Monday, June 29, 2009

Trek to Harishchandragad (yet again)

Growing increasingly familiar with Harishchandragad. Started out on Friday night, caught the ten thirty train to Kalyan, and met up with the group at the station. There was another group scheduled to meet at Kalyan, at the same time, for the same trek. Got in to the luggage compartment , because  the regular compartments were crowded, even at that time of the night. A few regulars were chatting in a circle and passing around some biscuits and other shit to eat.  On the way over, met a guy (forgot the name) who was also going for the same trek - but with a different group. Had gone to Mahuli with that group (Baan Hikers)... I was going with Mangesh's Green Carpet.  We caught a bus at around eleven thirty, to Khubi Phata, which is the drop off point for going to Harishchandragad. This was a two and a half hour ride, which was great, we sang songs on the way, with a healthy mix of expletives thrown in. 

From Khubi Phata, it was a six kilometer walk to the base village... this took us a good hour with a light drizzle, and on a no moon night. We slept off in the school of the village. It was pretty chilly, and we were too stupid to look in a nice cozy and unlocked classroom. We started trekking at around eight in the morning, after having a breakfast of Kanda-Poha and tea at Hotel Aishwarya, which is at the base village. There was a redundant round of introductions, as we already knew each other well. After a while, we came to the rock patch, which takes about forty minutes for the entire group to traverse, and is the only remotely difficult part of the trek. 

The rest of the trek to the caves  was like walking a sine wave, we went up and down a few times. We were at a high altitude, and we were cloaked by  fog. Made a typo right now, and realised that the keyboard is arranged in such a way, that you can easily type out god instead of fog.  Been on this trek in the winter, which I guess now is the best time to go... all of this was green, and you could see the ground beyond where we were walking, far below us. 

Just after the rock patch, was a small plateu, and this is where all of got exstatic, because of the climate, and the location, and the rock patch felt like a small achievement. 

The group jumped for joy, and posed for the camera, while at it. 

Some of us explained where we were and what we were up to to our near and dear ones. 

The vegetation consisted of interesting colours. There were drops of dew everywhere, and it was well into the day. 

We spotted this snake on the way. It was a tiny one, probably a baby. According to some, it was a baby cobra, and I could see something like a  the spec mark on the head, but I am not convinced. Little thing was pretty lively, and  apparently poisenous. You can tell by the shape of the head, and the pattern on the body, but I can't. 

Somehow, this reminded me of Avalon.

Some pretty looking shit on the way... all of these were taken on the relatively straightforward walk from the rock patch to the caves. 

This is at the little stream ten minutes away from the caves. A great source for water,  one of the few places on the top where water is flowing all year round. 

This dragonfly was friggin huge. I am at least four feet away from the insect. Wingspan of about eight inches. No kidding. 

Some splashes. Not advisable. Even for the sake of photos. My bad. The water was teeming with fish, which were put there to eat the garbage.

The entrance is marked by a small plaque. Supposedly at least two  big cats in the area, one on top, near Taramati, and one just before the rock patch. The area is huge, but no one explores away from the trail, so the whole mental map of Harishchandragad is deceptively small. 

Small crabs in the area. There were bright red ones too. Some of the guys caught bigger ones and had em for dinner. Was apparently very tasty. 

One of the Cobra lilies at the Temple on the top, around two minutes from the caves. 

This is the cave where the shivling is located. I got in with the camera, as the water level was lower than it was the last time I came here. We prayed on impluse, and this was the first time in at least eight years that I actually joined in when people were praying. 

Rare to get a shot from this angle... don't think another one of these exist. The three fallen pillars are supposed to represent the three yugas. The fourth one, is the present yuga, and will collapse when the world ends. The cieling is held up because of this one pillar. Wonder what will happen, or what story will be told, if the fourth one, too, falls, before the world ends, which is more likely looking at how cracked it was. 

This is the guy I met on the train from Thane to Kalyan. 

Growing in a ditch. 

The clouds and mist cleared for some time, showing the clear blue sky. The moment of clarity lasted less than half a minute. 

On an impulse, we decided to head over to Taramati. Taramati is the second highest peak in Maharashtra, which I didn't know till Saturday. Had been to Taramati once before, its a short walk from the caves.  The trail is steep, and goes almost straight up, so it is surprising how fast and how high we climbed. This is half way to the top from the caves, where we got a great view of the temple complex below us. 

Another one of those rare moments of clarity, that showed us how high we really were. After this, we were blanketed by the clouds, and it was raining below us. 

The absolute top of Taramati. The pole was secured by a number of cables, so that it does not topple because of the wind. 

Some introspection...

...and meditation...

...then the group came up. Some of us had gone ahead. We were on the top for hardly ten minutes. No view whatsoever, the clouds were rolling continuously, and it was very windy. 

So windy, that we walked down holding hands. The leader was scared of lightning. 

In the evening, we headed out to Kokankada, the highest cliff in Maharashtra. Unfortunately, we were blanketed by the fog, and those who had trekked to Harishchandragad for the first time missed out on the majesty of the cliffs. We sat close to the cliff edge, and took it in. I joked that we wouldn't be sitting so close, if we could see where we were. A little while later, for hardly ten seconds, the view cleared just a bit, enough for a couple of people sitting nearby to walk away. Those who weren't with the group did not believe us when we said the view had cleared for a while, and demanded to see photos. I explained to them that there was no time for photos, and anyway, I didn't think of it when the view cleared. Don't think they bought it. 

But a few of us kept looking in the hope that it would clear again. Fortunately, it did, and parts of the cliff was exposed now and then. Still, nothing compared to the entire view...

A very docile and camera friendly praying mantis showed up right at the top. Came pretty close to the lense too.

