Slidermen 4 – Scree-ing from Chandragad to Arthur Seat

Itinerary:

Friday – 21st Dec – Meet at CIDCO bus stand Thane by 11.30 PM. Start our journey by 12.
Sat – 22nd Dec – Reach Dhavale gaon near Poladpur. Start trek by 7.30 AM. First Chandragad and then to Arthur seat Mahabaleshwar. Trek duration is 8-9 hrs. We will reach Arthur seat by 5 PM. Our vehicle will join us there.
Sun – 23rd Dec – As we have enough time, we will try to explore one more fort on Sunday. Maybe Pratapgad or Makarandgad. For this we will reach base village of the fort by Saturday night.
Our return journey to Mumbai will start by Sunday afternoon.

Day 1: 22nd Dec 2012.

Each time a Trek is announced, I wonder how this is going to be different from the previous one.

This time we did not have to wait for the trek to unravel itself. It was different right from the beginning. We had a change of Guard. Kishore-kaka, the veteran commander of countless earlier Adventures had announced early on that the Trek will be led by our “CM” Pawar. CM as in Chaitali Madhukar Pawar. The CM tag fits her well considering that professionally she is part of the Bureaucracy. That her current stint was in Alibaug only makes her more qualified for this politically relevant role.

The Change in Regime was evident right from the beginning. First it was ensured that all the remaining Trek Members were present at the pick-up point (Cidco Bus Stand). Then the Chief Protocol Officer (Bapu) left for the Official Residence of the Trek leader and brought the Trek Leader to the pick-up point in her official vehicle (Auto). The leader was welcomed by all the members with a great amount of Gusto. After the mandatory exchange of (un)pleasantries the Leader Flagged Off the Bus for this Trek with the customary “Ganpati Bappaaa… Moryaaaa !!”.  It was 12:45am of the intervening night of 21st and 22nd Dec 2012.

At this point there were 11 of us :

1.       Chaitali

2.       Bapu

3.       Kishya

4.       Kiran Fedex

5.       Manya

6.       Amya

7.       Abhilash

8.       Abhi   jit

9.       Raman (the voice in the back-ground)

10.   Swalpesh

11.   Kiran More

Badya and Sujit were to join us on the way at Jui Nagar Railway Station. We all remembered from the previous Trek that our bus would have overshot Badya and Sujit, but for the timely intervention by Kishor. We at Unnecessary Hiker learn well from our past mistakes. This time we were all prepared with Amya in the lead. We not only managed to overshoot Badya’s location by 2kms, we did a bigger detour through a maze of service roads to circle back and pick them up. Our Unnecessary target for next time is to overshoot them by at least 5kms !!!

The team of Thirteen who set about on a Friday was now complete.

Even before we started Off from Cidco, Manya was murmering “mala bhook lagli aahe”… Though I was sound asleep, I could imagine how difficult it must have been to hold him back till Poladpur where we reached around 4:30 am. In the next half an hour, the entire inventory of the Wada-Pav center was wiped out without a trace. The poor Groggy vendor, in that early hour, had no clue what was happening and surely he must have dismissed the entire episode as a fictitious bad dream the following morning. A dream he wouldn’t wish to have again.

The Good thing was, in the entire melee, somebody managed to secure enough Vada-pavs for breakfast when we reach Dhawale Village.

There are many advantages of remaining asleep during the journey. Though we close our eyes to the Clutter of the Urban Setting, in the morning our Eyes open up to the Surreal Charm of a quaint village, the type we read about in fairy tales. Dhawale Village, in the morning, is surely the inspiration of several such fairy tales. The small beautiful village, so snugly ensconced in the valley looks all the more Magical in the rays of the morning sun. The warm hospitality that the Villagers extend is equally of the kind we read in Fairy tales.

However, this Charm invariably becomes the victim of amnesia the moment the climb becomes steep and water becomes scarce. Our guides Pappu and Ravi (who were recruited from Dhawale Village by our specialist negotiators) made sure that the onset of amnesia happened much earlier.

We broke-fast with Vada Pav from Poladpur. The bus driver was given instructions to meet us at Arthur’s Seat at Mahabaleshwar.

It was already quarter to eight when we started Off towards Chandragad. Being a new-comer (relatively), I have always been a passenger on all these Treks till date. I would Board these Treks looking for some exciting albeit UNNECESSARY Adventures, follow the cue of the senior Trekkers, experience some anxious and trouser-tearing moments and after having much more than the recommended dose of hardship and adventure, return home with a body not capable of further abuse and a mind having a stupid smile plastered all over it. I would look like a fit case for Psychiatric Help.

