By Amruta Dhamorikar

Situated close to the city of Pune, Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the easiest escapes for a traveler. And so during a long weekend of four days, I found myself longing for the wonderful dense forests of Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. Located in the Khed and Ambegaon talukas of Pune district, it was created for the protection of the state animal of Maharashtra – Indian Giant Squirrel in the year 1984.

#AdventureNme blogging contest

 

#adventureNme blogging contest

 

So far nobody has been able to explain what the definition of Adventure would be. Us ambitious lot at AdventureN made a few efforts and asked people around, “What adventure means to you?” with #AdventureNme.

Far from what we expected, the answers from people ranged from being philosophical, crazy, hilarious and pretty insightful!

– Bharat Lele

Among all the millions of Gods and Goddesses in the Hindu mythology, the elephant-headed God Ganpati is one of the most loved and revered and completing the Ashtavinayak Yatra every year since the past 12 years is a matter of joy for me and my fellow riders.

The Ashtavinayak Yatra route map (Photo: ashtavinayak.info)

To provide with a basic idea of the Ashtavinayak Yatra for those who are unaware, this Yatra involves a visit to the eight ancient holy Ganesha temples spread across Maharashtra. The speciality of the Ashtavinayak is such that the idol in each temple is different from one another and the trunk is distinct too.

There is no doubt on the thrill that riding provides, but it comes with a certain amount of responsibility. We have seen and been in a lot of incidents that have taught us a good lesson that there is no option to taking special efforts for our safety. So as a Rider or a Pillion, we always ride with Riding Safety Gears; wearing helmet is obligatory and riding gear is additional safety. Remember to drink a lot of water when you are riding. While on road, have less food since the constant movement may give you an uneasy feeling with a very full stomach. Have stomachs full at night.

Last year we started our journey on December 26 early morning at 5 AM. We were six of us with three bikes; 2 Royal Enfields and 1 Apache 180.

  • Day 1
    Thane – Lenyadri – Ozar – Ranjangaon – Siddhatek – Morgao1) Girijatmaj at Lenyadri
(Photo: varadvinayak.com)

Lenyadri represents a series of 30 rock-cut Buddhist caves and the form of Ganesha worshipped here is called Girijatmaj. Lenyadri is a rocky terrain and thus it tends to get hot later in the day. To avoid such inconvenience, we aimed to reach here early in the morning. This was also our first stop since Girijatmaj is the most challenging among the Ashtavinayak. It takes some efforts to reach the main temple since climbing up to the hill gets tough with the steep slopes.

To reach Lenyadri, take the Mumbai-Nashik highway and turn over towards Kalyan bypass. Then get on towards Titwala Road on Murbad Highway. This route is particularly popular during the monsoon as a lot people make trips to the famous Malshej ghat in Lonavla. Depending upon the weather you are travelling in, the road is covered with fog early in the morning and with the chill factor, it is quite an adventure to traverse this route. Low visibility invariably makes us stop between Thane and Lenyadri at Malshej ghat to freshen up with some tea and morning snacks.

The view of the Girijatmaj after a short climb gives an instant feeling of rejuvenation. The general surrounding of the cave is very clean and the insides have not been tampered with.

A little while later we started our journey back to the base village. The descent to the base was a little tricky owing to the slope. On your way down, beware of the monkeys. They can get very cheeky and snatch anything that is in your hand.

A good breakfast later, we embarked on our journey again.

2) Vigneshwar at Ozar:

(Photo: onefivenine.com)

The ride from Lenyadri to Ozar is only about 15 kms and takes roughly half hour to reach. Ozar, the base village has a wonderful lake around. In addition the lake and the Vigneshwara temple, you can also see the V-Sat station from Ozar. Vigneshwara, literally meaning the removal of obstacles, is situated in the main mandir (gabhara) that is still present in its original structure.

3) Mahaganapati at Ranjangaon

Buffalo festival (Photo: Bharat Lele)

Following Vigneshwara at Ozar, we started riding towards Mahaganpati at Ranjangao, a journey of about 75 kms away. This leg of the journey is a little tiring since it is covered in the afternoon and it is the second largest patch between Vighneshwar and Mahaganpati.

