Saturday, August 25, 2007

Trek to Thanale Caves

After the fantastic nature trail at SGNP on 18th August, where we did the Yewoor trail passing through the fantastic Kanheri caves I was totally fascinated by the spirit of the Buddhist monks and the pains they took in carving out each and every detail of their imagination on stone, I definately wanted to see some more. The moment Doreen sent the mail regarding the Caves of Thanale, which are believed to be 2,200 years old for the next weekend, I knew I was going there inspite of all odds.

We were supposed to meet on Sat morning at 6.45 am at Hotel Vrindavan near Sion station. I reached there along with Krunal around 6:30 am and waited for others sipping masala tea in the hotel. After some time Darshana and Ashokji reached there too. we started our journey at about 7:00 am after Doreen, Roshan, Marge and Vandana joined us. Unfortunately When we were about to leave the taxiwalas told us that we had a flat rear tyre and then we kept our fingers crossed till we reached the punturewala. After filling some air in the tyre we started our journey as he was of the opinion that it was not a punture.

We reached Pali, a scared place for the Hindus, this Ganapati is considered to be a part of the Asthavinayak Circuit after some 2 hrs of driving. After taking directions from locals we reached Nadsur village which is about 12 kms from Pali. Thanale which is the base village is about 4 kms from Nadsur. We took two villagers Bhabhan and Maruti as our Trek guides. As we entered the woods the jungle grew thick and was very rich in Flora and Fauna. Moving slightly ahead we came across two beautiful water streams which we crossed over and marched ahead. The first sight of the caves was amazing. They appeared dotted in a row at a distance. We rested near the 2nd second water stream for a while and then reached the caves after a 2 hour trek from
Thanale village.

The caves encompass an arrangement of about 20-22 halls, each meticulously provided with spaces in the form of benches and reclining platforms. Cave-8 is the only chaitya. Cave-3 is memorial complex consisting of 6 monolith, 2 corner stones & 5 built-up i.e. total 13 stupas. Cave-7 is model for engineering, architecture & grandeur. Vestigies of ancient plastering & paintings are present. Four 'Shree' i.e. 'Laxmi' idols. The last vestiges found in one of the caves point to an association with the erstwhile Mauryan dynasty. There are exquisite carvings decorating the ceilings and doors. For the first time punch-marked silver coins of Ashokan
period (268-227 B.C.) were found here. These caves may be elder than the Bhaja cave complex, the oldest known.

After the decline of Chaul as port during the end of the 5th century, the trade routes altered & this cave complex was rendered desolate & fell into oblivion. It was rediscovered by a missionary J. A. Abbot in January 1890. The revolutionary Vasudev Balvant Phadake used to take refuge in these caves. The 'Siristan' mentioned at Pandavleni, Nashik, most probably refers to this 'Shree-sthan' i.e. Thanale.

After lunch and a couple of photography sessions we started the descent as we had to also get under the beautiful waterfall which bhabhan had promised us to take on our journey back and The Pali Ganapati temple. We were blessed by the rain gods as it started raining as soon as we started back. Reaching the first stream we realised how A bath in a waterfall pool can be a strong cleansing experience, we followed the stream uptill a huge waterfall and could feel the strength of the winds that are created by the falling waters. It was a breathtaking experiece to be in such a field of power. Bathing in the pool of a gentle waterfall and rejuvenating experience of a lifetime.

On reaching the Thanale village we washed up ourselves at Bhabhan's place and then moved on towards our vehicle where we had a huge shock of our lives, our Sumo tyre had gone flat. After replacing the rear tyre we headed towards the Ballaleshwar temple at Pali. Named after Ballal, son of Kalyan Shreshthi, from whose `tapasya', Ganesh appeared at pali. The deity is known
as Ballaleshwar. Erlier the deity was placed in a wooden temple. The wooden temple was so constructed that the rays of the sun would fall directly on the deity from the two equinoxes of the temple. The temple was reconstructed in 1770 by Morobadada Phadanvis. The Ganesh idol in the temple is 3 ft. high. Behind the temple, another temple of Ganesh, known as Dhundi Vinayak is situated. The Peshwas had installed the big bell, in the temple which is of Portuguese make. Inner sanctum is quite big and is 15 feet high. Outer sanctum is 12 feet high and it has rat idol with Modak in his hands and facing Ganesh. Temple walls are made quite strong by
mixing lead with cement while construction.Hall of the temple is 40 feet long and 20 feet broad and it was built by late Shri Krishnaji Ringe in 1910 A.D. Hall is very beautiful with 8 pillars resembling cyprus throne tree. Idol of Vinayaka sitting on stone throne, faces east and its trunk is left turned. The shining diamonds are embedded in the eyes and naval. The background is of silver where one finds Riddhi and Siddhi waving chamaras. Temple complex has a big bell made in Europe. After defeating portuguese in Vasai and Sasthi, Chimaji Appa brought these bells and offered them at different Ashtavinayak places.

