Monday, December 26, 2011

A trek that tested our strength

In past couple of years, since all of us got a bike / car and have started working somewhere, we have started enjoying luxurious treks with respect to food variety, taking vehicle till the very end of the road before we can start climbing up some fort. It has become very easy and time saving with a vehicle at our disposal and we can cover any forts at far distances, but every time, at some point we feel that we should now go to a real trek.

Having a last 3 days weekend of this year, Parth & myself decided to go for a trek that can actually be called a real nice trek. So, on the 22nd afternoon we talked to couple of friends and booked bus tickets for Ashish, Parth and myself. We started for Nashik by 11:59 pm bus and had to get out of it at Narayangav around 1:30 in the morning due to a punctured tyre. We took another bus to Nashik around 2 am and reached there by 5:15 am.

23rd December 2011
After having cleaned up and having some breakfast at Padmalaxmi, the best south Indian restaurant on the bus stand, we walked to the old bus stand and got a Nandurbar bus around 7 am. By mistake we got down at Kheldari village, instead of Kheldari phata. We started from the village at 8:45 am, and on the way to Kheldari phata, saw lots of Grape plantations. Kheldari phata (near toll) comes after Kheldari village and the phata is nearer to the Koldher fort, so it is advisable to get down at the Kheldari phata and start walking on the road opposite to the toll. From this road we need to take left turn after Kheldari substation and veet bhatti (the place where bricks are made) to go in the cole, which leads to Koldher fort. We need to cross couple of farms and Mr. Damu Sonavane's house on the way. By the time we passed Mr. Sonavane's house, it was 11 am. The way to reach top of the cole, goes from the right side of the mountains, even though the Koldher fort is on the left side.

Fort Kanchana till Fort Dhodap seen from Koldher
We reached at the base of Koldher fort around 12 and after resting for few minutes started climbing up the fort. There is nothing much to see on the fort although it is spread quite far on the both sides from where we climbed up. After climbing up for around 15 minutes, on the left side of Koldher, there is a stone with a carving of Lord Hanuman, which is quite difficult to find on the fort but we coincidentally saw it. Since there is no marked path from this level, we randomly started climbing up the fort towards to topmost area. To reach the base of the dyke, a stone level needs to be climbed. We thought of climbing up that level from wherever we could as there is nothing but lot of thorny hay and cactus on the entire fort but as we reached the stone level, we found some carved steps leading to the base of dyke. We had a quick lunch of bread, butter, sauce, karanji etc. in the shades on the steps. As per the books we referred, technical climbing is required to go up the dyke so it was not an option for us. So we went up to the left of the dyke to see the view behind it. We were amazed to see the range of forts and hills, from fort Kanchana to Fort Dhodap, so nicely arranged that make a fabulous view.

Around 2:10 pm we had to start walking down, as we wanted to go on Rajdher fort for night's stay. We went back to the cole on the right of Koldher and took small path towards a plateau opposite to Koldher fort. In half an hour we reached a small dam, built above Shindewadi. The dam water is used by cattle but on the other side of the dam a small pond is available with potable water. It was already passed 4 pm by the time we filled water bottles and it was crucial to move towards Rajdher, as one of our friends had told us to climb up the ladder at Rajdher in the day light, otherwise it is pretty difficult to find it. He had also told us that the Koldher to Rajdher trek takes around 4 hours and we had reached the dam in less than an hour. Fortunately one of the shepherds, Somnath mama from Rajdherwadi agreed to show us the path towards Rajdher and we started from the spot around 4:30 pm. The climb was quite steep and with heavy rucksacks it was not possible to climb up very fast. It was due to Somnath mama, we sprinted like never before and reached the ladder just before 6 pm. As Somnath mama left for Rajdherwadi, we started climbing up the ladder. The ladder is around 50 feet and take us to the stone carved steps to the fort. The amazing thing about this ladder is that at around 25-30 feet, there is an overhang. It is scary to climb up with heavy weight on back but it is scarier while climbing down as it is difficult to see the steps below. But at the same time it is exciting..

Ladder at Rajdher
We rested on the steps for couple of minutes and were on our feet again in search of a place to stay. When we climb up the stairs and come on the flat grounds, there are 2 small pillars standing, forming a way to enter the fort. On the right side, there is a bastion at the end of the fort, on the way there are remnants of buildings and another structure with 3 arches, which can be a place to stay. Facing towards the topmost area of the fort, there is a cave carved in stone, upside on the right and an area on the left is marked around a grave. If we face the cave, on the left there are some stairs, a temple like but closed structure and a water tank hidden in a cave. The water is potable and cool. If we take the stairs and keep walking on the path, towards the upper part of the fort, couple of trees can be see n on the left side, one of which is a some palm tree. This tree is the landmark to find a lake which mostly have been a stone build water tank. On the right side of this lake there is a temple and path alongside the lake reaches there. We climbed up from the side of Palm tree and had to go from the lake side stones, but it is better to follow the steps and the path which directly takes you to a spot from where it is easy to fill up water from lake and the same path goes towards temple. Temple is situated exactly above one of the side of lake and it seems a bit hidden. It is a lord Shiva's temple and can accommodate 3 people. We had soup and Khichadi for dinner and went to sleep in the temple around 11 pm.

24th December  2011
We had been walking for around 12 hours the day before so we rested more than expected and woke up around 7:30 am. Packing up, breakfast took quite a while and before we proceeded to see the fort, it was 11 am. It took around an hour to see all the places on the fort. We started climbing down and had a snack break at a cave like place by the side of stairs near fort entrance. The view from this cave is fabulous, Indrai is spread over a large area, only hay and cactus is spread in region, a beautiful and quite large water reservoir adds up to the beauty of the view.

After climbing down the stairs while facing Indrai, the path on left goes to Rajdherwadi. The whole path is marked with white paint on stones and it is quite easy to find it. It took us 2 hours to reach Rajdherwadi. On the way we met Mr. Vasant Vithoba Jadhav fom Rajdherwadi, who has climbed up all these forts and explained the route to us and shared his experiences. Mr. Prakash Pawar, who let us cook our lunch at his house, showed us from where we need to climb up the Indrai fort and asked us to take his number so that if required we can call him to ask for directions.

Indrai from Rajdher
Indrai is spread from west to east, as seen from Rajdherwadi. We started climbing from east side of the mountain, shifted towards west side and climbed up on a plateu. We thought the stairs would be somewhere in the rock on the far east side which we could see from the village, but as we turned around the east corner we had seen, there was another wall standing there which added to our worries. Now there were 2 ways going up and we didnt know which one lead to the stairs. Ashish and Parth went to check out these paths, one on the Chandwad fort's side and on the Rajdherwadi's side respectively and as the sun was going down on the other side of the fort, drowning everything around in a starry night, Ashish came calling for us, telling he had finally found the stairs. It took us another 10 minutes to reach the stairs and by 6:30 pm we were on the fort. Finally once again we had managed to climb up the fort before everything went dark. Now another issue infront of us was finding caves to stay. The problem was that the books said the caves were on the right side of the fort facing Rajdher and caves we knew, where our friends had stayed few months back were on the left of the fort facing Chandwad fort. After climbing up the stairs we started climbing up on the left side and kept walking on the path which we thought was leading us correctly and finally in another half an hour we reached the caves. Few people were already camping in one of the caves and they showed us the water cistern with potable water. We decided on staying in a cave and literally danced there to level the soil in the cave to have a flat ground to sleep on. It was quite chilly and it felt great to drink soup then. We had a nice Corn - Mint rice and went to sleep around 11 pm.

25th December 2011
The Indrai fort has spread over a large area and we can feel the vastness of it in a glance anywhere around.

There are these caves facing Chandwad, which does not have any carvings, only pillars outside some caves have some carved designs. In the same line as these caves there are water cisterns on the left and right. Climbing up on another level from the caves, walking towards tho top most area of the fort on the west side, there is a temple of Lord Shiva. Temple is quite big with couple of pillars in it. But due to the pillars there isn't much space for staying there. There is a small dry lake / rock cut cistern in front of the temple. On the upper plateau of this temple, there is a huge rock cut water tank with stairs to reach the water. Nearby, some remnants of buildings can be seen.

