Kedarkantha – A Dreamy Snow Trek

Kedarkantha – A Dreamy Snow Trek

Fresh winter snow, picturesque sights, the forests, clearings and pretty campsites, the trails of Kedarkantha trek are straight from a dreamland. In fact, I got some sights and memories from the trek in my dreams even after 8 days of coming back; Though this wasn’t my first Himalayan trek, the “trek hangover” was a strong one, maybe because of the settings and my improved fitness levels.

According to trekking community – Indiahikes, Kedarkantha trek is the Best Winter trek. I was looking for a winter trek to consume my annual leaves, and the title of “The Best Winter Trek” tempted me to chose Kedarkantha. Also, I was particular about experiencing Garhwal Himalayas as my last trek was in Himachal (Sar Pass).Without any further thoughts, I booked Kedarkantha trek with Indiahikes, and it was one of the best decisions of my life.

Reaching Gainchwan Gaon:

The base camp for Kedarkantha trek is Gainchawan Gaon, it is an 8-9 drive hour from Dehradun. We had a pick up from Dehradun station. The drive is beautiful with forest covers and Yamuna river and Rupin River accompanying us.

Gainchawan Gaon is near Naitwar in Uttarkashi district. The drive is through Mussoorie and then the Yamunotri marg, but later diverts to Purola road. A special permission needs to be taken at the Netwar barrier as we enter the Govind Pashu Vihar National Park. The sights after Purola were very refreshing, and the best part of the journey for me was the last 5 km, on the top of the tempo traveller, adventure started before reaching the base camp itself. 🙂

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Guest House at Base Camp
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View from the window

The guest house is a beautiful wooden house, and I was lucky to get a room with amazing view. Even though most of the people had introduced themselves in the traveler during the 6-hour drive, we had again introduction and briefing session. It was a good icebreaker and gave an idea about the interests and profession of the trek mates. For me, the night at Gainchwan was an unforgettable night, gave some really good connections and memories. I have some amazing stories and memories at Gainchwan with my new friends and trek mates. The base camp fairly gives you an idea about the people with whom you can make a connection and enjoy the rest of the days. We were all very excited for the trek and hoped to see a good amount of snow, as that’s the highlight of any winter trek.

Gainchwan Gaon To Julota:

This was in actual, the first day of the trek. We were told it will be sunny, but I didn’t expect it to be that sunny. The trail goes through villages of Haltari and Altwar. The locals greeted us and we met some amazing kids along the way.

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The wooden architecture of the houses is pretty impressive. The trail was steep, but we were getting drained due to the sun, and not mainly because of the trail. I realized I had over packed when the sun was overhead and my bag felt really heavy. The second half was a forest trail with pine and oaks and less sunny, but I was already drained by that time. Even with the heavy bag pack, after a steep ascent, reached Julota campsite.

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The Julota campsite is a clearing and hence was surrounded by forest trees. Even after being drained, my trek-mates and I were chilling out and even walked a little to sit amidst the forests. It was a great feeling, just the three of us in the silence, soaking up every bit of nature and peace. However, a mild headache started post sunset, which increased in the night. I felt pukish as well, and later puked. I was getting quite anxious post that, as they are symptoms of mountain sickness. The trek leader was really helpful and told me it might be due to sun and exertion as well and to chill and take a good sleep. The good sleep really worked as my oxygen levels the next day was pretty good, more than that at the base camp. 😉 I decided to offload my bag pack as I wanted to do the summit climb, and not exert my body before the summit day.

Julota to Pukhrola (KK Base):

This was the most dreamy and fun-filled day of the trek for me. Some of the sights seemed straight from my dreamland. The day started with forest trails, and then after some distance, we find snow patches all around. We were so excited, and all of us clicked a lot of pictures. Our trek guide kept saying, “Mam ab toh snow hi snow hain aage, baad mein photos le lena” ( There will be a lot of snow, you can click pictures later). But I could not stop clicking, Amit, the co-guide warned us that he will throw a snowball if anyone stops very frequently for pictures. 😉 😀 The snowball fight in one of the clearings was the highlight of the trek. Just loved playing with fresh snow with everyone.

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The last part of the this day’s trail was the most scenic one. The river streams surrounded by snow and trees not only looked serene, but the sound of the water was therapeutic; Halted there for some time just to enjoy the moment. After that, we trekked through the trees to reach a Pukhrola. The beauty of Pukhrola campsite is breathtaking. It is like camping between the mountain ridges, one can see the Kedarkantha summit as well, we were at the base of Kedarkantha peak. It even started snowing for some time and was cloudy. Our trek leader was worried, as the summit climb becomes really difficult and slippery if it rains/snows. But soon the clouds cleared.

The sunset from Pukhrola was one of the best sunsets of my life, the colours, the beauty left me totally lost. The entire trek group watched and captured the sunset in peace. No amount of pictures or videos can give justice to that sunset. You have to be there, to feel it. It was an amazing time at the KK Base, we were glad we made it till here and anxious about the summit day. I prayed the weather remains supportive, as that plays a major role while climbing a peak.

