Friday, February 22, 2013

Audio Guides : Trustworthy Assistant !!!

What do you 'must have' with you while visiting any Historical place? 

When we visit any Historical place, we see various buildings, monuments and other structures but hardly know the intentions behind these architectures. Maharashtra is having more than 300 forts but we are not aware of intelligence behind their constructions. This way, we are not been able to pass on our history to next generation, reducing their interests in learning pasts.
Guide - What is your experience about the word? When we enter any historical place, group of people huddle you, insisting you to buy their services. Right? All we need from a guide is an authenticity. I have seen many such guides who put excessive emotions and exaggerations in war stories. This also discourages us from hiring Guides. I think guide should be an intelligent, knowledgeable person who himself be huddled by tourists for his services. Unfortunately, our society does not provide such status to these guides. Financial aspect is another thing that prevents knowledgeable persons getting into this profession. That's enough of problem now :-) . 
I was in Delhi during year end. While cruising at Red Fort, I came across with one exciting concept - Audio Guide. I was handed one device with headphones connected to it. This device was looking like any calculator with similar one line display. 

Audio Guide Device

It was very light weight and reliable device providing high quality digital sound. All the history of Red Fort was fed in MP3 format inside that device. All you need to do is press the number on the device, written at any particular spot. 

 Press the number and get 'lost' into History

The narrator was having very much ideal voice required for such historic stories. Classical music with appropriate instruments was added to the flavour perfectly. I was stunned within first few minutes and suddenly got rid of the crowd around. It was like-never-before experience I ever had at any of the  historic places. 
Lost into the Past !!!

The audio tour took me to the past with detailed and authentic information. As this is just a device, repetitive listening is another benefit. Just remember, you get involved deeply to forget the time you have !!! Visit such places having ample amount of time in hand (We were to visit Akshardham temple after Red Fort but had to drop the idea as it was too late here only)
Do not bother at all hiring such devices as the price behind them is definitely worth. You would not regret it for sure. (I paid some INR 75 for Hindi and INR 125 for English). These audio tours are now also available at many more places like Taj Mahal, Hawa Mahal, Jaisalmer Fort, Mysore Palace, Udaipur City Palace and Shivaji Vastu Sangrahalay Mumbai. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dudhsagar Waterfalls Trek

Before you plan :

It is very important to know geography of Dudhsagar falls before you proceed and book your train tickets. Dudhsagar lies between Castle Rock and Kullem. Castle rock is last station in Karnataka. This patch between Castle Rock and Kullem is a steep slope of 25 km, known as Braganza Ghat. There are 2 small stations between Castle rock and Kullem - Karanzol and Dudhsagar. (Don't expect signboards, cabins or anything like other stations!)

Castle Rock (0) - Karanzol (7 Kms) - Dudhsagar (14 Kms) - Kullem (25 Kms)

Every goods train going downwards Kullem, halts at these two stations. These are not official halts though, breaks and other technical tests are performed at these points. While coming up, goods trains do not stop at any of these stations due to steep rise - unless there is a crossing. All Passenger trains stop at these stations both ways. Its better to book tickets till Kullem so that you can alight at any of the stations on the route.

Day 1 : Friday 13th July 2012
Pune Station 4.15 pm.

We boarded 12780 Goa express at 5 in the evening. The journey started after some meet and greet as there were few unknown faces. We were 22 members in all - distributed across 3 different bogies. I did not understand the composition of train. Pantry car was between the two Sleeper coaches unlike splitting AC coaches from Sleepers. It was sort of mini trek to pass through pantry car every time!! I couldn't dare look into the kitchen as our dinner was ordered from same pantry. :-). After settled down, firstly we tried to meet our expenses against contribution. Devidas the expert, took charge and made sure that every penny is accounted. Meanwhile, Kedar was busy in attending every pantry salesman. He made sure - no pantry guy goes back with empty pocket and his stomach does not remain empty even for a minute. He has this habit of eating everything that comes to him, since his childhood - he told us later.
Our 12780 Goa Express (More Photos)

We could not discuss details, like - which station to alight at, starting point, end point of trek etc. so we had this session before dinner time. Most of trekkers alight at Castle Rock and trek downwards to Dudhsagar. They arrive at Dudhsagar by afternoon. We decided otherwise - alight at Dudhsagar, spend enough time at the falls and trek back to Castle Rock. We had train to catch at Castle Rock by 5.30 in the evening. This decision paid big time, How? - you will come to know later.

