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Baliraja’s Hill: Legend and Reality

A trek in JAWAI gives great perspectives of the area and an appreciation of the terrain, the communities that live here and a chance to pick out and explore the hills which never fail to fascinate.

 

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On the way down, the rangers take care when descending Baliraja. The top of the mountain was so difficult to meander they went individually. Photograph by Vedant Thite.
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The summit! The team take a welcome rest after an approximately 500 metre uphill climb. Photograph by Vedant Thite.

The legend of Baliraja is centred around a ruler, Baliraja, who gave up his wealth and power to serve the people. Local communities believe the existence of a secret tunnel that leads from Baliraja temple to Mount Abu.

 

One morning we arrived back to camp from a morning drive, we were informed about departure to an unknown destination. Instructions were to carry sufficient water, binoculars, camera and first aid kit. We exited the camp driving towards our local village of Bisalpur. After crossing a point it became clear we are heading to Baliraja hill.

 

With a little nervousness at seeing the vast expanse that mountain face covers and lots of excitement knowing we will be exploring the Baliraja, we set off on foot at the base of the hill.

 

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Head Ranger, Vedant Thite, sits atop the mountain admiring the stretching landscape beyond. Photograph by William Asquith.

We are familiar with trekking  but the difference in terrain for the two of us got us to be a bit cautious where we set foot being aware that many of the stretches of the ridge are covered with powdered stone and gravel making it tricky for the feet.

 

The first stretch of the ascent was to follow a trail to the lowest ridge of the range. There is no set route which will lead to the peak so Vedant (Head of Field) appointed Shantharam to lead the way, jokes came about of course of being served a chilled beer of which there were four, while we were five, implying the one who was last up would not be getting one (none of us did obviously).

 

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After the monsoon, green grass flourishes between the boulders on the mountain. As the season continues this grass will eventually wither. Photograph by Vedant Thite.

Shantharam tagged as a ‘foodie’ was encouraged that the faster we get up and down the hill the sooner we would make it back for lunch!

 

The day before the two of us scaled half the hill, but so intrigued by the massive crevice we found and its inhabitants the Mouse-tailed bats had our fancy taking away time to complete the second half taking in the consideration the cloud cover above us.

 

The occasional tracks we came by were short lived, used once in a while by the Rabaris, who use these magnificent hills casually as grazing grounds.

 

Lucky to be accompanied by like-minded outdoor enthusiasts we were not looking for short cuts but were trying to experience tricky and challenging boulders, for us the sheer size of the granite boulders which we were scaling at 45 degree angles which meant once you have made the first step you take a break only once you climb to the top.

 

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As Shantharam and Adil were walking, the crevice to their left was fanning cool air from deep within. Photograph by Vedant Thite.

As much as we could, we preferred jumping from rock to rock to avoid the ‘arrow head’ grass which although pretty to look at, specially with the wind making them sway tends to wiggle their way into your shoe which is not painful but definitely a hindrance in your performance till they are pulled out.

 

Every time we looked at what we saw as the summit, we would soon see another boulder leading to an even higher spot; Baliraja surely can play tricks with your eyes.

 

All along the way the sight of the 300 square kilometer water body of the JAWAI Bandh would not stop to amaze you, as do the bird colonies and clues of wildlife we came across including the importance of their existence in the region.

 

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Over millions of years the mountain has been weathered by the natural elements and produce an array of colours and shapes. Photograph by Vedant Thite.

While approaching the summit we came across quite a few peepal trees but how did they get there? All life on this planet plays an important role, in this case seed dispersal in this region could be by small rodents, porcupine, monkeys or birds.

 

On approaching the peak we counted close to 12 beehives and one in the making, At the summit we sighted a large raptor flying above us and as the sun was in the opposite direction we could only see the silhouette of the bird. Use of our binoculars allowed us to identify it to be a oriental honey buzzard. Perhaps the bird was flying around hoping to grab a quick bite from one of these hives.

 

Our last climb to conquer to the summit was to deal with a smooth surfaced indented rock face with a capacity to seat 10 individuals or more! It could play as a perfect housing in the rain even in the sun shine. The beauty was when we sat there the curve appeared to have been designed specially to ensure a comfortable rest for travelers like us. If you were to close your eyes you’d imagine yourself back in your home with a massive air conditioner that was the coolest and freshest air one could find. The rocks automatically cooled on arrival on the other side due to the interconnecting crevices. Apart from the beautiful aspect of this rock, it was definitely the trickiest part up. The sheer size of the boulder had taken our breath away leaving us speechless, both metaphorically as well as physically!

 

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Himmat watches his step as the rocks, at times, became deceptively smooth. Photograph by Vedant Thite.

As we reached the summit of the peak we received far more than we had sought. The 360 degree view gave each one of us a sense of freedom in every sense. Via radio we informed camp of our arrival from where we were told to stay towards the edge, wondering why we all stood at the spot to look towards camp, we appeared to be ants from their view.

 

Everyone took a few minutes to enjoy what we came for, not only the views but an introspection of our journey to the top making it up there as a team who looked after one another wherever it was needed.

 

Right up there another amazing sight we were lucky to have was that of these Alpine swifts much larger than swiftlets or the swallows found here, whizzing by over our heads almost seeming like they were there to receive or congratulate us, cutting through the air with a flying style and capability of nothing less than that of a fire fighting jet! A beautiful sight indeed.

 

Being at the summit had given us lots of excitement and certainly a lot of learning too, giving good judgment on the location of the surrounding hills, their distance and what their height really was. Looking far enough to be able to see where the outlet of the Jawai River was to the range of the Kumbleshwar forest to even the daily visited sites by us with a different perspective.

 

At around mid-day we decided to begin our journey back down, involving concentration but exerting lesser energy than the way up, as gravity our friend played a great help.

 

We took only one break, again staying back to guide one another wherever needed. At this point it was crucial to keep a keen eye on where all the gravel was. A tip we were reminded of which did come in to be very handy at this point was to put maximum weight on our feet and minimum usage of hands to avoid losing the much needed friction.

 

The parts where the massive rock faces of granite were well weathered provided a good grip allowing us to keep a fast pace going downhill. Once we got closer to the bottom camp radioed in to say a jeep was on its way to pick us up to take us back to base, and a hearty and well-deserved lunch.

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