Sunday, December 3, 2006

Harishchandragad Nali chi Vat!!

The much awaited Harishchandragad (HCG) nali chi vat was gonna happen today. Since morning calls were coming in for the time when we were supposed to leave. Everything went by plan but the usual traffic of Sion caused a delay of around 1 hour. Janice, Vipin and Gautam had to wait pretty long for the vehicle. Finally everyone was in at around 7 pm and we were off on our way. Asif had come at Sion to wish us luck; we desperately needed a lot of luck to make this event happen.

Driving out of the city commotion we decided to take a halt just before Murbad where we had a simple but filling dinner of dal tadka and two veggies with steaming hot rotis falling on our plates straight from the tandoor. Food and Nature Knights are inseparable, so this was a good start. But soon we realized how fate can separate us from our food.

Savarne was our destination, all we knew was as soon as we pass Naneghat; we would be able to see a left turn which takes us to Walivle (old name Belpada) village. We stopped at a turn and Gautam got out and was inspecting if it was the right one. The driver was a little uncomfortable because of the constant threat of dacoits/robbers in the region. So hurriedly we got back in the vehicle and moved further. We came across a shack which confirmed that we were on the right path. He pointed out to a turn and informed that the village Walivle was around 12 km inside from that junction. From here started our real adventure.

The driver reluctantly took the turn warning us that he would not drive if the road was bad. We coaxed him as much as we could to take us further up road. Finally after about 20 minutes of driving he gave in, and insisted on returning back. We had a good chuckle coz he had tall claims of going to the remotest places and all his talks had fizzed out in such a short time. We got out of the vehicle packed our bags and started walking into the forest. After around 30 minutes of walk the trail seemed unfamiliar and started to ascend which was not what we expected. So after a brief discussion we settled down for the night on a bridge which we had just passed by on a river. Fear of robbers kept everyone’s voices and torches at bay and we had a quite night with people taking turns to keep a vigil.

We got up at the break of day and people almost immediately started off on the road. Gautam and Chandu had gone further earlier in the dawn to check and confirmed that we were on the right path. Few minutes into the walk and the magnificent Konkan Kada rose ahead of us like a hood of a snake waiting to pounce on us, which it did for the rest of the day. Taramati, Rohidas ahead of us and Malshej platue on our right we were heading towards Harishchandragad. In about an hours time we hit the Walivne village. Had a quick breakfast of muesli which turned out to the only thing we got to have in the next 30 gruesome hours.

Taking two guides from the village we headed towards the base of Konkan Kada from where starts our climb. We started walking on a river bed which was the part of the nali were about to climb. The walk was supposed to be of just 30 to 45 minutes but took us more than 2 hours because of extremely uneven terrain. Rupa slipped from a stone and got her right leg hurt, which slowed down her pace a little. And somehow as destiny had it even the best trekkers of the group started getting exhausted.

Walking at snails pace we reached the bottom of the nali from where we got the first view of our path. Somehow no one felt that the path was too long. But it turned out to be giving wrong illusions because of uneven sizes of the rocks. Our perceptions of distance, height and depth were totally disoriented. But we realized it too late into the trail when the nali failed to end and just kept revealing itself as we climbed further up.

As expected we hit a rock patch, all geared up were got the ropes in place pulled up the luggage and the people followed. We never realized that the two long hours spent in this is going to cost us dearly in the end of the day. One patch after the other we kept on repeating the same practice for the next 2 patches we came across. By now Rupa had started getting serious and very painful cramps in her hips and legs. These were signs of dehydration and lack of food.
Vipin was also victim of a painful catch in his legs. But because of the allergies the medicine could have; we administered it only to Rupa. Our pace slowed down further and we got from bad to worse.

Just when we were cursing the rock patches we realized that something worse awaited us.
The next phase of the climb was through such brittle rock that it seemed like walking on thin wafers. Every step we took just crumbled the rock to powder. This made our footing lose and unstable. Some just hurried through this patch and reached a dead end and just squatted there waiting for others. Others including me were on almost their last reserves of energy because of pulling bags and helping others clear the rock patches. Ketan, Gautam, Nimesh and I had aching shoulders from the towing of the luggage. So we were the last to reach the dead end of the river of brittle rock.

