Wednesday, 22 April 2015

It's A Pink Shaded Fort - Sewri Fort & Flamingo Watching 2015

It’s always a setback when you look at your weeks schedule and you realize that you can’t do a weekend trek or an overnight trail, due to the work load. (Gaah!)  I was quite disappointed, and annoyed at first but then I started snooping around looking for short trip options and history trail options I came across Birdy Trekkings in a day Sewri Fort and Flamingo Watching listing online, which was marked for the 18th April, 2015. A morning trip that was scheduled to be completed by afternoon. All of a sudden I did not feel as bad anymore! (Yay!). Always wanted to go Flamingo watching since I was a kid, (Those big pink birds, with really long feet and necks? Sign me up please.) and I was finally going to be able too. Also, had not heard a whole lot about Sewri Fort before then (Since, it's located quite close and within the city.) But it does have quite a lot of significance, that you might be surprised to hear.

It started off with me giving Birdy (Birdy Seth) a call and telling him, that I’m coming. Confirm me, mark me down, engrave my name, you’ll see me at the station at 7:00 am for sure. He firmly said okay, and kept the line. I then packed my camera, bottle, goggles, binoculars and cap and waited for Saturday to set off. Soon, came the warm humid morning of the 18th. I caught the train at around 6, to make sure I don’t get late. And was there quite before time.

I took my self for a walk as I waited, around Sewri station exploring the market and silent yet gently buzzing people and streets. Soon, Birdy arrived (Oh, I love his name.) and then came, Kay, George and the others. Soon, we were around 10-12 people all gathered up, ready to hit the road, and walk. We began walking towards the east of the station, all close to each other, like a small family. We soon stopped for tea and chai (Oh, I love morning tea!) and got to know each other a bit better. There were reporters, doctors, frequent travelers, home makers and a lot of other people in the mix. The summer heat was just beginning to settle in as we reached the dock yard, filled with small, big old and rusty ships been worked and looked upon by the locals there. We soon, began to see the Flamingos at a distance.

They are quite majestic birds, with small heads and glorious wings. They have this shade off pinkish white, that will put you at ease and want you to look at them for hours. They seemed to be quite peaceful yet intelligent birds. We walked a bit closer towards the shore, and jumped and tripped our through some mossy stones to reach as close as possible to see them. A beautiful thing I noticed is that they are quite unison in nature, walking and staying together, and taking care of each other. They have beautiful wings, with a shade of black and dark pink. We also spotted, a large (Oh, he seemed like the alpha.) Flamingo. Way way taller and sharper than the others, with a much larger neck and essence about him. We all kept gazing at how beautiful he looked, and how well he walked among the others. Soon, high tide began to hit and we moved, packed our binoculars and cameras, and began to head towards Sewri Fort.

The Sewri Fort was built by the British in 1680, and was one of the 3 forts constructed by them on the eastern shoreline, the other two being Sion Fort and Mazgaon Fort. It is built on a high hill from rocks quarried from its hillside and is surrounded by land on 3 sides; the 4th side is a sheer cliff that drops down into the mangroves. Built for security purposes, the Sewri Fort served as a watchtower and was also the first line of defence in the case of attacks and invasions from the Angrias of Alibaug, the Siddis of Habsan, pirates from Janjira, the Savant from Wadi and the Dhulap from Vijaydurg. As threats from the sea abated, the importance of the Sewri Fort too waned and it got converted into a godown of the Mumbai Port Trust. Not surprisingly, it was in a pretty bad shape when the Maharashtra State’s Department of Archaeology and Museums took over its upkeep and renovation a few years back and classified it as a Grade I structure.

