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 .

Raireshwar – Nakhind – Aswalkhind : Jan 2011

DAY 1 : Raireshwar – Nakhind – Kudali

It had been 5 months since my last trek , what with me being away in Delhi . For someone accustomed to trekking once every 20 odd days , 5 months was quite a sabbatical ! . So when Priti asked whether I was interested in a trek to Raireshwar , and further to Nakhind and Aswalkhind , I jumped at the chance ! More so , because this would be a raw , hardcore trek , right from finding the correct route . Organized trekking , though hassle free , does take away this element of exploration and watching the trek unfold before you through its various ups and downs .

The place we were to go to , Raireshwar , is a hill situated about 200 km away from Mumbai , in Satara . It is famous as the place where Chhatrapati Shivaji took his oath of swarajya , to free the Sahyadris from foreign rulers . Thus , for us it is a very important historical place , almost a pilgrimage . From Raireshwar , we were to proceed to Nakhind , a nearby hill , then descend down to a pass called Aswalkhind . At least that was the initial plan . Aswalkhind would put us close to Poladpur on the Mumbai – Goa highway. Thus, we were to trek and descend from the Mumbai – Bangalore highway (NH – 4) onto the Mumbai – Goa highway (NH -17)

We started from Mumbai for Bhor on Friday night , me joining from Vashi . Priti , Rajas , Ameya and Saurabh had boarded the bus much earlier in Parel itself . Manoj Kalwar would join us later , as he had been caught up in some work .The rickety state transport bus prattled down the highway to Pune , stopping at Panvel , Khopoli and Lonavla en route . I tried catching up on some sleep , which was quite a challenge considering the roller coaster rides that state transport buses offer !! . From Pune , the bus continued for an hour till Bhor , the driver all the while driving like a wannabe Schumacher . I reckon we reached our destination at around 4 in the morning . After that , there was nothing much to do apart from shivering in the cold and having a cup of hot piping tea from a roadside stall till Manoj arrived .  He did come finally , almost an hour later . We then busied ourselves in looking for someone to take us to Raireshwar , in one of those Sumos or Trax they have . One guy finally agreed for a total of 1000 . Which was quite good .

It was almost day break by the time we alighted from the jeep . I believe we got a good bargain considering all the driving he had to do through the narrow ghat. The sun rose from behind Kenjalgad , a nearby hill – fort , as we began trekking along a well worn path leading to the temple of Raireshwar . The flat saucer – like top of Kenjal could be seen beautifully silhouetted against the rising sun , as we plodded on . A couple of iron ladders had been put in place to make our job easier , as well as a wide well made staircase . Reaching the temple was thus a cakewalk . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh went ahead to a small village on the mountain , to arrange for some food while me , Manoj and Ameya decided to visit the temple .

The temple itself was rather small and simple , with a brown tin roof . In front of it a bust of Shivaji had been installed . Inside , especially inside the sanctum sanctorum , it was pitch dark and I had to make use of my torch to ensure I didnt stumble somewhere . The famous pindi , where Shivaji took his oath , was in this part , and we dutifully paid obeisance to it . A glorious painting , showing a young Shivaji taking his famous oath adorned one wall , while a pair of swords and a shield adorned the other . From the temple , we proceeded to the small village , where we had our breakfast . We also took care to pack bhakri and mirchi cha thecha from a kind villager , before we left . Now began our real trek ! . No one knew the route for sure , not even the guide we had taken with us . All we had to rely on were photographs clicked by some other trekker and maps from Google Earth ! So we began , at around ten in the morning , across the plateau of Raireshwar , which I reckon was around 15 km long . The sun was by now nearly overhead , beating down on us . Thankfully , it being the month of Jan , we did not get scorched ! The path was a well worn one , which alternated between flat patches of grass and dense undergrowth . The weed called ‘karvi ‘ in local parlance was in abundance here , and it would keep us company for a long time ! .There was nothing much we did , apart from trudging from one end of the plateau to the other . En route we got beautiful views of ___ dam as also Pratapgad , Chandragad etc . Our first aim was to have a good view of the nedha ( hole in the rock ) of Nakhind  . perhaps try and reach there if possible . Every nedha is unique in itself and a sight to see . After a couple of hours of walking , some of it through head high shrubs and a small traverse , we managed to get a clear view . But it soon became evident that getting there was next to impossible . The path ended over there , and beyond were simply tufts of dried grass overlooking a dangerous drop . So we trekked back to a fork in the road which had brought us there . This time , instead of going left , we turned right , and headed straight into some very thick and thorny shrubs . My hands , legs and ofcourse my sleeping mat were continually getting pricked by thorns m twigs and branches left right and centre . There was no route to speak of really , we were making one ! . Half the time I spent in avoiding tripping over some branch or weed at my feet , and the other half in stopping something from hitting my face . After trekking like this for some time , I reckon an hour , the shrubs opened up to a more regular forest . The trees were taller now , and the ground much better . A couple of them had even an arrow mark on them ! . Our guide then led us to a path , that , to me on first glance seemed to head into thin air . A closer look told us that it was a narrow and very exposed descent , possibly towards Aswalkhind . We asked our guide to take us there . ” It is a very difficult route . See if you can manage , we won’t be coming with you ” came the reply ! . Ameya and Saurabh then decided to check out the route for themselves , but came back after some time . ” It is difficult with our bulky bags . Plus , once we start , there is no turning back ” . Now we were in a quandary . Which way to go next ? But since it was already nearly 2 , we decided to have lunch , which also gave us time to think over our next step .

It was then decided that Priti and Saurabh would go towards the nedha , to find a route via one of the channels made by waterfalls . Ameya and Manoj proceeded , with the guide , to the far end of the hill , to find a route to Kudali village . Me and Rajas were left guarding the bags . Rajas promptly went off to sleep , while me , after stretching out on the bare ground for some time , busied myself with photography ! . After about half hour both search parties returned , one with good news and the other not so good . Priti and Saurabh , for want of a sickle , had been unable to get to the point of finding any route . The other two had been luckier ” Yes there is a route . A rarely used one , but a route for sure ” Ameya reassured us .The guide had left us by now , after taking his pay . From this point , we were entirely on our own .  Once again , we trekked , plodding through grass and karvy , till the path abruptly finished as the plateau ended . I could see a well worn path going across a ridge in the distance , but how would we get there ? I could make out a narrow path , the kind made by cattle , descending from Raireshwar towards the ridge . Dusk was almost upon aus as we began our descent . The path was narrow and exposed , with plenty of loose soil and dry grass . Using bottom theory was a good idea here ! . Slowly but surely , we got to the ridge as the sun set behind the mountains . We were glad we had managed the descent well before nightfall , and now had the luxury of watching a beautiful sunset . What’s more , we found ourselves on a well beaten track . Snacks and jokes and wise cracks followed in a relaxed atmosphere with sliced cake and biscuits and such stuff being passed around .

It soon started getting dark , and we had to take a call , whether to spend the night there itself on that ridge , or continue further . And there was no second opinion about it ! Out came our little electric torches and the night trek to Kudali began in right earnest . We followed the mud path which had guided us on the ridge . It snaked along , sometimes svwerving to the right , though our destination was to the left of the ridge . This did cause some doubt in our minds initially , but those were quickly put to rest . As we sped along , the stars came out one by one , making the sky a very beautiful and enchanting sight . Under the company of the stars , we finally reached the village called Kudali .

