When women and mountains meet!

Part 2 of the women-only Tirthan valley trekking trip : around JIBHI

There’s some sort of magic in the unexpected ! We had planned many things on this Tirthan valley trek, but the two that surpassed all our expectations were

  1. Jalori House
  2. Raghupur Fort Trek

JALORI HOUSE : ‘Where Mountains Meet the Mystic’

We operate like a ‘Big Joint Family Home’ and our endeavour is to make your stay as informal and comfortable as in your own home : they say ! And I couldn’t have said it better myself !

An intoxicating cocktail of breathtaking views, tastefully decorated yet simple interiors and food that tantalises each tastebud, Jalori house is by far the best place I have stayed Every little need and desire is taken care of by their staff as well as the owner Amit Vaidya himself.

You can spend all week sipping adrak wali chai here and soaking (and bathing) in the views (The bathrooms have glass on the valley view walls !)

DAY 3: We reached Jalori pass which is at a height of 10,000 feet, after a very scenic 45 mins drive from Jibhi.

 We had 2 options for trekking on arrival at Jalori pass.

  Option 1 – Easy trek of 5 km to the Selosar lake.This is a more popular option because it’s an easy trek with not much of an ascent.

  Option 2 – A more difficult trek ( 3 km one way ) to the Raghupur fort where the last half an hour involves continuous climbing.

And it was on the insistence of our hosts that we decided to do the Raghupur Fort trek instead of the Serolsar Lake trek as was planned in our itinerary. Albeit more difficult, it was far more rewarding in so many ways!

The initial trail is a comfortable walk on a flat trail that traverses through dense coniferous trees.

The beauty of this trek is that you get a sneak peak of the snow clad mountains as you begin and then as you climb the slightly steep inclined patch through rocks, you catch your breath in awe as the majestic Himalayas unravel 30 degree at a time around you at the horizon.

Green meadows greet you at the top and by then you have a 270 degree view of the snowy peaks.

We were also lucky to have a very good guide, Roshan who not helped us on the climb, but also had a keen eye for photography. Thanks to to him we have some excellent pictures and videos, memories to cherish for a lifetime.

Raghupur fort itself is a ruined fort with hardly a few walls standing. But the views and photo opportunity it offers is outstanding ! A complete 360 degrees view of Himalayas all around from Kinner Kailash -Spiti- Pin Parvati-Shrikhand Mahadev – Deo Tibba -Dhauladhar range- Pir Panchal – Lahaul – Dharmshala to Shimla ! Simply magnificent feast for the shutterbugs, insta lovers and reel makes (like us !)

We enjoyed our packed lunch with with the great Himalayas as our backdrop and the azure blue sky above ! Raising a toast of fresh apple juice, we declared our love for the mountains and vowed to meet again, on yet another mountain top !

Heaven has no greater pleasure than a mountain conquered, we say !

DAY 4

Another day well spent exploring Jibhi

An early morning short hike to refreshing stream just below Jalori House before breakfast with the adorable dogs !

Breakfast was a scrumptious array of stuffed parathas; onion, paneer, radish ( Didn’t i say right at the beginning I love this place !) and then we explored Jibhi with a short trot to the Jibhi waterfall (selfies galore !)

Later we went for a short trek through the Deodar forest to a clearing that housed Balo temple. An oasis in the heart of nature!

The meals, cosy bonfire nights and the hospitality of Jalori house have left an indelible place in our hearts. Our only regret is that it is so far away from home that we cannot visit more frequently !

Yet visit again we shall. it was not “adieu” but “au revoir” that we said to our gracious hosts at Jalori house ! Phir milenge zaroor !

Women-only Trek @Tirthan VAlley


Out of the many setbacks I faced during the Covid pandemic, cancellation of 3 Himalayan treks from April 2020 to October 2021 was the most anguishing. Yet I was determined to ensure that I set foot on the Himalayas in my trekking boots before 2021 ends.

Himachal Pradesh is not just Kullu-Manali/ Shimla, it is has many more undiscovered valleys. I realised this when I went to Parvati valley in October 2018.(Read all about it in the blog https://wordpress.com/post/meetimein.wordpress.com/1916)

My quest to explore Himachal further led me to extensively research and Google search till I found a natural untouched paradise called Tirthan valley that had earned a reputation as “Himachal’s Best Kept Secret”. Mid-November 2021, I got my “Girl Gang” together and planned a trip there before it got too cold.

Find someone who shares your passion and the trip becomes even more amazing ! Dr Sangeeta Agrawal, Dr Mamatha Shriyan and Vaidehi Rajpathak : The Feisty Four !

QUICK FACTS:

Nearest Airport : Bhuntar (but flights are expensive, connections via New Delhi are not very convenient ) Chandigarh is the best option, although the drive is 8-10 hours from here, the amazing food at the highway dhabas makes the journey so worth it !

Tirthan valley has many villages along the Tirthan river from Gushaini to Banjar. The accommodation here is mainly home-stays and cottages along the riverside. After spending 2 nights here @ Riverwalk, we moved to Jibhi @ Jalori house higher up in the mountains.Let the adventure begin !

