Sunday, March 22, 2009

21 to 22-Mar-2009 Bhorgiri Bheemashankar

In India, we have a general perception that there are not many forests left. However, this perception is not entirely true. There are some patches of forests preserved to this day. Quite a few of them are in the Sahyadri ranges. These patches may not be as thick as earlier times. But they give us a feeling of what a forest is like.

Bheemashankar is one such wildlife sanctuary. The Giant Squirrel is the main protected animal in this forest. As the name suggests, it is related to the squirrel that is commonly found in Western India. Bhimashankar is also home to herbovores like the barking deers, wild boars, etc. It is also host to small carnivores like jackal. 

Location and getting there
Bheemashankar is located in Pune district in Maharashtra. Bheemashankar is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas (Shiva Temple) in India. As per the legend, Lord Shiva destroyed demon Tripurasura at this place. Origin of the river Bheema is near this place.

Getting to Bheemashankar is fairly easy from Pune. There are direct buses plying from Shivaji Nagar every hour or so. From Mumbai, one has to take a route via Karjat, Khandas.

However to reach Bhorgiri is a different matter altogether. There are few direct buses from Shivaji Nagar in Pune. One has to take a route of Rajguru Nagar (Khed) and from there Bhorgiri. From Mumbai, I doubt if there is any direct route to Bhorgiri. One will have to come to Pune and then proceed OR directly go to Rajguru Nagar via Lonavala, Chakan.


12:00 PM Report to Shivaji Nagar bus station
We reported at Shivaji Nagar bus station. There we found out that there were very few participants in this trek. That made managing the trek very easy.

1:00 PM Bus to Rajguru Nagar (Khed)
There are buses directly to Bhorgiri from Shivaji Nagar. However their frequency is less and hence not suitable. The next best thing is to go to Khed (Rajguru Nagar). There are buses plying frequently to Khed from Shivaji Nagar station.

2:15 PM Reached Rajguru Nagar
Lunch at bus station
After reaching Rajguru Nagar, we found out that the next bus to Bhorgiri is at 3:00 PM. Hence we ate our lunch carried with us in the canteen.

I usually like to carry my lunch into rolls
instead of spreading out the entire lunch on a table. This is handy in situations where one wants to eat quickly.

3:00 PM Bus to Bhorgiri
Finally we boarded the bus to Bhorgiri. The bus was empty.

5:00 PM Reached Bhorgiri
It took two hours to reach Bhorgiri village. Some last section of the road is through ghats. This part is beautiful as the road winds through the mountainous region along a dam on the river Bheema. The backwaters of the dam in the evening make this area beautiful.

5:30 PM Bhorgiri fort
After getting down in the village, we filled water bottles on a hand pump. Some of us rearranged our sacs. We started our journey.

Bhorgiri village is a very small village. There are hills on the three side of the village. And one of the hills has Bhorgiri fort and caves.

From Trips - Bhorgiri Bheemashankar Mar 09

Bhorgiri Fort as seen from the village

From Trips - Bhorgiri Bheemashankar Mar 09

Soon we started towards the fort. Not much is known about this fort. The path descends into a stream and then climbs the hill. The climb is easy. And the height is small. Within 15 minutes, we were near the caves. One of the caves has a Mahalaxmi temple. This cave was filled with water. The villagers visit the temple often. Some of us went inside the temple and had darshan. There are 17 water tanks on the fort.

From Trips - Bhorgiri Bheemashankar Mar 09

One of the caves had a peculiar method of water harvesting. Rainwater running down is channelised through a criss-crossed channel into one cave. This water is potable. This cave and the water channel can be seen in the photo below towards the right. Notice that the entrance of the cave is very low. Probably it is not meant for human use.
Another aspect of these caves is the shoddy construction done in the recent times to close front of some of the entrance. Apart from several caves, there is nothing much to see on this fort. There is hardly any trace left of any fortification. The top of the fort did not have anything except a few trees.

The sun was setting. We had to trek to Bheemashankar. Hence we started to descend from one route.

While descending, one accident happened. We decided to take a route where some steps are carved into the stone. Some portion is scree with lose stones. While descending, one person stepped upon a stone. The stone started rolling down. Despite warning given by others and Partha trying to avoid it, it hit him hard. The stone had changed its direction while rolling down. That was painful. Within a few minutes, he regained himself for the long trek ahead. Later, it was dignosed that he did not have any fractures fortunately. Alertness is the only way to minimise such accidents.

6:30 PM Start trekking to Bheemashankar
We started our trek to Bheemashankar. It was already dark. The accident shaved some time from our schedule. Most of the route was through jungle or fields. Some of us had switched on their torches. This caused difficulty to adjust our eyes.

We could see some farms in between jungle. It was nice to have a long trek in dark. After some time, all of us switched on the torches.