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The Summit Day – Pukhrola to Kedarkantha peak

The summit day, the day for which we were waiting anxiously for the last three days. The wake up was at 4 am, and I was up before that, I am sure a lot of people were. The temperature had dropped to -2 to -3 degree in the night. With 4 layers of clothing, spikes, and gaiters, we started our attempt to conquer Kedarkantha peak. Step by step we were reaching close to our goal. In a single line, without overtaking we were following the narrow trail. We were lucky that it was a clear day. The first rest point was a good milestone, we could see the campsite from above. Snow peaks were all around us, but not at the eye level. After some rest, we started again. A steep climb for another one hour leads to a Shiva temple, mythology says this was the initial Shiva shrine Kedarnath, but Lord Shiva got disturbed during meditation and hence disappeared to the present day Kedarnath. It is said that he left his throat behind hence the peak name in Kedarkanth. (Kedar – Shiva , Kantha – Throat ). I took a halt before going up, it’s important to pause and appreciate how far you have come. And then when I reached the top of the peak, I was awestruck, mesmerized by the view. So many peaks at the eye level. A gentle reminder that we are very small, very small in this universe, yet we can conquer anything we want if we truly want it.

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The entire trek group made it, each with their own pace. We sat there enjoying the view and trying to capture the sight. That feeling was overwhelming, to make it successfully to the summit, and that breathtaking view. Our trek leader shared the names of the peaks visible, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Swaroghini and Rupin ranges, Har ki Dun valley, Drapaudi ka Danda, Bandarpooch, Kalanag. Each and every peak has a mystical story associated with it. After some group pictures, we started the descent. We had to trace the route back to the base, Pukhrola.

Kedarkantha peak- KK base- Akhoti Campsite:

Descending can become challenging when the snow melts, and as it was a steep one, our guide was keen that we reach the base on time. His common slogan changed from Chalo Chalo (Keep walking) to Bhaago Bhaago ( Run, Run). While he didn’t mean it literally, but the descent was a quick one for me. It’s more about the technique and the spikes gave good grip. Sliding was too much fun, and as the snow was fresh, we could slide on 2-3 patches. I lost balance and almost my phone on one the slide, but controlled using my elbows.

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After the point from where the campsite was seen, I purposely slowed down. When again will I get to see such sights, snow and get such good air, hence I took a halt as well. Deliberately I joined the last batch of trek mates, and then mixed feelings sink in, accomplished that we made it, sad that it’s over.

After the base, we had to descend further till our new campsite. We had to reach until around lunch time, and so all maintained a good pace. This was a fun trail, initially the same route we covered on the second day, the dreamy snow and forest trails, and then a diversion for Akhoti.

The final descent: Akhoti to Gainchwan Gaon:

Akhoti campsite is a new campsite, it is actually a thatch hence mules can be seen around. After Pukhrola, it was very difficult to like any campsite for us. Akhoti is surrounded by forests and some flowers. The sunset and even the sunrise was very beautiful from the campsite. It was beautiful in its own way, however comparing it with Pukhrola, would not be fair. As this was the last campsite of our trek, everyone was relaxing and enjoying each and every moment of it. We played few games as well.

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When we started the last day of our trek, the final descent, we realized the reason for having Akhoti as the campsite. The trail from Akhoti to Gainchwan Gaon is an amazing forest trail. There were Rhododendron trees and it was again a dreamy forest trail, minus the snow.

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We had to cross a river stream as well and climb few rocks. It was fun and challenging. This time again we took a halt to Haltari and had Maggi.As only the last part of the trek was left, we wanted to enjoy every moment of it, capturing as much as possible.

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Also, it was decided that we will do the last patch of the trek together, as a team, hence we waited for the entire group to come and then walked together till our guest house at Gainchwan Gaon. Feeling accomplished, we were back at the base camp. The stay this time at the guest house was a different one, we were relaxed, confident this time, and had a sense of achievement. Five days in mountains can change a lot of things. Spent some time walking in the village next morning, before the start of our return journey to Dehradun. The best part of travel, and in particular treks, is that you start alone, but come back with a bunch of good friends.

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Kedarkantha trek for me, indeed was like a dream, which I wished should have continued for some more time, but all dreams come to an end, and life goes on; Some lessons learned, new friends made and as always memories for a lifetime.

Straight From My Heart,

Prakriti Singh

Contest entry for The Adventurer Blog Contest May 2018 by Bikat Adventures” 

Flashback Weekend : Travel & Outdoor 2017

FeaturedFlashback Weekend : Travel & Outdoor 2017

It’s the fifth weekend of 2018 already !! It seems like I celebrated New Year Eve just last week 🙂 Time flies seriously, from one weekend to another, one month to another, and the year is almost over. I felt my 2017 was like that. One trip to another, from one holiday hangover to the other. Beaches to Mountains and repeat 🙂

2017 was my most traveled and outdoor-spent year. I had decided to explore more, discover new destinations and in fact I ended up spending so much time outdoors that I couldn’t pen down my travel stories and epic journeys. Better late than never, and flashbacks are important as well!

