Category Archives: mountains

A hill fort and a holiday.

For the first time since I arrived in India, I left Mumbai with Kate and Tom and Baby Raj and we went on what was their first road trip in this country; they didn’t own a car to do that with until after I arrived, and shortly after Raj arrived a month ago. Often it’s easier to travel with a very young baby than an older one, and they wanted to take me somewhere out of the city, so… we had a brief holiday in Lonavala and Khandala, only a couple of hours south and east of Mumbai. I was surprised at how soon out of the city we were seeing the mountains rise up before us, and even though we took a baby rest stop, we arrived at our hill station retreat in good time.

The only sad thing about this trip was the shame we brought on our family and probably on all westerners by letting Grandma sit in the back of the car with the baggage, a very disrespectful arrangement in the eyes of Indians. Tom would have been very happy to sit there instead, in one of the  side-facing jump seats, but then I’d have had to take the front seat and witness the constant near-death vehicle interactions, and he would not have been able to help the driver with directions. On the bench in the middle it was most convenient that Wilson in his car seat be next to his mother, and in the back I had lots of room to stretch my legs. I could see the scenery and the motorcycle riders and buses and all behind us — much more relaxing.

But at the hotel, every time we drove on to the property, the guards had to open the back door to check for stowaways or bombs or something, and they were embarrassed and/or amused to have to follow protocol when they could see the “auntie” through the window.

Our hotel sat above the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Mumbai is huge, of course, and Pune is the seventh largest city in India, so it’s not surprising that the smog from both of them extends to the mountains. We don’t know what the AQI index might be up there, but in any case it made our viewing of the mountain vistas a bit sad. Tom says that the air could easily be cleaned up in less than 20 years — look what Beijing did! — so I tried to imagine clearer vistas for coming generations.

The British established these hill stations in the mountains all over India as places to get away for a while from the worst heat, so they have had a couple of centuries to develop into towns where people still go for holidays. Our “twin” hill stations lie in the Sahyadri ranges of the Western Ghat mountains.

Our only full day  was Saturday, and we chose our destination from among several possible outings: Lohagad Fort on top of a hill, built by the locals in the 16th or 17th century as a fortification against the Moguls, who were able to take and control it for only five years.

We drove a half hour or more up the mountain to the starting point, and from the parking lot Kate and I first walked to the one washroom in that village that is for tourists. It was in a stable attached to a house, where two cows and a dog with puppies were housed. While I waited my turn I admired one animal at close range for a few moments before I turned to see a woman looking at me from the doorstep of her kitchen. We smiled at each other, and I said, “Beautiful cow!” She went back into the house and I could hear her exclaiming something that sounded like “Chri-tien!” I could only guess that she had seen the cross around my neck. Maybe she was a Christian, too?

The woman in the photo below was selling snacks to people as they set out climbing steps, and though we weren’t buying anything she smiled at little Raj in his sling. The brown pods are tamarind.

What a good hike we had then! Kate and Tom each carried small backpacks, and they took turns carrying Raj in the Baby K’tan sling. It takes about 200 steps to reach the gate of the fort, but if you want to go all the way to the top, it is more than 300, maybe even 500 steps. No official information is to be had, and reviewers give all kinds of hearsay information. No one claims to have counted the steps. We didn’t either, being too busy enjoying the views and our fellow hikers, Indians who love to have their pictures taken with westerners. We obliged several times, and enjoyed telling everyone that our baby was just one month old.

Monkeys live there at the fort. We watched quite a few of them just playing in the trees, but most of the creatures were carefully scanning the groups of people going up and down to see if there were any snacks available. They particularly love soda pop and will grab a bottle out of your hands. Kate and Tom knew this and in the past she’d found herself wrestling with a monkey over her drink at another tourist spot in India. So we kept what little we had hidden away.

When we reached the top of the fort we kept going, almost to the top of the hill, and found shade under a tree where Raj could have his lunch in peace. An Indian lady came and sat with us for a while, waiting for her husband to come back from the pinnacle. And then we went up there, too, for another perspective on Pawana Lake down below.

I can imagine how lovely it all must be when the monsoons turn everything lush and green. The air quality is better then, too. Kate and Tom want to return.

I took the above picture trying to catch the situation with the men giving food to the dogs who also hung around the area. Monkeys were climbing on the walls and peering down from various places trying to get in on the deal.

