Waterfalls of Malshej Ghat

Waterfalls of Malshej Ghat

Monday, August 29, 2011

Malshej Ghat, moth entomology and rain treks.

Having heard numerous praises from trekkers regarding the monsoon beauty of "Malshej Ghat" , a week-end getaway for Mumbaikars, finally got the opportunity of visiting this nature and wild-life resort."B.N.H.S(Bombay Natural History Society)" were organizing a overnight week-end nature camp to Malshej Ghat on the 28th(Saturday)/29th(Sunday) of August, peak tourist season for this particular hill resort.Confirmed my registration at the "B.N.H.S" office on Thursday(9-8-2011) by paying the nature-camp charges of Rs 2900 to Mr Vandan.Jhaveri, the "B.N.H.S" group leader of this nature-camp. Bizarrely, i got a mild bout of Malaria after paying the camp registration fees , recovering quickly due to prompt treatment, hence lucky to be fit in time for the "Malshej Ghat Camp". Malshej Ghat is just 154 kms from Mumbai or approximately 4 hours drive by a vehicle , situated at an elevation of approx 700 meters above sea-level.
Woke up at 0500 hrs on Saturday hoping that water-logging would not upset the trip plans as it was raining since mid-night.After a quick bathe and breakfast left the house in heavy downpour managing to catch the local bus to Dadar(T.T). Reached "Chandu Halwai" at Dadar T.T at approx 0610 hrs and met a new acquaintance, Mr Murali, a soft-wear engineer who came all the way from Madras by train to attend this particular nature camp.Mr Murali had come for the camp to "Map" the co-ordinates of the forested site of Malshej Ghat for nature researchers, something which he had done previously for the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park" in Mumbai.There were no recognizable faces from previous camps and treks and hence self-introduced ourselves , getting to know each other.Met two doctors, Dr Geeta.Samant and Dr Laxman.Bhandharkar at the "Chandu Halwai Stop" and as usual a conversation of nature treks and camps evolved amongst total strangers.This is the charm of "B.N.H.S Camps", interaction and exchange of ideas between total strangers from different professional backgrounds, age-group and sexes, the common factor being a love for nature and the out-doors.
The "B.N.H.S" tour bus arrived at 0635 hrs and after checking the attendance sheet and awaiting the arrival of a few late-comers,B.N.H.S nature camp group leader Mr Vandan.Jhaveri gave instructions for proceeding to Malshej Ghat.We departed "Dadar T.T" at approx 0645 hrs proceeding towards Navi Mumbai via Wadala(E) highway, a new route to me by the "B.N.H.S Bus" akin to a "Mumbai safar" tour conducted by numerous tour companies around Mumbai city for tourists. Thanks to my frequent "B.N.H.S Treks/Camps", have also managed to keep in touch with the latest topographical concrete developments in Mumbai's northern vicinities suburbs and Navi Mumbai.Absolutely stunned by the rapid development of skyscraper towers in what was once open mangrove wastelands or slum colonies.We reached Vashi at approx 0715 hrs, passed by Merchant Navy training institute "T.S.Chanakya(Nautical Study's)" reaching Kharghar at approx 0745 hrs.At Khargar, our final passenger boarded, entomologist Dr V.Shubhalaxmi the "B.N.H.S" group leader and an authority on the study of moths in India.The total complement of the "B.N.H.S Mini Bus" consisted of 15 nature camp tourists and 4 B.N.H.S staff members conducting the tour which included driver Mr Taufiq.Khan and his assistant Mr Dilip.Giri. We normally overlook the services of the driver or tour helper, little realizing that without these minor "Team Members" a successful tour would be incomplete and impossible, if involved in an accident.The roads on Taloja highway were literally craters, the bus having great difficulty in maneuvering as well as maintaining speed.At approx 0830 we reached the main Murbad highway, stopping en-route at a petrol pump for toilet facilities as well as re-fueling.The owner of this pump had a beautiful white horse tethered at one end of the petrol station, a personal pet.I picked up a conversation with the syce of the horse who was grooming it with a metal brush and he said that it was on sale for Rs 3 lacs.Cheap but definitely a "white elephant" in terms of maintenance unless the income by renting it for weddings or auspicious occasions compensated the high maintenance cost.After a brief stop at the petrol pump we drove on-to the Murbad highway,passing Badlapur station at approx 0930hrs. The