So here it goes –

January – Kumta to Gokarna Coastal Beach Trek:

Started my first long weekend with a Coastal Beach trek. After lot of failed plans, booked this trek with TrekMates, luckily there was only 1 seat left and without wasting any second, just booked it. Gokarna was anyway in my bucket list, and a range trek along Arabian Sea Coast seemed pretty exciting. Started from a small town Kumta, in Uttara Kannada and reached Gokarna crossing 11 virgin, scenic beaches, hiking through cliffs, and breathtaking views of Arabian Sea. It was not just another trek for me, but a journey I will remember for lifetime. Imagine chilling on a beach, without knowing the name of the beach 🙂

The best part of the journey was that I started alone, but came back with a bunch of friends.

February – Bhandardhara Camping

Winter & camping go hand in hand. Lake side camping with my college friends seemed like a great idea and booked this experience along with my three college friends. This experience was again provided by Trekmates. What seemed like a small group and a silent camping experience, turned out into a night of crazy laughter, dance, music and most importantly the ghost stories. Bonfire, bunch of crazy friends and good music is a sure shot guide to a perfect camping experience.

The morning was one of the most beautiful mornings, waking up to a view is an amazing feeling. Beautiful places aren’t far away !!

March- Lonavala Drive and Wet and Joy Water Park

I thought let’s take a break in March and be a little indoors. It was a hectic work month and also the month of Holi festival. But somehow planned for a day outing and went to Lonavala for a drive. It was my first road trip on my new car, so quite an excited one for me 😉 Though it was just a usual drive and chill plan but we ended up enjoying at a water park- Wet and Joy. Unplanned outings are best at times.

April- Lucknow

Lucknow, Nawabon ka Shahar. It was a close friend’s wedding and it was unavoidable. This was more of a foodie trip. Enjoyed Lucknow Chaat and Kulfi, and obviously the wedding was too much fun. Dance, Dhol and drama, typical Indian wedding scenes. Moreover, it was like a mini college reunion.

May – Kasol , Manikaran

The most awaited month of the year, I was waiting for May from 2016. I had booked Himalayan Trek in November 2016 itself. Kasol was the base camp for my Himalayan Trek. Kasol is a place where even if you are in a group, you will find solace. The base camp is set at a beautiful place. This place is best discovered walking, we went walking till Manikaran Gurudwara, crossing entire Kasol, the road is still fresh in my heart and mind. Kasol is like Mini Israel of India, one can see lot of Israelis around, Israeli cafes and beautiful paintings as well. The walk towards Katagla bridge is mesmerizing as well.

June- Sar Pass, Delhi

My Journey to Wonderland, from Kasol to Sar Pass is already documented, and I can almost write a book on it. This was a Himalayan trek to Sar Pass with Youth Hostel. My return was planned via Bhuntar and Delhi. Though I started the trek alone, by the end I had few really good friends. I had one day free, and spent it with my new friends , cafe hopping and eating in and around Connaught Place.

July- Thailand

My unplanned international trip, thanks to office departmental offsite. The offisite was planned for Bangkok and Pattaya. The trip seemed refreshing after the Himalayan trek. This was an all in one trip, shopping, partying, sight seeing and even adventure sports. Loved shopping and exploring the Floating Market, had no idea there’s love bridge in Pattaya as well.

August- Vasai Fort & Lonavala

Vasai fort was in my checklist from quite some time but finally made it in August. This was again an unplanned outing. My friend called, on Friday and we immediately made the plan. Even though some people said that there’s nothing to explore at the fort, I always believe in going , seeing and then believing; and I am glad I did. The walls and structure of the fort still remains and gives the idea of how magnificent it may have been in the past. Rains and perfect breeze added to the beauty of the outing.

I also went for a drive to Lonavala with a new friend. It was just the perfect day for a Lonavala drive.

September- Mysore Farm House

My secret hide out spot, where I always go when I feel like running away, is my sister’s farmhouse on the Mysore Ooty road. The farm life can give anyone a detox and break from the mundane city life. Epic sunsets, beautiful mornings and fresh air, just the perfect break one needs to rejunavate.

October – Igatpuri , Vihegaon

Sometimes leaving early from office and going on a drive is not a bad idea. This was around Diwali time, the last working day before the festive break. I left before lunch and decided to go to Igatpuri with my friend. The drive was amazing and we ended up discovering a beautiful waterfall – Ashoka Waterfall near Vihegaon.

November- Mysore City

November was an eventful month, with its ups and downs. I had 3 days of joblessness and I thought going to Mysore was the best idea as I had no prior bookings. So I boarded the bus to Mysore. This time though, I was in the city itself and didn’t go to my sister’s farmhouse. To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the beautiful sensations in the world.

December- Alibaug, Phanaswasdi, Owe Dam

December was a break and thanks giving month for me. 2017 has been a wonderful year for me. Lot of travel, some good new friends and millions of memories. I was craving for a beach holiday but, and then one weekend I met a close friend for brunch but we ended up going to Alibaug. Spontaneous plans at it’s best. I spent the New Year Eve silently, with a small trek to Phanaswadi and later till Owe Dam.

