Sunday, June 24, 2012

Karnala Bird Sanctuary - How to go, Things to do

Note to readers : Its been a long time since we published any new blog. In spite of that, we have been receiving a lot of feedback from readers over the years. A big thanks to all.  Never thought the blog would be so well received. OK, now to clear some old backlogs.

Karnala Bird Sanctuary
Karnala Bird Sanctuary : It was the first trek of the monsoon season. As usual, the trek featured on the YHAI trekking (Mumbai unit) monsoon schedule. We had been with them on earlier treks. It is a fun group to be with. And what more, they are a knowledgeable bunch too.  The trekking location was extremely close to Mumbai, its a Mumbai trekker's must visit place. Its hard to believe such a trekking destination exists so close to Mumbai. Yes, we are talking about Karnala Bird Sanctuary. It featured as a trek that had a difficulty level that ranged from easy to moderate. Our initial thoughts were how difficult would be a bird sanctuary, that's when we realized there is a fort around which this sanctuary was built - The Karnala fort. We hoped the trek to Karnala fort shall be the start of a new season of treks.

History : When you talk about the fort, most people know about Karnala is that, it was probably some fort that was either conquered or built by Raje Shivaji. Perhaps, you can say the same for most forts in Maharashtra. But, beyond that a lot is unknown about Karnala fort. In olden days, it was said to have strategic importance. Looking at how the control changed hands from Devagiri Yadavs, Tuglaqs, Gujarat Sultanate, Portuguese, The Nizam of Ahmednagar, Shivaji Raje, The Mughals to British East India company makes one think, "What was so special about this fort ?"
In ancient times, India traded with countries like Syria, Egypt and pretty much the entire middle east. The goods from these countries obviously used to land on the ports of Gujarat and Sopara. In order to transport these goods, mostly on foot & horse, the  Bor Pass was the only way that one could get them from sea ports to the interiors of Maharashtra.  Which meant the one who controlled the fort, pretty much controlled Bor Pass. No wonder, many battles took place for the control of this very fort. The British East India company eventually built a railway line in the Bor Pass for easy transport of goods. This also meant the strategic nature of the Karnala fort was no longer important. And as the fort lost its importance, it remained unused, the biodiversity of plants and most importantly birds in the area around must have slowly changed over the decades making it home to some of the diverse species of birds and eventually it was declared a bird sanctuary at some point of time, which still stands even today.   

How to go : Located on the Mumbai-Goa Highway, Karnala Bird Sanctuary is located just around 15 km from Panvel station. In case you are travelling by private vehicle, take the NH17. As soon as you go past the urban areas of Panvel, look for a protruding thumb like structure on the eastern side. You could also look for the Karnala Bird Sanctuary sign board itself. And of course the locals are always helpful.

Public Transport : We had gone using public transport.We assembled at Panvel station on Mumbai's suburban harbour line. The trekkers arrived from various parts of Mumbai. After the initial introduction, we were all off to Karnala bird sanctuary via local auto rickshaws that carried around 6-7 passengers. It cost us around Rs 10.00 per seat. The frequency reduces after 6 pm. So, one is advised to wrap up ASAP and mostly you be able to wrap up as well. On the way, we stopped over at Dutta Wada Pav centre. It is the famous wada pav centre, which is "the eatery" of anyone who is in for a long drive on Mumbai-Goa road. After having a good breakfast, we were back on the road to Karnala bird sanctuary.

Entrance : Within 15-20 minutes we were at the entrance of Karnala bird sanctuary. There was a huge parking lot present. The entry fees to the sanctuary was around Rs. 20. One thing good about Karnala was, the authorities were keen to preserve the nature. If one had to carry a plastic bottle one had to make a deposit of Rs. 50 and register in their log near the entrance.The deposit would be returned only if you manage to get the plastic bottle on your way back. Quite a neat and effective way to ensure no throwing of plastic.
What is there to see : 
Right at the start of the trek, there were a few bird cages that had a few species of commonly found birds.Initially our thoughts were, is this the reason why it is called a bird sanctuary, then why so few birds? Truly speaking, one had these vivid imagination that there would be birds all around the park. We would get a lot of birding snaps. Unfortunately, the birds in the cage were the only ones that caught our eye.There must be a lot of birds in the sanctuary, but our eyes were not trained enough to spot them.We got our first lesson in birding. One has to be extremely patient about it. As the trail started, we were greeted by a tar road leading up to the interiors of the sanctuary. Although, we were ascending, it never gave you a feeling of ascent, rather a smooth walk. The walk was surrounded by tall trees. One could hear different sounds of birds all along our trail, evoking similar calls from the trekkers, getting the birds even more vocal. Perhaps they were some mating calls.