highway from Badlapur station to Barvi Dam a distance of 18 kms was excellent and the bus could maintain a normal average speed.The Barvi dam road was very scenic with meandering evergreen hills and forests having the "tarzan creeper roots", a sign of evergreen tropical forests.The Barvi dam supplies water to Navi Mumbai and Thane and a popular picnic spot.After crossing past the Barvi dam at approx 1030 hrs we made our way onto the Aurangabad Highway finally reaching Murbad at approx 1045 hrs.Proceeded along the Aurangabad/Murbad highway spotting a road sign indicating a distance of 48 kms to Malshej Ghat.The final road towards Malshej ghat was a gradual climb in elevation and the beauty of this peculiar Ghat could be experienced from a distance. There were numerous waterfalls gushing from the hill tops and the route was crowded with tourists.At 1145 hrs we stopped at one of the largest waterfalls and walked along the road, the green hill valley below covered in mist.The narrow winding road was crowded with picnickers having a dip in the numerous water-falls gushing from the mountain side along the road. A troop of Rhesus monkeys were busy prowling along the road boundary barricade seeking and demanding food from picnickers.Managed to photograph a majestic male monkey, a miniature King-Kong from hand-shake distance with my normal digital camera, an excellent portrait..Lucky that it didn't grab my camera and run as these monkeys can be very aggressive.Took a video clip of this beautiful scenic location and after a brief cup of tea and maize cob as a snack at the road-side stalls made our way into the bus and drove towards our final destination.Throughout our entire journey, beginning from Mumbai there was a continuous drizzle of rain, making the journey pleasant and also dangerous due to skidding road conditions.
The largest "MONSOON WATERFALL" of Malshej Ghat.

At approx 1230 hrs we finally reached Malshej ghat plateau on which the MTDC hotel called "Flamingo's" is situated, the only hotel resort on the hill.As the "Check-In Time" was at 1300 hrs we whiled away our time roaming the nearby precincts of this dormitory styled hotel.Booking rooms at the " MTDC Flamingo Hotel" has to be done months in advance as it is heavily booked during the peak tourist season of monsoon climate.Finally at 1320 hrs we all checked into our allotted rooms, two tourists to a room.Dr Laxman.Bhandharkar and myself were allotted room Nos 106 , a single room with double-bed and attached bath.After a brief wash we all assembled at the "Flamingo Restaurant" for a buffet type vegetarian lunch.My cell-phone signal was dead and hence couldn't ring up home, a strange inconvenience in most hill forts and remote forested resorts around Mumbai.After lunch at 1400 hrs on the first floor of "Flamingo restaurant" we all assembled for a "Self-Introduction",a normal procedure on all treks, hikes or resorts with "B.N.H.S".Recognized two old familiar acquaintances who were with me for a previous trek to Kolvan and Tikona fort in Lonavala in 2009. Luckily, managed to get the cell-phone signal from the restaurant and hence rang home , confirming my safety on arrival.
Dr V.Shubhalaxmi introduced us to the topic on moths,a totally new and non -fascinating wild-life topic to me, more interested in trekking, mammals, birds, fish and reptiles.To me, moths were just another group of insects similar to butterfly's, beautiful but totally non -interesting.I had come to Malshej Ghat for the opportunity of spotting the rare giant squirrel, besides the pleasure of trekking this beautiful monsoon hill-station.As they say, fate had something else in store for us, the weather being absolutely windy with heavy continuous showers reducing visibility to a few meters.The cool climate and thick mist of Malshej Ghat reminded me of an identical situation during my visit to "Genting Highlands" in Malaysia in 2007.The out-door thrill rides at this World famous Malaysian resort was canceled due to bad weather and hence i was confined to indoors entertainment at this resort, viewing the film "Bourne Identity" at the multiplex theater and later visiting the casino inside the resort. Malshej ghat has no exotic fun-rides or artificial entertainment, just a hotel situated on a plateau with a beautiful view of the forests and wild-life.Its the scenic beauty of the waterfalls and the thick cloud of mist throughout the monsoon season that makes this hill resort a big tourist attraction amongst city dwellers .
