Kolhapur and around: A Photo Blog

Kolhapur, which is southern Maharashtra’s important city. Rich in history, famous for fertile soil, rivers, sugarcane, and other agricultural produce such as jaggery and hence rich, super-rich farmers! Kolhapur is also wrestlers’ mecca. I know one of acquaintance, in fact a landlord’s son, had gone to Kolhapur for seeking training wrestling. It is on the north-south line of Sahyadri mountains, hence rugged terrain, very beautiful in monsoon. One cannot miss this important town on National Highway 4, which is door to southern India. The language is of course Marathi, but dialect which is again rugged, influenced by Kannada, from neighboring state. The city is also famous for hot spicy food such as Pandhara Rassa, Tambada Rassa, and misal too. Today I present a photo feature of this city, which consists of photos snapped during my various trips to the city. Enjoy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

पश्चिम घाट बचाओ मोहीम आणि जगदीश गोडबोले

जगदीश गोडबोले हे पुण्याचे अवलिया पर्यावरणप्रेमी व्यक्तिमत्व, ज्यांनी पर्यावरण क्षेत्रात ३०-३५ वर्षांपूर्वी इतके काम करून ठेवले आहे, पण मला वाटते ते आणि त्यांचे काम काहीसे विस्मृतीमध्ये गेले आहे. काही वर्षांपूर्वी वाचनालयात सापडलेले जगदीश गोडबोले यांचे मोहीम इंद्रावतीची हे पुस्तक वाचले होते. इंद्रावती नदी जी महराष्ट्र, आणि आजचे छत्तीसगड ह्या दोन राज्यांच्या सीमेवरून वाहते, त्या भागातील आदिवासी जीवनाच्या शोधमोहीमेबद्दलची माहिती त्यात होती. जगदीश गोडबोले यांनी पवना धरणग्रस्तांच्या बाबतीत काम केले आहे. ते अधिक झोतात आले ते त्यांनी काढलेल्या सह्याद्रीच्या जंगलाच्या, आणि तेथील आदिवासी ह्यांच्या हक्कांच्या जागृतीबद्दल काढलेल्या पश्चिम घाट मोहीम बचाओ मोहीमेमुळे(Save Western Ghat March). परवाच मला जगदीश गोडबोले यांनी ह्या मोहिमेचा वृत्तांत लिहिलेले पुस्तक मिळाले. हे १९८९ मध्ये प्रकाशित झालेली आवृत्ती आहे. त्याची नवीन आवृत्ती देखील आली आहे, जी ह्या मोहिमेला २५ वर्षे पूर्ण झाल्याच्या निमित्ताने, त्यांचा पत्नीने, अर्चना गोडबोले, यांनी त्यात आणखी भर घालून आणले. जगदीश गोडबोले यांचे तसे पहिले तर अकाली निधन झाले. त्यांच्या नावाने पर्यावरणक्षेत्रात काम करणाऱ्याला दरवर्षी पुरस्कार देखील दिला जातो. मला वाटते त्यानिमित्तानेच मी वर्तमान पत्रामध्ये केव्हातरी आलेले मी वाचले, पाहिले असणार, कारण त्यांचे नाव, आणि तो त्यांचा उमदा फोटो अजून स्मरणात आहे. त्यामुळे हे पुस्तक सापडल्यावर एका बैठकीत वाचून काढले, आणि ह्या चळवळीचा आणि गाडगीळ समिती वगैरेचा संदर्भ समजला.