At the base of the fort :

Goddess Karnai temple
As the tar road concluded, we were in the midst of the dense part of the sanctuary. The trees got taller, closer to each other. Even the sounds of birds grew clearer, louder. That's when a light drizzle started. And soon, we reached a straight and clear route which led to the fort. All along what was hidden behind the tall trees, this tall, dark structure peeked out starting at us. We were at the base of the Karnala fort. On right side of the straight path to the fort, just near its base, the views were spectacular. One could see the entire sanctuary from there. Naturally, the scenes provoked some of the fellow trekkers to take some snaps in the titanic pose. There is also a temple of Goddess Karnai near the base the fort. Most of the trekkers prayed for a moment or two. 
The pinacle

The final ascent :

The climb to the fort from the base of the fort was slightly tricky one. On one side was earth and on the other side there was a free fall. Although, it wasn't dangerous, one could only fall back to the base of the fort. That's when the organizers stepped in. They placed their volunteers at strategic places, so as to help fellow trekkers valuable support. Even at the entrance, it was their volunteers who stood there and gave hand to every trekker to get in. And there we were, one by one each of the trekkers entered the Karnala fort. 

Within the fort : After passing through a series of openings, with a little jumps here and there, we were in front of the central structure of the fort, which was a tall pillar like structure, always known as pinnacle. In olden days, it was used as the watch tower. Climbing on the pinnacle was not allowed, as it is said to have taken lives of the climbers.  There were two water holes right next to the pinnacle. One must acknowledge our ancestors, every fort you go, how they used to store water in indigenous but enterprising ways. To pass from one section of the fort to other one had to pass through a corridor, with free falls on both sides. The wind were a lot stronger in those corridors, which made it difficult to pass from one section to the other. There was an open space at the far end of the fort. Most of us went to the other end. It was an open & plain land, we had our lunch there. We spent rest of the afternoon relaxing on the plains, where as some of the more enthusiastic lot continue to take more pictures, explored places around the fort.  
Water hole

Return : After getting out of the fort, with the help of the volunteers, we started our return. The way back down to the entrance of the sanctuary was quite easy. In fact, we reached the entrance in less than an hour. Everyone washed up, and then posed for one big happy group photo. Overall it was a relaxing trek. We can never imagine how crucial this fort may have been in olden days, however, the number of times it changed hands itself tells a lot about the fort's importance in those times. Even present day, attempts to conquer this land continues to happen with builders, politicians alike having an eye on this piece of history. Before that happens, do make a visit to the most pleasant and cheerful fort close to Mumbai. 

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sanjay Gandhi National Park - How to go, things to see, places to eat

It had been a very long time since we went for an outing. Everyone was sure of one thing; no one was in a good shape for any trek or expedition. So, the plan had to be of moderate intensity. How about a cycling trip at good old SGNP? Recently, one of my friends had been there and had a lot to discuss about it. Obviously his experience and more importantly the photographs influenced me. Putting an idea to the group and convincing everyone's whims and fancies usually takes a toll. However, this time it was different. Everyone agreed almost immediately. So, that's how the plan came about and we were off to SGNP.

How to Go: 
Sanjay Gandhi National Park is located in Borivali. In fact, it is also known as Borivali National park or simply National park. It is this huge green land that occupies a major portion of North  Mumbai. Although technically one may say it has entrances from different parts of city, the main entrance is at Borivali. Just 10 minutes' walk off a straight road from outside Borivali (E) station will lead you to SGNP entrance on the Western Express Highway. One may enter the park by purchasing an entry ticket of Rs. 10.

History : Long before any of this, right in the midst of the forests, the Kanheri caves offered a staying place for the traders who used to carry their wares from the sister ports Sopara and Kalyan. Later, the wandering Buddhists monks converted this place into 109 Buddhist caves, outcropping from a single basalt rock. The remnants are still present and in good shape too. In pre-Independence era it was also known as 'Krishnagiri National Park'

What is there to see : 
Cycling at SGNP
Right near the entrance, we found a shop that rented cycles. Nice colourful bicycles of different sizes stood there waiting for their next riders, who incidentally happened to be us. They cost us Rs 50 for two hours. Soon we were busy in choosing the most suitable one, ensuring there were no issues with the cycles etc. We even tried riding them to get the feel. It almost felt like good old childhood days. Soon each one of us had chosen a nice bike and there we were, on our marks, got set and off we went...