Understanding the grotesque and unique beauty of "MOTHS" :- "THE  GREATER DEATH HEADS MOTH".

Dr V.Shubhalaxmi took us on a guided tour of moths within the hotel precincts that had taken shelter on the hotel walls, explaining the peculiarities and methods of identification of the few visible moths.A few banner hoardings on wild-life in Maharashtra as well as trekking forts were installed by "B.N.H.S" along the hotel lobby,wild-life education for picnickers and nature hobbyists visiting this resort.I was absolutely fascinated by the "Greater Deaths head Hawk Moth" which had a pirates skull and bones engraving on its body, hence the fascinating name.The engraving on this month resembled an artificial tattoo or painting and they were quite common around the hotel walls.This moth received notoriety in the mega-hit Hollywood film "The silence of the Lambs" and after personally viewing it for the first time realized the reasons for the same.Malshej Ghat is famous for moths and in fact Dr V.Shubhalaxmi did a years thesis on the moths of Malshej ghat, visiting the resort regularly throughout the year.Suddenly, i discovered that i had found moths a fascinating insect species, each species of moth different from the other with still numerous species awaiting identification by entomologists of whom Dr V.Shubhalaxmi is a leading pioneer in India.
After a brief introduction to resident moths on the "Flamingo hotel walls" we later went for a trek around the Malshej ghat plateau.The "MTDC FLAMINGO HOTEL" is situated right on the plateau of Malshej Ghat and is the only hotel in the vicinity, hence a total monopoly of the tourist seasonal business. The hotel is typical Government managed property, a single storey hotel designed in a long "chawl Type" circular structure with a common lobby, each hotel room facing the plateau below, a magnificent view during the summer or winter season.The hotel room was clean but our T.V was missing, same under repairs, a average hotel profiting from seasonal tourist traffic due to its location and monopoly.The hotel boundary was fenced and the closed gate reminded me of the Mahalaxmi race-course(Mumbai) entry gate for early morning joggers, the gate being "chain-Locked" with a huge gap to allow people to pass through it.At approx 1500 hrs we made our way past the hotel's "Chain -Locked gate" into the beautiful open plateau.It was extremely windy with a thick mist engulfing the entire Malshej ghat plateau and a continuous drizzle of rain.Umbrella's were of no use in this gusty weather and my raincoat saved the day, absolutely water-proof and comfortable, besides allowing free unhindered movement.Tracking wild-life or birds in such weather was impossible and hence we just walked around the entire plateau, akin to walking in the clouds.The edge of the plateau was unfenced and hence we were warned of going too close to the edge as a slip would mean a fall down into the valley.Did step over near the edge and it was a mind-boggling look into clouds with the valley below being totally invisible.It was akin to flying in a plane and viewing the clouds below from a height, such was the feeling of being on Malshej Ghat plateau on this wet and windy Saturday evening.Dr V.Shubhalaxmi and Mr Vandan.Jhaveri explained us the various plants, flowers and insects that we came across while trekking across this wonderful plateau.Treks is my specialty and i can spend hours just walking aimlessly in a forest or an undiscovered city concrete jungle, hence the routine "Solo backpacker tours". We finally returned back to the hotel complex at approx 1630 hrs making our way to the restaurant for tea.After a warm cup of tea and a snack of pakoda's we went to our individual rooms with instructions for having to report in room nos 105 at 1900 hrs for a "Quiz Contest".Dr Laxman.Bhandhari and myself went to our hotel room, got acquainted with each other, he being a General practitioner doctor from Kurla, at present partly retired from active practice.During my numerous single day trips and overnight stays with "B.N.H.S" groups have made numerous acquaintances, people from different professions, age-groups, sex, all having a single common interest, a fascination for nature and wild-life.After a warm bath we relaxed ,involved in general conversation and gossip, myself getting a bit acquainted with the sickness of "Malaria" that has created havoc in my life for the past two years.At approx 1900 hrs we took our chairs and made our way into room nos 105 for the "Nature Quiz Contest".We were divided into three teams with four individuals in each team. I was lucky to be the weakest member of the strongest team ! Mr Jonathan.D'silva an automobile engineer by profession but an authority on insects and plants was in my group along with a avid hobbyist photographer Suresh and a young at heart lady named Zaveri. Suresh,Zaveri and myself had met before at the "Kolvan/Tikona Fort camp" in June 2009, hence familiar with each other.The quiz compere was Dr V.Shubhalaxmi and each team had a leader who would finally answer the question in consultation with team members.A single "life-line" could be used in case of a doubt, a typical quiz as shown on television, most famous being "Kaun Banega Crorepati". Honestly, i could just get a single answer right the rest all being the efforts of team leader Mr Jonathan.D'Silva and Suresh, the team effort finally triumphing.Our team named "Greater Deaths Head Hawk moth" won the quiz and we each received a "Moth Identification picture catalogue",memories of a unique introduction to the mystical and unique world of moth insects.