ह्या पुस्तकात जगदीश गोडबोले यांच्या हरहुन्नरी, आणि झोकून देऊन काम करण्याच्या वृत्तीचा ठायी ठायी प्रत्यय येतो. सह्याद्री हा तर माझ्या अतिशय जिव्हाळ्याचा विषय. कित्येक वर्षे मी सह्याद्रीच्या अंगाखांद्यांवर असलेल्या किल्ल्यांवर, तसेच काही जंगलातून भटकंती केली आहे. लवासा(Lavasa) प्रकल्प, Aamby Valley City प्रकल्प, तसेच इतर गोष्टीमुळे जंगलाला होत असलेला धोका याबद्दल आपण वाचत असतोच. निळू दामले यांनी लिहिलेल्या लवासा या पुस्तकातून प्रकल्पाची केलेली भलावण वाचून वाईट वाटले होते. तसे मी त्यांना कळवले देखील होते. २५-३० वर्षांपूर्वीच ह्या प्रश्नावर जागृती करण्यासाठी काढलेल्या ह्या मोहिमेबद्दल पूर्वी कुठेतरी थोडेसे असे वाचले होते, पण असे पुस्तक आहे हे माहीत नव्हते. त्यामुळे मी ते अधाशासारखे वाचून काढले. त्यात परत जगदीश गोडबोले यांच्या शैलीमुळे ते अगदी वाचनीय झाले आहे. कुठेही कंटाळा येत नाही.

पर्यावरण तज्ञ डॉ. माधव गाडगीळ आणि मानववंश-शास्त्रज्ञ कैलाश मल्होत्रा यांच्या एका संशोधन वृत्तांतामुळे जगदीश गोडबोले सह्याद्रीच्या अभ्यासासाठी अशी मोहीम काढण्यास प्रेरित झाले. कैलाश मल्होत्रांनीच ह्या पुस्तकाची प्रस्तावना लिहिली आहे. सुरुवातीच्या काही पानातून, अशी शंभर दिवसांची ही मोहीम आखण्यातील अडचणी, वेगवेगळया तऱ्हेचे अनुभव, विविध व्यक्तींचा सहभाग ह्याची त्यांनी अगदी तपशीलवार, आणि रोचकपणे मांडली आहे. मला ह्या मोहिमेचे नाव सह्याद्री बचाओ मोहीम असे का दिले नाही याचे राहून राहून आश्चर्य वाटत होते. सह्याद्री दक्षिणोत्तर असा पसरला आहे, जो महाराष्ट्र, कर्नाटक, केरळ, शेवटी काही भाग तामिळनाडू मधून देखील जातो. सगळीकडे तसे पहिले तर सह्याद्री हे नाव प्रचलित आहे. लेखक याचा उलगडा करतात. ब्रिटीश सरकारने दिलेल्या ह्यामुळे देखील सह्याद्री ओळखला जातो, त्यामुळे मोहिमेला हे नाव त्यांनी दिले. हे पुस्तक म्हणजे एक प्रकारे मोहिमेचा वृत्तांतच आहे, पण निरस माहितीने भरलेले नाही. ही मोहीम उत्तरेकडून(खानदेशातील नवापूर) आणि दक्षिणेकडून(कन्याकुमारी) एकाच वेळी सुरु झाली. आणि शेवटी दोन्ही गट गोव्यात एकत्र येऊन मोहिमेची सांगता झाली. लेखक प्रामुख्याने उत्तरेकडून मोहिमेवर असलेल्या गटासोबत असल्यामुळे त्या प्रवासाची माहिती येते. तसे पहिले तर लेखकाने आधीच कबुल केल्याप्रमाणे, हे पुस्तक कार्यकर्त्यांच्या नोंदवहीवर बरेचसे बेतले आहे. पण, तसे असले तर दक्षिणेकडून सुरुवात करून मोहीम पूर्ण केलेल्या गटाच्या वृत्तांत का आला नाही हे कळाले नाही. तीच गोष्ट पुस्तकाच्या शेवटी दिलेल्या मोहिमेत सहभागी झालेल्या साथीदारांची यादीमध्ये, दक्षिणी नावे बिलकुल नाहीत.

