Sunday, July 1, 2012

Monsoon trek to Prabalgad Fort.

Thanks to "B.N.H.S(Bombay Natural History Society)"  have been to various exotic and tough treks in close proximity to Mumbai city , especially during  the monsoon climate.This year "B.N.H.S" didn't have any "Monsoon Fort  Treks" on their agenda, the same provided by Mr Nikhil.Bhopale, proprietor of "Gaia Eco tours" under whose guidance  i had been on a few treks and nature walks.  Mr Nikhil.Bhopale  has co-authored a book  titled "Birds of the Indian Subcontinent: A Field Guide (Bombay Natural History Society) by Ranjit Manakadan, J.C. Daniel and Nikhil Bhopale(15 Dec 2011)."  He had announced on "Facebook" about a trek to Prabalgad fort and i quickly contacted him  and thanks to internet and phone communication  managed  to  confirm my attendance for  this tough monsoon hill-fort trek."Hill-Fort" treks are not popular with elderly naturalists and birdwatchers, more of a young generation outdoors sport activity   as it is strenuous and hence a test of physical fitness and psychological strength, youth fitness being a prime advantage.For  adventurers who can't afford the luxury of climbing mount Everest or lesser  mountains, the sport of hill trekking offers maximum thrills and risks at a minimum cost.There are numerous hill forts in Maharashtra state and all are the basic training  formats for future mountaineers.The best trekkers could opt for joining the "Nehru Institute of Mountaineering(N.I.M)" at Uttarkashi considered the best Mountain training Institute in Asia. The basic  history of Prabalgad Fort can be "Googled" on Wikepedia  and is a trekkers obstacle training course, dangerous during monsoon weather.
All trekkers were instructed to assemble at "Panvel S.T Bus Depot" at 0730 hrs on Sunday(1-7-2012).."B.N.H.S" always arranged bus transport  for  picking up members at various pick-up points for their normal  one day nature trek tours, mine being the "Chandu Halwai StoP at Dadar(T.T).  Travelling to  distant Panvel from Prabhadevi, a distance of 42 Kms by train  was a "Solo Adventure" in itself since i was unaccustomed to travelling  on Mumbai's local trains being a typical "SOBO(South Mumbai)" boy  since childhood.Planned my "Panvel Travel" trip through the internet surprised at the common daily information available at the "Click of a mouse".A Guide  map of Prabalgad   for future trekkers on this link.Just click on the link :-http://maps.thefullwiki.org/map.php?t=Prabalgad
Sunday(1-7-2012):-  Woke up at 0430  hrs and after a quick breakfast left the house in pitch darkness at approx 0505 hrs .Walked  a distance of approx 200 metres to catch  a taxi for Sewri station. Boarded a taxi  and reached Sewri station at 0515 hrs, the fare amounting to Rs 48 and after purchasing a "Panvel Return Ticket(Rs28) at the station went onto the platform awaiting the "Panvel train". The "Panvel train" arrived at 0528 hrs and was happy to board an empty train, this being my first  journey to Panvel by train.It was a pleasant train journey  passing by various stations including "Seawoods Station" which held nostalgic memories, having attended an all-night rock concert  on 30th August  1997  at the posh "Seawood Housing  Society" featuring various Indian rock groups, most famous being an upcoming group  of that era called "Pentagram"  who later gave Indi-pop Mr Vishal.Dadlani.This rock concert show was the first such all-night show organized  in Mumbai, a copy of the "Woodstock Concert" of New York, a publicity extravaganza by the ultra wealthy " Seawoods Housing Society"..I distinctly remember the date as on returning home by train   early  in the morning  absolutely  drowsy  and on tuning the news  heard the tragic death  of  Lady Diana's  in a car crash in Paris. That's  the nostalgic connection before the internet era  and my only overnight visit to a location in "New Mumbai" in my lifetime.Finally reached Panvel at 0628 hrs, an hour earlier than the scheduled time.The "Panvel S.T Bus- stand " was approx  5 mins walking distance from the station and hence  whiled away my time loitering around the area. There were numerous trekking groups and i inquired with all of them regarding my tour group as there was not a single  