Lake near Lord Shiva's temple
Lord Shiva's temple and water tank
Caves facing Chandwad

We wanted to find the caves facing towards Rajdher and it was already 11 am, so we decided to skip Chandwad and find the caves. We climbed up and down the fort and got great views of the surrounding forts but unfortunately didnt find those caves and had to start back by 12:30 pm. We took a stop at a water cistern where the stairs to fort start going up. After having nice lemon sarbat, we started climbing down. Originally the plan was that if we skipped Chandwad fort then we could come back in Pune by a sensible night time. But when we started climbing down from the stairs, it was past 1 pm. On the way down we saw a rock carved Hanuman, which I suppose is referred as a temple by villagers. We kept climbing down and reached Vadbare village by 3 pm.

After unfruitful wait for a transport to reach the Mumbai - Agra highway, we started walking the 2 km distance and reached the highway in another half an hour. We saw an old but renovated temple of a deity Renuka. The temple is very big and the deity is situated in a cave inside the temple. 2 beautiful 'Deepmala' (Big pillars with number of slots to put lamps on), and old stone entrance are standing in front of the temple. Beyond this entrance, Chandwad village is situated.

We took a rikshaw to Chandwad bus stand. We reached Nashik by 7:15 pm, had some snacks and boarded a 8 o'clock bus for Pune. It felt like we were disconncted from the outside world for so long and it was so peaceful then. Now when I am writing this, I realised, even though there was an urgency while walking for 9-10 hours a day to reach on a fort in time, it never felt that tiring, but booking seats for the 8 o'clock bus and consuming snacks in those last 10-15 minutes, listening to the noises around felt so tiring. Among all this clutter, the only thing we could think of was how great the trek was and we should do such treks again.

See more photos

Saturday, September 17, 2011

More on coins and notes collection

Since last time I posted, it has been a wonderful time for me.
I bought the largest coin album Venus had (192 Coins) since they didnt have any smaller ones in stock, and I was wondering how much of it will be filled once I start placing coins in that. To my surprise, I had 87 different coins with different pictures on it. As I started checking more coins for different mints, my collection increased very fast. For starters I found out that there are four mints in India, that is coins are made in Noida, Kolkata, Mumbai and Hyderabad, which has their specific mark. While scanning coins for these mints, I found few more mints which I could not recognise. Then I found that, in past years Indian government has got coins from some foreign countries and all the mints I could not recognise were foreign mints.

After I had checked all the coins I, my grandmother, my parents and in laws had, and got few very interesting old coins from my grandmother, I moved on to checking the Indian bank notes. I had few old and new notes kept aside, but that wasn't enough for now, since sometime back I had come across a site having a list of banknotes bearing signatures of different governors at the time of printing that note. So a same 10 rupee note, could have n number of different governors' signature. Later on I found that some years back, notes had signature of the Secretary of the Ministry of Finance. These factors got me started on checking all the bank notes I could find with my grandmother. Now you may wonder why she had so many coins and notes in the first place... :) So you should know that, she has been a housewife / home maker her entire life but due to the need at a time or she liked to do these things, she have done few small businesses like catering, selling products etc. Whatever profits she got from these businesses she used to keep aside. Since I remember, my grandfather used to help her at the end of every day by writing accounts properly, from the references she may have scribbled somewhere or had in mind.. So, since I restarted these collections, she has been the most excited person, other than me, checking coins and banknotes for the factors I am interested in.

To sum it all up, so far I have more than 180 coins with different mints, having around 100 different types / pictures in all. I have more than 30 banknotes with different signs, having 16 different types..

Still the request to all of you stands, and I would appreciate any further contributions!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ganesh Chaturdashi special trek to Ankai - Tankai

The Ganesh festival is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in India. There are crowds all over a city during the 10 days of the festival, which peaks in the last 2-3 days and all main roads in the city get closed for vehicles, to make some room for the crowd walking from one place to another to see the decorations made by various groups (Mandal). The highlight of the festival is the Ganpati Procession (Miravnuk) that takes place on the final day - Anant Chataurdashi.  So unless you want to see those decorations or want to see anything from traditional Dhol - Tasha Pathak in the procession to people dancing on the beats of rowdy hindi film songs, it is not the place for you.

Me and my friends have been going to see this procession since we were in school. We used to go on Laxmi Road at night around 8 - 9 pm, the main road from where all the groups take their Ganapati for immersion and witness the huge crowd gathered there just to be part of the whole festive atmosphere. Wherever you look around, be it the road, railings, footpath, balconies and any open space in the buildings on the road, there is crowd. We used to wait for the very well known and well respected Ganesh Mandal, Dagdusheth Halwai to arrive at the Laxmi road, which never missed its 6 am timing, and then only go back home.

For past few years, the crowd has been inscreasing on the roads and finally we got fed up of being part of the crowdy & noisy procession and since then it has been almost everyone's tradition in our group to go out on some trek on the week end near "Anant Chaturdashi", that is when the Ganesh festival ends.

On a sunny afternoon in August 2011, after our lunch break in office, few of us were discussing what to do on this weekend and suddenly plans started building up very fast. We decided to go to the twin forts Ankai & Tankai. These can be seen while going to or coming from Manmad by railway and we had seen these quite many times while going and coming back from Himalayan treks. Shridhar kaka, one and only senior member in our trekking group, who loves to trek regularly and probably more importantly loves to plan it very well before hand and execute it as much possible as per the plan, insisted that we should make the railway bookings such that we will get a good nights sleep in the journey. We made few calls to regular trekkers of us and booked 9 tickets from Pune Junction (PUNE) - Manmad Junction (MMR) passenger train leaving Pune at 12:30 on Saturday, 10th Sept 2011 morning. We had a return booking from MMR to PUNE of the same passenger train at 9:55pm on 11th September. As the days went by, few more friends joined in unexpectedly :) and ultimately on the night of 10th Sept., 14 of us gathered at Pune station.

The train left Pune on right time and we reached near the forts around 9:50 am on 10th. To go to the forts, we need to get down at the Ankai station and start walking towards the forts. With lot of information on the basis of other's experiences, we concluded that there are two stations, one is 'Ankai' and other 'Ankaikilla', and hence we did not get down at the Ankai station, from where the forts were looking quite far. In few minutes of time train stopped at Ankaikilla station, but the station is so small that our bogie wasnt even close to the station and we got down directly on the train tracks, very much near to the forts.

After traversing the fort around 20 minutes we reached a brightly painted temple in the Ankai village, from where the path to the forts goes up. From this temple, you can see the very strongly builtfortifications. The col between the 2 forts is heavily fortified probably because this is the only real way you can get into the forts..There is no other way to get into the fort & all the sides of the fortare huge rock faces daring anyone to take even one step towards them. At a 5 minutes distance from the temple, there are few Jain caves, which seems to be nicely carved but are ruined now. Still you can make out the sculptures of deities from the information you can get in books and other blogs. It is quite nice, windy, place to take a halt. We had some breakfast here, saw the caves and around 12:15pm started climbing up the stairs to the pass between the two forts. It took us only 15 minutes to climb up at to the huge door in the fortifications, but it was sometimes sunny and humid and it was a bit exhausting . After few more minutes we went ahead to find another entrance of the fort which goes down towards Manmad. From this point the right path takes you to the stairs climbing up the Tankai fort and the Left side stairs take you to the Ankai fort. On both the forts, there are plenty of steps..which I dont really enjoy, but still it very good to see the stairs still standing there to take you wherever you want to go.

On the both sides of the stairs to Tankai, you can see couple of water cut cisterns, quite big considering the size of the fort. It takes another 15 minutes to go at the top. As you climb up you can see a magnificent view of the Ankai fort, especially when you can see it in the light and shadows simultaneously. After crossing a small Dargah at the entrance, at little distance there is big cistern with a lot of small fish in it. Up ahead of this, about 5 minutes away there are 2 more huge cisterns, one of which is dry and other is probably used by the cows. Near these, there is an old temple of Lord Shiva. There is another building towards end of this side of the fort, where you can see a well built bastion.

