Day 127: Mount Abu, India. We were up at crazy o’clock this morning to go hiking in the Aravalli Hills with Charles, a guide who knows the local area intimately.
A driver came to pick us up at our guesthouse, then we collected Charles from his house before driving up a winding road to the highest point in Rajasthan, Guru Shikhar, at 1722m.
We came to an abrupt halt at one point, and Charles pointed out a red spurfowl running into the bushes – a pretty secretive bird that’s usually difficult to spot. He said some bird-loving folk from Australia had visited Mount Abu specifically so they could catch a glimpse of one. A fairly elaborate way to collect frequent flyer points.
Lil of course had to have the ‘bear chat’ along the way – asking Charles what were the chances of seeing a bear, or coming in close contact with a bear, or even being mauled by a bear. Charles was reassuring, pointing out that bears, like most animals, will only attack if provoked or feeling threatened. They’re also nocturnal, so generally not roaming around the hills during the day.
Lil also wanted to know if Charles had come in close contact with a bear. He said he’s only had one encounter, which was some time ago when he was out hiking with a couple of French tourists. As they were crawling through an overgrown trail, they came face to face with a bear and its cubs. Long story short – the bear ripped a hole in the girl’s hand, but thankfully Charles managed to hit the bear over the snout a few times with his walking stick (he said he has a good aim), and thankfully the bear slunk off before any more damage was done. Holy moley.
We slung our daypacks on and started our hike, with Lil clinging tightly onto her walking stick in case she needed to clout any bears across the snout. It was a perfectly sunny but cool morning, with mist rolling across the valleys and some ridiculously good views across the hills.
Charles is an excellent guide – very knowledgeable about the local area and a walking encyclopedia of all things flora and fauna. He’s a passionate environmentalist, determined that the hills and wildlife of the mother country must be protected. He’s also a volunteer wildlife rescuer, so regularly gets calls to go an rescue injured wildlife, including lots of venomous snakes. He seemed to know pretty much everyone we spotted or passed, as we wound our way along the trail. He has a blog, which you can find here.
At one point Charles stopped to pluck a silver fern frond, and showed us how pressing down heavily on the frond leaves a silver ‘tattoo-like’ impression on skin – very cool. He explained the plant is currently being used in research for cancer treatment.
We wound our way down to a elevated plateau, with Charles pointing out heaps of birds, trees and plants along the way, including chandelier cactus, fig, mango, orchid, agave, fern, wild marigold, mexican sunflower, coral tree and shrikes and crested bunting birds. It makes a massive difference to have someone who can identify and provide background to all the flora and fauna, and provide so much background on the local area.
We walked through a small village on the plateau, home to 150 families and surrounded by hills and with no road access. It was fascinating to walk around the stone buildings with tin roofs, and wonder what life must be like in the village. There’s a small primary school close by – for post-primary education, kids need to walk to the town and back every day.
A little further on, we passed a shrine where locals go to worship family gods. It was the first of a few we saw dotted around the hills. Charles rang the brass bell hanging outside the shrine, which is said to clear the mind and alerts the gods to your presence. The bell was so loud it probably alerted half of Mount Abu to our presence.
We started to climb up the other side of the valley, and near the top stopped at the home of a family who live part of the year in a cave on the mountainside.
They brewed some coffee for us while we clambered up onto a huge rock with fabulous views. We watched the kids running around below, the family cows wandering on the rocks (including a very cute newly born calf), and a gorgeous white common langur scampering on the cliff face opposite. It definitely rates as the best coffee location ever.
We felt humbled to be sitting amongst such serene surroundings, and with such a gorgeous welcoming family, living a simple and happy life in the hills.
Charles told us that the family lost one of their calves to a panther about 10 days ago, which must be a heavy blow, given their daily diet revolves largely around milk products.
We said our goodbyes and thanks to the family then started our walk uphill again. We visited another rock cave further further up the slope, however the family wasn’t home. Charles said it was still fine to take a look around. It was another very humble home with a central fire pit, and some room at the back to tuck the calves away at night to keep them safe from wildlife. Lil reckons if she had to live there, she’d be tucked up with the calves to stay safe.
We finished the trek around lunchtime, which was excellent timing, as rain clouds were just starting to gather in the valley. The driver was waiting for us at the top of the hill, with cold bottles of water and a cheery smile. It was an incredibly special hike, and we feel very lucky to have got so close to nature and life in the hills.
Charles invited us to join him for coffee early evening at the Lake Palace hotel. We had another great chat, exchanged blog links, and promised to send lots of pics and keep in touch. We also watched another great sunset across the lake from the balcony of the hotel.
This evening we wandered out the far side of the town to an open-air restaurant for dinner. Along with some more fabulous food, we were also treated to three guys playing some local live music.
Then back to the guesthouse to start packing up again. Mount Abu is a popular weekend destination for people from Gujarat, the neighbouring alcohol-free state. There’s certainly no shortage of alcohol in Mount Abu, and as we walked down the street, there were lots of people in various states from a little merry to pretty plastered. Including the guy who flung his arms around Jim for a selfie, and the couple who were having a nap in the hedge.
Tomorrow we’re catching a bus to Abu Road, then a train to Jodhpur, which is also known as the Blue City. Doubtless there will be lots of cows roaming the streets, but hopefully we won’t need to clout any bears on the snout.