For dinner , Priti prepared her exquisite bhel . It did not last long among 6 very hungry and tired trekkers , though I think quite a quantity had been prepared ! . Quite expensive too .. we had put onions in it !! . After this , we proceeded to fill water from a nearby pond . Nothing refreshing like cool water after a day of hard trekking . We decided to put up in the verandah of the local school for the night . It had been a hard day of trekking .. more than 13 hrs of walking in total ,and I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately after lying down ! .

DAY 2  : ASWALKHIND

Next day dawned bright and clear , with a rooster waking us from our slumber . Mountains loomed over the small village , a pleasing sight first thing in the morning . The fresh morning sunlight falling on the sloping clay rooftops of huts  , nestled among the hills , made for a quaint picture . We busied ourselves in collecting firewood for preparing the morning tea . Thankfully , there was plenty in the village , and the villagers as usual helpful . We soon sat down on the bare ground for having breakfast by the newly made campfire / temporary stove ! . We finished off whatever was left of the bread , cheese , biscuits and sauce with us . We even roasted a few potatoes , which tasted quite incredible . And of course tea ! .

We finally hit the road at around 9 30 , towards Aswalkhind . We intended to cross the entire pass and end our trek in Kamthe , a village in the Konkan . The route began on a well made tar road , before branching out into a more rugged path . As always , there were kind people around who helped us with the road we had to take . The path rose slightly after leaving the road , along a riverbed , although at a height . At one point , it descended rapidly and we found ourselves walking across the dry stream . From here , we could have a clear view of the pass , nestled between two tall , thickly forested mountains .

Hereon , the path climbed steeply into the jungle , though it was still wide and quite safe . Sunlight filtered in to the ground , obstructed by tall trees . This created strange mosaics on the ground , the kind of thing only a walk in the wilderness can give . We continued on , without stopping . Adrenalin had kicked in fully by now I guess . I say that , because after 16 hrs of trekking in total , my knees ought to have been aching ! The path rose in fits and starts . A steep climb for some time , then a flat walk , then the process would repeat itself . And all along we had the shade of tall deciduous trees for company . In fact , at one point , we even spotted dry feaces by the wayside , which Priti identified as those of a tiger . We even proceeded to crush it with a stone , only to find pieces of bone inside . Quite a find actually , considering how rare anything related to a tiger is , especially in these parts .

After walking through the jungle like this for three three and a half hour , we came upon a queer rock formation . A few massive boulders had been clustered together , almost as if a giant had marked the place ! . We decided to take a small break here , the highest point in the pass . We were now actually parallel to Nakhind , albeit at a much lower level . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh clambered up a small hillock to have a look at the route we had abandoned the previous day . Their hunch was right ! The path did lead to where we were ! . But I reckon it would have been too much of a risk to try the route the previous day . We spent some time here , busying ourselves with the usual photo ops and stuff .

The path descended ferociously from there on . Again the same pattern of steep descents and flat walks . Some of these patches were quite exposed and full of scree , making trekking tedious . And of course we had the company of the jungle . But this steep descent – flat walk pattern did help us maintain a very good speed throughout . By around lunchtime , we had arrived at a small clearing , where we had our lunch . This place had an awesome view of Nakhind and few other mountains , the vertical basalt walls making for quite a sight . We could also see our destination , Kamthe in the distance . Lunch consisted of bhakri and mirchi cha thecha , which we had packed the previous day . Rustic food in a rustic setting . We descended quite quickly from here on . The path was a lot more rocky now , making the descent easier . In another hour or so , we were at the village .

Thankfully for us , we didnt have to wait to much for a transport , since a jeep bound for Poladpur was already in the village . After a bit of haggling , he finally agreed to take us all to Poladpur . Poladpur was the closest town from where we could hope to get a ST or similar transport bound for Mumbai . Thus after nearly 18 hrs of walking , and 2 very memorable days of trekking , our trek had finally come to an end .I believe we covered more than 40 km in total .   We clambered into the jeep bound for Poladpur . From there , we hired a Sumo bound for Mumbai . And by dinner time that night , I was home . Quite something that trek , which we started on the Mumbai – Bangalore road and ended on the Mumbai – Goa road !

As a closing comment , would like to thank Priti , Rajas , Saurabh , Ameya and Manoj for a great time ; and will cherish this trek for a long time to come .