Cheers to the good times and I hope 2018 gives me more reasons to laugh, explore and write.

Straight From My Heart,

Prakriti

Journey to Wonderland: Kasol to Sar Pass

Journey to Wonderland: Kasol to Sar Pass

Snow clad mountains amidst pine trees , the sound of river flowing, breath-taking views, beautiful sunrise and sunset, and the star-lit sky. Pretty much like a wonderland ? Yes, my journey to Sar Pass from Kasol, indeed seemed like a journey to wonderland. I was mesmerized by the natural beauty by the time I reached Kasol base camp. I was pretty excited, as it was my first Himalayan trek, which I had booked long back with Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI).

Reaching Kasol:

The best way to reach Kasol from Mumbai is taking a flight till Delhi and then taking a bus to Bhuntar. There are flights directly till Kullu also but the frequency is less, also they are quite expensive. The reason I selected to go via Delhi was the road journey from Delhi to Bhuntar. In 2006, I went on a road trip from Delhi to Manali, and it was full of breathtaking views. The journey from Delhi to Bhuntar din’t disappoint me either. River Beas accompanies you throughout the journey; the flow keeps increasing with the altitude. Mighty Beas river flowing through the hills is a sight that needs to be captured.

We reached Bhuntar early in the morning. ( Had left alone, but found a backpacker from Delhi, who was going on the same trek as mine). It is an overnight journey, we started from Delhi around 9:30 pm. Our bus was actually late; few passengers lost their bags on the way. Apparently there was some issue with the door of outside bus storage compartment and few bags fell. As an obligation, the driver took the bus few kms back, but in vain. I was glad the bags weren’t mine, couldn’t imagine a 10 day trek without my backpack !!

Bhuntar to Kasol is around 31 km. We took a state transport bus from Bhuntar to Kasol. That was one epic bus journey. The bus was full of locals, and few other backpackers like us. We got place to sit though. The best part were the songs, it seemed like an very old playlist of mine. All peppy Punjabi songs, Imran Khan, Honey Singh and other artists. The view and the playlist was a great combination. A hippie was trying to sell us drugs, he thought our purpose of going to Kasol was dope and rave parties. We somehow convinced him that we aren’t interested. 😉

Kasol YHAI Base Camp: Reporting & Acclimatization

Finally we reached Kasol. The journey till Kasol only was so eventful, I was sure the coming days would definitely be memorable. The YHAI campsite is located on the banks of Parvati River. There are certain formalities to be done once you reach the base camp, like submitting the receipt, YHAI membership card, doctor’s certificate, etc. Post which, you get assigned a tent. Being from Mumbai, I was feeling cold at the Base camp itself. I was wondering what would happen at higher altitudes. But then after discussing with the camp staff, got assured that we will be acclimatized.

The first day at the camp I felt as if I at a military camp, the rules, the schedule, expected discipline. There were timetables and schedule displayed to give everyone a fair idea of how the upcoming days. The first day was rest day, while the rest of the days they had planned exercises, and mini treks to acclimatize the group. The training was very much helpful later at higher altitudes.

 

Grahan Village:

Grahan is a small village with only 50 houses and a population of around 350 people. Everyone knows each other here , chances are that if you meet someone here once, you will keep meeting them again. The houses are traditional wooden houses, some of them are 200 years old.

The hike to Grahan is incredibly beautiful, with picture perfect locations on the way. Just the start of the trek and I was mesmerized with the beauty of Parvati Valley. Though later I had sinus issues due to change in temperature and altitude, but soon was acclimatized and kept hiking, one step at a time.

The wooden houses are visible only in the last 100-150 m of the hike. I remember we were greeted by a group of happy children. We were the last batch of our trekking group as we were taking halts in between and soaking in the beauty of nature. A young and confident boy, Vishwas volunteered to show us the way to the YHAI campsite. Finally we reached the first campsite. Words are less to describe the beauty of the place and even the people there. You have to be there in the moment to actually understand it.

Magical Padri:

Grahan to Padri was a 9 km hike, covered in approx 6 hours. The trail was through the stream and forests. We had to cross old bridges too. The best part of this hike was the post lunch trail through the forest, I felt like taking a halt and nap there itself 🙂 The views from Padri camp were mesmerizing, we could see the icy mountains, the forests and even horses grazing.

There was something magical about the place, everyone felt so happy and cheerful. I remember laughing so much with my group, my new trek mates, that my stomach was aching. We named that mountain where were discussing about trek, people, life and what not, as the Laughing Mountain. We were warned that there were snow bears around the camp-site, hence going out alone in the night was not advisable.

Ming Thatch:

In terms of distance, the trail from Padri to higher camp, Ming Thatch was longest, ie 10 kms. The trail consisted of thick dense forest, narrow bridges crossing the stream, and spectacular views of snow peaked mountains through the pine trees. The lunch point of this climb had amazing views. It was the best lunch of my life, lunch with a view.