This time, Kishya has deputed me to write about the experience. So I’ll pretend to be this Trek-Guru who is aware of all the History and Geography of the peaks and forts that we have climbed with some (insignificant) help from Google Baba. I also have to remind Kishya that he has broken protocol by bypassing the authority of CM Pawar before deputing me on this job and that he will be directly responsible for any negative outcome of his (and my) actions.

Chandragad, also known as Ramchandragad, was built by Chandrarao More who controlled the Jawali region before Shivaji Raje Bhosale took over. Though we had no intentions of taking over this fort, we thought we should at least have a peek. A short walk through the meadows and we passed Shelarwadi, a hamlet of few houses. This point onwards, the gradient changed gradually. The trail was marked with “Om Namah Shivay” boards nailed onto tree-trunks. A fleeting thought crossed my mind – Why have a guide for such a well marked trail? And we were having two of them. But right then we saw this dilapidated signboard “Chandragad Darshan” just across a dried up stream. This was our first water-break. The trek was smooth sailing till here. The gradient became quite steep from this point onwards and the scree made it a bit challenging, yet nothing that could ruffle Unnecessary feathers. Somewhere along the path near the top, Pappu pointed out a diversion for Arthur Seat. I couldn’t see any obvious route and assumed I must have overlooked it. Up further with some basic climbing skills and without much ado we reached the top at 09.45 am (????). Sujit, the youngest among us, made it look like “Bachchon ka khel”.  

On the top there are broken remnants of a temple, houses, walls and fortress. There is a Shiva-ling and a Nandi statue at one place. The view from the top was breath-taking with a clear view of Raireshwar to the Northeast & Mahableshwar to the South East.

On the northern end of the fort there are a couple of water reservoirs. Though the water did not look encouraging, the Guides swore by it and it tasted good. The water-holes on the western ledge are accessible only to Expert Climbers. The slope is too steep and the scree is unpredictable. We filled the bottles to make sure that we had enough water for the next part of the trek.

After spending some relaxing moments quenching our thirst and gorging the sights, we left the top around 10 am. Our Next Objective was Bahirichi Ghumati(????) which was en route to Arthur Seat. I was thinking “ Its 10am, we have finished one Fort and already on the way to the other !!! Treks have become too easy these days…”… Another 15 minutes and I realised I couldn’t be more WRONG.

On our way down, we had to negotiate the steep route just as we anticipated. While going down, the perception of endless depth plays tricks on the mind and the scree only makes things worse. However, all of us being seasoned trekkers, we descended quite efficiently to the point where Pappu stopped for the diversion to be taken for Arthur Seat. It dawned upon me that I had not overlooked this route on our way to the top. I had seen the route, only my mind did not accept it as a route. The traverse looked like it is efficiently designed for the purpose of sliding down on the scree (what Manya prefers to call ball-bearings) and not for crossing. Only when I saw Pappu hold Sujit’s hands to take him across did I believe that he was not joking. All of us struggled to get across. Pappu, the guide, even tripped once, trying to stop Sujit from sliding away. The traverse may have been about 250 feet across. Yet by the time we were all across, it was already 11am.

It was a big sigh of relief when all got across especially since Pappu declared it was an easy path downhill from that point onwards. After having done a decent number of treks, I can now print a dictionary about Gavkari’s and Village Guide’s lingo. “What they say and what they mean!!!” So when they say it is easy, I’m fully aware NO WAY is it going to be easy. Yet we still lap up these assurances like gullible customers.

The next hour was a roller-coaster ride sliding down a steep slope. It was as if the entire side of that hill was crumbling under our feet. Everything that we laid our feet upon came loose – sand, gravel, small rocks, medium rocks, big rocks, boulders… everything. There was one saving grace – we got to hold on to the dried stalks of wild growth. It is an irony that wild growth can be a saving grace, because they are always in your face, scrape your arms and obscure the vision. Always Irritating. Now it became a saviour. Yet there was a catch… there always is. Randomly dispersed among them were an equal number of loose stalks which appeared firmly planted, yet they would come off the moment they were held. What followed was an episode of Takeshi’s castle!! Only there were no padding, safety nets and Javed Jaffery’s comments.

We covered a lot of distance on that treacherous slope tumbling, stumbling, tripping & sliding down. There were no proud moments about form or posture or technique of Rock Climbing. There were only Clumsy moments for All !!!

Given the background of scams which were happening in the urban world, this thought crossed my mind – God had outsourced manufacturing of these Mountains to some corrupt contractors who cheated on the quantity of Fevicol used while building these mountains just as they cheat on cement used for building for the roads and bridges. And so these slopes were crumbling when we stepped on them.