Part 1 of the women-only Tirthan valley trekking trip : around GUSHAINI

Riverwalk (aptly named) by the gurgling river has quaint rooms and cosy cottages,clean and comfortable. They offer a gorgeous view of the azure waters and jagged mountains.The meals were served as a buffet or a la carte option by the warm fireside.

The next 4 days were planned in such a way so as to enjoy nature by getting as close to it as our trekking boots would take us

Our trekking plan was split into alternate days of long (5 hours) and short (2 hours) treks.

TREK 1 : to GHNP Gate

The Great Himalayan National Park is a protected zone of over a 1000 sq km, a biodiversity treasure house.

Since there is no road to the GHNP gate, the route is an easy 8km trek from Gushaini village.To really explore GHNP well, one can spend a few days inside, a “camping in the wild” experience, various treks and trails at hand.

For those like us who want to sleep in a warm bed with a heater every night, the trek to the gate has delightful vistas of the Tirthan river, autumn foliage, some sleepy villages and friendly villagers en route

Traipsing over wooden bridges, we trod on. The Tirthan river sparkling in the valley below us, racing through the countryside. The trek is gradual, signs are available so a Guide is not mandatory but useful nevertheless. Our lunch stop was at the Hippo falls so named, as you can see because of the large glistening boulder that unmistakably looks like a Hippopotamus is bathing here, surrounded by icy waters of the falls casting shimmering shadows around.

And then finally the gate of GNPH, which holds many secrets within and we may explore those on another adventure later on !

DAY 2 : Chhoie Waterfall TREK

Next morning we were up bright and early, exploring the riverside along our cottages, warming up the Quechua boots for yet another day of clamouring over the rocks.

The trek to the waterfall is only 3 km walk that begins from Village Nagini which takes about 1 hour. The latter part is a bit steep, but manageable.

The waterfall and the fern foliage around paints a pretty picture. Stopping for a rejuvenating ginger tea in the village, we had to get back and check out of Riverwalk for PART 2 of thr trip : Jalori House and Jibhi !

COVID safe Getaways near mumbai in the HILLS

Covid-19 changed so many things in our lives, especially the way we travel and also the where, how, when of it? It wasn’t so simple anymore, was it ? Advance booking, multiple destinations and also international travel was a challenge.

First we had to get used to a “lockdown” or restrained in one’s own house, only going out when absolutely necessary, for 2 months. Then when travel was allowed did we feel safe catching a flight, living in a hotel ???

Spending quality time with family and close friends became the priority. And so started Dr Wanderworld, not venturing on any long trips but finding safe havens within driving distance.

Some of the protocols we followed were

  • Choosing a property where we knew the owner so that a strict sanitisation process was ensured.
  • The villas were usually unused in the week, sanitised and locked up.
  • The staff lived around the property with minimal contact with the nearest town.

LE FARM : KAMSHET

I had heard so much about this place from friends and it was completely worth visiting. A family owned farm and villa, a labour of love for Shivani Borade Shah, Le Farm is the place to breathe in that fresh air you longed for.

The view of the lake and the valley from the villa

Distance from Mumbai: 110 km (approx 3 hr drive) https://g.page/lefarmluxuryfarmstay?share

Website : https://lefarm.in/

Category : Boutique luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 6 bedroom (usually all booked together, esp. weekends. Weekdays could book lesser rooms)

Amenities : Pool, lake view, 15 acres farm, indoor games

If you were looking for a place to seclude yourself with your extended family or a big group of friends look no further.Perfect as a WFH option, great farm fresh food, immaculately styled rooms and relaxing views. There could never be a dull moment, indoor and out door games, kids play area, books; something for every age!

Being so close to water and surrounded by fruit and vegetable orchards has a soothing effect here. One can just sit and take in the beautiful vistas or go for walks and short treks.The living room is the main event of the house, large and spacious. All bedrooms face the water and the rays of the sun make magical reflections on the glass. Every angle is so picturesque. Definitely the place to come to immerse yourself in nature!

Meals : in house chef, set menus (veg/non veg)

VALLONE VINEYARDS, IGATPURI

This place is like second home to me, we have come here so many times B.C.(Before Covid), especially in the monsoon. But I still can’t decide which is more intoxicating here…. the wine or the views?

Vineyards and lake view

Distance from Mumbai: 160 km (approx 3.5-4 hr drive) https://g.page/VallonneVineyards?share

Website : http://www.vallonnevineyards.com/

Category : Boutique luxury vineyard stay. Bedrooms : 4 bedroom (can be booked separate)

Amenities : Lake view, vineyard and wine cellar tour,

I am a totally morning person and the walks here really make me happy. The entire region is the mecca of wine making in Maharashtra, producing the best species of grapes. The Pai family forayed into wine making here, successfully producing some truly exceptional and award-winning wines.

The 4 bedrooms are on the top floor, tastefully done with rustic furniture and Jaipur print linen. Two are valley facing and two garden facing, but the common area in between has a large valley facing balcony for you to savour the view. The restaurant on the first floor serves the most amazing pan asian food with a larger balcony attached, so you can drink in the view from every angle (if you did resist the wine). Also the best place to enjoy the rain if you are here in the monsoon !