After the initial lap, when each one of us tried to outrace the other, it was just a matter of time that we realized that cycling wasn't as easy as the last time we did, just a few twenty years ago. We took the necessary photo session and water breaks. Of course, we had to mark our territorial presence which was very important in the forest. So, we had to have breaks for that as well. We even egged each other on climbing a tree. I was definitely enticed into it, however, glad that I was able to pass the climb-a-tree test with flying colours. 

We had taken the most popular Kanheri caves trail. It is a straight route from the entrance and then you take a sharp left. We were almost to the middle of it, when one of cycle's chains came off. After some failed attempts at give-that-thing-to-me-i-know-how-to-fix, the poor guy whose cycle was broken had to return to the shop to get a new one. While the rest of us had better things to do like taking photos of our ancestors. There were many monkeys in the park. Groups of them jumping, shrieking from one tree to the other. At the same time, another friend who was late initially arrived on a motorcycle. Yes, bikes are allowed in SGNP. Together we moved slowly so that the one who had gone back to get his cycle repaired or replaced could catch up. And as he joined us back, we were close to the Kanheri caves. Buddhist caricatures Kanheri caves are spread right in the middle of the park. There are some eating facilities near the entrance. We locked our cycles and decided to have some cool drinks. There is a nominal entry fee of 10 Rupees for the caves. The caves were numbered and authorities referred to the caves by their numbers. It is said that these entire range of caves was carved out of boulders. Each of these caves was different in size and probably importance as well. There is a tall statue of Buddha around 25-30 feet high. The cave in the centre had a huge inverted bell like structure, called stupa. Other significant sight in the same cave was the roof. It had paintings which still were pretty much in good shape with their colours’ intact. The people who painted them had very good knowledge of dyes. 

One of the caves was quite huge and looked as if it was a resting place of monks. However, the ambiance inside suggested the monks meditated there. The caves' caretaker gave out a loud call of बुद्धम शरणम गच्छामि "buddham sharanam gachaami" which resonated among the walls of the cave giving rise to tremendous energy which could be felt. After exploring and spending extended sessions of photography, we decided to climb up on top of the caves. There was a route to get on top of the caves from the backside. The view from the top of the caves was magnificent. One could see the towering skyscrapers of the West. On the other side, one could see the vast expanse of the park.We spent some time eating the snacks that we brought. 

Tiger safari: We decided to wind up at Kanheri caves and return. On our way back we took a small detour and decided to take up the tiger safari. The park authorities had buses with grills for the safari. One had to wait in queue for the next trip. It was a long wait between each trip. Luckily we everyone managed to get on the same trip. There were kids on our trip. Naturally their excitement was infectious. Everyone was asked to keep their hands inside.The tiger and lion enclosure had a huge gate. The ones you see in movies like Jurassic Park. Slowly the gates opened, the excitement increased. Soon after entering the park, the bus raced through and stopped at an unassuming location. There was silence. The birds started chirping in a peculiar way. All of a sudden, the park attendant yelled at everyone, "To the right". Everyone looked out of the window intently,there it was, "the king of the jungle". It was siesta time for the lion. It almost seemed that it was strategically placed there, so that people could see it. It just turned its head, saw who was bothering him and again got back to his slumber. So much for the excitement. After that, we went to the tiger enclosure. The tigers were at a distance. We could see them playing in a pool of water. After a brief stay, enough for a few clicks, we were on own way back, pulling down curtains on our great day at SGNP. We promised we would be back again to explore the other trails in the future.

Kanheri caves
Summary : As we returned, one observation about the trip seemed to bother us all. The tigers at the park looked very thin, almost malnourished. Such is the sorry state of India's national parks. Encroachments all along the borders of national parks have rapidly changed the fabric of this dense green land. The intense pressure from businessmen, politicians & builder lobby is unstoppable, relentless to acquire this land mass. And, they are winning, in a mighty way. The trees, the animals, the flora, the fauna & the sounds may not last for another 50 years. But until then, like nature always does, SGNP will continue to awaken the child within...

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Daman - How to go, places to see, things to do

Party at Daman
Daman : A marriage is often said to be end of one life and start of another. No wonder we often try to make the end as glorious as we can. That's what, we had decided for a very close friend of ours. It had to be party, which neither we nor him should ever forget. Initial plan was to go to some far off place with lots of activities to do. But for some reason or other, all plans seemed to subside.That's when one of us suggested, "Why not go to Daman ?" Daman is often said to be a heaven for party revelers.  Its a place quite near to Mumbai too. Less than 3 hours ride. So, Daman it was. The planning was done pretty quick, a half a dozen of us got on a car and we were off to Daman.