Day 2 :
Castle Rock station 3.00 am.

One TTE was trying to convince us to start the trek from Castle Rock like others. When we decided to stick to our original plan, he asked for our tickets - tickets were till Kulem so he was bit disappointed and disappeared :-). Our 'watch'man duty started as train departed Castle Rock. Me and Abhijeet were standing at doors as others were busy in a competition - whose torch is brighter !!! Train halted at one point where tunnel count was 5 so it was Karanzol station. Even though it was dark, we could easily experience the wilderness of Braganza ghat while passing through those tunnels and bridges.

Dudhsagar Station 3.40 am.

Tunnel count was 10, train slowed down gradually and stopped. No lights, no sign boards, just one goods train on the neighboring track. We decided to jump out. Till all of us could manage to get out, train was already in a full speed. It was mere 30 seconds' halt. When train left away, we confirmed that it was Dudhsagar station and got relieved. :-)

Signboards before falls (More Photos)

Dudhsagar Falls 4.00 am.
Dudhsagar falls is somewhat 1 Km ahead of station, towards Kullem. We decided to head towards falls as other groups decided to have rest at station itself. Dudhsagar station does not provide any shelter and it was bit riskier as rain started to pour. During this 1 Km walk, we had to cross one tunnel. (Tunnel no 11) It was very dark and cloudy so did not matter whether its tunnel or open sky, just a bit relief from rain inside that tunnel. As we came out of the tunnel, roaring sound of falls took charge and nothing else was audible for next few hours - except those whistling WDG-4 engines of goods trains. There are two sign boards named 'Dudhsagar water falls' before the bridge at the falls. Just before second board, there is one shelter upstairs (left side). We headed towards and were much more closer to Dudhsagar. It was just 4 in the morning so we had no option but to wait till it gets brighter. All of a sudden one goods train came from Kullem and passed through the bridge. It was horrifying sound in the dark and many of us were trying to compensate their sleep, were frustrated by that sound !!!

Dudhsagar Falls 6.00 am.
   Breaking dawn : Dudhsagar Falls (More Photos)

It was 'breaking dawn' and we realized that one of our group with 5-6 members was missing. They were traveling in bogie S3. They could not alight at Dudhsagar station as it was too hard to know the halt. We were bit worried about them - but just for a while. As it was crystal clear, everyone started concentrating on Dudhsagar :-). The area around is deep forests known as Bhagvaan Mahaveer Sanctuary so there is alone sound that breaks the silence and that of Dudhsagar Falls. We saw variety of birds out of which I could manage to identify Hornbills only !! 
                           Western ghats from the bridge

Meanwhile, a goods train with more than 100 rakes (I tried to count but gave up at around 80-85) and pulled by 5 WDG-4s, went through rudely. Everyone started hovering around breakfast items so the quick 'bite' was inevitable. Bread - Jam - Ketchup was on the cards, courtesy of Kaiwalya - we had 'cheese' sandwich at Dudhsagar Falls!! Devidas - palak puri was just awesome too, thanks mate. Prashant provided us Apples and cucumbers with lot of love :-) (His sack was much lighter afterwards!!) Monkeys around, also had their share of breakfast as they started becoming more aggressive at the end. It was brighter enough and everyone was busy again capturing falls from every possible angle.

Other groups were also around and the place became much crowded. We decided to capture train passing through the falls. There is one 'viewpoint', 1 km towards Kullem from where whole waterfall and bridge are visible in single frame. There is a tunnel between falls and viewpoint. (Tunnel no 12). We were about to enter the tunnel and suddenly heard a call distracting us - it was loud sound "Chai - Chai, garam Chai !!!" A badly needed cup of tea especially in rainy morning after having such heavy breakfast. It was a small canteen run by Goa tourism department serving tea, some biscuits and beer. Much needed tea break was added to our itinerary before moving ahead. 

Tunnel 12 and 13 are joint tunnels with just a little gap in between. One can find many photographs on internet, taken at this point where small springs fill the gap between tunnels.