Meals: A la carte from Malaka spice restaurant (veg/non veg)

PAWANA LAKE

When you want to get away from the ever so madenning crowds at Lonavla and Khandala these days, the shores of Pawana lake offer some really tranquil places to stay. We had the opportunity to stay at 2 different villas

INFINITY by DREAM VILLA

Step down to an Infinity Pool that overlooks the golden fields around the lake. Could you ask for a more blissful location for a getaway weekend ?

Distance from Mumbai: 120 km (approx 2.5 hr drive)

Website :https://www.dreamvillas.co.in/

Category : Mid range villa.

Bedrooms : 5 bedroom

Amenities : Pool, lake view, kids play area

Meals: in house cook, can choose options within the set menu (veg/non veg)

JADE AMBROSIA by VISTA ROOMS

This 5 bedroom villa is located at a height to offer mesmerising views of the lake from the verandah. The lush green expanse of lawn in front of your eyes, the Balinese decor, the cool breeze that lulls you into a trance, the ultimate place to relax.

Website :https://www.vistarooms.com/villa/4-rooms-at-jades-ambrosia

Category : Luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 5 bedroom

Amenities : Pool, lake view, kids play area, indoor games

Meals: in house cook, can choose options within the set menu (pure veg)

The area around the lake is perfect for walks, be it in morning or evening. Monsoon is definitely the best time when its all clouds are misty and the waterfalls flowing all over the valley. There are treks to Lohagad and Visapur fort possible from here for the adventurous and water sports on the lake.

PARSI MANOR, MATHERAN by SAFFRON STAYS

Fancy spending a time in a bygone era, surrounded by colonial architecture and artefacts. Top that with finger-licking Parsi meals, and you have yourself a fantastic weekend.

Distance from Mumbai: 90 km (approx 2.5 hr drive to the car park and then 5km on horseback or walk )

Website : https://www.saffronstays.com/view/the-parsi-manor-a-100-year-old-quaint-heritage-stay-7LAWThR4QHMDBIEH

Category : Luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 4 bedroom

Amenities : you don’t need anything: Just be with yourself (Mai aur meri Tanhai )

Meals: in house cook, can choose options preferably Parsi delicacies (veg/non veg)

Having a cup of tea in this verandah, has a whole new meaning ! The house is tastefully decorated with stained glass windows, paintings, artefacts, Ming vases and lamps.There is nothing modern here and that’s the beauty really ! Every piece of furniture is vintage too, like old wine one has to savour this place slowly.

The staff is so courteous and cooperative , it’s hard to leave this place!
The food was exceptional. Mutton dhansak had succulent pieces cooked to perfection and the dhansak gravy was too good to be true (Believe me I am a lover of dhansak and cannot tolerate imperfection in this glorious dish). The Caramel custard too was just perfect!
The white bed linen and Jaipur print rajais in Muslin make the most amazing companions for a good nights’ sleep.
Here you can just put your feet up and do nothing, listen to the chirping birds while you sip a cup of tea or take a walk enjoying the beauty of nature ( Charlotte lake and Echo point are not too far away)

FALCON HILL, Aamby Valley Road by SAFFRON STAYS

Solitude and serenity gets a new meaning here. Far away from civilisation a mesmerising morning sunrise awaits you each day. A dip in the pool, “garam bhajiya” in the rain, karaoke and board games to entertain.

Distance from Mumbai: 100 km (approx 2.5 hr drive)

Website : https://www.saffronstays.com/view/falcon-hill-6-bedroom-luxury-villa-with-infinity-pool-in-near-lions-point-in-lonavala-yB7o6HpEK4YZVCb7

Category : Luxury villa.

Bedrooms : 6 bedroom

Amenities : Pool, Karaoke, board games

Meals: in house cook, can choose options within the set menu (pure veg)

Drive 25 min ahead towards Aamby valley and trek up to Korigad fort. You will be aghast to find such picturesque sights at the top.Did we get magically teleported to the Lake District, you may ask? The views of the surrounding valleys from the top make the climb so worth it.

JUNGLELORE FARMSTEAD, Navghar, near KHALAPUR

6 rustic cottages in a rugged environment, yet the farm offers a comfortable stay of a different kind. Simple delights that we miss because we live in the city. Farm fresh food and the best way to enjoy outdoor life.

Distance from Mumbai: 90 km (approx 2.5 hr drive )

Website: https://www.facebook.com/Junglelorefarm/

Cottages: 6 bedrooms, eco friendly

Amenities : Nature all around

Meals: in house cook, veg/non veg local thali.

Be it with friends or family, this place will be enjoyable yet relaxing for all. Don’t miss the recycled tyres and bottles used to make unique wall hangings and lights.A reminder that we must be kinder and closer to our Mother Earth.

Last but not the least

STRAWBERRY COUNTY, BHILAR {Between Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani}

Everyone goes to Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar but the real fun is in the strawberry fields of Bhilar and Kaswand where you can pluck your own juicy fruits in winter.

Distance from Mumbai: 250 km (approx 4 hr drive )

Recommended place to stay : Red Stone Casa https://red-stone-casa.business.site/

“Once a year, go somewhere you have never been before.” –Dalai Lama

Thanks to Covid, I discovered and rediscovered some hidden gems around me !

