Sunday, 13 August 2017

Hiking in Germany (Aachen): Eifel National Park

Date: 5/6 Aug. 2017

Meeting time was scheduled at 8.00 AM outside Eindhoven railway station (Netherlands). I had to rush from my home to park my cycle outside the station. We reached at almost same time, I dumped my ruck-sack in Martin's car and we set the destination to the wilderness of Eifel National Park (Aachen, Germany). Martin was originally from Germany and was working in Eindhoven.

The triangle island is known as 'Island of love'
The Heimbach railway station was nestled perfectly in several shades of lush green, surrounded by mountains on all sides, while gushing sound of Rur river filled the atmosphere. Heimbach has an Information center (near the railway station) which provides tourists with all the necessary details. We bought a map for 1 Euro. The map covers all the information needed to explore the 100+ sq. km. of wilderness and trails in the National Park. The trails are well marked with wooden direction markers, well maintained, with some sections being disable-friendly. The map describes it all- the bus routes, parking area, National park gates, information centers, camping areas (it is not permitted to camp inside the Reserve except the marked camping areas), restaurants and more.

Day 1: We did a combination of trail T2 and trail 19. Total distance at the end of day 1 was 25 km. We had parked the car a little further from the dam.

Direction markers at major intersections
Some trails are just meant for trekkers, cycles are banned here

Many sections are disable-friendly. The picture above shows the braille based information-board for helping the blind people. 

An old destroyed bunker

My tent on the left and Martin's on right

I had prepared pumpkin salad (श्राद्धाला जी बनवतात, तिच भोपळ्याची भाजी). It tastes superb with cheese and bread. That was my dinner!

Me and Martin
Day 2: We did a combination of trail 14-13, trail 49/79, trail Catpath (the trail marked with cats face) and the final trail 09-39 along the river, back to camping grounds. We started at 10.00 AM and reached at 15.00 (no rest, no lunch). Total distance covered at the end of day 2 was close to 30 km. At the early start we caught the sight of a swooping reed-deer and a high-perched Eagle. Out of the total 7000 animals, we spotted just a few. The National park is also famous for wildcats, deers, fox, wood-peckers, beetles etc.

Tip: Start the hike early in the morning to catch the sight of some wild-animals. Be prepared for sporadic rain-showers. 

A fact to note- Somewhere in the deep forest, lies hidden about 50 active landmines (from WW-II era). These are glassmines and are not damaged by the moisture and are neither sensed by the metal detector. These parts of the forest are fenced and it is strictly forbidden to enter. 

Graves of young, 18-20 yrs kids-soldiers
These graves belong to the kids aged between 18-24 years, who lost their lives fighting during the World war II. The engraving on the grave-stones reads 1920-1944, 1924-1944 etc. These graves marks the dark phases of the WWII history.

Abtei Mariawald
A slug

आमची गोमाता !!
The specialty of this Nature park is that, the forest-patches are left untouched, allowing unrestrained growth of the naturally occurring trees like beech, untouched by humans. Meaning, there were many sections of the forest where human presence was banned completely. I found this similar to what we have at Koyna wild-life reserve (कोयना अभयारण्य) in Maharashtra, India. The forest beyond the Nageshvar and Vasota forts are banned for trekkers and breaking the law calls for heavy fine. The forest department is very particular about the same.

This rather unique ant-hill is made from the dry pine-needles. It was surprising because, I had seen mostly the mud-based ant-hills in the Sahyadri ranges (सह्याद्री) and in some lower-Himalayan regions. I preferred to experience this beauty from a distance :)

Hengebach castle
The Hengebach castle is visible from far away. It is closer from the Heimbach station. We took the left turn, the trail back to our camping site along the river-banks. The last leg of our hike was very rejuvenating, fully along the tree-cover. Starting at 10.00 AM in the morning, we had walked ~30 km till 15.00 hrs, without food (we could now feel our feet).

Monschau- another medieval German city to the south-west of the national park, is nestled in the mountains along German-Belgian border. Being famous for its Christmas market, it has several museums, fancy streets, a 13th century castle and the timber-houses which are heritage of Monschau. This city is not well-connected by public transport and one needs to arrange their own.

This grain is used to make black-bread
The trail entered the village at many instances. Not to mention the clean villages, free from general picnic crowd. Most of the houses were equipped with solar-panels, mounted on the roof-tops.

A pretty village, people lazying in their gardens, enjoying their weekend-afternoon. The majestic wooden architecture which spanned the exteriors of the houses, coupled with the flowers of different colors, shapes and sizes with the creepers crawling along the bridge-trusses, made it one of the most picture-perfect scenes.

