It’s a Sunday – Let’s ride! Its the monsoon – Lets trek!
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.
I turned off the Palm beach road on to the Uran Panvel road, and the road quality went down sharply. The heavy truck traffic and dirty potholed road made riding a bit of a challenge, and I had to be extra careful on waterlogged roads. You never knew how deep the hole would be, and going into a deep hole at high speed was just asking for a toss.
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.
It explained that this area and port – now called Uran – was known in ancient times as Dronagiri. In those days the village of Uran was enclosed in fort walls for protection, and some of these walls are still visible today. The name ‘Mora’ is mentioned in the records of the Satvahana kings, and there are records that the Chalukyan king, Pulakeshin had annexed this village and its capital of Gharapuri. Its possible that this fort was built around that time – which would make it about 2000 years old!
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.
I started the climb, and followed the arrows put there by the trekker groups. Good thing they were there, as there were a lot of confusing little paths everywhere. Combine that with my world famous sense of direction and I would probably be there still if not for those arrows.
It was a beautiful route, punctuated by streams and and hill turmeric flowers, and soon I was at the entrance of the fort – the rear entrance presumably – as it was a small stone archway rather than imposing battlements.
There was a CISF hut there and I went there and tapped on the window, startling the two guards who were relaxing in their banyans. I explained that I was checking out the fort and just wanted to keep them informed of my presence. They invited me in and offered me a seat and some water, and we had a pleasant chat where they presumably checked me out and were assured that I was harmless. Seeing a trekker in cycling shorts and helmet is pretty weird, so I explained to them that I had biked from Mumbai and hiked up the hill and they were suitably impressed. Though of course, they were army people, so this would be probably just a light warm up for them.
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.
There was a group of dogs chilling out at the guard post, and they decided that I was their new best best friend and they decided to join me for the walk.
I saw some ancient fort walls, and a little way away saw the ruins of the main doorway. Not much was left of it, but someone had rescued the Ganesha from the arch and covered it with the holy ochre ‘shendoor’.
I followed the arrows up the hill and found a Vetal temple – I love these temples, they are protoplasmic faith points. There is no idol, no carving, no temple – just a rock which has power because it is covered in ochre. Awesome!
Followed more arrows, and found myself at an ancient water tank.
The arrows ended out here, but I followed a small path and came out at the top of the hill. There would have been an awesome sea view from here, but ONGC people planted trees out here and they have blocked out all the view.
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.
This looks like a Bear's paw print!!!
I chilled out on the top for a few minutes, and then turned back. I crossed the vetal temple, main door and church and said goodbye to the CISF people. Bye bye – they said – be careful going down – it’s raining.
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.
They charged me Rs 66 for the ticket and Rs 10 for the cycle and in an hour we were at Bhaucha dhakka, and it was the home stretch. They are smartening up Bhaucha dhakka now, with new tiles and glass and a new touch. Lets hope that they develop the coastal ferry network a lot more. Ideally whole of Bombay and surrounding areas should be connected by ferry.
It was about a 20 KM ride back, and home sweet home.
That was a good day – Bike and Hike!
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!