One doesn't have to always travel outside one's city or country or spend too much money for a break or a little adventure. A couple of weeks ago, the husband and I were (again) itching to get out and do something. But couldn't afford to take time off for a break, small or big. This is when we got a little creative and started looking for things to do 'in' the city, which would not dent our pockets or our work schedule.
We came upon many things. But most included taking a day off or spending liberally, both of which we didn’t have on our minds. A little more research led me to something that I have always been fascinated about: Star gazing. Since I was a kid, I have been fascinated about stars and constellations. I have been to a few planetariums and observatories as part of educational tours. But, never actually gone for an organised gazing session. This discovery, organised by a professional organisation, within a few hours from Mumbai city and definitely well within our budget, got me very excited. Thankfully, the husband didn’t mind trying it out too. So, we quickly registered for our exciting night out.
Khagol Mandal, one of the largest organisations of amateur astronomers in Mumbai organises sky shows from October/November to May/June, depending on the season and the sky pattern. The session happen at Neral at most times and is open to anyone who is interested, on a registration basis only. The charges are very minimal at Rs.250 per person and an extra Rs.150 for dinner. If not, you are free to carry your own dinner. Once you register, they send you a detailed set of instructions on where to meet, what to carry and what to expect out of the program. It is an all-night event, beginning around 7:00 pm and ending at 4:00 am the next morning.
Back to our experience. The organisers suggested that you either take the train or drive to the venue. The train is definitely faster as you avoid a lot of the evening traffic. We decided to take the local train, since a. We didn’t know the route too well (yes, there are maps to help, but, we weren’t in the mood for it) and b. the husband wanted to get me to experience the local train, since I have been on it only twice before, in all the four years in Mumbai and that too for very short distances over the weekend, when the train was nearly empty.
Saturday came (the show usually takes place only on Saturday nights) and we got ourselves all geared up for the night with packed dinner, the list of things we had to carry and our energy. We left home at 5pm, to catch the 5:50 pm ‘fast’ train to Neral. We live about 10 mins from the station, but knowing how tentatively I move in crowded stations, the husband insisted that we give it enough time. I went outside our gate and was standing around to hail an auto, when the husband dragged me to the auto stand a few meters away and hurried me into one. I was wondering why he was in such a hurry, when suddenly a boisterous aunty came and plonked herself in the same auto. I was about to tell her that we had occupied it, when the husband smiling told me that it was a ‘share auto’ and that he wanted to me get the ‘full local travel experience’ (thank you very much!).
Once at the station, I was a little overwhelmed with the crowded trains and how I was going to get myself into one. For the people who don’t use the train often, this can be quite an experience. But I had the veteran train user with me and he guided me into one. The journey was not too bad and offered me a great opportunity to people watch, something that I enjoy doing. After about an hour, we arrived at the Neral station, followed the instructions and met the van driver who was to drive us to the gazing site, which is about a 15-20 mins drive away and is part of a resort. We were pleasantly surprised with the number of people who were there. Especially children. Probably because of the summer break. The site was decently set up, with 5 telescopes, a space for the theory sessions and a dining area. The theory area could have probably been a little better, since one has to sit or lay (preferably) down on dharis/sheets and gaze up. It had a quite a few stones and red ants in some places. But, if you choose your spot well and carry a thick mat/Dhari, you will be. And at the end, you get what you pay for!
We choose a spot and settled down for the theory session on telescopes and constellations. The theory session is also pretty interesting as they explain using the sky and not slides or charts. Once the comprehensive theory session was over, we proceeded for the first telescope viewing session of the night. We saw Jupiter, the beehive constellation, the Arundathi star and a binary star. It was really quite fascinating. We could clearly see 3 moons of Jupiter and the fourth one feebly. The other bodies were all very clear. For armatures like it was a fascinating experience. Once this was done, we proceeded for a dinner break followed by another theory session. This was then to be followed by another viewing session, where we would see the ‘champion’ of the night: Saturn and also a red star close to Saturn, which is very similar to Mars in its colour and structure.
We were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t see all that we wanted to, especially Jupiter, but were happy to have explored this option and also that it turned out to be a little adventure of its own, although not the kind we had hoped for. But, well, that’s the whole point of adventures, right? You can plan all you want, but then what finally unfolds is not in your hands and that’s the fun of it.
You can check the schedule and register on: http://khagolmandal.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=35&Itemid=39
Tip for first timers:
Take mosquito patches/Odomos
Take a thick dhari and a blanket/razai or 2-3 bedsheets since the ground is hard and most of the theory sessions are spent on your back or backside
Take along pillows/cushions
Take ample water and snacks to satisfy hunger pangs through the night
If you can, drive! It will help you get back home faster and safer in case of unforeseen weather conditions
Wear loose, comfortable clothes, preferable tracks/cotton trousers and full arms to protect yourself from mosquito bites
Get some sleep on Saturday morning/noon since you will have to be up the whole night