Wish we had more time for Cornwall

Life seldom gives you a chance to make your childhood fantasy come true. For my daughter and me, both being ardent fans of Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers based on a boarding school on the sun-drenched cliffs of the Cornish coast, a trip to Cornwall was certainly chasing that reverie!

Filming locations in Cornwall and Devon of the BBC series Malory Towers based on the book.

Of all the far flung places I’ve visited so far, St. Ives has been the most intriguing and sadly its not on every traveller to Britain’s list of places to visit..so lets cut to the chase and discover all the reasons you simple have to go there next summer !

You could take a flight to Newquay from London, but I’m a stickler for train journeys and this one certainly is to be savoured with many stops in Devon and Cornwall if time permits. (read more about it in this interesting book “The Great Way West”)Headed west, the railway line hugs the coast at many places for panoramic vistas of the aquamarine waters, boats and harbours along the way.

The last bit of the journey is the most sensational for the views coming up outside your window as the scenic railway journey St Ives Bay line runs from St Erth to St Ives, past Carbis Bay.

This extremely picturesque town of whitewashed fisherman’s cottages, numerous art galleries, cosy shops, tea cafes, bars and restaurants is a pure delight to discover. Wandering through the narrow cobbled streets, you can enjoy the atmosphere that is uniquely St Ives. The artistic connections date back to Victorian times when numerous artists came to St Ives to paint, attracted by its special quality of light. 

You wouldn’t know where to begin with the infinite possibilities of St Ives’ galleries. Unique to this town are the sculptor galleries, displaying magnificent works ranging from hand-made pottery to masterpieces of modern ceramics .

The colours in the paintings reflect the surrounding hues of browns, blues and whites that you see all around you in the St Ives’ narrow streets, rugged cliffs and beaches. The entire town is positively stacked with fabulous independent galleries and a feast for every art lover.

The most noteworthy is the museum of Barbara Hepworth’s work, one of the UK’s greatest sculptors, who had made this area her home. She moved her in the difficult times of the World War II and she achieved what very few female artists may have in her lifetime. Her presence also helped turn this remote town on the western tip of Cornwall into the remarkable thriving artists’ colony it is today.

Tate Modern of St Ives is a huge draw for art-lovers. Exhibiting work by modern British artists with links to the St Ives area, this museum has some fabulous collections.

Whilst in the town, don’t forget to rest your weary feet in a tea shop for Cornish Cream Tea: handmade scones, freshly baked with clotted cream, jam and a pot of tea. Many delectable fudge stores to chose from too. Made from traditional recipes, using locally sourced Cornish sugar, milk and butter, there are so many flavours to chose from in all the fudge stores !

Painter’s cottage is the warmest B & B I have ever stayed in! Madge and Duncan host you in the most perfect, cosy and quintessential cottage. The rooms are beautifully decorated with a lot of art work and ceramics and great hospitality extends beyond expectations. A happy haven for travellers. I wished I could have stayed a week, like the other guests who were here for self-guided walking tours in Cornwall.

If you have car to drive yourself around its well worth making that trip to the Land’s End Landmark Attraction (another tick off the bucket list: the westernmost point of England!) and beguiling views get better and better as you drive around the peninsula.

At Marazion, be sure to visit St Michael’s Mount, a medieval castle on a small island. One can walk across or take a boat ride to discover this historical monument and its gardens later in the summer. The waters were still choppy in the last week of June when we visited and so we had to be content with selfies from the shore and a nice breezy walk along the coast.

An exhilarating fusion of paintings and sculpture, topped with rugged cliffs and breathtaking views of the sea and the cherry on the cake is the clotted cream scones and fudge! This cobblestone town makes you feel awakened in every sense of the word, every step of the way.

Scenic rail journeys and postcard-perfect towns in UK : Mallaig to Glasgow

Leaving Portree the next morning with a heavy heart, we boarded the bus to the coastal town of Armadale, near the southern end of the Isle of Skye. We were just in time to board the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland, on a cloudy, windy afternoon.

The harbour town of Mallaig is so small, I had finished walking across it a few times by evening. The waterfront promenade was adorned with flower baskets of colourful petunias, fuscias and geraniums blooming, especially at the Tea Garden cafe, an idyllic place to sip that evening Cuppa.

The Moorings Guest house offering a spectacular view of the marina, as well as a homely comfortable ambience, was our cosy haven for the night.

The bright morning sun definitely brought out the rich colours of the pristine azure sea. It was time for us to bid adieu to this majestic view to set forth on the next part of our exciting journey which was “the Harry Potter Train” ride which also showcases some glorious landscapes.

Die hard Harry Potter fans don’t miss the souvenir store Haggard Alley and of course the reason we are all here is to get on the Jacobite steam train to Hogwarts !!

The Mallaig to Glasgow rail journey can be completed in about 6 hours by Scots Rail via Fort William (cheaper, less noisy and used more by the locals). The West Highland Railway steam train used in the Harry Potter films for the Hogwarts Express is slower but would be a must-do for Pottermaniacs (more expensive, noisy and packed with tourists). Whichever you chose, be sure to grab a window seat because the diversity of natural beauty unfolds outside the window is indeed a feast for the eyes.

