Saturday, June 13, 2015

One Tree Hill Night Trek Notes, Matheran

People tend to have a gap year from work/ studies. I had a gap year of a different kind. It was from treks and 2014 was one such year. So, I was pretty excited for the first trek of 2015 and also a trek after a very long time. A night trek to 'One Tree Hill Point' at Matheran was planned, leaving 23rd January’15 evening and returning back by 24th January’15 evening. The hill station, Matheran is at situated at a height of about 800 meters above sea level and is located in the Raigad district of Maharashtra state of the Western Ghats range. The word 'Matheran' means 'Forest on the forehead' of mountains. The close proximity to Mumbai and Pune makes it one of the most popular spots for a weekend getaway. Matheran is an eco-sensitive region and it is Asia's only 'Automobile-free' hill station. 'One Tree Hill' as the name suggests is just one of the 38 points that one can cover in Matheran and funnily, its named after a small cliff that has just one tree on top of it. Talk about naming someplace literally! 

The gang at Karjat station
I came to know of this trek through a common friend who could not make it and I decided to join the group for this trek. Planned by Salman, there were 8 of us including me on this trek. The group assembled at CST station to catch the 7.55pm fast train to Karjat. Since the train travels on the central line, Kurla station being closest to my place, I decided to hop on from there rather than meeting everyone at CST. Coordinating I did get onto the same coach, but due to the rush hour, I could not meet the group until the crowd thinned past ‘Dombivali’ station. The usual pleasantries and we reached ‘Karjat’ railway station at 9.30pm. Couple of people; Adesh and Apoorva were biking it down directly to Karjat from Panvel and were running late and finally did arrive by 10.50pm. Since, there were no vehicles available, Salman coordinated with the nearest wine shop dealer to arrange 2 rickshaws to drop us off till the base village ‘Ambewadi’. The rickshaws agreed to only drop us off till ‘Boargaon’; 3kms prior to ‘Ambewadi’. Departing Karjat at 11.15pm, we proceeded on a 45mins ride to ‘Boargaon’.

Start of our trek
3kms isn’t much for the rickshaw to drop us off considering they were headed back to Karjat town, nevertheless, we did have to walk down the cemented road. There were couple of poultry farms en route and the stench of a cramped up coop was unmistakable. We were equipped with just a rough directional map suggesting the route to be taken to reach the base village and after a while, we were quite skeptical whether we were on the correct path considering that the only company we did have apart from us was village dogs barking in the distance and no passersby to confirm. Initially, it is always quite tough to walk down a dark road, but the eyes accustom to the darkness and it’s quite simple. It was very pleasant as well walking under starry skies that have an eerie mix of calmness and a continuous blanket of silence. A 200 metre detour and quick team meeting suggested we had to continue down the original road till the base village to actually start our trek to ‘One tree hill’. The village fresh water well is the last source of water if one does wish to refill their bottles.

The team meeting discussing our route
Once you arrive at the village fresh water well, there are two paths; one that goes to the left and the other that goes to the right. The path to the left needs to be taken since the path to the right leads into the village. It is a very gradual and easy climb and bodes well for beginners. Doesn’t tire one out easily, but again we were on a night trek; heat wasn’t a factor for us. One of the village dogs and her pup followed us on the trail and we assumed that they would let go the moment we passed the village perimeter. But, the passion for a trek hit them too on this clear starry night and they decided to accompany us as well. The pup was quite energetic at first, but the gradient was a bit tough even for her. There was one tricky rocky patch that comes in between that we passed around 2.45am. I cradled the pup in my arms as we climbed this patch. The pup dozed off in my arms with my body warmth providing comfort from the chilly winter weather. 

Pup sleeping whist we trek :)

Post that patch, we decided on pitching our tents and camping for the night because we were running quite late and would have reached the summit only by 5-5.30am and would not have had time to set up barbeque and eventually sleep. So, at about 3.30am we started on pitching our tents and setting up the fire for the barbeque.

BBQ being set up :)

Jyotsna, Nivedita and Manish were the vegetarians and were busy assembling their stuff. Adesh and Salman were collecting the stones, firewood and dry hay for the fire and Amey was being assisted by me in setting up the tents. Amey had a 5 person tent and Salman had a 3 person tent.  I carried my 2 person tent, but wasn't required since these two tents were more than enough. Salman carried the marinated chicken as well as coal for the BBQ. It took us about half hour setting it up and everyone settled in. Considering it was a night trek, the mandatory ghost stories formed a feature though it was not received well by the girls. Being two days post the new moon night, moonlight wasn’t much of a feature on this night, but the innumerable stars provided quite a spectacle. The climate was quite pleasant with the occasional wind providing the chills. 

