Friday, January 22, 2016

Sahyankan 2015 - Part 1 (Mangaon-Garjaiwadi-Konkandiva)

Part 1 (You are currently reading this)
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Unexplored and offbeat trails where some confusion can make you lose your orientation; hiking for about 110 kilometres over the five days to bring out the best hikers inside us; battling the scorching heat of the afternoon while tackling the steep ascent and descent; experiencing the pin drop silence while descending Thipthipya Ghat so as not to attract attention of honey bees; experiencing the sheer bliss of walking through the dense forest of Andharban; quenching thirst with the pure water of the streams which would pale the bottled mineral water; motivating the weak members in the team to help them keep going; stretching sessions by the elite marathon runner; battling the intense cold with the warmth of the sleeping bag ; some interactive and informative sessions on the first aid and survival techniques by the veterans in the trekking field; capturing some breathtaking landscapes despite being burdened with heavy rucksack and finally the ecstasy of coming out of this ordeal unhurt – Welcome to Sahyankan 2015, the flagship event of Chakram Hikers.

Much awaited event Sahyankan 2015 was announced and within few days of announcement, our combined group of Pune and Nasik trekkers led by Sanjay Amrutkar (Nana) booked their seats in the first batch. Few of our members from Nasik did not get the seats in the first batch and so they were pushed to the second batch. Nevertheless, everyone was excited to be part of this unique event to trek in Sahyadri mountains for 5 consecutive days. After completing the formalities like acquiring the fitness certificate, signing the disclaimers etc. we were all set to participate in the event scheduled from 19th Dec to 24th Dec, 2015.

Milind Kulkarni, N D Gaware and Tushar Kothawade were other trekkers from Pune group and we assembled at Sus Road, Pune in front of my home around 11.30 PM. We waited in front of Pashankar Auto on Mumbai-Bangalore highway. It was odd yet pleasant to chat through the midnight till bus arrived from Mulund. Highway was swarming with vehicles leaving the continuous and beautiful trail of lights.

Finally the bus arrived at 1.30 AM. After exchanging pleasantries with other members from Nasik and Mulund, we proceeded towards our destination. In the wee hours of the morning around 4 AM we reached to Mangaon village in Pune District surrounded by Bhor Taluka towards East , Mulshi Taluka towards North , Haveli Taluka towards East , Mahad Taluka towards South. 

Temple was our halting point though we only had 1 hour to rest. Quickly we settled into the temple and tucked inside the sleeping bags for the much needed rest. Hardly after 1 hour of sleep, we were given the wake up call. Reluctantly we came outside the sleeping bag. After finishing early morning chores, we had breakfast of Pohe and Tea.

After breakfast, it was time for small introduction and instructions for the trek. Mr. Vinay Naphade fondly known as Lamba Sir started with his introduction and to his credit he had attended all 17 Sahyankan events in last 34 years. An amazing feat! His humour and joviality lifted the mood of the whole camp. Youngest member was Atharva, 11 Yrs old kid (great grandson of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi) and eldest member was Athavale Kaka aging 57 Yrs. To break the monotony, there were two brave girls - Aishwarya and Sayali intended to match each step with male counterparts.

Three jeeps were arranged for us to take us to starting point for the trek. Unfortunately, one out of three drivers did not turn up. Seeing this, Rahul Sonavane volunteered to drive one of the jeeps and we started our drive.

Two jeeps went ahead assuming third jeep driven by Rahul would follow them. But third jeep started slightly late losing the trail of first two jeeps. As a result, even when other jeeps reached to the desired location, there was no sign of our third jeep. Then one of the drivers went back to locate the jeep. Apparently, Rahul had lost the way and had gone to some other route. After about 15 minutes, we were happy to see Rahul’s jeep coming our way. A small adventure had already started before starting the trek.

Without wasting further time, we started our hike. Right at the start, we had to climb a small hill.