After taking the darshan of Lord Ganesha we took a small break at a Hotel near the temple. I had Medu Vada and Kokam Sharbat while others had batata vada and Sabudana vada.

We started towards Mumbai at about 6:30 pm and reached sion at about 9:15 pm. I took a rickshaw to Bandra from where I took the Virar fast to Vasai and reached home at about 10:30 pm. for a pictorial journey of the trip visit my online album at:

Monday, July 30, 2007

Trek to Sagargad

Doreen had selected Sagargad for a trek on the 29th August and with the rains taking a big long break for over 3 weeks I was wondering if she had taken the right decision as the main attraction we had heard was the monsoon waterfall. When it started raining heavily on Friday itself my joy knew no bounds in anticipation of a great trek. As it was going to be a long day, Ashok had suggested that we stay overnight at his resort Aswath, near Panvel.

On Sat 28th July, I and Girish took the 18.20 Panvel train from Kurla, and met the rest of the gang, Doreen, Farida along with Natasha, Doreen’s niece and her two friends, Shabda and Nikita at Panvel station. Ashokji drove us the 20 mins distance to his charming little cottage. After rubbing our exposed skin with odomos we settled down with wine and vodka, courtesy Ashokji and yummy farsan provided by Natasha. We had Dinner at a nearby dhaba like restaurant and hit the bed at 11 pm.

Morning after lemon tea and small breadrolls and chese spread we set off in Ashokji's Sumo at 7.50 am for the base of Sagargad halting enroute for a hearty b/f of vada pav and missal

After parking the sumo near Khandala village, we started the trek at 9.30 am. The climb was very gentle and we had to pass a few streams. As Shabda and Nikita were exhausted at the beginning of the trek itself, they opted to stay near the Sidheshwar temple. The climb to the fort took us around 3 hrs. With breath taking views of the green valley, the winding Kundalika river, the Arabian Sea near Alibag and two islands which we were not able to identify. The hillock on our right we took it as Kankeshwar.

On reaching the top, the heavenly sight of 2 white backed vultures flying overhead was one of the highlights of our trek. We also sighted some butterflies like, common leopard, glassy tiger, yellow orange tip, white orange tip, common crow, danaid eggfly, chocolate pansy. While we heard many bird calls we sighted very few including female sunbird and red vented bulbuls.

The second highlight of the trek was the fantastic waterfall which is close to the temple route. The drop of the fall is around 100 ft and the force is so strong that even standing 75 ft away, the spray drenched us completely. It was the most beautiful waterfall experience for me.

We reached our vehicle around 4.20 pm and after hot tea and bhajias at Karnala Hotel, with a fantastic view of the Karnala pinnacle we changed clothing at Ashokji's place and set off for home with songs of Mohhamed Rafi and Manna Dey. Some of us got off at Vashi station. I and Girish got off at Sion station and then took the rickshaw to Bandra and took the Virar train. I reached home at 11.30 pm in complete ecstasy of the best trek I have ever done"

For a pictorial description of the whole trek, Please visit my online album at:

Cheers !


Monday, July 23, 2007

Trek to Peb Fort (2200ft)

The Peb fort can be climbed from Neral station, a distance of six miles. The fort itself is not very big or famous and is also named as ‘VikatGad’. At the foot of the hill is a goddess called Pebi, who appears from her name to be the deity of the fort. Half way up the hill is a god called Mhasoba and about a quarter of a mile beyond are two caves, and a rock-cut cistern.

I got to know about this trek from a topic posted by Bharat Sonar (Who was also one of the four Trek Leaders amongst Ganesh, Karen and Pooja) on the Orkut Community, "Sahyadri".

