the trek back seemed to take forever. That night in bed, I could see myself swaying over those boulders. But I was hooked. The next week, we went to the SGNP, walking all the way from the main gate to Kanheri caves, Tulsi lake and then back to the gate, and I accomplished my second trek. I tried not to go trekking in the summer after that.

My second trek to Chinchoti was in October of 2007, with MD and one of his friends. Hot, humid and no rain, but still green and it was nice to find a full waterfall at the end.

Anyway, back to Saturday, we arrived at the waterfall and sat on a boulder to rest, when a whole troupe of kids arrived and dived in. We decided to go back down the path and find a more private spot along the river created by the falls. The whole reason we came here on Saturday was to beat the Sunday crowds, which turns this place into Esselworld.

We did find a nice spot along the river where we sat, the water waist high and running around us, and rain on our heads. It was heavenly.

We left when an extended family decided to share our spot, and I was home by 3.30 P.M, where I ate a late lunch, showered, and checked my mail.

I left for the St. Andrews audi at Bandra at around 5.00 P.M. for Gaurav Jani's two-movie screening - One Crazy Ride & Riding Solo to the Top of the World.

The screening was presented by 60kph, a motorcycle travel club, and Dirt Track Productions, both of which were founded by Gaurav Jani, who also shot the two documentaries. Gaurav, along with his 60 kph travel mates and Dirt Track production crew, were on hand to talk about their experiences.

The first movie they played - One Crazy Ride (supposed to start at 7.00 but ended up being 7.30) - is actually Gaurav's second film and involved him and a group of four friends traveling on unchartered roads across Arunachal Pradesh with him filming their experiences. This isn't the most technically brilliant of films, and there are gaps present. You're not sure what part you're watching takes place at what point of time in the group's adventure. Weren't they on day 4 in that last scene? And now they're on day 35? We're not really given much of a sense of time lapse in the film.

But it's the message that comes through clearly. Gaurav has shown, successfully, the spirit of a motorbike traveler, the frustration he faces, and how he deals with it. He continues the trip solo when his four team mates drop out, and continues filming, a painstaking exercise when you realise he's not travelling with a camera crew.

His camera is handheld in many cases. In scenes where he records himself crossing a stream or a plain or looping round a mountain, he actually has to do it thrice - the first time, to set the camera up, the second, to go back, leaving the camera unprotected, and the third, to record himself riding back, and if the scene's not right, do it all again. In a cold uncomfortable, dangerous environment, it's all the more difficult. You've really got to be committed to do something like that.

Gaurav is a great storyteller, you feel his passion for travel and you share in the joy when he reaches his final destination. You're also on the edge of your seat when he crosses a particularly bad bridge.

Riding Solo to the Top of the World is Gaurav's first film, and one that won him many awards. In it, he travels alone, riding across the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, living with nomads along the way.

While One Crazy Ride was a friends cum biker gang cum we're-in-this-together adventure, Riding Solo is more of a cultural exploration. Gaurav knows he's going to reach his destination and is in no hurry or under no pressure to get there quickly or worry about getting lost. He takes as much time out as he can to live with a talk to the people he meets, questioning why they do what they do.

A beautiful film, though my friend RV (who joined me a few minutes into the start of the fist movie) found the first one better. He even dozed off a bid during the second film, but that's understandable, seeing as how it was 11.00 P.M and he hadn't slept for over twenty-four hours and had been trekking this morning and afternoon.

We went to Janata later to meet TP, whom I've not seen since his wedding. Left a little before 12.00 to catch a train home. Wouldn't want to be stranded in Bandra for the night.


Monday, 13 July 2009

Salim Ali Point Trail

So I had a choice of where to spend my Sunday trekking. I could either go to Chinchoti with friends, or to Salim Ali Point with the BNHS. I chose Salim Ali Point - I like meeting new people, and I hadn't been to this part of the park.

They had us meet at the CEC at 7.00 A.M, an hour earlier than we normally congregate for treks to the Goregaon side of the park, which meant a 5.00 A.M wake up for me. Boy, am I used to this. I've had some really early starts for trips, even getting up at 4.00 A.M a few times.

I needn't have hurried, the number of people that showed up ensured that registrations delayed our start by a half hour. We were split up into four groups of twenty each. I picked the group with the fewest children. The nature trail itself was short - about an hour from the CEC.

It rained a couple of times during our trek. Nice heavy rain. Lots of biting insects around. Glad I was coated in Odomoss. Got time to apply a fresh coat halfway through the trail. Got to see a few caterpillars. Not nearly as many or large or colourful as we saw last week at Rajmachi. Also saw some excellent large pupae.

Salim Ali Point is a sort of high point that's excellent for birdwatching, at least when it's not raining. It's not that high up, but is probably the highest point on BNHS land.

Got home by 11.30.


