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How the Aravallis surprised me in Mount Abu

From dense forests to plastic-free trails and pockets that preserve history

Mount AbuMount Abu has plenty of tranquil spots despite the tourist hordes (Credit: Syed Saad Ahmed)

I never thought I would be so eager to navigate 700 steps. But amid the wave of revenge travel in August 2021, I visited Mount Abu with a friend — my first vacation since the pandemic began. A hilly honeymoon destination and a watering hole for tipplers from the dry state of Gujarat, Mount Abu was deluged with tourists. But where there’s a hill, there’s a way.

So, instead of the more popular attractions, we went to Gomukh, a holy spring on the city’s outskirts. The descent to Gomukh only offered views of tree canopies and the spring was dry. But as we were returning, I saw a trail penetrating the dense forest. More encouragingly, arrow markers were painted on rocks along the path, signalling a tantalising terminus.

Here, the flora was more diverse than along the staircase to Gomukh. Thanks to image-recognition apps, I could put names to fruits, flowers and fungi I had never known existed. There were kidney-shaped mushrooms that radiated an orange gradient from the centre. These were reishi, used in traditional Chinese medicine. A white flower with lacy strands hemming its petals turned out to be a member of the gourd family. The apps made me feel like an intrepid naturalist, but they could not identify the most bizarre creature I came across: 10-foot-tall clumps of thick grass with lacerating edges. They seemed like gargantuan spiders that would start crawling any moment.

Sage Gautam’s Temple (Source: Syed Saad Ahmed)

But the joy of discoveries was tinged with unease. We were deep inside the Mount Abu Wildlife Sanctuary, a rich sloth bear habitat. Every rustle conjured visions of chancing upon a bear and the gory repercussions. There were two of us, but we disagreed on how to deal with a charging beast. I suggested we stand our ground while my friend advocated running for our lives.

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The telltale sign of human presence — plastic and litter are omnipresent across Mount Abu — was conspicuously absent along the route. We kept walking into massive webs, though thankfully, we missed the spiders even as we brushed off the tingling strands.

The track crisscrossed dry stream beds coursing down the mountain slope. At one of these junctions, I spotted a scaly stripe on a boulder. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a three-foot-long moulted snakeskin!

Craig’s Path (Credit: Syed Saad Ahmed)

Further ahead, a rustling began that wouldn’t stop even when we or the wind did. The sound seemed to be getting closer. I was apprehensive until a partridge peeked at us and darted, screeching in alarm. I am glad it was just a bird, for we wouldn’t have been much good at either fight or flight.

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As the trail went uphill, the thick forest canopy gave way to cloud-studded skies. On reaching the mountaintop’s edge, we spotted a saffron splash amid the sea of green below. It turned out to be the destination the signs were pointing to — a small temple built on a platform cut into the slope. Its architectural embellishments and stone carvings suggested antiquity. I later discovered that it was the temple of Gautam, a sage who is said to have done penance here.

As a squall hit my face, it struck me that it had been almost two years since I saw such an expansive vista. The streams, check dams and woods stretching beneath my feet were a stark counterpoint to my neighbours’ houses, which was largely the “view” I had had since the pandemic.

Nakki Lake (Source: Syed Saad Ahmed)

This inspired me to climb every mountain and search high and low for panoramic outposts. On a guided trek along Craig’s Path, I took in the whole city, built around Nakki Lake. Expectations were low from the banal-sounding Sunset Point, but the smouldering skies kept me glued to the clifftop. A forest clearing with a solitary temple en route to Agneshwar Mahadev reminded me of the alpine meadows I had camped in before the pandemic.

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When it comes to Indian mountains, the Himalayas get the most attention. But four days in Mount Abu left me besotted with the Aravallis. For at every turn, I had come to expect a surprise — or at least, a stunning view.

(Syed Saad Ahmed is a writer and a communications specialist)

First published on: 29-04-2022 at 01:03:49 pm
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