I also realised why we needed the guides. There was no path through that growth. One just had to know in which direction to go in that wild growth where one couldn’t see more than 10 metres in any direction. At this stage everybody was suffering with a collective bout of Amnesia of the sights and beauty of the Dhawale Village… J

The path then opened up to a more sensible rocky route. The descent was quite steep yet manageable, but energy sapping nevertheless. I was convinced that we descended more than we climbed for Chandragad, that we were much deeper in a valley. In spite of the difficulties posed, we covered the distance at a fast pace. Whenever we asked, Pappu replied on every occasion that the end of this descent is just ahead. Later we wizened up and stopped asking.

At one point on the path he just stopped. The path went further down. However, there was a small opening to the right which was supposed to be the next ‘leg’ of our journey. But by now we were not sure whether there were any ‘legs’ left with us. Without a guide, it was very easy to miss this diversion. It was 12noon when we reached here. This spot was a nice shaded area in the valley.

The guides advised us to have our lunch break here, considering that there was a 3 and half hour distance to Bahirichi Ghumati looming ahead before our next water hole at Jor-che-pani. After discussion, it was decided to have a snack break of sandwiches and cakes, since the general consensus was that a full fledged lunch would make us groggy and lethargic.

Fortunately there was water in a dried up stream 7-8 minutes away. We refilled our bottles and were on our way by 12:45pm. The next 3 and half hours of the trek can be called the most excruciating part of the whole trek. There was a continuous and relentless upward gradient which was scree ridden for a large part of it. There was hardly any traverse in the climb till we reached Bahirichi Ghumati. Fortunately, most part of this leg was through shaded jungle. As we approached the ridge, we were exposed to the afternoon sun, which made the climb more difficult till we reached Bahirichi Ghumati. A small diversion and a short climb and we reached the water hole at Jor-che-pani. By the time everybody reached this point, it was past 4:15p.m. In this entire phase, this was the only piece of open terrain which could fit 15 people. The break was more than welcome considering that everybody was totally exhausted beyond imagination. Though late, Lunch and the rest did wonders in rejuvenating everybody.

We started the last leg just before 5pm. The nip in the air so early in the evening more than suggested that we are near a Hill Station. We had our fill of food and water and carried enough water to suffice till we reach Arthur Seat. The moment Arthur Seat was visible, our Guides Pappu and Ravi gave us directions to reach there. They had to return back before it was too late. Amya bid them their final goodbyes making sure that the Guides will be enthusiastic (₹₹₹₹₹) to guide all future trekkers. Abhi Jit took over the guide’s job at this stage. Young and Enthusiastic that he is, we covered the final phase at a good pace within an hour. He was up on the viewing point of Arthur Seat along with Amya by 6pm.

This was the most rewarding phase of the entire trek. We had to traverse across the ridge to a rock patch which was below and to the left of Arthur Seat. The scenic beauty which we experienced during this traverse made us forget all the hardships we had to endure to reach there. We were in luck since we got the sun-set just about the same time. This was among the most unforgettable memories of our lifetime. The view of the valley was breath-taking. When we reached about 200 feet below to the left of Arthur Seat, Abhi Jit and Amya made light of the final Rock patch showing the rest of us the way up. Sujit was up and on the point in a jiffy. The remaining members took their time to clamber up. This journey ended with several group snaps at Arthur Point.

In the meanwhile, our Bus was already waiting for us at the entrance of Arthur Seat. It was 7pm already. The traffic jam on the way and the blockade by the forest guard killed any hopes of cooking dinner. So we halted at Hotel Sahyadri for Dinner. Our plan had been to reach the base village for Madhu-Makarandgad by nightfall. We barely made it to another village called Kasrud before we decided to set up camp. It was too late and one could easily lose way at that time of the night searching for the base village Hatlot.

We were all so famished that I have no recollection of what happened between getting down from the bus and falling asleep in the Temple.

 

Day 2:

The night of sleep did wonders to all. For once, everybody slept well, inspite of the roaring at the level of a Grand Prix race. Each roar having its own unique characteristic as was its owner. The chill of the night barely mattered to anybody.

Once everybody was awake, it required Kishor-kaka’s nagging to jump-start everybody to start with the morning activities. Manya took the initiative for preparing tea and I helped him with the finer details.

There was a lesson to learn about the break-fast of bread and butter. Butter in the cold mornings is a time-waster. Making sandwiches from them becomes a big challenge. Lot of allegations and accusations flew over the quality of the Bread. Manya, who brought the bread, brazenly admitted that he was too lazy to go to a store farther than the Iyengar Bakery which is next to his House. The responses from the Teflon-coated Manya did not in any way reassure us that we are going to get any better bread the next time around.