As the train leaves Mallaig station, look out for the tranquil silvery beaches of Morar and he crystal blue waters at a distance, yet another cinematic location, the movie Local Hero.

Sit back to soak in some simply stunning views that include a mix of undulating coastline and rugged landscape dotted with lakes and mountains as the train weaves its way past Lochs Eilt

The approaching Viaduct of Glenfinnan certainly got our heart racing, as we exultantly scampered to get the best seats next to the window to get photographs (and immediately share on Insta! #harrypotterbridge)

Running along the shores of Loch Eilt, the train chugs on to Fort William and you can capture more of this breathtaking beauty with your camera.

Past UK’s highest altitude train station, Corrour and then the landscape changes to the heather moors of Rannoch, a vast expanse of peat. The dramatically changing scenery is forever mesmerising and you will be enamoured by it

Traversing through the Glencoe, you appreciate the suddenness of the transition between the high mountain pass and the lightly wooded strath.

The next hour or so you ride along the shore of the Loch Lomond. The train journey really does give you some vantage views of an incredible array of sites of the Trossachs National Park. Zipping through some dense forests, a journey that embraces adventure, until you approach the city of Glasgow

This rail journey in definitely for those who want to crave a deeper relationship with nature. If I had more time on hand, there are many places where I would certainly like to get off the train and delve deeper into the greenery….someday soon, I hope!

A simply splendid day on the Isle of Skye

June 2019 :We arrived in Inverness by the evening flight, just in time to enjoy a leisurely stroll as twilight descended over the town, casting a magical purple hue over the River Ness.

A good night’s rest in our cozy Waverley Guesthouse Bed and Breakfast was much needed before we set of on a busy tour the next morning.

We had booked a day tour with Timberbush tours and as we set forth, Ryan, our driver and guide regaled us with mysterious stories of the elusive Nessie (Loch Ness monster) as we drove along the vast expanse of the beautiful Loch Ness. Summertime flowers abloom along the shore made it a pretty sight.

The next stop on the tour was Invermoriston, a sleepy yet picturesque hamlet with the old bridge that crosses the spectacular River Moriston falls. We had some time to meander down to the water and walk around to admire the pretty country cottages.

Soon we were at the much awaited Eilean Donan castle. Scotland is all about its glens, and lochs and castles and this one on a small island where three lochs meet is definitely the most alluring of all. The courteous staff dressed in traditional Kilts guided us through the majestic interiors of the castle and each room has a tale to tell of its own.

The sky turned grey and gloomy as we set forth on the rest of the tour. Alas! I couldn’t get any more good pictures and it would be sacrilege to write a blog without them. But here is Ryan to my rescue, loaning me some of his breathtaking photographs of the region captured on his previous tours.If you travel with him I’m sure you will agree he’s a great storyteller in both words and pictures.

The Quiraing is considered to be undoubtedly one of the most spectacular landscapes in Scotland.Nature’s exquisite composition of towering cliffs, impressive plateaus and pinnacles of rock.We couldn’t stop gazing in rapture at the reddish brown landscape surrounding us.

The road creeps higher into the hills and onwards to Sligachan, Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock for photostops. Our guide Ryan had a sea of stories and it made the journey so enjoyable and a great laugh. It is in nature that the sublime truly lives!

At Lealt falls we got off the bus to take a  short and easy walk to the viewpoint where you can look down to see the Lealt waterfall plummeting down the deep gorge. The skies were turning blue again and we  could admire the views of the stunning coast and the sea.

In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks. “— John Muir

Back to Portree for that perfect evening cup of tea and views of the loch beyond that were just too good to be true.

We had stopped by earlier in Portree for lunch and chose to end our tour here by evening to discover a bit more about this quaint town.Truly a place that inspires every imagination is Portree, the main town of isle of Skye. Nestled in the hills, it has a natural harbour, busy with fishing boats, craft stores and sightseeing cruises. Plenty of eating options at the harbour serving delicious local food, particularly fresh sea food.

Adventure isn’t complete until you have reached the soaring heights of an eagle! A boat cruise out of Portree Harbour will get you up and close to the largest and rarest bird of prey in the UK, the White-tailed eagle. You may be lucky to sight other aquatic and birdlife too if you cruise further into Portree Bay and the Raasay sound.

Do connect with Ryan if you choose to go on any tour from Inverness

Ryan Raymond Photography Email: photos@ryanraymond.co.uk Web: www.ryanraymond.co.uk YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIexSrvKaACMozytColuzQA

All images are available for purchase on his website plus more and worldwide postage available also.