It was around 5.30 pm by now and darkness was about to creep in, a group overtook us and went past us. Myself, Chai & Jay climbed up this patch and after that it seemed like eternity before anyone else could make it on top. The fatigue had made it impossible for anyone to grip the rope and climb on top using their arms strength. Nimesh, Gautam & Ketan had to stay back to make sure others make it to the top safely. Our lone anchor was a fig tree. And there was absolutely no room for anyone else to stay there to help others. But Ketan with extreme caution stayed there till all the luggage was pulled up.

Now darkness had crept in and the entire equations changed. The simplest of the task seemed daunting now. Standing on a slope which was slipping under the feet and a rock face needing sound climbing skills to scale; our progress had come to a stand still. After some anxious moments it was finally decided to keep safety the top priority and accordingly Nimesh volunteered to explain the mechanism of Jummaring to all the members stranded behind. In the darkness with exhausted bodies learning a new skill was not an easy task. But with due credit to the coach and the pupils we could pull it off safely. Except for a few hiccups when Vipin got hurt it was a smooth progress after that.

Once everyone was on top, exhausted and cramped up we took a small break. Nimesh and I discussed over and realized that moving ahead from here at the wee hours of night would be a very risky preposition. We looked at the time and it was almost 9 pm. No one had eaten a proper meal since 8 am and making them exert any further without rest would cause their bodies to give up. So we decided to stay putt but inspecting the place we got stuck, we realized that it was unsafe for people to stay there all night without any protection. So we anchored the ropes on two ends of the cliff and passed it across everyone’s chest so that they could have some support to hang on to for the night and feel secured. Nimesh went ahead in the darkness of the night to discover a better place where we could lay down safely. So Gautam, Yogi and I joined him and spent the night in the small clearing we found.

Early morning at the break of dawn we wrapped up all our stuff and got to the base of the next rock climb. Set up all our ropes and moved ahead as we did all day yesterday. Climbing further up, we found the first first patch of vegetation since we had started climbing the nali. We had to take a U turn from here. Ketan went ahead to look out for the route, but encountering a difficult climb ahead he decided to wait for us to back him up. When I and Nimesh reached there we decided to go ahead on the climb and we soon came to a clearing. With the top of the cliff in sight we were sure that, that’s our destination. Hence we signaled the remaining group to follow on.

From here we had our first sight of the other side of the valley. It was beautiful beyond compare especially since the sight gave the feeling that we were almost there. Climbing few more rocks we felt the need to look out for the shortest and safest route on top. So we decided to move ahead on our own instincts rather than follow the arrow trail. Our instincts did help us out and soon after a tree climb we were on a platue after 30 hours. The sight of a vast expanse of greenery and some place to lay our backs was very inviting. Most of us crashed down, while the thirst for water made us get back on our feet in search for water. We walked further on the plane to see a dried stream. But God was not that mad on us, there were three small puddles of water with some insects taking a nice swim in it. Now could we be so cruel to take away a bath tub from those poor insects?? Well we had gone even crueler than that, so nothing stopped us from fetching water from those pot holes and filtering it through a thin cloth to keep the insects at bay. Once filtered we filled our bottles with that water, and guess what? it had a golden brown colour. Everyone’s stomach churned at the sight of the water but the throats wanted the water bad. I removed my bottle of chlorine last used on yet another survival trek of Dhak Bhairi and poured a few drops in each bottle. Once chlorinated people felt a lot better to drink that water.

While other started having a meal of thelplas and onion pickle Gautam & Ketan went ahead to search for the route. They reached on top and signaled that water was available, that gave us all a respite. We all hurried towards to platue on our right, and did the FINAL rock climb to reach the Konkan Kada platue.

Moving ahead on the platue we found a small puddle of water but a lot bigger and cleaner than the previous one. We drank all the water we could and headed towards the base of Taramati where the temple complex is situated.

Once the first group reached the temple we started cooking Maggie and waited for others to join us. Once the first serving of Maggie was cooked the other group arrived but they seemed more lured by chilling water dip nearby than the food. While they had their dip we had our food, and it tasted heaven after a gap of so many hours without a proper meal. Steaming hot Maggie was better than a five course five star restaurant meal buffet.

