Lets do both- Bike and hike!
I tried to get She-who-must-be-obeyed to come for a trek, but she was still traumatised by the huge crowds at Tikona last Sunday and refused to come.
‘It’s a Sunday, and I am going to sleep!’ she announced. ‘I have to get up everyday at 6 to send your kid to school, and I need a break once a week!’
‘My kid?’ I said ‘I thought it was your kid...’ I broke off as a dangerous light came into her eyes.
‘If your stupid alarm goes off at 5.30 in the morning and wakes me up...I will find you...and I will kill you...after I finish cutting you!’
So I decided to go for a ride instead, and went through Ashutosh Bijoor’s blog for places to go to. I saw this post about his ride to Uran fort, and I was fascinated. I knew nothing about Uran except that it houses the new (well, not so new now) dockyard of Mumbai – the Jawaharlal Nehru Port trust – and is the place where millions and millions of trucks go to.
The idea of it being a historical place, with an ancient fort, fascinated me. I had to see this.
On Sunday I woke up bright and early (with a silent vibrating alarm, to save my life) and set out for Uran – about 45 KM away, via Vashi and Palm beach road.
I had attempted to go to Vashi earlier once, but I had been really scared by the very fast heavy traffic. It had been early in the year, so it was quite dark in the morning so visibility was an issue. But now I learnt that the trick is to avoid using the flyover, so that you can stick safely to the side of the road and out of harm’s way.
I crossed Vashi bridge for the first time on cycle, and was very amused to see the many people fishing from the bridge. They were very poor people and it was really basic fishing – they didn’t have a fancy pole or anything – just a plastic string and a hook. And there were so many of them! I wondered if they actually caught anything or this was just a way to get out of the house and away from the wife.
I turned on to Palm beach road, and really enjoyed that part of the ride. Nice wide roads, green and scenic, not much traffic – it was fun to ride on. I passed the huge Seawoods lake, and was amused to see a replica of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ out there. I had passed by this place a million times, but had never noticed it before.
But it was not unbearably bad, and I got through it and entered Uran. I asked a policeman where Dronagiri fort was, and he gave me a contemptuous look.
‘There is no fort here – there is only a hill called Dronagiri’
I shrugged it off – I knew from experience that people didn’t know about the riches in their backyard.
I followed the cop’s and Google maps directions and made my way to the hill, and found myself looking at quite a big hill. Hoo boy – trekking was going to happen here!
I had forgotten my bike lock at home, and so I asked a local if I could park my bike at his house, and he graciously agreed. He asked me where I had come from, and was flabbergasted when I told him that I had come from Mumbai.
How long did it take me?
Three hours – I replied, and he was even more shocked.
It takes 2 hours by ST bus!
That’s because ST bus makes many stops – I tried to soothe him by my explanation – I came non stop.
How long would it take me to climb to the fort? I asked. 45 min to an hour, he replied.
Hmm. That’s a proper trek.
I set up through the village and they pointed me on to the right path. It was small and nondescript, and certainly did not look like it was heading anywhere. I would have missed it if not for their help.
As soon as I cleared the village settlements, I entered into the magical world of the mountain. It was green, and verdant and calm and quiet and simply amazing.
And in sharp contra-distinction to last week’s crowd fest, I was the only person on this mountain.
The voluntary trekkers groups do a lot of good work in the hills, and a group had posted a sign board on the trail giving information about this fort.
The Portuguese conquered this fort in 1530 (500 years ago!) and a padre called Antonio de Porto built a church here in 1565. It was conquered by Adilshahi forces in the 16th century and then later by the British as it was strategically important for them to have this fort and dock so close to Bombay. The Marathas under Manaji Angre conquered the fort in 1739.
Because this hill oversees strategic locations like the ONGC terminal and JNPT, this hill is technically a restricted area and there is a nice yellow sign for you.
And like most people, they were curious why I would come so far and spend so much energy to see ruined buildings.
Just beyond the watchpost were the ruins of the Portuguese church - the Chapel of Our Lady of Penha of Karanja. It was a very evocative ruin, and enjoyed soaking in the poignancy of the place, standing there in the light rain, all alone – looking at the ruins of the faith of foreign people from far away lands. I wonder if there is any memory in Portugal at all about these lands which their forefathers fought so hard for, and made so much money from, and affected so deeply in their quest to spread their faith.
I met a farmer family up there, who were rather startled to see me, but immediately relaxed when I waved at them, and spoke to them in Marathi. They shared their chakli and coconut with me, and told me that they had come to leave their bulls here.
‘Leave bulls?’ I asked
Yes – the ploughing was done, and now there was no need for the bulls. The bulls can have a nice holiday up here as there was plenty of grass and water, and the farmer also has no hassle of taking care of them. They would come down on their own in a couple of months.
And by Jove it was – I loved it! It had apparently been raining dogs and cats in Mumbai, and now the cloud front had reached Uran. It poured down, and it felt amazing! Sahyadri rains are the best.
As I neared the village, I met some people coming up – there were four of them and a goat. We looked at each other in puzzlement. ‘Anybody else up there?’ they asked, and I said no.
I was wondering why people would take goats up here, when I saw another 3 people – slightly older. They suddenly sat down and said ‘Man, I need a drink!’ and pulled out a bottle of whisky and opened it.
Then I saw a whole line of villagers trudging up the path. Some were carrying large cooking vessels, some were carrying live chickens, some were carrying sacks of cooking material.
‘Whats this?’ I asked. ‘A party for Gatari?’ We were about to enter the chaturmaas – the holy four months where Hindus don’t eat non-veg or drink alcohol – particularly in the month of Shravan. So, on the day before shravan, people have a massive blowout party where they freak out on booze and flesh.
‘Its our village tradition’ he replied ‘We have a goddess temple up the hill, and we will have a celebration there.’
Oh wow. Sounds like fun. Party!
I came down and collected my bike, which was still safe (!) and decided to check if the ferry was operational. After 45 KM ride and hike up the mountain, I was not in the mood to cycle 45 km back.
I cycled down to Mora jetty and YES!! The ferry was working! I was worried that it might be closed due to the rain.
That was a good day – Bike and Hike!