On one of our previous years, we lost our way and landed in a village where a Buffalo Festival was underway. We had to take our bikes through dead corners of the road that could have made us fall in a big pit if we missed out on the slightest concentration.

Now turns out, the right route to Ranjangaon was actually a tiny sand trail and full of rubble. We finally made it to the temple at 3:30 PM and running out of schedule. Moreover, there was a queue for over 600 devotees. We were further surprised when we were told that our belongings, including the mobile phones were to be kept in unguarded lockers. To avoid taking chances, we decided to go in batches of three.

All this aftermath ultimately led us to take three hours for the Darshan.

In recent years, the temple at Ranjangaon has become commercial in nature and thus one can see long queues and a lot of money. A lot of finance has been pumped into the main temple (gabhara) too. But the temple loses the old charm of the Ashtavinayak.

4) Siddhivinayak at Siddhatek.

Siddhatek is about 82 kms from Ranjangaon. It is now safe to travel at any given time of the day except that that the road is quite small and if it is dark then one needs to be careful of the tractors since a lot of Sugar factories are located around here. We travelled through in the evening and owing to a cooler climate, we managed to reach there by 7 PM. We did hustle a bit and there were no stops taken after starting from Mahaganpati so we could manage to reach in 2 hours.

(Photo: wheresmypandit.com)

It wouldn’t be wrong to call Siddhatek as one of the most undeveloped villages in the Ashtavinayak Yatra. With no commercialisation and less crowd, we made a quick exit from the Siddhvinayak temple. The Darshan took all in 20 minutes.

We took another quick short snacks break after this and had refreshing sugarcane juice and corns that made us all set to start off towards Morgaon.

5) Mayureshwar at Morgaon.

(Photo: Sankashti.com)

As per our plan, Morgaon was our last stop for the day and we had planned to stay here for the night. We started from Siddhatek at around 8 PM. Although two of our riders were fatigued, we had strict instructions to make it to Morgaon since Siddhatek was not equipped for good accommodation and we would have then lagged in our schedule a lot. So we started the 70 Kms journey and decided to take no stops in between.

Unfortunately my Bullet started showing some alarm signs. It started losing power all of a sudden and made our pace drop a lot. We could manage to reach Mayureshwar temple at 10:30 PM.

I would want to make a special mention here that even though the bike was new, a Rider must know that it’s a machine and anything can happen at any time. Precisely the same happened to me right then. After a day of riding and disrupted schedule we barely managed to get a single room for 6 people in a hotel. We were baring the December cold of the interior Maharashtra and all of us were shivering through our bones. The riding gear helped us a little to bare the cold but it was particularly enough. A hot dinner served at the hotel put the life back in us and we ultimately slept at 1 AM to start out at 5 AM in the morning.

(Photo: Bharat Lele)

 

  • Day 2

Morgaon – Theoor – Pali – Mahad – Thane

 

Delayed from what was decided the previous night, we got up at 5:30 AM and left by 7 for Darshan at the Moreshwar temple. It was still cold but the temple was only 2 kms from where we stayed the night. Although Moreshwar is one of the more popular Ashtavinayaks, we could avoid a long queue since we went there early in the morning. About an hour later, we hit the road to move towards Chintamani temple at Theoor.

 

6) Chintamani at Theoor

(Photo: wikipedia.org)

We covered a distance of about 65 kms from Morgaon to Theoor in roughly an hour and a half and the cold was helping us preserve energy to a great extent. Nightmare of a queue was in front of us. But getting Darshan was of utmost importance at that moment and so we kept our schedule aside and decided to plunge into the sea of people. Roughly four hours later, we took blessings of the Lord. We hurried after that with a cup of tea and Misal Pav for breakfast again followed by a glass of sugarcane juice and then onwards Pali.

Personally, moving out of Pune was the worst patch of this ride. I was leading the team and thus the onus of getting traffic out of the way was on me. Finally wading our way through a lot of cars, we joined the Mumbai-Pune old highway and let a sigh of relief. This was one of our regular routes to travel.