While climbing up the Ankai fort, there are few small caves on the left side of stairs. There is nothing in it but still we went to see those since we dont like missing seeing any part of any fort. As we go up the Ankai fort there are lot of very well built entrances and stairs with varied heights. On the right of the main entrance there is rock cut cistern, to see it you need to climb up on the rocks. This point is again great for photography. As we go up, we have to cross 4-5 entraces / arches to reach at the top. After first entrance and stairs, there is a large cave with some unfinished carvings.

After getting to through the final doorway, you can see a path leading to up to the foot of a small hill. Right in the front there is a cave with a iron gate built at its door. The cave is 3 levels deep with the first level being used as a place to keep cows. But the inner portions are clean enough to live in.. There are two more caves near this. A path to the right of this cave leads to a large courtyard with a huge tree in the centre & has been tiled. The cave here is converted in temple of 'Agasti muni'. There is a small water cistern with potable water just as we reach the courtyard. The left side cave is used by the care takers at the temple for stay.

We stayed at the cave and decided to see rest of the Ankai fort on the next day. From the temple cave, a path goes ahead towards a palace which must have been the biggest buildings on both the forts. On the way to the palace there is water tank, at the center of which there is small temple. As we go ahead there are couplemore water cisterns. The palace must have had at least 1 floor above the ground but only remnants of that remain now. On one corner there is a portion of the second floor still standing & there is a 'Pir' there.Other that that four walls of the palace are still standing. There is a huge water tank at the center of the palace and at the right side in the tank, there is small door. As per the books we referred, it was a tunnel which is now closed.

On the way back from the palace we climbed the top of the hill over the cave, which is the highest point on the fort. It takes hardly 5 minutes to reach the top of it to see half a dozen of flags with flag sticks . While climbing one can see another big cistern at the other side of the hill. It seems to be the biggest water tank build using rock bricks and has a good depth, but it is a dry tank. There is another route to go down from here which is fairly easy and takes you between the right and middle caves.

Photo by Harshad Chhatre
Both these forts can be seen in a single day and other forts near these, like Katra and Gorakh can be visited on the second day, but since we had spent quite some time in roaming on Ankai and taking pictures, nobody was in the mood to go anywhere else. Since the last night everybody was behaving like a child & doing everything to have fun like school children and tease each other every way we could. It was a fun trek especially because there were so many of us together after so long. Generally we are used to have 4-5 companions max and here there were 14 of us (Shridhar kaka, Abhijit, Manali, Ashwin, Parth, Myself, Harshad, Rasika, Ketaki, Ashish, Gaurav, Pinakin, Apoorv, Shivaji) were there :) I think it was the best time we have had with each other in couple of years..

More Photos

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Interesting Hobby - Coin Collection

Recently one of my friends, Pinakin showed me his Indian coins & notes collection, nicely put in an album. It was very interesting to see those coins with so many different pictures and variations. I have been collecting coins since I was in school, but used to use a small carry bag to put them all in it. After I saw Pinakin's collection, I just couldn't stop thinking about getting an Album and organizing my collection properly.

In a weeks time I bought an album and organized all my coins nicely. I remembered that my father and my grandmother had a small but a good collection of old coins. Then I was after my grandmother to find those coins, and ultimately found them in my brother's cupboard, as he also collects coins from India as well as other countries.

I have been reading about coin collection since past week and found out about concept of 'mint' and scanned all the coins I have, to find a same coin with different mints.

I found a lot of interesting information about pursuing coin collection as a hobby on the Internet.. For instance.. what all things you should consider / know while doing a collection, more information about coins since few thousand years, where you can sell or buy coins etc. Whoever is interested in this, may find the following links useful.

Information about Numismatic / coin collecting
Mint marks on Indian coins
For information, buying and selling coins

Request to all : If anyone finds new / rare coins kindly give it to me. Even if you think I have the same coin, please pass it on, since it may be having a different mint. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Three Cups of Tea

I have been trekking every year in Himalaya since 2005, and have seen many small villages situated way far from the cities or towns we generally know. We always meet people who come with us as porters or guides and who are always willing to help others boundlessly, inspite of the rough lives they are living as compared to people's lives in 'developed' cities. When we talk to them, asking about their family and what everyone in the family does, their eyes sparkle when they talk about their children or grandchildren learning in school in their village or somewhere else. When we talk to the kids in a village, they are always excited about talking about schools and what they would like to do when they grow up. It has always felt good to know that the children in such remote areas are getting education as well, although I still wonder if they get enough education to improve their lives or not. 

Point of writing all this is, recently I read a good book, Three Cups of Tea, about an American, Greg Mortenson, who went to climb K2 and found a noble thing to do for the rest of his life. The book tells a story about how he started and succeded building schools in the remote villages in Karakoram, Pakistan, in a hope to promote Peace Through Education and in the years of working there, met with the people that are willing to help him in every way they can, to give education to their generations to come...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Durg - Dhakoba

When we started planning for it, few of us had only one and a half day in hand where others had 2 full days, so we had to plan where we could visit one fort on first day and start back to Pune on the next morning, while others could continue to the second fort. That's why we decided to go to these forts since Durg is very small, actually a huge pile of big rocks rather than a fort. Dhakoba has quite a climb, as per few books and blogs it takes 2.5 hours to reach its top if climbed from the base village Amboli.

Our plan was to go to Durgwadi, from where Durg is hardly at 15 minutes walk, so we could skip it for the day and go all the way to Dhakoba and come back to Durgwadi for the night's stay. Since some of us had less time, we decided to go by car and others by bus. We started at around 6:30 am on 23rd July 2011, and met at Junnar around 9:45 am before the time for next bus to Hatvij, near Durgwadi. The Junnar - Hatvij bus leaves Junnar at 10:15 am which takes one almost up to Durgwadi and takes around 1.5 hours to reach there. Since we had one car , all of us again met at the forked road where the left road goes to Hatvij and right one goes to Durgwadi, where one should get down from the bus. Durgawadi is at around 20 minutes walk from this spot. Since we all wanted to go together, 8 of us with 8 rucksacks, managed to fit inside our Indica for further journey. The weather was good, a light rain was there, we were at the top of a mountain so wind was great and we enjoyed the stuffed ride to Durgwadi.

We parked our car little ahead of Durgwadi till the road is good and tried to get some local person to take us to Dhakoba. From our knowledge it should have taken around 7 hours to visit Dhakoba and come back but according to the villagers we met, from there Dhakoba was at 1.5 hours one way walk. So when they told us that no one from village can come with us due to the rice plantations to be done, we thought we could reach the fort in atleast 3 hours since there is no way to miss the road..

We started around 12:30 pm. After 15 minutes walk from right edge of Durg, we took a trail going down, to cross a stream and again going to the right of hills in front of us. The way goes from the right of many hills but the path is well marked and at some distances we could see some people to check if we were on right track.. At a point after passing 2-3 hills we were confused as some villager nearby had told us to take the upper path and continue. So some of us went ahead to see the path ahead but due to the clouds we werent sure if it was a correct path or not.. After some more time around 3 pm Manali, Parth and myself were checking for the directions and books to get an idea of our location and how far must be the temple at the base of Dhakoba, that we had been reading about. Meanwhile others found a great jacuzzi and could not help themselves from going inside and of course taking photos of people in the water and the scenery around.

Since we were now on the verge of changing plans to have fun in jacuzzi rather than going to Dhakoba, Manali and Parth pushed everyone to go ahead to see if the temple is anywhere around the next hill. To everyone's delight, from the next turn, we could see Dhakoba looking over from behind a mountain in front of us. It was 3:30 pm by then but we thought we could reach there in an hour and if not we will start back for Durgwadi. So we went ahead and after walking for half an hour, we realised the fort was still too far to reach there and come back by night.

