Saturday, November 2, 2013

Kulangad trek - An awesome trek - king experience

Its every trekkers dream to at least explore once the A.M.K range, The sheer look of A.M.K gives you the chill in the spine. !!! Alang, Madan and Kulang forts fall in Igatpuri range and can be seen standing tall from miles on Mumbai - Nasik highway. A.M.K range has always petrified most of the Sahyadri trekkers. Climbing Alang and Madan requires climbing skills due to rock patches on the way while Kulang the easiest of the three offers the highest climb of 4822 ft from sea-level and is one of the longest treks in Sahyadris.

About Kulang : Not much is known about the history of the fort except that they were captured by Peshwas from Mughals in 1760 and British took over the forts from Peshwas after heavy gun battle in 1818. But the number of water cisterns on the top of the fort some of which are huge and deep along with the cave and darbar like structures do indicate that the fort has played important role in the bygone era.

Type : Fort
Region : Igatpuri, Kalsubai range
Height : 4822 feet above sea level
Base village : Ambewadi and Kurungwadi
Time to ascend : 5-6 hrs.
Time to descend : 4-5 hrs.

My Trek : This rainy season of 2013 has been quite fruitful for the trekker in me as I was able to explore quite few trekkers paradise like HCG, Ratangad, Kalsubai and many more places this year. Having been to such places gave me confidence to do treks which are in medium to tough grade and also high in endurance level. So when TMI group decided for a trek to Kulang on 25th - 26th October, I didn't really want to miss out the opportunity. I thought Yes I could do this one as well !!! I have not completely overcome the fear of heights but yes with so many treks completed, I could now withstand the fear and overcome it quickly. Someone in my previous trek said "Dar ke aage jeet hai but mere liye dar hi jeet hai", These words have left a mark, reminding me each time before the trek, not to be complacent but also not to have the fear in me. I had registered for this trek well in advance and waited eagerly for the day to arrive. This trek was going to be of two day trek with one night stay in the caves at the top. The night before our journey day, all I could do was to check the picasa link of trekkers who had been here before to understand how the journey is going to be for me....... fear was back !!!! Today I smile while writing this blog, sitting with ease in my office chair but yes there were anxious moments before the trek.

All packed and geared for two day journey to Kulangad, I left my house for our meeting place at Dadar stn. It was decided to catch the last local train to Kasara at 12.30am. I must have reached half and hour early only to find that there was not a single known face and not only that I couldn't find anyone from TMI. My heart sank again !!! Not that I didn't knew our leader - Vishal but that small comfort of having someone whom you know on trek, could help in overcoming the anxious moments. Slowly after some time, Chintan walked in, I had met him in my previous trek and I felt now I have some known company. And then it was Rids who came in with a backpack equal to her height. I was so delighted to see her that I almost shouted her name !!!, So now that anxious moment of not knowing anyone on the trek was no more. Rids also informed me that Mahen along with his brother, sister-in-law and friend had reached the station long ago and were sitting in farthest corner of the station. So I had few more known faces now. Our group was of 26 people, more than I had expected and I knew now that it was going to be two days of pure fun and pure adventure. Others joined in from different stations as we moved towards Kasara. We reached Kasara by 3 am and were off in two tum-tums to our base village of Ambewadi. On the way we stopped at highway dhaba for midnight hot cuppa which for me had become a routine as had been doing treks almost every weekend but still I do enjoy that hot chai in middle of night on a highway dhaba.

It was 5am when we zipped past the base village to the point which was going to be our starting point of the journey. It was pitch dark with cool breeze blowing, We could only see the outline of the enormous mountain range in moonlight with star lit sky. I don't know when was last time I had looked at the stars and admired them. Our daily life in the city don't allow us this leisure !!! A quick round of introduction followed.

Vishal - our leader suggested that we start our journey without spending any time here as it would help us in climbing early and also we could avoid the hot sun in the afternoon. So with our torches flashing, we started our journey. Initial walk was passing through the paddy fields.With Vishal having informed us that the area was infested with Russell Viper snake, everyone was busy flashing the torch on the grounds just to avoid or stay away from deadly ones. We didn't find any on our entire journey was different story !!!. We lost our way twice but Vishal was able to locate the correct way in no time. After a walk of almost an hour, we halted on rock plateau which was surrounded by paddy fields and also had a stream of running water. This was our halt for morning chores.

By the time we again started our journey, it was early morning with first rays of sun and weather was perfect. We could see the A.M.K range standing tall in front of our eyes. Alang on left, Madan in middle and Kulang on the right. M was showing off the natural hole or needhe carved by the wind in the mountain range. We got the first glance of our destination - Kulang and also could see our path to the top. The first rays of sun turning the entire mountain in golden color was mesmerizing.

Kulang looked massive, huge and challenging !!!!! Vishal also defined the path that we were going to follow. Climbing from the south side close to Madan mountain range and then walk on straight path in middle of the mountain towards North and then take the steps all the way to the top.

The initial walk of almost one hour from the base village passes through landscape and fields after which one has to walk through thick plantation and route is rugged one with steep slopes and stones. We were enjoying our climb slowly, chit chatting along the way. The route also criss crossed dried waterfall path which I am sure would be difficult to navigate during the rainy season with the force of gushing water from the mountains. But today there was no waterfall and we slowly moved our way up.

We must have climbed for another one hour 30 minutes when we reached the first plateau. What a climb it was !!! But having reached this place which was like standing half way into the mountain range. It gave picture perfect view of the landscape surrounding the base village. Nicely carved paddy fields with mountain range overlooking them. We could see the Kalsubai mountain range far away covered in morning fog with first rays of sun falling on them. It was absolute beauty !!!!! Words just cannot describe the beauty of the place.