familiar face  since i was expecting quite a few "B.N.H.S Members" on this trek.Finally i rang up Nikhil and asked him for directions to the "Meeting Point", we all finally meeting outside a hotel near the S.T Bus-stand.Finally saw a familiar face and was pleased to meet veteran trekker Mr Sunil.Bidadar  in whose company  i had been on previous treks with "B.N.H.S" group.The fees for the trek was Rs 300 and after paying the same we were allotted a 6 Seater-Rickshaw, a specialty of Panvel local taxi travel. at 0750 hrs  six of us got into the "Force 6-seater rickshaw" and were driven to Thakurwadi village, a distance of 17 kms from Panvel Bus-Stand.We were driven along the "Old Pune Highway", the weather being cloudy with no signs of rainfall.We finally reached the base village of Thakurwadi at approx 0825 hrs, a tiny village with  indications of being in the process of developing into a luxury farm-house complex for wealthy Mumbaikars, the ultimate holiday resort.The beautiful Prabalgad fort and its adjoining pinnacle fort  Kalavantin Durg were  clearly visible and we spotted a Grey Malabar hornbill in full flight , the ultimate bird spotting. A huge posse of ""Force -Rickshaws"  arrived a few minutes  later, a massive number of young trekkers making their way towards us with their own trekker guide.Mr Nikhil.Bhopale finally arrived with the last  batch of trek tourists  and after a brief roll-call  and instructions introduced  his co-trekker guide Mr Sudeep.Athavale. We were a total group  of approx 25 trekkers  with just two other trekkers of my generation, the rest much younger.

START OF TREK TO PRABALGAD FORT":-  We left Thakurwadi village  at approx 0845 hrs walking along the narrow pathway in a  single file or in two's, our first destination being  to reach Prabalmachi village situated approx 2.5 Kms from Thakurwadi village..The topography and elevation of Prabalgad is similar to Mumbai's most famous hill-station Matheran, most notably the weather.There was a plan to convert Prabalgad fort into a tourist resort akin to Matheran but the same plan was jettisoned after it was discovered that edible water was non-existent during  peak summer on this hill fort.We walked along a tarmacked road, the same previously built with an intention of making a portable road upto Prabalmachi village, the base village situated on a plateau on the foot of Prabalgad and Kalavantin Durg hill forts.We stopped at a small clearing where tour organizer  Mr Nikhil.Bhopale  asked us to introduce ourselves and realized that we were all trekkers from different professions , a few young ladies also in the group.Mr Sunil.Bidadar, Dr Sameer.Mehta and myself were the eldest members of this trek group and also the entire trekking fraternity on tour  this day..Dr Sameer.Mehta  was  more of a flower fancier, a trekker in his younger days  and on this trek with his daughter to teach her  the basics of trekking.After a brief familiarization we continued on the path ahead .The tarmacked road finally ended and we entered the forested inclined slopes, normal elevation climbing in  trekking a hill or mountain. At approx 0845 hrs we reached a  distinctive  rock step  pathway with religious icons of Lord Ganesh and Hanuman  carved on the right-side of the granite rock and is called the "Bajrangbali Temple"..From this stairway began our trek to Prabalmachi village, a steady climb in the cool morning.We stopped at intermittent locations, admiring the view as well as having some rest.Finally at 1030 hrs we reached Prabalmachi village situated  at an elevation of approx  984 feet with a beautiful view of the deep valley gorge bisected by Kalavantin Durg and Prabalgad Fort.The Thakur tribals have a few village houses on this plateau and also cater to tourists by providing made-to- order meals and juices.We stopped for some rest in a village house compound having a glass of lime juice(Rs 10) and also inquiring of overnight stay rentals. The rental in "Nilesh Home Service" was Rs 500/night as well as Rs 100/night, depending on the type of room service accommodation offered..After refreshing ourselves we finally got ready for the final ascent to Prabalgad hill fort, the toughest trek with a steep inclined gradient.