Finally at 3.30 pm we were all set to start our journey back towards the base village of Khireshwar via Tolar Khind. Very brisk walking on the platue and equally quick descend on the rock patches which were miniscule compared to what we had already done; we reached Tolar Khind. From here up to the base was an uneventful walk of 2 hours.

We reached the village of Khireshwar at 7 pm and were crossing our fingers to get a ride upto the road which was further 5 kms ahead. But luck was not on our side, we had to walk it down and without wasting any time further we started walking towards the road. After we covered considerable distance we decided to take a break and treat ourselves to canned Tuna, Chicken sausages and Luncheon Chicken. The veggies had a bite of Gajar ka halwa and cheese cubes. The feast gave us enough energy to move ahead and after a long walk we reached the road.

Few ST busses passed by but I think we lacked the conviction to stop them, hence they did not stop. Finally an a tempo carrying tomatoes which was heading towards Kalyan agreed to give us a lift. We had to pack ourselves like sardines in the tempo. 10 of us in a space of 10’x4’. Few standing; few just resting their butts up against the crates of tomatoes taking utmost care not to damage any tomatoes. Taking two stops one for tea and other for dinner we reached Kalyan at 1 am. Since the last train had already left we had only one option of taking a private transport. We cracked a good deal and all of us reached safely to Mumbai by around 3.30 am.

It was a fabulous trek with a hint of luck and bad luck. But in the end everyone was safe except for few strained muscles. We are sure to get there one more time, and this time more prepared than this time to enjoy the place even better.

For more pictures

Tikona - An Adventure of misadventures

What would you call someone who was so very eager to something and when he actually gets to do it, he changes his mind! Well you call him Dnyanesh perhaps.

It all started with one of my friends getting bored of work and desperately wanting to move out. As a nature freak I suggested Tikona, Nane ghat and few other options. Things were well till Friday, when suddenly (well not suddenly) things seems to change course. And as usual everyone stated citing reasons to stay away from the trek. Now, I do not want to state that they were just excuses, some genuine reasons to stay away as well. But, once decided to move out how could I stay home and do nothing all Sunday. So I decided to do a little adventure of trekking on an unknown place alone. And Tikona fort was the destination I chose.

Like all anxious nights before the trek I dint sleep till about 2 am . Finally I slept for around 3 hours before stating off for my journey. I boarded the Deccan express at 7.35 am from Dadar. The train journey was a wonderful experience in itself with the morning sun lighting up the wet grasslands and the sunlight shimmering on those monsoon waterfalls embedded all over the Shayadri mountain faces. As we came closer the Lonavala the mist and fog stated playing hide and seek and with us as it hid the scenic beauty of the meadows below. I alighted at Lonavala and within 5 minutes I got an local train to Kamseth just a 20 minutes journey. I chatted a little with a local farmer at the S.T. stand and realized that I was going to commit some mistake by going alone. He told me it was slippery and lot of mud has been sliding down the hill side in the previous down pour. However I took the bus to Kale colony and from there packed in a jeep like sardines we moved towards Tikona Peth.

Just as I alighted the jeep driver pointed to a fairly motor able path running perpendicular to the road going eastwards. The atmosphere was pleasant and motivation was high. I arranged my bag, took out my camera, mobile and compass (which I am so thankful I carried). I followed the road and within 10 minutes the fort was in sight. Well! Not exactly in sight but the hill was visible and the fort was covered with mist. I followed the road along the hillside and I wondered when do I start to climb the hill? I was just circling the hill and then I went well past ahead of the fort. But some local over friendly guide insisted that it was the right path. As I reached the other end of the hill I saw a narrow trail climbing up the mountain and I was definite that it could not be anywhere else but leading to the fort.