अशा प्रकल्पातून लोक सहभाग, तसेच मोठे मनुष्यबळ लागते, ते देखील एकाच ध्येयाने प्रेरित झालेले, शिस्तबद्ध काम करणारे असे हवे असते. नाही तर दहा लोकांची दहा दिशेला तोंडे, अशी परिस्थिती होते, आणि मूळ उद्देश बाजूलाच राहतो. या पार्श्वभूमीवर गोडबोले यांची धडाडी, पूर्वीच्या मोहिमांचा अनुभव, तसेच, विलक्षण लोकसंग्रह यामुळे, विशेष चकमकी न झाडता मोहीम फत्ते झाली. चिपको आंदोलनाचे सुंदरलाल बहुगुणा, चंडीप्रसाद भट्ट यांचे मार्गर्शन, तसेच चंडीदास यांचा प्रत्यक्ष मोहिमेत काही काळ झालेला सहभाग, तसेच ठिकठिकाणी विविध प्रथितयश व्यक्तींचा सहभाग, चर्चा, यामुळे देखील मोहिमेला फायदा झाला. सह्याद्रीमध्ये अशा मोहिमा याआधी देखील निघाल्या आहेत. आम्हा ट्रेकर्समंडळीमध्ये trans Sahyadri expedition, जो साधारण १०००-१२०० किमी  किल्ल्यांवरून केलेली भटकंती असते, बरीच प्रसिद्ध आहे. पण जगदीश गोडबोले यांच्या मोहिमेचा उद्देश वेगळा होता, जो सह्याद्रीच्या दऱ्या-खोऱ्यातून राहणाऱ्या लोकांशी, संस्थांशी, संघटनांशी संपर्क साधणे, आणि त्यांच्या दृष्टीकोनातून विनाशाची कारणे व त्यावरील उपाय समजावून घेणे  हा होता असे पुस्तकात नमूद केले आहे. म्हणजेच सह्याद्रीचे जंगल, त्याच्याशी निगडीत वनसृष्टी, जीवसृष्टी यांच्या ऱ्हासाची कारणे, तसेच ह्या सर्वाशी तेथील लोकांचे, आदिवासी यांचे असलेले अनुबंध, वेगवेगळया कारणामुळे त्यांच्या जीवनात निर्माण झालेले पाणी, चार, इंधन या सारखे प्रश्न, यांचा समन्वय कसा घालता येईल हे सर्व पाहणे हाच उद्देश होता.

मोहीम गावा-गावातून जाते तेथील अनुभवांचे वर्णन येते. ह्या निमित्ताने, सभा, भाषणे, मिरवणुका, बैठकी, लोकांकडून माहिती गोळा करणे, स्वागत समारंभ, पथनाट्ये, प्रदर्शने, घोषणेबाजी(जंगल बचाव-मानव बचाव) या सर्वांचा जल्लोष, आणि उडालेला धुराळा याचे आणि त्यानिमित्ताने आलेले कटू, तसेच हृद्य, मजेशीर अनुभवांचे खुमासदार शैलीत तपशील येतात. ठिकठिकाणी पाण्याचे दुर्भिक्ष्य हा प्रश्न त्यांना दिसला, धरणांच्या आसपास असलेल्या गावातही पाण्याचा प्रश्न त्यांना त्यावेळीही दिसला. पण एकूण इतर काय प्रश्न होते, चर्चा काय झाल्या, किंवा सर्वसाधारण उपाय काय असू शकतील या बद्दल विशेष मला लिहिलेले दिसले नाही. त्यांनी नंतर प्रसिद्ध केलेल्या अहवालात असेल तर माहिती नाही. मोहिमेच्या वृत्तांताच्या ओघात लेखक बरीच विविध माहिती पुरवत जातात, जी नक्कीच नवीन(आजही) आहे. उदाहरणार्थ, धुळ्यापासून जवळच ४१०० हेक्टर परिसरात लळिंग-कुरण नावाचे अशियामधील सर्वात मोठी Fodder Bank आहे. साधारण १० वर्षांपूर्वी लळिंग किल्ल्यावर मी गेलो होतो, पण ह्या बद्दल माहिती नव्हती. निलगिरी सारख्या एक-प्रजातीय वृक्षांची लागवड, त्यातील फायदे, तोटे याबद्दल झडलेल्या चर्चा देखील येते. शिवाजी महाराज यांनी वन रक्षणाच्या संदर्भात काढलेल्या आज्ञापत्राचे रेखाचित्रदेखील त्यांनी दिले आहे, हेही मी कधी पहिले नव्हते. कोल्हापूरजवळ दाजीपूरचा जंगलात झालेल्या चर्चेत कुमरी शेतीचे(shifting cultivation) तोटे आणि त्यावर उपाय यावर चर्चा झाली.

