Save a Turtle at Velas

A tailor made weekend getaway for the people of Mumbai and Pune. This is the Velas turtle festival. A treat for wildlife photographers and eco conservation enthusiasts, Velas not only offers you the opportunity of being part of a conservation project but treats you to some amazing sites nearby as well.IMG_0271

Velas is a small village in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Also the birthplace of Nana
Phadnis, a secretary of the Peshwai in Pune, this village gives you a classic rustic
Maharashtrian feel. A 220km drive from Mumbai, it is located nearby to Dapoli. Some fantastic beaches, tasty Maharashtrian food and the opportunity to save a turtle await you.

What is the Velas Turtle Festival ?

DSC01693The Velas Turtle Festival is an opportunity for the people to be a part of a conservation project of the Olive Ridley Turltes.It is an endangered species of Marine turtles.It is undertaken by the Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra Mandal. Every December-January, these turtles come to the beaches to lay their eggs which are then taken by the volunteers and put in a cage for protection from other animals and humans, who are known to eat the eggs as a delicacy.

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Each turtle can lay upto 3 nests of 100-150 eggs each. These are safeguarded till the incubation period of 45-55 days is over and the hatchlings are released into the sea. The March-April period is when the hatchlings are released into the sea. Everyday at 7am and 7pm, the baskets are opened to see if there are any hatchlings and if any, they are given a grand farewell by the visitors and the volunteers !!!

The festival usually takes place from mid March to mid April as this is a peak time for the hatchlings to come out of the egg. But its no1625751_652442418143898_224009239_nt always that you can see the turtles hatched. Its a natural progression so there can be times when you can see no hatchlings in a particular session.

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We were fortunate enough to see 13 on a Saturday morning .A time when there are generally less number of people. Weekdays have even lesser people. That evening saw a lot more people but no turtles. Perhaps they were shy. The next morning,Sunday, saw a huge crowd on the beach .

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Everybody was standing with bated breath to see if we there any turtles to be released this morning as they could not witness it yesterday. After 3 empty baskets, there was a tiny offspring waiting to go out and live its life.Only one turtle!!!. On its joIMG_0216urney to the sea, it would surely have felt special as there was a posse of photographers in every yoga pose conceivable trying to get the perfect picture. A celebrity surrounded by papparazzi. This lone soldier lapped up all the attention and was swept away with the waves embarking on a dangerous but amazing journey. Its said that they come back to the same beach to lay their eggs. Hopefully, this turtle makes its way back for procreation.

THE EXPERIENCE

The surreal experience of seeing the tiny turtles making their way into the wide open sea is a sight to behold. There were IMG_2383many with me who were disspointed with the experince because it didn’t seem natural but that was the whole point. A natural setup could not protect them from extinction.Just a few hours into this world, and these tiny tots are embarking on a gallant journey of their life. Gallant, because only 1 out of 1000 live upto adulthood and that are pretty scary odds if you are a turtle. The value of a life cannot be measured by the odds it is given but the journey it goes through, however short it might be. If you really get into a contemplative mood looking at the turltes, you can relate to itIMG_2358 better. All this effort to save a turtle, just to send them to a certain death ? That is what its all about.Just like a life given by our parents filled with love and affection before they go out there in the deep sea which will be a hell lot like a the world we are in.

THE HOMESTAY

There aren’t any hotels in Velas. Just some homestays. Kind people throwing their doors open to strangers and showering them with great hospitality. We stayed at the house of Mr. Prakash Joshi. a kin10153211_652481494806657_1937312879_nd hearted soul gracious enough to accomodate 30 people looking for an adventure. A nice and comfortable stay ,somewhat like a dormitory accompanied by some lip smacking Maharashtrian food is all you need to complete this getaway. My favourite was the Koshambir. a pickle like accompaniment which blended beautifully with the rice and dal.

