Category: Travel

Star Struck at Naneghat

It has been my dream forever to be one with the stars! The celestial bodied ones, not the shiny clothed (or barely clothed) ones. I was a step closer to this dream on 18th November 2017.

The Fates had finally conspired to ensure I get a first hand expereince of knowing what lies out there. Through this group called Amateur Astronomy Club (AAC) . You can visit their website here: http://amateurastroclub.in/

This is a group made of like-minded people who love the skies. More importantly, they want to spread this love and awareness (about astronomy) to society at large. The members are dedicated and enthusiastic, knowledgeable and cheerful and interacting with them made my experience truly memorable.

I have never attended such a workshop before. I had asked Uncle Rao as well if he’d like to join me. To which, he said yes. He is quite open to gaining new experiences and understanding more about various topics. One of his current passions is painting. And he is getting rather good at it!

The designated spot for star gazing was Naneghat. It is a pass in the Western Ghats range near Junnar in Pune district of Maharashtra, India. During the reign of the Satavahana, the pass was extensively used as a trade route between Kalyan and Junnar. Nane means Coin and Ghat means pass. (source-Wikipedia)

Coins were collected to allow the traders to pass. Just like our current scenario of Toll Collections! Which is a system that is being followed from a time older than Time itself – well, around first century BCE is really a very, very, very long time ago.

We started off from our homes to head to the pick up spot – which was roughly 40 kms. The destination was about 180 kms away. The journey was estimated to be about 5 to 6 hours long. I will let you know why I am emphasizing on these points. Because we travelled in a bus with NO air-conditioning!! It is a BIG DEAL because you tell me the last time you travelled by road to the interiors of Maharashtra without A/C.  I was just thankful it wasn’t the middle of summer. You would have identified me by a puddle covered in purple scarf!

AAC had planned out the travel and other details meticulously. No unnecessary pit stops. Measured breaks. Enough warnings about the lack of public toilets along the way. Potato chips to keep us distracted from the terrible, bumpy, post-monsoon roads.

We went up and down TWO ghats (of the Western Ghats). And they were as curvy and as life-threatening as expected. Curvy, because that’s how roads are paved. Life-threatening, because of the our experienced yet enthusiastic bus driver. He did pull the brakes in perfect timing, so what if it was a little jerky and sudden? As long as we made it to our destinations safely, that was what was important. I usually did what I do when I board a moving vehicle. Sleep through the journey. At least, if I had a tombstone, it would be written “She passed away peacefully in her sleep.”

The view along the view (for the parts that I was awake) was beautiful. When you travel to great heights, you start appreciating the little things you leave behind. I know, this is deep on so many levels.

Ooooo. Big and pretty

Ooooo. Big and pretty

We reached our camping spot as predicted by 1500 hours. If you had to ask me to find this place on my own, I’d probably just walk around in circles. With a snake or two on my trail. It is literally in the middle of no-where. Which is the idea. Because you want zero light pollution to star gaze. This is possible only when the human inhabitants are very few. The other inhabitants don’t require electricity or cell phones to move about. They do just fine by being stealthy in the dark.

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The Site.

The small and quaint dwelling was let out by the  locals for this purpose mostly – star gazing and other wilderness related activities. Our package included food and stay.Thankfully, it was time for the FOOD part of our package. Traveling so far gets my appetite working. The thought of the home cooked meal of rice bhakris, potato bhaji, dal, moong curry, salad, rice, fried goodies, pickle and chutney still gets my mouth salivating. Mmmmmmmmmmm!

I had to loosen my waistband setting of my jeans to accommodate my expanding stomach. I wanted to just pass out on the ground after I finished wiping my plate clean. I can totally relate to the boas of the area who eat their unsuspecting meals and just lie there.

Soon after, we were instructed to catch a few zzzzzzzzz’s as we were expected to stay the night up. Because you can star gaze only at night. Duh! Our group was an interesting mix of individuals – some who were veterans of this event, some who were newbies, children, young adults, older adults, retired, working, studying, male, female…. What was also interesting how amicably everyone got along with each other. All adjusted to each other and existed in relative peace. This is important to mention because co-existing is something we should all strive for. So I’ve taken upon myself to reiterate the message of World Peace.

We woke up from our snooze and Umesh suggested we check out the famous Naneghat caves and pass before it gets dark. Our group quickly marched to the caves nearby and began the rocky descent. To view the pass and to imagine how the traders and travellers made it across from one place to another, puts history into perspective. It is mildy steep and the rocks are broken over the passage of time. We made our way to the edge – where you can view the ghats. And viewed the caves as well. It was too dark to make out anything. But we saw some writings on the wall belonging to the era gone by with the help of our phone torches. There were also some writings of this era which memorialized undying love through symbolography – A.J + R.P 4eVa   ,  K.W <3 S.M

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It is THAT way down!