भारतातील पर्यावरण चळवळीतील एक महत्वाचा टप्पा असलेल्या ह्या मोहिमेच्या संदर्भात हे पुस्तक वाचायला, त्यातच जगदीश गोडबोले यांच्या लेखनशैलीची मजा घ्यायला हे पुस्तक वाचायला हवेच. आता एवढ्या वर्षानंतर, ह्या मोहिमेचे काय झाले हे समजावून घ्यायला नक्कीच आवडेल. अर्चना गोडबोले त्यांच्या Applied Environment Research Foundation आणि Save The Western Ghats या संस्थेद्वारे हे काम पुढे नेत आहेत, तसेच डॉ. माधव गाडगीळ यांनी सुद्धा ह्या विषयावर भरीव काम केले. त्यांनी तर २०१० मध्ये पश्चिम घाटाच्या विषयीचा अभ्यासपूर्ण अहवाल भारत सरकारला सादर केला आहे. पण त्याची अंमलबजावणी काही होत असताना दिसत नाही.

Tanks on the battleground

Last week, I happened to listen to a radio program about 100 years of tanks being used in battleground in the world. This is interesting. Because, we keep seeing these tanks at many different places such as gardens, road intersections, in the cities, proudly displayed by Indian Army, as their signs of valor and victory. On this occasion, I wanted take you to a trip to museum of cavalry tanks. This is relatively unknown museum in the outskirts of Ahmednagar near Pune, which I happened to visit long time back. My memories of that visit ran down and hence sat down to pen them. I also learnt that International Museums Day was celebrated on May 18. The newspapers in Pune were full of stories of various museums in the city, and there are indeed many of them.

Anyways, coming back to this topic of Tank Museum. As a child, I also had seen many tanks crossing by on the roads, also many of them being transported on a goods train. They, for sure, are huge war machines. The radio program talked about how Indian Army had won battles with Pakistan, where Pakistan had to leave the battleground leaving large number of tanks for India. And the scene was as if it was burial ground for tanks there. We also usually see world war movies involving tanks during battle, and indeed they have played very critical role that time. I wonder if that will be the case now, and how effective battle tanks can be.

The museum has roughly 50 odd tanks, most of them shaded to protect from rains and sun. They, of course, are well maintained, as per usual Army standards. Many of the are ones used during world wars. The Patton tanks which were famous during 1971 war with Pakistan, is also displayed here.  We know the history how young Indian Army soldier Abdul Hamid destroyed many of these American made tanks for which he got Param Veer Chakra award. The Indian star tank Vijayanta and Arjun tanks also can be see here. The area also has Army training center as well. We also got to get inside and top of one of the tanks to get glimpse of the life in and on the tank. I remember it was Independence Day that day when I visited, with patriotic feelings in the air. Indian Army’s expertise and experience in battles with tanks is one of the foremost in the world. In India, 1947 Indian Army introduced tanks which are part of something called Armored Core Corps.

Unfortunately, the museum did not have any brochures or souvenir gifts for visitors to carry out of the museum. Nonetheless, it is very different and unique museum, and if you love warfare and those things, you must go there! As mentioned few times on this blog, I have been going for hikes and treks to different forts in Sahyadri range, other places in India such as Rajasthan, where we invariably find huge canons. My trekking mate and friend Sachin Joshi has done a study and documentation of those. I wish government can think of creating a museum for them, as they lie unattended on those forts.

Keep watching this blog for knowing some more unique and interesting museums I have visited in the past!