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A list of all homestays that are available in Velas can be found here.

http://www.snmcpn.org/index.php/homestay/velas/kasav-mitra-mandal-velasIMG_0324

BANKOT FORT

A small fort used as a toll collection booth for trade across the Saraswati River, this fort gives some amazing views of the beaches. Its unlike the other forts you have seen which are huge and sometiIMG_0357mes monumental.We received a nice lesson in history by our organiser Sameer Patel. You could sit atop the fort and just gaze endlessly at the beaches and the sea upto the horizon.

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HARIHARESHWAR FORT

A fitting end to an already great experience was the Harihareshwar Temple. Not so much for the temple, but for me it was the beach that took my breath away.
IMG_3018IMG_3003 Harihareshwar is a short drive and a river crossing from Velas. After about 20-30 minutes of a bus ride, we hopped onto a ferry, along with the bus !!!, and crossed the river. Another 15 minutes later, we reached our destinantion.I entered a temple and offered my prayers and came out quickly. Having seen many temples which have mini temples inside them,I could not forsee that the temple I just came out of was the one we were visiting. We the headed onto the beach and lo and behold – a sight so mesmerizing, it actually felt like one of those fantastic beaches straight out of Survivor. If not for the group, I would surely had looked for the hidden immunity idol. 😛 With such a nice setup, it was no wonder that we had photos getting clicked at every second.

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An Ideal Itinerary

Friday
Leave Mumbai at 2200-2230 hrs.

Saturday
Reach Velas at 0530-0600 hrs.IMG_2350
Have breakfast and head for the festival which starts at 0700hrs.
Laze away for the rest of the morning and wait for a delicious lunch.
Head to Bankot Fort at 1500 hrs and enjoy some quiet time over there.
Reach the beach for an evening session with the newly hatched turtles from the past 12 hours.
Sleep for the night.

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Sunday
A third wonderful outing to the beach for more turtles !!DSC01749
After breakfast leave for Harihareshwar Temple.
Lunch at the temple. (A heaven for fish lovers)
Leave for Mumbai and reach by 2200hrs.

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We went with Nisarg Brahman (http://www.nisargabhraman.org/). An amazing experience with the organisers taking care of every small detail. Kudos to Sameer Patel and Parag Vartak. The efficiency of the management was worth applauding. Sameer is a bird photography enthusiast who could be seen trying to get the perfect shot of a bird if he spotted one by running around till it was mission accomplished.

A great experience with an awesome group. Meeting new people and sharing the fun brings in twice as much joy as it would have been otherwise. A trip is never complete with a dose of Antakshari, Dumb charades and Mafia and the Viacom 18 group certainly helped us in achieving this goal. !!!

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Till next time. travel safe 😀

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Harishchandragadh Trek

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The Sahaydris’s are one of the oldest mountain ranges on Earth.More than 60,000 years old, they offer a plethora of trails and treks and mountains to scale. Nestled in the midst of these wondrous range is a trek called the Harishchandragadh Trek. After ascending to the top, I can safely say that this is not for the weak hearted. With its fair share of rock patches and stamina requirement, step out only if you are willing to push yourself to the limit. Else,there is always Nanheghat or Lohgadh or Rajmachi Fort to satisfy your trekking appetite.

The Experience

1425737_10201550302213821_763777950_nStarting the day as early as 5 o’clock is not something we readily do. But believe me,this is worth it. A friend had taken his Ertiga and the 8 of us set out on an adventure albeit only for a couple of days. We reached the base at Khireshwar village after a good 4 hrs of drive. We reached the base at 11 and after a quick breakfast of idli and Kajukatri,we started the trek.We had targeted to reach the top by sunset ,so that we could enjoy the view at the fullest.The first half of the route is quite steep and it does take a toll on your lungs.On the other side, the route is covered by trees and bushes on both sides so there is no sun hurting your face.We did not opt for a guide and decided to reach the top on our own.There were numerous occasions when we had to choose between 2 ways that could be taken.Some of these routes converged at the same point after 5-10 minutes of walking while others can completely throw you off the trail. Point to be noted here : When in doubt always take a right because it is the right way. It was heartening to see that we were on the right track because at various locations like a checkpoint there were local people who had set up a shop selling lemonade,biscuits and maggi.