                               Tunnel 12 and 13 (More Photos)

Dudhsagar from Viewpoint is something one can not put into words. It is to be experienced and not to be explained !!! I clicked as many photographs as I could :-). Then, the wait for train began with lot of enthusiasm. Meanwhile a drizzle caused sudden drop in temperatures and we came to know that few of our guys were having Umbrellas for the trek :D.  One by one, impatient members started heading back to falls as there were no signs of train from either ends. Me, Harshad and Amit were still optimistic. It was almost an hour at the view-point without train. All of sudden a whistle broke the silence as one goods train from Castle Rock was coming down. We captured 'the moment' and had a great amount of satisfaction for waiting there a while. Return journey towards Castle Rock began with some serious speed.

Dudhsagar Falls 11.00 am 
                         Dudhsagar from viewpoint (More photos)

Viewpoint is 1 km opposite to Castle Rock hence we were to cover 15 kms in next 6 hrs. Our missing group just reached Dudhsagar as they went all the way to Kullem. They had 11 km trek from Kullem to Dudhsagar :-). I advised them to stay at Dudhsagar and board Goa Express at 4.30 in the afternoon. 

We covered first 3-4 kms within 45 mins. It wasn't an easy task to walk between rails. Firstly, you need to have calculated steps as these slippers are very much closer. Secondly, beware of yellow carpet between tracks ! Have brighter torches inside tunnel or stop at every spring en-route !! Some of us already started asking about remaining distance to trekkers coming from Castle Rock. There was alone patch a bit challenging - Escarpment Viaduct. Nothing to worry as such - there was enough space by the side of track, it is advisable to cross via-duct through that side-bridge. Being via-duct, height was reasonable. There is beautiful tunnel at the end of bridge. As we crossed the tunnel, Chennai Vasco express went through, it was 3rd time in row, we were out of tunnel and train passed through!! 

                               Escarpment Viaduct (More Photos)

Karanzol Station 1.30 pm. 

We were 7 kms from Dudhsagar as Karanzol station was in sight. We decided to have a short break at this station. We had chat with one group from Bengaluru heading towards falls. They had stay in their plans hence were well-equipped with sleeping bags and other essentials. We were very much tired and thought of 'remaining 7 kms' made us more helpless. All of sudden, we heard a noise of goods rain climbing up towards Castle Rock. I decided to keep my cam between tracks to have a crazy video, had a second thought but still decided to keep it. Kaiwalya put a coin on the tracks. 

As half of train passed by, speed was drastically decreased. Train stopped at Karanzol and ray of hope came out !! One of the guys at station told us that engine driver may give us lift to Castle Rock. I took my cam, started running towards end of train. We ran like crazy and asked one of the 3 engine drivers for a lift. Yes, we got it without much efforts. It was crossing of Amaravati Express at Karanzol station so this goods' train was shown red signal. 

                        Our first ever engine travel through WDG-4 

We were standing at side deck of engine. This was last of three WDG-4s at the end of train. Half an hour after, we left Karanzol to start our first ever engine travel. It was lot of joy and craziness but only till a tunnel came across. I can tell you, the enjoyable experience turned into horrifying when we entered tunnel. The steam, smoke or whatever those 3 engines thrown out - burnt us totally. 5 tunnels appx 300 - 400 mtrs in length, looked like 3-4 kms in length !!! After couple of tunnels, Me and Kedar had an opportunity to enter driver's cabin. Our beloved driver asked everyone to come in but with lack of space and full of craziness, others decided not to join us inside. 

                                               Here we go !!!
Castle Rock station 2.30 pm

Distance upto Castle rock was covered by train in 15-20 mins. We were looking like mechanics from a garage, especially Sandeep - it was hard to identify him (He had a bath at waiting room later on !!) With quick 'washing' break, we had a much needed snacks at Castle Rock station : Thanks to Harshad for 'Bhel' arrangements. Some of us had a sleep of an hour or so last night so the compensation began at the station itself. Station canteen reopened at 4 pm to have our post-nap tea. We boarded 12779 Goa Express at around 6, leaving Castle Rock behind with lots of memories and some unique experiences. 
Our decision to trek in opposite direction paid in big time. Firstly, we had enough time to spend at Dudhsagar, we got a chance to see Dudhsagar in the dark, in the dawn and in the day-light. Various forms - equally wonderful and explaining why it is called 'Dudh'sagar. Secondly, our dream since childhood to travel inside train engine came true. I think it was experience we will cherish through out our life. 

Londa Station 6.45 pm

Meanwhile Kedar, once again was busy in finding his wallets as he saw pantry salesmen wandering around!! Me and Harshad also joined him and had almost everything that came to us. We went asleep by 9 to wake up directly at Pune Station. This is how day-full, amazing trek ended.  

Day 3 :

Pune Station 3.55 am

The End. 

Conclusions : 
If you wish to alight at Dudhsagar, be ready at the doors when train departs Castle Rock. Count the tunnels, 10 tunnels to reach Dudhsagar station.

Leave on Friday evenings to come back on Sunday morning. This will give you whole Sunday for rests. Walking along track is not easy as you'd have thought. 

Torch is must have thing as tunnels do not have any lights.

View point is something must visit place without which trip to Dudhsagar is incomplete.

Wrap everything inside your bag in polythene, its a typical forest rain - within couple of seconds you get splashed !!!

Trains make much noise while passing through giving you lot of time to get away from the track. 


Monday, March 16, 2009

Train Diaries : Hemalkasa and Anandwan

Plan : To travel 2500 Kms in 5 days.

Objective : Explore Gadchiroli district and visit sacred places like Hemalkasa and Anandwan in Vidarbha region, that we only know by books!!

Equipments : 150 years old yet - The Powerful IR (Indian Railways) and MSRTC.

Departure date 6th March 2009

The Route : From Pune to Wardha and then Chandrapur, then to Hemalkasa, Bhamragad - southern most point of Gadchiroli district, on the border of Chattisgad and Andra Pradesh. From there, to the lepers home of Anandwan in Warora.

Pune Station, Pune
17.40, March 6th, 2009
KM 0

We were assigned leaves for 3 days, an hour before our train's departure!! We rushed to the station as the train was just waiting for us before leaving Pune. Pune was behind us, behind us was the miserable life that makes you sleepy but don't let you sleep!!  

Sewagram station, Wardha
08.50, March 7th, 2009
KM 790

Sewagram station.............. More Snaps

We had to wait here for another hour or two before boarding our next train which would take us to Chandrapur. Sewagram station is the most beautiful and cleanliest station I have ever seen. The waiting room was also not an exception, so we just unpacked our books. We boarded Jammu Tawi - Kanyakumari express at 10 in the morning, train that runs through almost whole part of North to South and surprisingly was empty at all. This was my second visit here, in an year, after visiting Tadoba last year and the train experience was far far better than last year's. It took 2 hours to reach Chandrapur where train journey ended and State Transport buses came into the action.

12.00 March 7th, 2009
KM 912

Now the real Journey was to begin. We boarded a bus which would take us to Allapalli (Half of the total distance from Chandrapur to Bhamragad) It was two and half hours journey through the densest forests of Chandrapur and Gadchiroli. We were at Allapalli by 3.30 in the afternoon and waiting for a bus, which was probably last bus of day, at 5.30 in the evening. One local boy came to us and was inquiring about out destination, he asked us "Are going to meet Bhau ? (Dr. Prakash Amte is known as Bhau (elder brother) here) we said yes and asked him would we get any facilities like place to stay or food over there? he just said "Bhaunna bhetayla alay ani kasli Takalif zaliy ase kadhich hot nahi!" (You will be provided best possible facilities and will get treated like guests at Hemalkasa) So once again our respect towards Dr. Shri Prakash bhau was multiplied and we just couldn't wait to meet him.

15.30 March 7th, 2009
KM 1042

Bus left Allapalli at 5.45 in the evening. There was no space to stand at all, forget about the seats. We came to know that it was weekly Bazaar day at nearby Taluka place and the crowd was just heading back to their homes. The road was getting more and more narrow and jungle was getting more and more dense. We were very glad to have left behind civilization and were getting closer to the earth. I had read about the Madia Gond tribal - leaving without food and medicines, here I could clearly experience that from the faces of people, darkened by hunger and diseases. Finally we reached Hemalkasa LBP (Lok Biradari Prakalp) at 7.30 in the evening and that was end of our Travel full day (27 hours!!)

