The City of Pune, is one of the few fortunate cities, to have a range of hills, right in the middle of the metropolis. The hills, even boast of a modest peak, about Eight Hundred meters high. A very rudimentary temple, of a tribal God called ‘Vetaal’, exists on this peak, along with an observation tower, mainly used by Fire Brigade people. The people therefore call this entire range of hills as ‘Vetaal’ hills.
I have been wondering and trekking on these hills, ever since I was a school-going lad. As young boys, we would aimlessly wonder amongst the hills and dales on many afternoons and early evenings. Now days, I take a calculated walk along a fixed route, as a part of my daily fitness routine.
Nevertheless, the joy, the exhilaration and the feel good factor after the walks, has remained just same over the years. Pune is known for its salubrious and temperate climate through out the year and the hills reflect that climate. Some people call the hills, ‘The Lungs of the city’, as highly polluted city air is somewhat absorbed and cleansed by the abundant, lush green, foliage in the dales.
With ‘Vetaal peak’ as central point, the hills spread over an area of about ten square kilometers in almost all directions, with beautiful dales created between the hills. A thick sub tropical forest covers these dales to a wide extent. On the hilltops, patchy forest cover augments the natural wilderness of the hills. A stone quarry, no longer exploited due to opposition from environmentalists, adds to the beauty of the view from north. Entire area is interlaced with small footways. At many places, heavily grown foliage, completely covers the footways and provides cool shadowy spots even at noontime. West side extension of the hills is rocky and bare, except for few shrubs and seasonal grasses. This may be because of the exposure of this side of the hills to scorching hot sun light through out the year, which results into low level of moisture in the soil. In addition, the terrain here is such that torrential monsoon rainwater carries away whatever little top soil, may be there. On the other side, in a very wise move, the forestry department has handed over the northern part of the dale to a private trust, for developing a nature preserve. I have been observing this area for last couple of years and going by the growth and the quantum of the trees, which this trust has planted here, the area is likely to develop into a botanical conservatory of great natural beauty.
To a regular trekker, the hills appear to change with seasons or even with time of the day. Dawns in summer are very different from sunsets and the landscape appears vastly different during rains, as compared to summer or winter. Nevertheless, I always feel that the hills look delightfully picturesque; whatever may be the season or the time of the day.
Now days, I walk the hills, early in the morning as the dawn breaks. There is a vista point on my route, from where; view to the east is clear and unobstructed. I watch the Sunrise from here every day in summer. Even if the sky is clear, some cloud patterns are always seen on the horizon, creating a fascinating Sunrise spectacle. As first light breaks through the hilltop forest, rows and rows of denuded, white skinned ‘Dhup’ trees, appear in your view like gigantic sculptures from outer space. With the advent of Monsoon rains, dark green foliage returns to the forest, creating a mysterious façade. Every nook and corner of the forest appears bewitchingly secretive. The grasses at some points grow tall and hide the footways completely.
There is not much wild life on the hills. One can see occasionally, some wild rabbits being chased by stray dogs. Peacocks are seen more often, particularly during summer months in the denuded forest. If one sticks to the footways, reptiles maintain their healthy distance and do not come in way. I remember to have seen some huge birds and owl only couple of times.
During my school days, I learnt a very valuable experience on these hills. Five or Six of us were going for a walk, when a strong muscled ruffian approached us and threatened us for no reason. He was carrying a big stick and all of us were very scared. Next day after much discussion, we decided to take the same route. To our horror, we found the same hooligan coming our way. Even though we had not planned any attack, all of us felt so angry that we pounced on him as if given a cue. His bullying strength and tactics did not work against combined strength of five or six small boys. His big stick was broken couple of times and under our combined onslaught, the tough guy was beaten to our heart’s content and finally started crying.
As the city grows, there are many here, who want to cut roads and tunnels through the hills. Fortunately, this has not happened so far. If it happens, it certainly would be one of the sad days of my life.