This month last year, I happened to go on my first camping trip. It was a resolution of sorts, and I’ll revisit that weekend today. I had no tent, no sleeping bag and obviously, no experience in the wilderness. So, I went with Let’s Camp Out to tick one thing off my list of resolutions – at Tungarli Lake!
The campsite is located about 5 km from Lonavala, which is a couple of hours’ drive from Mumbai. You can also take a train as I did. Once you reach the Tungarli dam, you’ll have to trek up and cover the rest of the stretch on foot. The dam is quite a charming spot! It was built in the 1930’s for irrigation, but that day, it appeared to be an abandoned watchpost up on the hill.
During the train journey, I met a group of trekkers who were getting ready to do the Rajmachi trek. Tungarli, is a nice stopover before you undertake that one. The view of the lake is refreshing.
Somewhere in the Sahyadri range of mountains, the quaint village of Tungarli lives undisturbed by the city slickers. The lake is a watering hole for cows and buffaloes herded by the farmers from the village. If you are lucky, you can also spot some wild water buffaloes submerged in the waters of Tungarli Lake. This keeps them cool in hot afternoons. After drinking up the gorgeous view, we headed over to our campsite.
Camping amidst Nature
Our little green tents were already set up for us when we reached. They were Coleman sundome tents with a capacity of 3 each. When I first thought of camping, I imagined I’d have to endure hardships and sleep on thin tarpaulin sheets which would make me feel the stones and twigs beneath. But I was in for a surprise – a pleasant one.
Our tents were wind and water resistant, with a nice awning at the entrance. We could fully seal our tents with the double zippers. There were even two net-windows which could be zipped open or close a per our requirement for light and air. And some more air vents for cross ventilation. I could barely feel the ground for we had airbeds and inflatable pillows. Finally, there were a couple of pockets on the side-walls of the tent to stash our stuff.
If you are wondering where the washroom was, there was a toilet-tent (with ziplock) with a portable commode seat and a shovel inside. But because this is nature, you have bare earth beneath all this. Eco camping requires that you cover up your waste with earth (which you will have dug up to create a deep pit in the ground). Never forget to carry toilet paper if you are organizing your own camping trip.
We had some tea and biscuits before setting out west on a trek to explore these hills on the Western Ghats. Our trekking guide took us to the very top of our hill and we stood there for a long time, taking in the view of the villages in the valley. From up there, we could also see Rajmachi and perhaps, Lonavala.
I feel treks are rewarding. Not only for the panoramic sights you get to see but also for the interesting plants and insects that you come across. Tungarli’s terrain is arid at places, and this has resulted in the growth of a variety of cacti.
I came across several cactus plants and also some buds which were yet to bloom. Nature gives you a nice lesson in botany if you care to explore and be inquisitive.
Not far from all the cacti were ant nests. You can identify these by the circular patterns they have around the burrow. I later found out that those belonged to harvester ants which are common in sandy soils. These ants mainly collect seeds as it is difficult to find honeydew (which the ordinary ant would normally go after). Ant nests are good for the soil as they provide aeration and help in mixing different layers of soil.
Sunset in the Sahyadris
The sky turned auburn as the sun signalled it was about to set. We sat on our elevated seats and watched the city pull up its dark blanket. Despite the altitude, the absence of daylight and the winter season, the temperature barely touched 20 degrees Celsius. But it was night, and we had to head back to our camp.
Bring Out the Barbecue!
After the trek, it was time to eat, and we had a portable barbecue to get the party started! 🙂 We grilled sliced pineapples, paneer cubes and potato halves on the burning charcoal. I had never had so much fun drizzling oil over starters and coating them with pepper. I realized that day that food tastes better when you have helped prepare it. After a filling meal of appetizers, we tightened our shoelaces again – for the night trek! 😀
The Night Trek
I don’t think I can ever get enough of trekking, especially if they’re short and easy. The weather was so lovely that night, that we decided to trek again. This time, to the east. We strapped on a couple of solar-charged torches and set out to explore the hills’ beauty in the night-time. This one was a tad bit difficult as compare to the evening trek, but the moon shone brilliantly and made it worth the effort. We indulged in a lot of stargazing and constellation spotting that night. Wintertime is the best to spot a lot of stars which one will miss in the summers, and also to clearly see the zodiac of the month. If you have a stargazing app, don’t forget to use it on night treks!
Campfires are for Singing
When we started getting hungry again, we found our way back to our camp. Our tents were visible in the warm glow of the campfire. The crackling of dried leaves and twigs in the fire made for some nice music in the otherwise silent night. The time was perfect for some old melodies. We sang as our dinner was being unpacked. We were floored by the eclectic mix of home-cooked Maharashtrian dishes from the village below. All that singing, trekking and good food made it very easy to fall asleep. I used to worry I’d never be able to sleep in the wild with the threat of animals attacking me in the middle of the night. But I was so wrong! I slept like a baby.
Waking Up In a Tent
I awoke as the sun rose and filled my little green tent with light. I zipped open the door and went out to watch a morning scene I’d never see in the city.
Insects are early risers, and get to work real quick. I spotted ants sucking on the cactus flowers. These harvester ants contribute to seed dispersal and improve cactus population.
Desert plants are not limited to cacti. I also came across what looked like wild ground berries.
My overnight camping trip came to an end with a delicious breakfast of poha, bread and jam with tea and biscuits. We helped each other dismantle the tents and fold them back into the portable bags. We carried all the non-biodegradable wastes with us to leave that spot of nature untarnished. I walked away from Tungarli Lake content to have finally camped in a tent.
I am hoping to go camping again this year. Have you ever camped out? How has your experience with nature been?