Harishchandra via Nalichi Vaat – Dec 2009


I had been to Harishchandragad once before , via the Tolar Khind route and since then , had always wanted to try the tougher , more thrilling ‘ Nali chi vaat ‘ . Trek Mates had organised one for the 12th , 13th of december , which suited me just fine . ( exam getting over on the ninth and a trek on the 12th ! what else could I ask for ! )
I reached Kalyan station on the night of the 11th , alone as usual from Navi Mumbai ! . I met Vishal , Meenu , Parikshit , Dilesh among others over there and we were soon joined by the others. Well , this is the last time I am reaching a TM trek on time , because there is always a one hour cushion which I intend to make full use of ! . We clambered into the bus at around 11 30 i guess , only to find it full . So obviously we had to stand , and with that went my plan of taking a good nap before we got to the base village . I managed to sit down in the alleyway between seats , with my bag as a backrest .Not very comfortable , but whos looking for that on a trek ! . The ST bus dropped us off near Tokawade , a village by the side of Malshej Ghat .
So , there we were in pitch darkness , waiting for our next transport to arrive ! . The beautiful winter sky was in full bloom now , and I reminisced about all those nights I had spent star gazing . We travelled by lorry to Belpada , the base village for our trek . It was great sitting in the lorry , at the edge of the cargo compartment . A sudden brake , and all four of us would be on the road !!. But it was fun sitting there , watching the narrow and dark highway recede into the distance . The canopy of tall , dark trees made it look even more eerie .
We reached Belpada by about 2 in the morning . I was feeling damn sleepy by then . Without even bothering to remove my shoes or jacket , I rolled out my sleeping mat on a suitable peice of land and was soon fast asleep on it . Sleeping bag and all could wait for later .
We freshend up in the morning , had tea and after a quick introduction round ( in which just about everyone faked his or her trekking experience ) started off towards Harishchandragad .
As soon as we left Belpada , we could see the huge concave wall of the Kokan kada looming over us . Well , if you could imagine a bowl with a dia of 1800 metres , you could get a slight idea of what I am talking about ! . Keeping the huge mountain to our right , we passed through well trodden paths and fields and finally joined an empty river bed . Round , smooth stones of all sizes made up our path as we made our way ahead . Constant wear by the elements , especially water had coloured the stones various hues of white and grey . With the hot morning sun beating down on our backs , the river bed looked all the more brighter . The path meandered on , the stones and pebbles getting progressively larger as we moved ahead . After an hour of trekking , we came to the ‘giant steps ‘ – two huge rocks lying right across our path , each roughly rectangular in shape and a good ten – twelve feet high ! A staircase for giants , no doubt ! This was also our last watering point , and a great place for photo ops . From here on , the route really began to climb . Each step we took was at least as high as our thighs , and the continous plod made it a tiring proposition . We were now close to the ‘ nali ‘ and decided to halt for lunch . Lunch , well basically consisted of eating evrything that everyone else had brought ! So by the time half an hour was up , I had eaten cakes , theplas , pomegranates , chips , biscuits , puran poli and few other assorted foodstuffs . It was noon by now , and the hot afternoon sun beat down on us . In the far distance , I could see the peculiar ‘human ‘ shaped pinnacle , on the far side of Kokan kada. Closer by , a few trees and of course the long path we had come by . Above us , a cloudless sky and a gentle breeze . Add to that a full stomach and I reallly wanted to lie down and go off to sleep then and there .
But there was a trek to do , so I picked myself up , put my bag on my shoulders and started off once more . In any case , the trek to follow put to rest any plans to doze off !! .
The path moved ahead , and up into two huge enclosing walls . The right hand side was off course the near end of the Kokan kada and the one on the left a separate mountain . We were following the path of a waterfall which cascades in between the two in the monsoons . Wether the waterfall caused the split or the split caused the waterfall , I do not know . Anyways , such intelligent thoughts were furthest from my mind then , as the large stones of the river bed gave to small rocks and scree . The whole place looked like a blasting site , like someone was using dynamite or something to build a tunnel throught that place . The route moved to the right , traversing the wall , then further on to what looked like steps ! I am really amazed actually , as to how are the rocks in that place cut into such sharp geometrical shapes . I could see a lot of straight edges wherever the waterfall had flowed .
We soon came to the first rock patch , which i reckon was about 15 – 20 feet high . I remembered climbing barefoot on Madangad , and managing pretty well . So I decided to climb this one barefoot too ( maaz actually . I had seen 3 -4 guys manage quite well even with their shoes on ! ) But this was not Madangad , and the rock face was soon poking into the soles of feet . Apart from that , there wasnt any hassle and I soon managed to get to the top . Even got a sarcastic applause for that !!
The route to the next rock patch was just scree and nothing else . The path climbed steeply and getting ahead was a case of two steps ahead and one step back ! . Brittle slate rock covered our entire path . Rocks as large as our foot crumbled beneath our feet , and every now and then someone further up sent a generous helping of stones and pebbles downhill ! The route had also got narrower now , and the two huge walls on either side of us seemed to have an overbearing presence . A slip and fall on this patch , and well , one would have to do the whole patch again .
On the top of this scree filled patch , was our second rock climb . A 10 – 15 feet high rock , which at first would seem like a dead end ! . Nilesh did the free climbing part . There were twenty of us , and one by one all of us managed to scramble up the rock face ( ofcourse with a rope aound our waist ! ) .
Further on , an exposed traverse which brought us closer to Kokan kada . A tree was growing here , of all places , to add to the thrill . Keeping myself as close to the mountain as possible , I made my way to a third rock patch . Since the traverse had taken me around the earlier rock , my field of view now changed completely ! Instead of the ‘man ‘ shaped pinnacle , now Rohidas came into view . That short traverse in the evening light , with the huge mountain of Rohidas in the background was another memorable part of the trek .
Tiny foot holds made the climb over the rock patch easy . We were now nearing the end of our trek . Bushes and shrubs near the top of the mountain came into view at last . Two more relatively simpler rock patches , and we were on familiar terrain . Yellow grass scrunched under our feet and each step threw up tiny puffs of soil . The huge sweep of the Kokan kada was now in view . We had reached a plateau by now , on the far left of the massive cliff . The sun was almost beginning to set now , and had acquired a fiery orange hue . We still had a long way to go though , especially over a small hill covered in dense forest . I personally found that part of the trek very irritating . A steep gradient , loose soil and roots and branches all over the place . My sleeping mat got caught , torn at least half a dozen times on that little hill . After a hard day of trekking , that is the last thing you want .
We all finally managed to reach the plateau . Some of us had already got there sometime before , as usually happens with a big group on a long trek . Some of them had collected firewood for the night , and after resting for some time , all of us started off for the caves . All of us trooped of in one file , torches in hand away from Kokan kada . After trekking for about half an hour , we came to a small plateau which directly overlooked the temple to the left and the caves to the right . We soon lit a campfire , which we fed with lots of firewood to ensure it glowed brightly . We had collected enough for a funeral , so that was thankfully , never an issue . All that firewood would come in handy later on , when it got really cold . For the present though , all of us assembled around the campfire for antakshari and other such timepass . We also had our dinner over there and then each one retired to sleep .I was glad I had brought my jacket along , alongwith the sleeping bag . Lying down , I could see the winter sky in all its splendour . I could spot the beautiful cluster of stars known as ‘ Pleadies ‘ alongwith Taurus the Bull . I moved my head to spot Orion and Gemini , with their host of bright stars . I had spent hours as a child looking at thoseand other constellations , and with that thought in mind , I drifted off to sleep . I awoke at about 5 , and spent the next hour discussing with other such early risers wether we should go to Taramati to see the sun rise . Well , sun rose while we were still at it , so obviously the Taramati plan was off . We instead decided to pay another visit to Kokan kada . Another trek along familiar trek and we were at the cliff . Looking down from there , I could see a river path meandering and then disappearing into the rightmost edge of Harishchandragad . That was the path we had come by yesterday . A long photo sessions followed , which is understandable at a place like the Kokan kada ! We returned to the caves , had our breakfast and went ahead to the temple and Kedareshwar . The temple was ancient , 6th century or something like that ! Kedareshwar was basically a Shiv Ling covered on all sides by water . The eight foot tall structure is a sight to see !
After this we started descending the mountain . Descent was well , quite uneventful . And I am also getting bored of writing this now , so I wont describe our descent in detail . Well , basically , the ten of us formed the back lead , and we stopped at evry opportunity we could . My right knee had quite inexplicably begun to pain by now , so I was limping along , although I must say the relis spray helped . We had limbu sharbat twice on the way down , sat down and chatted a couple of other times , aani umbryachya zhadachi fala khanya sarkhya faltu goshti karat hoto ( credit Vishal with that ) . And took our own sweet time in getting to Khireshwar .
At the base village , a great lunch , a visit to a marvellous temple and we were off to Mumbai , or rather to Khubi phata , where we spent a great deal of time flagging down tempos , trucks and buses . Finally , just after sunset we managed to get one lorry going to Kalyan . All of us clambered in and lorry driver drove off towards Mumbai . Harischandragad receded into the back ground in the fading evening light as a fantastic trek came to an end .

Closing comments , well , another great trek by TM . Had a whale of a time . Kudos to evryone for attending and completing the trek ! Thanks to Priti , Nilesh , Vishal , Miron for managing the rock climbing patches . Without rope bahutekanchi hava tight zhali asti !! . I hope to meet all twenty of the trekking group on further treks too .