 

7) Ballaleshwar in Pali

Covering a distance of about 145 kms we reached Pali at 7 in the evening and were again welcomed by a huge queue. It took us longer to reach Pali as I had to tend to some personal work at Pune. After roughly two hours in the queue, we took Darshan at the Ballaleshwar temple around 10 PM. It was late and we still had one last temple to visit in the Ashtavinayak Yatra. After a sumptuous dinner at Pali we set off on our journey again.

 

8) Varadvinayak at Mahad

(Photo: deshpandetours.com)

Travelling through a forest in the night was quite thrilling, and due to some technical issues, I had to turn off the headlamp. We started from Pali at around 10:30 PM and reached Mahad at midnight (technically Day 3).

This was the best Darshan we had since we could actually touch the Lord’s feet and the old unique structure of the Gabhara gives a very peaceful feeling. The Varadvinayak temple closes at 1 AM and reopens at 2 every day. We relaxed here for about half an hour and then went to a hotel in Mahad for some more food. We finally started our homeward journey around 1:30 AM.

By 3 in the dead of the night, we finally reached our Naka from where we dispersed home.

 

About Bharat

Bharat walks in a corporate suit on weekdays and a rider’s gear on weekends. This SAP consultant has several ultra-long-distance bike rides to his profile.

Not only has he covered the entire Ashtavinayak journey in Maharashtra on a bike but also completed a trip to Shegaon, 550 kms from Thane, within only 18 hours.

He has also completed a journey from Thane to Leh on bike.

Growing is a part of everyone’s life and there are many who help us in that period of growth, growth could be in any area. But when we announced our first photo contest we had you guys who actively took part in our #AdventureClick contest and we must say bravo to you guys for making it a success. We have so far had a lot of entries and we cannot tell you how happy we are to judge them.

photo-contest

It is time for those who haven’t given #AdventureClick contest a shot to do so, go ahead and send in your entries, your best click will be rewarded and appreciated by us. All you have to do is post it on our #AdventureN Facebook page and hashtag #AdventureClick and your photograph might be the lucky one to feature in our 2016 calendar.

For more details click: https://adventuren.com/blog/adventure/adventureclick/

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By Nikita Abhyankar

Every year on Rakshabandhan and Bhaidooj, I go jumping to my brother, superficially choosing these days to celebrate our relationship. Some cynics always commented, “Why do you need a day to celebrate love for your brother?”

I would have remained oblivious to the answer for my question had I not come across an article on Lakshya Foundation, and how its founder is assisting civilians to Ladakh for Rakshabandhan.

My chat with the founder President of this NGO, Anuradha Prabhudesai, was short and yet it left me lingering with thoughts of soldiers living at the border in extreme conditions so we could live a life of peace in our cozy urban houses.

Rakshabandhan
(Photo: lakshyafoundation.co.in)

“We don’t know what’s going on around us. What about the unsung heroes?” says Anuradha with a sincere concern in her voice.

For Anuradha, it all started with a leisure trip to the war-ravaged town of Drass in 2004 with her husband and friends when she first spotted an army caption that read, ‘I only regret that I have but one life to lay down for the country.’

Paramveer Chakra awardee
With Paramveer Chakra awardee (Kargil War) Yogendra Singh Yadav (Photo: lakshyafoundation.co.in)

It was perhaps this hard-hitting line that made Anuradha go back to Ladakh in 2005 during Rakshabandhan when she tied rakhis to the soldiers and distributed home-made food. The heart-warming response from the army men inspired her to go back almost every year. Eventually civilians, who believed in the idea of Lakshya Foundations also joined her.

Rakshabandhan
(Photo: lakshyafoundation.co.in)

This year she released the 2nd edition of the book, ‘Salute to our heroes – 10 inspiring stories of Kargil braveheart’, on Kargil Vijay Diwas (26th July).

