Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fadtaad Naal - Wrestling With The Most Notorious Descent

Parched throat eagerly awaiting the touch of cold water drops; sprained leg supporting the quest to remain alive; heat emanating from every pore of the body; loose rocks, scree creating a self doubt on every descending step; close escapes from the rolling rocks - all elements of nature conspiring against the indomitable spirit of hardcore trekkers! Welcome to the trek of Fadtaad Naal - the most inhospitable descent of Sahyadri region!

Ever growing fascination of ancient ghat routes along with intense desire of our trek-mate Deva Ghanekar compelled us to finalize the trek to Fadtaad Naal. Being the initiator of this trek, Deva took the onus of finding all the required information for this trek - contact for local guide, arrangement for food etc. Sunil Patil and Virag Rokde from the group agreed to be technical experts for the trek.

Day 1 (27th May 2017): Singapur Village - Ekalgaon Village - Fadtal Naal - Dapoli Village
Day 2 (28th May 2017): Dapoli Village - Singapur Naal - Singapur Village

Milind Kulkarni, Namdev Gaware, Sujata Raygade, Deva Ghanekar, Krantiveer Bhuimbar, Virag Rokde, Sunil Patil, Tushar Kothawade and Prashant Kothawade

All were supposed to assemble at Tushar Dada's place at Sus Road at 10.30PM. First challenge presented itself in front of Deva when his bike punctured on the way from Chinchwad. He along with Sunil Patil arrived exhausted around 11.30 PM. Finally we left Sus Road, picked up Krantiveer from Navale Bridge and proceeded towards Nasrapur Phata.

Singapur Village was in deep slumber when our two cars arrived at the odd hours of night. Quickly we settled at the front porch of one of the houses and without wasting further time slipped inside the sleeping bags.

Before the crack of dawn, we arose. Elders in the village were reluctant to accompany us for descent of Fadtaad Naal. "There is no route left at this Naal. Nobody descends through this route". But seeing our preparation and readiness, Pote Mama relented and agreed to accompany us as a guide. After breakfasting on delicious Idli-Chutney brought by Deva, we sipped on black tea and proceeded towards Ekalgaon -- starting point of  our hike in our cars. (Time: 7.15 AM).

Ekalgaon village:

Team in front of school in Ekalgaon village -- Starting point of the trek:

Clouds were looking menacing in the sky signalling the possibility of rain. Though we had preferred overcast skies instead of unrelenting sun, rain was not at all welcome considering the tricky descent that we were going to attempt today.

After parking our vehicles at Ekalgaon, we started our hike towards the entry of Fadtaad Naal with clouds hovering above us.

Entry to Fadtaad Naal was almost 2 hrs from Ekalgaon village and trail went through a lot of bushes.

Sujata Tai, Krantiveer and Virag on the trail:

Walking in unison:

Our guide - Pote Mama:

Team on the backdrop of Lingana:

Virag wrapped in thoughts:

Clouds getting attracted towards Raigad and Lingana:

Jananiche Thane:

Gradually overcast skies gave way to clear blue sky strewn with cumuli of white clouds.

Range of incredible Sahyadri Mountain range unfolded in front of us as we reached to a plateau just before the entry to Fadtaal naal. In the crisp clear weather Lingana turned out to be cynosure for all the eyes. In the distance Raigad was standing tall reminiscing its golden past.

After soaking in the great vistas for about 10 minutes, we resumed the hike and soon reached to the entry of Fadtaad Naal. Initial descent of about 30 ft with a lot of scree provided us enough warning of the lurking dangers ahead. But as we had technical experts with us, we were not too much worried.

One more risky traverse greeted us after negotiating first scree patch. Rope was used to negotiate this traverse safely.

Further descent was steep and full of scree. Many times we had to sit down to descend.

At one point, I was stuck and was not able to come down due to my sack and heavy camera bag. Sunil ascended for few metres and helped me descend down safely by relieving me from heavy burden.

We stopped for a while under the shade of the huge wall of the mountain munching on few snacks and resting. Pote Mama seemed to have been exhausted and had a severe headache. After lying down a while, he felt better and we resumed our descent.

Further descent was through the loose boulders. As nobody descends through this route, all rocks and boulders were in unstable state. Even the strong looking rocks seemed unstable under the weight of our bodies and "watch" was the frequent shout when any rock started rolling down the valley.

Sometimes the naal transformed into the big steep wall cascading into waterfall and we had to find some detours to descend. Experts in the group helped other members to descend safely by proper instructions.