You can see different views from each part of the fort, one facing the Dargah that you need to walk up, to reach the fort. The other facing the sunny Sewri streets, the other facing the shore, where we did catch a glimpse of quite a few Flamingos, that had flown away together due the high tide at the previous point. Its a quite a beautiful fort this, crafted gently with stairs taking you to the upper level, with dark storage rooms, and openings both ways. However, sadly it isn’t maintained and looked after as well, we could see bottles of used liquor and writings of names of lovers from god alone knows which times, covered with other unneeded litter and waste. We did however in the fort also meet two small kittens. They were tiny and kept playing and fighting with each other, they were fun to look and play with. Soon, we had explored the long forgotten and undervalued fort and had decided to head back. The hot summer had began to kick in as we walked back towards the station. Birdy shared some sweets Kay got for him (Love Indian Sweets!), and we reached the station and head back home.

It was a nice trip this. A short yet peaceful one. I loved Birdy and his way of going about things systematically and gently and holding the ship alone, yet firmly together. And there are very few groups I come across, who do it for the love of travelling and backpacking. I understand there is a cost to everything. But Birdy Trekking organized this trip for no cost (Respect!) even though he easily could have. Cause he wanted to promote and encourage traveling and did not incur any cost himself. It was a memorable trip, and I hope to join Birdy and the others who travel regularly with him more often, in the future.

Picture of the Fort & Flamingos (Sewri Fort & Flamingo Watching 2015):

This is Alman (Yes, like Superman! Calm down ladies.) signing off, until next time.
Have a great day, and an adventurous weekend! :)                                                                                                                                                               
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Thank You

Alvin Anthony

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Birthplace Of Emperor Shivaji - Shivneri Fort 2015

This trip, is surely one of the most memorable trips, that I have done in the recent past. Not because I travelled to Pune, in a day and back. Not because I may have missed majority of one of the most memorable Manchester Derby's (Football), where we won 4-2 and secured 3rd place. But because on Sunday the 12th of April 2015, I was finally able to see and live the stories and triumphs I was told about as a child. I was able to visit the home of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj a great king and warrior of ancient Indian historical times. I was finally able to visit Shivneri Fort, in Pune. A place I have heard a lot about, and have always wanted to visit since an early age. I was always fond of kings, queens, warriors and stories of their triumphs and reigns. (Huge LOTR fan here.) So this visit surely did help me learn and understand things, about Shivaji and his early life and childhood a whole lot better.

It started off with me calling Anup (Founder of Bhramar, and Mr. boss organizer)  during the week in the afternoon, confirming myself for the trip. Also assuring him, that no matter what happens (Heaven or earth moves.) I'll surely make it. Then the week went by really quickly and in no time it was Sunday. It's beautiful looking forward for something all week, and then finally seeing it happen. It was around 4:30 am, when I boarded a train from Kurla to Thane. It was a bit of a let down that no one else from the 36 or so that we're coming, we're coming from the suburbs. So it left me listening to the Beatles, sipping some chai and boarding an almost empty or so  train to Thane. Post reaching Thane, I looked for Ananad Cinema hall (As Anup told me too), walking across the empty Thane station roads, in the dim yet not so shady street lights felt quite warm and homely. Soon, everyone began to gather at the hall. Tall, old, short, young, mothers, babies, students, you name it we had it. It was quite a mix bunch of people (From different professions and walks of life) all gathered in the early hours, all looking forward to a good trip. Felt like one big family of Bhramar volunteers, regulars and newbies. A family of strangers, away from home.

Maybe delays are a new trend. Or just trips I take are jinxed, but we did end up waiting quite a bit for the bus to arrive. But once it did, we soon filled in and caught our seats to set off. The bus journey onwards was quite a peaceful one, me including quite a few others caught up with some sleep. Some others munched on a few snacks and shared some pleasant conversations. We soon arrived at our Breakfast halt. We all caught a light bite, had some hot coffee and tea and set off again. We soon, began to pass the beautiful mountains, misty river and cloudy hills  as we reached closer to our destination. We then arrived at the base point, and lied ahead of us the mighty mountain, which encompassed the long beloved Shivneri fort. The stairs greeted us, with longing gates and flowers.