On reaching the camp site, it felt like an achievement, as it was a higher altitude camp ( 11200 ft) and we reached safely. The oxygen level becomes less from here, and also there is a drastic change in temperature. We were advised to wear proper inner , jackets and gloves to protect from cold temperature. We got to know that Ming Thatch camp is perfect for star gazing, and even Milky Way is visible clearly post 2 am. Never in my life, I had seen the Milky Way, so I had made up my mind to get up at 2 am; I was lucky enough to get a nature’s call around that time too.

Waking up at 2 am, in freezing cold, and witnessing the wonderful galaxy, was truly an experience of a lifetime.

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Nagaru:

Ming Thatch to Nagaru was a 5 km, 5 hour climb. Even though the distance was less compared to other trails, this was more of a climb and very less of walking. This was the highest camp site, with amazing views. The altitude is 12,500 ft, and it felt great. There was no water at the camp, only water source was the glaciers. We got network here for sometime, after five days of being disconnected.

The sunset was amazing here, and the majestic mountain views can make everyone realize how small we and our problems are in this world. We had to start early the next day, 2 am scheduled wake up call. The reason for starting early was that the snow starts to melt later, hence we had to cover maximum area before that.

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Final Milestone: Nagaru to Sar Pass

The final day, the day when we will conquer Sar Pass. We started very early, with torch in one hand, and walking stick in another. This was the first time we started walking in jackets, with gloves and all. It was a different feeling altogether. We were walking in a line, the guides were very helpful. For most of us, it was the first time we were walking on so much snow. We had to cover 14 kms in 6 hours. And finally, with slow but steady pace, we reached Sar Pass, the frozen lake pass. That feeling when you are actually at the point which you were thinking about for days. Some of the patches were quite slippery, but all of us managed without any injuries.

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The Descent: Sar Pass to Beskari

I was assuming this would be the easy part, once that the highest point is accomplished. But this was the most slippery part, and one needs to be very careful, patient and mentally strong. I had never witnessed snow mountains so closely in my life, and there I was, walking, climbing and crossing them. Our batch could not experience Beskari slide as the snow was less, being the second last batch. But still, it was a great experience, the beauty of the place can leave anyone stunned.

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Mini Switzerland of India: Bhandak Thatch

Beskari to Bhandak Thatch trail seemed straight like a wonderland. The trek was mainly over, but the amazing views din’t leave us till the end.

Bhandak Thatch in my opinion was the most beautiful campsite of the trek. It is called as Mini Switzerland of India, and to be honest, I felt it’s exaggeration,  but the place actually is Mini Switzerland. We were lucky to experience rainfall at this camp site, and it just added to the beauty. View from our tent was amazing, and post rain all snow peaks were covered in more snow, making the place look more similar to Switzerland. I had mixed feelings here, happy that the trek was completed successfully, with so many amazing memories and a bunch of good travel friends; sad because it’s over. But it’s best to live in the moment and enjoy. Everything seemed magical about that place, and I was wishing the day shouldn’t end.

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From Bhandak, we descended to Barsheni Village crossing beautiful villages of Kalga, Pulga , Tulga and reached Manikaran. Finally had a bath, hot spring bath that too, after 10 days.  Celebrations continued after reaching Kasol, we were now certified trekkers.

A journey and adventure of a lifetime ended, leaving behind, memories, lessons, pictures and some great friends. I will never forget my journey to wonderland…

 

Straight From My Heart,

Prakriti

Solo morning stroll to PandavKada Falls

Solo morning stroll to PandavKada Falls

I left alone for a morning walk, on the self-extended weekend,

Came back with beautiful captures, adventure of a lifetime and a new friend.

It was a Monday morning, a rainy Monday morning. It was raining continuously for the last two days. I decided not to go to office, I was anyway a resigned employee with 5 days of service left and . Had two ways to enjoy Monday off- to sleep again for few more hours, or go hill side and enjoy. I chose the second option, I was in mood to capture the green hills too.

I started my walk, it wasn’t even a walk. I was strolling. So much peace , that too on a Monday. People were rushing to work, while I was walking in the opposite direction. The footpaths were slippery, had to be careful.

I was trying to absorb as much as possible – the fresh air, the green trees and the green hills.  There was a unique sense of freedom within me. Slowly I reached the first hill range, the driving range. But I saw people there, and decided not to go there. I have realised I enjoy my own company with nature. My solo trip was one major milestone in this realization. So I continued straight towards the golf course area.

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Took my first halt there, just for the view- grass, woods and waterfall. It just left me mesmerized. The Pandavakada falls looked so beautiful and full of glory. I felt attracted , I felt spell bound. I decided that I will reach as close as possible to witness Pandavkada falls’ beauty at peak.

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While I was lost in thoughts and excitement, I saw there was one more guy walking ahead. But he was comparatively walking fast. I was wondering who else took out time for a morning stroll. I gathered senses and then resumed my stroll. As I was crossing the golf course area, I could see myself getting close to the falls.

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All the time I was hoping that the entry point for the falls should be open. Many times the police and Kharghar Forest Department officials block the way due to the unwanted accidents that have taken place. Finally I reached Kharghar Gurudwara, from where there’s the  way to Pandavkada falls.

