Wednesday, 6 May 2009

High on Rajmachi

Often, some trips, some treks lodge themselves in memory and refuse to budge. What makes them so memorable is usually a very disastrous incident. Injured trekkers, water shortages or even adventures of roughing it out in the outdoors in the mornings (ahem!) are part of the deal. But the trek to Rajmachi last weekend, on the 1st and 2nd of May, had none of these. It was, well, ordinary. Almost forgettably so. But even then, I remember it well enough to write this piece. I remember it well because in some way, all of us were high on Rajmachi.
So there we were after weeks of co-ordinating. Twelve of us met at the Lonavala station, all geared up to the long walk up to the fort. The demographics of the group were slightly unusual. Being an unofficial trek, the number of ex-students (Anish, Rohan, Rucha, Gayatri and Jovy) was almost the same as the number of current students (Anujeet, Vallari, Mili, Ryan, Supraket and me). We even had a non-NC member, Kedar, with us.
In his usual Commander-in-chief style, Anish rounded us up and began the march towards the fort at about 6p.m. But all this was not before we ensured that all of us had at least 3 litres of water and enough food to last the night.
Now, loaded with enough water to flood the fort and bags full of Cup Noodles, we started walking. The first stop of our destination was to be the Tungarli Dam, which was the beginning of the actual trek. To reach here we passed the quiet bylanes of Lonavala. Here, I take a moment to mention that Lonavala was a beautiful place. I use the past tense here, because Mumbai seems to have slowly clawed itself into this quiet hilly resort in the form of empty Pepsi bottles and gutka packets which litter the floor. Also, if I have seen a place with an even bigger stray dog problem than Mumbai, it is here. Nevertheless, we walked on till a point where human encroachment (illegal or otherwise) reached a minimum. The only reminders of the scary metropolis in the making below were huge gravel-laden trucks and monstrous bulldozers. According to Mili, our very own Lonavala girl, they were making a road on the hill, which once comfortable motorable, would enable the government to sell the surrounding area. Hmm…
Our trek upwards, was oddly, not upwards at all! We were sort of walking, endlessly, on a long undulating path. It was narrow and covered with dust and gravel bits thrown off from the bulldozers. We went up and down and up again. We walked at a comfortable pace too, lest Mili (with excess baggage in her backpack) and I (with excess baggage on me!) were lagging behind! But in spite of our comfortable pace we managed to cover enough distance while daylight was still on our side. Then, the best part of the trek began.
Walking in the dark has a different charm about it. Firstly, it’s never completely dark. Once your eyes adjust, there’s this ghostly glow on everything. It’s not extremely beautiful. It’s more surreal, if anything. We could probably have walked on for what seemed like ages. The terrain rarely changed. It was the same undulating road, with either barren land or interruptions of dry vegetation juxtaposed against the now blue, black surrounding earth on both sides. That’s when a sort of a high sets in. it’s what makes feet fall in front of each other even when they’re tired. It’s this high we all were searching for. It’s exactly what makes 12 people come to the middle of nowhere and exert themselves after a tiring work week. Some call it Biophilia. In some cases its spread by the infectious bite of the WCNC Bug. Highly contagious…
At one point we halted at a small rocky junction. A quick break for tired feet. We even came across a lone trekker. There is probably something even more romantic about walking along these trails alone. We would never know. Our group by now had connected well. Almost all of us knew each other from earlier camps and treks. This was a good time to catch up.
There were parts of the trek when it got too dark. It was where there were sufficiently dense deciduous forests looming over the path to hide away the moonlight. Powerful torches came to aid and we successfully made it through these patches without tripping over rocks or treading over any snakes or other ground-dwelling wildlife in the dark (or so we believe).
After what seemed like a long time, we reached the village at the base of the fort. It’s a hamlet really, with a school and half a dozen houses and shops. A local elderly man advised us to set up camp right there. The fort at night isn’t safe, the villagers say. But coming up till here and not going up would have been pointless. So, on we marched.
In the short hike up to the temple below the fort, Commander-in-chief, along with Comrades Mili, Supraket, Rohan, Jovy and Ryan collected dry sticks, leaves and firewood. While some got busy trying to light a fire to boil water, Kedar was shooting off into bouts of paranoia and was mistaking the local emaciated dogs to be leopards!
But soon, all fear of any non-existent wild animals disappeared and stomachs started growling. After burning all those calories in the hike up, we promptly compensated by hogging on large quantities of cup noodles, parathas, eggs, bread, cheese and popcorn. Ryan, being creative as he is, even mixed a few of these together to come up with a culinary masterpiece!
Nothing could have made the night better, but something did. The one thing that tells you that you’re not in the city- a clear starry sky. It was something amazing. The moon had almost set by then and the stars became clearer. I tried for a moment to locate constellations but gave up. It’s at these times, when you’re looking at huge, burning balls of fire thousands and millions of light-years away that you begin to feel infinitesimally small. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Soon, tired and well fed, we dived headlong into deep slumber. The ones who did stay awake longer than the rest had to listen to the sounds of the forest form a melody with the resonating snores of the rest of us. But we only snore when we’re tired, don’t we?
The next morning, we decided to go right up to the top of the fort. After a climb that took not more than 20 minutes, we were overlooking the whole path we had trekked the previous day. It was a view from the top that words like breathtaking or splendid would only belittle. We’d all been to possibly more beautiful faraway places on previous camps. But when you know you’ve walked 13 kms oneway for this, it just make the place that much more special. Finally, we were, literally, high on Rajmachi.
We spent a few silent and some not-so-silent moments there. It was more relaxing than the whole night’s sleep hadn’t been. It really was something else. We even discovered a little bat-inhabited cave on the way.
The way down was quick and almost effortless. We reached the base village where we had a superbly delicious and ridiculously inexpensive breakfast of Poha and Nimbu Pani, prepared by a local household.
By this time it was almost 9 a.m. in the morning. Walking back in the increasingly ferocious sun would have been nothing short of suicide. So we took a jeep back to the station. It was a bumpy ride. But since we were 12 of us plus a driver squeezed into a sumo, we were well cushioned against the impact of the road.
In less than an hour or so we reached the Lonavala. The long trek up, the stay at the temple, the awesome starry sky, the climb to the fort in the morning, everything in less than 24 hours. We were definitely high on Rajmachi.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