This tree seemed to have a strong affinity for this giant rock embracing it for life.

Only solace for me was to capture few lovely photos along the strenuous descent:

Sunil Patil and Virag Rokde resting for a while:

Strange thing about this descent was that just when we thought that all the dangers of the descent were over, new challenge presented itself mocking us, ridiculing us. Though being the part of many ghat route treks, I was never as challenged as by this descent.

A scary patch of about 30 feet consumed a lot of time and technical team also couldn't do much as there was no support to fix the ropes and all the rocks were too fragile.

After wresting with this patch, we finally descended it. In the process, I twisted my left foot as I slipped from the scree. I winced in pain. I slowly recovered from the pain, descended cautiously for few meters, perched on the rock, applied the pain relief spray, gently massaged the affected area and rested for a while.

I twisted my foot on this traverse:

Team resting and waiting for others under the shadow:

Scared still full of enthusiasm:

I now was descending with twisted left foot and now this posed a different challenge for me. Stranded in the wilderness, I had no option but to bear with the pain and keep descending with the team.
Fortunately there was a last rock patch remaining which I was able to negotiate with my injured leg.

It was 2.30 PM and we all took a break for lunch. Pain, heat in the body had reduced my appetite and I decided to skip the lunch and just lied down to get my batteries recharged.

Our guide gave us another shocker when he said that we would need to search for route through the jungle as there was no trail left. Hearing this we got alarmed and quickly resumed our hike immediately after lunch. We now had 4 hours of day light left and we were not sure how much time would it take to reach to Dapoli village. We all had stacked around 4 litres of water but it was fast depleting and most of the water had become lukewarm under the intense heat. To make the matters worse, there was no water source on the entire route nor any human habitat. We were wresting with time now to reach to our destination before dark.

Though we had to rush, few of the members were quite drained out and they just couldn't get the required momentum. But after realizing the possibility of stranded in the jungle for the whole night without water, they tried to push hard.

We were relieved when we joined a distinct trail and felt confident about reaching to our destination before dark.

We came out of the woods. We were ecstatic to see land below. We assumed that we were at the striking distance to reach to the base but alas! We were so wrong. We still had to traverse and climb few hills and Dapoli village was still far away. Land that was below seemed to be a forest land without any human population.

Sujata Raigade Tai - Ultra Marathon runner and fittest woman I have seen:

We took the stock of remaining water, prepared lemon juice with the available water, gulped few precious sips and resumed our hike.

Not having the proper lunch now started affecting my speed. My body was emanating a lot of heat and I started feeling totally drained out. Lukewarm water failed to quench the thirst.Blackberries (Karvand) provided temporary relief to moisten the parched throats and infused some much needed energy.

Traverse we had taken seemed to be never ending. At last we started to climb another mountain which led us to a col. From there we had to descend further. After about 15 minutes, we finally got the much needed view of Dapoli village. Now, we were sure to survive and that brought back the smiles on our faces.

Sun was about to set behind the mountains. Its filtered light through the clouds provided some wonderful light combinations and all our fatigue dissipated after seeing this spectacular display. Finally we were getting some reward for whole day's toil.

It was 7.30 PM when we reached to Dapoli village. I gulped around 1 litre of cold water trying to replenish my water levels. We all were smelling foul after hiking for almost 11 hours and we indulged in the cold water bath at the well near the village. Cold water bath instantly brought the body back to the normal temperature rejuvenating us and infusing fresh lease of life inside us.

Contented we chatted in the front porch of a house. We wolfed on the hot dinner replenishing all the lost calories of the day. After a short after-meal walk, we decided to spend night in the temple. Tired bodies submitted to the sleep irrespective of humidity inside the temple.

I woke up with the swollen foot next day. Stranded in Fadtaad Naal, I had to walk almost 5 hours with the sprained foot which further aggravated the injury . To avoid any further damage, I decided to skip hiking back to Singapur village by Singapur Naal and reached Pune safely via bus reminiscing the hard fought battle with the notorious Fadtaad Naal.

Because of sheer unpredictable and dangerous nature of the descent, lack of water source along the strenuous trek of almost 11 hours, already reported two deaths on the trail and difficulty in rescue operation, I would not recommend this trek to even the experienced trekkers. Having wrestled with it from the close quarters, I would rate it as the most dangerous trek of Sahyadri region that I have ever done. Stay away; stay safe and enjoy other challenging but not so dangerous treks!

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Happy hiking!

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