Countryside, outskirts of Heimbach
A human for scale- Turbine
Rur Dam- 2nd biggest dam in Germany
The backwaters of the Rur-Dam attracts everyone irrespective of their age and interest group- cyclists, hikers, campers, sailers, kayakers, swimmers, motor-cyclists, young and old. In 2 days, we covered distance of ~50 km. For me, it felt like walking in the dark-forest along Koyna-backwaters. But only difference was that, Eifel Nature park is quite safe for hiking and well-marked. It is just 2 hrs drive from Eindhoven station!!

Life is more fun when you are a student 😊

Monday, 15 May 2017

Rockclimbing at Grönbrinksberget (South Stockholm)

Date: 14th May, 2017

This is yet another crag located in the Södertälje (Fituna, South of Stockholm). The area can be accessed by SL bus (Line 783, Fitunavägen). The topos were rated from simple 5 to 6b+, 6c. The average height of the rock-wall was around 70-80 ft. The cracks were excellent part of the crags. A bit simpler crags (about 40 ft. high) at Vårdberget can also be checked-out. .

My attempt at cracks
The best season to visit Grönbrinksberget is just before the summer starts. The vegetation growing on the rocks sometimes can cause obstacles or minor injuries.

Another nice crack
High up..
View from top

The early hours outside KTH metro station

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Rockclimbing at Vårdberget (South Stockholm)

Date: 1st May, 2017

The area is close to Fituna (Södertälje). The area can be accessed by SL bus (Line 783, Fitunavägen). The routes were rated from 5+ to 6b and the rock walls are as high as 40 ft. The open side faces Himmerfjärden (a bay) and looks magnificent. A small shelter and fireplace in front of the rocks can be used while camping. 

Another nearby crag known as Grönbrinksberget has moderately difficult routes and are as high as 70-80 ft. 

Reaching the climbing location

The narrow gap opens up in this area

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Trek to Rajgad fort (Via Gunjavane Darwaza and Pali Darwaza)

Fort type: Hill fort (गिरीदुर्ग)
Date: December 2016
Best time to visit: Throughout the year (preferably weekdays to avoid crowd)

Sanjeevani Machi, Rajgad Fort
This was the most unplanned trek ever, yet again, to Rajgad fort. The start was a routine- Train to Pune (Indryani express), travelling to Swargate ST stand (PMPML) and long wait for the Gunjavane direct ST bus (which eventually never turns-up, making us take a ST bus to Nasrapur bypass). A breakfast and tea gets pushed into the long-wait. The bus to Gunjavane, which was scheduled at 11.15 AM shows up surprisingly at 11.45 AM but for Velhe destination, that is the village at base of Torna fort. So we boarded the Velhe bound bus and got down at Gunjavane bypass. 

मेरा देश बदल रहा है, आगे बढ रहा है: The ST bus (आमची येश.टी.) well known by the name- लाल डब्बा, had a local server hosting top quality HD Marathi and Hindi Movies, which was rather pleasantly surprising for all of us. We readily took-out our (not so) Smart phones and took the full benefit of the journey. We also enjoyed educating some (interested) locals around us, how to access the server etc. 

We got down at Gunjavane bypass and opted for an auto to Gunjavane village, avoiding an hour of walking (about 6 km) in the afternoon heat. गुंजवणे गावात मस्त मिसळ-पाव आणि ब्रेड-ऑम्लेट खाऊन, आम्ही झोपायच्या गड चढायच्या तयारिला लागलो.

From Gunjavane village, there are two trails reaching Rajgad fort. One follows the secret entrance to Padmavati Machi via Chor Darwaza and another trail is via Gunjavane Darwaza. Gunjavane Darwaza route is not very common, is less crowded and considered tough by many websites. The picnic-public usually take the Chor-Darwaza route. Now, we made an on-the-spot decision. We decided to take the Gunjavane Darwaza trail to the fort, as opposed to the usual Chor Darwaza trail, to avoid all the boisterous crowd.
As you know, we are NOT a commercial money-monger group, but on the contrary, we make our own decisions, we plan our own treks, with experience, class and attitude, without causing any harm to nature !!
Gunjavane Darwaza trail (गुंजवणे दरवाज़ा): We followed the directions given by काका from the shop- Start the usual trail, enter the gate and follow till the house of a villager. You will find that initially, the trail enters forest. You might also sense the trail descending a bit. We walked along a fence to our left-hand-side and crossed a semi-dry water stream. That gave us a rough direction of the lake- the artificial check Dam known as Pazar Talav. First checkpoint is the Pazar Talav. Every inch of the lake was dry (it was December). The place was well covered by trees and the first information board could be seen lurking out from the bushes.