Now that we had some time in hand, some of us went to have fun in jacuzzi again. We started walking back around 4:15 pm. By this time the rains were so heavy, though not continuously, we could hardly see 5 feet area around us. After debating on the road to take, since some of us were sure we had taken a long cut while coming and if we crossed the stream right below where we were standing, we could reach Durgwadi faster, and few of us were insisting that this was not the road we took and it will not take us at correct destination since we were quite far from the road we came, we sticked to the original path and in another 15 minutes we were at the correct point to start climb towards Durg. We reached at the top around 6:15 pm and after taking some photos we started walking remaining way towards our car. Although we hadnt seen any fort in the day and few of us were not going to visit Durg on next day, we were very happy with the trek we had done.

Now we had to check if the temple near Durg was good enough for stay, since we knew some rain water gets inside and we didnt want to realise that it wasnt a good place for stay once we take all the luggage there, in heavy rains. So Parth and Abhijit went to check the temple while remaining of us were trying to hide behind an umbrella or rain jackets and car to get some warmth in the heavily dropping raindrops. After some time when the rain wasnt that hard, all of us sat together on the road, chatting until the other 2 guys came back. When they came back, they told us that we had to stay in the village school since the temple had lot of water in it and even with our tents, we could not stay in it. We found a school room quite big, and a villager told us we could stay there. For our delight there was some wood to lit fire, which someone already had used before and kept the remaining... We started preparing for dinner and sleep. Vishal and Parth made great khichadi and everyone was so hungry that after finishing the Khichadi, Vishal had to make some Maggie for everyone. He did a good job again and everyone went to sleep with their stomach full.

More Photos

Monday, June 20, 2011

Trek to Aad, Patta, Aundh

We had not been to any 2 day trek in few months, so 6 of us, Harshad, Rasika, Parth, myself, Ashwin & Manali had decided to go for a trek on 10thJune 2011night and be back on 12th. The dates were locked but the place was not, so Manali searched a little and decided that we should visit Aad, Aundh, Patta and Bitanga (Bitangad). We did not know how many of these forts we could visit in 2 days but we decided to visit as many as possible.

Once the place was fixed, I sent out sms to approx 15 more friends and got max replies saying "I would have loved to come but cant due to xxxx reason". Got a few positive replies and by end of the day onthe 9th, there were 10 people in all.Manali and I decided the menu for the trek and divided the work of getting provisions among ourselves . We had booked a 17 seater bus.

As always, after a few cancellations and additions, finally 9 of us started from Pune around 11:30 pm. We stopped for a short nap at a template on the way to Akole. The template is small but the open space with roof in front of this temple is very spacious. I was asleep the whole time till we reached this temple and went to sleep again for another 2 hours.

11th June
After waking up around 7 am on the 11th of June, we decided to go to Akole, have some breakfast and proceed to 'varchi aadwadi' via Thangao - Samsherpur. Aadwadi is placed exactly at the base of Aad fort. We reached Aadwadi around 9:30 am and started climbing around 10 am. We started climbing from the farms near the village and after climbing a bit, had to traverse till the pass between Aad and nearby hill, follow the way which again traverses the Aad fort from other side till you reach a cave. The cave is big and has a small temple of a deity. Passing the temple and following the same path, we reach the carved stone steps. From the stairs, we reach on the top in 5 minutes.After getting lost for few minutes, which is kind of a ritual in our treks with friends, all of us reached on top from one way or another, around 12.There are 5-6 big water tanks carved in the stone. The water in only 1 tank was potable. Villagers have built trenches on the top and on the way to fort and have planted some trees for water conservation. There is nothing much to see on the top other than the water tanks and views around. One can see a lot of windmills around the place and many fort ranges if skies are clear enough.

We climbed down the fort around 1:30 pm, had lunch (Thalipit) that we had packed with us and started for Pattawadi via Thangao. After reaching pattawadi, we were dilemma about going to Aundh fort before Patta, since it was already past 3:30pm and we wanted to stay on Patta fort in any case. So after some discussions we decided to go on Patta and visit Aundh the next day. We started from Pattawadi at 4 pm. Since we had read that it take around 1.5 hours to reach the top of the Patta fort, we had plenty of time, before sunset. We had stopped near a well to fill up our water bottles before starting to climb the fort, and then Manali found number of Jambhul (Black Plum) trees around the way to fort. So we decided to take a 10mins stop to eat Jambhul :) After around 20 minutes we finally started climbing.

The road at start is quite big and a jeep or such vehicle can easily go almost upto the small temple on the way. It takes 15 minutes to reach the temple and Ashram, where one can get tap water, from a water tank on the way up. After climbing a little more, there are 2-3 ways to climb ahead. We took a way on the right, which leads to stairs and a entrance door on the same side as Pattawadi. This is another route to climb up till this point. Near these stairs, there is template of godess Durga. It is a quite big temple, probably was a cave before and then converted to a temple that has been painted. The stairs, near the temple, take you to a big water tank, it is similar to the Ratangad water tank. Half of the tank is carved in the stone such that is has roof and a part of tank is in open. There is a wall between the closed and open tanks such that whenever the closed tank overflows, the open tank starts filling up and you can take water from the open tank. Nearby, a construction is going on, mostly of another temple.. After climbing up a bit from the rocks, we reached near a bastion, from where one can see a building, which is known to be a kothi (storage for food).

When all of us reached this point, it was already past 5:30pm, we had the clouds all over the place and we were no near finding the cave.Parth & Ashwin had already gone to search the cave, Ashwin came back near Kothi and we waited for Parth and to take a decision, if we should stay in the temple cave, we saw on the way up or search for the cave on top... Meanwhile we read the book again and again just to make sure that the cave, the book is referring to is not the same temple cave.. Finally we realised that the book said the cave is somewhere in the topmost area of the fort, so I called up my uncle who had been here before and asked him for direction. He confirmed that we had to climb ahead to find the cave and Ashwin and Anand went ahead to find the cave, while remaining of us sat at the rock discussing about where the cave can be. In 5 minutes Parth came back and told us that he has found the cave and had asked Ashwin and Anand to wait on the way till everyone comes there.. Now the problem was, Parth had not found a good source of water near the cave. There were 2 water tanks just before the cave but did not have potable water. Only potable water there was the little water filled up due to latest rains.

After Parth told us about the water situation, we still decided to go ahead. To go up, we passed by the side of Kothi and saw another huge water tank and a Veergal (A stone with carvings of deities) nearby. The tank was totally dry except some grass grown in it.. We climbed for 5 minutes and reached at the middle of a big plateau. We went ahead on the right side on the plateau which leads to the topmost point of the fort. In another 5 minutes we reached the bad water tanks and we finally could see the cave from there. We went straight to cave to keep our bags. When we were settling in the cave, Parth, Ashwin & Harshad went ahead to find more water sources. In 10 mins we heard them calling us and they told us that they had found another huge cave 5 mins from our cave. This second cave is really large and can accommodate more than 50 people. But it seems that the villagers use this cave as a shelter for their animals. Since there was lot of cow dung spread around the cave and it being too smelly, instead of inside cave being well flattened and cosy, half of us declined to stay in there. While 6 of us were exploring this cave, we heard Parth and the guys calling again with the best news about the Water sources. From a 5 mins climb from this cave, they had found another bunch of water tanks. Most of these water tanks were of the size of small residential society swimming pools. The water in one of the tanks was very good and we were very happy to hear about it :)

We went back to our cave and started preparing for tea. Shridhar kaka prepared the tea while others started chopping vegetables for our dinner or did timepass.. Everyone was very much relaxed now and all were enjoying the cloudy, windy whether, beautiful sunset happening somewhere above the clouds showing us just a few shades of it and still showing the Aad fort and surrounding area some distance far.. It was nice to have such a fantastic evening.After having tea, in half an hour, harshad took Dnyanesh and myself to the bigger water tanks to get water for dinner. While coming back from the tank, the clouds had started to go away and we could walk easily in the moonlight. It was again superb to walk in the moonlight seeing clouds coming and going near us..