all are required to carry woolens or warm clothes as it may be chilly at night due to the rains in Aizawl and Shillong

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nature Camp 2009 Details

NatureCamp 2009 details

Posted in public interest for the NorthEast Camp (CourtesY-CROC)
Bare Necessities

Hey all,

We will need to carry certain stuff. Please take note of the following requirements and Do's n Don'ts:

1) Wear good shoes that are comfortable for your feet and have good GRIPS.

2) Carry lots of drinking water and food. Small one-litre bottles are not enough. Also packets of biscuits get monotonous. Get me some variety in food guys!

3) Remember that deodorants, perfumes, etc. attract insects.

4) Black, white, flower prints and bright coloured clothes, attract insects too. Dull Earth shades (greens, khaki, browns, greys) are your best option.

5) Jeans get heavy and soggy after they get wet. Try and avoid wearing jeans.

6) Carry your cell phones, wallets and other important and expensive articles in waterproof coverings.

7) A dry towel and a change of clothes may come in handy on longer treks.

8) Torches with extra bulbs and batteries are recommended for night treks.

9) A sleeping bag or a bed sheet comes in handy on overnight treks for sleeping and any other smart uses that you may come up with.

10) Rain coats, umbrellas, wind cheaters, warm clothes may be carried as per individual requirements.

11) Carry toiletries and medicines as per your requirements.

12) Carry a cap; it helps even while it's raining.

13) Remember to carry all your garbage back with you in your pockets or bags, to be disposed off in a Dustbin.

Happy Trekking. Cheers!! Croc.

Camp details

Firstly the Camp cost has been increased by Rs. 600 as the cost of the inner line permits issued by the Mizoram Govt. has been revised.

Everyone coming for the camp is absolutely required to submit two passport sized photos and their addresses along with the local police station address to the nature club for the permits.

A Medical Certificate is also required from your doctor certifying that you are physically fit to trek and also mentioning if any of the mentioned medical disorders and conditions are prevailing.
These include
-- Tuberculosis
--Juvenile diabetes
--Anaphylaxis or Allergies
If you do suffer from any of the above appropriate medications and recommendations from the doctor should be followed

College students are required to submit the consent forms within the next two days.

College students are required to carry their college identity cards along with a supplementary Id card (Driving license, any other i card)


9th May Depart from Lokmanya Tilak Terminus. Kurla by the 5645 Mumbai Guwahati express at 7.40 am.Reporting time is 6.30 am for everyone. Baggage checks may be conducted at the station by the railway police so be prepared for it.
Dress conservatively during the train ride and be prepared for very hot conditions as we would be passing through arid terrain and temperatures in excess of 40C
10th May - Passing through Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

