Astansari – Dhaundasari (Konkan to Ghat)- Crazy trek !

I had been on one ‘offbeat ‘ trek with the trekking group  ‘ Offbeat Sahyadris ‘ before . It is something I like about this group , of doing treks other than well trodden routes . Its certainly their USP . So when Priti asked whether I could come for a trek from Valvan to Kandat , across two mountains , I readily agreed . In any case there had been a very long hiatus since I had trekked last , what with my job keeping me away from the country for half a year 😀 .   We , eight of us in all , started from Mumbai late on the 15th in a shiny red Tavera . We were to reach Khed first , a town deep in the Konkan before travelling on rural roads to a village called Valvan . From here , we were to trek to a village called Kandat in the ghat region and in Satara region proper . Konkan to Desh trek in short .      We reached Valvan early in the morning , after about seven hours on the road . Our guide for the trek was one guy from the village named Jangam . ( Janguman according to Yadnesh Bharne . Which gave us all a good laugh 😀 ) . So this Janguman , sorry Jangam ,  served us hot tea at his house while we took in breathtaking views of the massive Sahyadris all around us . The near vertical walls of basalt seemed to surround the village , with the dense jungles at their base contrasting beautifully . Meanwhile Priti and Jangam had got into a discussion regarding how much payment he was to receive .  [ Going off track here a bit . I believe trekkers should get together and decide who is to be paid how much and for what on such excursions . This dude was asking 200 per head ] . So after some haggling we settled for paying him 700 bucks for trekking all the way to Kandat , and after dropping our sleeping bags back into the Tavera ( high on misplaced confidence . We were dead sure of getting to Kandat  by evening , and had told our driver to be there !)  we began our trek . Our route took us up the extreme end of a nearby mountain called Parvatgad .  The route initially climbed gently along a well worn track , and became steeper as the we went higher . The last part was really steep , with plenty of dried grass and loose soil . It would have been quite a handful getting down by the same route ! . Finally , the route traversed the hill , with a valley on one side and passing by a huge boulder which seemed so much like a naturally formed Ganesha , we reached the top . An awesome panorama unfolded in front of us . Towards our right , we could see the famous forts of the Satara region , with Pratapgad amongst them . A sharp ridge rose up to the left and layer after layer of hills and mountains of the Sahyadris unfolded in front of us .    All this sight seeing was fine , but we had to now get down from this hill and to the village of Astan . ” Me davto ki . Hya hithe ”  ( I know the way . This way ) , our guide led us to the edge of the mountain . I had one look and said to myself “You gotta be kidding me ! ”  . I bet for some time everyone else felt the same way too . Our guy was asking us to descend a near vertical patch of about fifteen feet , which merged into a steep slope full of dried grass and scree . Very conviniently , this slope also stopped abruptly above a dense cluster of trees ! .  So we gingerly made our way down . Hats off to Yadnesh n Adi’s trekking skills here . Little  handholds and footholds got us past the first patch . Then a very narrow path traversed the hill , with plenty of scree on it , and descended towards the forest . After about half an hour of rather ‘exciting ‘  trekking , we managed to reach the floor of the forest . Phew ! . Worst part , there was a nice well worn path reaching that reaching from a much lower height . So all this effort was not required actually ! .  The photos below will tell part of the story 😀 .

The steep descent of Parvatgad . Totally unnecessary .The steep descent of Parvatgad . Totally unnecessary .

We reached the bottom of the rock patch , and a well worn path led away to the left and into the forest .   From here , the trek was one long walk through the forest , all along a massive and widge ridge which wound its way down to the village . The thick layer of dried golden brown and red leaves scrunched under our feet as we made our way to Astan . The dense forest formed a canopy over our heads , shielding us from the harsh noonday sun . A stream joined our path after about an hour of trekking and someone had thoughtfully put a pipe to channel the water . We continued along this path , till the pipe emptied into a small well . Plenty of water here for hunters , gatherers and other people from the village who must be frequenting that forest . It was around one in the afternoon by now , and we settled down to have lunch next to the well . Puran poli , bhakri , gajar , chutney , theple . Routine trekker fare ! . After spending sometime eating , we continued on the trail , which steadily descended till finally we exited the forest and the houses in the village with their typical brown roofs and mud walls became visible . Right in front of us loomed a huge mountain , and beyond it was our destination – Kandat .  We flopped down near a tree , couple of us going off to sleep .  The sun had got really harsh by now , and beads of sweat had begin trickling down by face . So while we were deciding what to do next .. our Janguman decided to ditch us 😐 . Very clearly the guy had been told to take us to Kandat , and here he was , saying that this would be it as far as the trek was concerned . “But this is just Astansari . What about Kandat ? “, said Priti, referring to the village we had just reached.

