5 easy monsoon treks from Mumbai

If you live in a city like Mumbai where a new skyscraper seems to spring up each time you look out of your window, where the dream of having a Metro some day soon currently increases your daily commute and where the monsoon showers bring a refreshing change from the sweltering summers.

That sweet earthy smell, the tiny droplets on to the window pane leaves, the thundering sound of the rain, and the wind in the hair – everything about the monsoon is love at first sight! Some would like to be cuddled up in a warm blanket, sipping piping hot adrak waali chai and watching the drops fall from their window. While others like me would to get all soaked and muddy out there…especially in the hills all around

We are blessed to have Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a sprawling green forest within the city. In the past I have done many treks and trails from the Borivali gate, namely

  • Shilonda trail
  • Upper Kanheri Trek
  • Nagla Block

But it instead of getting away from the maddening crowd, on a Sunday you may see more people than flora and fauna here. Hence I decided to try the Thane (Yeoor) gate side.

Here are 5 easy getaway treks (in order of ease for beginners) that I did over weekends from July to September as time permitted:

1. SGNP – Yeoor: 

I wanted to take my 6 year old daughter Anushka on an outdoor expedition on the weekend so we signed up with Jack & Hill Adventures for The Yeoor Hills Forest Walk. This trek was guided by Wildlife Expert Mr Nikit Surve, who also happens to be the man responsible for Mumbai’s leopard Census conducted in both 2015 & 2019 within the national park. He made it very interesting with his detailed explanation about the wondrous wildlife specifically in the SGNP forest. Anushka was just learning about carnivores and herbivores in school and she had many questions for him.

We drove down in my car and met the others at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (Tikuji ni Wadi gate) Thane Entrance at 7 am. After exploring & learning about the surroundings as we had a leisurely walk along the forest path upto Yeoor village and back for about 4 hours. There is also a beautiful butterfly garden that kids will love at the entrance.

2. Mhatarichi Khind:

This is not a hilly high incline trek but a long walk through a valley or pass between the hills (khind). I went with my all time favorite outdoor group Countryside India. They have may monsoon weekend treks you can choose from and I have been going with them since college. Great way to meet like-minded nature loving people.

 

They arrange for a bus that leaves from Dadar at 6 am, via Panvel to the the foot of  Matheran, at village Dhodani. From here we walked through the valley between Prabalgad fort & Matheran, crisscrossing through villages, forests, and waterfalls and rivulets. Our trek ended at Ambewadi, beneath One-Tree hill point, on the Chowk side of Morbe dam. Simply the best was to enjoy the rain in your raincoat and get all the Vitamin G your eyes can ! Its a great way to introduce kids to the outdoors, 8 years and above. This one was with few work colleagues and the rest strangers, fun nevertheless.

 

3. Ganpati Gadad Caves and Waterfall Trek:

Jump out of that comfort zone and do the unexpected! This time I went with a completely new trekking group that  I found on facebook and to a destination I had never heard of before. M3 Yatrikis a young and enthusiastic trekking group and I had was very happy to have joined them on this trek.

gg6

Taking a local train from Dadar to Kalyan we went by a vehicle to the base village is called Palu, Sonawale near Murbad. We had a very tasty breakfast in a local villagers house watching the dense clouds engulf the hills beyond, hiding the caves completely. A valley full of flowers welcomed us ascended towards the caves.

Ganpati Gadad Caves is a series of 6 to 7 caves which are exceptionally beautiful during monsoon as many small waterfalls fall over them forming enchanting white veils. The path is gradual and the rocks are big, with easy stepping stones. Only at the top the path along cliff is a bit perilous, hence its always good to go  with a group where everyone offer a helping hand.

The view from the top is totally breathtaking and just sitting in the serenity, with only the sound of the waterfall in the background is very soothing to the soul.

4. Sondai fort:

I have some friends who are regular trekkers so this was an easy one for them. The incline is very steep and the rocks can be dangerous and slippery, especially if there is rainfall so it makes it a bit challenging for the beginners.

IMG_20190818_110643We drove to the base village Sondewadi, near Karjat which is situated at 1/4th height of this fort and then started climbing the rest of the way. Its better to reach early as many groups come later in the day on weekends.The last part has a set of metal steps to climb till the watch tower.

We were completely embraced by the clouds and The views from the top of the Morbe reservoir IMG-20190818-WA0017

 

5. Sunset point, Matheran:

Although I’ve graded this the last in terms of intensity and duration as well, its was the most enjoyable of all as I went with my new found friends: the yoga girl gang  of Chaitanya towers and also because the destination was a surprise for us.

