Saturday, June 27, 2015

Velas Turtle Festival 2015

Velas, is a small village , in the Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra, on India's Western Coast. The reason it is famous is because Olive Ridley Turtles come to this beach to lay eggs, and a new generation of Olive Ridley turtles, makes its way into the ocean every year.

For many years, these eggs were subject to being eaten by predators , including the two legged ones. Then some folks called Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra(SNM)  decided to take this up as a project, and worked towards sensitizing the local population and educate them about saving these turtles .

The  Kasav Mitra Mandal(KMM) and the SNM , every year, organize a Turtle Festival in Velas during February and March. The turtle eggs are protected and the area cordoned off .  The village mobilizes for hosting world tourists . Homestays offering local food and simple facilities  are registered with the organizers . Velas Village is a clean village with warm people who welcome you into their home and lives when you visit during the Velas Turtle Festival , and their  food is excellent and stay very comfortable. There are strict environmental rules that are followed, regarding trash etc, and keeping in mind the sensibilities of the villagers.  Chaotic rushing towards the turtles, and invasive photography is not allowed.

I went there in March 2015. After an overnight road trip from Mumbai, our group reached Velas early at dawn. Enjoyed delicious simple home food . There are fixed 1 hour slots,  planned by years of observation, when the turtle hatching is checked. An hour early morning, and then an hour around 5.30 pm.  The hatched turtles then slowly make their way into the ocean, watched by silently applauding folks, behind a rope , clicking away.  You may not always see a hatching, but we were lucky.

We also visited the Bankot Fort nearby and Harihareshwar , a temple town on the beach, on our way back.

   The clean Velas beach,as yet untouched by commerce, which has spoilt all beaches in Mumbai.

                                       The team leader briefing  our group .

   The turtle eggs  are protected by cane baskets kept inverted around them, and are checked twice a day for a hatching.  There is a special protected enclosure where these are kept, and only authorized folks are allowed inside. Lots of discipline in handling such a festival, and the villagers are to be applauded.

      Notice all the avid photographers and visitor tourists behind the rope boundary.  Rules are strictly enforced. The baby Olive Ridley turtles must have a clear unhindered path to the ocean. 

          And the journey  into this world,  begins for some. All by themselves,  right from birth.  

                           And one more  step  to freedom......

       The slow journey continues,  a short breather,  and the paparazzi click.  As James   Bryant   Conant said  "Behold the turtle.
He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out....

                 The Velas Sea ,  welcoming the turtles.
                                                                   Sands of Velas
A beautiful sunrise in Velas heralding some  hatchings.

A typical Velas home, with a huge forested backyard, and buffaloes .

And, yes , someone is curious about the camera...

A  short walk to the beach at Velas

A typical house in the heart of Velas... an early morning scene

This is the type of vegetation that lines the shore at Velas..

Sunset at Velas

                                               Normal beach activity at Velas

The beautiful blue sea at Velas

Unspoilt by greedy commercial ventures by humans, the coastline has heavy forestation at Velas. The trip to the beach, involves a ten minute walk through some undulating greenery and shrubs, native to the land.

   Me, posing, in a typical backyard of a Velas home.  Coconut and Supari(Betel nut) trees are the norm.  Notice the well .

       We visited Bankot Fort  near Velas the next morning. A square shaped fort, and the place where the first British residency in Kokan was established, it is famous for the usage of a special type of native porous purple stone called  Jambhya stone.   Surrounded by a now dry moat, with the usual fortifications , there is a Maruti temple at the centre of the Fort.

                                         A view of the Bankot Bay, from the Fort. 

                                  Typical vegetation at he Bankot Fort in March

                                    Bankot Bay, "framed" from the Fort

  We took a ferry  from the jetty across the  Creek where the Savitri River flows into the Arabian Sea. The ferries accommodate, in addition to people, 2 buses and 2 small cars.  This is the view of the creek as we went across to Bagmandala on the other side of the creek.

                      Another view of the  shores  (Bankot side) of the Savitri River Creek,

     We waded through these floating in the water, en route to the Harihareshwar temple.

                                       Bael fruit tree in the temple courtyard

                       In praise of the Lord ; offerings to the deity at Harihareshwar

                  Reaching Harihareshwar, a temple town favourited by the Peshwa Rulers.   The authorities have provided outdoor vantage points for tourists. Some of our group can be seen  on this part which is attached to the actual temple. .

        A different silhouette view of the same set up.  Harihareshwar beach in the background, where one must be careful about venturing into the sea.

                             The sea at Harihareshwar  and the promenade. We had a local lunch at Harihareshwar before leaving for Mumbai. 