” I have to reach the temple at Chakdeo by evening . ”

” But you agreed in the morning ”

” It is Holi .. so I have to leave ”

Some conversation like that . Gist of the matter being , we were half way into the trek with no guide to take us further ! So we began  asking the villagers at Astan if there was anybody who could take us there . But most of them seemed to be absent from there for the festival . A few of the villagers told us about the temple of Nirabji , which we should aim for if we were to reach Kandat . At least we came to know that some sort of a route did exist to the other side of the mountain . We looked up the mountain . At least from where we were standing , there didn’t seem to be much of a route , but that was hard to tell .   About a quarter of the way up the hill was another cluster of houses . An easy and broad track led from Astansari to that cluster . Since we had not any luck in Astansari , we decided to try our luck here ! .  A lot of villagers were wondering why did we want to trek the whole distance when the goverment had built a road connecting Valvan to Kandat ! . But then there is no answer for that question ! Only a trekker will know why he walks over the mountains when he can drive ! Anyways , we reached that cluster around two in the afternoon . Parvatgad loomed in the distance now , the sharp edge of the descent we had successfuly tackled in the morning standing out against the sky . The col and its dense forest could also be seen , cascading down to the village . I was surprised actually , at how far we had travelled from Valvan ! . Our group took a short break here – nobody wanted to go plodding on a bare hill at that time of the afternoon ! A curious kid from the village kept us in her gaze all the time , like some sentry 😀 . We did give her a packet of biscuits afterwards . An old lady over there managed to give us some clear cut instructions regarding our further route .

“There is a singular house situated slightly higher up . The route begins from right behind the abode , and climbs steeply to the left most edge . Then a  walk on the ridge till we reach a saffron flag . Fifteen minutes from the flag , on the left , you cannot miss seeing the village ! ” — that was her advice .

All of us were now charged up .  It would take us around 3 hours we surmised . So by evening we thought we would be in Kandat . So all gung ho , rested and well stocked , we started the steep climb . Through the scree and boulders we made our way up the mountain . The massive block of basalt that was Parvatgad was looking even more beautiful now . The sun shone off it’s sheer walls and created a breathtaking site . Trekking our way up the mountain , we came to a small plateau and the deadly traverse loomed in front of us . I swear my heart skipped a beat on seeing that route . We continued on and gingerly entered the traverse . The traverse of Alang and Madan is a cakewalk compared to this . A very narrow path which hugged the mountain and traversed it to the ridge beyond stretched out in front of us . The path fell away sharply to the valley on our right , and mountain loomed ominiously on our left . Loads of scree all along the path made it even more ‘exciting ‘ . There were no handholds along the wall to our left , so just trusting our feet to hold onto the scree , we slowly made our way ahead .

A pic by Priti of the traverse ( red line )  :

Scary traverseScary traverse

After the traverse , the route again climbed very steeply . Since hardly anyone used this path , grass had grown plentiful on the slope , creating a rather slippery ascent . Again , there was little to hold us in case anyone fell , which fortunately didn’t happen . The slippery slope gave way to a ridge , from where we could see the entire panaroma all around us . At one end of our horizon was Parvatgad etc . At the other was Pratapgad and other forts . Everywhere we looked , there were layers upon layers of hills . The sun had begun to set by now , and we decided to hurry to our destination .  From the ridge , the path continued on to a hillock , where the grass had been burnt off , created a bald and exposed path . The loose soil scrunched under our feet , and every now and then a few bits were sent tumbling into the valley as we continued to ascend . The ridge narrowed even further , till it was only a few feet across . Then it abruptly ended in a rock face about fifteen feet high . Vishal and Sagar climbed up the patch and secured our rope to a tree . The rest of us climbed up , using the rope for support . From here , the route climbed through some more burnt patches , criss crossing the hill  . After about half an hour of walking we reached the flag , a saffron swallow tailed standard . The sun had well and truly set by now and the dark of the night had begun to envelope us . But we had reached the flag , so now we would see the village at any moment ( after all the lady had told us so . )    Then we got the shock of our lives . To the left , for miles at  a stretch , there was not a single light to be seen , leave alone a whole village ! . Vishal had in the meanwhile found another path. Slightly below the flag and to its right , was another well worn  though exposed path traversing the mountain and leading away to a plateau .On its own this traverse would be scary , but after what we had seen in the afternoon , this one seemed mild . So we made our way to the plateau . Still no luck . We could see the lights of Astan in the valley to our right , but nothing at all to the left . We were in a real quandary now . Had we really followed the correct route ? Going back the same way was out of the question . But why hadn’t we seen the village yet ? The full moon was shining brightly now and we decided to spend the night there on top of the mountain , in the scarce patch of open space we found . It was not the smoothest , poking into our backs like a thousand needles . We likened ourselves to Bheeshma of Mahabharat . ( sarcastic jokes come easily when you are in a soup ! ) . Then there was some futile hunting for a route on google maps – a total waste of time . Since we had so confidently tossed our sleeping mats n bags into the car , we had to sleep on the bare ground , with little cover . A small campfire kept us warm , as well as kept any wild animals which may have been lurking around away .   So that is how the first day of our trek came to an end .. on top of an unknown mountain , with us not knowing whether to go left , right or straight .

