Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Trek to Krishna River - Panchgani

To revisit a place that you have already scrounged once, may becoming a bit boring. Boring, that is, if you are short of ideas. A visit for a few days, seldom reveals the complete beauty and richness of a place, unless you have interacted with the locals, lived the daily lives,
known the importance of the place. Because significance is always multilayered for most places.

Panchgani along with Mahabaleshwar is the strawberry capital of India. Its on the western Ghats and at 1500ft above sea level, the weather is quite cool too. Panchgani is home to a minimum of 40 boarding schools, where the kids of busy parents grow up.

Its also a popular shooting destinations a
nd a great weekend retreat from Bombay. An approximate 250 km away. There is a lot to see here. It has the biggest Table Land
in Asia. The vast flat stretch of land at that height looks quite surprising though. And there is
more to it...

The first time we went there. We enjoyed the regular tourist spots and the strawberries and blue berries. The second time - this time, I did not want to go through the same. I wanted
something different.

Though the wife is not at all a trek person, I a
m. So I had it already in mind that I
would trek it down from the mountains to the River. The blue of it was too tempting. And then
there was the temptation of wild pictures that I would get in the process. The destination was s
et too. Though its barricaded from all sides to avoid accidents, yet, there were many ways to cross it and trek down t
he hill.
The huts bordering the Panchgani township,
ended on the periphery,
at the start of the slope.
I could see tiny villages
far away at the bottom of the hill. All I had with me was my camera, Canon 5D, with a 16 -
35, f2.8 on it. Panchgani has a lot
of dust due to the horses running around. So I carried a towel to wrap it around. I dont like
dust on my camera at all.

River Krishna at Panchgani is a very distinct river and is like a blue meandering river that flows all across the valley. You can see from the main road, as you enter. Its 1400 ft below it an would be on your right.
The idea of a trek down the mountains had a a lot of thrill.

It reminded me of the college days and how we used to just find a excuse to go on a trek.

To take a shortcut to the girls hostel, I often used to trek through the hills behind the college to crossover, irrespective of the time of the day. My legs are pretty adept at placing the foot at the right edge of the rock and cross over quickly.

I left at around 7 am knowing that I would have to be back. I had the wife waiting for me to take her around the township as well. The few people whom I met on the road were enough to guide me through.

Fleets of school children ran across everywhere. The adolescent girls chirped, as they walked. On the gate of one school I saw these bunch of girls preparing for the e
xams that was in a few hours.

The kids and the people
amazed me. Everyone was so warm. (Here are the images in sequence.) They start from where
I exited the Panchgani ci
ty and started my walk downhill. Even the
villagers whom I crossed on my way downhill, helped me with directions. Though there were a little surprised as to why I was trekking alone.

The villagers walk up the mountain early in the
morning to work in the city.
The na
rrow mountain tracks cut across the neighboring
mountains too.

And thus instead of a direct vertical descent down one mountain, I actually had to walk the S-
route. They were too steep for a direct descent. Bear Grylls (of Man vs Wild - Disco
very ) however might have chosen the direct path. But he was on my mind throughout. And I
write this blog, specially to be with him in one of his treks.

The villagers who were climbing up the mountain, warned me of the wild animals and the quick sand in the river. And I valued the opinions of the locals highly. The mountain trek was thrilling as there were some spots were I
saw even the villagers slip and fall. I could
feel a sense of scare among them. That made me only even more alert.

After my descent I had to cross two villages before I touched the water. The distance to be covered was around 20 kms. One was Chikli and the other was Mugaon.

The ladies carrying water at the Chikli village were warm and eager to get themselves shot. I stopped to shoot at ever

Knowing a bit of Marathi is a big boon and
it helped. While traveling I believe and have learnt, that its not just important to reach your destination, but its very important to enjoy the walk, the journey. And in this case, it was the people, the ambience, the rice fields, the mud huts, the cacophony of the ladies filling water, as I shot them. All together made me feel one with them.

I crossed several rice fields, walked through the middle of the villages. I crossed two schools,
were I could hear the children reciting lessons in a sing song mannds sat on the mer along with their teacher. The schools had three classrooms, one beside the other. Small colorful slippers were strewn outside the classroom. The kids sat on the matted ground. It put a smile on my face. I walked on.

I also encountered the men folk who were busy with their daily schedule, as I saw them
gathering the harvest to p
ile them up on their trucks.

After I had crossed the two villages a
nd entered the last lane that led to the river, I saw these small clusters of 5-6 makeshift huts as the last human trace before the mile long walk towards the river. They looked very different from the villages that I had crossed and had a tribal feel to them.

It took me 2 & 1/2 hour
to reach the River. I was completely scorched and a bit thirsty. I just had to touch the water and wet myself. The water was crystal clea
r and I could see how deep it ran. The river bank was too risky and was giving away near my foot.

Perhaps this was the reason why the last human trace was a mile away from it. There were chances that I cou
ld have got
stuck in that quicksand. I got a feel
of it, when I went near the water to touch it. The mud just caved in. I had to have a quick retreat. Not that I did not t
ouch the water after that. I just found out a different route. I had to get myself wet, as the heat was unbearable.
There was no one ne
arby to hear me. Far in a distance,
there were a few women washing their clothes. I could hear the thud on the stones from a distance.

I sang aloud and talked to myself loudly, carefree.