Learning Urdu Language(اردو زبان)

I being a polyglot, I like languages, scripts. During my Indology course, I learnt even ancient script Bramhi. Because of my education and profession, which is related to computers, I learnt quite a few computer programming languages as well in the past.  I also got exposed to languages and use in computers more when I was involved in localization for software systems. Due to that, and also mainly my exposure to languages such as Urdu(which has right to left script), because of trekking to forts in Sahyadri, I wished to know more and learn Urdu, Persian and even Arabic. One can find many inscriptions in these right-to-left scripts on the forts, I was left wondering as to what would their content be, due to lack of knowledge of those scripts.

My opportunity to learn Urdu came by in 2009, when I learnt about Urdu diploma program which is run by NCPUL(National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, under Government of India). They have tied up with various Urdu schools all over in the country to run this special program which is open to anyone, and the program is highly subsidized. Plus they provide all the course material which includes 4-5 books. I enrolled myself into it that year and whole new world of this language, script, literature, its influence, role in the history opened in front of me.

I wanted to write this blog mainly to let my readers know that if you want to have opportunity to learn it, the course would begin soon in year 2016. The registration will soon be open. Watch out for an ad which appears in the newspapers later in December for more information. You can get more details on their website too. Let me give you brief details of this course and what all you can expect.

The course, of course, begins with Urdu script. The detailed explanation of various rules associated with reading and writing, with help of practice books is provided. Introduction to words, simpler to complex is provided. The nuances of language is further introduced with help of book containing reading material. During the course, student is also introduced to influence of Arabic, Persian and even Hindi words to the language. As it is well known fact that Urdu developed during 13th century in Deccan, by borrowing words from different languages which army-men spoke. Urdu poetry, such as ghazals, is also introduced. Ghazals are hugely popular in India, and many students come to this course have background of ghazals. The course ends with an easy examination at the end of year. The lectures are conducted twice a week, for about 3 hours each time, and one can attend one of the two days.The course material consists of following books:

  1. Urdu for All(introduction to Urdu script)
  2. Ibtedai Urdu(preliminary reading material)
  3. Assan Urdu Shayari(poetry)
  4. Intekhab-e-Nasr-e-Urdu(essays, advanced reading material)

To me the key thing was script. We generally are familiar with many Urdu words due to its closeness to Hindi, and also due to wide use of it in movies. I am, of course, no Urdu expert, and have a long way to go in ability to read fast, also decipher variants of scripts, and writing. I am on it though, slowly and steadily! Google Language Bar also provides Urdu as a choice for input, that makes it easy while typing on computers, but writing on piece of paper is always a joy.

Amby Valley

My trekking journey#5

As you might be knowing, I am tracing my trekking experiences over the years, in the series of blogs. Today, I am looking back at year of 2002-my fifth year of some serious and regular trekking affair. Most of trekking is confined to various forts, peaks in Sahyadri range as I live in Pune which is at the base of Sahyadri range. This was the year of bang on my personal level as far as trekking is concerned-hence this blog is going to be a long one, so be warned!

I did not have to wait for long for the first trek in the year, unlike earlier years. January Republic Day long weekend brought opportunity for first long trek covering 4 forts. We visited forts of Salher, Mulher, Mora, and Salota. All of them in north-west Maharashtra area bordering Gujarat. This area has been referred as Baglan(बागलाण) where Marathi language takes a form of Ahirani(अहिरणी) dialect which has elements of Gujarati language in it. We also got to participate in flag hoisting function at the school, on the morning of Jan 26 when we were at the base village. It was beautiful experience, in the cold morning that day, being with school children, and eating freshly made jalebi which was being distributed for the event. Salher is highest fort in Maharashtra. As I am writing this blog today, I read about specialty of Dasara festival at Salher where villagers and tribal folks around worship Ravan(BTW, I had written on similar topic here).

In February, I visited Shivneri and Sangramdurg. It was more of a family trip than a trek. There is easy way up there on Shivneri which is a birthplace of Shivaji. The land fort of Sangramdurg is on the way near the town of Chakan. This fort was in shackles and hardly anything left to see around.