Shivneri Fort was built under the aegis of Sahaji, the father of Shivaji, who wanted a strong fortification that could protect his family from the enemies. Jijabai (Shivaji's mother) spent the days of her pregnancy at Shivneri and it was here that Shivaji Maharaj was born, in the year 1627. Almost the entire childhood of Shivaji was spent playing inside the compound of the fort. He received most of his basic education at Shivneri only and the lessons he learnt here were responsible, to quite an extent, in shaping his personality as a great ruler.

We soon began to pass the gates. There were 7 different beautiful gates, set up for the enemies to cross, one more mightier than the other. We soon climbed up the steady stairs passing through the morning sun and breeze. Our first stop was at the Shiv Mandir, we first entered bare feet bowing in mercy and worship. We later gather outside the entrance, sitting one aside the other listening to Shilpa Parab Pradhan (Our Guide and Teacher, for the day.). She told us about the temple, and the early age history of the fort. How it was a very important historical structure, and how it was where Shivaji got his name Shivba here. We soon head back and upwards towards Ambarkhana (A grain, gold and food storage facility) which was well crafted and had vintage security and air circulation facilities (Impressive!).

We later passed Ganga & Jammuna one of more than ten water tanks present in Shivneri (This being the only potable and pure one.) We filled up our bottles and enjoyed the cold and earthy water of the tank, that was very refreshing to have in the warm sunny weather. We moved forward and came across, Shiv Kunj.  Shiv Kunj is a monument constructed by the state government, in honor of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Inside Shiv Kunj there is an idol of Bal Shivaji and Jijabai made of “Panchdhatu” (An alloy of 5 metals.) Very beautiful, and artistic indeed.  We later head forward to Shiv Janamasthan, we climbed up the narrow stairs and sat in a quarter where the entire group gathered up again and we began to listen to the birth story of the great king. How the modern day misconceptions  of the three Shivaji Jayantis, due to change in the English and Hindu Calendar, and due to multiple beliefs and followers. Also stories about Jijabai and her strength and grace to and through Shivajis birth. It was really heart filling to hear. We then head towards Kadelot point, a place where prisoners were punished by throwing them down the fort. This point is on the northern end of the fort.

We had now reached the end of our visit long yet beautiful visit, we received a few words of conclusion and wisdom by Anup and Shilpa. It was followed by a quick round of introductions, and getting to know one another. As we were behind schedule, we then later rushed to the base point, got back to our bus and head towards our lunch point. In a comfy little village home, we then enjoyed some delicious food, that helped us reminisce over the day gone by. It was beautiful, the rocky hill and detailed architecture. The crafted strategic pathways and structures. The history and childhood memories of Shivaji and his family who lived and grew up at Shivneri, after whom he was named. We soon, got back to the bus and it was songs (Some self made new ones! and jokes, till the way back home!

It was a good experience. All wrapped up in one rushed yet, memorable day. Bhramar were quite efficient and warm with their organizing and experience delivery. However, sometimes on such trips, time passes by too quickly so delays are bound to happen learning and listening to new stories. However, overall it was a memorable day, and great set of people (Very family like! ).

Looking forward to my next getaway with Bhramar, and the group.
I know it will be quite a memorable and happy one :)

Picture of the Fort (Shivneri Fort  2015) :

This is Alman (You know, like Superman?) signing off, until next time.
Have a great day, and an adventurous weekend! :)                                                                                     
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The Happy Getaway:
Twitter: @thehappygetaway

Thank You

Alvin Anthony

Thursday, 9 April 2015

10 Skills That Travelling Will Help You Build - THG 2015

Travelling, trekking and backpacking has a lot more to do with you, than you could imagine. Getting out of your not so pleasant comfort zone, talking, learning and interacting helps an individual grow in numerous ways. It helps a persons inner and outer circle to broaden and lightens his or hers personality to be nurtured and moulded based on the experiences, people and situations they encounter. Hence, travelling should be considered the new training ground for people to learn things and build their skills in real time.

