Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ratangad - The Jewel of Sahyadri

As midnight approached, we reached to the secluded area of Rajur Ghat. With no vehicle in sight and no trace of any colony, our Innova was swiftly handling the twists and turns of the ghat. It was scary to be alone on this secluded spot at such an unearthly hour. There was a feeling of uneasiness that something strange was going to happen. Never did I feel so vulnerable sitting in the car with five people. My intuition turned right and suddenly from nowhere, we spotted a stationary bike with a person lying on the road and other person supposedly drunk waving us to stop. Seeing the potential robbers, Tushar Dada increased the speed of Innova and soon these two men were left behind. As we were heaving a sigh of relief, we were totally engulfed in the dense fog reducing visibility to none. With fog lamps on, we kept on slowly pushing ahead our car and after 10 minutes, we left the fog behind.

Around 2.30 past midnight we reached to Ratanwadi, base village of Ratangad and village famous for ancient Amruteshwar temple. As per instructions provided by Nana (Sanjay Amrutkar), we searched Hotel Pravara. Seeing the two well-illuminated rooms open, we barged into them to get some sleep. We divided ourselves into two rooms and retired to sleep without further wasting any time.

It was 7 in the morning when my eyes opened and with the prospect of some good morning photography, I got up and ventured outside with my camera. Greeting the hotel caretaker, I left towards Amruteshwar temple without disturbing sleep of other trek-mates.

Golden light had spread across the landscape. Remotely, peaks of surrounding mountains were peeking above the clouds. As this was my first visit to Ratangad, I was overjoyed with these novel sights. Despite wandering so much in Sahyadri mountains, there is still so much left to be explored.

It was a quintessential morning of the village. Village women had gathered on the edge of the stream washing the clothes; few villagers had started working in the fields.

Amruteshwar temple was basking in the golden light. Sonorous voice of the priest chanting the morning prayers filled the atmosphere with positive vibrations. After clicking few pictures from outside, I was joined by Amol and we decided to go further towards the large water reservoir.

After capturing good pictures, I and Amol returned back to hotel. As we were breakfasting, Nasik team too joined us. Nana wanted to enjoy photography, so he only came with two trek mates- Prashant Pawar and Kiran Patil. I was meeting them for the first time. After finishing breakfast, we started our trek towards Ratangad.

Hotel Pravara where we stayed and breakfasted:

Team ready for the hike:

Marching towards Ratangad:

Glorious display of clouds:

Buoyant mood of the team:

Getting entranced by nature:

Karvi flowers blossomed all the way:

Prashant Pawar drinking the best mineral water:

Beautiful wild flowers made walk on the trail so memorable.

Lemon Juice break:

Amol had the fascination for fallen trees:

Almost to the top:

First ladder installed on the tricky rock patches:

Second ladder:

Finally after two hours we reached to the top.

Ganesh Darwaja (Entrance):

Getting settled in the cave - only shelter on the fort:

As we reached just before the noon, we were only the trekkers on the fort. Later in the afternoon, this place was swarmed with many trekkers.

After having the sumptuous tea prepared by the caretaker of the fort, we decided to explore the fort. We proceeded towards the East-South direction first.

Thick blanket of clouds had enveloped the peaks of adjoining mountains. Disappointed with the unclear weather, we decided to visit remaining parts of the fort and proceeded towards West-North side of the fort.

Never before any lake on the fort looked so beautiful.

We marched on the narrow trail with tall grass on both the sides. Sometimes, we had to push the grass to find our way.

Suddenly cloud cover lifted providing us some idea about the surrounding landscape.Whole trail was adorned with millions of yellow flowers which served a great foreground for clicking some stunning pictures.

Konkan Darwaja (entrance) of the fort:

Camaraderie between clouds and mountains:

Water cisterns along the way

We then decided to explore needle of the fort. While west side was still cloudy, there were wisps of white clouds in the blue sky on the east side.

Going towards Nedhe (Eye of the needle)

Breathtakingly beautiful eye of the needle:

Topmost point of the fort:

Descending on the east side leading to Trimbak Darwaja Entrance:

Trimbak Entrance of the fort:

Walking on the eastern ridge:

One more attempt to catch sights of mountains on East-South side; this time cloud cover lifted slightly; still no success of capturing the whole frame of the mountains.

As evening wore on, I along with Prashant Pawar and Amol Chandurkar perched on the rock and chatted till it was dark. As we returned to the cave, we again sipped the hot tea. We chatted for an hour and then we sat in the circle to enjoy our dinner which was delivered to us from Hotel Pravara.

After securing the best places in the cave, we retired to sleep as there was nothing better to do. Though we had secured the best places, those were only slightly better as compared to others. Ground beneath had a lot of undulations and with thin sleeping bag, I was finding it pretty uncomfortable to sleep.

Gradually more groups started pouring in and as there was no space left in the cave, they had to spend night outside as there is no other shelter available on the fort. One of the groups laid tents outside but others who were not carrying tents must had a tough time. A group arrived around 12 in the night and seeing no place to rest, to kill time, they started playing the songs disturbing sleep of others.

After getting reprimanded by our group, they switched off the music. I dozed off after a while but due to uneven ground below, I was quite restless whole night. Alarm went off at 5.30 in the morning and around 6 am, I got outside the sleeping bag and rushed outside.

Dawn was just breaking up and layers of clouds were floating below us. Excited, we clicked few photos from outside of the cave and soon rushed towards the East-South direction of the fort.
Our breaths were taken away as we reached to East-South part of the fort. Sea of absolutely white clouds were stuck in the deep valley below. Never in my life had I seen clouds in their purest format - gorgeous white. Peaks slicing the sky were seen emerged from the vast bed of clouds. On the east side, the dawn was about to break up making part of that sky crimson. We held our breaths witnessing this glorious display of nature unfolding in front of our eyes.

Prashant Pawar, Tushar Dada and Amol Chandurkar (L to R)

Ratangad Khutta (Peak) with Alang, Madan, Kulang and Kalsubai peak in the backdrop:

Our next destination was Katrabai - the gorgeous mountain that appeared rugged as well as beautiful at the same time. Considering the wet rocks that we had encountered while ascending Ratangad, Nana and I decided to skip the plan. All members were so engrossed in the glorious views that they didn't mind the cancellation of trek to Katrabai and kept on soaking in the glorious vistas, living and enjoying the precious moments.

After spending the most glorious morning of our lives, we returned back satiated, contented. After breakfast of Pohe followed by Tea, we started our descent. While descending on the wet rocks, Prashant Pawar lost his balance and narrowly escaped the major injury. Shaken he covered the remaining part with extra precaution.

We took some different trail while descending but luckily there were arrow markings on this trail as well and we joined the trail which we had used while ascending.

We culminated our trek by bathing in the stream. Feeling rejuvenated and refreshed, we decided to visit ancient Amruteshwar Temple.

We bid adieu to our Nasik friends and returned to Pune savouring the beautiful memories of the trek. Undoubtedly this would rank as the most beautiful trek of my life.

Pune Team: Prashant Kothawade, Tushar Kothawade, Amol Chandurkar, Abhijit Lonari and Prashant Deore
Nasik Team: Sanjay Amrutkar, Prashant Pawar and Kiran Patil

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Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!