While we were off to get water, in the cave others were preparing for dinner or sleep. Rasika, under Manali's instructions :P made a great usal (Mix sprouts curry), while Dnyanesh prepared a quick and nice onion chatani. We had a dinner of bread, usal and chatni and went to sleep around 11pm.

12th June
I woke up around 6:30am, when Harshad and Anand were already out clicking some photos, Parth was preapring for morning tea and others were still half asleep. Finally everyone woke up had tea, then Ashwin prepared a breakfast Maggie. After having breakfast and packing all the luggage, Manali, Parth, Harshad and me went to see the top of the fort, while other waited in the cave. As we went higher, the winds started growing. It was chilly but still pleasant. Due to high winds clouds were moving very fast, giving us some good shots of view around. At the very top, the winds were so high that we had to make efforts for not falling down, but enjoyed that as well.

Around 10am we started climbing down from the cave and after seeing the Kothi, which we had not done the day before, we reached down near the well around 11am. Everyone who had started to climb down before we did, were waiting here for us, being impatience and wondering how xactly we had managed to spend so much time in climbing down, when they had reached there in hardly 30 minutes. After having some more Jambhul on the way, we all finally reached our bus and especially Shridhar kaka and Dnyanesh gained their peace :).

Now we had some discussions about going or not going to the Aundh fort, we decided that we should atleast go and try to go up. After going from the wrong side, coming back to Pattawadi, and going to the base of Aundh fort, by another route, which takes you near the 3rd windmill from the fort's entry path, from where you can see Patta fort. It took us almost an hour to start climbing Aundh fort after we started from Pattawadi.

One can easily find a path to start climbing towards the fort. There are some stairs carved in stone, near this windmill, then you need to follow the small path crossing these 3 windmills and then you actually come face to face with the huge bolders arranged naturally to stand still which is one end of the fort. The rock patch, from where one can climb to top is exactly on the other side of this point. A small path on the right of these bolders take us to the rock patch. Few minute before reaching the the other end from this path, few stairs go up from the left which leads to the patch, but we realised it while coming back from the rockpatch, since we had not come by this path before. We had climbed from wherever we thought the path was, but mostly those were the paths built while installation of windmills and the electricity towers. So we had climbed a small patch from the extreme end, after which we could see the stairs leading to the rock patch. But from here, we could easily have missed it, since the path we came till here, went ahead, mostly to complete the round around the fort.

Climbing the small patches and stairs was fun, considering our last two forts and since I love climbing on rocks rather than anything else. After the stairs everyone was sitting on the way, while Parth and Dnyanesh explored the main big rock patch of around more than 20 ft. Finally I went there and started climbing it, just to see if all of us could climb up and climb down without any safety equipment. I went up half of the patch but then 3 of us decided that we should not go up, as climbing down with the given exposure will not be a good idea and possibly everyone of us wouldnt want to climb up in the first place. So we declared that we would have to come back for this and sadly started climbing down.

Around 3:30pm we came back to the bus. Shridhar kaka had not come up with us, so once we came back he gave us the Puranpoli he had brought for everyone. We ate the Puranpoli and misal and started back to Pune. While coming to this fort, we had seen a lot of Karvand bushes and ofcourse before leaving this area, that was going to be a stop, atleast for 10 mins. We decided we would not stop for more than 10mins and eveyone should either eat as much Karvand and Jambhul as they can, or collect as much as they can. So everyone disbursed around the bus, and few of us went ahead on the road to find more Karvand bushes there. By the time everyone around bus got back to the bus and bus came ahead, where others were, Parth had found a few bushes which were overflowing with big Karvad and we started making cones of leaves and collecting these fruits. In another 10 minutes everyone was back in the bus eating the Ranmeva we had collected.

After taking a stop for snacks at Sangamner, we came back in Pune around 11pm. It had been fantastic 2 days and we had reached in Pune at sensible time. We said goodbyes to each other and happily went home...

Sunday, May 8, 2011


The Akashwani, a radio station used to air a programme on Natyasangeet every afternoon / at night, when I was a kid. Since my grandmother and grandfather were fans of Akashwani, the radio was always ON in our house, as I remember it. Since then I have been hearing about some plays and some great songs sung by great people at the time and who made the Classical music in India very famous and a layman started appreciating the classical music in the plays.. I did not really listen to any of the songs by choice then, since I guess I did not understand it at the time and did not develop any interest. But I definitely used to hear those songs on radio or in my grandfather's humming.

Yesterday I saw the latest Marathi movie, 'Balgandharva' by Nitin Desai, with my family. I could not stop my self from writing that experience, after seeing such a great man and his life story in a movie form. The film surely is a big budget film in Marathi. The story is filmed fantastically, the songs written and sung are great, and the actors have presented the characters so passionately that even a person like me who does not really know who and what was Balgandharva, can feel overwhelmed by the movie. The life story of Balgandharva is so touchy and it really feels sad to know how his life became later in his elder years.

I definitely regretted not listening to Natyasangeet in last 27 years of my life, especially when I had people around me who appreciated those people and their songs, for their entire lives. But after seeing the movie, I kept wondering how can an intelligent and gifted man like Balgandharva can never think about business and how could he believe in everyone around him. But I guess due to his love for music and the motive of serving art, people and country made it possible for him to view everything and everyone around to be great and himself as only a character in the god's play.. I think that love and clear views about what he wanted made him a very great and honourable man, we know him to be.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cricket World Cup 2011

I used to watch one day matches with family when I was in school. But as me and my brother, Harshad grew up, he started watching cricket so much than before, I got fed up of it and didnt watch it much since then. It's been almost 12 years since I remember watching any one day match from start to end.

This year when world cup advertisements started appearing on tv and radio, I was quite unhappy with the thought of cricket being watched in our house at all times and about hearing only cricket talks everywhere around. Obviously I did not watch any match, except few glimpses while passing from tv room..

When India entered semi-final, the atmosphere around changed very quickly, everything was very cheerful and everyone was excited about India vs Pakistan match. One could only hear people talking about cricket and the upcoming match. I always loved watching a cricket match, not because I love the game but because the fun we had as a group while watching it. So when some friend suggested that we should watch it together, I was for it.

We had seen second innings of the 20-20 world cup match at Manali's house, which we had won. So we decided to watch the game at her house, it being a great place to enjoy and more importantly we had won the last match we saw there.. :) Manali called around 15 of our friends to invite them to watch the game, but finally only 10 of us gathered together.

Meanwhile, we decided to have a screening at our office as well. So we decided that we would watch first innings with the Tekdi team and second innings with our friends. All of us finally met at Manali's home around 7pm on 30th March.

Me and Harshad, always used to predict when the opposite team's batsman will be out and had fun. For India vs Pakistan match, we did the same and the predictions were quite right, so everyone enjoyed predicting the game with us and had a lot of fun.

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After the match, we left Manali's house to go back home and to our surprise, all the roads were crowded, even blocked at times. This was really a big day for everyone since we had actually won the match after the big hype about the match.. It was the night of all festivals being celebrated by everyone and everywhere in Pune. It was great to watch people cheering enthusiastically for India.

When we entered the finals, it was obvious that we would watch the final game between India and Srilanka, at Manali's home. This time Manali called all the friends again and finally 22 of us, Girija, Shraddha, Aditi, Sachin, Tejas, Nupur, Maithili, Dnynesh, Ketaki, Rasika, Harshad, Paresh, Ashish, Ashwin, Manali, Abhijit, Aniket, Pinakin, Darshan, Seema, Parth and myself gathered to enjoy the final match. 

We had fun chatting, making jokes, performing like a bunch of musicians and finally we won the WC, after decades of wait. And it was again a night of celebrations so we joined and enjoyed, the people cheering on the roads till 1:15 am and parted our ways to join others in celebrations or just to get a good night's sleep.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trip to Kerala

Since one of my friends, Rajashree announced Kerala as her wedding venue, me and my husband, Parth started planning for the trip. This wedding was on 31st Jan 2011. Another friend of mine was getting married on 30th Jan in Pune and I wanted to attend both the weddings since both are my very close friends. So after quite some discussions and change in plans, me and Parth decided to take a flight on 30th Jan afternoon, so that we could attend both the weddings.