Over the years, Anuradha’s bond with the soldiers has only become stronger with her annual visits to Kargil. She has taken over 500 civilians to Ladakh, giving them first-hand experience of an Army-life and conducting get-togethers of Army wives and war-widows.

Rakshabandhan
(Photo: lakshyafoundation.co.in)

This Rakshabandhan, the least we could do is spare a thought for those living away from their loved ones for us to sleep peacefully with our families.

Watch: Are you a dangerous optimist? | Anuradha Prabhudesai

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India, a country of 29 states and seven Union Territories, is abundant with several festivals, majority of which fall during the harvest season owing to the agrarian culture of livelihood.

The diverse land pattern also provides opportunities for foodies like me to explore the various food patterns around the country. And since Onam is here, let’s talk about Sadhya, an elaborate vegetarian feast from Kerala traditionally served on a banana leaf.

Kerala produces rice in abundance and hence it is a staple food of the locals. Presumably rice becomes the main dish of the Sadhya that literally means ‘feast’ in Malyalam. The side dishes include curries like Parippu, Sambar, Rasam, Pulisseri and others like Kaalan, Avial, Thoran, Olan, Pachadi, Mango pickle, Naranga curry, as well as Papadum, Banana, plain Yogurt or Buttermilk, and plantain chips.

Traditionally, this would be a typical Onam preparation. But times are changing and so are our food styles. NDTV has made a compilation of 10 different types of Onam recipes that you can try this year.

Erissery  – Recipe by Ambili Kurian

This is a gorgeous and mildly-spiced mix of grated coconut mixed with pumpkin, garlic and green chillis. It’s tempered with a beautiful blend of mustard seeds, chillis and crisp curry leaves.

Pulissery – Recipe by Ambili Kurian

A simple and popular side dish made with ash gourd, pappaya or cucumber and a yogurt based gravy.

Thenga Choru – Recipe by Kishore D Reddy

Give the usual every-day rice a coconut-y spin with some tasty coconut rice.

Pachadi – Recipe by Ritesh Venu

A light and smashing blend of coconut, curd and pineapple combined with fiery chillies and spices.

Avial – Recipe by Joey Matthew

A delicious dish that uses potato, carrots, raw banana, drumstick, beans and a small piece of raw mango. It’s served on a bed of Kerala rice that you’d want to dig into right away!

onam-sadya-onam-festival-recipes-onam-celebration

Paal Payasam – Recipe by Kishore D Reddy

A good meal isn’t complete without a smashing dessert and payasam gives you just that.  A typical sadya has four different kinds of payasam but why don’t we start with just one brilliant one.

Rasam- Recipe by Kishore D Reddy

With lots of pepper and tomatoes, rasam with its thin consistency is a real hit with any South-Indian meal. Try it out and you’ll know why.

Kadala Curry – Recipe by Niru Gupta

A curry packed with black chana and smooth gravy, this one is a real winner!

Kalan Kerala Curry – Recipe by Niru Gupta

An easy breezy curry prepared using buttermilk, mustard seeds, coconut and raw bananas.

Ulli Theeyal- Recipe by Chef Bala Subramanian

A Kerala delicacy made with shallots or tiny onions cooked in a roasted coconut gravy.

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By Aditya Kunte

During my time in Varanasi, I have tried my level best to capture the essence of the ghats that I find so alluring. Photo: Aditya Kunte
During my time in Varanasi, I have tried my level best to capture the essence of the ghats that I find so alluring. Photo: Aditya Kunte

My trip to Varanasi began with an extremely hot, bumpy, crowded, and not to mention a very aggravated bus ride from Lucknow. It was the kind of trip that made me question my sense of self-importance (I had my first experience of a monkey bite, but more on that later). But it was also the kind of trip that made for a great story to tell. And a great story it was!

I reached Varanasi around midnight, too tired to be hungry or cranky even. My host at the Bhadrakali guesthouse, located in the heart of the city, was a god- send with his prompt and accurate directions to help me out.

I was always told about the grace and magnificence of the Ganges, and the sight of her next morning was when I saw her, shining bright under the morning sun in complete glory. All I had to do was stand in my balcony and stare at her; majestic, lazy, like she owned the place. And own it, she does.