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Balancing act.

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At the ledge. Can you see the caves?

Sunset

Sunset

We made our way back to the camp site for some hot tea and idlis (courtesy mom. Becauses moms are the best). The session was to begin shortly. Just as soon as it becomes too dark to see beyond our noses. Warnings were handed out – no bumbling away from the camp site on your own. Because you will become Leopard/ Hyena/ Fox/ Snake fodder. In case you do have the urge to go wandering, please contact the Program Manager – who can then get a release form signed before you obliviate.

I am kidding about the last bit. But the instructions were clear that this is a dangerous place. We are in the heart of the mountains with forest and wildlife around. Respect nature.

There was a bit of a damper in the air. The unpredictable cloud cover. Though Google and other weather predicting devices had promised clear skies, you can never be sure unless the last minute. ACC started off with the introductory session of the skies and beyond.Of reflector telescopes and refractory ones. Of stories and myths. Of constellations and clusters. They were quite apt with sharing the information, getting everyone involved and making everyone look forward for more. Although, I have a sneaky feeling that they are big fans of Bollywood movies. Which is totally cool. So am I.

We took a dinner break. We had a choice between pigging out on vegetarian fare or the non-vegetarian one. I chose meat. Because, yum. In the duration between the group finished eating, I found myself lying on the plastic sheets and watching the stars. The group had grown considerably. Not because of eating. Because few other people had driven up to the camp site and joined the group.

We then had another session of identifying the constellation with the naked eye and then viewing more through the telescope. There was a presentation about something – I was dozing off by then. I entrusted my subconscious mind to soak up all the information, process it and hand it to me when I need it. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one feeling sleepy. Few others from the group had curled up into balls – maybe to keep warm.

What got my adrenaline pumping is when Umesh said he’d help me check and set up my telescope. This isn’t a pun for anything. I actually own a telescope. For a very long time, I thought it was unwell. Malfunctioning. I wanted to take it to a Telescope Doctor to take a look at it and give it a health certificate. And I am happy to announce that my telescope is perfectly healthy! In fact, another ACC member – Amol, has the same type like mine and he was very pleased with the health of my telescope. Amol helped me with instructions on how to use the telescope and other titbits for a complete sky gazing experience.

I was totally awake by then. And excited. The sky had miraculously cleared up and the clouds were long gone. We saw few open clusters, twin galaxies, stars that were far away (alphabet M something – cannot recall right now :( ), few constellations – Orion the Hunter, his belt, his dogs, Sirius (the brightest star), Canopus (the second brightest star) Bellatrix, Andromeda, Perseus, Pegasus – more or less, everything about Greek Mythology. Some were seen through the naked eye, many through the telescopes.

My subconscious mind is slowly unbelieving information that I gathered on that lovely starry night – about how brightness is measured, what is the unit called (magnitude), terms for distance (light years, astronomical unit), Pole Star and the future Pole Star, zodiacs, nakashatras and even an astronomical event of an exploding star!

We even glimpsed part of the meteor shower Leonid. Yeah baby, shooting stars! After a while, everything fell quiet. People started retiring to their make-shift beds. I stayed out under the stars, giving Aarthi some company. Since it was only the two of us under the night sky at 0430 hours, I was imagining how we’d fend off leopard attacks with kicks and kung fu. Also, how badly would a bite hurt. Although I shared my vivid imagination with Aarthi, we had no problem falling off to sleep. I was supposed to stand guard – but, whatever. We woke up with a start when the pet dogs of the resort started barking. I quickly looked around for yellow with spots. But in that light, everything appeared grey. We decided not to unnecessarily endanger the wildlife out there and we sleep-walked to the dormitory, curled up in a corner and woke up when it was almost time to leave. At 0700 hours.

We left soon after – after a yummy breakfast and a few photographs. The ride back was a complete blur. Because we all slept through it. I was smart this time around – sat towards the window instead of the aisle – so I am not thrown out of seat on a fast bend.

If you go star gazing or attempt it on your own, remember:

  1. It is all out there – be patient and allow yourself to see. Sometimes, multiple attempts are required. I was expecting to see planets and rings. But unfortunately, this time – all the planets were orbiting along the sun – which made it impossible for planet sighting.
  2. The atmosphere and weather conditions plays a big role. There is nothing you can do if neither of them cooperate to form a perfect setting. You just have to try another time.
  3. Find a really dark place – away from city/ village lights on a moonless night. Even a light across the deep chasm, on the other side of the mountain makes a difference. So does the glow of light emitted that indicates a settlement nearby.
  4. Be ready to face the elements – the wind, maybe mosquitoes, the cold. Unless it is summer. Then the heat.
  5. Get comfortable for a long night. Different aspects of the skies are seen at different times. There is a rising and setting time for the celestial bodies.
  6. It may not be like the pictures you see in the textbooks/ google images/ someone’s instagram post. It maybe just black and white. But keep looking. You will be amazed.
  7. Keep gazing and keep practising

Do check out ACC’s page. They really are doing some great work and organize educational workshops!