30th January
We packed our bags and left home at 8am to meet and give best wishes to Ninad & Swaroop on their wedding day. Unfortunately while going to the wedding place, which was around 15 mins from our home, we realised that the petrol tank was almost empty and the bike could not go ahead at all. We took the bike to nearest petrol pump, that was at 10 mins walking distance from where we had stuck. We had a reservation of 9 20 am bus to Mumbai and futher flight reservation to Kochi. It was 8:30am by the time we got petrol and werent sure if we should go to visit Ninad or not. But we decided to go to say hi and come back. After meeting Ninad and Swaroop, we managed to come back home by 8:50am or so. We rushed to the bus stop and found out that the bus was scheduled to reach there in 20 minutes. After having breakfast in nearby tapari, around 9:15 am we were all ready to catch the bus.

Around 1 pm we reached Parle, and went on to airport. we took a Spice Jet flight at 2:55 pm to Kochi, and reached Kochi by 4:30pm. Few more friends were going to come at the same time from Hyderabad for the wedding. Rajashree had arranged a vehicle to take us to the wedding place, Guruvayoor, around 2 hrs from Kochi. I was very excited to see all these friends after quite some time. In few minutes all of us met and started journey to Guruvayoor.

31st January

The Guruvayoor is very famous for its temple and the traditional rituals carried out there. People start lining up at the temple entrance from around 2 30 am to see all the rituals. Lots of weddings take place in primises of the temple, everyday. The actual ceremony performed here is to exchange Tulsimala and take phere, and then bride and groom come out after they take darshan of the lord. This takes around 30 mins at max.

After the ceremony at the temple, few more rituals take place at the wedding hall, which takes another hour or so. Before these ritual starts, Bride's mother and 9 girls are supposed to go at entrance to welcome groom and take him to the mandap. Then they take the bride to the mandap. It was nice being one of the 9 girls. It was something very different and interesting to be a part of such different wedding.

After the wedding we had a fantastic Kerala lunch, with many pickles, vegetables, and my favourite rice - sambhar and rice - rassam. By 1 pm we had finished our lunch, congratulated Rajashree and Anant and went to our hotel room to pack our bags. We were supposed to reach at Kochi by evening.

After taking some rest we went to the local bus stop to catch a bus to Kochi. Now it was the challenging part to get a correct bus since none of the signnboards were in English or any other language we understood ! Plus not  everyone understood English, or even if they could, we hadn't yet got used to the accent yet so it was difficult everything they said. Somehow around 2:30 pm we managed to get a bus and in sometime found out that this bus was not going to Kochi but could drop us in half way. So we climbed down at Thrissur, which is around 1 hour from Guruvayoor, and took another bus only to find out that it was going in different direction than our destination. Again we climbed down and took a rikshaw back to the bus stand. Finally we got a right bus and reached Kochi by 7:30 pm. We stayed at the Hotel Excellency near M.G. road.

Hotel Excellency is a cheap and yet an elegant hotel one can find. This has the best location if shopping interests you. We had booked a non ac room for Rs. 980 only.

1st February
We woke up around 7:30 in the morning and went down for breakfast. We were going to take a Boat ride for sightseeing. There is a 3 hours tour arranged twice a day. We got the tickets for this boat ride at our hotel. By rickshaw, the boat jetty is around 10 mins from hotel.

We visited Fort Kochi, to see Chinese fishing nets, the church where Vasco Da Gama was buried. The Chinese fishing nets were huge and I had not seen any such big nets before. It's mechanism was great and took atleast 3-4 people to pull it up or push it in the sea, even with the whole setup.

Then we went to Mattancherry palace, also known as Dutch palace. The Dutch palace now has a museum in it, which one can visit by paying a small entry fee. The museum has many objects like wooden Doli / Palkhi, costumes, vessels used for cooking, armary, coins and stamps etc used in the different eras of Hindu kings. A room of the museum has paintings depicts scenes in Ramayana and Mahabharata. The museum also has a lot of information panels giving historical, geographical information about Kochi. It also has old drawings made by British / dutch people, showing Kochi with it's borders, residential areas, farming areas etc. This palace was built as a gift to the local King & the architecture though distinctly European has some sculptures that are of India origin..

We came back to hotel around 1:30 pm & had Lunch. We were tired due to the humidity and bearing sun over our heads for last 3-4 hours. For last 2-3 days Parth was not feeling well, so we decided to take a taxi to kothamangalam, our next destination. After some shopping on the way we started for Kothamangalam and reached there by 5:30pm. Here we had booking at Hotel Maria International. The hotel has a nice ambiance and staff is very helpful. They provided us with all the information we wanted to know about the bird santuary at Thattekad, 15 km from Kothamangalam.

2nd February
We left hotel around 6:45 to go to Thattekad. We reached at sanctuary around 7:15am. There we got to know that the usual bird watching area was closed this year due to danger of wild elephants. Also one of the tour operators, Mr. Vinod told us that there is another better place for bird watching, around 10km from this place, and it was too late to see birds.. We were very disappointed by this information and thought we have already wasted the day. We decided to stay and watch birds in the area anyway. The forest charges fee of Rs. 10 per person plus Rs. 25 per still camera. After we took the tickets, Vinod, who also works for forest's bird watching tours in the area, took us to another place for bird watching. There we saw around 15 species and could click some photos.. We were very excited to see so many birds even though it was late.

After coming back to the forest entrance gate, we visited a refuge camp for injured animals and an interpretation centre. After that Vinod introduced us to Dr. Sugathan. He is an ornithologist who has founded this bird sanctuary as per instructions from Dr. Salim Ali. He has worked with Dr. Salim Ali for 17 years and was with him till his death. I found Dr. Sugathan down to earth and eager to help and enhance your knowledge in any way. he told us about his hiking days in jungles and mountains in south India, when there were no defined routes and how it was interesting to see the wildlife.

The forest department provides accommodation at Rs. 1000 per room, near the entrance of the sanctuary, which is an ideal and peaceful place for bird watching.

After meeting Dr. Sugathan, we took a bus back to Kothamangalam. We had a booking at Kothamangalam at 2nd and were scheduled to leave Munnar in the 3rd morning.

3rd February

It was my birthday! :) Parth got a cake and chocolates for me from somewhere, we ate some of the cake at night and kept remaining for further journey. In the morning I woke up around 7 am because of a birthday call from my sister. After that the mobiles were ringing for quite some time. We packed our bags, had breakfast and took a bus to Munnar around 10 am. Unfortunately, my mobile battery got discharge due to Parth playing games on it for quite some time, and I could not receive calls from few dear ones. Whoever knew Parth's number, called to wish anyway. :)

We reached Munnar around 1:30 pm. We found out that there was a full day programme arranged by KTDC, but since we did not know this before hand, we had made bookings at later destinations. We kept our luggage at Sisiram homestay. This was a small bunglow near a water source. Here we got a non ac room for Rs. 1200. The place is about 10 mins by vehicle, from Munnar city.

Around Munnar there 2-3 wildlife sanctuaries. One is Rajamalai sanctuary, also known as Eravikulam national park, which is around 15 km from munnar and famous for Nilgiri Tahrs seen in it. This sanctuary was closed from 1st Feb for 45 days, since it's a breeding season for Tahrs. Another sanctuary is Chinnar wildlife sanctuary, which is located around 60 km from Munnar. There are many other tourist place around Munnar.

We decided to take a short tour after lunch. We hired a rikshaw and went to see the flower garden, Mattupetty dam, view point etc. The chilly winds started moving as we were on the way back to out homestay. We came back to our homestay around 7 pm.

We had not planned to stay in Munnar for more than 1 day, hence could not visit Chinnar sanctaury,  so we decided to go for bird watching early in the morning, around the homestay and then leave for Kumily, Thekkady.