Meanwhile, a big argument started between villagers who had queued up for Water at a distance. We all thought it was best for us to leave the place before we were caught in their cross-fire. It was 8:30 am when we all chanted “Ganpati Bappaaa… Morya…”

Hatlot, the base village we couldn’t reach last night, was at a winding distance of 4 kms. The Bus-driver used his driving skills very well to negotiate the hair-pin bends to reach us here. The first reaction that everybody had on reaching Hatlot was that we should have spent the night here. This was a small cosy village, instantly liked by all.

Somehow the whole setting of this new place made us forget the hardships of the previous day. Kishore had already talked to a village elder and organised a guide for us. We all were set to start the fresh new day with a fresh new trek. Madhu Makrandgad, where we intended to go, had this imposing presence in the back-ground of this village.

Madhu Makarand Gad is a twin peak in the Sahyadri. It is visible from Pratapgad and Raigad. This fort was a watch fort guarding the trade route of Radtondi pass connecting Wai-Mahabaleshwar to Poladpur. This fort became redundant after Pratapgad was built. Since it had very steep cliffs on all sides, it did not need fortification. Out of the two peaks, Madhu peak is inaccessible to common trekkers. Makarand peak was converted as a fort.

Even as we started, there were several drop-outs.

Kiran Fedex had come on this trek after a very long break. He had brilliantly trekked the previous day keeping Pappu on his toes all the while. But by nightfall, Uske Ghutne ne jawab de diya !!! His will to trek was further smothered by the cosiness of the village. He came to know of this lovely stream flowing through the village. He was more determined to convert this part of the trek into a spa experience.

Sujit saw an opportunity to watch DVD movies on the LCD TV mounted in the bus. He managed to give all of us (especially Badya) the slip. Badya realised that Sujit had bunked only when the trek started. By then it was too late for him to take corrective action.

Aaple Trek leader Chaitali la Kantala aala. Apparently Makarand Gad was not a ‘Happening’ Place for her. She felt Hatlot was more “Happentoy”. Though we all tried to convince her, we relented because then she could make Lunch “Happen”.

So, the ten of us set off with enough water and snacks. It was past 9:30am. The guide first took us to the village temple where we paid our respects. In 10 mins we were off to the mountains. The first part of the trek was through the plains of the village, navigating through farms and haystacks before we reached the first inclines.

Even as we stepped into the jungle, we were relieved for 2 reasons:

1.       There was no scree. (Hurray)

2.       The forest was dense enough to have a constant shade for almost the entire duration of the trek.

It almost felt like somebody was compensating us for the difficulties faced the previous day. The trek was a copybook experience. It is the type of trek which should be used to initiate newcomers. Steady incline, good amount of shade, barely any scree & several locations to have cosy breaks. The traverses were also suitably located to provide just the right amount of relief from the climb without having to stop.

The first phase of this pleasant trek ended at the Gaodevi temple. A calm and peaceful place. We all paid our respects and got ready for the next phase. Kiran More (whose rays had dimmed and was kept lit only by the constant prodding of Kishor the previous day) decided that he is going to stay put. For a new-comer he had already done very well. He decided to rest in the temple while the rest of us set off to the reach the fort. Our guide did not have any plans to come to the fort, since he felt there was no need to. The path was fairly straight-forward.

The fort was an almost barren piece of geology sticking out vertically from the forest and greenery. The climb here onwards was steep. One look at the peak and we estimated that it may take half an hour to reach the top. We went up at a leisurely place taking our time to take snaps as well as enjoy the beauty all around. When we reached half way up, we came across a traverse which after a short distance split into two ways with a Kalash kept in front of a Deity placed exactly on the fork. One path led upwards and the other continued the traverse. Not able to make up our mind, we looked around. Kishor saw some people at the top and waved at them for directions. They gestured us to continue with the traverse. We did that. After we almost went around the whole peak we started having doubts. But all those doubts cleared off when we saw Wells dug out of the rocky face of the Mountain. We had our fill, filled our bottles & posed for some snaps here.

By now we had already overshot our initial estimated time by 15 mins. Kishor-kaka got everybody to move up on the small, yet tricky path cut into the steep slope next to the water hole. All were on top within 10 mins. There is this Shiva Temple right on top with Nandi facing the entrance. The view from the top was fantastic with a good view of Pratapgad, Koyna backwaters and the Mahabaleshwar Plateau.