First Info. board
That is exactly where the trail starts. We entered the forest again, and the tree-cover was thick from this point. Route started climbing gradually. We enjoyed every bit of the trail as the the tree-cover helped us overcome the heat. The tree cover continues till the fort becomes visible near the first clearing. We encountered Mango, Jamun, Teak (साग), Karvi (Strobilanthes callosus) etc trees along the way. As we approach the top, karvi trees started dominating their presence along the slope. The scree also starts about the same time and iron-railings makes it easy safe for negotiating the scree.
The route becomes slippery due to the scree (during Summer) and water (during Monsoon). You can also expect the trail to disappear during monsoon due to thick flora. 
Aaditya and Ninad

Ninad Vilankar
We crossed the Rajgad-Pradakshina trail along the way. The climb started getting steeper as we entered the first (broken) Darwaza through the remnants of old broken steps. By the time we entered the first Maha Darwaza, the Sun was blocked by the Suvela Machi. Yet again, we had the Sun to our advantage. We could see the silhouettes of trekkers climbing down along the Suvela Machi. We could also see the natural needle formation in the mountain- the नेढ. Gunjavane door is constructed in Gaumukhi style architecture (गोमुखी द्वार रचना) of Maratha's, with porch built-in. The structures surrounding the door were constructed with interlocking mechanism, without the use of any adhesives. The typical curved stone-construction surrounding the door was marvelous as usual. The stone steps leading to top of the door, the water-way, and the intricate carvings on the door were mesmerizing and gives us the flash-back of the construction back-then. In all, we crossed a series of three doors to enter the fort at 16.30 hrs. It is not known as which, out of the three doors, is the Gunjavane door (as of 2016).

Gunjavane Darwaza

Capturing moments at Gunjavane Darwaza 
As we entered the fort, we could experience a lot of activity happening. A lot of tents surrounding the Padmavati temple. The group was responsible for the annual Rajgad-Pradikshana. We found an empty spot and pitched our 4-men tent, just behind the temple. For now, we were just three- Aaditya Gurav, Ninad Vilankar and me. The fourth guy- Nikhil Phatak, was on his way, and this following paragraph is his story to reach Rajgad!!

Evening at Rajgad, waiting for Nikhil
Appa Parab had visited Rajgad that day
The Nikhil's entry via Pali Darwaza: Nikhil was sick the other day and he had forfeited his plans to join us. But as we reached Nasrapur bypass, he called us and decided to come on his Bike. He asked us to wait for him at the top, the place near Padmavati Machi, where the trail enters the fort from Pali village. It was already dark and were waiting eagerly for any signs of his existence. We didn't receive any text, any ping nor calls from him. We spent our evening observing the cars, their flashlights and the tiny houses near Bhosalewadi (भोसलेवाडी). The (less known) legendary historian, Sahyadri explorer and a nature lover- Appa Parab, blessed us with his presence on the Rajgad fort. काही व्यक्तिमत्त्वे स्वतःसाठी जगत नाहीत, इतिहासासाठी जगतात, अप्पा परब हे त्यापैकीच एक. As we watched the darkness creeping along the fort walls, there appeared Nikhil Phatak, emerging from the darkness with his torch and a happy face. He braved his illness and came to Rajgad no matter what. It was a pleasant and most awaited reunion then. No words can possibly describe that reunion.

Torna Fort
Night-life and Star-gazing: The picnic crowd was overflowing the the top. We went to an semi-isolated place to see the stars. Ninad was passionately describing each and every details about the galaxies, constellations, planets, meteors etc. The M-constellation, great dipper and way to determine the North star (Polaris), the Dog star, Taurus, Deer-Table-Bow-Arrow combination (Orion or the hunter), the Milky way, the bright star in sky is Venus (शुक्र), Mars (मंगळ) comes out and goes before dawn, Planets dont flickr, Stars do etc. and lots of useful information that is beyond the scope of this article :) The time passed by until the great dipper (सप्तर्षी) came out, which meant, it was very late and we need to be asleep (the picnickers were still shouting their lungs out).

Torna Fort

Fort Exploration: Fort of Rajgad was constructed on the mountain named Murumbadev (मुरुम्ब देवाचा डोंगर). The routes to Citadel or Bale killa, Suvela Machi, Sanjeevani Machi, Padmavati Machi are well marked. The fort is undergoing a lots of restoration (which is good) and some places could be seen with piled-up concrete bags and construction equipment. Bee-hives could be spotted en-route Sanjeevani Machi.