 

Umkar Living Root Bridge: Marvel of Meghalaya

What a natural wonder it truly is ! Bridges made by the local tribes in Meghalaya by entwining the strong secondary roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Whenever and wherever the need arose, they simply grew their bridges. Helping the tribals to get past rivers and streams, these trees helped sustain life yet again.

Related image

The most famous one is the Double Root Tree Bridge of Umshiang located in the village of Nongriat. But its quite and arduous trek, 2500 steps to reach Nongriat and this takes about 1.5 – 2 hours each way easily (maybe bit more depending on your fitness).So thats more than half a day gone. My friends who have been here say its definitely worth the visit. Don’t forget, you need a lot of energy to get there.

But if you are pressed for time, like us and yet didn’t want to leave Meghalaya without witnessing this marvelous phenomenon, here is another easy but lesser-known option: Umkar Living Root Bridge. I had a been in my bonnet to see any bridge in the short span of 4 hours that I had (6am to 10 am to be precise after which we had to leave Cherrapunjee for Guwahati airport for our flight). The local drivers and Hotel guys surprisingly didn’t have much information to offer. But extensive Google searches revealed bits of information that I put together to set off on our quest of Umkar Living Root Bridge.

A morning cup of tea in the clouds with a view of the sunrise and Bangladesh border like this from our room at The Polo Orchid Resort really gives a new meaning to life! It energizes you to get out and seize the day.

Our group of enthusiastic doctors boarded the jeep and it was a beautiful downhill drive from our resort to Siej village though thick tropical rainforest on either side. The wettest place is also definitely blessed with nature’s bounty. Just before Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, it’s another 3km drive by taking a left turn. Its not well sign-posted so one has to ask for directions to Umkar Living Root Bridge.

Once you see this sign, walk through the Betel grove for about 10 minutes, past gushing waterfalls to reach the bridge. This 40 year old bridge is now considered to be “under construction” as it was washed away due to massive floods. Hence the the villagers are actually now rebuilding it.

The roots are light brown and green compared to older bridges and Umkar Living Root Bridge is a perfect example to learn the process of building living root bridges.

The bridge was strong enough for us to walk across it already. See how the floor has been formed with entwining branches around the scaffolding of the hollow betel nut tree trunks. Since this region gets heavy rainfall which results in innumerable streams and flowing rivers, the trees are well adapted to the soil erosion and the roots grow down towards the water. This one will take maybe another 15 years to be ready.

We were back in time to shower, have a delicious breakfast and check out of the Polo Orchid Resort with a heavy heart. A final “Adieu” to the Seven sisters waterfall, unmistakable seen from the resort all day. The next 5 hour we drove back to the airport through mountains and waterfalls, and it was such a pleasurable drive. We echoed the words of E.E. Cummings in our hearts “I thank You God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

Mesmerising Meghalaya: Beyond Shillong

More unchartered destinations get added to our travel map on a wondrous discovery of our country that has unsurpassed beauty as we travelled to Shillong in September 2018. I haven’t yet seen the famed rainforests of South America, but the more I’ve travelled in the North east of India, I’m convinced we can give them a run for their money. And so the journey to the wettest place in the world begins…

You can’t take your eyes off the ubiquitous rain-washed terrain from Guwahati airport towards Umiam lake. As we ascended up the green Khasi hills, overcast grey skies above and the serenity of the lake imbues a new energy that only culminates into pure bliss when we reached “Ri Kynjai” for lunch.

The resort and especially the restaurant with its unique location offering majestic views of the lake and should be the place to stay, instead of Shillong city, for that perfect getaway. Placid and tranquil as its name implies.

The delectable local food, rustic cottages and ambiance in the midst of nature really took my heart away. But we were headed to Shillong for the night and had to move on.

Shillong really has nothing exciting to offer, especially the traffic can be a huge nuisance. Living in Mumbai and waiting in bumper to bumper traffic-borne misery is not something I enjoyed on a holiday.

Tripura Castle hotel built in the early 1920’s by the then Maharaja of Tripura boasts of the grandiosity of the Colonial era. It houses such an amazing collection of historical memorabilia, prompting a journey to a by-gone era.

What adds to the uniqueness of this a hotel is the room Rabindranath Tagore used to spend his time while visiting Shillong and one can be in unison with the thoughts behind why the the state Meghalaya was named “the abode of clouds” 

A morning walk along the flowering blossoms was followed by a flavourful breakfast in the garden. We then jostled through narrow lanes to get out of the city towards Laitlum gorge.