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Its important to sip on water and take in sugar and electrolytes to replenish the used energy. We had 2 glasses each and with renewed vigor continued our ascent. There were in total 3 rock patches that we encountered. The first one was pretty scary as we had to navigate it in a very awkward manner.By literally leaning against the rock and making our way carefully,we reached the other side.A slip would most certainly result in major injuries and possible death.The second patch had railings for support,so it wasn’t much of an issue to navigate.1451563_10201550322054317_745689761_n

The third patch was the toughest and the most precarious. A slip here will certainly mean your free fall to death.You can feel the butterflies in your stomach. After the third patch, the route was simple and straightforward.It was more like walking on a plateau. A hour and a half later we reached the top. And well before sunset.All it took us was 4 hrs.But the journey wasn’t over yet.

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We had to trek for another 20 minutes to reach Konkan Kada. It is a cliff with a overhang like the hood of a cobra. This was the place which offered breathtaking views of the setting sun and the adjoining areas.1470248_10201550335094643_2023077674_n A sight so mesmerizing, it brings out the poet in you.I don’t know why I haven’t tried this on top of the other cliffs but the view when you lie down and jut your head out to look below is nothing short of a landscaping masterpiece.My jaw dropped!!! All the surrounding noise was cut off and I could feel the peace within me.Teleported to the lands of eternal beauty,this is one mesmerizing view that can never fade.Breathless with what I just saw,I got up and the routine of photo clicking started.Konkan Kada provides an array of picturesque backgrounds to click pictures.1476020_10201550336974690_2070085208_nThe setting sun added the extra zing. We started to make our way back to the temple where we were going to spend the night before it was completely dark. We reached the caves where we had put our bags and then decided that it would be better to stay in a tent. And I more than glad that we took this decision for reasons you will understand later.

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Our contact person at the top,Pundalik Bhau arranged dinner and accommodation for us. We got settled in the tents and waited for a piping hot dinner.A simple Maharashtrian meal of Waran,Daal,Kanda-Batata chi Bhaaji and Rotlo. Except for the typical charcoal smell,the food was good. Simple and filling.We started playing cards and later decided to light up a campfire. I thought my hours spent watching Survivor will come to good use and I’ll light the fire easily but its easier said than done. 1425720_10201550321494303_736945668_nAfter borrowing fire from our neighbors, we somehow managed to get the fire going. Sitting around the campfire we started talking about the days events and pulling each others legs. Once the fire died down,we called it a day and went inside the tents for some rest and recharge ourselves for the descent. At 4am in the morning,everyone started waking up. Just 2 hrs ago we were sitting around the fire.Sleepy eyes and a tired body,we were struggling to protect ourselves from the cold.524434_10201550356575180_1153310934_nWe knew winter was coming and at 2 am in the morning it was a cold but pleasant atmosphere. Little did we know that 2 hours later we would be shivering. Sweatshirts and shawls were of very little use against this cold.More than the cold itself we were struck by cold winds which made it difficult for us to be warm. The winds hitting your face at such high speeds is not a spanking you would want. The burning ember left over from 2 hrs ago was blown to a crackling fire in our fruitless bid to stay warm. 3 hours later with only a little respite from the cold,we decided to start our descent. But it was too cold for us to move around. Huddled in the tent, we decided to have tea and some kanda poha and then head down.Pundalik Bhau whipped up some delicious kanda poha and after downing a plate we started the return journey.1468757_10201550334414626_1856947596_n

Its always easy to go downhill in comparison to uphill.It was the case here as well. But the legs used up a lot of muscle in trying to control the momentum that we gained while coming down. The rock patches were an exception to the above theory.It was scary going down those rock patches because the breathtaking views of the valley were a distraction.Nonetheless, we stopped to enjoy the surroundings and take in the quietness of the place before reality sank in. Aching toes, blistered feet hurting calves and 2 awesome days later we finally made it to base.

