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Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 15:59 UK

City break - monsoon trekking in Mumbai

By Prachi Pinglay
BBC News, Mumbai

Trekkers near Mumbai
The trekking routes have gained in popularity

Aravind Nair, 28, lives and works in India's financial capital Mumbai (Bombay) where he says life is fast, expensive and impersonal.

But one of the brighter sides of living in Mumbai has been his discovery of "monsoon treks" - a concept unique to the island city which is surrounded by hills, forests and forts and gets plenty of rainfall.

Monsoon in Mumbai often spells floods, traffic jams, displacement for many and water-borne diseases.

But, for thousands of the city's burgeoning middle-class, it is also the best time of the year to head out and soak in a bit of history and adventure.

And they don't have to go far.

The Sahyadri mountain range, also known as the "Western Ghats" - a 650-km (403 miles) stretch which is home to seasonal waterfalls and a lush green landscape - is only 100km (62 miles) from the city.

"You don't need a long vacation to go to these places and there are agencies which organise treks, rafting and waterfall rappelling. You really can't get more out of a weekend," says Mr Nair.

Excellent routes

The monsoon ensures that the temperatures don't go too high and the climate is pleasant.

There is a good rail link and road connectivity to the area, making it accessible in less than three hours from the city.

The Western Ghats are home to over 300 forts - many of them hundreds of years old - which provide excellent trekking routes.

People wade through a flooded street during heavy rains in Mumbai, India
Monsoon in Mumbai can mean lots of hardships

Many of these forts now have village settlements where the trekkers can halt overnight.

Parag Gandhi runs an agency called Escapades which organises monsoon treks for a small fee of $25.

"Most of the locations are about two to four hours' away. We take groups in vehicles and organise porters and medical aid. There is one instructor for every group of six-seven trekkers."

Once the trekkers reach their destination, they are provided fresh food by villagers - "a perfect experience for young professionals", says Mr Gandhi.

Earlier, these places, known mostly to local people, attracted only college students or avid trekkers who would arrive at the nearest railway station or bus depot, they would bring packets of food, explore the place and return.

Rishikesh Jadhav, who has been trekking in these hills for over 25 years, says he has now begun to see a new kind of crowd at these spots.

Historical

"Now you see people who are new to Mumbai or Maharashtra. Earlier there was little information available about these places so it was restricted to locals, college students or serious trekkers who were interested in history and at the same time wanted an adventurous getaway."

Some of the routes are indeed historical journeys.

For instance, one of the popular monsoon treks is between Panhalgad and Vishalgad - a route once taken by legendary Maratha warrior Shivaji while fighting the Mughals.

It is a three-day trek, through thick forests, heavy rains and night halts in villages.

Trekkers near Mumbai
The area has lush green landscape

Professional agencies also add activities like rafting and waterfall rappelling into the mix so that history is laced with a bit of adrenaline-inducing fun.

Besides the organised treks, there are also many who venture out on their own or in smaller groups, mostly comprising a bunch of enthusiasts who find their way into the wild, get drenched and just have fun.

Sameer Karve, who runs one such local group, says once addicted to the experience, people go again and again and even form emotional bonds with villagers.

"The villagers help us when we arrive there tired and fatigued. Over time, the bond grows beyond money. When heavy rains destroyed some of these villages in 2005, some trekkers got together and provided relief and money. It is extremely heartening to see such friendships develop."

So as it pours in Mumbai and people battle traffic snarls and wade through waterlogged roads and huge potholes, trekking enthusiasts like Aravind Nair wait for their next weekend.




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