We took about 2 1/2 hours in all, slowly climbing all those stairs, walking and sitting around at the top, me taking pictures of flowers, and then slowly descending the often steep steps on our increasingly wobbly legs. Tom took this picture looking down as we were on our way:

When we got back to the car, only then did we buy something to drink in the safety of our vehicle, and we drove down the bumpy road to our hotel.

The town of Lonavala is about 2,000 ft. elevation, high enough to be a little cooler than Mumbai, especially at night. It really was very pleasant in the day, too. They are famous for their chikki, a yummy kind of praline made with jaggery, and every third shop along the narrow streets of town seemed to have a big CHIKKI sign above it. I bought an assortment including Rose, but didn’t open it until we got home.

Breakfast at the hotel was a stupendous affair. Evidently you must offer breakfast items of every possible sort to please tourists from various cultures with their traditions and dietary rules. That means the full English breakfast of bacon, sausage, omelettes, roasted tomatoes, toast, beans… (I didn’t see any mushrooms, though!) And plenty of vegetarian items: mixed vegetables, potatoes, dal, coconut chutney….

The mostly self-serve area was so huge, I didn’t even see (or need) the place with fruit, cereal and doughnuts, and I didn’t have a dosa made for me, but I ate bites from Kate’s and from Tom’s. Tom’s was a cheese dosa, so light it could be served upright as a cone. And the omelette that was started cooking before my eyes was the most elegant and perfect rendition I have ever eaten.

One more thing we did in the mountains was visit Lion’s Point lookout/overview, a large and rocky parking lot on the side of the mountain not requiring any physical exertion to get to, and providing plenty of photo opportunities for the humans, and soda-stealing opportunities for the monkeys. There were shaded areas with chairs if you wanted to stay a while. We bought some ice cream and kulfi, and showed off Raj.

On the road up to Lion’s Point and down, our driver had to shift gears constantly to maneuver the frequent and steep hairpin turns. High rock walls lined the road through neighborhoods where you could see the occasional cheerful bungalow or villa on the other side, with lots of tall trees and vines spreading their shade and flowers beyond the walls to the road. I could imagine some British colonial writer like Rumer Godden living in one of these places a hundred years ago.

Lower down I had glimpsed an occasional farm near the highway, and on the way back we were on the lookout for one so that the driver could stop, and I would take a picture. But as it turned out, they were much farther down, where the road becomes a freeway with few exits and no shoulder at all.

We returned to Mumbai quite content and with stiffening muscles from our intense stair-climbing. Everyone thought it had been a great first road trip, first hike, first expedition out of Mumbai for little Raj. He had been pretty happy the whole time, often on one or another of our laps as in this picture.

He seemed glad to be home, too, and to just lie on his play mat listening to the familiar white noises and to feel the lack of vibrations and jerks he’d been introduced to lately.

Huckleberry Cat was very curious and no doubt relieved that we were back. I wonder though if he was surprised that we all returned. Perhaps he had hoped that the small strange creature would not. For some reason Huckleberry attached himself to me as never before and sat on my lap for long sessions of nuzzling and snuggling. When I tired of that, he jumped up on the desk to sit by me while I typed. He “talked” to me a lot all evening, but what was he saying? I told him that Raj is here to stay, but I didn’t break the news about my own coming departure. He will discover that soon enough.

In the meantime, I wonder if he could somehow help me to squeeze the overflowings of my mind into a few more coherent posts about India?

Back home in the same direction.

DAY 6: Even though this is our departure day, and I have much to do — or maybe because of that — I linger in bed this morning and savor this cozy little part of my cabin experience. I wonder where that mouse ran to… don’t suppose a mouse would start making a nest in my suitcase overnight… hope not. My lips are really chapped, from the dry air. I haven’t looked at the weather station much but I did notice humidity of 25% yesterday.

We are all up and packing, cleaning, eating breakfast at the same time. The children eat leftover pancakes heated on a stovetop toaster. I have jerky and leftover cold green beans with pesto. No microwave here, so even my tea gets cold and I wouldn’t want to dirty another pan to reheat it.

Everyone ponders when they might next be up here. The Professor is hoping their family might come back every other year; Scout was lobbying for twice a month! But snow prevents us from using it more than three or four months of the year. I might return as soon as next week, but I might not. I may be all tripped-out and too weary from this year’s bounteousness of traveling.

I am cleaning my windshield — amazed that I remembered to do this — when four-year-old Ivy comes up and says, “Can I help you with that, Grandma? I can do your side windows; you can do the high parts and I’ll do this part down here.”