It was not the ideal day to visit the gorge for the views, but definitely to frolic with the clouds and in the rain.

We got some sun on our was back as we headed south towards Cherrapunjee. The landscape has a distinct resemblance to the Tuscan countryside, don’t you agree?

Pit stop for a local lunch thali ….food coma again !

 

We reached Cherrapunjee by tea time, just enough time to explore the underground world of caves. The hills of Garo, Khasi, and Jaintia have a labyrinth of more than 750 caves in Meghalaya, out of which only 150 have been explored. The Mawsmai Cave is open to visitors and the lime and sandstone patterns and formations due to erosion by water will leave you awestruck.

IMG_20180916_055359.jpg

We reached our resort the Polo Orchid , just in time to catch last rays of the sun and unwind. The rooms are pleasantly decorated in wood, with a distressed blue finish.

IMG_20180915_181811.jpg

All the three hotels described in this blog are truly unique in their location, decor and ambience and we would recommend none other if you visit this part of the world.

” We are all travellers in a way” – George Whitman

Exploring Georgia: Borjomi, Uplistsikhe,Mtskheta

IMG_20181005_124739

The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park is a treasure trove of nature’s bounty. Astoundingly beautiful in this month as the foliage changes color, the coniferous park is also famous for its mineral water from springs in the Borjomi Gorge. 

I was particularly mesmerised by the charms of the autumn season as various shades of red, yellow, orange and brown could be appreciated here
CAble car ride to the top

IMG_20181005_124910

An
“What a joy it is to feel the soft, springy earth under my feet once more,
to follow grassy roads that lead to ferny brooks….” Helen Keller

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.  Kahlil Gibran

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes  e.e. cummings

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.  Edna Jaques

 

 

I am in love with this world . . . I have climbed its mountains, roamed its forests, sailed its waters, crossed its deserts, felt the sting of its frosts, the oppression of its heats, the drench of its rains, the fury of its winds, and always have beauty and joy waited upon my goings and comings.  John Burroughs

Serenity in Sikkim

230720_10150236681007744_6571043_n

My visit to Sikkim, the first to a Buddhist state is still etched in my mind. The land of monks and monasteries where one is greeted by fluttering prayer flags all along the mountainous route that give tranquility a whole new meaning. The name of Sikkim is derived from the term “Sukhim” meaning new “house” or “place” and the wanderbug in me was only delighted to discover surprises at every bend.

229019_10150237552567744_5370722_n

The journey from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok winds through verdant green valleys and mesmerising vistas of the Eastern range of the Himalayas. One could just spend the day rejuvenating in the fresh mountain air and discovering amazing local food options on M G road> Must include places in your itineray without which no visit is complete

 

Rumtek monastery

 

 

 

The Dharma Chakra Centre is the largest monastery in Sikkim exemplifying the great Tibetan architecture and is almost a replica of the original one in Tibet.

 

 

The blizzarding snow and yaks at Nathula pass

 

 

 

The frozen lake of Gurudongmar

 

 

Lachung Valley

 

 

 

227080_10150238016852744_3212355_n.jpgChang is the local brew

Beyond sushi; Foodie trail in Japan discovering okonomiyaki, gyozas and more

Japan really has a treasure trove of food options to explore, each town has some culinary specialities of its own. Let me take you on a gastronomic journey, sampling some authentic fare that was really a feast for the senses at pocket-friendly prices.

Vegetarians, hang on, there is a lot for you here too. Just make sure that you download this very useful picture and save it on your phone so you can show it as soon as you enter an restaurant and they will guide you with appropriate options on their menu. This is an important part of your survival kit, then life is sorted !

Hiroshima

Hiroshima-style onomiyaki actually a delicious layered Japanese savoury noodle dish topped with cabbage, green onion, bean sprouts and seafood with pork. Vegetarian options also available. The chef will make it in front of you and the traditional way is to eat it is with a spatula.

Quaff off with some Kirin beer. Crunch on some kaki fry (deep-fried) oysters fresh from the sea that Hiroshima is famous for. There are many food joints to chose from. We had our lunch at Nagata-ya restaurant, not to far from the Hiroshima Peace Park. You will leave satiated, smacking your lips. Trust me.

MIYAJIMA

The island of Miyajima is a short ferry ride from Hiroshima, a picturesque spot to spend the evening.