We were supposed to meet at 8 A.m. at Kalyan Station to board a train to Neral, which is the closest railway station to Peb. We took the 8:40 A.M train to Khopoli and believe me it was a hell of a job to get into the overcrowded train as Sunday is a day where most of the picnickers head for Matheran, the famous hill station nearest to Mumbai. There was a group of picnickers who were singing all sorts of old Marathi songs to the accompaniment of a bongo. It looked right out of a picture book. The rest were playing antakshari.

Finally we reached our destination. After getting down at the Neral Station I realised that I was the only person from our group to have got into the 2nd class compartment while others had got into the 1st class compartment and had a luxurious journey.

Before starting off with our journey, we took a halt at a small hotel near Neral station where We had our breakfast (Misal Pav and tea) and got ready to leave for the fort. It took some 20 minutes of traveling through small winding country roads to reach the village at the base of the hill. It was a small village, with its tiny half naked children playing and climbing on trees.

The initial part of the path passed through village fields and surrounding shrubs. Walking parallel to a small flowing water stream, we entered some dry brush at the base of the hill. After an hour or so the vegetation changed and became more and more denser and wilder.

We passed by a cave of Swami Samarth and a Ganapti temple before climbing a ladder which was a very unusual thing I had ever done in any of my treks.

After sacrificing away tones of calories with buckets of perspiration, A two-two and a half hour climb brought us to the small temple of Lord Mhasoba.

There was a water tank near the temple which had a small stream of flowing water as the water source someone had very artistically placed a banana leaf which narrowed down the water flow and we filled our water bottles there. We decided to halt and have our lunch there. Every one shared their food and after a small break we decided to move to the pinnacle of the fort.

We had to harldy climb for 10 minutes to reach the pinnacle where one can find the "Dattatreya Padukas" (Foot imprints of Lord Dattatreya).

There was a sheer drop to the lowlands on both the sides of the Pinnacle. We had a full fledged Photo session I decided to take some rest. I would have liked to stay there for a day or so but we had to hurry as we had to reach Neral before the last train to Mumbai left Neral at 10:57 P.M.

We again marched towards the desired destination at about 4:30 P.M. and reached a certain part on the plain which was full of cool breeze enough for relaxing. The air was filled with fresh green grass and fresh green leaves smell (one can never get to experience in the city life). Yes it’s true I could even feel the colour of the smell green and fresh indeed. I felt fresh like I never felt before. Ganesh took us to a lesser known place known as "Kotwal Buruj" a place which was used as a watchtower to keep an eye over the approaching armies of the enemy. The view of the valley down from that point was simply amazing.

We reached Neral at around 7:45 P.M. and took the 7:56 P.M. Semi Fast train to Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus. I was lucky enough to get a seat as a couple who had to get down at Ambernath decided to go near the door after Badlapur as the train was heavily crowded. I was able to catch a small nap in the Train till Dadar and then I took the Virar local to Vasai.

The Peb fort, as of the forts in Maharashtra exists in pieces, which one really has to dig hard for. There is nothing on the fort, which can strongly confirm its one time existence. The real fun is not visiting a fort which is untouched, like those many in Jaipur. The non-existence of these forts confirms the thrilling history of Maharashtra, full of wars and fights fought against Mughals, Nizams and even British governance. The other fact not to be overlooked upon is the way they were built. We find it tough to walk through bare hands. Think of the times, when Maratha Sardars used to climb it up with their horses and kilos of weight of the swords in the hands. Cool, isn't it?

To enjoy the pictorial journey please visit my online album on :

Cheers !

Monday, July 09, 2007

Waterfall Rappelling at Kondana Caves !

Set in the valley of the Ulhas, at the foot of the magnificent Rajmachi, is this charming group of 8 Buddhist caves of the Hinayana Buddhist tradition and a small tank of water. While most of them are simple Viharas and caves in less than superb condition, the highlight of this settlement is the enormous Chaitya we first see as we approach.