Since it was my birthday, we decided to celebrate it in a fancy restaurant nearby. I had always been celebrating my birthday with lot of friends and family, and it was the first time in 27 years that I celebrated it so far from the home. Still it was nice to celebrate a birthday on a trip with Parth, and he started my day with a nice cake.. :)

4th February

We went for bird watching in the morning and came back by 8am. Since we had to cover around 4.5 hours distance by bus, we decided to leave Munnar as soon as we could. While checking for the right bus, we found that there were no direct buses to Kumily before 11 am. We had to reach at Periyar House, a forest guesthouse, before the gates of Periyar jungle close at 6 pm,  so we decided to take a bus to Poopara at 9 am. It took us 1 hour to reach Poopara. It seemed a small village, with lot of shops near bus stand. We found a place to have brunch of idli ,wada, since we had not got time for breakfast in the morning. The shop owner told us that there were no direct bus from here to Kumily, and we would need to go to Pedunendum. We got a bus around 11 am and reached to the place in another hour or so. For Kumily bus we had to wait for 20 mins, in which we decided to drink some fruit juice, without realising that the we were drinking the costliest juice we had ever heard of as compared to the size and ambiance of the shop.. After that heavy drink, in every way, we took a bus to Kumily and reached there by 3:30pm, which was waaay before our expectations.

The Periyar House is around 5 km from the bus stand and around 4 km from the Periyar gates and to enter this jungle one has to take a ticket of Rs. 25 per person. We took an auto from the bus stand, and were settled in a room of Periyar House by 4pm. It's a best place you can get in a jungle. It's located near lake, near boat jetty, provides you with all the amenities, a standard hotel would, plus the surroundings are great. We paid around Rs. 2000 for a room for 1 day, which included dinner and breakfast, I must say the cost was worth the food and stay. We decided to do some bird watching around the place and to our amazement in few minutes we could see around 10 species of birds without moving an inch. You can wander around the hotel or take the tar road and explore the area around boat jetty till 6 pm. Everyone stars rapping up their work and go home and in 5 mins you can only hear some distant noises of birds returning to nests or noises by monkeys sitting on top most points of some trees. It starts getting dark almost immediately and it can get really scary standing on a road between the jungle, where there was a traffic of returning vehicles few minutes ago.

The best part of living in a jungle is that, you can see the wild animals, birds etc during the day and can observe the silence in the night, which I think develops a better sense of what we have in such jungles and what we will miss if we keep encroaching all the areas we find just to have a life, which we think is better. Even you may know it's dangerous to roam around in jungles at the time when wild animals are likely to come out, you always linger at the end of the road just to feel that peacefulness.

So after gathering all the smells of the jungle, we went into the hotel to get some good night's sleep. We had booked for a full day Bamboo Rafting programme the next day and had to wake up early to renew the entry ticket we had bought earlier. The entry ticket is only valid from 6am to 6pm, so needs to be renewed even if you are staying in the jungle.

5th February
As the sun started rising, birds started chirping and our alarms went off, we woke up to go to the rafting programme, I had been waiting to go for last 2 years. 2 years back I was there in Periyar with my family but sadly we could not get the bookings for rafting then. All the guides with whom we went for nature walk, jungle patrol had told us that whoever went for the rafting saw few dozens of elephants. And at the time we had only seen few elephants which were walking on the village roads and were trained for elephant rides. So this time I was very excited because we finally got the tickets.

They say that the programme is from 8 am to 5pm, but we actually started at 8:30am after everyone registered, came. Generally lot of foreigners opt for this programme, and only 8 people are allowed for the programme. We had a family of 2 from Belgium and a family of 4 from UK with us. Rafting programme actually includes around 2 hrs of rafting, 4 hours of trekking and 2 hours are spent in having snacks, lunch and watching animals nearby. With 8 people there are 4 people from forest staff who are experts on wildlife, who have gun to protect you and animals in case we crossed paths... So 12 of us started a trek from the jungle, saw wild boars roaming around, at far distances, heard chirping of birds from distance, and saw few birds like Jungle Hen, Herons, Cormorants etc eating or resting by the water. After 2 hours of trek we reached a point from where we would be going further inside the jungle, by raft.

Before starting the rafting, we had a short snacks break in a shadowed area. While we were sitting there chatting and getting aquainted with others, our guide called us to see Elephants. We were very happy about the first sightings of the elephants and there were 5 of them including a baby elephant. After we had the coffee and snacks, our guide called us again and took us back the way we had come, to see wild dogs eating there prey, a deer. The guide had heard the noises of the deer or dogs and had realised that the dog were hunting. When we reached the spot in 5 mins, we saw 2 dogs with the dead deer and a Sambhar standing in water, at some distance from the dogs but in the area that was not visible to dogs. We were thrilled to see the hunt, even though we did not see the actual hunt.

We then started rafting into the jungle ahead. The raft was quite big. It was made of around 14 bamboos, each having diameter around 4.5 inches. It had bamboo seats kept on top of the raft. We took the seats and started for further wonderful experience. After about 45 mins, we saw 4 elephants at some distance and our guides decided to take use there. We landed at some distance from the elephants and walked for 5 more minutes to get a good view of them. There were 2 big elephants, each with a baby elephant. 1 pair was probably finding something to eat or was playing in the soil, the other pair was playing in the water. It was quite hot and they seemed to have no plans of getting in the jungle at this hour whatsoever. So we watched them, took photographs for more than half an hour and started for the other side of water, infront of these elephants. We were off the raft again in 15-20 mins. It was already past 1 o'clock and it was time for lunch.

We took halt in another shadowy jungle patch, and had a fantastic meal of pulav, pickle, and salad. After we had food, our guides went to the raft to have their lunch. In the mean time, we start exploring around the spot and saw an elephant at far distance. We called everyone who was not there and till others joined us, few more elephants were joing the first elephant we had seen. Finally when we counted there were around 14 elephants in the herd.

After watching them for a while, one of the elephants gave a big call and all of them started to move towards jungle.

On the way back, we enjoyed the raft ride, doing nothing but getting tanned. After the 2 hrs trek, we reached the boat jetty. Took a group photograph with all the teammates and guides and went to Hotel Ambadi for the night.

Hotel Ambadi is around 1 km, outside the Pariyar reserve. The hotel had nice ambience but no facilities like TV, any recreational activities etc. The food in their restaurant was good but the service is poor. Unfortunately the room we got was on the ground floor and few people with kids were staying above us, and we were bugged till late at night and early in the morning due the whatever furniture moving or games they were playing. We could hear all the loud noises from the roof and had to get out of the room at earliest. We had paid Rs. 1800, only for the room and I did not think the hotel was worth the cost, especially after staying at the Periyar house. But if someone just wants to relax, it's a nice place to live and it's near the reserve. But there are some homestays nearby, which are as cheap as for Rs. 500 per night, and are close to the Periyas gates.

After some rest, we decided to go out to get some food, chocolates and spices. Kerala is famous for spice plantations and Ayurvedic plants, and plenty of such plantations can be found around Kumily, Thekkady.

6th February
We got up in the morning by the loud noises made by people living in the room above us. Parth went to finish some office work and get coffee. I slept for few more minutes and in another hour we packed everything and left to see spice plantation. We hired a rikshaw to go to the plantation, the rikshaw wala takes Rs. 50 one way. It's kind of standard rate in Kumily and anywhere you want to go within 10-15 minutes distance, they charge Rs. 50. After taking a half hour tour of the plantation and seeing the shop of Ayurvedic items, we started back for hotel.

Today we were going to go to Kumarkom, Kottayam. Kumarkom has a bird sanctuary. The sanctuary is near the Wembnad lake, and lot of water birds are seen here. From Mr. Vinod, we had got a reference of Mr. Sabu, living in Kumarkom. Mr. Sabu sent his cousin at bus stop, to receive us and take us to his father's homestay Santhi Theeram.
This homestay was an very homely. The owner Mr. Rajappan has a house of around 4-5 rooms once you enter the gate. Past house there is 1 room like out house, past that there are 2 rooms, which seem to be built specifically for renting them to tourists. The rooms are very small, but have attached bathroom, a small sit out looking towards water canal. Climb down 3 steps from this place and you will find yourself in the canal water. We could see few birds flying around, Cormorants fishing infront of us, houseboats and motorboats going and coming from rides.. Apart from the boat noises, this place is very quiet.