8:15 PM Stargazing
At one point, we sat for some rest. Pinakin took a brief session on stargazing. He educated us how to locate planets in the sky. Only three planets Mars, Saturn and Jupiter can be seen by naked eye during night time. Mercury and Venus can be seen only around sunrise or sunset. Uranus and Neptune are too far to be seen by the naked eye. All these planets traverse in a narrow band in the sky. One needs to know the constellations along the apparent path of the planets. A bright odd "star" in these constellations is a planet - one amongst the three (Mars, Saturn, Jupiter).

He explained few constellations like Orion the hunter, Taurus the bull, Canis Major the dog, Gemini the twins, Hydra the serpent, the concept of Gateway of heavens.

We also learnt how to locate the North Star with the help of Big Dipper constellation. With the help of the North Star, how to find North direction.

9:00 PM Reached Nigdale
Keeping our lunch in mind, we wrapped up this session and walked to Nigdale village. Nothing was open in this village. Now we had to trek for another 4 KMs so that we can have dinner. After calculating the possibilities, we took a vehicle to Bheemashankar so that we could have our dinner.

10:30 PM Dinner
All of us went to a restaurant and ordered dinner. The dinner was simple. We attacked dinner. Since Bheemashankar is a pilgrim place, there are several restaurants and places for overnight stay. These places may not offer luxury. Since we were on a trek, there was no question of any luxury.

11:00 PM Slept in a temple
After dinner, we headed to a nearby temple for night halt. Since it was already summer, it was pleasantly chilled in the night. After such a long trek, we deserved a good sleep.

6:00 AM Wakeup
7:00 AM Left the temple
8:00 AM Left into jungle trail after breakfast
With a good breakfast and overnight sleep, we started our excursion in the jungle. The attraction was obviously the Giant Squirrel. To our dismay, we could not spot one. However, we saw the nest of this animal on the tree tops.

Different butterflies were seen in a dry stream and pond.
Pinakin explained some behaviour of butterflies.

We explored the jungle a little more till noon and headed back to the restaurant for lunch.

1:30 Bheemashankar temple
Just before the lunch was served, some of us headed to see the temple. This temple is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. Fortunately, there was no rush. Hence we had a good darshan in very less time.

From Trips - Bhorgiri Bheemashankar Mar 09

The temple is very beautiful. It is built in stone in Hemadpanti style of architecture. The temple has a bell installed by Chimaji Appa, brother of Bajirao Peshwa.This bell was taken when the Portuguese were driven out of Konkan region.

From Trips - Bhorgiri Bheemashankar Mar 09

2:00 PM Lunch
Quickly, we came back for lunch. We had to head back to Pune.

3:00 PM Took a ST bus to Pune
There is a bus every half an hour to Pune. We got the next available bus.

6:30 PM Reached Pune

Sunday, March 15, 2009

14-Mar-2009 Someshwar temple, Pashan, Pune

Pune has very beautiful temples lost in the concrete jungle. These days one has to find these architectural gems. Not much is known to the general public about these temples. History is slowly being forgotten.

One such temple is near Pashan village in Pune. It is a Shiva temple known as Someshwar temple. It is situated on the banks of a stream. The original construction must have been nearly 250 to 300 years old. This area was surrounded by fields and hills. Now the urbanization is catching up. Tall buildings are slowly coming near the temple.

Location and getting there
To reach the temple, one way is to come via Baner road. From University circle, take Baner road. There is a left turn immediately after NAL and agricultural farms. This road eventually goes to Pashan village. Take this turn. The road turns right. Travel straight for another kilometer or so. We reach in front of the temple.

The temple has a very nice surrounding. Area in front of the temple takes one back by a few decades in time. It is very calm and serene. It is said that the temple was visited by Shahu - the grandson of Shivaji.

The entire temple complex is shabbily renovated. Cement plaster is applied over original stone structures. This takes out some of the glory. The temple has a garden associated with it. This enhances the beauty of the area.

As we enter the temple complex through the old doorway, we can see the entire temple complex. The temple complex is situated on the banks of a stream. There is a ghat on this stream. The ghat lies on the back side of the temple.

There are three temples with the back towards the entrance. One is Ganapati and another one is Bhairoba. And the third is a Hanuman temple in the middle and behind the light tower.

Between the Hanuman temple and the main sanctum, there are two mandaps. Each with a different Nandi. The two mandaps are constructed differently. I wonder what was the need to construct two mandaps and that too of different sizes?

The main sanctum is below the ground. It houses Shiva idol.

From Trips - Someshwar Temple Pune Mar 09

Two sides of the complex have constructed rooms. Families stay there. The eyesore is a water tank constructed without regards towards harmony of the entire structure.

On the back side of the main sanctum, one Shiva idol and one Nandi idol are kept. Behind the sanctum is the ghat. This ghat is constructed beautifully. Half of the stream is channelized to a water tank. The nearby households use this tank to wash cloths. 