BBQ :)

BBQ in full glory
Dawn was setting in at around 6.15am with devotional songs being played in the villages below. We noticed a group of villagers trekking towards Matheran town for their daily work schedule either as guides, horse ride jockeys, street food/ chaat dish sellers, small general store owners, helpers at small eatery joints, etc. Deciding that the time was right, we decided to call it a night or rightly, morning and slept off. Lots of village passersby were quite intrigued by the campsite and we could hear loud whispers and giggles as they kept peeping into our tents passing by. The wind was quite strong and it was quite difficult to catch a wink with the added screeches and screams of the monkeys and ‘langurs’ who had woken up. The pup had woken up and fearing that the monkeys could harm her, we pulled her into our tent and zipped it up. Initially, he was quite comfortable, but after a while, we had to let him out as he started getting restless without his mum.

My Moto E capturing the moment :)

One Tree Hill :D
We woke up by 11.45am and quickly wrapping things up at our campsite, we proceeded to finish our trek. One must ensure not to litter the place and carry the garbage/ waste products till one finds a dustbin. Just before the summit, we noticed a village couple heading back to the village and they informed us that the summit was just 15mins away. The final climb was quite demanding with the heat hitting down our backs. We reached the summit at about 2pm. The views of the valley are truly stunning through the final patch till the summit. The path to climb this small cliff with the tree is possible, but very very tricky. 

Salman leading the way through the forest :)

Me doing the Usain Bolt pose ;)

Amey pointing the summit :)

Apoorva ecstatic

Manish pumped
The tricky path to climb this cliff is visible from base of the tree leading downwards

Salman suggested that we have lunch at ‘Shabbir Bhai’s’ which is considered one of the best biryani joints in the area and quite famous. Located bang in the centre of the market place in a small bylane, the restaurant cannot be viewed from the main market lane and one would need to enquire to locate the place. But, it’s a must visit the next time one does visit Matheran. It has a decent range of vegetarian cuisine as well. The restaurant is at a distance of 5kms from ‘One Tree Hill’ point and we reached the place by 3.30pm. Being an automobile free hill station, the only modes of transport in Matheran are walking, horse ride or one of those trolleys pulled by a person. Walking is the best mode as one gets to soak in the sights and the sounds and there is no time constraint, though one must keep all valuables and eatery items safely tucked away considering the population of monkeys that reside all over this region.

Walking the streets of Matheran :)
We had decided beforehand that our descent would be from the normal road route to enter Matheran that would drop us off at ‘Neral’ railway station. Share cabs from the main gate to Neral are available in plenty. 5 people in one ‘Omni’ van and it’s a 20-25mins downhill cab ride covering 14kms to the station. There is a toy train also available, but that would take about 2-3 hours to cover a distance of 21kms and with the time constraint, we decided to take a cab instead. Toy train isn’t functional during the monsoons for risk of landslides. But, the walk/ part trek up of 21kms by the tracks from ‘Neral’ station in the monsoons is quite special with greenery and spectacular views keeping you captivated. I have done this trek and would suggest it if you have the time on you. Upon reaching Neral station, we all caught the 7.58pm fast local to CST. A wonderful night trek camping under the stars can definitely be termed ‘a night well spent’.

Matheran Railway No. 740 preserved in the UK at Railworld in Peterborough

The engine used presently :)
The toy train was commissioned in 1901 and operational for the public since 1907. The start and end point for the toy train is from 'Neral' station and not from 'Karjat' station. Neral is one station prior to Karjat. The slow ride gives one a lots of picturesque views of the region and opportunity to take a lot of good pictures and to observe nature in full glory as it snakes its way through the forest. The occasional hoot of the engine reverberates through the region announcing its passage signifying glory and victory. Families of monkeys scurry up and down trees and some energetic ones run alongside the train hoping to snatch food carelessly minded by the passengers.

Post trek at Neral station :)
Pup enjoying the view with Nivedita :)

Adesh and Jyotsna

The rough trek route that we took from Karjat station to the summit :)

Costing per head:
·         Train ride from Kurla to Karjat and return  Rs. 50.00
·         Rickshaw ride from Karjat station to Boregaon – Rs. 300.00
·         Lunch at ShabbirBhai’s; Matheran – Rs. 160.00
·         Cab ride from Matheran gate to Neral station – Rs. 70.00
·         Marinated chicken for BBQ – Rs. 100.00

P.S: Some of the pictures in this blog are from my Moto E phone.

