Friday, November 18, 2016

Run Free - my first ultra

“I don't want anyone to do anything except come run, party, dance, eat, and hang with us. Running isn't about making people buy stuff. Running should be free, man.”

- MikahTrue a.k.a. Caballo Blanco from“Born to Run

The boom in running across India is evident from the number of events springing up every other day. The "business" model is to tap the newfound interest in Running and also appeal to the participants charitable side. Add a photographer to this mix and we have the social networking needs satisfied as well, apart from the selfies with a medal post run.

The organisation is handed over to event management companies who hire locals to man the water stations. This breed is  totally oblivious to the needs of runners. One such specimen had hurled a bottle at me at the fag end of Mumbai marathon hitting me straight near the eye as my sagging reflexes could not hold on to it. The medals are handed over across the refreshment counter and the perfunctory mark on the bib made to make sure you don’t come for their "refreshments"again. The food bag is sometimes a dried up muffin, a shrivelled apple or orange and a bottle of water which the rag pickers eye the moment you are out of the refreshment counter looking out for a place to rest your tired butt. The run itself is within the city which is most of the time ignorant of the event (except Mumbai 😊). There are amusing bystanders or cursing motorists who have been halted. There are school children who line up the route brought forcefully because they belong to a government school and the local government body is one of the organisers.

But like the quote above “... Running should be free”, free from all the pressures of podium places and personal bests. Free from the city and the urbanscape, as natural as it can be, into the trails, out in the hills with nature for company and friends around you.

The Pune Ultra organised by a running group called Freerunners have nailed the Run Free concept to the tee.

The Route  - was a well-planned mix of village tar road and trails on the outskirts of Pune off Sholapur highway in Loni-Kalbhor. A 12.5 km loop with some gradients thrown in. A section of the route went through a beautiful Shiva temple, Ramdara in the middle of a pond and rose up and down into the country side flanked by fields and water bodies. Paved with cobble stones and rough patches of rubble it was also a birding spot for avid birders like me 😊

Devoid of advertisements or sponsors or charity slogans the registration fee was a paltry the now defunct 500/- rupees. With an additional 500/- for people who wanted to stay overnight, simple accommodation in the nearby Innovera School premises (one of the partners) was provided.

The Support – Pure bliss, ultra support for the ultra runners. Manned by runners and equipped with oranges, salt, bananas, sponge, water, potato chips, Enerzal and the timing chip scanner and most importantly encouraging words and cheering. This was the scene at all the support points and the enthusiasm did not taper off even at the end of the race when it was most needed. Some of the volunteers were there from the day before for 160 km, 100 km and 75 km distance participants.

All runners for the 50 km finishing within the cut-off of 6:30 hrs were presented with a plaque from the Race Directors Badri Narayan and Jeetu Nair. They were pampered and their accomplishments celebrated.

Post run a simple meal along with boiled eggs made sure that each of us was replenished with adequate energy to drag our elated, tired self back home.

Take a bow, Free runners !! Pune Ultra is an event which will be on the calender of all ultra runners. Count me in again

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Deoriatal Chandrashila

Its 2 am in the morning and I can see some moonlight reflection from inside the tent roof. It’s not cloudy I think to myself as I slide out of the sleeping bag. My son is still in deep sleep. My wife stirs a little and asks me the time. Today is summit day.
This is our second Himalayan trek - Deoriatal Chandrashila through Indiahikes. We hope to start in the dark with our headlights at 3:00 am and trek  past Tunganath temple to climb Chandrashila in time to catch the first rays of sunrise light up Chaukhamba and Kedar dome. Will we ?

We -  are a team of 23 people in this group spanning a wide age group. Aarush, a bubbly 8 year old having the wisdom of a 70 year old to Brahmanand Sharma, a 70 year young man with the enthusiasm of an 8 year old. All of us have bonded and become family during the past 5 days. We have been through hail and storm (well not quite the storm) on the first day. Hauled our bags and run for the forest rest house shelter abandoning our tents. We have spent that night holed up in a room 10 apiece and warmed up to each other in the cold of the morning. Shared chores and washed up after meals and looked up for each other’s missing items. Trekked up Jandi top which was part of the aborted 2nd day trek of Rohini Bugyal and played together while sharing notes of our personal lives. We have been through thick and thin of the trails surrounding Deoriatal and Bhrujgali in Chopta. Explored Bhrujgali meadows and forests while the children played. Most of us were first time trekkers and adjusted remarkably to the ways of life that a stay in wilderness brings. The biggest change was the toilet tents and the soil flush. The sleeping bags were warm and cosy but the washing of the dishes in the biting cold needed some mental courage.  But yes, we have had fun amidst all the undoing of city life habits. And we were in for more fun as I, lazily, made my way out of the tent. The other tents had stirred too while our faithful support group must have been up long back to make us our breakfast.