We travelled a long way

Walked a long wayWalked a long way

Day  2

 

 We woke up early , so as to not get tired walking under the hot sun later in the day . Sagar pointed out a few old bear tracks near where we were sleeping . So it had been a good idea to keep that fire alive all night ! . We followed a path created by bears most probably through the forest , reaching  a vantage point from where we hoped we could spot the village .  Disappointment awaited us . All around were only mountains upon layer of mountain . Now we were truly stuck . Straight down from where we had been sleeping , there was a dense clump of trees and bushes . We did not expect the route to lead that way . ( We later realised it did ) . We peered along the left edge of the mountain , and decided to make our way down the hill by way of a col we could see amongst the folds of basalt .    But reaching there was the real challenge .  There was obviously no path leading to it . So we cut and scraped and pushed our way through the dense ‘karvi ‘ bushes towards the col . Every few steps my sack was getting stuck in some or the other thorny bush or branch , much to my own chagrin . Crawling our way through the forest , we reached the forest , and were happy to see that it housed a stream , which gently cascaded downwards from there . There was a good chance it would take us all the way to the base of the hill . After all there were other hills – like Gorakhgad and Chanderi , where the whole trek consisted of a gently descending stream of water , which we had to just follow properly . Maybe this was one of them . Maybe it wasn’t  . There was only one way to find out !  So we continued . The path had broadened now , and there was little trouble from the trees and bushes . Large rounded boulders typical of streams made up our path now , and we could quickly descend . About two hours into the hike , we reached a small pond .. with clear and cold water in it . That really made us happy , since we had begun to run short of the vital element . Each of us had upto then just a litre or so with him . Not a very comforting thought when you have no idea whether you are to walk five kilometre further or twenty !! . Finding that pond , a remnant of what must be a mighty stream in the monsoons , was truly a godsend . Our legs had begun to tire from hours of walking by now and we decided to halt here for lunch . Quite a spot that was . We spotted birds like the Paradise Flycatcher and butterfly enthusiasts amongst us got to see lot of rare kinds of the winged and beautiful insects ! A ‘machaan ‘ set up at the spot by some hunter  gave us even more relief  . The first sign of civilisation !! Infact , a small but well worn path led into the forest just before this little pond of water .    After an hour of resting , we continued . The path considerably broadened now , and we had to make our way past huge boulders . It was looking more and more like the Chanderi trek . All of a sudden , the gentle decline came to an abrupt end . A twenty foot vertical fall stared back at us . There was always a chance of that happening when following a stream , and so there we were , staring at twenty feet of solid stone .    Fortunately we had brought ropes , carabiners , descenders – the works , alongwith us . With Sagar and Yadnesh on top , Aditya , Vishal and Priti managed to descend / rappel down the steep patch . Priti and Aditya proceeded to check the route further ahead , while the rest of us readied to descend  . In less than ten minutes , her voice crackled over the walkie talkie ( Offbeat Sahyadris carries these things , which I think is great from communication and safety point of view ) “Stop whatever you are doing . There is a thousand foot fall here . The place looks like Grand Canyon ! ”

pic of what Priti saw ahead :

Grand Canyon . And a thousand feet deep dead end .Grand Canyon . And a thousand feet deep dead end .

