Rajmachi, Nov 2006
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Percy
We went dirt biking. To Rajmachi. It has been closest to a trek I have done in quite a while. I love the Sahyadri's. The black rock. The wild landscape.

The village was peaceful. We ate some home cooked rice bhakri's, mixed batata bhaji and some phodni-che-varan. Slept on a saravlela mud floor. There was a cool breez blowing. Morning was peaceful. Some poha and sweet tea. Small talk. Fresh morning. The fort in front of us, ablaze in the morning light. We took a walk to a small lake. Sat in an old old shiv mandir for some time. Spent time trying to hit small frogs in the mandir kunda with tiny pebbles. Lazed around. On our way back we met Rajesh.


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On the way to Rajmachi

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Village House

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Progress: Solar Panels

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An Ancient Mandir

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The Beautiful Sahyadris

Note : all photos with SE W800i camera phone.
 
Purandar, just like that
Approach road to Purandar
One fine day me and Aniket got restive enough to get on the bike and get going - rather late in the day. We headed for Purandar. It was a rustic ride through the Pune hinterland. We took the lane through the old part of Saswad and were rewarded with the site of rare old buildings. Saswad was of some historic significance. The city has grown so much that the echoes can be felt far and wide - even once remote villages. The land hungry rich are on a rampage to buy and fence pieces of land wherever they can lay their hands on.

We were unaware that Purandar was a old military outpost and that we were supposed to leave by 1800hrs. That gave us just enough time to see the first level where the old buildings from the Raj era and our own military Era. The post has been vacated for many years now, but an army chowkidar still guards the ruins. We could not climb up to the 'real' fort. Near a mandir there was a family which sold tea and bhel. We partook some. Then headed back. It was a nice tryst with impromptu semi-adventure laced travel. Better than the mating of the arse with the chair. 

p.s. you can find all the photos here 

Pune .. from the Bopghat.

Purandar Fort

Church from the British Raj

Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj

Sahyadri

Vajragad

Army Barracks, now in disuse.

Army barracks, now in disuse.


Old Church

Aniket

Murarbaji Deshpande

Purandar

Sunset over Devadi Dam

 
Kaas, Sept 2011
Clouds and flowers (hdr)

This year managed to go to Kaas with Vivek Belhekar in his new car.  Trupti, Pallavi (Mrs.Belhekar), Ira (little Miss Belhekar) and Pallavi's sister also were part of the gang. We managed to get a little late so missed the super early morning time (also known as dawn heh) at Kaas. But we managed to have some fun with the gopro and other cameras. We went up to the lake. There is a mini and complete amateurish eating place there. They managed to make some bad food for us. Then we headed back. Had a great lunch at Satara and then Pune.

 




Vigna Vexillata Halunda




Cyanotis Fasciculata


Cyanotis Fasciculata




Utricularia






The mad photographer !




colours of nature


Flowering fields


 
Mayani and other things
Pensive sunset.

Its been a slow couple of months. Things have gone awry. Me and Unnu had been planning to take off on the bike for a few days .. But we were hard put to decide when to go and where to go. Finally he took some leave and we left.

It was a desperate attempt at finding something to take the mind off the mundane. I was curious as to how the land between the big cities of Pune, Solapur and Kolhapur looked like. Unnu, as usual is always game for a bike trip. So we took the Saswad -> Jejuri -> Phaltan -> Mayani interior route instead of the more direct one from the NH4 via Satara. It was a good ride. The roads were surprisingly good. And instead of finding some remote interiors of the state we found a thriving population.

Unnu's maushi stays in Mayani. I remember going to this place in May 1984 with my mom's family. We were going to see a girl for my Mama. As usual the whole family got stuffed into a Jeep driven by a dhoti wearing driver called Dattoba. My grandfather used to sit up front with a few kids stuffed about him. In those days this was a dry barren land. I remember how hard it had been to find the tiny village of Mayani. People had kept telling us it was 'ek kos laamb' (1 kos away) or 'chaar kos laamb' (4 kos away). 'Kos' was the unit of distance used in the interiors. Without GPS and cell phones it was all about exploration. Good fun.

Now in the short span of 25 years the world has changed. Unnu's cousin's 4 year old kid was playing some first person shooter on the computer when we landed up. The folks were friendly and excellent hosts (as is with most Indians who dont live in cities).