Mr. Rajappan asked us if we would want to eat food made at his house, and we instantly agreed since we were hoping to get some good homely food rather than going to some restaurant outside. Parth asked them for fish fry and I asked for vegetarian food.

In some time after we settled there, Mr. Sabu came back from a boat ride. He is an expert bird watcher, and goes as an expert with the tourists staying at the resorts and homestays around. We decided to go for bird watching in Wembnad lake in the morning around 6:30. He also asked us if we would like to get any Ayurvedic massage, since it would be cheaper here than any other place. We went for massage in the nearby Ayurvedic center and came back by the dinner time.

Mr. Rajappan and his wife were waiting for us to come. Immediately they setup a table for us at the sit-out, and served us with very delicious food we had had in past week. We were happy to come here instead of going somewhere else.

7th February
We woke up early in the morning and went with Mr. Sabu for bird watching in his boat. There are many boat options available like rowing boat, motor boat, houseboat. But it's a good to take a rowing boat for birdwatching, so you can see more birds. So we went to the lake, passing through canals. From a canal we passed, Sabu showed us a tree which had a whole colony of darters. There are many canals flowing through the village which ultimately meet the lake. When we enter the lake there are many resorts and homestays situated by the side of the lake. The lake is huge, and we could see birds flying all around the place and sitting on the bamboo sticks in the lake. We were excited to see many new birds since Sabu was telling us about some migratory birds which are rare and were seen in the lake. We could see Purple swamphen, Terner, Cormorent, Darter, Jakhanas, Ducks, Kites, Kingfishers etc.

After a ride of 3.5 hours we came back to the homestay. We had fantastic breakfast of idli, dosa, chatni and sambhar. We rested till lunch. After lunch we were scheduled to go to Alleppy. Someone told us that it would be better if we took a bus to Chertala from Kumarkom and then another bus to Alleppy, since frequency of direct buses is not good. Chertala is at around 1 hour from Kumarkom and Alleppy is at another 45 minutes. We had left Kumarkom around 2 o'clock and reached Alleppy around 3:45pm.

Parth had done some search about homestays in Alleppy and had found a homestay called Snehadhara. This homestay is near the Udupi Temple, located at around 10 mins distance by vehicle, from the bus stand. We had called to ask the room availability and found that they had a/c and nona/c rooms available there. The host told Parth over the phone that we can come, see the room and then decide which one we wanted. We reached the place around 4 pm and chose a nice and cozy non a/c room, which cost us Rs. 500 only. Snehadhara is actually a bunglow having few rooms converted for tourists to stay. It had a warm, homely feel and hosts were very kind and helpful.

In the evening, we went to a beach nearby. We had to grab a rikshaw to go to beach and reached there in 15 mins. The beach was quite clean but quite crowdy. By the time reached there the sea had already started to come out. Like many people, Parth went into the water and like few others, I walked on the beach clicking some photos. After a while, we left the beach to go to the market by rikshaw. In another 15 mins we were walking on the market road in search of souvenir to get back for friends and family. We could only find a good shop to buy some Kerala dress materials. Most of the shops on this particular street are big jewelry shops. After walking up and down the street, we went to a restaurant, Kream and Korner on the same road. The restaurant had a good ambience, food was fine. After dinner we came back to our room and went to sleep almost immediately.

8th February
In the morning, we woke up rather late since we had not planned much for the day. The day before, we were thinking, if we should stay in Alleppy or go to Cochin and stay there, since we had to catch a 11:20 am flight from Cochin on 9th February. But this morning we decided that it was better to stay in Cochin, and made an online booking in Hotel Excellency again.

We had asked the hostess, if it was possible to give us breakfast there, and she had agreed. So around 10am I got ready and came out of the room, while Parth was already sitting with a daughter of the host, giving some tips to improve their website. In half an hour, the hostess served us a great breakfast and we left to do some shopping and sightseeing in the town.

Alleppy is famous for backwater canals and houseboats. We were not sure if we should go for a boat ride in and around Alleppy, thinking that we just had gone to a ride in Kumarkom and what difference there would be. But since we had some time before leaving for Cochin, Parth decided that we would go for a 2 hours boat ride. We hired a motorboat from government jetty, paid Rs 550 for 2 hours. The hourly ride cost can vary from Rs. 300 to 600 depending on the place of hiring a boat. Once you start coming near to the goverment jetty, which is hardly 3 mins distance from the bus stand, the prices start nearing to Rs. 300 per hour.

The backwaters ride was a nice experience. We could see a row of big houseboats landed around the 'finishing point'. In Alleppy, a grand rowing boat race takes place every year on second saturday of August. This race finishes at this point and hence it is known as finishing point. Here in Alleppy, there are 3 lakes joint together to form the backwaters and canals. The canals are quite big. We saw few people practicing on a rowing boat. The guide with us told us that it was kind of a test, from which final team members are chosen for the race. The houses and resorts on the banks of the water were beautifully built and I kept thinking how each of the house would be great to live in. All the houses had a small garden around, which was the only thing between house and canal water. In a while guide took us to a small restaurant cum shop kind of place in a village, by the side of the lake. This was the  only village having a school. No other village we saw on the way, had a school. So everyone around come to this school only. 

When we came near the shop, our guide pointed in the direction of the shops and told us to take a look at the eagles sitting there. We were excited to hear about eagles sitting so near, and finally when we located them it was bit of disappointment. The disappointment was not due to the eagles, they were beautiful, sitting on a bench, in the perfect light, but they were trained to sit there.. Still we got some pictures and went ahead to see 2 more eagle sitting on trees around. After taking some photos, we drank the cool coconut water and headed back for the jetty. We were wondering how 2 hours finished so quickly, but going through those canals, watching paddy fields and houses around, feeling the fresh, cold air, you really lose the track of time.

We climbed down from the boat exactly after 2 hours, since we started. The evening before, we had not been able to find any souvenir shop, and in morning we found some shops near the finishing point but many souvenirs in our budget, so we decided to check shops around the bus stop. We finally found a good shop with many interesting souvenirs costing from Rs. 15 to couple of thousands. This was the best shop we could find in Alleppy. Even if you dont want to buy anything, it is worth to visit this shop, just to see what all items they make. There were show pieces, useful crafts such as penstands, bowls, tables etc. We had not imagined to see these many beautifully made and well finished items, in such a low cost in any handy crafts shop. Kerala is quite famous for its banana wafers fried in coconut oil. Since many of my family members had asked me to get some wafers for them, we went for wafers shopping and to our surprise got out of the shop after 15 minutes with handful of wafer bags and a wallet less couple of hundred Rs.

After the souvenir and wafers shopping, we went to pack our bags and move to Cochin. We took a bus to Cochin around 4 pm, this time it was nice to finally get a direct bus to our destination. We reached Cochin around 6 pm and went to the hotel to take some rest. After a while we went out for a walk on the M.G. Road, grabbed something to eat and came back to hotel in an hour or more.

9th February
After a nice rest in night we had to wake up at 7am in the morning to go to the airport. We went to Vyttilla junction, by rikshaw to catch a bus to airport but unfortunately missed it by few seconds due to lot of crowd. We had to wait till 8:30 am to get a bus to Athanni, which is around 5 km from the airport, but rikshaws and taxis are available near Athanni bus stop. We got a cab to airport. The rikshaws or cabs generally charge Rs. 60 -70 to the airport.

After some time killing we finally boarded the 11:20 am flight to Mumbai. I was happy when we first saw Mumbai from above. Wherever you go for the holidays and however great the place was, it always feels great to be back near your home. I was happy thinking that we would be home in couple of hours. We took a lunch near airport and got a taxi to Pune, which cost Rs. 300 each. But it took us to Pune in exactly 3 hours and we were home before 6pm :)

Photo Credits: Madhu, Parth Lawate, Himangi CL