11th May- Arrival at Guwahati Station at 11.30 am (But be prepared for delays)
From station, board the buses (we have two of them) and head off to Kalak Shetra. The Srimanta Sankardeva kalakshetra has been set up as a grand exposition of the life and culture of the people of Assam. Named after the greatest Vaishnava saint and the greatest integrator of the Assamese society Srimanta Sankardeva, the Kalakshetra is a multi-Arts complex.It houses a Central Museum where cultural objects and day-to-day articles used by different ethnic groups will be preserved and exhibited, an Open Air Theatre with 2000 capacity to hold folk festivals and to present traditional dance and drama of the State, an Artists' Village which offers the visitors and the residents an atmosphere of the village of Assam, the Sahitya Bhavan which is a library of rare books and manuscripts, the Lalit-Kala Bhavan which has sufficient space for exhibition, art and sculpture workshops, and a Heritage Park. The Kalakshetra has been chosen as the venue for many cultural activities.
Explore the places of in Guwahati. Night halt at Guwahati in Kalakshetra

12th May - Leave for Shillong, Meghalaya early morning. Reach Shillong in about 1.5 hours. Check into hotel at Shillong and drop baggage into rooms and head off to Cherapunji. Explore the numerous stalagmite and stalactite formations as well as the caves and underground water pathways. Cherapunjee means “the abode of clouds”.

12th May - Evening explore Shillong. Night halt at Shillong

13th May - Explore Shillong and the Garo, Khasi and the Jaintia hills. Nigh halt at Shillong.

14th May - Early morning - Leave for Aizawl, Mizoram. It is a 12 hour journey. Reach Aizawl by evening. Explore places of interest. Night halt at Aizawl.

15th May - Aizawl and surrounding places.

16th May - Leave Aizawl early morning for Blue Mountain National Park also known as the Phawngpui National Park, Mizoram.
The Phawngpui National Park is situated in South Eastern Mizoram adjacent to Myanmar border. The highest peak in Mizoram, the Phawngpui (2360m) is located within this Park. The total area of the Park is 50 Sq. Km. The important wild animals and birds found in this Park are Ghoral, Serrow, Barking deer, Sambar, Leopard, Blyth's tragopan, Kaleej Pheasant, Hoolock Gibbon, Common Langur, Rhesus macaque, Stump tail macaque and variety of birds and orchids.

17th May - Phawngpui National Park

18th May - Phawngpui National Park. Leave Blue mountain for Aizawl in the afternoon. Night halt at Aizawl.

19th May - Leave for Shillong early morning. Night Halt at Shillong.

20th May - Leave for Guwahati in the morning. Lunch in Guwahati. Depart from Mumbai at 16.45 for Mumbai.

21st May on the train

22nd May - Arrival in Mumbai at 20.00 hrs at LTT, Kurla

Medication to be carried as per your doctors recommendations. Medications for the follwing are needed
- Stomach infections.
- Pain
-Motion sickness (Avomine)
-Urinary Tract infections

An antimalarial dose is required before travelling to the north east. Consult your doctor.

Leech therapy includes rock salt or tobacco. do carry them with you.

Rain gear is absolutely essential as the monsoons will hit the north east in may.

Good footwear is needed.

Hats and caps are required.

Do carry a notebook and a pen as well as crayons, colour pencils, etc.

Brush up on the north east as well as the places we are visiting.

In the case of emergencies, we have two contacts in the northeast. You may give your parents/relatives their numbers. Please send a request to to get the contacts of these people.

thats one long list. If there are any problems , do contact me.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

WCNC NatureCamp 09

The WCNC Nature Camp this year will be covering the North East region of India extensively. We plan to visit Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Assam.

"Abode of the Clouds”, this is Meghalaya, the destination which soothes the minds of weary travellers. Clouds are always found during the monsoon season nestling in the tropical forest valleys of Garo Hills or in the temperate pine forests of the Khasi and Jaintia hills.Situated in the North Eastern corner of India, Meghalaya is bounded by Assam in the north and east, and the plains of Bangladesh in the south and west. The state covers an area of 22,429 sq. kms with a population density of 78.5 per sq. km.TKhasihe name describes the climatic phenomenon that brings torrential rain to its hills and forests, these same hills and mountains are responsible for this climatic experience as they force rain clouds coming in from the Bay of Bengal to move up - resulting in heavy rain. The Cherrapunjee belt receives the highest rainfall in the world.The higher ranges of the Khasi/Jaintia hills enjoy a cool, bracing, temperate climate while the winters can be cold. The Garo hills on the other hand, is at a lower altitude, and has tropical vegetation. The summer months in Tura, the administrative capital of Garo hills, are warm and humid whereas winters are pleasant with a slight chill.Meghalaya became the 21st State of the Indian Union, when it achieved full-fledged Statehood in 1972. Home to the Khasi, Garo, Jaintia and some lesser known tribes, Meghalaya boasts of a unique matrilineal lineage system practiced by all the three major tribes with some degree of variation. Property is inherited by the women, and the youngest daughter is the heiress of the ancestral property in the Khasi/Jaintia tradition. The Garos have a slight variation, if the youngest daughter is found not worthy, the property may be given to any of the other daughters.