A massive doorway with intricate carvings, a stupa flanked with the pillars typical from that era and interesting sculptures of dancing men and women are the highlight of this location. The style of carvings, and the octagonal design of pillars suggests that this cave may have been created some time around 200 BC - 100BC.This cave group brings to life a world of its own in the monsoons, when the unrelenting rain and misty weather turn it into a world of rich green visions from a period when it may have been inhabited. A waterfall forms a curtain of water isolating this world in our imagination further from the rest of the region as we view it through a veil of water. It is believed that during an earthquake in the early 1900s, a large portion of the front, floor and stupas were damaged, leaving the pillars in the chaitya suspended like huge stalactites from the ceiling.
I boarded the private Mini Bus from Dadar near Chitra Cinema. We reached the Kondivade village near Karjat by 10:30 AM and set off for the caves, accompanied by the Nature and Adventure experts from "The Explorers". This was an easy hike-and-nature-trail. We reached the top of the cave from a path which cuts left a short distance before the regular path. We had some time for rest and then started the waterfall rappelling activity.

While descending from the rope the scene down there was fantastic, it really gave a very different view of the beautiful Hinayanpanthiya Caves. The other visitors near the caves were cheering from down below and then came to congratulate everyone who came down rappeling as if we were back from a journey to the Moon.

After clicking a couple of photographs, we returned for a late, but huge lunch, followed by some free time to digest it. We headed back home around 6:30 pm but due to a flat tyre we were stranded neat Karjat. We utilised the extra time by chit-chatting and sipping hot tea at a small dhaba kind of a place near Karjat and were back in Mumbai (Dadar) around 10:30pm.

To enjoy the pictorial journey please visit my online album on :

Cheers !

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Birding trip to Suriamal.

On the 3rd of July, When I received the mail from Doreen I was pretty excited about the birding trip on Sat 7th July to Suriamal, near Jawahar-Khodala-Mokhada area as I had not done it for a long long time.

After some Google-ing on the net I was pretty excited to find that Suriamal is situated around 32 km north from Wada junction. This essentially tribal belt comprises largely hilly terrain east of NH8 and much of the region seems like the hand of development has just passed it by, despite proximity to Mumbai and Thane cities. There are some good forest pockets amid largely open and sparsely vegetated terrain that springs to energy with the monsoon rains when a veritable empire of life unfolds as numerous streams and rivers turn into gushing torrents and myriad waterfalls spring forth. There isn't any Protected Area declared here and considerable stretches of forest are being degraded due to continuous human disturbance, resulting in a low number of most wildlife species.

We were supposed to meet in Sion at 6:45 AM near the Hotel Vrindavan our common meeting point. On the 6th July I was working night shift and so had to reach there directly from office. On reaching there got some packed lunch from Hotel Vrindavan and had a filling breakfast of Vada Sambhar for myself.

We started our journey about 45 minutes late at 7:30 AM as Paravati had got onto a wrong train from Kurla which did not halt at Sion and so she had to come back from Dadar. We had a gala time in the Sumo discussing a wide plethora of topics, including Himesh Reshamia's newly released Aap Ka Suroor, Bappi Da's music, our past and recent trekking experiences and so on.

We enjoyed every bit of the Lush forest, numerous waterfalls and the Gargai river gushing in full force which was a great company all through our drive.

We happened to pass by a very beautiful waterfall thru our journey which we happened to underestimate and proceeded with our drive. After about 15 minutes of a drive we reached the place where we thought we could get our bodies wet but that waterfall was a total letdown as there was very less rain since morning on that day. So we decided to go back to the same waterfall which we had left behind by mistake.

We took a small trail to reach the waterfall off the main road where we changed our clothes to get under the waterfall. After tons and tons of fun and frolic and photography sessions we continued our journey.

We had lunch around 1 pm at the forest rest house on the plateau and then decided to have a walk through the plateau. Paravati was very excited about the idea of working with the local villagers in their fields and was supported by Manasi and Maggie for the same.

We continued to wander around the plateau until rain forced us to get back into the Sumo quickly.

As for butterflies seen: Jailed jay, leopard, common-crow, many lemon pansies (feeding on the flowering lea) grass yellow, plain tiger, glassy tiger.
Birds seen: Drongo, Kingfisher, little cormorant, mynas, cattle egrets in breeding plumage.
Heard the calls of: the brain fever bird (Hawk Cuckoo) puff throated babbler, Quaker babbler and many warblers.

On our journey back we were totally mesmerized by the beauty of the nature and the beautiful bridges of a gothic like architecture and waterfalls.

We reached Sion around 7:30 pm and then dispersed after bidding adieu to each other. I took a rickshaw along with Rohini ji to Bandra and then took a Virar fast local to Vasai.

For visiting my online album of this trip please visit:

Cheers !