In the evening both of us went to check out the Mayani Bird Sanctuary. The main gates were locked but we squeezed through the bars. The Sanctuary had died : they had even taken away the official designation. The lake was all silted in and the whole site was in a state of waste. We watched the sun go down, listening to the birds which lived there.

Next day we decided to get back. Return route was via Satara. We had high hopes of exploring the rough road from Kaas to Mahabaleshwar. Last time we went from Kaas to Bamnoli to Tapola to Mahabaleshwar and then to Pune.  But we were late. By the time we left Mayani it as past noon. At Satara we had a slow lunch. Then we decided to visit unnu's other maushi who stayed nearby. By the time we neared Kaas it was already past sunset. The locals strongly urged us not to try the rough road on a single bike as there was no help for miles on that route.

So we headed back to Satara. From there to Pune. And back to the 'same old'.

*sigh* 

A lone goat.
Malraan
Maushi
Kaka
Vardhangad
 
 
Evening
For no particular reason I got on the bike and headed in the familiar direction of Sinhagad. It was quite late in the evening and I knew I would have to turn back long before the slow wondrous ghat up to the fort. But, for a traveler, it is the road which matters, is it not? The destination is only some mythical outpost. He seeks the trivial eccentricities of the road. There is distraction and even some minor entertainment to be had if one knows where to look for it. To forget the tedium of life.

On this particular road things have changed over the last couple of years since I started frequenting it.  It used to be a pleasant ride out of town. Now it is grime filled traffic hell right up to the Khadakwasala lake. One has to suffer it for what lies beyond. Especially at this time of the year, a roadside abloom with these flowers.


 


 
Low Light Photography with the Nokia N900
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In camera HDR. Shot well after sunset.


Low light photography is fun. It is when mundane details get hidden in mysterious shadows and intriguing patterns come to the searching light in this ballet. My cousin Milind once, long ago, expounded to me the virtues of the absence of light - "Shadow is important" he had said. I was young, and of all the things he had said, this stuck. The twilight excites me photographically as nothing else.

My recent discovery for this kind of endeavor is the unlikely Nokia N900, my phone. I discovered some truly amazing software, results of research at Stanford, implemented for this phone because of it's open platform (it runs Maemo, a version of GNU/Linux).

The new camera app is called blessN900 (OVI store link). The software, together with some special camera (FCam) drivers, allows one to get some super performance out of the N900 5MP camera. Noise free Low Light shooting, in camera HDR, RAW output, Shake-free zoomed shots.

So if you are lucky enough to have the N900 - go and have fun !

There are a couple of things to note about shooting in low light. You shutter speed will most probably be slow. You have to learn to stabilize yourself when exposing. So after you click and till the photo is taken you have to learn to freeze. There are several ways to do it : 
  • Widen you feet. 
  • Lower you center of gravity. 
  • Slouch backward with stomach out. 
  • Breath slowly and with a rhythm so than you can stop it calmly and completely for the exposure. 
  • Take support when possible. Lean on a wall / fence. Rest your forearms or wrists on some support if possible. 
  • Learn to press the shutter by only moving the finger you are using for clicking and no other part of the hand. 
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Shot in a very dimly lit room.

Danger
Danger. Shot in the street light at about 8pm

Roland
Roland. Shot in a dark room.

Here are some examples of shots for comparison using standard camera and then using blessN900 


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the high plateau
Wildflowers, Harishchandragad


That evening on the high plateau. the playground of those myriad tiny yellow white flowers I lay myself on the undulating grass, amidst a buzz of happy life the white white clouds floating across the blue blue sky. they are just travellers. like me. the stiff breeze coming up the kada hums a serene tune bidding adieu to the golden orb of fire as it slowly sinks into the void lighting up with a magic light all who salute him. the silence speaks to me, speaks about her ... I must have lost myself. For this must be the abode of the Gods. - Abhijit Rao, September 2005
 
5km outside Dapoli

Late evening sky, near Dapoli

5km outside Dapoli it happened. I was riding with Mama as pillion. We got ourselves a rear flat tyre. We just had had a very passionate 15 minutes about overtaking in a unknown town scene with Sujay in Dapoli. But all rallied and we got working. They got working, while I sat and did the all important task of guarding the bags and the damaged tyre (which, I must point out, was still attached to the bike). The sun had gone down 15-20 minutes ago. We were on the road to Harne at the edge of a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of Dapoli.