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I stood there for a minute, admiring the beauty and feeling the silence of nature. I was glad that there were no Forest department officials, and considered it as completion of first milestone in reaching the falls. While I was just about to start my journey towards the falls, I heard a voice from behind. It was the same guy I saw near the golf course, he wanted to know whether there is a way ahead and is it safe. I was initially reluctant to entertain anyone, but then I had already made my mind so I thought I should continue and asked him to join me. We started walking towards the falls. The route has undergone many changes with time. I was recollecting, the time when there was literally no way and we had to actually find one through the rocks and hills. Had even documented that in one of my earlier posts: A Letter from Mother Nature.

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The way seemed very easy but they say never judge a book by it’s cover. After just few steps we saw a stream, with a very heavy current; obviously due to heavy rains. We thought it would be difficult to cross it, but then we saw an uncle crossing it, he seemed so refreshed and happy. A villager was helping him cross. That gave us motivation to go on, and moreover, the smile on his face revealed it’s worth going ahead. Slowly, we crossed the stream and continued towards the falls. Pandavkada looked beautiful, in its full glory, surrounded by lush greenery.

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In spite of the commercialization, the place can never lose it’s beauty. Also, there were hardly any one enroute falls, as it was a Monday morning. Only few school and college students who bunked to enjoy nature’s beauty on a windy day. I realized that I was walking  and exchanging thoughts with this guy for quite sometime, but din’t even know his name. Finally we introduced ourselves to each other. Shanker, seemed a nature lover and an avid traveler too. He had taken work from home that day. But couldn’t stay at home. Read somewhere – If you don’t find company to go somewhere, go alone and you will find people like you in the journey. I could actually relate to it at the time.

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We finally reached near the halls. We could see the front view of the waterfalls. Stood there quietly absorbing as much as I could. Tried to capture it perfectly too. But some beauties are difficult to capture. You have to be there, experience it, to actually capture it.

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After few moments of being lost in nature, we finally spoke. Shanker asked whether I wanted to go further, as the way was hilly and tricky ahead. I instantly said yes, as is my nature to take challenges, and go as far as I can. But he warned and reminded me of the stream. It was about to rain, and that if it starts raining heavily like it was it would be very difficult to cross it. He had a valid point. It would have been different if we were in a group; and I feel grateful he advised me. So we decided to return.

Soaking all energy from the green hills and the vibrant waterfall, I turned my back to head home. After few minutes, it started raining. I told myself Thank God I accepted Shanker’s advice. Also had told mom I would be back in half an hour, couldn’t afford getting stuck. 🙂

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By this time, Shanker and I became good friends. Both of us are very talkative and candid in nature. We reached the stream, the current was indeed heavy. We took a long and thick stick, and used it to cross. We held the opposite ends of it, it just made it easier. And after few more steps, back to city.

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That’s the beauty of Kharghar, we can visit the hills too, and in some time back to the roads. Feeling rejuvenated, we walked towards home. I realized that Shanker’s  stays very close to my place. So we accompanied each other on our way back too.

I felt great that I decided to step out, and not sleep. The most spontaneous plans and decisions in life are the best. I felt peace that day, and captured some beautiful images and videos, and made a new friend.

Straight From My Heart,

Prakriti

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Discovering myself at Sarasgad – My solo hike experience

Discovering myself at Sarasgad – My solo hike experience

I left, all alone for my first solo trek. But no, I wasn’t alone, I had the spirit of adventure with me, I had the desire to explore.
It was not a pre planned solo trek, it was supposed to be a group one, but later all backed out, some because it was risky in the season(it rained heavily one day before). But once I make up my mind for something, I go for it. So I decided to conquer Sarasgad fort, the base village for which is Pali, alone. At first, the thought seemed very scary, but then I planned for it. I decided to take 7 am ST bus for Pali from Panvel. As it’s very unsafe for a solo female hiker, I kept my pepper spray with me, and even practised few kicks, punches and aims with the pepper spray. I packed my bag with overall 1.5 L water bottles, stole, cap, extra clothes, sanitizer, towels and some fruits. There were many constraints which I was aware of, the major one that I had no power bank, and my phone has a battery problem; Imagining myself lost(worst-case) with no humans around, without any means of communication, made me question my decision. Later as a solution, I decided to keep mobile data off, and use my phone in battery saver mode throughout the journey, that meant no snapchats, no maps, just me and the people around in case I need help. I even made a milestone list to track my journey, and even motivate myself at every step. Once done with planning, I slept early to reach on time at Panvel. Both excitement and nervous filled me, somehow managed to sleep.

Milestone 1: Boarding Panvel-Pali bus 

The next day, I was on time, it was all dark when I left home. On reaching Panvel, I enquired about the bus for Pali, and within few minutes got it. For the first time in my life, I was travelling in a ST bus. There was a weird hesitation inside me, or I can say, a kind of fear, which accompanied me. This feeling was there inside since morning, when I was packing up, going through my checklist, wearing my shoes and when I left. Ignoring this weird feeling,  I concentrated on the surroundings, the view and decided to forget all tension. The song “Yuhi chala chal rahi, yuhi chala chal rahi, kitni haseen hai yeh duniya“( The traveler travels… just like that, The traveler travels…just like that, How beautiful is, this world) was running in my mind. The route was full of greenery, green  hills, green grass and green trees all around. The bus takes the Bombay-Pune road, from Khopoli, it enters the Khopoli-Pali road and enters taluka Sudhagad.