Everyone was swift and we quickly reached to top of the hill. Route was supposed to be mapped correctly by the earlier teams who did the pilot treks of the same route earlier but confusion started when we saw multiple trails. Our local camp leaders along with our trek leaders went ahead in search of the correct route. Being only the participants, we did not interfere and let the leaders search the route. We took this opportunity to take some rest and crack some jokes.

Finally the correct trail was found and we resumed our hike. After walking on a small plateau, there was a descent and after end of this descent, we came across a lonely hut far located in the remote area.

After crossing this solitary hut, there was again a steep descent. Front members had already descended and their figures were appearing very tiny as against the landscape emphasising the man's place in nature.

As per instructions, Alok Kakatkar, second leader of the batch was supposed to be the last member walking behind all the members. As I was walking along with him, sometimes I requested him to walk in front of me so that I can include a human figure in the landscape and sweet by nature, he readily obliged breaking the rule temporarily.

After another descent, we were elated to come across a water stream. We spent some time on the banks of the stream, had some light snacks, drank and filled the water bottles with the fresh water from the stream. Instantly, we felt refreshed and got the energy to march forward.

Though it was the month of December, there was no respite from the heat. Not a single leaf of the tree was rustling and air was absolutely still. To add to our woes, we had to negotiate a continuous steep climb for about 30 minutes. Some of the members who had not practised for this trek were found panting and it was difficult for them to sustain the pace. Sayali, one of the two girls participants was carrying a heavy bag pack and slowly lumbering at the last. Heat along with the heavy burden of backpack took its toll and she took considerable time to join the other group members who kept on waiting for her.

I gathered the pace and overtook exhausted members and joined Nana who was taking some rest by perching on a rock.Though Nana generally doesn't talk much on the trail, his presence is so much assuring, so much motivating. As I am relatively new to the field of trekking and photography as compared to him, I try to learn as much as possible from him whenever he is around.

First group perching under the tree and waiting for last members - Sayali and Alok to join:

Aniket and Alok distributed some of the items from Sayali’s rucksack making it somewhat lightweight and we proceeded further. We came across another hut where we were greeted by the Camp leader from our next camp. Though our camp at Garjaiwadi was still far, leader from that camp had hiked for long distance to greet us and show us the correct trail. He gave us further instructions on the route and we proceeded further.

For some distance, I was hiking with other trek members but sights of gigantic mountains made me wait a bit longer and I did not resist temptations of doing some photography. By that time, the group went far ahead and I remained alone on the trail. I spotted Vikram Balajiwale coming from behind and waited for him to join me. He was also happy to see me as he was also worried about walking alone. Buoyed by each other’s company, we decided to walk further instead of waiting further.

Breathtaking layers of mountains with a large plateau of Raigad at the back:

Intense heat along with humidity had sapped our energies and after walking for about 20 minutes, we perched on the rock for some time. Till this time, we were following the directions indicated by arrows drawn at regular intervals. We were able to see a small cluster of houses at the base of the hill and

Our camp was somewhere located in the tiny houses located at base of the hill. Assuming that our camp-site would be somewhere near these houses, we started descending the hill.We lost their sights once we entered the woods.

At the start, trail was clear but after some time, it started confusing us as we spotted multiple trails. But we kept on taking the trail which was taking us down but after some time, we seemed to lose the orientation and trail seemed to take us away from the village though we were not able to see anything from the dense woods. We got really worried when we had to crawl under the bushes on the trail indicating that the trail we had taken was not much frequented. We shouted to check whether anybody was in hearing distance but without any success. We kept on descending and descending and finally heaved a sigh of relief when we came out of the woods and joined the dirt road at the base of the hill.

Vikram Balajiwale, whom I was meeting for the first time, runs his own training institute for Commerce Students in Nasik. Really a simple and smiling fellow! One of the real benefits of trekking is that you get to know people from different walks of life!

There were two dirt routes when we reached to the base and at first, we took the wider dirt route but seeing few houses on the narrow dirt road, we turned back. This proved to be the right decision and after coming to the houses, we spotted our camp. Our trek mates were surprised to see us coming from altogether different route as we seemed to have taken a longer route. Nevertheless, we were elated to join our group members.

Entering Garjaiwadi:

Gradually last members of the group joined us. After a quick rest, we proceeded towards our next destination Konkandiva. I was planning to visit it since a long time with my trek group but plan never got realized. So I was pretty excited and looking forward to take on the much heard steep ascent with full of scree, climb on the thrilling rock patch with exposed valley on one side and witness some majestic views of surrounding mountain range from the top.

Walk towards Konkandiva seen in the background:

We had to trudge for more than 30 minutes to reach to the base of Konkandiva. Route went through woods protecting us from the sun’s rays.

Paresh Amrutkar - one of the brightest and fittest young men around posing on the backdrop of mountains on the North side of Konkandiva!

Fun moments with Aniket Rahalkar, our trek leader:

After waiting for 5 minutes on a small plateau, we entered the woods and experienced the really steep ascent. Steep ascent along with forced us to be extra cautious. 

Everyone's heart skipped a beat after seeing small rock patch with the exposed valley on the left side. Key to negotiate such rock patches is not to look down and climb it with normal technique with proper gripping of your fingers and toes on the holds. After negotiating the rock patch, we reached to the cave and water cistern.

Photography was last on my mind while overcoming the rock patch; so I did not click any photo of that rock patch.

Water cistern:


After resting in front of the cave, we started our final march towards the top. We negotiated one more rock patch. Vikram was finding it difficult to haul his body up on this rock patch but with proper guidance he finally overcame it. Just before reaching the top, there was a thrilling hardly a foot wide traverse with exposed valley on the right side. We had to keep our weight on the left side to negotiate this last traverse.

Scary looking vertical fall few feet away from Nana!

Majestic vista of mountains was unfolding in front of us as soon as we set our feet on top of the fort. As the top of the fort was small and there was nothing to explore further, we just soaked in the great views. Apart from our group, there were three more members on the fort. They really had to struggle hard to reach top of the fort as they had taken the wrong route and lost in the jungle.

I didn't resist temptation of getting myself clicked and handed over my camera to Sanju Nana.

Whole group rejoicing on top to celebrate success of conquering Konkandiva:

There was still some time for sunset. Considering our large group, we decided not to wait for the sunset as it would unnecessarily put us at risk in descending through scree in the dark. We cautiously descended all the rock patches. Descending steep slope with scree put a lot of stress on the knees but we all came out of it unscathed.

As we reached to the small plateau, sun had started its westward journey making the sky crimson and we lingered on the plateau to witness the spectacular sunset. 

Finally the first day of the exhausting trek was coming to an end as we took our final steps towards our base camp.We had hiked for more than 23 kms as per the reading from Fitness App from Paresh’s mobile. Hearing this, already aching legs started aching more. This was just the first day and there were four more days to go. Narayan Gaware Sir (fondly known as ND), elite marathon runner and my regular trek mate conducted the stretching exercise for the group. Everyone followed ND’s instructions for 15 minutes and we all felt a lot of relief in our aching legs and stiff shoulders and backs.

Hot tea was served to us once stretching exercise finished. We soon gathered inside the temple and senior members of Chakram Hikers shared their immense knowledge regarding first aid, honey bee bites, snake bites and survival techniques.

We all were famished after the exhausting day of trek and we gorged on the hot dinner of Zunka-Bhakri and Dal-Rice. Soon after dinner, we retired inside the temple. As temple was small and could not accommodate all the group members, some members opted to sleep outside in the freezing cold trusting the quality of their sleeping bags.Luckily I found a place inside already crowded temple and tucked inside my sleeping bag. Fatigued mind along with the calm mind helped me to drift off to sound, dreamless sleep oblivious to the snoring around.

Click here to read Part 2