Wonder of wonders – we are in Pune, on Diwali night, and it is possible to have a conversation at the dinner table! Usually it is one uninterrupted explosion of noise, and the only thing one can do is stuff one’s ears with cotton and wait it out. I silently thank the Pune-ites for their new-found environmental consciousness (or is it the recession?), while Z shows up from Bombay, traumatized by the auto ride from the station, and we make our plans for a birding drive/trek in the morning.
Bhigwan was on the cards, but the distance, coupled with Adesh’s verdict that no migrants were likely, makes us change course towards Mulshi dam. Site of a Tata power project, it is an easy drive away. The route as promised turns out to be spectacularly beautiful and I almost feel I am back in upstate New York – rolling hills, flowers by the roadside, a pleasant chill in the early morning air. We drive on and on, spotting various avians – a rosy starling, Malabar crested larks on the road, pied cuckoo, and on every other tree a long-tailed shrike. The lake, on our right, is massive and beautiful, but devoid of birdlife.
Finally a chance for walking presents itself just shy of an idyllic village called Tamhini, and we decide to explore. A canine companion attaches himself to us, and we proceed on an uphill path that leads to a meadow, fenced off as private property. An about-turn, and we retrace our steps as doggie gets chased by a cow. Some delicious chocolate cake from Candies in Bandra (not as good as mine though!) is devoured and shared with doggie, and on the return a blue rock thrush poses (where else but) on a rock while a female pied bushchat momentarily causes confusion.
The next morning we start early for Dive ghat armed with impeccable directions from Rajneesh. As we start the climb for the ghat, every few metres we find signs proclaiming “Fort Jadhavgarh. Lad, jhagad, aage badh!”, (translation: “Fight, quarrel, get ahead!”) which put us in a far from quarrelsome frame of mind. We pass a small dhaba protruding from the rock, and soon after, a small temple on one side of which a European roller waits to be identified. We decide that the dhaba must have been Hotel Saswad, and find a mud road behind it leading to the ghat.
Almost immediately, the mud road ends abruptly with a trench dug across the width of the road, and we promptly abandon the vehicle in favour of a walk. The path slopes gently upward, passing through fields upon fields of flowers swaying in the morning breeze. A tree pipit perches on a wire while grey-breasted prinia calls atop a tree. Dad almost steps on some tiny barred buttonquails by the path, and they go scuttling off into the fields in a state of panic.
A path to the right leading upwards, and soon we are rewarded with a glorious sighting of a lone house bunting and a pair of rufous-tailed larks foraging below it. A family of crested buntings hops about, and lovely butterflies flutter in the breeze. While R and Z climb to the top, dad and I head back slowly, looking for photo ops. A cross-country walk across the fields and a flock of perfectly camouflaged birds are flushed out at my feet, leaving me too stunned to lift my camera. A common stonechat (nonbreeding male) poses on a pillar.
Everyone back from the climb, we head back, only to be told by a passerby that there have been several murders in the area (!) and the road had been dug up to prevent vehicles and people going across. Later I find out from Rajneesh that we have been to the wrong place! It doesn’t seem to matter, though, we had a good time, and we will be back next time we are in Pune.