In the month of March, I trekked the fort called Kothalidad(also called पेठचा किल्ला) with my trekker buddies. It was easy one day trek. The fort has unique shape, of funnel upside down which is on the steep hill. There are steps carved out inside through which one reached the top. This fort is near Karjat town on the way towards Mumbai from Pune.

In April, we visited fort of Pratapgad which is situated towards south of Pune about 100 km in deep forest. This fort has a historic significance in Maratha history as Shivaji tactfully killed Adilshah general Afazalkhan.

I visited sea fort of Sindhudurg in month of May. It was personal vacation for me, I did not loose opportunity to visit the fort even though it was vacation time for me. This fort is also significant as it was built by Shivaji, who also owned a naval force. The intention, of course, was to command the seas with help of this fort. The Maratha Navy became formidable force, after Shivaji era, under the leadership of Kanhoji Angre. Currently,  I am reading a Marathi translation(by Pu La Deshpande) of biography written by Manohar Malgaonkar, but more on that later. Later in May itself, I made a trip Sajjangad and Ajinkyatara, both near Satara town. Sajjangad is place where Samarth Ramdas Swami lived his last days. Ajinkyatara is a massive fort right in the middle of the Satara town, but having motorable road all the way up.

The highlight trek of this year came in August when I did a long trek of Bhimashankar to Karjat. This did not involve trek to any fort though. It was a walk in rains during monsoon season which is about 60 km. It was beautiful, full of adventure, and got the real raw experience. It was interesting experience dealing with leeches during the trek. We crossed the Sahyadri range using pass called shidichi vaat(शिडीची वाट) to reach Khandas village near Karjat.

Later in September, I happened to visit Koraigad first and later to Gorakhgadh, Sidhdhagad. The month of September is the time when Sahyadri is full of wild flowers bloom. Koraigad was no exception. It was very beautiful out there. One can see Amby Valley(of Sahara group) at the backdrop of this fort.

Amby Valley

On top of fort Koraigad

The twin forts of Gorakhgadh and Sidhdhagad are towards west of Pune off town of Karjat. We camped in the school at the Siddhagad’s base village called Bhise.

In Oct, I visited tiny fort of Malhargad near Saswad(~40 km from Pune). This fort is near a village called Sonori. This is in pretty good condition, most probably, due to the fact that it was built in later years of Maratha empire.

Later in Nov, I went for Mumbai trip with family, during which I visited sea fort of Arnala and land fort of Vasai which was built by Portuguese rulers. Few years later, I got to see the bell which was taken away by Marathas after defeating Portuguese during battle of Vasai, during my trip to Wai.

In Dec, we visited Bhairavgad, off Koyna dam. On the way, visited Ramghal(cave) where Samarth Ramdas Swami spent some time. This fort is situated deep inside forest and is right on the edge of Sahyadri. We stayed in the temple for the night.

All in all, this year, as said, was blockbuster for me, in terms of treks and enriched me with varied experiences of geology, people, wild life, forts, history. You may be interested in other blogs where I have written about earlier years of trekking.

My trekking journey

I started trekking way back in 1998 that too by chance. I had just returned from my stint in the US. One of the things you do when you are in the US, is travel, visit places. The kind of exposure it gave me about nature, wild-life, heritage conservation in US, it opened up whole new world in front of me. During my stay there, I also happened to read lot about India. As they say, you realize importance of certain things more when you are not near to it.  And my inclination to history also made me take plunge.

It was rainy season. I happened to notice a note in local newspaper about a trek on the outskirts of Pune, now famous K2S trek-Katraj to Sinhgadh fort. Katraj is a top of a pass in Sahyadri mountains(ghat). This obviously was not very first time I had ventured into trekking in Sahyadris. I had few incidences where I had been to SInhgad, Matheran, even Lohgadh etc. But the series of treks after K2S trek and my association with forts lovers such as Sachin Joshi, Satish Marathe(of Giridarshan), and subsequent exposure to books on trekking written by Anand Palande etc gave me different perspective and triggered my hidden interest in history.