To sum the experience,this is the most beautiful trek I’ve been to and undoubtedly harder than Kalsubai for the sheer time it takes to reach the top.

The Travel
Harishchandragadh is approximately 150 kms from Mumbai on the Kalyan-Malshej road.A left for the Khireshwar village will be encountered by a road that is a drivers nemesis.A 5km long road to be driven in the 1st gear at a average speed of below 10kmph.On reaching the base ,you can refresh yourself and start your trek.Kind villagers will take care of your car.

The Route
There are many ways to reach the1453279_10201550318854237_380650956_n top.
The Belpada route is considered the toughest and is generally taken by experienced hikers.Belpada is located on the Malshej-Kalyan road.
The second route is via Kothale.It can be reached via Akole or Kotul.
The third and the easiest in comparison is the route that we took.Via Khireshwar.On the way to Malshej via Kalyan there is  a narrow left turn which leads to a 5km bumpy road to the village base.

The Trek1425644_10201550371175545_559942860_n
With an average level between moderate-difficult, this trek is not for everyone.Please keep in mind the dangers that trekking brings with it and first time trekkers should avoid this till they have a couple of treks added in their experience.The Khireshwar route is suited for amateur trekkers wheras the other routes require proper trekking equipment and should not be attempted without  proper supervision.

The Stay1464616_10201550358895238_705479516_n

Even though the trek can be completed in a day,its better to spend a night at the top as it will be easier on your body and you also get to see some amazing views  from Konkan Kada. Stay at the top can be in caves which are reserved on a first come first serve basis. For the more adventurous type,you can get your own tent and set it up or arrange it via villagers on the top.The tents provided are of great quality,something you might not expect the villagers to provide.

The Food7061_10201550352975090_1040833212_n
Hot food is served on the top and there is no need to carry extra food except some snacks for the trek. Remember,whatever extra food you will carry,you’ll need to lug it around till you reach the top. Carry ample amount of water with you.In the winters,there are no fresh water streams flowing which will help you refill your bottle.

The Cost
The tent cost us Rs600.It could fit 4 people inside.
Food is served at Rs100 per person for dinner and lunch each. Breakfast was Rs20
Its always good to give an extra couple of hundred to the people at the top. To carry stuff up and down on a regular basis is no mean feat and it won’t pinch your pocket to express your gratitude.

Overall,with all expenses the trip cost us Rs800 per head.

The Haversack
In winters.it is a must to carry a sweatshirt and a shawl to protect yourself from the hard hitting winds. Emergency lights will be useful when sitting in a tent or moving around at night. We rued the fact hat we did not get the light. Some electrolyte replenishment like Glucon-D and Electral will help you regain energy. Dry snacks to satisfy hunger pangs and water to keep yourself hydrated.

TravelKien Suggests : A portable speaker is a awesome thing to have for over nite treks.Not only do they boost the morale when people are tired and not wanting to carry on but during a campfire you can have your own ‘Chappa Chappa Charkha chale’ moment. (This is strictly for the group to dance and make merry and not for individual use as I have already mentioned it in my last post.)

Other places to see at the top1461703_10201550366615431_1102089754_n
The Kedareshwar temple is has shivling in the middle and the roof of the temple is supported by only one pillar. Legend has it that the four pillars depict the four ‘yug’ of our time and one pillar breaks at the end of a yug. The crumbling of the last pillar will mean the end of the world. Taramati Peak is a hours trek from Konkan Kada and is the highest peak in this cluster of hills and mountains.

If anyone wishes to go on this awesome and trek and would like more details or help organising it then please feel free to contact me

TravelKien : +919820013890

1474566_10201550341494803_996436114_nTill next time, travel safe 🙂