Twitter Handles:
Salman - @salmanrangwala
Amey - @ameyjw
Narayanan - @MeanderinTravel
Adventure Lovers - @AdvenLovers

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Udaipur City Trip Notes - Rajasthan, India

  City of palaces and lakes! Udaipur truly lives up to its name. I also had heard just stories of the place and always dreamt of visiting the place. As luck would have it, a few public holidays aligned and I was getting 5 days off from work from 2nd Oct-6th Oct, 2014. Udaipur wasn’t even my primary plan here. But, I had prepared a rough itinerary just in case which actually proved handy. Leaving by train on the night of 1st October was quite impossible because of the rush of people headed of out of the city. I had almost given up on the travel plan. As luck would have it, ticket for a train leaving Mumbai on the night of 2nd October was available and I immediately booked it. Just a backpack was what I required and fitted everything I need right in.


            My friends dropped me off to the station and it was a 11:25pm train leaving Bandra Terminus; Udaipur Superfast Express. It is a 16.5 hour train journey to Udaipur. Travelling alone has its own joys especially in an impromptu plan that has a lot of room for last minute adjustments as per one’s own comforts. Though, I had read up on quite a few blogs, a rough itinerary was in place, but obviously kept room for experiencing something new or unique that came my way. Breakfast at ‘Ratlam’ at 8:30am the next morning that comprised of a traditional dish named ‘Poha’. It was a 20 minute train stop that gave me time to stretch my legs a bit and have breakfast at the platform. This girl from China named ‘Vivian’ was travelling from Mumbai to Udaipur all alone herself. Quickly making acquaintances, we both were travelling with just a rough idea of Udaipur and nothing else. Running nearly 2 hours late at 2pm, the train made quick time and entered Udaipur station, a minute earlier than the scheduled arrival time. Commendable! Hats off to Indian Railways!



                 We straight away headed to the Gangour Ghat/ Hanuman Ghat area by the lakeside to scout for places to stay for the next 3 days. We found a decent place called ‘Surya Villa’ that’s located at Hanuman Ghat. Its located at a distance of 100 meters from the lake. Lal Ghat, Gangour Ghat and Hanuman Ghat are the main three places located at close proximity to the lake. Lal Ghat and Gangour Ghat are on the same side whereas Hanuman Ghat is located on the other side of the lake. Hanuman Ghat is a quieter area than the other two in terms of the general hustle and bustle. Rooms at Surya Villa costed Rs. 600/- a night, with no complimentary breakfast or WiFi. They have a small restaurant that can serve basic breakfast and tea/ coffee. Just a couple of rooms have hot water shower facility, whereas the rest have just cold water shower only. Hot water shower rooms were booked out and only the other rooms were available.

Lake Pichola with City Palace in background :)


                 An hour’s break and we were off to our first stop for the evening ‘Bagore Ki Haveli’, a very old villa that houses a museum as well. Every evening they hold a Rajasthani folk dance performance showcasing the various folk dances of different communities of Rajasthan as well as a puppet show. This is an hour’s show and there are 2 shows each evening once the museum shuts by 6pm. 7-8pm and 8-9pm. The ticket is priced reasonably at Rs. 60 for Indians and Rs. 160 for international tourists. The seating arrangement is quite comfortable retaining the traditional feel which is seating on the floor on a carpet. There are no confirmed seats and it is advisable to reach the venue early to get good seats to view the show. People sitting ahead invariably stand up to click pictures and they don’t realize that they end up blocking the view of the people seated behind them. We were late for the 7-8pm show and had to settle for the 8-9pm show. We caught site of the ‘Dandiya’ dance and the immersion of ‘Durga Mata’ idol part of the ‘Dusshera’ festival taking place lake side. Dusshera festival is a 10 day festival of the good reigning over evil. We had about 15 minutes before we proceeded to catch sight of the folk dance and the puppet show and this was a beautiful sight. Synchronized dancing to the beats and the clapping of the sticks was a wonderful sight and music to the ears. The ‘Ghumar dance’ and the other dance associated with the western and arid part of Rajasthan were very beautiful. 

Dandiya on banks of Lake Pichola





                 We befriended two other girls from China; Tracy and Cherry who were travelling across India themselves. The puppet show was a different feel and an added joy of watching some string artistry at work. Post show, we then proceeded to ‘Millets of Mewar’ a quiet little place located in Hanuman Ghat area for dinner. This place might be a little hard to locate considering very few locals have heard of it. Located in the 2nd floor of a building, it has a two sections; one that has a sheesha feel with low cot seating and the other being the normal chair seating restaurant. The quantity of food is quite good and the price isn’t expensive as well. One thing of Udaipur is the city shuts by 11pm. Last dinner order would be taken by 10-10:15pm and the guests are requested politely to vacate by 11pm. Other than a few medical stores that are open for maybe an hour more, the whole city is quiet with just the beautifully lit city palace lights and one’s own thoughts walking the alleys.