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Movie Seen - Goodbye Bafana

The story of James Gregory, one of Nelson Mandela's prison guards. A controversial movie that might be more fiction than fact.

The movie itself is just about average. It's a bit robotic in nature, with each new sequence of scenes covering one episode of the guard's life, without many connectors in between.


Monday, 6 July 2009

Rajmachi Trip

Went on a trip to Rajmachi on Sat and Sun. Our plan was to travel to Lonavla on Saturday morning; trek to Rajmachi; spend the evening, night and next morning there; then trek to Karjat and be back home by Sunday evening.

Met up with the guys (MD, RV and his friend S) at the Borivli ST bus depo on Sat morning. We caught a Pune bus at 8.30 A.M, getting off at the Lonavla bus stop a little over 3 hours later. Perfect weather along the way. Cool but no rain so we could leave the bus windows open.

It began raining when we reached Lonavla. Lovely rain. Continuous, not too heavy, but not light enough for photography. It would rain this way throughout our four hour walk to Rajmachi village, where we'd be staying and from where we could visit two forts and a lake. We stocked up on stuff (alcohol in their case, fudge in mine), hit the ATM's, bought vada pavs, and commenced our trek.

We began at 1.00 P.M, soon coming to Tungarli dam, and thereafter mostly walking along a flat path, passing three waterfalls on the way (with drunk behaving, loud song singing, all male groups dominating the landscape).

The path did get muddy towards the end. Really mucky. And we had company. Apart from seeing other trekking groups, we had a convoy of two dirt bikes and ten mod trucks race us by with an hour to go before we reached the village. S, who had been pretty quiet uptil this point, exploded in excitement when the bikes and trucks appeared. I was puzzled at the change in expression. I didn't get it. Sure the trucks were powerful, had giant wheels and you could hear them from a kilometer away; but was was so special about that? It's not like they could fly or anything. Maybe you've got to be a motor enthusiast to get it.

The convoy almost came up to the village but got stuck on a muddy slope a few minutes away. It was our turn to race them then, walking tentatively up the muddy slope ourselves.

It was 5.00 P.M when we arrived. Rajmachi village is pretty small. Just a few scattered houses, and most owners provide cheap lodging and food. We met up with two of RV's friends who had already arrived there earlier and found a house to stay at, and we were happy to join them, noticing that we weren't the only occupants. There were at least ten other guys planning to spend the night there. We changed into dry clothes. I washed my socks and shoes, trying to get all the mud out. It was still raining at that point and I wasn't too confident about my wet socks, shoes and T-shirt drying overnight.

We sat around relaxing, watching it get dark. One of RV's friends HG, is a professional photographer, who just visited Gangotri, and he showed us all kinds of tricks that could be done on a Powershot. We snacked, drank a little, talked some more, played with a dog, waited for it to get dark. A couple of other guys showed up later to spend the night there. One is a budding pro photographer who's been to the North, and we all swapped travel stories.

Dinner was a spicy affair. Two really spicy subjis, dal, rice and rotis. Really delicious nose running stuff. We chilled a bit and went to bed soon after. Joked around a lot and got a few bites during the night.

I was the last one to wake the next morning. Immediately had one of MD's ham sandwiches for breakfast. Walked to the lake. It's about ten minutes from the village. Relaxed there till noon and headed back. The others had brunch. I had cake. We packed and began our trek to Karjat at 1.30.

This started off well, a walk through greenery. It hadn't rained throughout the day and yet it was cool, even in the middle of the afternoon. Then we came to the edge of a cliff, and had to descend. The path was narrow and muddy, which meant slippery, which meant crouching and descending at some parts, and sliding down on our butts at others.

This was tiring and sweaty, though we were still happy that it wasn't raining. The rain would have made things trickier. The slope leveled off around five or six times and we took those opportunities to rest. It was three and a half hours before we finally made it all the way down to the lovely village of Kondivide and its sprawling farms, from where we took a rick to Karjat station.

It was 5.40 and we had a half hour till the next train to Dadar. We (actually 'they' since I couldn't care less either way) decided to hit a bar in the meantime. They had beers. I had some leftover rum. 6.15 came and went and we decided to stay on till the next train at 7.30. They had more beers. I had a vodka and mango juice. Had to visit a dozen shops to get juice. Flashed it in RV's face (he couldn't find juice for me earlier).

We met a blind guy at the bar who seemed interested in joining us on our next trek. We told him we'd try to arrange something.

The trip from Karjat to Dadar was long. We were all sleepy. It was raining when we reached Dadar. Took a train to Borivali at 9.30. The others got off at their respective stops. Reached home at 10.30.

In absolute pain today. Muscles and joints ache. Standing up and sitting down takes real effort. Any movement causes pain. I can't walk down stairs. My body has ached after treks before but not like this, it's never been this severe. I feel like an old man, yet strangely alive. Also noticed a lot of bites on my legs. They itch like hell.