We hastily got ready as Vyshak, our trek leader rallied us around to start at 3:00 am. Fortunately we had some moonlight as 23 of us synced up to march with headlights on. It was different from trekking during the day. The only thing visible was the ground beneath our feet and the silhouettes of the mountain and trees. The occasional cracking of radio set broke the night silence.
Soon we reached the paved road to Tunganath from Chopta. Now we were sure of the footing but not the gradient. The darkness helped as it hid the climb and distance left. Soon our eyes got accustomed to the lack of light and I could switch off my headlight. We passed small tapris and settlements stirring to start the morning for pilgrims coming in and finally reached the Tunganath temple. This was the end of the paved road and the trail past this temple winded up to the top. The faster members had moved ahead. We were as strong as the weakest member of our group as we labored up. The heart was beating faster than ever, the breathing was shallow as 12083 ft altitude loomed ahead. A bell and a small stack of stones for a temple top with a flag suddenly came into sight. We had done it. 

When you want something the universe conspires to help you achieve it - Varma, my friend and fellow trekker aptly quoted Paul Coehlo . He could not have summed this up better. 

The universe in this case was undoubtedly Indiahikes and its fantastic support team. Vyshak Nair our indefatigable, charismatic Trek leader who had his hands full with inclement weather and first time trekkers. Manoj, the local guide, full of anecdotes and riddles enthralled us with stories of Deoriatal and Badrinath. Dhansingh, who was the liason guy at Sari came to Deoriatal with additional ponchos and was always in touch on the walkietalkie. I could sense his concern for little Aarush as I heard his voice over the radioset during summit, enquiring with Manoj about the kid's well being. The kitchen team was fantastic, backing us up with simple, delicious food, packed lunches or waking up at midnight during summit day to cook our breakfast. During the 1st day rain washout they had to move the kitchen from the tents into the rest house and cook us food. They did all of this with a smile, ever courteous, obliging to our constant requests of warm water in the wee hours of all mornings. The ginger water and lemon tea was something that I yearn for back in the city. 

And I yearn for more, dreaming of the mountains, the birds, the meadows, the people, the moments ... 

"We do not remember days, we remember moments" - Cesare Pavese

- some moments in pics are here ,  birding moments are here


Thursday, April 07, 2016

Chatting on the highway

My cycling commute is on the busy Nagar highway towards office. It is a hot day. 2 pm in the afternoon
Sun beating down mercilessly overhead. The concrete road sends heat waves from below.
I have a short commute of 3 kms. And the mechanical grinding of the pedals and its creaking sound accompany the noisy automobiles whizzing past me.
A cyclist overtakes me. I am usually offended and in the normal course reel them in and go past to establish my dominance. Arrogant me. Not this time. This is a school boy increasing the gap between us with feverish cadence.
I glance at his run of the mill cycle, his wiry frame and the school bag bouncing behind his back.
My gaze catches a contraption of two metal pipes welded to his rear frame near the rear wheel spoke. Its an attempt to imitate
an exhaust of a high end motor bike. I am curious and increase my pace to catch up with him. And strike a conversation

"Kute challas" (Where are you going ? )
"Kutoon" (from where ? )
Moje shaala -  Moje School. This is 2 kms further from my place.
"Cycle la pipe kashala welding kela." (What is that pipe welded to your bike ?)
Khaalli jatana speed marte. (Gives me speed while going downhill)
We had just started a downhill and I rolled away from him
"Bag mee fast ahe tu slow ahe" (See I am faster than you)
Tumchi cycle racel ahe ani tyres moti ahe ( You have a racer bike and big tyres - he was on a 26 ") - smart answer
I also saw a plastic box under his seat with some wires hanging out and connected.
"Te kay ahe ? Battery pack ?" (What is that ?)
Magcha Brake lavla ki light pette. (The rear brakes when actuated turns on the rear lights)
"Tu kelas ka" (Did you make it ? )
"Ho, Ek wire brake la lavla and ek Rim la ani circuit purn hote." (Yes, one wire to the brakes and another to the rim completes the circuit)

I was impressed as we reached a junction where we had to separate. 