Tel: +44 (0) 1463 630 110 Mobile: +44 (0) 7799 723 409

P.S. I was in raptures when I saw all these sights filmed in the movie starring my favourite Patrick Dempsey (McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy)”Made of Honor”

Ratnagiri: an avian paradise

“I never meant to be a birder. But the birds didn’t give me any choice.”
Diane Stopyra 


Ratnagiri, as we all know, is famous for its mangoes, cashews and seafood. The landscape here is as varied and colorful as it’s produce and cuisine.We planned a Diwali family vacation here in the last week of October. A cozy overnight train journey was an exciting first time for my seven year old!!IMG-20191023-WA0021.jpgIMG-20191023-WA0027.jpegWe were expecting a lot of sunshine. To our dismay, we were completely engulfed by pre-cyclonic winds and clouds as the cyclonic storm namely ‘Kyarr’ over the east-central Arabian Sea for the 4 days that we were there. Gushing winds, rain showers and no sunshine at all. Well, we tried to not let that dampen our holiday spirits.IMG_20191026_141331.JPG
Our first stop was Ganeshghule, Oceano Pearl homestay, near Pawas. A warm red brick house overlooking the rice fields and a short walk from the beachIMG_20191024_092817.jpgIMG_20191024_083323.jpgComfortable rooms in a coconut grove, simply amazing lip-smacking home-cooked meal. Truly the best place to reinvent yourself and master the art of idling.IMG_20191024_083545.jpgWe were pleasantly surprised to discover the fabulous avifauna here. As the rain eased out a bit by afternoon, we ventured out with our cameras. Sunlight flittered through the branches, glinting against its plumage, I spotted the white-throated kingfisher.

IMG_0152.JPGA few steps ahead, another beauty! A Red-whiskered Bulbul against the thick foliage.IMG_0154.JPGNature won us over, one warbler at a time. We enthusiastically embarked on a trail through the rice fields to capture some more beauties. IMG_20191025_075541.jpgA Green Bee-eater perched high up on a branch, peering towards the rough sea, wondering maybe what’s in store next, in the eye of the storm?IMG_0194.JPGA couple of white egrets wading through puddlesIMG_0206 (1).JPGand some red-wattled lapwings in the grass.IMG_0273.JPGWe really didn’t know how to identify and distinguish all these birds, but just kept clicking pictures and our friend Dr Mita Gala, an avid birdwatcher helped us later with the names A sea eagle soared high in the sky, as we ventured towards the coastIMG_0229.JPGand some sea gulls at the edge of the water.IMG_0202.JPGThe next day we drove northbound, past Ratnagiri on the great coastal road of Aare and Ware beach to Ganpatipule temple.IMG_0240IMG_0266

The Blue Ocean Resort and Spa at Ganpatipule was our next halt, a perfect place if you are smitten by the “bird” bug. We were greeted at the reception with a poster of the birds we could encounter here.

IMG_20191025_152513.jpgIMG_20191026_131521.jpgWalking around in the drizzling rain, with the sea raging in the background, we spotted some more birds strutting around the ground. An amazing place to inspire the “bird nerd” in you A pond heron was walking majestically on the lawnsIMG_0351.JPGand is that a Munia in the shrubs….or a Magpie robinIMG_0353 There is a small hill within the property and a walk to the temple at the top, especially when sunrise is the perfect backdrop to spot more birds that dwell in the trees up there.

Spotted a spotted dove

IMG_0327.JPG

When I glanced up, I saw two beautiful birds perched on the low branch of a bare tree. I caught my breath. They were no more than four feet away and looking directly at me. We locked eyes for an instant, I clicked and then they were gone. A black drongo ..and maybe an eagle ?IMG_0307 (1).JPGThat’s the story of how I accidentally became a Birder !!!

IMG_20191025_095433_BokehPerfect capture of these two cuties in the trees, isn’t it ?

Inpite of the rain and clouds, we had an amazing holiday chasing all kinds of birds. Make hay while the sun shines they say. Well if it doesn’t, life is still beautiful !!!

 

A Bird nerd who says “I always tern up for bird watching !!!!

Muddy boots: 5 easy monsoon treks from Mumbai

If you live in a city like Mumbai where a new skyscraper seems to spring up each time you look out of your window, where the dream of having a Metro some day soon currently has tremendously increased your daily commute and where the monsoon showers bring a refreshing change from the sweltering summers.

That sweet earthy smell, the tiny droplets on to the window pane, the thundering sound of the rain, and the wind in your hair – everything about the monsoon is love at first sight! Some would like to be cuddled up in a warm blanket, sipping piping hot adrak waali chai and watching the drops fall from their window. While others like me would to get all soaked and muddy out there…especially in the hills all around.

Here are 5 easy getaway treks (in order of ease for beginners) that I did over weekends from July to September as time permitted:

1. SGNP

We are blessed to have Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a sprawling green forest within the city. In the past I have done many treks and trails from the Borivali gate, namely

  • Shilonda trail
  • Upper Kanheri Trek
  • Nagla Block

But instead of getting away from the maddening crowd, especially on a Sunday its packed and you may see more people than flora and fauna here.

67185083_2188638017925353_2367088190587666432_n.jpg

So maybe its time to discover some more pristine locations for trekking …..Hence this year I decided to try the Thane (Yeoor) gate side.