On the opposite bank of the ghat is a small abandoned temple. It is in the ruins. I wonder how one can enter the temple as there are no stairs.

There is a garden maintained beside the temple. The area has a lot of big trees. It makes a very good  place to spend a few hours and get back your peace of mind in the midst of the city.

We must appreciate and respect the beautiful heritage around us.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

8-Mar-2009 Katraj Park

I am always of the opinion that the public parks and zoos in India are nowhere in comparison with the best in the world.

Take an example of Singapore Zoo. It is a huge enterprise. There are several animals from all around the world. They are kept in almost their original habitat. There is a lot of information for the tourist. The staff that maintains the zoo is very well trained on their job. This earns huge revenue from the tourists.

Back in India, our children were insisting for some time on visiting Katraj Zoo. They remembered the King Cobra from their last visit. They wanted to visit their "friend".

Location and getting there
Katraj Zoo is barely 5 kms from Swargate in Pune. Buses plying frequently to Katraj Zoo from Swargate station. Zoo is the last but one stop on the route to Katraj depot.

Inside the zoo
We took the ticket. The ticket is very less. With this kind of revenue, it is really difficult to run an endeavour like this.

We were little late to reach the zoo. The zoo closes by 6:00 PM. Hence we had to plan everything such that we do not lose much time.

First we saw the snakes section. Various snakes are kept in this section. Most of these snakes are rescued by the team from all over the city. After some time, they are released in the wilderness. Here we saw python, Cobras, Kraits, Viper, and several non venomous snakes. We saw a King Cobra. It is brought from Assam. It is a big majestic snake. One intriguing aspect is that other animals like crocodiles, ghariyal, tortoises, turtles are also in the same section. This is the first time I realised that tortoise and turtles are different. Till that time, I used these terms interchangeably. Tortoise primarily lives on land. It has a more round shell. Turtles primarily live in water. Their shells are relatively flat.

After Snake section, we also saw different birds namely Boneilli's Eagle, Egyptian Billed Vulture, and Peafowls. These birds are nowhere near Singapore Bird Park. There was a news recently that several peafowls were dead recently. Also there was a news that a crocodile was spotted in the lake where boating is carried out.

We saw different animals like Porcupine, Bear, White Tiger, Monkeys, Leopard, Sambar, Chital. All these animals are kept in different open air enclosures. This is one nice concept. The star of the attraction was obviously White Tiger. During ice age, tigers used to be white in colour for camouflage. These genes are dormant in most cases. However sometimes, these genes express themselves and hence very rarely we see White Tiger. 

We had to rush back as the park was closed by 6:00 PM. All the tourists were driven out.

Again the point is about comparison with Singapore Zoo. A good amount of money is invested to create a good infrastructure. Tourists get good value for their money spent.

People in India are not very much inclined towards discipline in public places. They simply do not have view to appreciate things around them. Instead they are busy in pursuing their narrow agenda. Hence they make bad tourists.

Monday, March 2, 2009

28-Feb to 1-Mar-2009 Lohagad

Most of us are intrigued by the mysteries of sky some time or the other. To most of us, sky is ever changing. And we will not be able to distinguish planets from stars on our own. There was a program announced by Trekdi about astronomical night out on Lohagad fort. I took it as a opportunity to learn some of the mysteries of the sky.

Lohagad was an important fort right from Satwahan dynasty, nearly 200 BC. It was primarily built to watch the routes in the region.

This fort is called Lohagad after Sage Lomesh who was meditating here. 

After the downfall of Bahmani kingdom, the fort went into the hands of Nizamshahi in 1489. Thereafter it remained with till 1630. In 1630, the fort went under the control of Adilshah. Shivaji Maharaj captured it in 1648, two years after he captured Torna. Netaji Palkar was appointed to look after the fort and the surrounding region. In 1665, Mirza Raja Jaisingh attacked Pune region. Villages around Lohagad were ravaged. According to the
treaty of Purandar, the fort went into the hands of Aurangzeb. Shivaji Maharaj got it back in 1670. Aurangzeb recaptured it in 1700. Shahu Maharaj gave the fort to Kanhoji Angre.
In 1720 it was under the control of Balaji Vishwanath. 

Nana Phadanvis developed the fort a lot. He renovated the first, second and the fourth entrance of the fort. Jaavji Bomble and later Dhondopant Nitsure ruled under Nana Phadnis. Nana shifted his entire treasury on this fort, which was kept in Laxmi Kothi. Nana's wife came here in 1802.
In 1818 colonel Prother aptured Visapur fort. Lohgad fell into his hands without firing a single bullet.