We had snacks here in the shade of the tree right in front of the Shiva Temple. It was 12:30pm and Amya said we should be back in Hatlot village by 1:30 to have lunch. Kishor immediately started the descent at a blistering pace and I had difficulty keeping up with him.  I wondered why we were hurrying up so much. I “smelt” a rat (figuratively and literally), but focussed more on catching up with him. We used the other path to go down, the path which meets the traverse near the Kalash. We were down near the Gaodevi temple in no time. Then I realised what was wrong. Kishore had missed a “Call” in the morning. So he had to attend the call as soon as possible before the rest caught up so that we don’t lose any more time in our descent. J

That is when I got to reflect on what had just happened. The 2nd phase of this trek from the Gaodevi temple to the top and back was dry and barren. It was Scree-ridden at many patches, more so on the path we had chosen to descend. This kind of scree had always given me knots in the tummy in all the previous treks. I would be thankful on each past occasion that the scree was only for a short distance and I would tackle them on all fours. However, I barely realised that this time I had literally run through this scree trying to catch up with Kishor. The previous day’s Scree torment from Chandragad to Arthur Seat had made the Makarandgad scree-obstacles look ordinary. It was like, I graduated from a level 1 to a level 3 in a video game. I almost caught myself gloating that I was growing as a Trekker and increasingly skilled at handling obstacles. It took a while to wipe that silly grin off my face.

As usual Kishor attended his “call” with precision timing. By the time the last member was down from the peak, he was all set to go. Kishor had no reason to announce “Puk” for the rest of the trip. J . Unnecessary Hikers will forever be indebted to Aarush Rane for coining this word.

From the beginning of the descent at GaoDevi temple, Swalpesh set a scorching pace. He was literally galloping down the slopes with Kishor, Abhi Jit and me playing catch up. Half-way down, we came across another group from Kolhapur, who had started the trek about the same time as us in the morning. They had taken a break for Lunch. We continued without taking any further breaks and the four of us in the lead reached Hatlot by 1:35pm. The rest arrived in the next 15-20 mins.

Reaching back to Hatlot was like the Icing on a Cake. Obviously finishing a Trek gives a different sort of High, but this time it was mainly because of the Effort of our Leader Chaitali under the able guidance of Senior Trekker Kiran Fedex. They had organised the most Fantastic meal I had experienced in the little time that I’ve spent with Unnecessary hikers. It was all possible with the help of a very warm and kind Karbharin who welcomed us in her house with open arms.

When we reached our Bus, the bus-driver pointed us towards the house where Chaitali and Kiran had set shop. When we approached the Aangan of that beautifully well-kept house, we could catch the aroma of Gavti Chicken curry. At that instant, nothing else mattered. In the background I could hear the voice of Kishor, who was a bit disappointed that rice was not ready too. He had a point, considering that there was a lot of time available. But Chaitali wanted Hot food to be served and so delayed making Rice.

Our lunch menu was:

1.       Gavti Chicken Curry

2.       Dal Tadka

3.       Potato subzi

4.       Pappad

5.       Basmati Rice

This was a 5-star meal. However, we did take lessons from this effort – one lesson was to tilt the balance a bit away from quantity towards quality to make it an even better meal.

All of us individually thanked the Lady of the House for the warmth and hospitality extended.

After the meal, it was time to board the bus for the next “mukkam”. Only we were not able to decide which one. Some of us wanted to go to Pratapgad and others didn’t. However, the “yays” prevailed over the “nays” with the justification that having come all the way within a shouting distance of Pratapgad, one should not miss it. So we did reach Pratapgad.

Arun (Badya) who was very vocal about going to Pratapgad was also the first to be disappointed.

I’ve never been to Pratapgad before. Yet I could feel the reason for everybody’s disappointment. This fort of great Significance during the Maratha rule had been allowed to degenerate into a touristy place where the Feeding needs of the visitor was given more priority over the Historical Importance of the Fort. The entire fort was lined up with permanent structures of Hotels, soft-drink vendors, etc.

Our visit boiled down to leaving that place as soon as possible, which in reality was easier said than done because of the traffic jam we encountered on the way down.

We left this place around 6:30 pm hoping to reach back home in good time. It really did not matter at that point, since Kiran Fedex was in the “mood” and we all joined the chorus to all the melodies that Kiran and Badya dug out from the archives. I guess we all reached home between 12am and 2am.

I reached home, took a shower and jumped into bed. I couldn’t sleep. I was on rewind. It was funny considering that I would be the first to doze off each time I boarded the bus, much to the chagrin of my co-passenger Abhilash who wouldn’t get sleep on the bus. J

I dozed off with the satisfaction that though Unnecesary, the last 2 days were among the most well-spent days of my life.

-raman

Manoj’s photo gallery

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