It has a reputation for the best seafood (for obvious reasons). Strolling along the waterfront, snack on some scrumptious oyster curry bread here.

Vegetarians can relish the Miyajima croissant rusk with a hot coffee. Many sake shops and other local Japanese souvenirs here to buy as well

BULLET TRAIN BENTO BOXES

Whilst dashing from one city to the other on the super fast bullet trains, don’t forget to try the ekibens.

You can grab one at stands on the station platform or on the train itself. Vegetarian show your sign but chances are you will be declined and you may have to settle for a beverage and chips instead.

KYOTO

Wagyu (Japanese cow) beef

This is the star of gastronomy of Kyoto.There are different varieties, all so delicious and come with step-by-step instruction card on how to eat them. Food court at the top of Kyoto station or Yodabashi store has many eateries with hearty meals.( Vegetarians have other options !)

Osaka

An evening in Osaka isn’t complete if you are not in Dotonbori. The electric streets with neon lights has a lot of food options, especially for crab lovers.

We chose to get away from the glitter and glow to amble along the canal that gives you a bit of a Europe-like feel. Dinner at this family run restaurant was a real treat and the hosts made you feel at home. Even though their English wasn’t so good, the smiles and hospitality made up for it.

Top places to see Cherry Blossoms in Japan in Spring

The cherry blossom flowering in spring or the Sakura season is dependent on the snowfall, temperatures of the preceding winter and the geographical location. Generally, the milder the climate, the earlier the blossoms open. In most of the major cities like Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place from the last week of March to early April and that is really the time to be in these cities for Hanami (cherry blossom festival).

TOKYO

Imperial castle:

The grounds and the moats surrounding the grand palace is the most grandiose setting for Hanami. There are more sakura trees in the inner parts of the gardens as well where the former Edo Castle was present.

Chidorigafuchi Moat:

Memorise this tongue-twisting name as you cant afford to miss the mind blowing sight of the bowers of flowers and their reflections in the waters of the moat to the west of the Imperial Palace. Especially pretty here at sunset.

OSAKA

Osaka Castle:

The symbol of Osaka is undoubtedly the best Hanami spot in this bustling city. There are more than 4000 cherry trees on the spacious grounds surrounding Osaka Castle. Take leisurely walk here or ride the road train up to the castle for the best selfie spots. Nishinomaru Park in the castle’s western part with green lawns and views of the castle tower that light up in the evening is a great place to have a picnic. There is also a plum grove here with over a 100 varieties of plum blooms to admire.

HIROSHIMA

When you visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the Atomic Park dome, the woebegone symbols of war and destruction and the whole saga of 6th August 1945 unfolds itself before your eyes and leaves you in a very melancholy mood. Stroll down the riverside and you be comforted to see families of the local people of this city having a picnic underneath the cherry blossoms. Join them or go across the river for the “soul food” of Hiroshima or the piping hot Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki for lunch.

KYOTO

Maruyama Park

In the heart of Gion lies the Yasaka Shrine. The park behind offers a green solace and it is the city’s most popular place for cherry blossom viewing. A pleasant place to stroll in the morning as well when there is a cool nip in the air.

Riverside:


The banks of the Kamo River are a favorite place for Kyotoites to relax, stroll, cycle, play ball games, picnic and of course pose for a picture beneath the cherry blossoms. All the tourists don rented kimonos and hairpieces to strike a pose here.

Shijo Dori:

The main street of Gion has many interesting cafes, eateries and of course cherry blossom spots for all the Instagram queens! Some had even hired a professional photographer for an exclusive shoot. Now that’s a good way to preserve these priceless memories forever.

Higashi Hongan-ji or the Eastern Temple :

The grandest head temple in Kyoto is just a ten minute walk from Kyoto Station and the entire boulevard is full of cherry blossoms. Grab some food from the food courts around and have a picnic underneath the trees.

Fushimi Inari :

The pink and white blossoms offset against the bright red of colors of the shrine and the toriis paint a pretty picture. Rendezvous with some more as you stroll along the romantic riverside behind.

HAKONE

The entire route from Odawara station to Hakone is embellished with cherry trees in full bloom.However if you take the Limited Express Romancecar or the scenic mountain railway, as the name suggests, the journey is even more ethereal

IMG_8572 (1).JPG

Kodak zen moment: Plum blossoms in a zen garden….

IMG_20180329_144208 (1)

Spring time is the time for other flowers too…here are some bright yellow daffodils that said “Konichiwa” to me outside my hotel every day !