Mizoram lies in the southernmost outpost of North Eastern India, the land of the Blue Mountains. Manipur, Assam and Tripura bind the northern end of this little island of tranquility with neighbouring countries Myanmar and Bangladesh nestling most of the state between them. Evergreen ranges of Mizoram hills with blooms of exotic flora and dense bamboo jungles rise sharply from the plains of Assam in a north south direction. These hills and plunging gorges are criss-crossed by gushing rivers and sparkling waterfalls. Highest among its several peaks is the Phawngpui The Blue Mountain.In sharp contrast to the dense jungles and steep hills is a rugged quilt of lush paddy fields all the way from the center of the state towards the Myanmar border.Oral tradition reveals (there is no known recorded history) that the Mizos migrated from their homeland in China about 3 centuries ago, in search of new pastures and settled in these remote Mizo Hills (Lushai Hills). In the nineteenth century this region was annexed to Assam, under the British rule, as the Lushai Hills District and in February 1972, it became the 23rd state of the Indian Union.

Tripura is one of the seven states in the north eastern part of India located between 22 degree and 56 minutes and 24 degree and 32 minutes north latitude and between 90 degree and 09 minutes and 92 degree and 20 minutes east latitude. It is bounded on the north, west, south and south-east by Bangladesh whereas in the east it has a common boundary with Assam and Mizoram.There is a common belief that the name of the State has originated from "Tripura Sundari" - the presiding deity of the land which is famous as one of the 51 pethos of Hindu Pilgrims. Apart from this traditional view it is believed that originally the land was known as "Tuipra" meaning a land adjoining the water. It is fact that in days of yore the boundaries of Tripura was extended up to the Bay of Bengal when its rulers held sway from Garo hills to Arakan.The history of Tripura as a administrative unit dates back to the days of Maharajas when the territory was a native State. It is significant to note that all though Tripura was conquered by force of arms in 1761, no Political agents was appointed in the State till 1871 - a gap of 110 years.

Charges: Rs. 8000 for students of Wilson College
Rs.9000 for ex-students.

Dates: May 2nd - 19th,2009

Price includes:
1.Travel - Mumbai to Guwahati on 2nd May by Guwahati Express 5646 from LTT, Mumbai and back by the same train on 17th May from Guwahati, Assam.
2.Meals - Veg and Non Veg (Except during the train ride)
4.Forest entry fees.
5.Bus travel within states.

Registration: January 3rd to February 1st,2009

Payment details :
Rs. 2000(NON-REFUNDABLE) to confirm registration before February 1st +Rs.3000 before March 1st (2500 refund for cancellations before March20th)+ Rs. 3000 before April 2nd.

Rs. 3000(NON-REFUNDABLE) to confirm registration before February 1st + Rs.3000 before March 1st (2500 refund for cancellations before March20th) + Rs. 3000 before April 2nd.

For more details on the places on the Itinerary visit

For inquiries contact
WCNC - 9769 455 729
Glen D'souza - 9819 211 523
Eisha Mhatre - 9221 077 365
Disha Pinge - 9819 355 707

Monday, 24 November 2008

Silent? Valley….

It’s one of those days when if you’d say Good Morning, you would really mean it. I mean not just the usual sun-was-shining-birds-were-chirping routine, but a really nice quiet walk in the forest. And what better name would they have found for this place other than Silent Valley.
After a long jeep ride through the forest and short meal of curd rice, I was all set for a good walk. We walked for a short while and reached the river Kunthi. Several members of the group even had a great time shaking the uncertain wooden-iron-rope bridge across the river and testing its strength, and theirs. Fun.
We sat there for a while looking over the river which we were forbidden to jump into. We were about 3 days into the camp (inclusive of train journey) and this was the first real water body in proximity. I am sure more than one of us had resisted the urge the jump out of clothing and plunge in to the water! So as this joy was sacrificed, the youngest of the troop plunged headlong into a photography session by the bridge, soon to be joined by the rest. It is believed that Silent Valley has ever since been echoing of clicks and flashes.
On the way back however, I began to wonder how much longer the name of this place would stay. We were told that one of the reasons for Silent valley being so silent was the absence of a certain insect called Cicada which happens to be very noisy and compensates for the rest of the insect world being largely mute.
We came to a point in the forest on the way back where it was resounding of Cicada. Not one or too but several of them. The sheer vibration the noise was creating in the air would put a Nokia 1100 to shame! Had Shakespeare been alive, he probably would have used this case instead of the rose to prove his what’s-in-a-name jig. But then again, the forest was good, so you don’t really care about the cicada.
We even sat down at a nice little leech-free zone to pen things down before continuing the walk. Not so bad for a good morning in a not-so-Silent Valley.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Tyger Tyger, Burnt away!

