Friday, October 28, 2011

Korigad Trek

Korigad is one of the easiest for to climb in the Lonavala region. It is popularly clubbed with Ghanagad, another fort to the south. A marathon trek weekend can include visits to Korigad, Ghangad, Tel Bailya, Sudhagad and Sarasgad – all in 2 days. The fort affords a great view of the Aamby valley set up. I’ve seen many a planes take off from the runway inside that facility. You can also club this trek with a half a days’ visit to the adventure centre in Aamby valley –19 Degree latitude. Pre booking is apparently required.

How to reach and back:

While using a public transport from Pune, you can take the local or ST bus to Lonavala and further an ST bus that takes you to Aamby valley and beyond. From Lonavala you need to be on the bus that goes to Bhamburde, Ambavne, or Salter. You will need to alight before the turn for Aamby valley at a place called Peth Shahapur, a small village at the foothills of the fort. Bhamburde is the base village for Ghanagad and some distance further is the Tel Bailya village. Ambavane is at the foothills of Korigad to its east but the way to climb is from the west, via Peth Shahpur, just so that you know. There are not too many jeeps that ply this route so I would rule out that option.

Or you can drive there in a private car. Once in Lonavala, turn left at the Kumar Water Park and that is the road you need to follow. There are sign boards for Aamby valley all along. On the way to Peth Shahapur, you’ll pass Bushi Dam, the Airforce base station, and Tiger valley view point. The village is hard to miss as the fort looms large in the background. Korigad is characterized not by height, but by its expanse – the top is a huge wide plateau. The roads are in excellent condition for the VIPs who visit Aamby valley. Once the road leaves the Aamby valley area though, it is fairly pothole ridden. Obviously, no VIP movement beyond Aamby.

If you are going by private transport, you can park your cars in front of the temple in the village. They are safe there and I have not encountered any damage in all my visits to Peth Shahapur. The public transport vehicle will drop you on the main road, just a couple of minutes walk from the village. Follow the road inside and ask the villagers for directions to the point where the climb to the fort begins.

The Climb:

The actual climb for the fort begins some distance from the village. There is small thicket you’ll need to cross and gain some height before you spot it. A lot of flower bearing shrubs and bamboo groves are also along the way, which make it a pleasant walk. There is rusty sign board at the start point and most of the way up is via a stone staircase with occasional rocky patches. The villagers will direct you to the exact point where the climb to the fort starts.

Almost half way enroute, you’ll arrive at a nice resting spot. There is huge tree with a foundation around it and bang opposite that is a rock cut cave. There are three or four sections there and a couple of them used to have water, but not anymore. So remember to carry plenty of water with you. There is a single route up the fort and you will not go off track anywhere. The steep steps start after this cave and it’s a mere 20 min climb to the fort from there.

You will take not more than 40 minutes maximum to summit this fort.

On the top:

As soon as you climb from the main door you’ll notice that the whole fort is a big plateau. The only standing modern constructions are 2 temples. One is too small to accommodate a group and the other has its roof blown away. There are no trees to speak of on the top plateau so shade is hard to come by. The ramparts of the fort are in a fairly good condition and it is possible to walk along those to cover the entire periphery of the fort and enjoy views from all directions. To the east is the view of Aamby valley, its structures and the runway I mentioned earlier. Much further in the same direction you can see Tung and Tikona on a good day. Right at the eastern base of the fort is Ambavane village, full of fields and pretty meadows. To the south, if you know the terrain well, you will see Ghanagad, Sudhagad and Sarasgad. However, I have yet to see Tailbailya from Korigad. The walk all around the fort will take you a good hour or more depending on how much stops you take to enjoy the views.

One of the highlights of Korigad is the presence of 3 evergreen water bodies. Though swimming or drinking from these is not advised, they make a wonderful sight amidst the dry rocky soil around. There are a lot of birds visiting these ponds, so just sitting around watching is a great way to spend time.

Food and water:

The base village has no canteen/shop to speak off and I have not seen a tea stall either. Carrying your food and water or packing some from Lonavala will be your best bet. There are a few restaurants along the way and you can always troop back to Tiger Valley point to eat at the stalls there.

Difficulty Grade: 1/5

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Core expedition equipment

In this piece, I’ll be listing the core equipment we took along, with its pros – cons and my observations. Some of this equipment is specific to our kind of expedition and is in part generic for all expeditions.