“Well, okay, thank you, Sweetie, that will be nice  to have those clean, too.” I hand her a paper towel with Windex on it and she starts wiping. “Dad told me and Scout to help you and Mom as much as we could.” 🙂

My dear family drives off, after Pippin has accomplished 90% of the cleanup. A few last details… I’m almost out the front door when a chipmunk runs past me into the cabin. Oh, dear! I try to get on the other side of him to herd him back to the open door, but he runs into the back bedroom and disappears. My brother is due to arrive sometime this day — will I have to wait for him to help me?  Mice are always with us, but I can’t lock up with a chipmunk in here.

While I muse over this and check my phone one last time before leaving the wi-fi, the little guy scampers down the hall and out the door. Whew.

I drive away from the lake and down the mountain, enjoying the quietness for one more hour at least — I won’t turn on my audiobook until I get out of the forest — and the smell of the trees. Today it’s the usual piney flavor that they exude especially on warm days, but when I arrived last week in the thunderstorm, oh what a mix of earth and plant smells the rain brought out; just breathing it put the essence of Nature Girl right into me.

That afternoon upon first entering the forest at about 5,000 feet elevation, I’d been puzzled about the smell, which was unfamiliar. It didn’t have any of that piney edge to it, and it was sweet and toasty. I wondered if the thousands of dead trees were changing the chemistry of the aromatics. But after a half hour, the distinctive incense cedar scent came in the window, and I recognized it as having been one element of the strange smell. I suppose that with all the different trees, shrubs and flowers that are blooming and fading, each day’s bouquet in each microclimate is bound to be at least a little bit different.

I stop to take pictures of granite expanses, with giant trees sprouting out of crevices… get back in the car, turn the key, the engine hums, and Bam! the Kinks are blasting, “All day, and all of the night!” What on earth? Why did my stereo suddenly come on, and what station could possibly transmit here? I gather my wits from where they’ve been bounced all around my skull, turn down the volume, the song changes…. I realize it is iTunes playing, through my new stereo’s Bluetooth function. “My” iTunes is 90% my late husband’s collection, which I haven’t spent any time adapting to my own kind of music; I never even listen to iTunes.

shrub I see on the way down

 

I begin to wonder if an angel turned it on, because for the next hour as I listen to the shuffle, it’s a sweet reverie I float in, reminded of times when he would play certain ones saying, “This is for you, Gretchen.” R&B love songs like “Always and Forever” by Heatwave: “I’ll always love you forever.” Atlantic Star’s “Always”  includes a line about making a family who “will bring us joy for always,” something I have just been experiencing these last few days; I think over all the joy Mr. Glad and I shared over our children.

Sierra Vinegarweed

Now that I am thinking about him, I remember the time my husband and I stopped along this very road just to cut some manzanita branches to take home for Mrs. C. What a job that was! We staggered far up the bank through loose sandy soil so as not to uglify the least bit the view from the road, and all the bushes were surrounded by a stickery plant that impeded us greatly. But we accomplished our errand.

Even Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” though it is melancholy indeed, evokes for me truths and realities of loss and change, and more importantly, of hope:

Where the years went I can’t say
I just turned around and they’ve gone away

The finest hour that I have seen
Is the one that comes between
The edge of night and the break of day
It’s when the darkness rolls away

And it’s gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide

Here I am driving on a mountainside myself, thinking on things that have in one sense “gone away” with the years. But Love remains. Though my life has changed drastically in the last three years, its direction has continued steady, thanks to Christ, “the true Light that enlightens every man,” Who will finally roll away all the darkness. I think about this quote, too:

What shall pass from history into eternity? The human person with all its relations, such as friendship and love.
-Father Georges Florovsky

Various things happen to slow my descent, like being stopped while a tall dead pine is felled and crashes in the forest right across my line of vision. Slow logging trucks, road work, my own stopping to snap pictures… I see lots of Sierra Vinegarweed and spend ten minutes watching bees and butterflies drink at the flowers.

Also, I’m very relaxed and wanting to put off as long as possible the moment when I leave the last tree behind me and find myself in the baking and bare foothills. That’s when I will switch to my audiobook, leave my happy meditation, and count my Mountain Diary as concluded.

(I returned home just last night.)

If you missed previous posts in this series, you can go back and start HERE.

Lake, stream, and mice.