We are now going to run through (literally, run run.) a list of 10 reasons by The Happy Getaway, to showcase how travelling helps you grow and build your skills. So here we go, in no particular order.

  1. Mental & Physical Oneness

A trek, or any other journey, depending on the difficulty level, is usually a test of the mental and physical being. And a test of how they work in unison. The mental being to not give up, keep its cool, motivate itself and not let the weather, people, or path get to them. The physical being to push itself, fall down and get up again, to endure and guide itself and to sustain and dig in deep till the goal isn’t met. Travelling helps you connect the dots between your mental and physical being, helps you think and be at the same time. For example your mind may tell you you're thirsty, you should not go on. But the physical being understands that it needs to push on to be able to quench the thirst. This working of unison, and balancing of rationality and the real world is what helps trekkers do extremely hard paths and trips and grow mentally and physically.

2. Communication & Interactive Skills

You meet a lot of strangers, villagers, backpackers and others when you usually travel. This means, conversations, directions, life stories, or small talk (depending on what you’d prefer.) Travelling is the best way to help you open up, and take that shy person inside you out of the picture, as you interact, discuss and learn new things from new people. Understanding, listening and situationally seeing really helps your communication and interactive skills grow.

3. Time Management

May it be a small trip or a big one. Time is always of the essence. The halts you take, the time you start at, the time you leave, the time you spend eating, it all plays a massive role in your overall experience. No one likes delays, or missing a sunset. Yet at the same time they want to spend as much time clicking pictures, and moving around aimlessly. I think as an organiser or experienced trekker, you tend to understand the value of time more. You tend to understand why, time is important, how it affects the entire group and experience of the trip. Hence, the overall management of time tends to reflect from travelling to other walks of life.

4. Planning & Preparing

Planning the route, timeline, transport routes, food and rest spots and other things like what should i carry? will it be hot? will i need an extra pair of clothes? How much money should i carry? You mind begins to think and plan for the day ahead. You begin to think of the situations you’d be in, how you will handle them. If a particular path is too hard for the others, how you have option b and c. If someone gets unwell, how you will handle the situation. I believe modern day travelling, the better planned the more better the experienced. Don’t get me wrong, I love impromptu trips (I really, do.) but a wholesome experience from start to end, can only be felt when you put time and effort into preparing and building towards it. This helps your skills grow, in a strong way, through experiences unlike any other training model can ever teach you.

5. Team Work

There are always a few people, that are on their first trek or trip, or people that aren’t used to travelling, people who are very experienced, and people who need to keep stopping every 15 minutes to take a breather and water break. A team usually while travelling, or in any walk of life is filled with people from different fields, holding different levels of experiences and who are good at some things and not so good at others. Travelling helps you identify this, it helps you see people from different fields help each other in a time of crisis, the experienced helped the new ones, the less fit are motivated by the regulars and the team waits for it each other, doesn’t go too far ahead or too behind leaving anyone out. Teamwork and togetherness is very important in the modern day world, where everyone has become selfish and only think about themselves. And I don’t think there is any other place, where you could learn working together better.

6. Determination & Self Motivation

It is very easy to give up, halt permanently, and let the situation and how difficult it may seem get the better of you and what your final goal is. Motivating yourself, and being determined that no matter what comes my way, I will reach the base point, I will not let my physical or mental state of mind get the better of me is what a true traveller is made off. And I believe when all odds are down, when the trains are cancelled, path is blocked or extremely hard, when the people you're with need a beacon of hope and motivation. You are the only one that can push yourself, and be determined that you complete the journey.