It’s almost been a very long time now since the last tiger roamed in the wild. The jungles don’t exist anymore. The balance was upset. The apex predator, a natural indicator gone, herbivore population explosion, deforestation, climate change, global warming,….., the list goes on. There are very few of us left today. We thought we’d make it, but the technology we created wasn’t enough to insulate us. In fact, that is exactly what did us in. While sustainable development is still just a bookish idea, we’re endangered, and edging dangerously close to extinction. Yes, we the humans. The web is upset, and nature is getting back at us. Natural disasters, epidemics and an environment on earth that is hostile to life forms. There are fewer of us than was ever imagined before, and we too are dying out. This is it. They say your entire life flashes before your eyes just before you die…

2008: A few weeks ago, it was discovered that the tiger population was just over a thousand individuals. And that too, is an official estimate. Don’t we all know what a notorious reputation “official estimates” have! So while state governments are in denial mode and most of us anyway don’t care, the stripes are gone for good. Even if they do accept the figures and make genuine attempts to “Save the tiger”, how possible is it? The gene pool has already been reduced. Even if we can make the species go on for a few more decades, it won’t be long before genetic mutation gets the better of the tiger. In breeding will lead to cubs being born with defects that will make survival in the wild even more difficult. They too will be gone some day. All the tigers. Just pictures left behind, to teach the kids. In those pictures, somewhere among the stripes, she’ll look at us again. A blank stare.

The 21st century: I remember standing in the Shahu Palace of Kolhapur. It’s a museum today. There were glass cases full of stuffed animals. One particular case had several tigers. There were cubs, males, females, almost every size. I remember being told that killing a tiger was considered a sign of valour for the royalty.
Picture this:
A hunting party vs. a solitary animal
Men armed with guns vs. a tiger armed with nothing but its own ill-adapted body
Men on elephants vs. a tiger on foot, soft velvet paws
A planned murder vs. a struggle for survival
… and valour they called it. I remember those eyes looking through the glass. Those dead eyes. A blank stare.

The 20th Century: independence, many were to discover, didn’t come cheap. I live in a village in India. I don’t know what freedom means to me. It hasn’t brought me anything. The forests were my land. It was taken away from me. I know I need to feed myself, my family. When people are willing to pay money for poaching, for buying fur, bones and almost every part of the tiger’s body, I don’t hesitate before I shoot that animal stuck in my snare trap. But I remember that face, which haunts me sometimes. As if it were saying something to me. A secret message. A blank stare.

Late 19th century: “Buffalo calves were tied in the jungle as bait. About fifty elephants were sent out to circle the place where the tiger was likely to conceal itself. Then, when the ring was ready, orders were given for a couple of elephants to go inside and find out where the tiger was hidden. The tiger which remained encircled for such a long time usually got enraged, charging at the elephant that went near it. In the beginning it’s exciting, but after a while, the tiger becomes exhausted and lies down… With two or three rings being made a day, I have seen hundreds of tigers being shot.”
-Maharaja Bahadur Banali’s Acount in a Manual on Tiger Hunting.
I came across this account while I was watching a documentary on the British Empire. This documentary also went on to say that in just ten weeks, Viceroy Lord Linlithgow’s hunt killed 38 rhino, 27 leopards, 15 bears and 120 tigers. The visuals were shocking. Men standing over the corpses of scores of tigers. Congratulating each other for having brought home another rug. A rug with a blank stare.

There are centuries of memories. I have seen the tiger. I killed it. I will pay for it. I am the last Homo sapien left on earth. Possibly the last in the universe. I look up at the blank, cloudless skies. Just as blank, as the blank stare.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


*Came across this poem in a book I'm reading and I thought a lot of the Nature Clubbers could relate*

Wander, wander,
the urge to roam,
to dance,
to fly,
to be,
the search for
the need to see
to go
to find
to search
to do,
my thirsts
so easily quenched
so close to home
and yours so grand,
so elegant,
so marvelous,
climbing mountaintops
and elephants
and tiger hunts
and dancing bears
and far off stars
and trips to mars
and all of it
so wild,
so vast,
so free,
as you go wander,
and then the best
part of all
when, satisfied,
and happy now,
you wander
to me.