Harishchandra – via Khireshvar : June 2009

I had heard and read reams upon reams about this place . The famed Konkan kada , the long hike , the temple at the top had all contributed in creating a huge aura about the place . And believe me , Harischandragad did not disappoint one bit . This is one place you would feel like visiting time and again . I used to think initially , that people who have done that trek some thirty – forty times got to have a screw loose , but I have changed my opinion now . Anyways , let me start from the beginning itself , try and describe something in words which even photos and videos will fall woefully short of ! . Here goes …

I started from my house on the evening of the 11th of June , all set for the trek to Harishchandragad . As usual , I was the lone guy from Navi Mumbai , and ended up travelling all the way to Thane all alone . No issues , just that it gets a bit boring ! From Thane , another train to Kalyan . This was the first time I was travelling in one of the new purple rakes of the railways , and I was impressed ! . Chrome plated handle bars for standing passengers , more space , cleaner, and with a digital board which displayed the next station . Cool ! Plus a voiceover which read it out , incase you cant / dont read . ( the voice keeps repeating the name so many times , it bugs you in the end ! ) It was a pleasant uneventful journey . I also met Nilesh Patil , our trek leader , couple of stations before Kalyan , and we spent some time chatting about past treks , which is what most trekkers do when they meet on a trek !
Alighting at Kalyan , I made my way to the common meeting point , the display board on platform one . Mohit and Mudit and another guy , Bhandari I think , were already there . After the usual hi hellos and getting introduced to each other , we waited for the others to arrive . They all did one by one , or some times in twos or threes , till there were about 20 of us on the platform . One girl , some Khushi Punjabi , hadnt reached there yet . The ST for Khubi Phata was about to leave , and as every moment passed , it made us even more anxious . Finally , Nilesh asked Vikram and Bittu to at least get evryone into the bus . One party could go on its way .
As usual , it was utter chaos outside the station . We proceeded to the bus stand , located right next to it , after dodging the dozen or so rickshaws and the dozens of pededstrians who came in our way . Good thing we had reserved seats in the bus , so everyone got a place to sit . Nilesh , Vikram and Khushi had to unfortunately take another bus , which left half an hour later .
The long drive to Khubi phata in Malshej Ghat was spent in total darkness . No one spoke much and for long the only sound I could hear was the bus’ engine . We wound our way up the ghat near Junnar . When we returned two days later , in the daytime , I would realise what a pristine valley we were driving over ( with enough thrills provided by the bus driver ! ) In the black of the night though , it was just another drab ghat ! . We finally reached Khubi phata at around 1 am . The driver had conviently dropped us off a stop earlier , so we ended up walking a further two kilometres !!
We finally began the long walk from Khubi phata to Khireshwar under cloud covered skies . Every now and then the moon would peep through a gap in the clouds , creating an eerie effect as the thin wisps of clouds around it gave off a dull glow . Most of us were new to each other , so there was plenty to talk about ! Made some really good friends on that five kilometre nocturnal hike !
We reached the village of khireshwar in about an hour , and made ourselves comfortable in the small open area in front of a house . I had postponed buying proper bedding yet again , and so found myself tossing and turning on the thin satranji I had brought along ! . Anyways , sleep did come finally , for about half an hour . Some bloody cock had started crowing . I checked my watch .. 3 30 am !!! . Worst part , that bird was on snooze .. it kept crowing every half hour !! I slept fitfully after that . Between the hard ground and the crowing cock , I couldnt expect much !
The next day dawned bright and clear . I had my first look at Harishchandragad . The top of the huge mountain was covered in thick white clouds . As the clouds moved , I recognised a nedha or natural orifice in the rock on the extreme left side . We freshened up , had our breakfast and soon began the climb up Harishcndrgad . ( henceforth Harish ) From Khireshwar , a dirt track led all the way to Tolar khind , the pass between Harish and an adjoining mountain . The hike was pretty simple , with a well worn track winding its way up the jungle . Our group of about twenty five , soon got split into two , with the seven – eight of us some distance ahead of the rest .
In a way that was good though , it afforded us some rest as we waited for the others to catch up .
The track wound its way through the jungle , some times rising , some times staying flat . The sun beat down on our backs as we made our way to the rock of Tolar Khind . I had forgotten to bring my cap along and soon had beads of sweat forming on my forehead ! . After trekking for about an hour and half , we came to a bifurcation in the track . A stone bearing a sculpture of a lion was placed at this spot , near a tree . Like with most other such artefacts , it too had been converted into a quasi temple , with saffron paint (shendur) and associated things near it .
Further on , we took the road to the left , and soon found ourself at the rock patch . It had plenty of holds carved into it , big enough to fit atleast one foot , if not both ! A rusted railing provided some more security . An easy climb up this part brought us to the second part of the rock patch . Perhaps , if I had done Harish earlier on , before Gorakh , Haji Malang , Alang etc .. that patch might have seemed a tad ‘ thrilling ‘ ! . Anyways , I soon began to climb the second part . Here too , holds , almost like steps had been carved out at nice comfortable heights . Apart from a couple of places , where I had to be careful about the narrow path , this too was an easy climb . Some great photo opportunities in this patch . Of the patch itself , the surrounding mountains , people climbing up etc . The track then traversed the mountain for some distance , again with steel bars stuck on its periphery for support ! . Some more scrambling up the scree and we were done with Tolar Khind ! . And almost as if to welcome us , one dude had set up a stall right there on that small plateau , with ready to serve Nimbu sarbat and buttermilk ( taak ) ! Since we had again pulled ahead , our small group decided to take a small break here . And with nothing else to do , we treated ourselves to some refreshing nimbu sarbat !!! .
A trail led to the left of the stall , then turned right towards the jungle . Here it again bifurcated , one muddy track descending on the left , another track going flat to the right . We took the one on the left . ( take this route if u want to skip hiking over seven small hills . The muddy track looks misleading at first , but takes you to the balle killa . The one on the right IS misleading )
After hiking some more , which involved skidding over scree a couple of times , we found ourselves at the base of the bale killa . Its strong walls could be made out from here , situated atop the small hillock . I could see many cows grazing on the little grass left on the hill . The hike continued for about half an hour more before the ___ of the temple became visible .It must have been about 12 by then .The intricately carved structure looked beautiful , especially with its golden ‘ shikhar ‘ shining brilliantly in the afternoon sun . I stopped to click photos as the rest of the group proceeded to the caves located some distance away . The temple was old , at least 1400 years , from what I had read about the place . Nearby was a pond , with steps leading down to it . Many small temples lay strewn all around the bigger temple . The unmistakable signs of a huge temple complex were there to see!
Must have been one heck of a place at its zenith ! I said to myself .