Padmavati Machi (पद्मावती मची): The secret route from Gunjavane village enters this plateau via Chor-Darwaza. This plateau houses a Padmavati lake, Rameshvar temple (Shivling and idol of Lord Hanuman), Padmavati temple, Tomb of Queen Sai-bai (wife of Ch. Shivaji Maharaj) and many remnants of the Raajwada (राजवाडा). The arch-entrance to Padmavati lake is still standing till this date. It is NOT PERMITTED to swim in the lake. Padmavati temple is also surrounded with handful of water cisterns. Padmavati temple can accommodate about 30 people inside. Other attractions were Amberkhana, another squarish Lake, Pali Darwaza (read further for more information), Storage for arms and ammunition.
Group photo at the top
Baale Killa (बाले किल्ला): The Sunrise from the top is always memorable. The route till the top is narrow and exposed at few places but fitted with iron-chains and railings. It is advisable to the picnic-crowds from commercial picnic companies to not shout and make your (super-pleasant) presence known to the nature. It becomes difficult to differentiate between monkeys and such people. Also, it scares the monkeys and other trekkers who visit forts in the quest for peace.

The citadel is the highest point of Rajgad fort. The main entrance of the Citadel was uplifted recently. (The route was even more tough when I was here in 2004 - there were no railings, no chains. This was good back then because it kept away the picnic crowd). The door and its fortifications were given a face-lift, trying to restore the forgotten glory.

The famous Chandrakor lake (चन्द्रकोर तळे) meaning, a lake that resembles the crescent of the Moon, lies further ahead of the entrance, after climbing the series of stairs. The water from this lake is meant for drinking (and it is advised to picnic crowd, not to put your beautiful feet in it). Top has two temples- Goddess Janini Mata (जननी मातेचे मंदिर) and Bramharshi (ब्रम्हर्षी). The name Janini Mata sounded weird because both words, Janini and Mata as the same meaning i.e. Mother. There is a mid-sized cave en-route the Citadel which can be used for pitching a tent. Camping on the top is usually avoided due to strong winds.

Sanjeevani Machi (संजीवनी माची): The double-fold fortification runs along this 2.5 km long plateau. Several secret entrances are built which allows us to come out of the main fortifications. The three-phase construction has a bastions at each end. The famous Aal Darwaza (आळ दरवाजा) can be used to exit Rajgad towards Torna fort along the ridge.  The door has collapsed to a great extent (as of 2016). The ridge can be clearly seen from the end of Sanjeevani Machi. We could see Bhutonde (भूतोंडे) village and edge of Bhatghar dam-backwater. We could also spot some Pradakshina people and the villagers helping them with carrying foodstuff.

Note: The name is Aal (आळ दरवाजा) and not Alu (अळू दरवाजा) as everyone calls it. This was clarified to us by the historian Appa Parab (when we went back to the Padmavati temple).

Sanjeevani Machi has series of water tanks, but the potability of that water could not be judged. We spotted some collapsed construction and some short shrubs covering them. The stone blocks can be seen here. For calm and interested trekkers, there is a narrow short-cut route to Suvela machi directly from Sanjeevani Machi. I do not recommend it for new trekkers and picnic crowd.

Suvela Machi (सुवेळा मची): This is yet another three-fold construction along the eastern side of the fort, starting with Duba hill. Compared to Sanjeevani Machi, this Suvela Machi has more tree-cover. Kaleshwar buruj, Nedha, Hasti Prastar are some well known locations on this Machi. Nedha (नेढ) is a naturally formed hole through the mountain. Nedha can be seen on other mountains/forts like Nakhind, Madangad, Gorakshanath (in Manmad region) etc.

Descend via Pali Darwaza: Ninad and me, we decided to descend via Gunjavane darwaza route and Nikhil-Aaditya via Pali Darwaza route (Nikhil had his bike parked in Bhosalewadi and Aadity decided to join him and explore bit of Pali route). The trail to the Pali Darwaza is the easiest and offers the view of Torna fort throughout the trail. The route is also termed as Raajmarg (राजमार्ग ). It is big enough for an full-grown elephant to enter through this route (easily). Some door construction has fallen apart restricting the ability to view the top of the door.

Pali Darwaza
(Special credits to Aaditya and Nikhil for their help with the Pali Darwaza description and photos)

Pali Darwaza

During Monsoon season, the approach road to Bhosalewadi is not recommended for private vehicles as it gets mud-lodged (as of 2016). Also, there is no public transport available from Bhosalewadi or Pali village. 


Nikhil Phatak with his Bike
Ending note: From Swargate, if there is no direct bus to Gunjavane village, then bus to Velhe village or any bus going via Nasrapur bypass is good. From Nasrapur bypass mini vans and jeeps ply to-from Gunjavane village. For return journey, if you do not find any transport from Gunjavane village, then walk 6 km to Gunjavane bpass and try your luck. There's more chance to get a ride. Last bus from Gunjavane to Swargate is at 4.00 PM (as of 2016. Timings might change. Ask at the base village before starting the trek). The water from Padmavati lake, Chandrakor lake is meant for drinking hence don't pollute it. During peak summers, the whole village at the base depends on those lakes.