Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Monsoon trekking to "SUNSET POINT" from "DODHANI VILLAGE"(Sunday 19-7-2009)

Have been a "Life- Member" of the "B.N.H.S(Bombay.Natural.History.Society.)" since 2003 being a total "Outdoors-man" and an interest in conservation of nature and its environment. As a teenager i indulged in shooting birds with my air-gun when on holidays in my parents ancestral villages near Mangalore(Karnataka) during the 1970's and have simultaneously also observed the terrible destruction of forests and nature in these same locales over the years, my recent visit being in 2008 , as a conservationist and not a "air- gun hunter" .Living in Mumbai has its limitations in interacting as well as observing nature as the concrete jungle is an entirely different environment to the rustic village life that also is the guardian of India's forest wealth and its flora and fauna. B.N.H.S regularly organizes treks and camp-stays at various "National Parks" or "Nature reserves" in India and also overseas and some of the most convenient and cheap tours are the single day treks to wild-life locations close to Mumbai city.
Dodhani village as seen while ascending towards Matheran.

                                                                                                             On Sunday(19-7-2009) the B.N.H.S organized a single day trek from Dodhani village near Panvel to "Sunsetpoint" at Matheran at a cost of Rs350. Boarded the B.N.H.S bus, slightly larger than a minivan at Dadar T.T(near Chandu Halwai shop) at 0615 hrs and the bus was almost packed with trekkers of different age-groups and sexes. The journey to Dodhani village was approximately of 3 hours due to stoppages for breakfast and also picking up of co-trekkers residing at various locations on the route, including Trek conductor Mr Nikhil.Bhopale a authority on "Indian birds and forests" and his friend Mr Karve who lived at Panvel, close to Dodhani village.As usual, strangers become acquaintances on treks and tours and hence a casual conversation with Mr Karve revealed that he was a long distance cyclist, having once cycled with a group of fellow cyclists for over a month up-to the "Wagah Border" in Pakistan on a goodwill mission but were refused permission to enter Pakistan. Mr Karve  looked totally pedestrian, thin with the built of a jockey and totally unassuming and middle-class, reminding me of the great local talent from Matheran in the 1960's and 70's, horse-racing jockey Vasant.Shinde.I inquired if he received any benefits or was sponsored by any "Industrial house" for his "freak" passion, a totally "Non-glamorous sport" in Cricket crazy India.The "Wagah Border cycle marathon" was sponsored by a local politician as would any "India-Pakistan sports diplomacy" . All  his other long distance cycling travels are an individual hobby conducted on holidays from his job in a local bank and at his own expense.The beauty of wild-life treks and tours is intermingling of common individuals with very uncommon hobbies or professions and Mr Karve was one such character in my never-ending wild-life hiking, shipping voyages and overseas tours.We reached Dodhani village after passing through the picturesque artificial Panvel lake also known as Gadeshwar lake at approximately 0900 hrs , a beautiful village surrounded by monsoon greenery and rice field cultivation situated at a slight elevation of 160 metres from sea-level .The total distance to be covered in trekking from Dodhani Village to "Sunset Point" in Matheran is approximately 6.954 Kms and the elevation being 717 metres approximately.The Dodhani trek route to Matheran is the toughest route and meant for professional trekkers, people acclimatized to the rigors of trekking. I had last visited Matheran sometime in 1979 or 1980, almost three decades ago along with my “Mazagon Dock Marine engineering Apprentice group”, a bunch of carefree youth on a binge of booze and music in an era when the “Cell Phone” and “Internet” were non-existent with pleasure and re-creational activities being non-complicated.But, doesn't every generation say the same about their youth days being simple and less-complicated! Our small group of all male “Mazgon Dock Marine Apprentices" had traveled by train upto Neral and trekked the entire night on foot to Matheran with “booze’ being a tonic and songs a source of enthusiasm on this hectic trek. Have fond memories of this innocent trip of fun and pleasure in 1979/80, a group of non-working marine apprentices just enjoying the simple pleasures of youth uninhibited by “social status’, ”wealth” or “marital or bachelor status ” that is a part of our lives in 2009, a bitter fact of life and human nature . A few of my batch-mates and friends have also departed from this earthly world since my last trek to Matheran in 1979/80, reminding me of my own mortality and progress in life. The past is nostalgia and the future is anticipation and hope.This trek from Dodhani village to “Sunset Point” in Matheran with the “B.N.H.S Group” was a journey of a test of physical skill and stamina combined with nature spotting of birds and wild-life, rather than a pure youth “Picnic trek”. As mentioned we were a combination of trekkers from various walks of society , different professions ,sexes, age groups and gradually got acquainted with each other during the trek. The trek pathways were narrow and slippery, lush with green vegetation and steep in climbs compared to normal road walks. The weather was just excellent for trekking with light intermittent drizzles and a cloudy sky suddenly giving way to bright sunshine, a absolutely pleasant day. I initially had hesitated to carry my camera as a heavy downpour could damage the delicate electronic equipment but finally decided to carry the same in a plastic waterproof polythene bag inserted into by backpackers bag. Clicked photo’s as well as made "video’s" while trekking , so also a few of my co-trekkers who risked bringing their camera’s. As  they say ,”fortune favours the brave”,  and we were lucky to have not experienced a heavy rainfall, common during this time of the year.
Dense monsoon forest with mosquitoes!