Yeoor: 

I wanted to take my 6 year old daughter Anushka on an outdoor expedition on the weekend so we signed up with Jack & Hill Adventures for The Yeoor Hills Forest Walk. This trek was guided by Wildlife Expert Mr Nikit Surve, who also happens to be the man responsible for Mumbai’s leopard Census conducted in both 2015 & 2019 within the national park. He made it very interesting with his detailed explanation about the wondrous wildlife specifically in the SGNP forest. Anushka was just learning about carnivores and herbivores in school and she had many questions for him.

We drove down in my car and met the others at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (Tikuji ni Wadi gate) Thane Entrance at 7 am. After exploring & learning about the surroundings as we had a leisurely walk along the forest path upto Yeoor village and back for about 4 hours. There is also a beautiful butterfly garden that kids will love at the entrance.

2. Mhatarichi Khind:

This is not a hilly high incline trek but a long walk through a valley or pass between the hills (khind). I went with my all time favorite outdoor group Countryside India. They have may monsoon weekend treks you can choose from and I have been going with them since college. Great way to meet like-minded nature loving people.

They arrange for a bus that leaves from Dadar at 6 am, via Panvel to the the foot of  Matheran, at village Dhodani. From here we walked through the valley between Prabalgad fort & Matheran, crisscrossing through villages, forests, and waterfalls and rivulets. Our trek ended at Ambewadi, beneath One-Tree hill point, on the Chowk side of Morbe dam. Simply the best was to enjoy the rain in your raincoat and get all the Vitamin G your eyes can ! Its a great way to introduce kids to the outdoors, 8 years and above. This one was with few work colleagues and the rest strangers, fun nevertheless.

3. Ganpati Gadad Caves and Waterfall Trek:

Jump out of that comfort zone and do the unexpected! This time I went with a completely new trekking group that  I found on facebook and to a destination I had never heard of before. M3 Yatrik is a young and enthusiastic trekking group and I had was very happy to have joined them on this trek.

gg6

Taking a local train from Dadar to Kalyan we went by a vehicle to the base village is called Palu, Sonawale near Murbad. We had a very tasty breakfast in a local villagers house watching the dense clouds engulf the hills beyond, hiding the caves completely. A valley full of flowers welcomed us ascended towards the caves.

Ganpati Gadad Caves is a series of 6 to 7 caves which are exceptionally beautiful during monsoon as many small waterfalls fall over them forming enchanting white veils. The path is gradual and the rocks are big, with easy stepping stones. Only at the top the path along cliff is a bit perilous, so embrace your inner Indian Jones! But its always good to go with a group where everyone offer a helping hand.If heights make you uncomfortable rethink this one.There were many rapeling groups here and thats something to enjoy as well!

The view from the top is totally breathtaking and just sitting in the serenity, with only the sound of the waterfall in the background is very soothing to the soul. ” We have to find time to stand and stare”

4. Sondai fort:

I have some friends who are regular trekkers so this was an easy one for them. A more intrepid experience and this one is not for the faint-hearted, as the trek involves steep rocks. The trail can be dangerous and slippery, especially if there is rainfall so it makes it a bit challenging for the beginners.

IMG_20190818_110643We drove to the base village Sondewadi, near Karjat which is situated at 1/4th height of this fort and then started climbing the rest of the way. Its better to reach early as many groups come later in the day on weekends.

The last part has a set of metal steps to climb till the watch tower.

We were completely embraced by the clouds and here are some amazing vistas from which to view the countryside around of the Morbe reservoir from the top IMG-20190818-WA0017

5. Sunset point, Matheran:

Although I’ve graded this the last in terms of intensity and duration as well, its was the most enjoyable of all as I went with my new found friends: the Yoga Girl Gang  of Chaitanya towers and also because the destination was a surprise for us. We were told by Nitin Sir that we were going on the trek to test our endurance levels but the rest was a secret!

The starting point was Dodhani village and the waterfalls were overflowing. The warm aroma of wada being fried on a rainy day can be the most tantalizing !!! We just couldn’t help devour as many as we could of the most delicious wadas and spicy chutney ( we had a lot of calories to burn ahead !!!) and started to follow the guide.

Its a fairly long trek, mildly strenuous day hike. It wouldn’t be a cake walk,gradual in the beginning, through rice fields and farms, then ascends a bit through a thick forest and the final part as you get closer to Matheran gets steeper and steeper. We did encounter a few steep drop-offs. Yet as the mist engulfs you, your adrenaline surges and you want to conquer it and get above.

It’s the journey that counts not the destination, they say. And its also the people who trek with you. Overcoming difficulties, coaxing and encouraging each other, we trudged on the mission impossible …that was not so impossible after all!

IMG-20190810-WA0019

The “V” sign, whether you make it with your arms or legs signifies pure glee once you make it to the top and eases away all the the aches and pains.

Its ain’t called the “Magic of the monsoons” for nothing

Until the next summit !!!

Where butterflies lead the way……Waichin valley

This valley tucked away beyond Malana in Himachal Pradesh is also popularly known as Magic valley and the name needs no explanation. Magic here is in the air, in the emerald waters of the Malana river, in the towering snow-capped mountains and the in the clouds and blue skies above. In all you see, breathe and hear around you, there is only magic.

The magic begins from the Dam and Malana reservoir. As there are no motorable roads beyond, the rest of the journey is on foot. But for the next 3 hours or so your legs wont falter as walking through paradise is a very enjoyable experience here.