Ganges, the way it is. Photo: Aditya Kunte
Ganges, the way it is.
Photo: Aditya Kunte

Varanasi holds Ganges in its name, although not directly. The city is said to have acquired the name from two rivers, Varuna (a tributary of River Ganga) and Asi (a small stream that flows besides the Assi ghats).

Ohh that wretched monkey. Photo: Aditya Kunte
Ohh that wretched monkey.
Photo: Aditya Kunte

While I was deep in thought looking at the Ganga, getting myself re-infused for exploring the city, I was greeted by a monkey, native to Banaras, who made my balcony his pit-stop. So as we both sat there staring at each other, the bolder amongst the two of us made the first move. He approached me with innocent eyes, gently took my arm in his hands, sniffed it and retreated back to his corner. I was elated! More staring followed. He approached me again, looking more innocent than ever. I was really hoping to hit it off with him this time. Maybe he would let me pet him; maybe a cuddle. Maybe even climb over my shoulders and call me daddy. So there he was, taking my arm again and I was more than willing to offer it to him, only this time, the little brat sinks his teeth whole into my arm! The bloody monkey bit me! First reaction – panic. Second reaction – still panic. Then came the disappointment and the feeling of rejection. I now know what it feels like to betrayed, and to be bitten by a monkey!

One of the most striking features about Varanasi is the Assi ghats. Plenty has been written about them and yet barely enough. To truly experience everything the ghats have to offer, I would recommend walking that every every possible time of the day. Each time is a different emotion.

 

The silent hope at dawn; the purposelessness of the afternoons; the energy infused evenings and a strange sadness at night. But all throughout, there was a certain sense of peace that the ghats brought along.

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My fondest memory of the ghat would be sipping on hot chai and staring at the river. Doing nothing. Just being. It is like an entire scene from Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan coming to life right in front of me.

Now, having Benaras shown to you by a Benarasi local is one thing but have it shown to you by a true Benarasi in love with his city is not something everybody can boast of. I would consider myself lucky to have found Piyush Rai, who filled me up on everything; from local gossip and Benarasi meetha paan to chat on streets and bhang thandai. The Benarasi babu does not hold anything back and for that experience of a lifetime, I will be eternally grateful.

The Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat every evening is one of the most awe inspiring aartis I have ever witnessed. A row of 10 priests performing the aarti in perfect harmony with humongous burning lamps is a sight to behold. Add to that the melodious chants, the rhythmic clanging of the bells and the collective energy of a thousand people that takes you into a state of trance. The aarti truly gives meaning to the ancient name of the city ‘Kashi’, that literally mean the ‘City of Light’.

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The tiny alleys of Benaras define wandering without a purpose, especially to somebody like me who quite likes and is attached to goals, targets and plans. The entire experience was strangely liberating, surreal even to say the least. It was interesting to note how I saw, heard and felt so much more without the burden of a destination.

To speak of the river itself, two things will remain with me forever.

Art, that lies in every nook and corner of the city Photo: Aditya Kunte
Art, that lies in every nook and corner of the city
Photo: Aditya Kunte

First would be watching the sun rise over the Ganges while gently cruising downriver in a row boat. If there was any way to freeze the moment; not just the picture, but the sights, sounds, weather and smells; and preserve it, I would. But perhaps the fleeting nature of that moment is what makes it so special.

The second moment would be the taking a dip in the Ganga! I’m not one to have an ulterior motive of washing away my sins. But the one thought that kept driving me was “aaya hunt oh dubki laga ke jaaunga!”

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There is no one way in which I can summarise Varanasi. You might have experiences far more different than mine. But the city is alive and there is only one way to find out how!

By Shraddha Mehta

Some Random snap of GHNP
Inside the Great Himalayan National Park (Photo: Shraddha Mehta)

It was late March when me, along with a few friends realised that it was high time we needed a break. And the first thought that popped in our minds unanimously was, ‘The mountains are calling and I must go,’ a proverb widely used by John Muir.