"Tuza nav kay ?" (What's your name ?)

Bharat !

"Bharat Mata ki Jai"

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Paradise in Sinhagad

26th Jan 2016 found me heading towards Sinhagad Valley for the birds and to make the most of my brother's telephoto lens that I had borrowed. With winter upon us, this is the peak time for birding as many Migratory birds from the Himalayan region as well as Europe come to the Indian subcontinent to escape the harsh winter.
Most birders from Pune visit Sinhagad for the elusive Asian Paradise Flycatcher (APF) Male with its prisitine white long tail. It is the prize catch for any self respecting birder in Pune. In my past two birding trips to Sinhagad I had only got a glimpse of the female and did not carry much hopes.

As I walked towards the narrow dried up stream the place was occupied by a lot of birders positioned with their tripods waiting for sunlight to hit the water puddle area where some twigs and man made perches had been setup. I preferred walking around and planned to go into the valley and check the interiors before coming to this spot. Immediately spotted the Long tailed shrike and a Black Drongo. A white breasted King Fisher had a frog in its beak and was about to devour it for a sumptuous breakfast. The light was not enough for capturing the moment. A Paddy field Pipit was flitting around tempting me to take its picture while an Ashy Prinia foraged in the shrubs below. A male Indian Robin had plumped itself up and seemed different at first glance, made its way across the bushes into the fields. Yellow throated Sparrows (Chestnut shouldered Petronia) were aplenty and flew together away when I made my way across the fields. A local was coming across with a group of buffaloes and their bells tinkling added to the singing of the birds all around. I let them pass and made my way around, back to the birding studio. The Verditer Flycatcher was already posing for the photographers while I spotted a Female APF as well. It seemed to be a lucky day as this female APF, Oriental White Eyes and Bulbuls made their way to take a water sip from the puddle in the dried up stream. The clicks from the cameras around me were firing away like AK-47's.
APF Male
A Rufous APF Male was also spotted but did not bless us on the perch. This indeed seemed to be a lucky day. It was almost 9:30 and some of the crowd dispersed. Some persisted and I made my way to an empty spot. And guess what - the White Male APF decided to gift us a special republic day. In all its glory there he was about 12 feet away from me in the shadows. The air was filled with the collective gasp of all the birders and then the familiar gunshots of the shutter. I joined the trigger happy crowd and prayed that I get a sharp shot. The bird shook itself with the long 30 inch tail waving like a ribbon it was Paradise in Sinhagad as we stood ground and waited for more. He took a dip in the pool and went back to another perch.

A full minute of his presence and he had enough. He went into the foliage never to come back again. The female was still around and a few Brahminy Mynas came down as well.

APF Rufous Male
I decided to take a walk back into the Valley and saw the White browed Fantail. This is a very hyper active bird and difficult to shoot as I attempted some shots. A Pied Buschat was perched atop a hay stack and posed for me. As I made my way back a Rufous Male APF flew past me. Luck could not have got any better. I followed him but the Male is always very elusive and I managed to get a record shot of him. I was now thirsty and hungry as well it was past 10 am and getting hotter. There was a small bird behind a leaf I gambled with a long shot of this bird which turned out to be a Male Red breasted fly catcher. Another Lifer for me as I made my way back to the eating shacks where my car was parked. I glanced up in the sky and saw two Crested Serpent Eagles riding the thermals and soaring higher and higher. Too far to get a good shot and I started the drive back.
Red Breasted Flycatcher (Male)
Birding was far from over as a stop at Khadakvasla lake gave me a nice shot of the White breasted Kingfisher and some Indian Spot Billed Ducks. A horde of River Terns with these ducks were Roosting on a shallow island in the middle of the water while Common Coots were swimming effortlessly. With the Binoculars, I also spotted a Male Northern Shoveller and a few Red Wattled Lapwings in the middle of the crowd. Some Egrets were meditating in the groves near the shore while a White Breasted Water Hen hurried for cover as I walked along the mud track back to the car into the traffic to get me home. I made the count of birds, it was just around 27 birds close to the special date of 26th Jan. A very satisfying birding day out !

Directions to reach there - Walk till the start of the Trek point at the base of Sinhagad fort. Take left before the last eating shack, where two wheelers are parked and the concrete road ends. On this trail look out to your left and see a dried up stream below and lot of tripods with humans waiting for the birds. This is the bird studio :-). One can keep walking on the trail into the inside of the valley. The sun starts lighting up the valley and gives ample photo-ops for bird photographers.