I don’t have to describe my K2S trek experience. It is very well known trek these days. It is, of course, popular during rainy days and also for a night trek on full moon day. This trek got hooked me on trekking in general more seriously. The next one was a trek to plateau called Rayreshwar, which is famous for a temple where famous king Shivaji took oath with his colleagues at age of 16, to fight for independence. In the rainy season, this plateau is a full of wild flowers.

Later that year went to Rajmachi twin forts, Vasota-jungle fort off Koyna dam backwaters, Karnala Wildlife Sanctuary, Shivthar Ghal-famous cave inhabited by Samarth Ramdas Swami in 17th century deep in the forest. All these places are in the vicinity of 50-150 km from Pune.

My trekking journey began that year has continued till now. I have visited more than 150 first, mostly in Sahyadris in Maharashtra, but few others outside. I also went on excursions in national parks, state parks, sanctuaries and explored wildlife, flora and fauna with various experts which enriched my understanding about it. I intend to cover some of the memorable experiences in subsequent blogs in future. I had already written about couple of them already in the past though(Meergad, Surla) which you may enjoy reading about.

I have not explored Himalayan treks so far. That has eluded me so far. That is next on my list. And some international trekking sites such Mt Kilimanjaro. Of course, no mountaineering-too old for it now.

Wonders of Surla

Monsoon is almost here now. The time when monsoon is about reach mainland of India and the time actually starts raining is very fascinating. It is time for change for nature. It is very interesting to witness. Few years back, I and few trekking friends were off to area around state of Goa, where boundaries on Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka meet-on top of the Sahyadris. And it was the time when monsoon about to hit. The change was in the air.

After visiting Belgavi in Karnataka, we were travelling towards Goa. By the time we reached the ghat section via Jamboti town to cross Sahyadris and land in Goa, it was dusk time. The ghat is called Chorla ghat. We made a bio-break, rested for a while after relieving and later refilling ourselves. As we approached our car which was parked under the huge banyan tree, we noticed fireflies(काजवे) flying around. We gazed at them with wonder soon to realize that the tree was full of fire flies. It became further dark, and we were to witness wonders of the nature. It was mating season for fire flies and large population of fireflies were frantically going about it, emitting light all over. The sight was out of this world. Later I learnt that this can be experienced in other areas in Maharashtra such as Bhandardara, during the time when monsoon is about it kick off. This event is popularly known as fireflies festival(काजवा महोत्सव).

By the time we reached out destination for night, village called Surla, it was very dark. We grabbed our meal and were off to bed. The surprise was in store for us when we got up as day broke. Surla was located on the peaks of Sahyadris. In fact, it is on the highest point in Goa. Tiny houses on the slopes could be spotted. It was all foggy and more importantly, it was cold. Mind you, it was towards end of May and it had not started yet raining. And it was all green around. Village of Surla sounded quite wonderful, and very pleasant. Surla village is divided in upper and lower Surla. Due to hilly region, there multiple waterfalls in around Surla. There bunch of places you can plan short excursions around Surla, besides visiting waterfalls. We went to Sadyacha Killa, base of a hill fort called Satteri fort(could not climb due to lack of time).

Unfortunately, our stay at Surla was short(but sweet). We had to leave it towards afternoon, to proceed further on our agenda on going inside Goa. If you get opportunity to go in that region, don’t miss Surla. Recently, I learnt about a Wildernest which has come up around Surla which provides nice camping facilities, guided hiking trails(I have been told, I have not been there so far myself). So go for it, if you are looking for unusual experience, and try to travel during the time monsoon is about to hit!

Fungi from India

You must be wondering reading this title, that I am out of mind; what in the world makes me talk about fungus/fungi. Of course, I am not fungus expert, nor am I biologist. But I still wanted to write about it as I heard on radio other day about it and wanted to introduce you on this topic, as I am in general interested in how people pursue their interests and passion and how how they take efforts to put that to use for society. The other reason I got attracted to this was because of the fact that I have encountered so many different fungi during my treks/hikes in Sahyadri/Western Ghats and always curious to know what they are called as or how different shape/form and color they acquire. Many of them are toxic, as advised by experts such as Kiran Purandare or P K Ghanekar, who would accompany on those treks.