Proceeding to the cave , I plonked my sack amongst the others and sat down for lunch with my friends . The cave itself was quite cool , protected as it was by the hillside on three sides . It was one of 3 -4 caves carved out in the hillside by our Satvahan ancestors . We trekkers surely owe them a lot for making trekking a pleasure in the 21st century ! . Without the steps , caves , water tanks etc carved out by them a couple of millenia ago , trekking would be a pain ! . So , sitting in a cave , which was once the abode of monks seeking solitude from noisy crowds , we chatted and joked as we had our lunch . Basically that meant everyone eating everyone’s lunch ! .
My stomach full , I went for a stroll outside . In the distance I could see the top of the temple . The huge mountains of the Malshej ghat / Kasara region could also be seen quite clearly . Far far away in the distance , the top of Kalsubai stood out between the ‘ V ‘ formed by two lesser peaks.
Back in the cave , with nothing else to do , I took a small nap ! हो ! मस्त पाय ताणून ज्होपलो तीन तास !.
Finally , I was woken up at around four by Vikram . ” Time for Konkan Kada ! ” . I sprang to my feet . The crowning glory was right around the corner . We all trooped out of the cave , in a single file . The path climbed to the left , onto a small plateau . then it descended into a thicket further on . A small fifteen minute hike later , we came to a huge plateau . I started walking to its edge , to Kokan kada . Fact is , you cannot get even a hint of the sight until you are almost upon it . About ten feet from the edge , the huge gorge came into view . I gaped in amazement ( I also said something , but I cant write that here ! ) . I was completely unprepared for this amazing natural phenomenon . Millions of years of weathering had carved out a bowl from the mountain . If you could imagine a bowl 1700 feet wide , turned on its side , you might start to get an idea of Kokan Kada .
The wind blew strongly into my face as I stood near the edge , the latest among perhaps thousands of people to have stood there and admired the view , down the ages . The same wind , blowing across the Konkan had , over millions of years , carved out the Kokan kada from the side of the cliff . Layers of basalt which made up the mountain stood exposed , each carrying a tale of its own . I tossed a coin into the valley , only to see the wind pick it up and toss it back over my head ! .
Far in the distance , I could see Bhairavgad , Naneghat , Jivdhan and Khada parsi . Closer , the peaks of Sindola and Nakta stood out from the stunning landscape . We spent a lot of time here , clicking photos , enjoying the view ! Some of my friends from school had also , co incidentally , planned a Harish trek that same day ! I half expected to bump into them near the kada . But two hours passed , and no sign of anyone . By this time , the sun had begun to set . Peaks which stood out in great detail just minutes before , now turned into eerie purple – brown silhouettes . Clouds had gathered on the horizon , casting a grey shadow over the valley . Slowly but surely , the twilight gave way to the dark night as we made our way back to the caves . By the time we reached the smaller plateau , night had well and truly set in . With the dark jungle just a few metres away , and the lonely and dark mountain stretching out before us , it was the perfect time and place for some ‘ghost stories ‘ . Well , I learnt that not only Torna , but even Rajgad and rajmachi harbour spirits . So now , nocturnal treks to these places have become high priority ! . The talk meandered on , from one story to another , each one of them told as seriously as possible ! . From a shapeless ghost on a trade route to people appearing and dissapearing with no reason , the stories had everything .” I think I saw something move over there ” Ravi announced suddenly . ” Where ? ” someone asked him . I chuckled a bit . ‘ Ise kehte hain behti ganga mein haath dho lena !! ‘ Some of the guys then actually got up to check out if there was anything in the jungle . ” Dikha toh nahin … lekin tha waha par kuch toh . ! ” ” Yeah something big ” . It was all a prank of course , and they all settled down once more . One guy was a bit more than disturbed ” chalo chaltein hain . ” , he declared , his voice quivering slightly . I could hardly stop laughing . We wanted to stay , but he insisted , and we finally trooped off to the caves .
Very soon , we had a roaring bon fire going with the firewood we had collected . Dinner consisted of pithla bhaat , bhakri . Authentic Maharashtrian cuisine . We got it readymade , cooked by the villager on his chulah . I hadnt sat around a bon fire since a very long time , and it was really special , having dinner in shared plates with so many great friends . Hungry as I was , I quickly polished off most of the ‘ shared plate ‘ !! .
Dinner done , I sat around here and there , chatting with people . All of a sudden , I saw a couple of torch lights on the plateau next to us . They finally emerged out of the thicket , not one or two but 9 of them ! I was pleasantly surprised to see all my friends , though I must stay I expected to meet them much earlier , and was a tad worried . Even as we were busy shaking hands and wasting time in general his and hellos , somebody emerged from the jungle . He was bare , save for the large number of leaves around his waist . Smears of yellow paint on his bare torso and face and necklaces of beads and rudraksha adorned his neck . In either hand , he carried a blazing ‘torch’ or mashaal . Even I was startled for a moment ! . But Bhandare had done an absolutely fantastic job with the get up and make up . He seemed even more authentic when he did a bit of mono acting around the bon fire ! . My friends though , seemed to be startled out of their wits . Some welcome to Harishchandragad . !
Soon , long sessions of anectodes , songs , and other timepass followed . As the night wore on , a thick fog engulfed us . Very soon , it was impossible to see beyond a few feet and also a bit chilly. We continued our timepass for a some more time , then retired to the cave for a good night’s sleep .
Early next morning , a beautiful sight greeted me as I stepped out of the cave . A mist covered everything for as far as I could see . The outline of the temple stood out from behind the thin veil. I settled down with a cup of tea to soak in the pleasant atmosphere . Slowly , as the sun rose the mist dissapeared , and the temple came into view once again ! . Everyone else had by now woken up . But ideally , they should have been awake at least an hour earlier .
Next on the itenary was Taramati , the summit of Harishchandragad . The 3rd ( or is it 2nd ? ) highest point in the whole state ! . Almost directly opposite to the temple , a path led into the jungle , and upwards . Dry leaves and roots typical of deciduous forests covered our route to the top . We also spent some time at a huge tree , climbing onto it (all twenty seven of us ) , and clicking photos . Before long , the summit came into view . My school friends had started much earlier , and were now descending from it . The route to the top was windy , and steep in a couple of places . A steep rocky patch and we were nearly done . Taramati rose high and above over everything else in the vicinity . A huge carpet of clouds stretched out before our eyes . In fact , the summit seemed to lead into the clouds themselves . A pole , with torn saffron standards marked the peak . The strong winds had torn at the flags , but they still fluttered proudly , whatever was left of them . To the right , down below , I could see the huge ‘C’ shape of the Kokankada , as also the temple and to my left the village . Apart from that , the peaks of Malshej ghat presented an unparalleled panaroma .
I started descending at about 11 30 , and was done by 2 . One of my school friend’s bike had got punctured while travelling from khubi phata the previous night , so they had another adventure to complete ! . We pushed off by 4 30 – 5 . By bus to Kalyan . Then by local to Thane and finally to Sanpada .
A great and unforgettable trek had come to an end .