19.30, March 7th, 2009
KM 1117

Day 2

The day starts very early here so we woke up at 5.30 in the morning (without any alarm!!). All the guests, doctors and sevaks go for a walk at the time of Sunrise and Sunset. Its 3 kms distance towards the confluence of 3 rivers Indravati, Parlkota and Pamulgautami. We decided to join the group without hesitation for this nature walk. The area is full of various floras and rarest bird species. The sky was full of twilight and suddenly ball of fire came out of horizon. This was one of the best Sunrises I have ever experienced.

Sunrise at Hemalkasa......... More Snaps

We came back by 7.30. We had our breakfast and cup of tea then. Food cooked here is testier as the cooking staff adds lot of love in it. They won't let you go before your stomach is full to its capacity !! We were accompanied by Sachin sir, a young teacher at LBP School who assists all guest exploring LBP, Hemalkasa. He is very enthusing and care taking kind of person so we did not have any kind of difficulty in whole stay here.

Leopard at Hemalkasa......... More Snaps

It was time to visit Animal Orphanage (which is also a part of this project) better known as Amte's Animal Ark. Dr. Shri. Prakash Amte himself came with us just to show how these animals love you if you love them. We were stunned looking at the way Dr. Shri. Prakash Amte was putting his hand in the jaws of Hyena, Leopard and Sloth Bear.

Dr. Prakash with his grandson Arnav.......More Snaps

Next generation is also not behind as Dr. Prakash's Grandson Arnav was thoroughly enjoying the company of all these wild friends. He was handling some poisonous snakes like toys!!! The orphanage is a large family of leopards, bears, deers, birds, snakes and a pair of Jackal having names George and Bush resp. :-)

Dr. Prakash, counting teeth of sloth bear!! ..... More Snaps

Dr. Prakash with Owl

It was already 10.30 in the morning and time for Dr. Mandatai Amte to treat her OPD patients. We saw one shelf consisting huge no of patient cards and came to know that the record of every patient treated here (from 1973) is kept with doctors themselves. "As these Madia Gond don't have cloths to wear; how can you expect them to keep card with them?", asks Dr Mandatai. Every year, almost 40,000 patients get treated here and more importantly - free of cost. Total expenses made on medicines are beyond 10 Lakhs !! Sometimes, these Madia Gond tribal had to walk more than 200 kms to avail these medicine and health facilities. It was necessary to have residential hospital and there is one. One operation theater with X-Ray facilities is also built. (Initially there was no electricity for first 20 years, till 1995 :-)) Some of the patients are kept for more than 4 months to make sure that they are treated well. Obviously, Amte couple is been treated like god here and these Madia people worship them!! Now Dr. Digant, son of Dr. Prakash, has also joined the project.

An emergency case.....Reached after covering hundreds of kms like this

Third and final part of this project is Residential School run for these Madia Gond tribal. Our government, full of educationalists, still fails to provide grant to this school, which was started 32 years ago!! There are more than 600 Madia students, having taste of education. Formerly, it was waste of time and most useless thing according to Madia but the project has certainly changed their mind-set and awareness towards education. All students are housed, clothed, fed and taught here. Many of these students have qualified as doctors, lawyers, teachers and forest guards!! It is mandatory for every student to do one hour of Shram-daan before start of the school. No surprise to see a computer lab with more than 10 computers.

Ashramshala (Res. School) at LBP, Hemalkasa ....... More Snaps

One must visit the project to realize how selfish and small we are, running behind money and all sorts of pleasures for whole life. We always forget about our responsibilities towards our society and country. This work started 35 years ago and is still unknown to many of our countrymen or even to the people of Maharashtra. I have read a lot about teamwork, how Chatrapati Shivaji maharaj got many brave and dedicated people in his troop. Here I could actually see those dedicated people to whom Late Baba Amte brought at Hemalakasa. Many of them like Dada Panchal, just came to visit the place in 1973 and still have not turned back to their homes for these 35 years!! out of imagination, hats off to them !!