Fugi from India is a website, brainchild of Dr Kiran Randive, which came out of a pain and difficulties he himself went through during his own research, trying to find reference material. Also as mentioned on the home page the other important reason is: “As we all know that the literature on fungi is scattered in journals and it is not easily accessible to the Indian students and researchers. The unavailability of the related literature may develop dislike about the subject and at times conceal the richness that we possess.”

This is the best example of how power of Internet can be put in use. This is encyclopedic work on fungi of India. As it goes with any online encyclopedia, information is presented in different ways to the user as per their needs. The unique feature of this site also includes specialty databases so that information on fungi of a given type can be found together. For example there are databases for mushroom(yes, mushroom which we eat, is fungus, yucks :-)), rust fungi, marine fungi etc. The ‘must have’ feature for such sites is search mechanism which is a sorely missing. The other desired feature, from me as layman, is to specify local language names(such as Marathi names for example) for these wherever it is known.

A similar effort is being carried out to standardize local language names(in Marathi) for birds of India these days. Go ahead and visit the website, and enrich yourself with knowledge captured in there. BTW, I do want to write more about encyclopedias, its art and science, but later. Keep watching this space.

Update as of July 17, 2015: Times of India reported discovery of 2 new fungal species in Savantwadi area of Maharashtra. This is place is right on top of Sahyadri ranges, one of the biological hotpots of the world.

Roads to Mussoorie

I am avid trekker-been trekking in Sahyadris for more than 10-12 years now(though, off late, not much of that). I know I have not written much about that on this blog. But on that sometime later. Since long, I have been dreaming of trekking in Himalayas. I have been envying folks who kept telling me on their bit of Himalayan odyssey while some others also have gone to extent of undergoing basic mountaineering course at Pahalgam. Even my parents have traveled to Rishikesh, Haridwar, Badrinath on couple of occasions, of course, for pilgrimage. I also had a bit my Himalayas when I had visited Kashmir region few years back, but again that was not trekking. This year, I was seriously thinking of Himalayas, but looks like it is not going to happen as we have planned a leisure trip of Shimla/Manali.

Incidentally, I got hold of Ruskin Bond’s book ‘Roads to Mussoorie’  from my book shelf which was sitting there to be read. I had bought this one last year. With Himalayan treks at the backdrop of my mind, I decided to read it. I distinctly remember his article on Mussoorie in ‘Outlook Traveler Getaways: 75 Holidays in Hills’.  Anglo-Indian nature lovers such as Jim Corbette, Ruskin Bond, Rudyard Kipling have produced impressive literary works based on nature, wildlife, mountains, people of Himalayas. All of them have been living in northern part of India, especially, near Himalayan range. They have explored northern India in different ways. I have not read any of that until now. Of course, we all know about Rudyard Kipling’s work Jungle Book because of a very popular TV serial few decades back.

As the rear blurb of the book says it is memorable evocation of a writer’s surroundings and the role they have played in his work and life. Mussoorie has been his home for more than 40 years now. This short book contains articles written in humorous style about various journey’s he took to and fro this place, people he met, places he trekked to. The humor starts right from the page one. Instead of staring with Foreward as it is usually for a book, he starts with a Backward and ends with a Foreward. It is kind of down the memory lane kinda book, may be some form of autobiographical as well, as it does talk of certain childhood memories, though although as the preface of the book says that he has written about his life and family in the book ‘The India I Love’ and other books. It also talks of people he met on the way including pilgrims and various holy places(I remember )

Some articles which I liked the most are ones where he writes about his encounter with bears, with ghosts, and the article where he talks of his memories of cinemas in those days. It also has an article wherein it refers to an interesting historical fact about postal mail runners which postal department had before the advent of transport of postal mails by road or rail. The book has furthered my wish to visit Himalayan range, especially, for trekking. And also generated interest in his other books.