Ratangad Trek – August 2009

The Kasara – Igatpuri region offers some of the best treks in Maharashtra . The tall imposing peaks , on an average taller than the rest of the Sahyadris , command the region . A beautiful panorama unfolds in front of us as we climb into Kasara ghat . Ratangad , Kalsubai , Katrabai , Alang , Madan , Kulang are some of the famous forts / peaks around here . On the flipside though , its not that close to Mumbai , and the connectivity to the various forts from the two road/rail heads viz Kasara and Igatpuri is horrible . So when Trek Mates organaised a one day trek to Ratangad , I jumped at the opportunity ! I had heard a lot about it . The beautiful temple at the base , fortifications , the ladders and chimney etc . I was really excited about going to that place . Starting from Dadar , by mini bus on the night of the 1st we made our way towards the Mumbai – Agra highway . We spent the time chatting , getting to know each other , singing songs ( not too many co operated in this dept 😡 ) and generally having fun all the way to Igatpuri . Everything went fine till we turned off the highway … and the signboards dissapeared like magic.

Our first target was Bhandardara or rather a village called Shendi near it . We drove for miles on the narrow potholed roads , keeping our eyes peeled for any board with Bhandardara written on it ! . We as in the driver , me , Pritam , Priti and Pranjal . Everyone else was fast asleep , oblivious to the confusion we had got into . We nearly missed a crucial turn towards Bhandardara , but avoided going off on a tangent thanks to Priti ! . Some fifty odd yards into the turn , some wise guy had put up a board with Bhandardara written on it . How were people supposed to spot it from the other road ? Anyways , at least we were on the right path ! . Another hour of driving along pitch dark roads , with not a vehicle passing us . Finally we came a Y junction , one road leading down to a village , other leading up to god knows where . I and Pranjal spotted a couple of boards in the darkness , at a position where they were of little help . But at least a board was there , before the junction ! Pritam and the driver got down , with torches , to read them . Not much help from those boards , most of them were pointing in the other direction . Infact , eka var lihila hota .. ‘ Vachnara murkha ahe ‘ !!! . With boards like those , we werent getting anywhere any quick ! . So deciding to take a chance , we took the road leading down . Luckily for us , a group of people in a jeep passed us in the opposite direction , and found we out that it was indeed the road leading to the village of Shendi after asking them . We passed a couple of resorts , but no sign of wherethe road was headed . Our mini bus entered some village and finally in the main chowk of the darned place .. a board … SHENDI !!!! . I heaved a sigh of relief . After nearly 2 hrs of roaming around , we had got to our first target . ” Ab bas 12 km . We should be there in half an hour ” said somebody . ” Yeah , I can catch up on some sleep . Mast paye pasroon zhopu ” . I reckoned we would be at Ratanwadi by 2 30 – 3 am . The place and its maze of roads had other plans though . Driving on after the village , some distance ahead , we saw a lane merge into ours . Not seeing any board around , we presumed we had to go straight ahead and continued on . and on . Nearly half an hour of driving , and Ratanwadi was still nowhere in sight . ” Perhaps we should ask somebody .” said Priti . ” Ask ? Its past 3 am !! ” ” We dont have a choice do we ? ” . She was right , we had to ask somebody , but whom . Me and Pritam scanned the sides of the road , and finally spotted a house . A single hut overlooking the tiny road . I was apprehensive wether we would find anyone there ! . ” Mama Mama ” shouted Priti ” आम्हाला Ratanwadi चा रास्तासपादत नाहीये .” No response . We knocked on the door . Still nothing . Some more shouting . Finally some sound from the cowshed adjoining the house . Now why would the guy be sleeping in the cowshed ?? His personal problem I guess , not our concern . Anyways he did tell us the way to the Ratanwadi . We retraced our road , back over the small bridge , to the Y intersection . Another half an hour of driving spent in doing that . Now where to I wondered . By this time , the group from Pune had made it past Shendi . So we asked them to drive down to the intersection . Priti , me , Pritam and Pranjal then made our way to another house located nearby . ‘ Last time we got lucky . Yeh toh pakka danda lekar bahar aane wala hain !! ‘ I said to myself . Luckily for us , he only had a torch in his hand . Apparently , one has to take a U turn at that intersection , back over the merging lane . Well , if they arent going to put up a sign board here , I wondered where they would !! . Our journey continued , the Innova from Pune racing ahead of us . Finally , a gate and a board saying ‘ Ratanwadi 15 km ‘ !! . I caught up on some sleep and awoke at day break . It was drizzling slightly when I woke up . The verdant green hills surrounding the village were looking very beautiful . That and the overcast light grey skies above , were a sight to see . We finally made it to the Amruteshwar temple by 6 am ! . We freshened up . ( Meaning I gargled my mouth , I had forgotten my toothpaste ! ) After a quick tea and breakfast of upma , which would have been quicker if the lady had been quicker , our trek started along the banks of the river Pravra . After going along its banks for some time , the track stopped at the river . This would be the first of four crossings . People waded through one by one . One guy did try some stunt of jumping from a stone in the river to the banks , and slipped badly . But luckily for him , not much damage was done . The trail led to a flat area , covered in a fresh green carpet of grass . It looked all the more better with tiny droplets of rain on it ! . We walked on and crossed the stream a second time and then almost immediately a third time . The green fields , with the river gushing through them , all surrounded by tall mountains , their tops kissed by white clouds created a beautiful sight . We could even see a twin waterfall on the mountain opposite us . After taking some snaps , we moved on . The trail then led into the forest and started rising upwards . After climbing for about half an hour , we came to another plateau , and our first proper view of Ratangad . The mountain was huge , covered in dense green forest with its top enshrouded in clouds . After another round of photography , the trek continued . We soon passed a bifurcation in the route , the road on the left leading to Pachnai ( Harishchandragad ) and the other one towards Ratangad . The trail then climbed into the jungle , and got steeper . We were by now surrounded by clouds , creating an eerie effect on the jungle around us . After about an hour of climbing , we came to the first ladder . The red ladder looked surreal as its final few steps disappeared into the clouds . The ladder itself seemed to be supported by stilts , which anchored it into the rocks below . Apart from a terribly shaky bannister , there wasn’t anything else to arrest a fall ! The last few rungs did not have any supports at all ! . It did look scary from below , but when I started climbing it , I realised it was actually pretty simple and quite safe ! . Then came another ladder . A bigger one , and a slightly tricky entry and exit to and from it . But no major hassles . I had a few snaps of myself taken here , and moved on to the chimney . The chimney is basically a very narrow rock patch leading to the Ganesh darwaja . Rocks on both sides had enclosed a gully barely wide enough for a person to fit ! . With help from the good holds carved into the sides I began ascending . The rope was becoming a liability here , hindering my movement ! The last hold was some distance away , and leg was getting entangled in the rope everytime I tried to reach for it . Finally , I managed somehow . The Ganesh darwaja gets its name from a small carving of Ganesh on one of its sides . It is the first door we encounter on the fort . The steps leading up to it have been blown up , hence the ladders and chimney . Further on , some steps leading to another door . This was Hanuman Darwaja , named after the carving of Hanuman on it . The door is , strangley , small in size , just about six feet I would say . The sides of the door were made of black basalt , arranged into a cylindrical shape . Walking on , we came to the Rani Mahal . The big cylindrical structure , barely visible through the transluscent clouds made for a beautiful sight . The ruined structure had a solitary bush growing out of it from one side . Completely devoid of any foliage , it seemed to almost compliment the black ruins it was now a part of . We returned back to the Hanuman darwaja . A few metres ahead was situated a small temple , the temple of Ratandevi herself ! Beyond it , a cave spacious enough for at least twenty people . We had our lunch here . Generous quantities of theplas among other things !!! . Now it was time to explore the fort . So we trooped off , towards the Rani Mahal and beyond it . After walking for a few minutes , we came to a small pond with a tiny temple next to it . The temple had a broken idol of Nandi and the base of a shiv ling in it . The pond itself was the source of the Pravra river , which later formed the Bhandardara lake !!! . The rain had started to fall by now . Torrential rain and gusty winds to go with it . I walked on , holding the cape of my raincoat close to my head . The clouds had well and truly come into their element by now , and anything beyond five metres was barely visible ! . The grey silhouttes of the trees and bushes as they came nearer created an eerie effect . After about twenty minutes of walking , we came to the Trayambak darwaja . The biggest darwaja on the entire fort . Interestingly , the whole door , the steps leading to it , as also the steps leading further to another , smaller door had been carved out from one big monolith ! . Hats off to whosoever has built that thing ! . Passing through this door , after descending a dozen or so very slippery steps , we came to another flight of stairs . These stairs were narrow ,slippery and very steep .Couple of places it was an exposed descent I heard .These were the steps that led to the khutta sulka !! . But considering the torrential rain , winds and horrible visibility , we decided to leave Khutta sulka for some other trek ! We turned back from the Trayambak darwaja and made our way to the top of the fort . The climb was slightly steep , the strong winds adding that extra bit of thrill ! . Slowly but surely we made our way to the nedhe or natural hole in the rock . The nedhe was pretty big , I would say about seven feet wide and equally high . The wind literally howled through , making the fall raindrops float horizontally across it . Who knows what the nedhe would look like thousands of years from now ? Through the nedhe , we emerged on the other side of the fort , a kind of short cut ! . Here comes the best part of the trek . ट्रकवर कीडे करावे तर अशे । !! Basically , there was a pretty steep and extremely slippery rock patch leading down from the nedhe . Most of the people , fourteen to be precise , had a look at it and decided against using that route . I decided to give it a try in any case . First mistake .. I didnt see how Kiran and Vish had got down from there , so I had no idea of the route to take ! . Anyways , I decided to cross the bridge when I cam to it . One step , two steps , three steps the going was good ! . Then .. nothing , not a hold in sight ! I couldnt move a step forward , and going back by that slippery route was out of the question . I sat there for a few seconds , enjoying the view . By now Zeenat had found another parallel , simpler route and was helping everyone else descend . I looked at the stone in front of me . The smooth wet rock had a tinge of green on it . I saw a proper hold some distance away . Vish had by now come up by the adjoining scree to help . I stretched my leg to get the hold .. stretch .. stretch .. suddenly I was hurtling down the rock patch .. six feet in three seconds .. and somehow managed to put a brake on myself by gripping the neighbouring soil tightly !! . Among other things , anyone else wanting to try that route was definitely put off . After that it was pretty simple .. a scramble down the scree and I was done . Further ahead , after some more walking , we came to some tanks , and some fortifications . This structure looked like a bastion (बुरुज) turned inside out . The four hundred year old structure still looked strong and sturdy . Continuing on , we arrived back at the base of the hillock , on which Rani Mahal was situated . The wind blew really hard here , especially because of the proximity of the patch to the cliff’s edge .
We soon started our descent , in torrential rain . The first few steps of the ladder felt like climbing through a waterfall ! Even the chimney before that had been pretty slippery , but thankfully everybody managed without any hassles .!! . The descent route had now become a gushing stream , all the more wet and slippery , but it was fun climbing down . After about a couple of hours of walking through the jungle , we were almost at the base . Suddenly someone spotted a waterfall , some distance into the woods . The sparkling white waters cascading over the smooth black rock made for a beautiful sight . The water was very cold , but fun to sit in . After another round of photography and general timepass in the waterfall , we continued our journey . I was feeling pretty cold by now , but the brisk walk to the base village helped .
After some tea and snacks we started our journey home .
Another fantastic and memorable trek , managed very well by Priti n Zeenat had come to an end .