Sujay departed in the direction of Dapoli to search out a tyre repair shop. Mama and Raju and me discussed our night halt. I tried to go to the house on the opposite side of the road and try to get them to let us stay in their rather large courtyard. They declined giving silly reasons. Mama and Raju departed to explore further lands.

I was left alone in the darkness. The damaged leg deemed sundry movement unnecessary, so I settled down in the grass, on the side, under a large tree, to contemplate. I always try the large tree : maybe I will get lucky some day. Having spent some time in the fruitless pursuit of wisdom, I noticed that the camera was in range. And that the sky had turned deep indigo. I got it out. The tripod was beyond reach. so I decided to put the camera inside the large yellow helmet. I made all the necessary settings. The problem, now, was that I had to press the shutter in the self timer mode and make the camera steady inside the helmet within the stipulated 10 seconds. I managed that bravely, but the angle got crazy. It looks better this way, I tell myself. Those bands are the head or tail lights of the few motorised vehicles which passed by.

- Abhijit Rao, October 19th, 2005

 
Sagargad Feb 1998

This was a nice trek, one which left a lot of fond memories. The fort itself is not very big or famous, and is located in some remote place. But I romanticised the hike very much and enjoyed it in some sort of private way.

I was invited to the hike by Siddharth. A guy called Vinay (Siddharth's college buddy) had his ancestral house in a village near the fort. We were supposed to go to his house and then proceed to the fort. It was a small group. VP, Sarang, Richa, Nivedita and me from the Campus and Vinay and Siddharth. The girls were from the hostel and mostly kept to themselves. VP and me had a few small tiffs, so stayed away from each other. Sarang was sort of young.... I hardly knew Vinay. And Siddharth was busy with the girls. So I had decided even before the hike had started that I would enjoy it on my own.

We were supposed to meet at 6p.m. at Sion Hospital S.T. stop to catch a bus to Alibaug. But the girls were uncertain about going and as Siddharth had primarily arraigned this hike for their sake, he spent some time running around till all was well. We were only late by about 2 hours. Vinay was pissed of waiting for us and the last bus has also left for Alibaug. So we waited for a bus going through Pen. It was about an hour before finally a bus arrived. It was a plain old ST. I had taken my Harmonica and surprisingly Sarang had also brought his along. We spent some merry time making weird noises to the accompaniment of the bus diesel. At last at around 11.30 we got down at Pen S.T. stand. There were no busses going in the direction of Alibaug. For some time we were in a real fix. We tried the autowallahs but it was too far for them. Standing on a lonesome highway in the dead of the night, with uncertain shapes whizzing by at high speeds as if on urgent errands, I couldn't but help feel unreal. You have this feeling of being a total stranger in a strange place. Finally Vinay stopped some truck which was going to some village near his own. In a hurry we all scrambled towards the cabin. The girls, Sarang and Vinay got in. The cabin was already crowded and so the driver asked the remaining of to climb in the back. Myself, Siddharth and VP ran back and climbed over. The truck moved of as we settled down on a cargo of onions and potatoes.

It was a novel experience, this traveling in the back of a loaded truck in the night. We could see the surrounding landscape in the pale light of the heavenly bodies. The road was smooth and it seemed to me that it was we who were stationary and all the dark houses and shops, all those ghostly villages, the silent fields and woods, were passing by us.... on some strange and secret journey. This short truck journey will remain in my memory for a long time because at that moment it created a very vivid image in my mind's eye.

Finally we reached our destination. By now I was in a very happy mood, though the others were probably sleepy. Again the search for transport, though to Vinay's village this time. We got a couple of auto's and even though they demanded an exorbitant charge, we had no choice. We finally reached the old house in a quaint, old world village at around 1.30am. There had been some new construction and a new hall had been built on top of the old one. Here we all relaxed. We all were hungry, and Vinay suggested that we cook a chicken and eat as there was nothing much left for us. The girls only ate vegetarian food so they had some left over vegetables and hit the hay. By this time Vinay had rustled up a couple of old buddies and together they caught a cock, killed and cleaned it up. They put up some home grown rice to cook and also the spiced up cock. While it cooked for about an hour or so we all had a good time having "men" talk. Then we ate the poor cock and went to roost ourselves. Early in the morning everyone was up as is the custom of the place. We had tea and got ready to leave for the fort. Vinay's mom had packed up a lunch for us. By the time Vinay arranged for transport we thanked and took leave of his parents.

