ASTANSARI & DHAUDHASARI . ( Valvan – Astan – Kandat ) ; 2014. Crazy and scary 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 .

 

 

 

 

Another pic of traverse n ridge .Another pic of traverse n ridge .

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