We had lunch at sharp 12 in the noon before having a chat with Dr. Prakash and Dr. Mandatai. This area of Bhamragad is total Naxal prone zone and nothing can happen without the concerns of Naxals. With less population density and more forest density, this Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra is obviously not a vote-bank. Neither the politicians nor the government stand behind these people's needs and progress. One must understand how Amte family is working here without any rest for last 35 years. 
We had some reading in the afternoon and left for evening walk towards the rivers. On the opposite bank of the rivers is a village 'Bhamragad' so we cruised through the shops and market area of Bhamragad and updated ourselves about the cricket match held earlier today!!

Sunset at Hemalkasa.........More Snaps

It was time for sun to set; twilight gave place to darkness and everything turned silent on the route. We had a dinner and then saw a movie shot in this area - Laal Salaam. This concluded our second day without any kind of traveling.

Day 3

The day started same as yesterday with a walk towards Rivers. This area of Bhamragad is scenic and most beautiful with confluence of 3 rivers, surrounded by deep forests and hardly any vehicle passes through  -  everything that we read in the books or see in postcards/wallpaper.

River Indravati..........Chattisgad on the opposite bank

The silence here makes you think a lot and one interesting experience we both had here - our mind was always on positive mood; maybe just because of the atmosphere and presence of such people around. We had early Brunch at 10.30 and boarded bus for Allapalli.

We finished with our 2 days stay here at Hemalkasa and started our journey towards Anandwan - the parent concern of all projects! We reached Allapalli by 1.30 in the afternoon and had lemon juice here . A tractor was blown away by Naxalists somewhere around Allapalli so lots of CRPF javans were patrolling on the way.

13.30 March 9th, 2009
KM 1192

We boarded our next bus for Warora at 2.30 in the afternoon and reached Anandwan at around 6 in the evening

Anandwan, Warora
18.00 March 9th, 2009
KM 1390

We had a special room with some reasonable rates (almost NIL). Anandwan ( 500 Acres) is larger in area than Hemalkasa (50 Acres) and one needs complete day to explore it. Anandwan has various projects that are run by the Leprosy patients - Wheel-chair assembling; TV, Refrigerator repairing; even farming is also part of project. We had some reading before calling it a 'day'.

Day 4

Our day started at 7.30 and Shri Prabhu Kaka accompanied us to explore and explain the project. Anandwan was established in 1951 and is up-to its name, has everything for everyone - Uttarayan (Vrudha Ashram), Community living, health care, education, Environmental experiments, Leprosy hospital, rehabilitation of patients. Its hard to explain everything here, one must visit this Heaven on the earth.

Leprosy hospital at Anandwan

Made up of Gutkha packets, in one of the Environmental projects at Anandwan

After visiting all the projects for whole morning, we had a lunch of Puran Poli and hence had to have some rest in the afternoon. It was a day of Holi and everyone in Anandwan was busy in preparations. In the late afternoon, we had chance to meet one more great personality - Smt. Sadhana tai Amte. We were amazed by the enthusiastic Smt. Sadhana Tai. It was great to listen everything from her own - all best and worst experiences she had during the course of life at Anandwan.

Late Shri. Baba Amte's room ......... More Snaps

Sadhana tai then took us to their residence where we had chance to see Baba Amte's room, now turned into a sort of museum. It was not less than a temple or any other holy place on the earth. We had Holi celebrations in the evening and explained our Holy 'Holi' festival to foreign guests. Had a dinner and concluded the Day.

Day 5

We woke up comparatively late, than last 4 days : at 7.30. It was a day of Dhulivandan - festival of colors. We could just manage to escape as everyone was busy in spreading colors! Boarded a bus for Nagpur at 10 in the morning and reached Nagpur station at 12.30. We Had our lunch at Nagpur station and were waiting for our Azad Hind Express!!

12.30 March 11th, 2009
KM 1510

Train was 15 minutes late and we left Nagpur at 16.00. Our books came out of bags but thoughts never let us read and that's the way our return journey started.

Some questions I tried to answer during the Journey - Is our vision too narrow? too Partial? too Rushed? Are our conclusions too Rigid? Maybe.......but this aimless roaming through enormous Hemalkasa and Anadwan has changed me more than I thought!! I am not myself anymore!! At least I am not the same inside!!

Pune Station
7.50 March 12th, 2009
KM 2410

Amey Jambhekar