The trail was narrow but manageable. Not slippery but little scary because it was on the edge of the hill and a valley besides it. But that dint last long and I ventured deeper into the thicket. As I went deeper inside the silence became louder and I had to rub my ears to realize that it was actually silent. And suddenly I realized that it definitely is not going to be a cake walk all the way alone on the top. Now other that the fear of high places another fear of loneliness started gripping me tight. Being in the city you never realize how scary it is to be alone in an unknown place. As I moved further the mist started getting denser and I started to lose visibility of the ground below. All I could see was around me, nothing below nothing above. Just a few meters ahead and behind me. On a regular trek it would be a point of excitement but today was a different day, and I was here to live that day all alone. I am not ashamed to admit that I was scared to death because of the fear of being alone. On climbing for 20 minutes more I met two villages who were grazing their cattle. To get a brief idea of what lied ahead I asked them for the estimated time I would take to reach on top and if I could expect any company on top , as in if any more people had gone ahead of me. And to my delight they said I was the first one today! I was told that it would be another 45 minutes of climb to the top and to be aware while climbing down the steps on top.

Now I was on the final phase of reaching the top when something struck me to check my compass. I was walking towards the west; towards the north was Powna dam. And towards north-west was the road I started from. Making a mental note of which direction I am heading I started climbing further. I reached a place where I saw no trail, al I saw was mud flow and I could see some trail around 30 feet above me. I looked around but it seemed mud had slipped down and I had no other option but to go through that mud. I put my first step and my entire shoe was dipped in the muck. Next step and I am ankle deep in the mud. I put pressure on the leg to climb the nest step up and I realized that I am not reaching ahead without a mud bath. And with my hands and feet soaked in sticky mud I moved ahead just thanking that it was just a short patch. But my thanks giving was short lived as the mist became denser and my visibility now to just a few feet. I reached a spot where I could see all the three faces of the hill and things around me were better. But that was the last time I saw the village in the next 3 hours of turmoil that followed.

I finally reached the east gate of the fort. It was well hidden till I reached around 20 feet from it. I thought finally I will get to see open ground where I can lay back and rest for some time and enjoy the weather rather than worrying about the visibility. But nature had its own way and now added with the visibility I started feeling the chill and my teeth almost began to clatter has the rain hit me. Even with the poncho the cold air was way too much for my ears to handle and it gave me a severe chill. The bushes were even more dense on the fort and I had to bend down to find my way beneath the 4 feet archway made by the Karvy plants. After waling for 15 minutes under the archway and bending my back I reached an idol of Hanuman with shendur applied all over it making it obvious that it was a regularly visited place. Feeling that I am close to the still invisible top of the fort I walked briskly. And next what I saw was the cave mentioned by others who had visited here. It was a marvelous site. And well located, but in the mist and fog it was looking very scary. I wanted to go inside the cave and have a look but it was little off the trail a few meter away and I actually did not have the courage to go in there to inspect. So giving my respect to the lord and enchanting his name again I moved ahead unwillingly because I wanted to have a look inside but did not have the courage to do it.

Within few minutes I was facing the steps the villager mentioned and I realized what he ment. Each step was just 8 to 10 inches wide and about 15 to 20 inches high. It was around 80 to 100 steps which I had to climb. But I had to literally look straight up because the steps were really steep and I could not resist taking a picture. On my right there was one more cave but it had a water tank in front of it and the cave had no visible access accept to swim through the water. And I had no intentions of daring to do that. So again just enjoying the view I moved ahead. On top I saw another temple of Lord Shiva , with a beautiful flower arrangement surrounding it, seemed like someone had already been there earlier in the morning. Walking about 100 feet more I saw the flag post which was visible to me at the very start of the trek, and it was the top of the fort! Finally I heaved a sigh of relief and a small grin must have crossed my pale and scared face.

Climbing down the same path was none of my intentions its was very scary to walk opposite to the direction to which I wanted to actually go, especially since I could not see the village below. I decided to take a trail I had spotted near the cave with the temple. I climbed down and I started on that trail. And thankfully to my delight after about of 30 minutes of uncertain walking I saw the village I wanted to head to. All it took was around an hour to get down to the motor able road I had started from.

That was the end of my single man adventure to Tikona fort. I think we are planning to go there this November. I would love to revisit it and feel how naïve I was to panic at few times on such a simple trek! I hope you enjoyed my experience, see ya all soon!