After the quiz contest at 2000hrs we made our way along the hotel lobby to room Nos 101 where a small white bed-sheet akin to a theater screen was fixed outside the room on the common lobby.A very powerful fluorescent lamp was fixed at the top of the screen and a few moths were already seated on the white sheet.
After a brief introduction on the "Trap light" study of moths we went to the flamingo restaurant for our dinner.Dinner was vegetarian buffet style thali as usual, the only boring aspect of "B.N.H.S Camps" to a carnivore species like me although i can adjust to vegetarian food for a few days.The flamingo restaurant resembled a "Movie set" as thick clouds of "Monsoon mist" engulfed the entrance of the restaurant, scenic and indescribable in print. Reasons for "Malshej ghat" being such a favourite "Monsoon Hill station" are easy to comprehend after a personal visit to this wonderful forested Sahyadri resort of the Western Ghats of India.After dinner we returned to the "Insect -light trap" outside room nos 101, a introduction into the fascinating World of moths.
We were shown a demonstration of a "Insect Light Trap" for the study of moths by B.N.H.S Group Leaders Dr V.Shubhalaxmi and Mr Vandan.Jhaveri. A white cloth, akin to a movie screen was set against the wall. A "Fluorescent Lamp" was attached at the top of the screen and brightly lit in the darkness of the night.This procedure of trapping moths for study and photography has to be done preferably on the eve of the "New Moon" when the night is at its darkest.The moths are attracted towards the light and settle on the white cloth, something amazing to a new-comer watching this procedure for the first time . The moths remain in a trance like condition and can be physically handled as well as photographed, totally refusing to fly away from the white sheet of cloth.Some of these moths give a very pungent odour akin to "bed bugs", otherwise they are harmless and can be handled at ease, akin to a pet.Came across a professional photographer Mr Sanjay.Marathe who made a documentary video from his "SLR Cannon" camera on the "Moth Light trap" experience.Other group members were busy with their camera's, a real wonderful sight of a variety of different coloured moths.Once the bright fluorescent light is switched off, the moths immediately fly away leaving the white screen totally blank, akin to the end of a movie in a theatre. Dr V.Shubhalaxmi is an authority on the study of moths in India having received a fellowship from the "Humphrey Fellowship at Boston(U.S.A)" for discovering a new moth species in Arunachal Pradesh.She is to lead an "Entomological Expedition" in 2011 to Arunachal Pradesh in trying to locate a specimen of this newly discovered moth and if successful will have the privilege of naming this moth! We were really lucky to have the guidance of such an esteemed entomologist in our midst and everyone was busy photographing the moths while Dr V.Shubhalaxmi explained in detail the various traits and physiology of the moths.We were awake upto mid-night awaiting the arrival of the "ATLAS MOTH", the World's largest moth. Sadly, the "Atlas Moth" eluded our "Light trap" and hence we had to be content of the sheer experience of getting to understand entomology and the amazing variety and colouration of moths.Besides being home to the giant squirrel, Malshej Ghat is also densely populated with a variety of moths, including the World's largest moth, "The Atlas Moth".Dr V.Shubhalaxmi visited Malshej Ghat regularly for almost a year to complete her study on Moths and the photograph of the "Atlas Moth" posted on my blog was captured during one of her numerous visits to "Malshej Ghat", studying moths in similar "LIGHT TRAPS".As for me, insects were never my interest in "wild-Life" mostly seen as pests, but, after this particular fascinating experience i have become a "Moth and butterfly fan".Bizzarely, two moths flew and stuck onto me, one settling on my shirt, the other on my pant, just refusing to leave.