Alang – Madan Trek : March 2009

It had been eight long months since my last trek (Torna) and my feet were itching to once again head towards the Sahyadris ! . Months had passed with me making and canceling plans for some or the other trek. Soon , the month of March arrived , practically the last month before the heat and sun of the summers made trekking a boring and tiring affair ! . A trek had to be done now , or I would have to wait out the summers !
I chanced upon a new trekking group ‘TREK MATES’ on orkut , saw that they were going to Alang and Madan a couple of days later and decided to join them . A couple of calls and I was in ! .It took me all of fifteen minutes to find out , ask my parents and register myself !!

Alang and Madangad are located in the Igatpuri region, north of Mumbai just before Nashik. These two, along with a third, Kulang, form a celebrated mountain range. These three hill forts provide some of the toughest and longest climbs in the Sahyadri mountains and are something of a pilgrimage for trekkers !

So there I was , raring to go for the trek . I was to catch the VT – Kasara local , which I did at Kurla , alongwith another guy who had joined from Panvel . Me and Devkiran got into the second last car , just as it had been mentioned in community page .
” Call up Shashikant ,” I said ” He was supposed to get in Dadar itself ” . Devkiran , after trying a couple of times , managed to get a call through . Apparently they , Shashi and a couple of others were in another bogey . Next station , I and Devkiran got down and quickly scampered across . We met Shashikant , Sonali and Samyukta and time passed uneventfully till Kalwa . Nilesh , Priti , Prasad and some others were to join us at Kalwa .

” They got into the second last car ” said Shashi , as we passed Kalwa . I again ran back ,alongwith the others , to the second last bogey when the train stopped at the next station !!! . A few others joined us at Kalyan and the group was almost complete . Almost except one guy , Vikram Singh , who had decided to take a bus to Kalyan from Panvel . He got stuck in traffic jams , missed the train and finally hitch hiked his way to Kasara ! .
In the train though , the crowd got progressively lesser as we passed Kalyan . For the last leg of the journey , it was just us in the whole compartment . I stretched myself out on the seats , wandered around , chatted with my new friends , stood for sometime at the door enjoying the breeze ! Fooling around in an empty local is an experience in itself ! Dozens of blue coloured handles swung rhythmically from the roof , seeming almost surreal without anyone holding onto them for support ! .
We finally reached Kasara at around 3 am on the 7th . For reaching Ambevadi , the base village , Nilesh had already arranged for a couple of jeeps . After a quick introduction round , we were off ! . I found myself sitting on the overhang of the bloody vehicle . With the guy driving like Schumacher , it was one thrilling experience . I felt like I was sitting on a springboard ! . So there we were , bouncing along potholed roads for a good two hours before Ambevadi came into sight . Here the potholes came to an end (and so did the road ) . There wasnt any proper road leading to the village , just crushed yellow stones marking the way . Was primarily meant for bullock carts i guess . We finally reached the village at day break . I quickly clambered out , glad that I wasnt feeling like a jackhammer ‘ any more ! .
After a quick tea and breakfast at a kind villager’s house , we set off for our trek . Accompanying us were Dyanesh and another guy whose name I forgot , our guides . A few minutes of walking and the full range of Kalsubai came into view . Well , words cant describe the huge mountains lording over the tiny village and us . To the far left was Kalsubai , right in front of us was the huge wall of Alang , like a massive wave of basalt , stopped dead in its tracks . Further out were Madan and the square massif of Kulang . I was totally awed . Torna was big , but this was scary !
Our trek started on a long , low lying spur jutting out of Alang . Like any other hillock , it was covered in deciduous forests , so common throughout Maharashtra. Dried leaves scrunched under our feet as we made our way ahead . Sometimes the path would rise ,and at other times stay flat . The branches of the trees created just enough shade to make the hike a pleasant one ! . After about a couple of hours of trekking , we came to a rock patch . This was the simplest one on the entire fort ! . A gentle gradient , with enough footholds to help us along . Of course , falling would still have been disastrous , but at least the climbing was pretty easy ! . We came to a small cave , where we dumped our bags and had some snacks . ” theplas anyone ” someone asked . I stretched my hand out for a couple . People were fooling around , cracking jokes , taking snaps .. and getting ready for the long traverse to Madan gad . We stepped out of the cave and turned left . With the mountain on one side and the valley on the other , we starting trekking our way to Madan .At one point on the traverse , we came across a very exposed patch . The entire traverse is exposed actually , but this was particulary narrow , and sloping straight into the valley . It was a bit tricky , but everyone was managing it without any hassles . One , two , three , four , five .. then all of a sudden , Shashi , who was right in front of me , tripped and slipped towards the valley . My heart skipped a beat , as Shashi fell , hands flailing . Then , just in the nick of time , Nilesh , who had been standing there to guide people across , grabbed Shashi’s wrist . I heaved a sigh of relief . A few seconds here or there , and it would have been a very different story . I can vouch for that .. I had a ringside view of the action . But the trek had to go on , we had a couple of mountains to conquer !