The  bird list below and some more photos at this link

Plum headed Parakeet (Male and Female)
Ashy Prinia
Black Drongo
Pied Buschat
Red breasted Fly Catcher (Male and female)
Oriental White Eye
Purple Sunbird
Yellow Throated Sparrow
Asian Paradise Flycatcher Male / Rufous Male / Female
Verditer Fly Catcher (Male and female)
Fantail -White Browed
Paddyfield Pipit
Red Vented Bulbul
Red Whiskered Bulbul
Crested Serpent Eagle
Indian Robin (Male and female)
oriental Magpie robin
White Breasted Kingfisher
Yellow Spot Billed duck
Commom Coot
Northern Shoveller Male
Intermediate Egret
Cattle Egret
Cormorant (Indian or Little ? )
White Breasted Water Hen
River Terns
Brahminy Myna
Common Iora
Red Wattled Lapwing
Long Tailed Shrike

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Birding in my backyard

Plum headed Parakeet Male (Sinhagad Valley)
Birding - I was introduced to this during my visit to Pangot in the North of India in 2010. Following this visit back home in Pune I started noticing the wide variety of birds outside my window. 
These winged angels are all around us and one just needs to be sensitive to their presence and I was immune to them so far. This hobby has taken me to many places around Pune as well. Some of them are
Pashan Lake, Sinhagad Valley, Bund Garden bridge, Kalyani Nagar- KP bridge, Aundh IT park river side, Tarkeshwar mandir hilltop at Yerawada and Kavadi Pat 20 km from Pune on Sholapur road. 

The following list of birds were seen in my backyard

1) Asian Koel
2) Common Myna
3) Brahminy Myna
4) Jungle Myna
5) Oriental White Eye
6 Greater Coucal (Bharadwaj)
7) Green Bee Eater (Veda Raghu in Marathi)
8) Gray Horn Bill
9) Copper Smith Barbet (Tambat in Marathi)
10) Golden Oriole
11) Common Iora
12) Great Tit
13) Red Vented Bulbul
14) Red Whiskered Bulbul
15) Purple Sunbird
16) Purple Rumped Sunbird
17) Ashy Prinia
18) Common Tailor Bird
19) Plain Prinia
20) Shikra (just once)
21) Common Kite
22) Black Drongo
23) Small Minivet (just once)
24) White Browed Fantail Flycatcher
25) Red breasted Flycatcher (Female) - just once
26) Blyth's Reed Warbler
27) Jungle Babbler (Seven Sisters - because they are in groups of 7 to 10:-))
28) Rose Ringed Parakeet
29) Bay backed Shrike (just once)
30) Laughing Dove
31) Rock Pigeon
32) Common Raven
33) House Crow
34) Sparrow
35) Pond Heron
36) Black hooded Oriole (from 2015 - sometimes)
37) Yellow Wagtail (once)
38) Oriental Magpie Robin
39) Indian Silver Bill
40) Scaly Breasted Munia

There are many more yet to be discovered, till then, enjoy the below pics from Pune
( more here )

Shikra outside my window

Blue capped Rock Thrush (Sinhagad Valley)

Brahminy Myna (Sinhagad Valley)
Rose Ringed Parakeet Male (outside my window)
Scaly breasted Munia (outside my window)
Gray Hornbill (outside my window)
Indian Robin Female (Tarkeshwar Mandir)
Asian Koel Female (outside my window)
Red vented Bulbul (outside my window)

Verditer Fly Catcher (Sinhagad Valley)

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Har Ki Dun - our first Himalayan Trek

With great trepidation we embarked on our first trek to the Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. A place called Har ki Dun, which means Valley of the Gods.
The trip started on the wrong foot with Sona getting a vicious dog bite on the previous evening of our journey. Lot of speculations, phone calls to my brother and ifs and buts preceded our travel. Finally we all reached Mumbai, from where we had booked the evening train to Delhi to meet the other trekkers in the group for the train to Dehradun.

The trek to this place brought us closer to nature, the God that I believe in, and the people living here. Simple living, where power and internet connectivity has not yet touched their lives, where happiness is measured in "toffees" that the village children ask when you encounter them, where life is entwined with nature and the weather. Rain, hail, snow storms or a clear day with fluffy clouds kissing the mountain tops we got it all in this 5 days of bliss. Enjoy the pictures

Har Ki Dun - Valley of the Gods

Thursday, April 23, 2015