Some other gems are down here!

Pit Viper

Pit Viper

 

Oh! Deer Horn. Shed. Not Slaughtered

Oh! Deer Horn.
Shed. Not Slaughtered

 

The brave dog who got attached by a leopard and lived to bark the tale. Although, he's suffering from PTSD and doesn't bark so much any more

The brave dog who got attacked by a leopard and lived to bark the tale. Although, he’s suffering from PTSD and doesn’t bark so much any more

 

Some shaky stars!

Some shaky stars!

I’m calling it a night now. Sweet dreams!

You, Me and no Cuppa Joe

 

AUTHOR

Sowmiaow

 

Ek Chai toh banta hai…

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In fact, it is You, Me & Cuppa Tea!

I haven’t been to Parsik Hills, CBD Belapur for ages. Not that this spot was easily accessible for me when I was living and studying in a nearby college. I remember this place being a non-accessible, quiet, lonely and, some say, a place not to be found at after dark. Let your imagination run wild over the last one.

Things have changed after ten years, but not much. It is still inaccessible – if you don’t have a bike or a car. It is still dark and lonely as the streetlamps don’t work all the way up to the top and there are dark corners. This is strange given that the Mayor’s Bungalow is situated somewhere along the way to the top. Security measures, anyone? Unless there are stealth mode Ninjas in training. And I don’t mean the 250R or the 600R variety. Though these can be seen racing up and down the hill.

Many houses and buildings seems to have popped up on this road. But they don’t seem to be heavily inhabited.

What does add spark and light to this place is the tea parlour that has sprung up in the middle of the Hill.

You, Me & Cuppa Tea seems unassuming, yet cosily inviting at first glance. It does raise your curiosity meter by a few notches given that the rustic look of the place blends in with the dense foliage growing on the hills. On a closer look, you start seeing and noticing the details. And this is when you are blown out of your mind.

We – as in my group of friends – got the opportunity to visit this place for a book signing session. This was my first attendance for such a session. Our friend Venky’s mom is an author. We love Venky and wanted to meet his family – they don’t live here. So this was our opportunity. It was an informal session and a memorable one!

Lalitha Rao has been a columnist and a writer for over 30 years. Bougainvilla Magic is a beautiful compilation of her experiences over the years. It is well written, a pleasure to read, and one can relate to the stories of a time gone by.

Some stories were read out and more experiences were shared and laughter was one of the key ingredients to the evening. Venky did choose an idle place for the event.

Since there is outdoor seating, our group of 12 were comfortably sprawled out, listening to the stories and swapping some more. I was in seventh heaven when I read the menu card. I am a tea person. Completely. There were concoctions I hadn’t even dreamed of! Although I knew I couldn’t try out all of them at one go :(

My friends, they are not so adventurous. They settled for Masala Chai. Which I must admit, was a cup well brewed! I went for the Christmas Tree tea, for the flavours they mentioned. I was, well, a little disappointed. I don’t know too much about tea, but I don’t like my tea overly boiled. It tastes bitter. I couldn’t taste the orange or the roses or the essence of Christmas at all! But since I had ordered it, I slugged it down. Thankfully, there were sandwiches which were ordered and they covered the taste of the tea for me!

The owner is from Kashmir. Maybe they brew their teas for a longer time. Well, their brew was lost on me. The company saved me.

Also, the decor saved my drowning spirit. Once I got over my disappointment, I realised I had to visit the loo. Which meant I had to go inside the establishment. The decor is simply beautiful. Thought has been invested in doing up the place. There are wooden seating arrangements which are comfortable. The reception desk is a tea cup! Delightful!

Tea2

And there are “sitting rooms” A Japanese sitting room, a Chinese one and even one for the managerial meetings! It is complete with low ceilings and small tables. You would have to stoop and walk and be seated on the cushions on the floor. Very authentic. I am not sure on the comfort levels, but I hope they provide tea in the traditional cups of the Japanese. I had a visual that you’d have to dress up in kimonos and wear wooden shoes to enter this area.

There are lot of items for sale. Like copper tea pots from the Mughal era. It was a thermos in its own right! With contraptions for putting in hot coals and will keep the tea hot throughout the day! Prices ranged from Rs 10,000 to Rs 75,000 depending on the size. I quietly and carefully put those babies away. There were also tea sets and tea pots with funky designs! All for sale. And let’s not forget tea mixes. Specially kept ready for brewing your own cup at home. Walnuts, directly from Kashmir, were for sale.