Prabalmachi village to Prabalgad Fort:- At approx 1045 hrs we began the second leg of our ascent to Prabalgad Fort.This was the most treacherous part of the trek, the narrow pathway giving way to large rock boulders. As it was not raining the rocks were not slippery ,otherwise a slip or a fall meant serious injury .Every  trekker had to carefully place his or her foot onto these granite stones as some were loose and tended to slide akin to a mini avalanche.Our progress towards the peak was very slow and we took rest at various stages.As mentioned, the entire trekking group considered of youngsters and hence they all relished the difficult terrain, sports of a different type.Good shoes are important on treks and i was hoping my "Reebok Track shoes" would withstand the terrible wear and tear involved in trekking although my foot toes began to hurt due to the continuous friction between shoe and feet.The view of Mumbai city  was beautiful and clear as we reached towards the peak.Nikhil explained us the various views visible and was surprised to see Elephanta caves island as well as "J.N.P.T" port from Prabalgad Fort, the sky and visibility being excellent. We finally reached the peak at approx  1245 hrs, the entire trekking time from  Thakurwadi village to the Fort  being approx  4 hours.


On reaching the summit it was another trek along the forested plateau peak, a dense jungle.We passed along a ancient water tank that was filled with rain water but badly maintained.As my water resources were exhausted decided to gamble drinking this stagnant water.Dipped my bottle halfway into the water reservoir and collected the "Middle-level water" hoping that it was fit for drinking.None of the other trekkers risked the same  barring a few and to my surprise the water tasted excellent, pure and fresh with no residue particles.Its on such treks that i personally realize the importance and value of fresh drinking water, something a city dweller in Mumbai takes for granted.We finally reached the edge of the wall of the plateau fort where Matheran  at an elevation of 2600 ft was clearly visible,approx  only  5 Kms away  from Prabalgad fort. The Fort  mountain wall curves parabolically  as seen from the Matheran view point side of the Fort with a ancient watchtower post standing majestically mid-way below  in ruins, akin to the "Bridge" of a ship.The entire Fort is in ruins, the forest canopy forming an evergreen carpet in the monsoon season.After viewing the entire Matheran plateau we walked towards the Northside of Prabalgad Fort, the ultimate viewing summit of this ancient ruin.It was a short trek through a forest path and surprisingly a person could get lost  if alone without a guide or a tour trek group.Trekking is a "TEAM SPORT" and adherence to a certain format of discipline is essential for the success of any trek, irrespective of the terrain, monetary fees  or age group of the trekkers.We finally reached the main peak plateau of the Fort, a magnificent  view of the entire Mumbai skyline and Kalavantin Durg pinnacle.The Karnala Bird sanctuary pinnacle was one of the most distinguishable hills visible from this height of 2300 feet above sea-level.The weather was akin to being at a hill-station reminding me a bit of Ooty during peak summer, a  common holiday destination during my stays in Bangalore. At the foot of the peak facing Kalavantin Durg pinnacle  all of us assembled while Mr Nikhil.Bhopale  shouted  the traditional  "Shivaji Garajna"  slogan in Marathi language, inspirational quotes from Chattrapati Shivaji's life.. On the other side ,trekkers who had climbed "Kalavartin Durg" pinnacle also shouted the traditional "Shivaji Garajna" slogan. During the winter months of November and December groups of professional trekkers do the "VALLEY CROSSING" by cable rope  between  Prabalgad Fort which is at a higher elevation onto Kalavantin Durga , a distance of approx 750 ft .After photography and viewing the skyline and its hills we finally  formed a circle for sharing of lunch.I was surprised at the different delicious snacks and food carted by fellow trekkers also embarrassed for not contributing to the "Lunch kitty"! I had left home very early and hence had decided to purchase a food packet at Prabalmachi village, the same unavailable at short notice.Guiltily i participated in the lunch feast, excellent delicacy of different dishes including non-vegetarian, a picnic atmosphere on the summit of Prabalgad Fort..Lunch was over by 1545 hrs and all the waste was packaged into our haversacks to be dumped into the city waste bin  never polluting the serene forest atmosphere  of Prabalgad. After a brief  siesta at approx 1400 hrs  we began our descent to Thakurwadi village, the toughest journey of our trek.