  • Ultra light day sack – I had taken along my a Deuter 33L sack. I could have done with a smaller capacity sack, but I noticed that when I packed in less items in mine, there was no significant weight difference between my sack and smaller backpacks carried my some of my team mates. This pack accommodated my 2L hydration pack in a special pouch of the sack, my camera + spare batteries, wet wipes, a small medicine box, rain wear, scarf, hydration salt sachets, a water bottle and a small bag of snacks. With all this in it, there was space left over. It is a good size and comfortable backpack. There is a well designed wind mesh on the surface where the sack hugs the back and loops at helpful points along the straps. A small pocket at the bottom holds the rain cover.  An opening at the top allows the hydration pack hose to travel out of the sack and can be curled appropriately to be placed on hand. The sack’s main compartment can be divided into two via a zip-able partition –this is a handy arrangement. It holds well to your body, with the adjustable strap height, and waist strap. If you want to go for a smaller backpack, just make sure it has all these features. 
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  • Water bladder /hydration pack – This is the inventor’s gift to outdoors persons. The quintessential item that every person who enjoys being outdoors, in the wilderness, for extended periods of time has. I use a pack that opens up entirely from the top, it has a flap with a stopper. This makes it easier to clean and dry. Also, in our conditions, I think it was good that mine has a cover on the mouthpiece. It kept the dirt and dust out.
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  • Expedition backpack/ big duffle bag – I was carrying a Quechua 65L back pack. It is essentially a travel back pack and suited my purpose well. It had sturdy straps which were useful in holding the sack in place on the camel’s back with ropes. The straps ends can be moved to suit your height.  The main compartment was divided via a detachable partition which was hard but flexible enough to take in all the pokes and angles of things moving inside. Also, this compartment is accessible from the top, if you keep the sack upright, or from the front if you have it lying down with the back straps next to the ground. I find this to be a great feature. The same pack double up as a sack as well as a duffle back, with partition. And the fact that it was all closed up with zippers makes it very easy to lock up for travel. It does not have strings that bunch up or snap locking fasteners. The top flap is further covered by a top compartment with elastic strings on the very top to hold a bulky item.
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  • Walking poles – It you are the type who likes to swing their arms as they walk, the poles might not be for you. Besides giving you rhythm, the poles act as support to take away some weight from your knees and give you a push ahead. They need getting used to though and you have to set a pace where your steps match the pole placement and arm position. Practice thoroughly before use. Use ones which have a grip contuoured to be held for long and also has loops to rest your hand from time to time. All that gripping day after day can be tiring.
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  • Spade – To dig holes in the ground for poo! J Handy for other circumstances as well, like digging yourself out of a snowed in tent, or a sanded in tent!
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  • Document wallet -  a very handy addition to your kit list..since you want to keep all your documents in one place. This is applicable when you feel the need to rummage through your sack everyday to fish out something and loose papers just get in the way. I used one and kept it neatly folded in an inner pocket of my expedition backpack. Everything stayed intact till the very end.
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  • Compass / G.P.S – if you are keen on plotting your own course take one along. A compass is better, and it’ll help improve your plotting skills. A GPS needs batteries every few days so keep this in mind while choosing. I had both a compass, that I used occasionally and a GPS watch that gave out as soon after the solar rechargeable batteries refused to work as expected.
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  • MP3, Ipod -  Extremely useful to keep your mind occupied with songs, audio books. Lauren, one of my Australian team members listened to a lot of audio books and talks of her selections here.
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  • Camera -  with it comes cables, batteries, and memory cards – all of them can add to the weight so be sure you want to lug along that DSLR. Charging camera batteries and keeping it clean are the biggest challenges. Make sure you have a cleaning kit too.
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  • Solar panels and battery – I saw two varieties on my expedition. The hard panel kind and the soft foldable panel kind.  Both are good depending on where you are placing the panels. I used the hard kind that were sponsored for us and we placed the solar panels on the camel back and the batteries in their saddle bags. What often went wrong was that the cable connecting the two became undone with even a slightly jerky movement and that meant the battery did not charge. Faraz tried putting the panel on his backpack and the battery in it. That stayed connected because he was careful. But make sure you buy something with a firmer connection for sure. The soft paneled one was used by Yihui and it came with an array of connectors to get a decide to charge right from the panel or charge the supplied battery. The surface area of her panel was more and thus ensured effective charging. Also since the panel was soft, it adjusted to the camels movement well. I would vote for the soft panel ones.
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  • Net book, laptop, PDA – carry these if you must, because like the camera, they come with cables/batteries and other paraphernalia. We had some in the team carrying the Macbook Air and Peter carrying only his iPhone. Each to his won I guess. Charging becomes a major hurdle, right after keeping the device clean and dust free.
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  • Water bottle – besides the hydration pack an water bottle serves to contain your hydration mix to replenish salts and such. You can attach it to your sack’s straps so that it is within handy reach. This can be the PBA free plastic varierty or a metallic one with a glove. Though I took a plastic one along, I'd reccomend the metal one with glove. It comes with a handy lid, attached to the bottle so there is not fear of losing it. The glove keeps the water warm/cold, as required for sometime.
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  • Head torch (rechargeable batteries) – Keeping aside the issue of power to charge the batteries, the head torch keeps your hands free for chores when you want to operate in the dark. You can buy torches with adjustable beam power, saves you battery charge. The basic torch has this feature and some even come with focus enablers—giving you a wide or narrow beam. I think you can safetly stick with the basic. In our case the sun was up until almost 10 pm, so the torch requirement was minimal.
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  • Small trek towel/Napkin – I vote for cotton ones, not too rough though. These are cheap, quick to dry, absorbs a lot and are very dispensable. I took along 4/5, ended up using only 2.
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  • Sleeping bag   - I for one prefer sleeping On the bag, than in it. The ones with a mummy shape constrict movement. Maybe that is a fine fit for polar regions. You can look for sleeping bags meant for specific temperatures so that they don’t end up being a burden. Wherever it is, I doubt I can sleep well in a bag. I prefer a mat and my own light rug to cover myself.
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  • Sleeping mat – When you have a floor full of lichen clumps, bumpy rocks pebbles and uneven contours, a sleeping mat is very handy. We used the kind that was inflated when in use and rolled up into a handy bun when not. It is very light too. Besides evening our your bed, it serves as an insulator—prevents heat or cold from the ground to reach the body. Usually these mats are made of tough material and small thorns or rough stones did not puncture it in anyway. You can also take a carry mat along, it is very light but adds volume.
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  • Tent – Bases your decision of a tent on how many people will share one, what area you are visiting and what weight can you carry. If you are heading for extremely windy areas, make sure you by a low tent which you need to crawl into and has extremely flexible, but sturdy poles. If you are visiting an area which, along with being windy, is hot, use a layered tent. You can remove the top covering and expose the mesh to let air in. If it rains too, the cover will be good protection. I saw Agii use such a tent and it was better than any of ours. We had one with a separable sleeping area with some space for luggage. By the end of the expedition, the poles were bent beyond repair. The pegs to fasten the tent to the ground also have to be of a quality with address the area you are pitching it in—light aluminum ones for soft soil, iron ones for hard ground. The tent material also has to be tough enough to bear tugs and jerks due to the wind or sand deposition. Make sure the tent has wind pockets on top for some ventilation and that they are placed such that cross ventilation occurs. Else be prepared for a sticky night ahead.
As usual, comments and questions are welcome.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Tikona Trek