Cherry, Vivian and Tracy :)
               The second day, the four of us had breakfast at ‘Namaste Cafe’, a French bakery. The strong whiff of freshly baked breads and buns cannot be missed as one passes by this place. A basic breakfast spread of burgers, puffs and raisins were available as well. We then proceeded towards visiting ‘Shilpgram’, a place that showcases lifestyles and dance forms of various tribes of the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan. This place is located at a distance of 8kms from the lake and a return rickshaw fare was bargained at Rs. 150. The museum inside Shilpgram was shut when we arrived, but the person opened it up for us. The museum showcased the various utensils used for cooking, weaponry for hunting, their cultures, the food that gets cultivated, as well as pictures of their attire that is associated with each different tribe. The museum was very dusty and was not being maintained at all. Some of the musical instruments lie broken against a wall. Inspite of taking an entry fee of Rs. 120 at the gate, one wonders the proper utilization of funds, if the main museum itself is not maintained. The area inside the venue also needs maintenance with some portions having thick overgrowth of plants and no proper directional placards kept for the visitor to find his way inside. 




Shilpgram Museum



           Returning back at 2pm, we caught lunch at ‘Doctor’s Café’, a quaint little café whose speciality is serving pizza cooked on woodfire. We strolled the bylanes watching the locals strut their wares comprising of beautiful paintings, handicrafts, pottery with intricate works and a lot of tattoo artists. Evening time, we strolled by the nearest bazaar located at 3-4kms away to catch sight of the holiday bustle and all of us did pick up some souvenirs for back home. Heading back was always going to be a pain with Dusshera festival celebrated here till 12 days! Idol processions blaring loud music blockage of lanes, we decided to walk it back to the hotel, than get stuck in traffic. The lanes are very narrow to begin with and are two way lanes on top of that; festival processions just add to the traffic. We bid adieu to Tracy and Cherry who left towards Jodhpur by the night bus. But, they recommended us to have dinner at ‘Dream Heaven’ which has a rooftop restaurant overlooking the lake. The sight was very beautiful with the entire city lit with more prominence to ‘City Palace’, ‘Bagore ki Haveli’ and the lights of the lake add to the feel of the place. Electricity used to go off in the entire area for about half hour each night between 9-10pm.



Street paintings

Dusshera idol procession :)
                  The next morning, we decided on having breakfast again at ‘Dream Heaven’ though it was quite uncomfortable this time due to the heat inspite of the curtains placed. Moving out quickly, we visited the City palace and took a boat ride round the lake by which one can get good shots of ‘Palace on the lake’ which is now a hotel run by the Taj Group. The hotel premises is welcome only to guests having a reservation at the hotel, so that was the closest we could get. The boat then dropped us off at the ‘Jag Mandir’ which is another lake garden palace unlike the name and not a temple that houses a couple of restaurants and a very beautiful garden. The boat then dropped us back at the City palace docks where we proceeded to visit the museum. Being a Sunday, the crowd was at its peak with two different schools giving their tiny tots a visit of the palace. The Museum is very beautifully maintained with the royal family still housed in one section of the palace that is not accessible to any of the tourists. A lot of artifacts of the royal family were on display such as the weaponry, pictures of the royal family, the royal army. Guided tours as well as audio tours are available, but we just strolled around soaking in the sights of the carvings, intricate glass designs famous to the era of colonial rule and the windows giving one some neat sights of the lake on the one side and the city on the other. Wrapping up the museum walk, we visited this lake side restaurant ‘Jasmine Restaurant’. 


City Palace


Being a lakeside restaurant with some light music for company, it was a glad break away from the heat and the bustle of palace crowds. On arrival, we realized that it is also recommended by Lonely Planet. The kids nearby kept us entertained by doing dives into the lake to beat the afternoon heat. 