Location and getting there
Reaching the place is very easy. From Pune take a local train going to Lonavala. Alight one station prior to Lonavala at Malavali station. From Mumbai, take a passenger train towards Pune. Malavali station is the next station from Lonawala. From Malavali railway station, walk towards Bhaje village. After walking for nearly 5-6 kilometers, we reach Lohagadwadi, the base village of Lohagad.

Malavali is famous for two cave complexes - Bhaje (barely two kilometers from the railway station); and Karla (5 kilometers from the railway station). Both these are Buddhists cave complexes.

28-Feb-2009, Saturday
5:30 PM Reached Pune railway station
All of us were asked to gather at Pune railway station. We reached there with our children. They were very excited at the prospects of watching the stars.

6:15 PM Local train to Lonavala
Tickets were booked for the entire group. Headcount was taken. We proceeded to the platform where train was expected to arrive. Some of us got some seats in the crowded local train.

7:45 PM Reached Malavali station
After one hour and 15 minutes of journey, we reached Malavali station. It was already dark. There were few lights along the road.

10:30 PM Reached Lohagad fort
Somehow, we continued on the road upto a small hotel. All of us took some rest. The group from Mumbai was waiting for us there. The entire group continued their journey in the dark. We were not realizing where we were going. There was a road which we traversed. But the road was very primordial. After nearly 2 and a half hours of trek in the night, we finally reached the top of Lohagad fort.

The fort itself is not very high. It is very easy to climb. From Lohagadwadi, there are we constructed steps. The fortification is intact. There are four doors on the way to top.
a) Ganesh Darwaja
b) Narayan Darwaja
c) Hanuman Darwaja (Oldest)
d) Maha Darwaja

In the night, we sat in front of the Shiva temple. There a telescope and a spotting scope were already set up.

From Trips - Lohagad

11:00 PM Star gazing
Without wasting our time, we quickly finished our dinner and started watching the sky.

Our astronomers Sushrut and Pinakin were guiding us through the sky. First we started with the sky towerds West. As this part of the sky would set very soon. Various constellations were explained - Leo the Lion, Gemini the twins, Libra, Taurus the bull, Cancer (partial), Orion the hunter, Big Dipper, North pole, Southern Cross. We also learned how to find direction from North Star. Southern Cross is the only way one can judge directions in the sky in the South hemisphere. Magellan used the same constellation during circumnavigation of the earth.

1-Mar-2009, Sunday
3:00 AM Slept
We saw planet Saturn and its rings through the telescope. We also saw Beehive cluster. Finally, I slept at 3:00 AM in the morning when I could no longer hold myself.

Most of us slept in the very big cave called Lakshmi Kothi. Few of us slept in front of the temple where telescope was setup. Lakshmi Kothi can accomodate nearly 50 persons. It has 3-4 chambers one inside another.

From Trips - Lohagad

7:00 AM Woke up

In the morning, I woke up at 7:00 AM. After readying myself, we strolled around on the top of the fort. There is only one source of potable water on the top of the fort. All other water tanks contain polluted water.

9:00 AM Introduction
We rushed back to the cave for introduction and breakfast.

9:30 AM to 11:00 AM Saw Lohagad fort
After introduction, we started seeing the fort. There are lots of monkeys on the fort. One needs to be careful!

One of the first thing we saw in front was Visapur fort. The two forts are very nearby. We could not visit Visapur fort though.

As per the inscription on Ganesh Darwaza, the construction was done by Dhondopant under Nana Phadanvis. After entering the Maha Darwaaja we come across an old dargah. There are remnants of the court beside the dargah.

After dargah, there is a Shiva temple and some water cisterns beside it.

Further down, there is a tomb of Sheikh Umar. As per the history, three Arabs named Sheikh Umar, Sheikh Salla and Sheikh Malang invaded Pune. Salla resided in Pune city and destroyed the temples. Malang went and stayed on what is known as Malanggad, near Kalyan. Umar seized Lohgad. A sage was meditating here. Umar threw him off the cliff and became the ruler here. Today this tomb has gained importance as pilgrimage. 

Further down the fort, there is a polygonal well constructed by Nana Phadanwis. Further down, there is Vinchu Kata (Scorpion Point). There are fortifications in this area. Lonavala and the expressway can be seen from this place.

From Trips - Lohagad

We took our luggage from the cave and started descending. The main entrance of the fort is amazing. The interconnected ramparts and doors are the star attraction of Lohagad.

From Trips - Lohagad

11:30 AM Lunch
At the base of the village, we had a lunch.

12:00 PM to 2:15 PM Walked to Malavali railway station
After our lunch, we started to walk towards railway station. The entire route has very few trees. The sun was shining bright. One needs to be careful and protect themselves during this route to escape sunstroke.

2:30 PM Local train to Pune
As soon as we reached the station, a train arrived. We somehow boarded the station.

4:00 PM Reached Pune
After nearly one and a half hours, we reached Pune.