The exposed traverse of madan gad !
The exposed traverse of Madan gad !

The traverse continued , finally ending with broken steps which led upward . The steps ended into a dead wall ! This was the famed rock patch of Madan . A thirty foot wall overlooking a three thousand foot valley !
Dyaneshwar climbed first , then Prasad followed . I am amazed really , how people free climb in such places ! . Then Nilesh and Priti climbed up and secured themselves to pitons already in place . Then the rest of started climbing . For one guy climbing , there were fifteen others advising him , making suggestions , guiding him along , cracking jokes , passing comments and generally creating a lot of noise ! . ‘ Move to your right ‘ .. good .. now left … get the toe hold properly .. can u see that piton ? .. yeah that one .. move further up .. one more piton .. good .. excellent .. just a little more .. great . With able guidance from Nilesh and Priti and the rope .. I had made it past the patch !
More stairs , covered with scree led towards the top . I came across a darwaja , now almost completely in ruins . Further up , the top of the mountain . It was mid afternoon by now and we were thirsty like hell ! . Madan dissapointed us though , hardly any water in any of its tanks . We painstakingly managed to fill a couple of bottles . Before long , I was at the summit , taking in one of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen . The view you get from the top of a mountain , you can get only from the top of a mountain . Books , photos , videos etc cant even begin to give you an idea . The summit of Madan is queer .. with huge red boulders stacked up like a giant rock sculpture ! . From here , we could see the great arc of Alang , like a huge ‘C’ . Slightlyfurther out , Kalsubai , alongwith a tiny saffron speck atop it , marking out the temple . And of course , to my right was the huge fort of Kulang , with its vertical faces . In the distance , I could see Ratangad , Khutta Sulka as also Katrabai . A most exhilarating experience ! .
Sightseeing done , we turned back for the descent . Descending was relatively simpler , by rappeling . It was my first rappel and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience . Part of the group had already progressed ahead to Alang , leaving us six to bring up the rear . Again the traverse , this time in the evening ! . We passed the cave , and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my sack had already found its way up Alang .
We came to the first rock patch of Alang , right outside the cave , to the right . Remnants of a staircase could be seen here . It was nearly vertical , but with a good number of hand and footholds . I would say it was about fifteen feet high , with a steel cable attached to it for support . Dusk fell as we made our way up , then further up by a flight of stairs . The stairs , once again ended into a wall . The British had done an even cleaner job of blowing up stairs on Alang . There wasnt a hold or grip in sight ! . The sun set soon after that , plunging the entire region into darkness . Climbing was out of question , everyone would have to be hauled up . Dyaneshwar dangled down a rope . Nilesh climbed first , then Vikram , then it was my turn .
With the rope tied to my waist , and a couple of guys atop preventing me from slipping in the opposite direction ; I started climbing . At first , I thought getting past the sixty foot patch would be a herculean task , but I think I managed pretty well . The trick was to get into a position like you would for a rappell , kind of reverse rapelling . A single torch light lit up the rope and I moved upwards inch by inch . Climbing that patch on Alang , in absolute darkness , with nothing but a small torch to guide me .. it is one experience I will not forget in a long long time ! .
After the patch , a small cave then another flight of stairs . These stairs were huge ! Each one reaching up above my waist ! Every step , thankfully had a handhold , by which climbing was far easier . I had my cellphone torch with me , which gave just about enough light to help me see a couple of steps ahead . The strong black stairs stood out in the torchlight , sandwiched between the inky blue of the sky above and the black nothingness of the valley below . We soon came to a tricky patch , a slightly exposed one , but my great friends were as always present to help !
Finally , the plateau of Alang . In the distance I could see a couple of torchlights . My buddies are already in the cave , I thought . Then another light appeared , a bigger brighter orange light .
Someone had lit a bonfire inside the cave . Now why would anyone do that ? Beats me !
One by one , we made our way to the cave . The fire had been put out , only to be replaced by thick grey smoke ! . We had our dinner outside , as we waited for the smoke to clear . I looked out towards Madan , and Kulang , now silhouted against the dark skies .In the distance , I could see the lights of Igatpuri , a fast growing town . Nobody spoke much at dinner time , tired after a day of hard trekking . Everyone mostly kept to himself or herself , quietly eating and filling a hungry stomach . Apart from a spurt of excitement , when Chaitanya spotted a viper , and everyone ran towards the snake , instead of running away from it , it was mostly a calm and quite night . We retired into the caves to sleep , and before long I was fast asleep on the hard ground ! .
Daybreak brought with it a new freshness to the air . The cool morning air , with the breeze flowing gently , made it perfect for the summit climb . Some of the guys had already made it to the top , me by virtue of getting up an hour later than them , lagged behind . Thankfully , there were a couple of other lazy bones with me , so it didnt matter much .

Alang 3

Crude steps here and there marked the way to the top . Before long we had reached the uppermost plateau . Remnants of fortifications lay strewn all over the place . Further ahead , huge water tanks of stone . Amazingly , they still had plenty of water even in March ! . Finally , after walking on the plateau for about half an hour , we reached the summit . The view from here was even more amazing than Madangad . Alang stretched out on either side , like two huge arms .We could see Madan , Kulang , Kalsubai as also Harishchandragad and theMalshej ghat region , albeit hazily in the far distance .
After wandering around for some time , we started back for the caves . We were just in time for tea and breakfast . Breakfast was of course the all time favourite maggi . ! I had brought a bowl with me for tea and maggi both . I first had maggi in it , then the tea ! Thts what you call masala chai I guess ! .

Alang 4
Breakfast done , it was time to descend . Before long , I found myself doing the second rappel of my life . Rappelling down the patch was far easier than climbing up ! . Keyur infact did a commando style rappel , with his back to the wall ( pun unintended ! ) . Everyone , now fresh after a good nights sleep , was having a good time at the rock patch . Garudi ( Prathamesh ) busied himself with throwing khajur seeds at us , who had rappelled down . Well , when it was his turn to get down , he got plenty of whacks before his feet touched the ground ! . Me , Shashi , Sonali , and some NRI from Madrid ( forgot his name .. sorry who ever tht was ) started descending ahead of the others .
The scree and rock patches made the descent more than thrilling . But at the same time , it was far less time consuming . Though we were in front , Shashi and Samyukta took a wrong turn about ten minutes from the base and generally got everyone involved for 20 – 25 minutes in a really unnecessary problem . Parag had followed them into that wrong turn , so now we had three people roaming around on the mountain. We cried ourselves hoarse shouting ‘Shashi’ and ‘Samyukta’ , ‘Parag’ and thankfully they quickly found their way to the village .
We took an ST then to Igatpuri . Time was merrily spent in singing popular songs and cracking jokes and time simply flew past . I didnt even realise when we entered Igatpuri ! . From Igatpuri , by jeep to Kasara . Then the long journey by local to Thane . I had a new friend in Vikram Singh , so I had company right upto Vashi .
An exhilarating and trek had finally come to an end . Excellent planning and management by Nilesh , Priti , Vikram and Prasad and a great group of trekkers had ensured a memorable day !!