A scrumptious breakfast and refreshing cup of coffee at AYOYA Malana Resort – Shiva Cafe where we stayed in Malana, 4 km away, is just what you need to get you going on this wonderful trek. Its easy and the beauty of nature is so invigorating, perfect for a beginner. You could go as a day-trip but I would definitely recommend and overnight stay if the weather permits in the log huts.

One can walk through the coniferous forests or along the river, both routes behold mesmerizing beauty of the wonders of nature. The butterflies frolicking along the wildflowers led us through the forest path to Atodang village, a few wooden houses that are surrounded by fields.

Rest your weary feet, basking in the unfiltered rays of the sun in peaceful solitude. The dancing butterflies, the humming bees and chirping birds paint a pretty picture here and you wonder if you really need to go ahead ..or anywhere else in the world !

The people here live a very simple life, farming and rearing sheep. They hold on to their traditions and will not share any food or allow outsiders to come into their homes.

As the mountainous path ascends further, gurgling brooks greet you along the way with all the freshness and energy of the melted snow. A few sips of this delicious water and all the fatigue has melted away!

Here is Magic valley, where misty clouds float around.There are a few log huts and campsites for overnight stay.

The best place is undoubtedly the Monk Hut In Bela Moon. A hot plate of Maggi noodles, cozy hammock with warm blankets to cuddle in and enjoy the view till sunset.

As Jerome K. Jerome said…“Seek out some retired and old-world spot, far from the madding crowd, and dream away a sunny week among its drowsy lanes – some half-forgotten nook, hidden away by the fairies, out of reach of the noisy world – some quaint-perched eyrie on the cliffs of Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century would sound far-off and faint.”

 

The nights are also very magical here. Sitting by the warm campfire I saw my first moon rise..another magical moment. Simple pleasures we miss in the city. Making new friends with other guests from different parts of the world underneath the clear skies with twinkling stars, over a plate of warm rajma chawal. These memories will last a lifetime.

The butterflies all along the way left such an indelible impression on my heart and soul that once we were back to AYOYA Malana Resort – Shiva Cafe by the next afternoon, I got down to painting my heart out ..and lo behold are the motley crew on a pillar ! AYOYA Malana Resort – Shiva Cafe is a place you can really chill out in the lap of nature, unwind and rediscover your soul!

 

Umkar Living Root Bridge: Marvel of Meghalaya

What a natural wonder it truly is ! Bridges made by the local tribes in Meghalaya by entwining the strong secondary roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Whenever and wherever the need arose, they simply grew their bridges. Helping the tribals to get past rivers and streams, these trees helped sustain life yet again.

Related image

The most famous one is the Double Root Tree Bridge of Umshiang located in the village of Nongriat. But its quite and arduous trek, 2500 steps to reach Nongriat and this takes about 1.5 – 2 hours each way easily (maybe bit more depending on your fitness).So thats more than half a day gone. My friends who have been here say its definitely worth the visit. Don’t forget, you need a lot of energy to get there.

But if you are pressed for time, like us and yet didn’t want to leave Meghalaya without witnessing this marvelous phenomenon, here is another easy but lesser-known option: Umkar Living Root Bridge. I had a been in my bonnet to see any bridge in the short span of 4 hours that I had (6am to 10 am to be precise after which we had to leave Cherrapunjee for Guwahati airport for our flight). The local drivers and Hotel guys surprisingly didn’t have much information to offer. But extensive Google searches revealed bits of information that I put together to set off on our quest of Umkar Living Root Bridge.

A morning cup of tea in the clouds with a view of the sunrise and Bangladesh border like this from our room at The Polo Orchid Resort really gives a new meaning to life! It energizes you to get out and seize the day.

Our group of enthusiastic doctors boarded the jeep and it was a beautiful downhill drive from our resort to Siej village though thick tropical rainforest on either side. The wettest place is also definitely blessed with nature’s bounty. Just before Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, it’s another 3km drive by taking a left turn. Its not well sign-posted so one has to ask for directions to Umkar Living Root Bridge.

Once you see this sign, walk through the Betel grove for about 10 minutes, past gushing waterfalls to reach the bridge. This 40 year old bridge is now considered to be “under construction” as it was washed away due to massive floods. Hence the the villagers are actually now rebuilding it.

The roots are light brown and green compared to older bridges and Umkar Living Root Bridge is a perfect example to learn the process of building living root bridges.

The bridge was strong enough for us to walk across it already. See how the floor has been formed with entwining branches around the scaffolding of the hollow betel nut tree trunks. Since this region gets heavy rainfall which results in innumerable streams and flowing rivers, the trees are well adapted to the soil erosion and the roots grow down towards the water. This one will take maybe another 15 years to be ready.

We were back in time to shower, have a delicious breakfast and check out of the Polo Orchid Resort with a heavy heart. A final “Adieu” to the Seven sisters waterfall, unmistakable seen from the resort all day. The next 5 hour we drove back to the airport through mountains and waterfalls, and it was such a pleasurable drive. We echoed the words of E.E. Cummings in our hearts “I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”