Palace on lake (Now a hotel run by Taj group)




Boat ride around the lake



Jag Mandir


Gun collection of the King :)

More guns





            We wanted to shift to a new place for our last day since the owner of this place started creating issues after promising us a better room for that day. We bumped into a Spanish couple who suggested the place they were put up in Gangour Ghat. 'Udai Haveli Guest House', a quiet little guest house that had cheaper options though the ones with attached bathroom were booked out, decided on a room with the common bathroom on the outside. Rs. 250 for a room was quite a steal. We wanted to visit the ‘Monsoon Palace’ that is situated atop a hill. This palace as the name suggests was built for the royal family primarily for their retreat during the monsoon season. Located at 12kms from the city, the approach road to the palace is through a wildlife reserve. Hence, only private vehicles with a permit or government approved vehicles are allowed to enter. Hiring a car from the town all the way to the palace and back was being quoted at Rs. 450 which was quite steep considering there were just the two of us. We then bargained with a rickshaw to drop us off at the reserve gates for Rs. 100. From the gate, Rajasthan government has their own approved vehicles that ferry up passengers for a cost of Rs. 90 per head and a Rs. 20 charge as entry charges to the reserve. We just about made it to catch sight of the sunset. A very beautiful sunset view on the one side and the city’s view on the other side is a beautiful combination. Hanging around, we waited for the city lights to illuminate the entire city and the view was one of the most beautiful I have come across. Lot of people had exited the palace once the sun set, but this view isn’t to be missed upon. 

Mommy and baby langur :)





Monsoon Palace :)
We then proceeded back to the reserve gates in the government car and got a rickshaw that dropped us back to the city again for Rs. 100. This palace also came to fame with it housing the villain in the 007 flick ‘Octopussy’ that starred Roger Moore as the fictional MI6 agent; James Bond, that also starred Kabir Bedi and Vijay Amritraj. One, a seasoned Indian actor and the other a seasoned Indian tennis player respectively playing substantial roles in this movie. This flick has definitely put Udaipur on the global map, such that there are atleast 5-6 cafes that showcase this movie for free for the movie enthusiasts each evening starting 7-7:30pm. We caught dinner back at ‘Dream Heaven’ just for the sights and the food being really good and decently priced.

Rolls Royce Phantom II mfg year 1934 (Used in the 007 movie 'Octopussy')


Notice the change in the colour of logo as they have moved from the red logo to the black logo

Cadillac mfg yr 1938

Buick Super mfg yr 1946

The King's favourite carriage drawn by 6 horses!

Modern Garage convertible mfg year 1946

Another view of the convertible :)
Standard Herald convertible mfg year 1961
Rolls Royce mfg year 1924 winner of Pebble Beach Tour D'Elegance

                The next morning, being my last day, had breakfast at the guesthouse itself that comprises a basic breakfast menu of Maggi noodles, bread, eggs and tea/ coffee all priced decently. We then proceeded on a 4kms walk to visit the King’s vintage car museum that houses the yesteryear Mercedes’, Cadillac's’, Buick's’, Rolls Royce's’, Modern Garages’, Standard Heralds’ and his private horse carriages. The ticket to this was Rs. 250 just to view the cars and Rs. 400 if one wants to have an authentic Rajasthani lunch on the inside. We opted for the former without lunch. The cars are still in working condition with an inhouse garage and fuel station and they do take out the cars once every fortnight for a spin within the complex. The black 'Rolls Royce Phantom II' was used in the ‘Octopussy’ movie as well. One particular horse carriage; the king's favourite used to be drawn by 6 horses. We spent an hour inside the car museum and then visited the ‘Sajjan Niwas Bagh’, a garden right opposite the museum to bite some time and relax in the quiet neighbourhood. Its a very beautiful garden. Definitely would require atleast couple of hours, if not more to cover the entire garden. There is a toy train that also makes a pass through it. We then walked back and caught lunch at ‘Little Prince Restaurant’ by the lakeside. This restaurant is right beside ‘Jasmine restaurant’. I personally liked the food here than Jasmine restaurant. We then walked the streets for some last minute souvenir shopping before my final packup. Bid adieu to Vivian and wished her luck on her future travels before I headed to the bus stand from where I caught my bus back to Mumbai leaving Monday evening.

The toy train at Sajjan Niwas garden :)
                An impromptu trip; made a lot of friends and discovered this beautiful city. A holiday well spent away from home. I would recommend this city as a must visit to anyone who likes to dwell into history and the sights. Time literally stops and one does not realize how time passes by.

P.S: All pics taken through Moto E mobile camera.


Bandra Terminus to Udaipur Rs. 1,250 (3AC)
Rickshaw from station to hotel Rs. 60
Entry fee to Bagore ki Haveli Rs. 60
Camera charge at Bagore ki Haveli Rs. 50
City Palace boat ride Rs. 430
City Palace museum Rs. 115
Breakfast, lunch and dinner on an average per day Rs. 300-350
Maharaja's Car Museum Rs. 250 (With lunch inclusive Rs. 400)

Twitter Handle:

Narayanan- @MeanderinTravel


Travel quotes at a cafe :)