Milestone 2: Reaching Pali , Having Breakfast

As planned, reached Pali at 9, luckily the bus was on time. By this time, the weird feeling, the fear, the hesitation was vanished. Reaching Pali, was a major milestone of my plan. I decided to start by visiting Pali Ganpati temple, which is one of the“Ashtavinayak” Lord Ganesha.

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Before starting I wanted to have proper breakfast, my friend Dinesh had given me a contact of a local resident Harshal who had a food joint there. I called him, but he dint pick up. I kept walking and found a good place and ordered misal paav, one of my favourite breakfast item.I found some people staring at me, maybe because I was alone, and everyone in group of friends or family, the only person seemed welcoming and smiling was the boy who got my order. Confirming the way to the fort from him, I continued.

Milestone 3: Start of the hike

Walking for few minutes landed me to the start of the journey. I could see the map, and a narrow way between houses.

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Wondering if it is the right way, I confirmed again from a female who was passing by. She confirmed back that I was on the right way, but after knowing that I am going alone, she started shouting that its very risky and I shouldn’t be going. She managed to gather few people too. Everyone said the same. Apparently there was no hiking group which started for the fort that day, and few “bad boys” according to them who went up. No this was something unanticipated, and shattered my confidence I had gained from Panvel to Pali journey. I could see the fort from below, and I thought it would be very stupid to return from there, hence started. I walked for few minutes and I came across a diversion, both ways I could just see narrow pathways surrounded by tall grass. I took one for way which seemed obvious, took few steps and all I found was, tall grass. The pathway was blocked completely because of grass and plants. No way was seen through it.It was very risky to get into it, now I could understand why the villagers reacted that way. Unwilling to give up, called up Harshal( the localite) , hoping this time he would pick up. He did in sometime, and came rushing there too, he was the same friendly guy who got the breakfast for me. Unknowingly we met before, had a conversation too, like we were destined to meet. After discussing with him, came to know that there is a separate route too, which is actually meant for hikers and trekkers , its from the opposite side of the fort. He suggested that his brother will guide me to that route.

I thought it would be a simple route, but it was steeper,more challenging and through dense forest.

Harshal’s brother insisted me not to go alone, but I insisted him to let me, as otherwise it wouldn’t serve the purpose. Finally he agreed; and I went by myself to continue.

Milestone 4: Reaching the top

With a stick in hand, eyes and ears alert, I kept walking and climbing. Tall grass, rocks in between, slippery hills, nothing could stop me.

I just had one thing in my mind,  I have to reach the top. There were places when I felt I wont be able to go further. The first time I came across a probable block, totally steep rocks, I panicked, wondering how would I manage. It was like a big challenge for me, but I managed, the grass which seemed hurdle for me, came to rescue, it gave me better grip while climbing. Similar blocks kept coming; I found my own way to keep moving forward. It became more and more humid, and the route more and more difficult. At a point later, I felt lost again, couldn’t find the way ahead. With no humans within kilometres, there was no point in shouting for help too. I halted, took deep breathes, and felt good about reaching so far. The small, quaint village of Pali was visible. I settled on a rock somehow.

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By this time, I started enjoying the silence; the silence of nature. I started enjoying being alone; I began my introspection, trying to find answers to the questions I had within myself. Then suddenly I hear a hissing noise, and felt something crawling near my feet, Yes , it was a snake !! Startled initially, but dint make any movement, and it just passed quietly. That time I realized, Nature doesn’t harm humans, humans harm nature.

Gaining confidence, started again. It was cloudy by then, something which was both a reason for being happy and worried, happy as the scorching heat won’t trouble me, worried as it would be really difficult if it starts raining. Hence I increased my pace to avoid getting stuck between insects and snakes. I climbed and climbed, and finally almost reached the base. I could see the fort , and was curious to get to the top, and other side.

Completely exhausted due to the humidity, I decided to give my back some rest. Lying on the grass, with a sense of satisfaction, was a beautiful feeling that nothing can replace. I walked a little further, and decided to stop, and go back. Not that I gave up, but my purpose was fulfilled, the journey gave me answers I was searching for. Also it was a calculative decision, as continuing the return journey, when it rained would be difficult; and I couldn’t afford to wait.

Milestone 5: Return Journey

I thought the return journey would be very easy, but again, obvious assumptions tend to be wrong. I was confident and bold, with no fear at all, but there were times I literally sloped down the steep rocks. Finding the way was another task, I got confused between the trees and landmarks which I thought would help me in my return trip.

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Instead of descending vertically, I started going horizontally, like a crab. Using this technique, I covered most of the area. I reached near to the village. But I knew I was going on a different route than I started. Looking at the village, managed to find the way. And this way, I reached down. I could see the twin fort of Sudhagad too.