Departed to my room at approx 2330 hrs with the "Greater Deaths head Hawk moth" firmly attatched to my leg pant.In the hotel room i removed the moth physically and let it free in the gallery.Later tried to get some sleep which seemed to elude me since the last night, the same happening again, another sleepless night at MTDC resort in Malshej Ghat.Got up at approx 0530 hrs on Sunday(28-8-2011) and went out in the pitch dark early dawn towards room nos 101 to inspect the white screen for any moths.It was raining continuously since our departure from Mumbai, absolutely windy at Malshej ghat and dense mist with visibility reduced to a few meters.There was not a single moth on the white screen nor on any of the walls, all having flown off indicating the bizarre and undecipherable interpretation of nature.Went back to my room as it was pointless roaming aimlessly in the dark forests on a windy rainy morning.
Breakfast was at 0730 hrs at the flamingo restaurant and after ages i tasted the famous local cuisine of "Missal/Pav" a typical Maharashtrian dish.A new member joined us at breakfast, a veteran member of B.N.H.S named Mr Martin.Correa who had come to the resort privately by his vehicle.After breakfast, since the weather was bad with visibility almost zero the expedition into the nearby hill forests to spot the "Giant Squirrel" locally called the "Shekru" and the state animal of Maharashtra was abandoned.Luck plays a major factor in "Wild-Life nature tours" and there are instances where a "Fluke" chance encounter of rare wild-life by an amateur tourist/photographer would be the envy of numerous professional wild-life enthusiasts and photographers.
We decided to visit the "Pimpalgaon Joga dam" situated in the valley below Malshej ghat. It was a short drive of approximately half an hour to the estuary of the "Pimpalgaon Joga Dam", a wide lake with its horizon invisible in the mist akin to the horizon of the sea.
"Pimpalgaon Joga Dam" has a 5 Kms long bund blogging the water flow of the river Pushpavati to the plains from the barricaded mountains surrounding it. We alighted our bus at the start of the bund and decided to walk on the road of the bund.We began our walk at approx 0845 hrs, beautiful scenery with water on one side and lush paddy and waste fields on the other side of the paved bund road.
The elevated bund road was an identical copy of my maternal grandfathers riverside home at Mabukala , a village approx 70 kms from Mangalore city in Karnataka state.