My lense got all wet, and the water condensed inside, so it was useless for the rest of the trip. Slept in the caves that night, was pretty warm this time around. Had a carrymat, and was not chilled to the bone, so it was a comfortable night. We spoke about stuff well into the knight, including a good general knowledge session.

The next morning, we walked down after an early breakfast of maggi. We reached the base at four, after many breaks for conversations in between. There was also an adivasi dance just before the rock patch, if something goes up on YouTube, will link it here. There was a slippery stretch, that I skid down. Good eight feet of it.
We had a great lunch at Hotel Aishwarya, then got a lift till Khubi Phata from a busload of people going to Pune. From Khubi Phata, we hailed an empty truck to Kalyan, which was a lucky break. Click here for more photos, and at better resolutions.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Trek to Kalsubai

Two weekends ago, but could not really find the time to blog. Closing the issue at the magazine over the past week, so...
Anyway, we started late on friday night, headed out to Kasara station, stayed the night on the platform. A lucky few slept, or pretended to, most of us lazed around, walked around, looked at the stars and had a fair few smokes. There were some policemen and gardullas out and about, so it was like the city does not sleep even in the more remote places.
Anyway, the next morning, we started early. A big bunch of us were crammed into the taxis, and although there were twelve to fifteen of us in each taxi, we were still not using it to its full capacity. Six more usually got on the roof, and around five more squeezed in, if the villagers were using it.
We headed out to the base village, also named Kalsubai, and had some thepla breakfast there. The theplas were a tad insufficient, so we stuffed ourselves with the local poha, which was excellent, and made right below my nose. The crows were smart here, they came right up to us begging for food.
After breakfast, we started the ascent. It was about eight thirty by now. This was a large group, a 110 people had showed up, and it was one of the largest groups I have ever gone trekking with. The walk to the top was interesting, but there were an unusual number of sub-groups, and I was towards the front of the group.
We were pretty high up to start with, travelling at least more than half of the 5400 feet that Kalsubai is. On the hills opposite us, were a whole range of windills. It has been my intention for some time to photograph these large scale wind-mill projects  from closer up, but just dont seem to find the time or location. Will definitely visit these sometime. My first sight of the large-scale windmill installations, and what is surprising is that a lot of people did not notice despite going all the way to the top with this right behind them. 

Around twenty minutes into the ascent, there was a small village with a temple and some cows. These cows were a little strange, and am saving up some images f0r the epic bovine close-up thread I have been talking about for some time. The funny thing was that one of the cows had turned all the way around, put its mouth bewteen its own legs, and using it to drink its own urine. Cows can autofellation, and human's cannot. Shame on us. Would think that something like a cow was less flexible than a human being... not the case.

The temple offered us rest. On the way up there was nothing, but on the way down some sweets, nuts and lemon juice were available. Last point for getting good water before the well at the top.

Pay close attention to this patch. Will refer to it later. This is about one third of the way to the top. The trail consists of steep and almost vertical ascents which are sudden. However, this is not really tiring, even in summer. This is because there is a well maintained way to the top, with well cut stairs and even metal staircases with rails. 

So you end up climbing high very quickly. This is the same patch, only twenty or so minutes later. Notice the large group of people still trailing behind us. We owned the mountain that day. 

Some of us stopped for Lemon juice, or numbu paani. The poor guy was taking his wares to the top, but we stopped him half-way. Then people kept coming and asking for more, so his stock got finished before he could go all the way up. So he goes back down, a day's work done at doublespeed because of the size of our group. 

You might remember the blue hills wallpaper in Windows XP. If I fiddle around with the colours in photoshop a bit, maybe I can get the same effect with this photo:

This is half-way to the top, there is a small balcony that affords a good view of the surroundings. The picture above was taken from there. There is still a long way to go, and in fact, the tiring part starts here. Most of the group is still far behind us, and I maxed out the zoom to get this one:  

That she blows! The first clear view of Kalsubai. Kalsubai itself is the name of the temple on top . A hundred people can, however, easily sit on the top. 

The highest peak in Maharashtra, and they defile it with god damn railings. Idiots. 

There is a well just before the final stretch. Wikipedia says the water is not potable in summer, but we know better. It was very cold, and very refreshing. Everything bottled mountain water claims to be and isn't. Funny when we have people on treks insisting on  "mineral water", look around strangely insistend people, this is what mineral water is. 
Around this point, you get level with the clouds. Ears pop. Altitute shit starts happening. Most importantly, ordinary lighters stop functioning. 

This is it, the final staircase. Beyond that is the highest point any human can go without flying in all of Deccan. 

The heat and the number of people traversing it has strained it a little too much. There  were many half-hearted attempts to fix these kinks. 

View from the top. This is right where the temple is. The clouds were approaching us, but they were below us. Old trekker tells me of times like these, where its raining below you, and you can see rainbows below your feet. Rainbows in the plural. These rainbows are supposedly clearer and closer than you can see in the sky. 
Eventually the clouds reached us, and rolled over the mountains below us. Great feeling.

We were one of the few people on the top.  Around five-six of us were so thrilled, that we kept going, and didn't stop till we reached the top. (Is that an old Jungle Book song?) Anyway, point being, if everyone sat down, and you were the only person to be standing, then no one stood taller around you for god knows how many miles. Kalsubai is not only the tallest peak in Maharashtra, but its the tallest point in the oldest mountain ranges in the world. This huge chunk of basalt was as old as the oldest continents human geology knows - back when gondwanaland sattered. More than the height, it was the age of the place, that got to me. Looking around, you could spot Harihar, Ratangad, Harishchandragad and the notorious triplets, Alang, Madan and Kulang. 

Ah well. There were many thoughts, most of them to indistinct to chronicle. Anyway, this is me, frozen in time, being the highest person in Maharashtra at that time. 

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