Vinay had arranged for a huge 6 seater diesel rickshaw. I took some 20 noisy minutes of traveling through small winding country roads to reach the village at the base of the fort. It was a small village, with its tiny half naked children playing on the dusty lane. It brought back some long forgotten memories for me. I had lived 5 years of my earliest memories in such a tiny village. Though, as it was very much near to Mumbai and many commuted to worked there, the villagers were well off, unlike the ones here who lived in much poverty.

Vinay had brought a couple of his village friends who knew the way to the fort. The initial part of the path passed through the village fields and surrounding shrubs. As almost everywhere in the Konkan, the fields are not extensive but are small terraces on the hill slopes. The ground is mostly rocky and barren and does not retain water. Being near the sea there are no big rivers and even though this region receives heavy rains in the monsoons there is water shortage soon after. The people here have to live in abject poverty and lead very hardy lives.

Crossing a small nullah signifying the boundary of the village lands, we entered some dry brush at the base of the hill. After climbing for an hour or so the vegetation changed and became more and more denser and wilder. It was still drab-gray-green, but the presence of large ancient trees made it look rather majestic. We came across a huge mango tree which had part of its trunk burned. We spent about 45 minutes monkeying around this tree. Many snaps were taken with Sarang's camera....

A two-two and a half hour climb brought us to the fort. The top of the fort was more or less flat. There were signs of excavations as some gold coins had been found recently. There was a stone kunda with dark looking water in it. One the west side of the fort there was a sheer drop to the lowlands which rolled on to the sea. The town of Alibaug and further south, the famous Dharamtar khadi (creek) were visible in the distance. The view was very peaceful and beautiful.... the wind brought the tang of salt even up to the fort. I would have liked to stay there for a day or so but we had to hurry and get back as the girls had to report at the hostel before 10p.m. We had time just for lunch, so we could not explore the fort. We went along and found some nice shady tree to eat it. Lunch consisted of rice bhakris with bhaji of vaal. After resting for half an hour it was decided to head back. On the way back we came across a part of a great stone wall and every one had to climb down it. It was great fun. More snaps.....

We decided to head back on a different path as Vinay said that there was a beautiful Mandir (temple) which he would like us to see. As I mentioned earlier soon after the rains the water flows down to the sea in the Konkan. The path we started on went over the adjoining hill. It was horribly dry and everywhere there were sharp stones, thorn bushes and dry bamboos. The soil was more rocky on this hill and therefore there were hardly and big trees. After an hour of hard walking through torturous thorn with the sun beating down us in full glory, we were getting suspicious that we were lost. The Mandir was not to be found and we were getting desperately short of water. Luckily we came across a collection of huts. I was surprised that anyone could survive on such a harsh and dry spot. But looking at their pathetic condition I guessed that they did not have any choice. They could hardly afford it, but gave us some water. In normal conditions we would never have drunk it as the container and the water itself was very dirty. But that time we happily gulped it down. We requested the lone male there to guide us to the path which will lead us down to were we started from.

He lead us through a tangle of brush and intersecting goat paths to a bigger looking trail, which according to him lead directly to the village from where we started. He asked us for 100 rupees for his trouble. Vinay was shocked at his demand and gave 10 rupees. The man went away grumbling after haggling uselessly for some time. We made a very rapid decent to the base (at considerable risk to ankles and necks) as we had lost some time wandering about. We all washed our tortured faces and necks in a small stream just outside the village. The problem now was that there was no conveyance to Vinay's village. We had to walk on the tar road for about 1and a half hours in the blistering sun to reach it.