        Very often, devotees ask for something when they worship, and thanksgiving meals are promised in the name of  the deity. This is possibly one such thanksgiving meal being conducted by a family, with the family head and his wife, serving the group at a sit down lunch.

     The rocky beach at Harihareshwar and the environs of the ancient temple with a Nandi in stone  out on the courtyard.  Notice the typical red "chira" stone of Kokan.

                         Another view of the sea at full tide at Harihareshwar beach.

       The omnipresent coconut seller, and the now mandatory notices by the government, exhorting folks not to throw trash around indiscriminately.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trek to Kalsubai., Queen of the Sahyadris ..

This was a trek to Kalsubai, the highest peak of the Sahyadri Mountains in Maharashtra.   The difference between this trek was more than that of region. This was not a Fort.  It was also the first monsoon trek of 2015 , as the heavy rains had set in .

Kalsubai,  5400 feet above sea level, lies at the border of the Nashik and Ahmednagar Districts, near Bhandardara.  At the top of the mountain, is a  small temple which can hold just 3 people.   Since this is also a pilgrim spot, besides being a trekking destination, the government has installed railings and ladders  along the way , particularly across difficult rock faces, for the safety of all.

As a result, there is always some traffic on this trail,  with someone even setting up a  Kanda Bhajiya stall somewhere high up in the mountains.   In fact , the person carrying a sack of onions, was climbing the mountain along with us.

Thanks to the monsoon clouds, we were unable to see across the various other ranges (the Kulang, Madan and Alang Forts) , of the Sahyadris from the peak, which are normally seen on a clear sunny day.

We traveled to Kasara, by suburban train on the Saturday night, reaching there by 3 am. We shifted to the village Bari, at the base of Kalsubai , where we stayed the night and at  6 am,  were served a delicious poha breakast by the locals.

The return was by the same route, after descending and a wonderful local lunch at 4 pm .

                                   The place where we  rested for the night.

       View from the place where we rested for the night, what remained of it, 4 am to 6 am....

                  Our amazing delicious unlimited breakfast of Kande Pohe with tea , cooked by the viilagers.

                    Trekkers grouping together to leave the village, Bari.

Briefing by the Trek leader before starting.

     This part of a woman's life never changes, regardless of which part of India you travel.  Pumps get updated with new numbers, but the chores remain the same.  At Bari Village.

    This gushing stream is usually a torrent by the end of the monsoon, and trekkers wade across holding each other and ropes.  This being just the beginning of the monsoon, it was easy to cross from Bari to the base of Kalsubai.

          The land being tilled at Bari. Rice cultivation . And the looming monsoon..

       We traversed the paths between fields on our way to the base of Kalsubai.

                                                  Sighting the first waterfall

     It is 2015, but her life does not change. Bringing drinking water from a distance , remains her job.

             The green and the wet, inviting us to sit on our way up.

                          Beautiful local flowers  sighted while climbing up.

      These dogs are a well known aspect of Kalsubai Treks.  They like to accompany trekkers, and are fairly nimble trekkers themselves, and do not use the special ladders and stuff across rock faces.  This fellow accompanied me right till the peak.

A local residence  as we climb up the mountain

A prominent small temple at the lower slopes.

                                  The local deity, the Hanuman Temple

                                    The warmth of faith on a cold and foggy day

At this point, we were just half way up the mountain .  The trekkers enclosed in the cold and the fog .

A clearing, a meeting and a celebration !

         Trekkers enjoying a much needed break. This place has a huge traffic of trekkers. The folks you see are not all from our group.

         Railings installed by the authorities  for the convenience of pilgrims and trekkers.

    The piece de  resistance of the entire trek ! Hot delicious freshly made kanda (onion) bhajias (fritters), freshly made  somewhere near ladder no 4.  We had them both on the way up and down, along with tea !  

   This fellow  accompanied me all the way  from the base to the peak of Kalsubai. These fellows do not use the ladders meant for human trekkers. They simply and nimbly  climb up themselves...

                                              Like us, he too needed a breather .

       The small temple to Kalsubai at the peak. A traditonal puja is held by the local priest every Tuesday and Thursday, and locals regularly climb up here to sell pooja materials while their cows graze amidst the green. At Navratri, there are daily pujas, and even stalls are set up near the summit for the visitors and devotees. 

                                                 All part of the temple

                       The trishool, with typical offerings to the Goddess Kalsubai, consisting of green blouse pieces, bangles , vermillion and ornaments.

       Celebrations, bells, colored cloth offerings ,  marking the auspicious occasion.