Tea

There was art everywhere! This was paradise for me. I am sorry the tea didn’t impress me much, but the decor surely did. There were paintings even on the bark of the trees around the place. Another item that is worth mentioning was their wash basin. I will just put up a picture so you see what I am blabbering about.

The owner is easy to talk to. Maybe he will brew me a mellower cup the next time I visit their Tea Lab. Which means I don’t mind giving this place another go. This place can be a hang out when you want to just unwind. Get a book and get cozy with a pot of tea. And wonder about the mysteries of the universe.

What it requires is more accessibility and streetlights. Will it lose its charm? I don’t think so. It will only make the Hills safer.

 

IMAGES

Sowmiaow

Hello, 2016!

Hello, 2016!

AUTHOR
Sowmiaow

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The New Year did come in with a bang!
And it was followed up beautifully with a day spent out in the open.

Kumbu had asked me keep my day free and he wanted to take a few of us to a special place.
By the time we had to leave for the drive, it was the three of us, including Chota Bomb.
Everyone else had things to do and people to meet. We had the day free, so we took off!

We left at 1230 hours. The place where we were headed was kept a secret. Sneha and I knew it was towards Nasik. Where exactly, we weren’t sure.
But we didn’t bother too much about it. Kumbu was at the wheel of his beloved Achilles (Honda Jazz) and we were making good time with not too much traffic.

In fact, the maximum traffic we found was in the restaurant Green Lawns just after Kasara Ghats, on the way to Igatpuri. Human traffic, that is. The place was packed and the waiters were super busy.
I wish I could say that it was the awesome food that drove in the crowds. I think, it was just the location. Easily accessible and visible.
The food, by my experience, was spicy. The dal khichidi was spicy, the pav bhaji was spicy, even the masala papad was spicy. It was like the cook decided to ensure everyone has a spicy and hot new year! Thank fully the chaas (buttermilk) was cool and saved me from my peril.
It was already 1600 hours by the time we left for the secret location.

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The road seemed familiar – it looked like we were heading towards Shirdi. I told Kumbu if he had told me before, I would have gotten my mum along. She would have been thrilled!
By now, I thought I knew where we were going. Towards the sea of windmills!
But what could be so special about these windmills? I can see them from the road!

This is where it got interesting. Kumbu took some turns through some villages and we found ourselves at the base of a curvy road leading up the mountain.
Do you know the feeling you get when you know you are going to be greeted by something that is totally awesome and breathtaking?
That is exactly how I felt.
I became quiet, rolled down my windows and sat up.

Nothing can prepare you for the first sight of the windmill, standing tall and straight, going up towards the limitless sky. What appear like sentinels guarding the Western Ghats, keeping a watch over the sleepy inhabitants from a distance, ends up being a force that you don’t want to mess with when you come close to it.
It seems like such an everyday thing – windmill. It’s there somewhere in the deep recesses of our brain. We don’t pay so much thought to it. Because it doesn’t really affect our day-to-day life. But now, faced with this giant, I am forced to think. To acknowledge. And be amazed.
It is a man-made wonder and common but yet – not so common. The weight, the length, the height – I cannot even think to put that in numbers. I am sure Wikipedia will do that for you.
For me, I cannot attempt to put AMAZING into numbers.

When you stand close to the windmill, you can hear the blades making the whoop…..whoop…..whoop sound as it slices the air. And the unmistakable sound of electricity buzzing through the wires. You want to just lie down on the ground and keep looking at the humongous blades as it keeps going round and round like the propeller of the airplane.

And the view! It felt like you could see the entire world from up here. It wasn’t really the entire world, but that’s what it felt like. Of course, we had to keep in mind, one wrong step and it would be the end of our worlds. So we gave the edge of the mountain the respect it deserves. And kept away.
It was the silence that was the added gift. I mean, you can try to listen to silence anywhere – you only have to try a bit. Here, you don’t even have to try. It surrounds you. And if I had to stay there long enough, I would become Silence.

Of course, we did the city-people touristy things and clicked hundreds of photos. To share it with people who were not there with us. I think we clicked them for our memory bank – so that when we come across these pictures, we live those few moments where we experienced feelings of complete joy and freedom once again.

The air started getting cooler and the sun, softer. Everything was bathed in magic dust. And it was time to leave. We travelled for almost seven hours to spend just a half hour at this place. And it was totally worth it. I had started the journey not knowing what would I find and whether I would be disappointed or not. Faith prevailed. Of letting the day take its course and that it would be worthwhile. It was totally worthwhile.
And sometimes, you just have to do things on faith. Like a road trip, not knowing what the destination holds. You will be rewarded with Magic.

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