Everyone was dead tired when we did reach. Everyone except me had lunch. The plan now was to reach Revas bundar before the last ferry for Mumbai left. For that we had to reach an intersection on the highway and catch some bus or rickshaw to Revas. This intersection turned out to be another hour's walk in the sun. Finally we reached it and got one of those big rickshaws. It cost us 10 rupees a head for a pleasant 25 minute drive through some very green and picturesque coastal countryside.

At Revas, Vinay went to get the tickets (which, by the way turned out to be very cheap). The rest, except me had sugarcane juice. After Vinay had got the tickets we all went to the jetty where we had to wait another 30 minutes for the ferry to arrive. When it did arrive it was almost sunset. There was a mad scramble to procure seats. We all jumped onboard from the sides and got good seats. The ferry started for 'Bhau cha dhakka' in about 10 minutes. As soon as the ferry was out of the harbour, people started to climb on top of what was some sort of a deck. We all went up and sprawled around.

The sun was setting behind some palm trees on a sand bank. The sea birds which had accompanied us from Revas flew alongside, gleaming golden white in the light of the setting sun. There was a group of returning picnickers who were singing all sorts of old Marathi songs to the accompaniment of a bongo. It looked right out of a picture book. I and Vinay lay on our backs and enjoyed ourselves. The rest were playing antakshari. Soon darkness fell and the birds returned to their roosts. As we neared Mumbai we started passing huge ships anchored outside the harbour. The ships had hundreds of lights on them and looked almost like villages. What sort of life did all those sailors lead?, I wondered. Travelling the world.... away from home and friends...

By the time I finished wondering such thoughts, we had reached Mumbai. It had taken around an hour and 25 minutes . We all went to a bus stop just outside the bunder and caught a bus which left us near Dockyard Rd. rly station on the harbour line. The train was empty and our journey uneventful as we traveled to Kurla Stn. Every one was silent... reflecting on the trip... thinking their own thoughts. This trip had been a lot different from our previous treks. It had not been one filled with loads of fun and frolic, but it had been a thoughtful and enjoyable one... at least for me.



(The next day, to our disgust, we found out that Sarang's camera did not have any film in it)

- Abhijit Rao © 1999
 
Tikona
 
Tung across Pavna
Amey (mama) and me have been talking about going for some weekend trek for quite some time now. So we decided we will go to Tikona, which is a simple trek and easily accessible. Mama and Mami were to leave from Mumbai early and we were to meetup at Lonavala.

Ani was here so he decided to come with me. Mama called me up from Panvel at about 0630hrs. We got up got ready and were on the road at 0800. It was pretty cold and there was no sign of the sun. The roads were empty and we had a fast ride to Lonavala. At Ramkrishna, where the couple was waiting, we had hot idli-wada sambar and chai and headed on to Tikona.

Tikona is at the back side of Lohagad-Visapur. The road passes alongside the Pawna waters. I do not think even an inch of the hillside is free land - all fancy bungalows and estates of the rich. It is pretty sad.

As we neared Tikona we came out of the playground of the rich into the poor people's world. heh. Passing the base village we had to ride about a kilometer of dirt track to get to the point at the base of the fort from there is a trail up.  There were several bikes and a couple of cars parked. This being a easy trek and near Pune and Sunday lots of people around.

It was a easy trek. Nice weather. Just before the final climb, near the Taljai mandir, I felt a little uneasy about by breath and stopped. (I was climbing with the help of doxofilline anyways hehe) .. The rest did the 20 minute steep climb and came down in an hour having explored the top.

We had decided to cook our own lunch. It is so much fun. I got the stove and the pots, Mama got the rice and the 'kulith'. He made 'kulithache pithle'. Hot rice and hot pithle was awesome.

After washing up we headed down. At the base village we split having said good byes. We had just realised that we were pretty near Pune from interior roads. We were about 18km away from Paud which connects directly to Chandani Chowk and is about 20km away.

The road upto Paud was in pretty bad shape but passed through some excellent countryside, again full of large estates.  From Paud it is a good road right up to the NH4.  We made some good time and had reached Warje in about 90mins.

In all a small but enjoyable trek. Need to do this more often. The fresh air and the open sky does good to one's soul.

tikona-ride
Route Taken
Hanuman Mandir, Tikona
Tikona top
Mill
Taljai Mandir, Tikona
Lunch, Tikona
Lunch, Tikona
Loaded!
East ridge, Tikona
Tikona