7. Accommodativeness & Adaptability

Being accommodative. Yes. Not so nice loo’s (No loo’s at all sometimes.) No proper roads or modes of transport, make do food, tough paths, rude people, language barriers. Difficult difficult difficult? Well not really. Adjusting, accommodating and making the most of little things and enjoying the little things is what travelling is all about.  Because barriers can only be overcome when your will and ready to look at it not as a challenge but as an opportunity to do and learn. Hence travelling surely does help you learn to become more accommodative and adaptable in nature.

8. Quick & Prompt Thinking

It is important to be able to think quickly at times, and promptly. Especially when time is of essence and when your decision may impact a lot of other factors. It could impact the entire group travelling with you and the experience they and you have. This isn’t that you would learn through one trip or that would develop over night, I believe it has a lot to do with experiences and knowledge and how that grows with the more you travel and the more situations you encounter. And the same that reflects in real life and non travel scenarios and how you tend to relate and draw conclusions and outcomes similarly. Hence it helps you think more quicker and promptly.

9. Cool Headedness & Peace

Everything may go wrong on a particular day. The trains may be late, or not arriving. People might be late, slow, laid back and uncooperative. Transport might be difficult or overly expensive. The path might be blocked or rushed. You may lose your bag, your wallet might get stolen. Everything and anything to worry you, give you a headache and to make you want to scream may happen. Yet overtime you realise, that losing your cool won’t solve or help the situation you're in. Yet thinking and doing can. Hence, it helps you keep your cool. And not spend your energy (That you probably have very left in the end.) to use your efforts productively and to keep your mind and head and peace.

10. Flexibility

Like structures, plans, and agendas? Welcome, to nature. Where in the present day in rains, thunders, gets sunny and windy when and however it likes. Flexibility is an important trait in todays times as people get so use to schedules and plans they find it very hard to adjust or move things around .Travelling helps you realise, there are some thigns you have control over and some things you don't have control over. Some things you can pre plan for, and some things you need to accept and move forward with. It helps you keep your mind more open and helps you become more flexible and open minded in nature.

Here, is The Happy Getaway list. I hope you liked my Top 10 Skills, list. Do share with me what you think about it, your experiences and other points you think we should add to this list, either in the comment section. Or you can mail me at

Travel more, and learn more :)
So until next time, this is Al signing off.

Do Follow & Support -

The Happy Getaway:
Twitter: @thehappygetaway

Thank You.

Alvin Anthony

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

A Long Forgotten Cave - Kondana Caves 2015

They say, some trips are enchanted and have a feeling resounding with them the minute they begin. However, this was not one of those trips (Hahaha, horrible start this one had.). Here is my second blog post covering my trip to the oh so, forgotten, yet beautiful and historical Kondana Caves, located in Karjat near Lonavala.

It began with me receiving a forward from Yash (One of the most chill, and fun trekkers and organisers I have met, in my time.) the founder of No Mad Hikers along with Yogesh (Missed you mate.) Inviting me for an overnight trek to Kondana Caves on the 28th & 29th of March. First I was hesitant, as my weekend work schedule was still not in place, but he still assured me (Like my true trekking mate that he is.) that even if the seats get full, he will make room for me, and accommodate me. (Enter bromance caption here.) The week went on, and finally I was sure, I could go! (Yaayo! :D). The week passed by as quickly as ever then, In no time, I was boarding a train from Kurla for Karjat, and was on my way to visit one of the oldest Buddhist caves in India.

The exciting and adventurous feeling, was beginning to kick in, through the dead dry summer heat. But then all of a sudden the train took an unexpectedly long halt at Ambernath. Everyone in the train, began to get irritated and nervous about the delay and started stepping out to see what happened, to my astonishment the train was cancelled due to a fight that had taken place in one of the compartments (Here, is the horrible start I was talking about.). After meeting Yash, and the others who were in the other compartment, we were figuring and discussing how do we move ahead. We soon, stepped out had a nice glass of nimbu pani (Lemonade.) and then took a rickshaw to Badlapur station. However the rickshaw wala suggested that we take a bus, and left us at the bus stop. For us to realise that there are no busses that go to Karjat (Note to self: Never take advice from a rickshaw wala, who seems to wink at you whenever he tends to suggest something.)

