Monsoon Trekking in the Sahyadris: Put on your shoes--Sabira Fernandes

Monsoon Trekking in the Sahyadris: Put on your shoes--Sabira Fernandes

The monsoon that hits the western coast of India from June to September is a time when the earth speaks a beautiful, verdant language. The rains bring a renewed life the population, after the hot, at times sizzling hot, summer spell. Lethargy becomes a thing of the past and every sentient being is upbeat.

While one would love to sit indoors and watch the rains unleash their pleasant fury, it is always nice to go out and soak in the rains. And what better manner to do that than climb up a mountain where you can be one with the clouds? Rain conquests include trekking, swimming in pools formed by waterfalls, watching the waves break at areas near land, and one spin-off we hate--traffic jams and crater-like potholes, especially in Mumbai!

Trekking in the rains is an activity that traverses age barriers. There are soft treks--for kids; medium treks for those who are really inclined to climb, and hard treks for those wanting to conquer the mountains. One day, overnight, and weekend treks are just the things you should get into. The cold mist enveloping you, the sting of the raindrops, the sheer thrill at the summit… this is what life is really all about of.

In India, along the west coast, Maharashtra is graced bythe Sahyadri Mountain Range, also known as the Western Ghats. It runs parallel to the western coast. This is a 1600 km stretch of ancient mountains. winding down from the southern end of Gujarat, cutting through Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and ending at the southernmost tip of India, in Kanyakumari.

Kalsubai Peak, near Ahmednagar, is the highest in therange, at 1,648 metres, in Maharashtra; while Anamudi (2,695 metres), in the southern part of the range in Kerala, is the overall highest peak in the Western Ghats.

Now for some history
The Western Ghats are part of the Deccan Plateau formed during the break-up of the super-continent, Gondwana, some 150 million year ago. Older than the Himalayas, the Ghats are sometimes referred to as the Great Escarpment of India. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and one of the world’s 10 “hottest biodiversity hotpots”, with flowering and non-flowering plants, fruit trees, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, molluscs, fish and many undiscovered species. It also has 325 globally threatened species.
The characteristic Montane Forest Ecosystem influences the Indian monsoon weather patterns. The Ghats act as a key barrier, intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer. The Western Ghats feed the perennial rivers, mainly Godavari, Kaveri, Krishna, Thamiraparani and Tungabhadra, which flow eastwards due to the gradient of the land, and drain out into the Bay of Bengal; while tributaries of these major rivers--Mandovi, Zuari, Tunga, Bhadra, Bhima, Periyar among others, flow west into the Arabian sea.
So, what to expect when you trek these mountains?
History and mythology; flat tablelands and undulatinghills;forts and caves; flora and fauna; green valleys and white waterfalls; tepid sunshine and stinging rain; clear views and heavy mist; tiredness and exhilaration! That is what you will behold. And the feeling lasts through the entire year.
This section of the Ghats in the Sahyadri Range is full of cultural and archaeological significance. Rock type changes talk of the age of the area, and the forces that made the area. Turquoise shines out of rock faces, crystal clusters and pods are just all around; of course the urban legend says it is bad luck to pick the turquoise and crystals off the cliff-faces.

Caves belonging to Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism dot the terrain; dating as far back as the 5th century BC. Some are difficult to reach, due to steep climbs, or get a little difficult if it is raining heavily and visibility is mist-laden; while others, like the Kondana Caves, are a haven for kids. The Kondana trek is a flatland, with a gradual climb, and at the end of it is a waterfall near the caves, which provides shelter from the rains and a place to keep you clothes dry, as you indulge in the waters and squeal like a soul in dire need of water.

Forts built by the Marathas are another picturesque feature on the landscape. Treks to these forts make one wonder ‘How did they build this?’ Rajmachi Fort, Harishchandragad, Rattangad, Patta Fort, Bhimashankar, Sinhagad, Lohagad, Rajgad, Raigad and Shivneri Fort are among the awe inspiring fort treks. Kalsubai Peak, (also called the Everest of Maharashtra) and Tikona Fort are high intensity, intensely interesting climbs.

The mountain range is renowned for its hill stations--Matheran, Lonavala, Khandala, Panchgani, and Mahabaleshwar. These are also the starting point for many treks. Trekking through these mountains is wish-fulfilling, and a respite  for your soul.

Other interesting tours and treks are the Historical Tours, which take you to the Elephanta Island and caves (off the Mumbai coast), the Ajanta and Ellora caves; the Architecture in caves treks; the tribal villages and ashrams trek; the Lonar Crater--a salt water lake formed by a meteor hitting the earth during the Pleistocene Epoch. This impact crater and the only hyper-velocity meteoritic impact crater on basalt rock is usually estimated to be 52,000 ± 6,000 years (Pleistocene), although a study published in 2010 gives an age of 656,000 ± 81,000 years.

All along the journey, watch out for birds and wild-life, don’t forget to gaze at the panoramic views from the top, dip into the little rivers and falls across the landscape, and just imbibe the richness that is Mother Nature.

Put on  your trekking shoes, and let’s go!

Sabira Fernandes A Branding and Communications Consultant, Sabira holds a Masters Degree in History, and a Diploma in Marketing Management. A veteran web content writer, she relaxes by reading, and pumps up her adrenaline by running the Mumbai 21 kms half-marathon every year.
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