DAY 5: This will be our last full day at the lake. Mark and Jennie have already left their nearby camp, which leaves the six of us to plan for. I take a long walk in the morning and meet Tom, a man who spends the whole summer up here. “Mine is the black cabin,” he says. He is in his mid-80’s, and knew my father. He takes his canoe out every morning, all by himself, because his wife died only a few months ago. I think when I come next summer I’ll go look for him at his black cabin with a picture of quail on the sign.

I also check out the little library in a cabinet, but don’t find anything up my alley. Certainly I don’t need more books up here anyway – I’ve made small progress in the ones I brought.

wild gooseberry

I admire buttercups, and eat a couple of gooseberries as I head down to look at the lake, then hike steeply about 200 yards back to our cabin. There is time to read from The Complete Brambly Hedge to the children before lunch, one of the dozen books I brought from my shelves to share with them. We are already familiar with Jill Barklem’s charming stories and the detailed drawings which we study carefully to extract more knowledge about the families of darling anthropomorphized mice.

Then we all head to the lake, even Jamie. His father keeps him lakeside while Pippin, Scout, Ivy and I head out in the canoe for the special spot they found yesterday, an inlet on the other side of the lake where the water cascades over slabs and boulders and sand of granite in a myriad of gorgeous colors. We all enjoy walking up big rock steps through the stream, or along the same slopes that Scout gleefully slides down on his bottom into little pools, where the water is surprisingly temperate.

Me with Scout and Ivy

On return, the Pippin clan all five go in the canoe for a brief outing, while I try out the kayak for my first time. It’s quite fun!

My first voyage

Scout tries paddling the canoe with his mother – then we stow all the paddles and life preservers and kayak seat into the van and return to the cabin so that Scout and his parents can fit in one more Sierra Nevada experience: climbing a dome, just the “little” one behind the cabin. I stay with the younger children and trim green beans from my garden to steam for dinner.

Just before I climb into bed, a mouse runs through my bedroom!

lupine seed pods

 

The next day’s entry is HERE.

On the lake and on the bed.

DAY 3: I wake in the wee hours on this day and can’t go back to sleep for several hours. Maybe my morning coffee was a little too strong?

After a while, I read on my Kindle Paperwhite, which has the kind of screen that is easy on the eyes and doesn’t stimulate the brain to stay awake. My Kindle book has most recently been The Haunted Bookshop, which Pippin and I discovered we’d both bought because it was 99 cents. It did not keep my interest so in these wee hours I decide to start The Romanovs by Virginia Cowles. Maybe I should have kept with the boring book, because reading about 17th century Russian rulers is gruesomely fascinating and not soothing.

Finally I do sleep a little, and wake up just a little later than the children. I abstain from coffee. The kids are scrambling all around the cabin and down to the lake in the morning, and in the afternoon Scout checks out the refrigerator and sees some lemons, decides to make lemonade. I find the ancient Joy of Cooking in the cupboard and show him how to multiply the lemonade recipe five times to make use of the amount of juice he has extracted. It makes a superb drink that we all share, even the men who are poring over maps planning their hike.

Scout in particular is impatient with the slow process of planning our activities for the next couple of days, along with Mark and Jennie who are camping nearby and will be joining us. They have a truck, so our project of getting the boats down to the lake is made much easier. The kids help haul the canoe and kayak uphill from under the deck, and try them out while they wait still longer.

Finally they are ready to go, and to take “my” new kayak on its maiden voyage. I am so happy that so soon, someone else is interested in using it. I want it to belong to the cabin and the family, even though I bought it for times when I am at the lake by myself and can’t manage the large canoe.

But this time, because of my lack of sleep and my back pain, I stay in the cabin with other nappers and catch up on rest, and I hear the reports of the small expeditions when everyone returns and I have had a delicious sleep.

Our friends barbecue an ample steak for us tonight, and we keep talking and talking after dinner, much discussion about the history of water and dams and drought in the western U.S. I am inspired to download yet another book to my Kindle, Cadillac Desert by Mark Reisner. I started reading that with my husband when he was in chemo three years ago, but it got too depressing for that time of our life. Still, I think it would be good for every Californian to read, and I’m ready now to try again.

After everyone else has gone to bed, I remember to step out on the deck and watch the stars for a while. So cold, but alive and multitudinous, and comforting in their vastness. But I don’t have the right angle on them… I need a pad to lie on, or at least a chaise lounge, and maybe tomorrow I can remember my star friends earlier in the evening and make provision for an encounter.

Next day’s entry is HERE.