So now what ? We had been trekking for close to four hours now . Going back the way we came was going to be very tiring . Even so , doing the exposed traverses of the previous day was out of the question . We had reached a second dead end in as many days . Maybe try and descend the thousand foot cliff . Crazy idea , there were no takers for it . What about the path we had seen leading into the forest ? Plus there was a  ‘machaan ‘ , so obviously people can reach this place from somewhere ! .    We retraced our steps to the well worn track . This was about ten minutes walk from our ‘pond’ .  The well worn track wound its way into the forest , gently climbing and dipping as it wound its way around the mountain . For the first time we were seeing something ‘normal ‘ .  We hurried along , our strides quickly covering the ground beneath our feet . After two days of scree and exposed traverses , this seemed like a highway .   After about an hour of walking , we saw the village ! I was happy for one , I guess all of us were . Our pace quickened and descended rapidly to our destination.Until a few hours prior , we did not know even the direction in which it existed !  The village of Kandat was well and truly in sight now . It was only a matter of time before we reached it , hopped into our Tavera and headed home .

Or so we thought .

Kandat at last !Kandat at last !

Reach the village we did . And were immediately served cold taak ( buttermilk ) by a kind old woman . After two long hard days of trekking , the cold buttermilk in her simple mud house felt like heaven . We thanked her and went looking for our vehicle . It had been there that morning . Then the driver left with it . So now we had a new problem – after two days of finding the correct route , we got involved in finding our car and the driver. Grrrr .  Two guys went to the temple near the village , Rajas went to another village close by ( 5 km ) to try and phone the driver . When he returned an hour later, he had news for us ! Our hero had driven back to Valvan – the village where we had started – 25 km away .

Now what to do, since it would take him two hours to drive back. We decided to rent a vehicle to Valvan – from that village five km away.

A five kilometre walk along a tar road followed . After climbing up and down mountains all the time , these bonus five km bugged me no end . Cursing our luck we plodded to the village  . From there , we managed to get a rickety old jeep to Valvan . I am just glad it didn’t break down on the way ! . Janguman , pardon me , Jangam was there . I feel he was rather relieved to see us ! . We had missed Holi – quite  a big event in the Konkan , but were happy to have done the rather difficult trek  . And then we all hopped into our Tavera and headed home . And thats how a great trek came to an end .

Wish I could sign off on that note .

But our Tavera had other plans 😐 . As if two days of excitement had not been enough , there was another twist in the tale .  Somewhere near Panvel we turned off the highway  and onto some non descript internal road, to err.. save time ! Around fifteen minutes later we got a flat tyre . This was around twelve in the night ! . So there we were .. off  the highway , on a dim lit nondescript two lane road , with little sign of humans anywhere and a flat tyre . Some of us got down to remove the flat wheel . Others tried to get the stepny ready . Vehicles whizzed past , at the rate of perhaps one every ten minutes . Soon we found that our stepny was also flat !  Some pointless arguing over the phone with the Tavera’s owner about his punctured stepny  followed . But still , it was us who was suffering ! . Yadnesh and Aditya then managed to flag down a sumo and hitchhiked their way to a mechanic with the stepny in tow . They managed to return a good two hours later .. around 3 am . Now there was another surprise . The flat tyre just refused to budge from the axle ! . No amount of pushing , hammering , pulling could move it ! . In the end , we just drove to the mechanic with one tyre flat ; which nearly tore away to the rim ! Around 4 in the morning our vehicle was fixed and we could finally be on our way . It was around 5 in the morning that I finally reached home . A most memorable trek had drawn to a close . By far the most difficult one I had been on . This thing was Alang – Madan and Nalichi Vaat combined . And then some more . Many thanks to  Rajas , Yadnesh , Sagar , Vishal , Aditya , Priti and Blaise sir for the great company and all the help .

Published by Aneesh Gokhale

Author - "Brahmaputra - The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji" , "Sahyadris to Hindukush" and " Battles of the Maratha Empire". Written over thirty five articles for a history column in DNA Newspaper. Published on many occasions in online publications such as IndiaFacts , Swarajya , TFI , Creative India , Indic Today and others. Given talks on Maratha and Assamese history at Pune Intl Lit Fest , INTACH (Delhi), Wadia College (Pune), Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (Mumbai), Thakur College's TCET Talk (Mumbai), Pondy Lit Fest (Pondicherry), various Rotary Clubs and educational institutions in Pune and Mumbai. Also, qualified to navigate a ship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: