Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Sahyankan 2015 - Part 3 (Kurdupeth-Dhamanvhal-Tamhini)

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

“Be ready; we are starting our hike on Kurdugad by 7AM. Whoever does not get ready by this time misses this hike". Wake up call with this stern warning from Camp Leaders made us rise at once. As per the original plan, hike to Kurdugad was planned last evening but as we reached very late in the evening, it got postponed to today.Not wanting to miss Kurdugad, everyone hurried, had tea and got ready before 7AM.

Few of the members chose to skip Kurdugad for various reasons; some because of exhaustion of earlier two days; some due to blisters; some to remain fresh for the long trail to Tamhini.

All the used clothes were hung on tents' ropes last night to reduce the pungent smell of sweat. Most of us forgot the dew factor and kept them in the open the whole night only to realise our mistake in the morning. Though the pungent smell was replaced by the fragrance of the fresh morning due, all the clothes had become heavy due to moisture burdening already heavy backpacks.

As we had to return to the camp after the hike, with only a water bottle, we started our hike. Early morning and pleasant weather made early hiking quite blissful. Kurdugad (a/k/a Vishramgad), said to be resting place for Baji Pasalkar - great Sardar of Shivaji Maharaj was looking imposing in the shimmering rays of the early morning sun. With chill in the wind, we marched to visit this historical fort.

Hanuman Idol on the way: This idol is almost 1 meter in height. Sadly, it is neglected as it lies in the open without any shade.

There is a big groove as you go to East of the fort. Stones were scattered inside this big cave as excavation work had been recently done by Archaeology team to find some hidden artifacts .

A man standing between broken walls of the rampart depicting the glorious past and observing early morning hues spread across the vast landscape stirred photographer inside me and I captured this mystic frame!

Two pinnacles wore the golden look. Because of limited time, we just marvelled at their beauty from the base.

Our camp-site from top of the fort:

Sky slicing view of Kurdugad while descending:

Sun had now risen above the east illuminating parts of mountain ranges. Shadows and lights had created some interesting patterns.

We quickly finished our breakfast after coming down and posed for the group photo before staring the day's hike.

Camp Leaders at Tamhini Camp who bestowed great hospitality on us. Thank you Parag Oak Sir and Team!

With another switchback trail on the hand, buoyantly we started our hike towards Tamhini.We started moving towards North from the fort on the route named "Nisni's Route". Part of our initial walk was through the woods.

Prasad Vaidya (fondly named as Bandu) a nice, jovial fellow and regular in Sahyankan events posing for the photo:

Vikram Balajiwale was painstakingly slow as he was suffering from blisters. Still by the sheer will, he completed the whole trek.

There was a risky traverse during the trail. There was a deep valley on one side and hardly a foot wide trail. Members of Chakram Hikers were present to guide everyone to cross this difficult patch. We had to take grip on the protruding rock to cross this patch which also had some scree on it. I dared to photograph it only when I crossed it successfully.

Landscape along with thumb shaped Kurdugad as seen during the steep ascent of Nisni's route:

A watch tower greeted us when we reached to a plateau after steep ascent of Nisni's route.

Milind Kulkarni (fondly known as Dadu) posing for the photograph once everyone had vacated the point. Dadu is difficult to catch up on the trail as he is extremely agile and always walks in front. Whenever I trek with him, mostly I catch up with him during the start and at the end where he waits others to join. Being the marathon runner, he does treks to build his stamina and hardly slows down on the trail

Alok Kakatkar - patient, silent, cheerful and a great trek mate to have! He came out to India from US to be part of Sahyankan and was great in supporting Aniket as a co-leader. Incidentally, he turned out to be close relative of my engineering friend Makrand Khare!

. Group photo before proceeding towards Dhamanvhal village:

Paresh Amrutkar was suffering because of his shoes making him slow. I advised him to wear floaters instead. Floaters were not allowed as a rule but seeing Paresh's plight, his request for wearing floaters was fulfilled and Paresh got back his natural rhythm.

We had water and snacks break near a well full of water. Water was clean, potable and cold providing us a lot of relief from heat. Sprinkling water on head and faces made us refreshed. These small refreshing breaks are really necessary during long hikes.

On the way to Dhamanvhal village:

As soon as we reached Dhamanvhal, we got the news that four of our fellow trek mates were quitting the trek. Pradeep Kulkarni Uncle who had a bad fall on knee on the earlier day was finding it difficult to continue the arduous hike with hurt knee. His other three companions also decided to quit to help him reach to his home safely. Some forms were signed as per the rules and leaving these four trekkers at Dhamanvhal village, we proceeded further.

An old woman really got flustered when she heard our group going towards Tamhini on foot. "What is the need to walk in such a heat? Are these people mad?" Her anger boiled even further when we asked for a guide in the house as we were not sure about the route. Finally elderly villager agreed to join us for few kilometres and we left the village.

A house in Dhamanvhal village:

Big stream as you come out of the village:

Water pond along the way:

Another water pond:

Plain walk before ascending the hill:

I was walking with the front group when I realized that they were too fast and not observing nature. So knowing that there were still few members back, I slowed down my pace. Elated to see a nice water stream, I perched on the rock near the stream enjoying some moments of solitude. Last batch of Vikram Balajiwale, Sayali accompanied with Sanju Nana and Alok too joined me and we all had a great time in getting rejuvenated in the stream.

Tamhini batch leaders had already come to fetch us. We decided to have lunch in the woods itself.

After lunch and brief rest, we resume our march towards Tamhini. We were indicated that we would be entering the thick jungle of Karvi and we had to crawl at places to find our way through Karvi jungle.

Excited before entering jungle of Karvi:

Truly at some stretches, we had to bend, crawl. Inflated sacks at the back posed few challenges while finding way through this jungle. But it was exciting and we had a lot of fun.

Finally Tamhini mountain range was in sight.

Just before reaching Tamhini, we were greeted by few more members from Tamhini camp. They had taken a lot of pain in bringing Kokam Juice up the hill. We perched on the grass relishing sips of fresh juice. Refreshed, we started our final march towards Tamhini camp.

Entering Tamhini made me nostalgic as I was transported to year 1999 when I had visited it for the first time in the rainy season. I had never seen so much breathtaking sights of a ghat before and those memories came flooding back.

Tamhini's camp-site was spacious and later we came to know that it belonged to Girikuj Group who conduct many adventure camps at this location.

After stretching sessions, we were served with hot tea which provided instant energy. Idea of playing cricket was floated around and many still had the energy left to participate in a cricket match filled with lot of fun.

We were fortunate to meet two stalwarts of the "Girikuj Group" - Mr. Joshi and Mr. Sonavane. Sonavane Uncle shared his hiking story on Sumargad where his group had to spend many hours without water due to lack of knowledge of the terrain and how they were rescued. Also, how a well known trekker died due to lack of water in Boryatyachi Naal. He stressed a lot of importance of having water, food available all the time and having support of local guide in unfamiliar terrains. Joshi Uncle even showed us a leaf of some plant which could keep us hydrated in the absence of water for few hours. These two stalwarts mesmerised us with their real experiences and words of wisdom.

Once the evening lingered on to night, we retired to our rooms and started antakshari. Aniket Rahalkar and Milind Kulkarni (Dadu) stole the show mesmerising us with their sonorous voices. DK (Dinesh) played repercussion instrument with a great aplomb. We were so engrossed in the musical evening that we hardly paid any attention of local camp leaders' plea to come for dinner. After two to three reminders, we finally relented and ended our musical evening.

Gradually, we were enveloped by a chilling cold as the night approached. We hadn't bathed in last 4 days but chill in the night at each camp helped us to forget this fact.

We feasted our famished appetites on sumptuous Pav Bhaji and Pulao. By this time, it had become very cold outside and having hot dinner seemed very blissful. Soon after dinner, we retired to our respective rooms. 

Few of us had developed blisters. Vikram Balajiwale was the worst affected. Seeing Vikram's condition, trek leaders pierced needle inside his blisters to flatten them out. I, too had developed blisters but so far, they were in manageable condition. 

Comfort wise, this was the best camp-site so far with spacious rooms offering good protection from the chilling cold outside. Finally the hectic yet pleasant day of the hike was coming to an end and with contented mind, we tucked inside our sleeping bags to have a peaceful sleep to gear up for next day's challenge.

Click here for Part 4

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sahyankan 2015 - Part 2 (Garjaiwadi-Thipthipya Ghat-Kurdupeth)

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

Before the crack of dawn, there was a wake up call from local camp leaders of Chakram Hikers. Hustle and bustle inside the temple prompted everyone to get up. Yesterday’s stretches had really done wonders and our legs were ready to take on gruelling hike ahead. Hiking on the virgin route with a lot of unknowns brought smile to my face and with the feeling of happiness, I got up.

Warm up sessions were followed by sumptuous breakfast of Upma and Tea.Today as per the norm, few local camp leaders were going to accompany us till Thipthipya Ghat. I hardly had done any study on the route map as I wanted to experience the sheer bliss of ignorance and soak in the excitement of unknowns.After instructions from the trek leaders, we started our hike.

Aniket providing instructions before the hike:

We walked on the dirt road for 15 minutes before venturing into the woods. It was a descent through woods and some of us thought that we already had started descending Thipthipya Ghat but after some enquiry, we realized that Thipthipya Ghat was still quite far.

After a small descent, we came across a dry stream full of large rocks. In monsoon, this stream runs with full gusto and is one of the main attractions of Konkandiva trek via Ghol route during monsoon.

We were elated to see first occurrence of few huts when we entered Ghol village.

We stopped in front of cluster of huts to have some water. It was a quintessential village setting; few cows tethered to the ropes; old village ladies and small kids sitting in front of the house; muddy shacks and few unmortared houses ; hens and cocks chasing each other. We rested in front of these huts for some time before marching further.

Paresh Amrutkar posing for the portrait:

After leaving Ghol village, there was a flat walk for few minutes and after that we had to climb a hill.

Middle of the hill:

Wisp of clouds in blue sky - a photographer's delight! More you wander, more you get opportunities to capture some breathtaking shots! Nature is always unfolding a lot of surprises and you just need to observe around! No nature frame would be the same the next time!

Everyone posed for the group photo once we reached on a plateau.

After further walk of about half an hour, we entered the woods and we had to negotiate a lot of scree while descending through the woods. We managed to control our balance while holding onto the branches of trees. Once we came out of woods, we reached to another plateau from where descent to Thipthipya ghat was about to start.

Plateau after coming out of the dense woods seen in the below picture:

On the western side of the plateau, vast expanse of Konkan was visible and seeing the enormous depth, we realized that we had to descend at least for few hours to reach to the base.

Rahul Sonavane and Rajesh Nagre; two of the finest trekkers from Nasik.

Prasad Mhatre, one of the eminent members from Chakram Hikers ready to help us descending Thipthipya Ghat:

We were instructed to fill water bottles from the drums of water arranged for us on the plateau at the start of Thipthipya ghat. We were warned about the presence of honey bees in the ghat and were asked us to cover ourselves properly so as not to leave any opening for the honey bees to attack directly on your skin. We were also provided with mittens to protect our hands. We were warned to maintain total silence during the descent to avoid disturbing honey bees in any manner. These instructions and warnings made everyone frightened to the core as if honey bees had already attacked.

We started our descent with a quite frightened mind. Initial descent was tricky especially for new hikers and it consumed a lot of time for all the members waiting behind. As per instructions, all had to remain with their own batch and follow the sequence of the batches. Milind Kulkarni, my regular trek mate and marathon runner even had a peaceful sleep on few rocks and when he thought he was really late and started descending, was able to catch his batch within few minutes.

Being the sincere participants, I followed all the instructions from the trek leaders and did not bring out my camera. Sanjay Amrutkar (Nana) being more influential, managed to click few photos during this frightful descent.

Descending Thipthipya Ghat; no overtaking; no noise; patient waiting for others to move forward:

Slow movers in the first batch were moving at the snail’s pace and other batches had to wait which seemed like an eternity. Only pleasant aspect was because of the dread of honey bees’ attack, everyone was silent and we were experiencing sheer peacefulness. Cry of some remote animal made us guess name of the animal and we silently whispered “bear”. Chirping of birds, noise of the footfalls and occasional noise of rock rolling down were the only other noises.

Finally we came out of the woods. This made us relax a bit and noise level increased a bit. But on seeing nests of honey bees clinging below the overhead cliffs, silence again prevailed. Right under the cliff, we saw drops of water dripping and filling a small pond. This water drips throughout the year since many years; may be centuries and hence the name Thipthipya.

We saw Sayali who was in first batch cramping and batch leaders were helping her to get her on to her feet. After this point, leaders from Garjaiwadi were returning back and hence the restriction of 7 members per batch was lifted and fast movers quickly moved ahead leaving behind the slow members. There were marked arrows along the route initially to help all the trekkers.

Because of different walking speeds, for 28 members, multiple groups were formed. Problem was that there were only 2 leaders for 28 participants; first leader Aniket was supposed to be in front and Alok was supposed to be with the last members. All the members in the middle really had no one to guide but to rely on their own ability to spot the markings and proceed accordingly.We reached to first plateau during descent quite comfortably.

First plateau while descending Thipthipya Ghat:

We again entered the woods. I was somewhere in the middle and walking with Pradeep Kulkarni Uncle when I heard the shouts from someone in the forest. I was not sure who was shouting for help but I replied to his shouts and asked him to come in my direction. We were shouting to each other for almost 10 minutes but still there was no sign of that person coming out of the woods. Finally I decided to ascend again and went towards the sound and after hiking up for 10 minutes, shouts started appearing louder and finally I saw DK (Dinesh) coming out of the woods. He had lost his way while walking alone from the group. Happy to see me, he perched on the rock and decided to rest as he was perspiring heavily. I requested him to accompany me further but he said he would join the group coming from behind. I explained him the correct route and proceeded further where Kulkarni Uncle was waiting patiently for me to join him again.

We were proceeding nicely as per the directions of the arrows when on one of the descent with the scree, Kulkarni Uncle had a bad fall and hurt his knees and twisted his ankle. He was visibly in great discomfort and massaged his legs for some time before getting up. After that his progress was very slow. I did not wish to leave him alone and slowed down my pace to be with him. Finally we reached to a place where other members were waiting for us. They already had finished their lunch and resting. It was decided by Aniket not to hike further till the arrival of the last member.

Members resting till the arrival of last member; some of the members even started snoring despite the hard beds and pillows:

I, too finished my lunch and lied down waiting for others to join. Finally last remaining member Sayali arrived with Alok and we all heaved sighs of relief. Once last group finished their lunch, we marched ahead. Now, the walk was through the jungle. After coming out of jungle, we were greeted by spectacular views of Kurdugad.

Intensity of the sun had reduced as it had started its western journey. All the surrounding mountains were looking imposing in the clear weather. White clouds along with the blue sky had created perfect ambiance for photography. With all this perfect setting, Kurdugad was stomping its presence with its thumb like shape over surrounding mountains.

We had a break at water source just before starting final hike towards Kurdupeth. After getting to know the water scarcity on top of the fort, we made sure to fill our empty bottles and marched ahead.

Initially we assumed that ascent to reach to plateau of Kurdugad would be very small but we were wrong. This final ascent drained all the remaining energy from most of the trekkers. On reaching the plateau of Kurdugad, we were greeted by Parag Oak Sir, main camp leader from Kurdupeth Camp and main organizer of Sahyankan event.

As we were counting our final steps to the camp, sun now was making great strides to the west and its crimson rays falling at slanting angle had created a sublime effect. These are really precious moments in the life of a trekker when nature unfolds its beauty rewarding him for hard day’s toil.

Camp-site was away from the village at the lap of Kurdugad. Everyone was excited to see tents for a change. Two big tents were arranged for the trekkers and smaller tents were arranged for the camp leaders. Everyone got settled into the tents as per the preference. I was still lingering outside capturing last few shots before it became too dark.

After stretching exercises, we were served with hot tea and taken on a small walk to show us some important site. Important site was later revealed as site of makeshift toilets. Though there was plenty of open spaces near the camp-site, villagers had instructed to keep the sanctity of the place and had advised to use these makeshift toilets. Only problem with this arrangement was that it was almost more than 200 metres from the camp-site. So for any urgent nature’s call, it would have been difficult to reach in time to the destination. Nevertheless, all followed the instructions and there was no case of urgency that broke the rule.

Also, we were shown the place to wash our utensils. To save water, smart arrangement was made where small holes were pierced at the base of water bottles limiting the flow of water to minimal. This smart arrangement really helped in saving a lot of water.

When the night arrived, it arrived with millions of stars twinkling gleefully in the black sky. Lack of pollution and clear weather enabled us to see this spectacular display of nature. Silhouette  of Kurdugad on the background of bright stars made me forget all the worries of the world. Sadly, I was not carrying the tripod to try my hands at Night Photography but nevertheless, I allowed myself to get lost in the splendour for a while.

Everyone retired to their tents after feasting on sumptuous dinner. Exhaustion took over and many of the tent mates fell asleep immediately. I waited for some time and after enjoying Hot Chocolate outside with other members, too tucked inside the sleeping bag.  As I had selected my place at the last, I had got the worst place and there was a large rock protruding from the earth below the tent. Also, I only had the place which was right at the feet of others. Despite these small hiccups,with a lot of beautiful memories of the day flashing before the eyes, I drifted off to a peaceful sleep.