"DESCENT FROM PRABALGAD  FORT  PEAK TO THAKURWADI VILLAGE":- At approx 1400 hrs we began our descent , the weather favouring us since there was no rain and hence the rocks not slippery.Inspite of descending on dry rocks the trek on descent  was tougher than the ascent..Every trekker had to be vary of stepping on firm rocks and not twisting an ankle while slipping on loose rocks.Mr Sudeep.Athavale led the descent while Mr Nikhil.Bhopale was at the rear end of our trek group, some trekkers being fast while others slow, normal in any trekking group.We could observe the gradual formation of clouds and rain in distant locations around Mumbai from various locales while descending  the hill Fort.At 1530 hrs we finally  completed our toughest descent trek of the treacherous  the rock- stone  pathway finally  reaching Prabalmachi village. Relaxed for a few minutes at the local "Dhaba House" having a lemon juice for refreshment.Bizarrely, Mr Sunil.Bidade and myself, two of the oldest trekkers in the group were also the quickest in descending the hill gradient, a matter of age experience being in our favour i presume! Our next  trekking  from Prabalmachi village to Thakurwadi village was easier , the pathway terrain being a normal gradient with no slippery rock stones.It suddenly started raining  at 1600 hrs and my raincoat jacket was extremely useful in sheltering my camera and upper body from getting totally drenched.Finally we did have a normal trek, the rains descending on us to complete the formality of "Trekking in the rains" and thankfully, the rains favoured our trek agenda.At 1645 hrs Mr Sunil.Bidadar and myself finally reached our base at Thakurwadi village, drenched in rain..The total time for descent was approx  three hours, not bad for a pair of trekkers trekking with youth half our age.Our "Force 6-seater" rickshaw was awaiting our arrival with another trekker Mr Mahesh.Vaze wearing a "Annapurna Circuit T-shirt"  being  the first to reach  our base point in Thakurwadi village,  the " 6-seater Force  rickshaw". We were now anxious to get home having been drenched in the rain but had to wait for other trekkers as the rickshaw was meant for 6 trek tour  passengers.Mahesh and myself exchanged travel talk on Nepal, he and his wife  having done the popular, tough and expensive  "Annapurna  Circuit Trek" while i had done the bizarre "Bungy Jump" at  one of the world's best sites in Nepal.Finally all the trekkers arrived at "Base point Rickshaw" and at aprox 1745 hrs  six of us got into the rickshaw and were driven to Panvel.Barring Mr Bidadar all of us alighted near Panvel station and walked the distance to the train terminus..Co-incidentally Mr Mahesh.vaze was also travelling to sewri station, only difference,on  a first class rail ticket. Mr Mahesh.Vaze was a stock market investor and hence got to discuss a little about stocks ,money  and investment techniques  with  stock market rockstar Mr Rakesh.Jhunjhunwalla being a source of envy and debate ! Most important got  to know the exorbitant cost of a first class rail ticket on local trains, a mind boggling Rs 110/ticket from Panvel to Sewri while my second class ticket cost a mere  Rs 14! I finally bid adieu to  Mr Vaze as he boarded the first class compartment and i later realized the advantages of first class travel on Mumbai local trains, definitely worth the money if a person can afford the same.Boarded the 1926 hrs  local train and was surprised as it got packed  with commuters after departure from  Panvel although Sunday was a public holiday. The commuter crowds on working days is left to imagination and hence a "First Class Pass" is mandatory if a traveller can afford the same.No wonder Mr Mahesh.Vaze is a successful investor.Strangely, the commuter crowd drastically reduced at Kurla station and i managed to alight the train comfortably at Sewri station at,2020 hrs, an exact one hour train journey.Walking up the stairs and upto Sewri bus-stop was a torture due to the sudden pain in both my thigh muscles and feet , aftereffects of the tough trek at age 52! Managed to limp towards the bus-stop, boarded  the "162 Nos Bus(Rs 10)" alighting at Century Bazaar stop and slowly limped home. Watched the enthralling  "Italy V/s Spain"  European Cup final match on television, Spain trouncing Italy 4-0 and  finally  sleeping early in the morning at approx 0230 hrs.Akin to the 1997 "Seawoods All-night rock Concert", the trek of Prabalgad and the "Euro Soccer Match" of 2012  will be a lifelong memory of physical extremities. Recovered from the severe body-ache after approx two days and back to the normal routine of swimming and cycling  to maintain  fitness for the next trek or overseas tour.