I was wearing short pants mistakenly thinking that it would be beneficial in trekking as I normally trekked during dry summers or winters but was totally wrong about “Monsoon trekking”.  I became a source of meal for the mosquito’s, leeches and other insects that feasted on my legs throughout the trek, my blood being a source of nutrition to these insects, a normal law of the forests .we passed a scenic waterfall on our ascent, a small stream of  "Monsoon water” continuously flowing from a rocky cleft in the mountain and meandering its way in a steady trickle to the valley below. The vegetation was lush green and it was unbelievable that this pure unadulterated virgin forest existed just about a 3 hrs drive from Mumbai a ray of hope that forest conservation is effective. The uniqueness of Matheran, besides its proximity to metropolitan Mumbai is the fact that it is India’s smallest hill-station and the only one that does not permit “motorized vehicles” in its township, the “toy train” being the only mode of transport for “non-Trekkers” from the base at Neral.. The “Dodhani-Sunset point route" being the toughest trekking route had few trekkers besides our group, hence it was not crowded.We trekked at leisure, finally resting at the halfway mark near a small temple also enabling the “slow Trekkers” lagging behind to catch up with the group.After a brief rest and a lecture on the flora and fauna of this forest by Nikhil we proceeded onto our journey to “Sunset Point”. Trekking and wild-life tours have become a big private business in recent years and hence there are numerous trekking groups arranging various “Monsoon Treks,hikes” and “wild-life tours”.The advantage of trekking or touring with the “B.N.H.S Group” is that in every trek or wild-life tour they have a formally educated wild-life “Author Guide” accompanying the group from which any interested member could either enhance their knowledge or learn something new about wild-life and forests. I. am basically a trekker, fond of the natural wilderness, a “air-gun hunter” in my youth, now a fanatic conservationist, with very less theoretical  knowledge of trees, flowers , insects and birds besides the normal “house pet birds” , “pest insects” and “Garden plants and flowers”. Thanks to “B.N.H.S”,  have really learnt a lot of new species during my treks and nature walks , something which I totally ignored in my youth as an "air-gun" hunter at a time when forests and wild-life were more abundant than it is today. The forests surrounding Matheran are famous for the “Giant Malabar Squirrel” and we tried our level best to spot the same but of no avail, spotting just a few birds which Mr Nikhil.Bhopale could identify just by their sound, a total authority on Indian birds and also in the process of updating famed Indian Ornithologist late Dr Salim Ali’s book on Indian birds.We finally reached “Sunset point” at approximately 1215 hrs, a beautiful small table-land on this steep mountain range.The view of the entire valley below as well as the waterfalls from adjacent mountains was spectacular and so also was the cool pleasant climate. As usual. I went camera crazy and shot a few video’s having converted myself from a trigger happy “air-gun hunter” in my youth to a camera hunting adult trying to spread the message of the importance of “Wild-life and Forest Conservation” to the readers through blogs and video-shoots, all at my own personal expense as a form of charity towards nature. Spotted a few large langurs, peculiar to these Matheran forests as normally Macaques are the most common monkeys found in Indian forests and around some city’s. Lunch was at “Sunset Point” akin to a picnic and later surveyed the place, breathtakingly beautiful and dangerous, as a fall from the non-barricaded “Sunset point” hillock could mean instant death. I risked the same in my “video shoot” from this precarious cliff, my passion of living life dangerously.
Beautiful Monsoon drizzle and vegetation.

                                                                                                             Due to time constraint we couldn’t trek further into the main Matheran Bazaar as we had to make our descent back to Dodhani village by 1700 hrs , hence at approx 1330 hrs we began our descent at a leisurely pace since the mud was soft and prone to slipping.The young women trekkers proved to be very skillful compared to most of the male trekkers in our group , something which I observed on most of my treks, except, when some of them were aged or slightly obese and hence it’s a misconception as far as trekking is concerned that women are the weaker sex . At the “Temple point” stop, the fast trekkers including myself at age 49 waited for some of our members lagging very much behind the normal pace to catch up with the group, as trekking is a "Team Sport" and not a race of reaching or descending from a summit as is “Mountain Climbing”.From the “Temple point” rest stop we made a further descent until we reached the “waterfall spot” where we all trekked to the base of the main source of the waterfall and had a bath under it. The lush vegetation and cascading waterfalls reminded me of "Abbey Falls" in the Coorg district of Karnataka, a wonderful wild-life sanctuary which i trekked alone sometime in early 2000.The gushing of pure clean water flowing over your head is an out-of-the World feeling of being one with nature and I didn’t take any photographs partly because it was raining and also chances of slipping on the rock boulders were extremely high if careless or overly adventurous.After spending about half an hour  at the “Monsoon waterfalls” we picked up our back-packs and continued our descent.We reached our base at Dodhani village around 1630 hrs. After a quick rest , with some of us having milk-less tea at the only shop in the village we finally boarded the “B.N.H.S” bus on our journey home  to Mumbai.We finally reached Dadar at approximately 1945hrs after dropping most of the trekkers in-between ,where I got down and finally made my way home to Vaibhav apartments in Old Prabhadevi road.

Ironically, Wednesday(22-7-2009), the day that I am writing this blog is the day of the longest solar eclipse with  the next occurring after another 122 years.Hope I do visit Matheran another time and not after a gap of 30 years, since destiny and fate are strange impostors!