Tikona is one of the easier and quick to access forts in the Lonavala region. It has scenic and has sweeping views of the Pavana valley, the lake ahead and a few forts in the same region, prominently Tung.

How to reach and back: From Pune, take the morning 6.30 AM local from Pune station to Kamshet. You will reach there in about 80 minutes. From Kamshet station, take the road that goes straight to the market place. This is apparent by the jeeps and buses standing there. Hop on a jeep taking you to Pavana village. That is not all though. A new jeep will take you from Pavana to Tikona Peth, the base village.

While coming back, you can wait at the village bus stop for any bus that takes you to either Pavana or directly to Kamshet. Else, the jeeps are your best bet. Same route back to Kamshet station and there are trains every 45 min to Pune Station.

The alternative to jeeps is the state transport bus. Not too much information exists on their timings though and the locals may mislead you to ensure that the jeeps are in business.

By road, and you can make it there just as well road, the route takes you towards Mulshi/Tamhini from Chandni Chowk. You will first need to cross Pirangut (Ghat) and then reach Paud Village. Look for a right turn going towards Pavana dam in this village. There is a prominent sign marked as Tikona/Pavana at this turn. If you are on the right track, you should start seeing Pavana dam on your left. Here you will see a signboard for Tikona. You have to take a right towards Tikona Peth, the base village. the distance is approx 70 kms and should take you roughly 2 hrs to reach there.

The climb: Any kid in the village will direct you to the exact point where the climb to the fort starts. The route there from the main tar road meanders along houses, small fields, farm houses and grazing cows. You will most definitely see crabs scampering along and the buzz of insects will be in your ears.

Durg Savardhan has done laudable work on the fort in terms to adding safely ropes at steep points, cleaning, direction signboards at turns or diverging paths and placing a full time guard on top of the fort. You can donate something for this cause while on top.

Once you see the sign board, the route starts there.  It is easy, gentle and singular, you will not get lost. Midway, you come to a pass, and the path diverges. To the right, the path goes to the fort top and to the left, it goes to a ridge. Feel free to explore the ridge before you go on to the fort. After this point the climb becomes a tad steeper, but not difficult. you encounter a huge Hanuman carving, a cave temple on you way to the top.  At the temple, paths diverge again, but stick to the step like structure immediately in front. The final challenge is the steep staircase. Once you are over them, you are on top. The only higher point after this is the balekilla.

You will take not more than 50 min maximum to summit this fort.

Views from the top: The sharp peak immediately in from of Tikona, to its west, is Tung fort. Further away, if the light is good, you can see Korigad as well. Rest is all Pavana dam and its back waters, as well as the further shores of Mulshi lake.

Food and water: A lone hut serviced by a village woman stands near the cave temple. Other than that, you have to carry your own sustenance. Water though is plentiful and available nearer to the top at 3 different cisterns. Its cool and refreshing.

Difficulty Grade:  2/5

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