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Harshal had come to pick me up. He was still worried, but happy to see me happy and safe. He told me it was a risky decision, to continue it alone, that too from the opposite side. I also became aware that monkeys in approximately groups of 20,attack hikers, particularly in that season.He purposely dint tell me prior to the start. I felt grateful, that I din’t encounter such attacks. He dropped me at a restaurant near ST bus stand and returned to his.

As soon I entered the restaurant, it started raining heavily. I looked back, and thanked God again. Feeling dehydrated, ordered fresh lime soda and puri bhaji after changing my clothes.

The Conclusion

I couldn’t conquer the fort, but I conquered one of the biggest fear, which every human share, the fear of being alone. An extrovert by nature, can enjoy being alone too. The writer within me loves to spend time alone, get lost in nature, because nature has its own way to answer questions, and provide guidance.The journey made me firmly believe something which I always read and found beautiful, Paulo Coelho’s quote, When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. Connected everything to it- me unknowingly halting at Harshal’s restaurant, those villagers warning me, the snake passing by, my decision to descend, me being safe and not attacked by monkeys… and then it all made sense…

Straight from my Heart,

Prakriti Singh

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Kharghar Hills- The Unplanned Nature Trail

Kharghar Hills- The Unplanned Nature Trail

Kharghar hills signify the start of Kharghar, welcoming everyone who enters the node; with beauty at its peak during monsoon. I see them everyday, every time my train reaches Kharghar,every time when I take a train from Kharghar. But seldom do I go walking there, maybe because I am busy exploring the interiors and because of other commitments. I went there in December, but not during or just after the rainy season. Finally got a chance to visit, thanks to long weekends.:)
My friend Sneha and I had planned for an early morning walk, which ultimately became a nature trail. It is open only from 6 am – 9 am in the morning. But we started only late, 7 50 we were at the gate. People were coming down, while we were just about to start. The guard even warned us to be back on time, maybe because he saw Sneha’s camera or assumed we are lazy to come so late 😉

We started walking, initially at a good pace. Everyone there seemed so energetic and fresh, wishing each other good morning. The path was surrounded by green trees on both side. Our pace started reducing gradually, and then there was a time, when there were just two of us on the path !! We started capturing the beauty around us.While Sneha was capturing everything on her camera, I was just living the moment, and capturing everything in my heart. Due to monsoon, and even post monsoon showers, the flora and fauna were richest. There were  waterfalls also, some almost dried, and some small ones. Banana trees, Gulmohar trees and many wild plants accompanied us in our leisure walk. Crabs are very common, and keep running and side-walking throughout. Even butterflies, we saw so many of them !

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We were meeting after a long time, and there was lots to talk about. And the serenity of nature, gave the perfect moment for heart-to-heart talking session. We shared and discussed each other’s problems, and then ultimately left on a note that if something is meant to be,it will happen; We can only give our best and believe in positivity.

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The path seemed so very photogenic that we paused so many times for that perfect shot. The song “Tanha Dil” by Shaan came to my mind. I even shared this with Sneha, and then we both started singing the song. Then we realized that it was already 8:16 and we were not even half-way !! I told her to rush, but a photographer can’t miss to capture a place in its entirety. We saw a chameleon and she tried to capture it, but could not. We find them very fascinating, we discussed how it camouflages. In my mind, related it to life, how one should adapt to a situation, however it is.

Speeding up, I reached a little ahead of Sneha. There was a beautiful silence all around, and also the sounds of nature. The chirping sound of birds, the flow of wind, the humming noise of the insects and birds. It was so soothing. With the crowd of the city, and noisy horns we fail to listen the beautiful and diverse sounds of nature. I was lost for a moment, in the silence, in the beauty, or in my thoughts !! And then suddenly Sneha shouted, “Hey I got it”. She managed to capture a chameleon(not sure a garden lizard or a chameleon). Again, we restated, the power of positivity, hope and “if its meant to happen, it will”

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We reached the first view point, that time we realized that we have covered some distance and height. We saw some people there, resting after their walk/jog. It was a little foggy morning.

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Sneha wondered if there is more to see, and if we should go back. I told her to keep going, and it is worth it. By this time, all sweaty and drained because of humidity, still kept walking. We anyway had crossed the allowed timings, why not experience fully 😉

We met few villagers on the way. They seemed happy and content. I was wondering that they must be so used to climbing up and down the hill for basic necessities. I smiled and waved at them, they smiled back too 🙂

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Paced up and finally reached the end point. The point where it diverts into the village, and the view point. The Kharghar hill plateau was seen from there, full green and live. A better view of Kharghar, the entire node, the well planned one.

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Hence we considered our journey as successful, reaching till the top of hill. Learning so many things, getting so close with nature, spending quality time and clicking so many wonderful pictures. We asked for a lift while coming down, the driver had permissions to take the villagers, hence we were not asked any questions..

Let the journey never end…Keep moving

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Photo credits:  Sneha Panchal

Special thanks to her, contact her for photography assignments Contact Sneha Panchal

Contact me for exploring Navi Mumbai 🙂

Straight from My Heart,

Prakriti Singh

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