We then, walked it out to the station, which wasn't too far from the stop. Ran around looking for trains and buses and finally boarded a bus, that left us half way through to Karjat. We then took a rickshaw again, and the warm summer breeze seemed to blow away, as we entered Karjat. The cloudy skies and breezy winds began to greet us, the closer we got to our destination. We had a couple of halts to pick up things, Nani (Aniruddha, a business guy. Got us some nice boiled eggs, that he managed to convince a Chinese restaurant to make for us. That we were later going to use for sandwiches.) And then, the slight drizzle, turned to breezy rain as we reached the base point of the trek. We soon began walking against, the monstrous wind, that kept pushing us away. Soon, it began to get dark, and to find the path, was not easy at all. Vishal (Aka Silver. I still have no idea, why we call him that) removed his mobile torch for us to use, so did the others.We soon began our trek, trying to locate the right path, and not get lost in the forest. We soon found steps, and a dry river bed that we began to walk across. Sushil (A frequent trekker, and someone who had been to this cave a couple of times before, seemed to have a judgement of the path.) Slowly yet steadily we managed to reach the cave, just before it got too late.

The thundering skies, and unexpected drizzle and wind was surely a thrill and joy. Once we all reached the cave. We all were in awe of its majestic structure and beauty. Even though it was dark and we couldn’t really see it as well, it still gleamed its essence of glory and history. Soon, Yash and a few others began to look for wood, to set up a bonfire. We then sat around the fire, shared our tiff-ins and dabbas, had some delicious sandwiches Silver made, and Sarvesh assisted him with. The darkness began to kick in, and Yash told us a little bit about the history of the caves.The Kondana caves are a group of 16 Buddhist caves, located 33 km north of Lonavala . These caves were excavated sometime during the 1st century BC. The Chaitya or the prayer hall has one inscription which gives information about the donors. The cave can be reached by climbing down from the Rajmachi village. Kondana is a rock-cut Buddhist cave with a stupa, chaitya, vihara, and sculptures. It is believed that during an earthquake in the early 1900s, much of the front, floor and stupa were damaged. This left the pillars in the chaitya suspended like huge stalactites from the ceiling. Large beehives are said to be present at the entrance of the cave. Hence people are told to be careful. Yash also told us that there are beautiful carvings, and there was a statue too, that due to the earthquake and during some riots was damaged and broken into.) We were only able to see the remains.

We were a small group finally, just of 6. But through the night, we ate, sang along some songs, shared and spoke about our experiences some scary some not so much. Soon, we all got some sleep, and woke up to the misty beautiful morning skies. (You need to see, the pictures. It felt lovely.) There was something about the air, something peaceful and homely. Something that wouldn't want you to leave. However, we did have to head out soon. So after exploring the cave quite a lot myself and together, entering the Monks meditation rooms, seeing their water tank, climbing up a hidden path, and getting a aerial view of the prayer hall. We soon began our journey downwards. It was a fun descend as we did not take any halts, and the early morning weather was quite, a pleasure to walk through. We soon reached the base and our trip had reached its end. We then had some morning snacks, got our tickets. And were on a train back home.

This was a different sort of trek, than the usual one. A more peaceful, small, and concise one. A one that threw a lot of challenges at us that we faced head on. And a cave, that silently comforts you and makes you feel at ease. It was a memorable trip, and trip I’d love to do again. Looking to keep in touch with the new friends I made. And to do more trek's with No Mad Hikers.

Picture of the Trek(Kondana Caves 2015) :

This is Alpal (A new nickname, given to me.) signing off, until next time.
Have a great day, and an adventurous weekend! :)                                                                                       
Do Follow & Support:

No MAD Hikers:

The Happy Getaway:
Twitter: @thehappygetaway

Thank You

Alvin Anthony