We all walked along the "Bund paved road" in the drizzling rain a normal trek through lush greenery on one side and a endless sea of water on the other side. Mr Martin.Correa, belonging to the "East Indian Catholic community", original inhabitants o of Bombay was an agriculturist of Mumbai city having owned and still owning tracts of cultivated land in Malad and the suburbs, manny of which are now palatial housing properties and malls.Martin was our un-official guide on this walk along "Pimpalgaon Joga Dam" .He narrated us his personal experiences with the local villagers living on the precincts of the "Sanjay Gandhi National Park" and their expertise in recognizing local wild-life.Although everyone amongst us had a camera, a few professionals having camera's costing over a lakh of rupees, yet, none ventured on this walk with their camera's.Fear of damage to costly camera equipment due to the incessant rains since our arrival at Malshej on Saturday(27-8-2011) was the main reason of missing out on some splendid "Bird Photography" on this particular Sunday morning. We spotted a rare flight of three spoon-billed storks flying low overhead just above us, an excellent photographic opportunity for the professionals and lucky amateurs.Suresh and myself along with the very active lady trekker Jhaveri ventured into the fields, a treacherous trek down the rock embankment.In the fields below some green grass resembled flowers from a distance and Mumbai agriculturist Mr Martin.Correa was adamant that it was grass and not flowers while photograph enthusiast Suresh stood steadfast that it was flowers.The gambler in me said that it was best to confirm the truth rather than be in suspense,hence the three of us ventured into the field below the rock embankment.Suresh and myself waded through knee deep water in the flooded fields, myself slipping and falling in the pond, the waterproof "Reliable Brand" raincoat saving my purse from being a total write-off.We finally reached the field and confirmed that it was flowers and not grass, proving the fact that in nature even veteran naturalists or agriculturists could be wrong occasionally.We finally trudged back onto the main bund road, myself doing a bit of "Rock Climbing" on the bund wall and in the process losing my black coloured small finger ring, a memento from my travels to Thailand in 2005.It was not a costly loss but a loss of memories and a memento.We must have walked at least 3 Kms upto the end of the bund detour finally deciding to turn back to the bus.On our return walk we spotted a small kingfisher hunting its meal, taking regular dips into the water, an excellent photo opportunity missed as none of us had camera's.We also performed a small "Gujarati Garba Dance", the same choreographed by the energetic lady Zaveri.At the end of the bund road near the parked bus a few of us ventured towards the waters edge, deceptively shallow but definitely deep and filled with muck and dangerous for a swim or dip.We finally reached our bus at approx 1045 hrs and then drove back to Malshej Ghat M.T.D.C hotel.We checked out of our rooms at 1130 hrs, dumping our haversack bags into the bus.Lunch was at the "Flamingo restaurant", the normal vegetable buffet thali. After lunch, Suresh made us all pose for a group photograph at the entrance of the "Flamingo Restaurant", memories of the wettest and most unforgettable personal trekking experience with "B.N.H.S Group".Our two day stay in Malshej ghat had come to an end, the entire nature camp and moth entomology study being conducted in heavy and light shower rains, experiences of a different kind.
Indescribable Monsoon beauty of the "MALSHEJ GHAT" region.

Our bus departed from Flamingo hotel at approx 1300 hrs, the return trip being in heavy downpour.The return trip was via Kalyan and hence a different route after the Murbad highway junction.The roads at Kalyan were the worst, besides, there was partial flooding in some parts of the city.Tea break was at Kalyan at approx 1530 hrs.From Kalyan we made our way to New Mumbai via the toll-highway, the entire journey done in heavy downpour.The lush green hills surrounding New Mumbai and Kalyan had water-falls gushing from their sides, a mini Malshej Ghat scenario, a fascinating experience to a city dweller from Mumbai accustomed to a concrete jungle and gushing waste drain water.Luckily, there was no massive traffic congestion at any particular junction during our entire return trip to Mumbai, although the bus was crawling at a slow speed.Manny of our co-travelers alighted at various stops around new Mumbai with co-travel mate Mr Laxman.Bhandharkar alighting at Chembur. The bus finally reached Dadar (T.T) at approx 1815 hrs, a long tedious journey made comfortable due to the pleasant monsoon weather.Murali and myself alighted at Dadar, he awaiting the train to Madras and myself boarding the local bus to Prabhadevi.Reached home, safe and sound at approx 1845 hrs, end of a hectic and memorable monsoon trip to Malshej Ghats.This was the only ourdoors trek in continuous rainfall, something amazing and once in a life-time experience.We were lucky to reach home as most parts of Mumbai and Maharashtra was flooded with rains on Monday(29-8-2011), schools remaining closed and vehicle as well as train transport severely effected.The "Malshej Ghat" rain trek was a lucky as well as educative nature camp and i for one got to understand entomology a bit better.
P.S : CREDIT OF THE MOTH PHOTOGRAPHS TO MR JONATHAN.D"SILVA AND THE RARE UNIQUE WORLD'S LARGEST "ATLAS MOTH" TO DR SHUBHALAXMI.VAYULURE.
Read the link on the latest status of Dr Shubhalaxmi.Vaylure :-http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/a-mumbai-woman-who-loves-to-chase-moths-feature-with-images-113091100456_1.html