Photo: Shraddha Mehta
Photo: Shraddha Mehta

A Himalayan trek, away from Pune’s dry March heat seemed welcoming and thus was made the plan for Tirthan Valley and Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) where one can spot indigenous birds like Monals and the beautifully dotted red-necked Western Tragopan.

A high-altitude trek can be rather difficult (GHNP is at an altitude of about 4000 m AMSL). We would regularly practice at Sinhagad fort near Pune. Before we knew it, our date of departure had arrived and we headed towards Aut in Manali district from Delhi by bus on 19th May 2015.

Very sincerely, I could have walked towards the Nagini village with the picturesque Himalayas and the gorgeous valleys to my company, except that my sleep decided to hold a disobedience movement. Sigh!

Photo: Shraddha Mehta
Photo: Shraddha Mehta

I personally prefer homestays in the Himalayas. The hosts are very welcoming and the hospitality is beyond expectations. Day 1, we decided to relax and simply take a stroll around. We visited the banks of Tirthan river and a nearby waterfall later that day. The second location gave the feel of being on the sets of Avatar!

Avatar like scene
Photo: Shraddha Mehta

Next day post breakfast we reached Gushaini Village, the starting point of our trek. Filled with excitement, we started walking towards Rolla Campus (Altitude 2100 m) at about 11:30 in the morning. The path was not very steep, more like a regular uphill walk and by 5:30 pm we were at Rolla Campsite.

The next day was our real test of endurance. We started on steep walk at about 9:30 in the morning. The distance was only about 5 kms but the climb was tough with practically no spot to relax ourselves. After a rather gruelling trek we reached the Shilt campsite (Altitude 3100 m) around 2 pm. As soon as we set our sight on the view from our tent, that of the Tirthan peak and the adjacent ones, absolutely nothing else mattered. It was perhaps the closest I could reach to a heaven like view!

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We were to summit Rakhundi (Altitude 4,100 m) and descent to Ghuntaro (Altitude 3,400 m) the next day. For this, we started our trek early by 8:30 next morning. This one day of the trek was perhaps the toughest when we all pushed ourselves way beyond our limits and comfort zones. The walk seemed never ending! And by the time we reach Ghuntaro, it was 6:30 and we all were supremely exhausted, not to mention famished!

At about dinner time, the leader made an announcement that we would be resting at Ghuntaro for another day and return the same way we started. This was a disappointing yet right decision as the climb from Ghuntaro to Dhel was more difficult and strenuous. The weather went bad in night and it snowed.

The campsite was located on the slope of a hill within the area of barely some plain. It was probably the most beautiful campsite with rhododendrons surrounding it.

Shraddha Mehta

We sat back in our dining tent and chatted. Some of the members went for a walk further towards Dhel in the afternoon.

A day’s rest at Ghuntaro gave us the time to regain our energies. The next day we started our journey to Rakhundi and from thereon to Shilt. The walk was pleasant but the descent was a little difficult. We halted at Shilt for the night where it again rained the entire night.

Our team
Our team

Next day we decided to walk ahead of Rolla and camp at the gates of GHNP. We were hurrying off when the trek manager Roshan Singh spotted a snake which he mentioned as a Viper. We all took few photos and marched further. At Rolla, we took a good halt for lunch and then into the river.

Till Rolla, it was descent and then almost a plain walk. At about 4 pm, that day we reached the Gates of GHNP. The last member walked in and the rains started as if they were waiting for us to reach the shelters. Here we enjoyed campfire and the staff also sang some local songs for us.

Next day morning, we trekked to Gushaini Village and then to Manali with a quick stopover at Nagini to pick up our bags.

Rhododendrons

 

Trek in Tirthan Valley is not so popular as yet  and hence this part of forest is cleaner and peaceful and away from the clutters of commercialization. There are very few operators in this valley with excellent staff! We always felt especially cared for and the 9-year-old child on our trek was adored and looked after very well.

If I had to, I could mention a list of reasons why I would go back to Tirthan valley, but the most prominent of them all has to be the quest for the Western Tragopan.