I read somewhere which is so very true,

" Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are cathedrals where I practice my religion.... I go to them as Humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of my future and with unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment.... my vision strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn !!!!!"

The group resumed the trek after taking a short halt. The path was now traversing through thorny shrubs and tall plants. After every few minutes of walk, there were dried waterfall path where the rocks were placed one above the other to streamline the flow of waterfall. At every interval we would come across opening among the tall plants giving us the beautiful view of the landscape below. After walking for another hour more, we had now reached the northern part of Kulang from where we now had to climb up the muddy trail amidst karvy like shrubs. But before doing the ascend we decided to take another halt under a mango tree. Our halt was much needed break for all to renergise.  We had done almost 3hrs and 30min of walk and climb till now.

After a long break, we resumed our climb from here which was the most trickiest as now we had to climb the steps carved from the rocks. The top of the fort was still illusive and landscapes at the base village was turning smaller and smaller as we gained height. Mahen who was back lead encouraging us to climb slowly. As we climbed one set of steps, the other would be there to welcome us again as we moved on winding path. Not much shade on the way now, the sun was turning out to be slowly sucking our energy.

After every successful climb of set of steps, we would take a small halt to recoup our energy by gulping on electrol water. Electrol water is nothing short of life saver on treks. There are total of 5 major rock cut steps and 2 smaller ones. Slowly we were inching towards the top but looking down, sometimes I would feel the butterflies running in my stomach. At some point I decided to stop looking down and concentrate on climbing up. The karvy like shrubs growing on the mountain slopes are really the saviours for even if one would slip, you wouldn't be deep down in the valley and these shrubs would come handy.

Vishal had asked us to collect whatever dried stems or twigs that we could find as it was our only source of cooking food. We tried collecting as much as we could as we moved up. At one point, I came across the steps which were bit risky for one side was mountain and other side was deep valley but taking support and moving slowly I was able to cover it up. After this patch was our last patch of proper steps to the fort, we had almost done it after another 2hours of climb so we had now covered almost 5 hr and 30 min of climb. wow !!!! I had done it without much fear ......

The feeling of reaching at the top, at the summit was moment of pride for me. So beautiful. !!!! As I slowly climbed the last few steps, I looked down with no fear this time. 4800 feet above sea level and I was at the top. Just before the entrance there are two small caves where one can also stay but we were going to stay in main cave on the plateau.

I walked on the plateau, completely exhausted and drenched in sweat. But the fatigue disappeared with the feeling of being on the top and the mesmerizing view of the surrounding mountain range. It was pure bliss. The first thing that one sees on Kulang is the water cisterns, 8 of them in all, filled with water but that could wait as I wanted to remove the weight from my shoulders.

Cisterns and Alang point at far end
Chota Kulang point

I walked straight to the cave. Though cave was big enough to accommodate more than 30 people but some corners of the cave was filled with water and ground was wet. Luckily close to the entrance there was enough dry space for us to keep our bags and spread our mats or sleeping bags. Outside the sun was blazing hot but inside the cave it was cool and in no time after some food, some of them including me were off to a small afternoon nap while others had started to explore the place.

After taking rest for in afternoon, some of us decided to first explore the right side of the cave which leads to Chota Kulang point. On our way close to the cave, I saw few more water tanks one of which we used for our drinking water requirement as water seemed clean. Even in hot sun the water of these tanks remain cool !!!!

There are two stone structures close to the cave, they were completely destroyed and what remained was just the foundation. It seemed to be like a meeting place or a darbar place where occupants of the fort must have been using to do their strategy meetings or get together. Some remnants indicated some house like structures did exist which could have been used for storing or staying. The path to Chota Kulang point passes through a narrow ridge, on both the sides we could see the beautiful landscape and farms at the base village. Chota Kulang is extension of the same mountain which has been cut by the force of the wind into smaller Kulang and bigger one !!! The view from the farthest point was truly breathtaking !!!



As suggested by Vishal, that for getting better view of sunset we would need to go to other end of the fort, So around 4.30pm we walked  towards the left side of our cave which was viewing point of Alang, Madan and other forts like Ajobagad, Ratangad and Katrabai range.

On the way again, there were few more water cisterns which were used earlier by our group for a swim. Further away there are 3 large water tanks where water from the top of the mountain flows in. A small dam has been built over it as part of water conservation. The entire plateau of Kulang is massive and it can easily take over 30-40 minutes to go from one end to other.

From here, we got some breathtaking view of massive Alang and Madan. We could see the caves of Alang at a distance. Other forts and range that we noticed was Ajobagad, Katrabai range, Ratangad and Bhandardhara lakes surrounding it. It was still time for sunset and the group indulged in photo shoot at this point. One particular thing that we noticed was the entire plateau doesn't have a single tree. Its just plain rocks and small grass everywhere.

As soon as it was time for sunset, clouds started playing spoilsport. Sunset was completely blocked under clouds. But it was again blessings in disguise as we got some amazing clicks of sun hidden behind the clouds. Also in no time the cloud almost engulfed the western side of the plateau and caves. We all were so engrossed in chit chat and photo shoot that we didn't realize that it was getting dark and we had to cook food in traditional way from wood fire.

Reaching our cave, we all settled while Addi and ladies chef in our group started the preparation for knorr soup and pulao. As it got dark in the evening, the temperature dropped and we were feeling chill in the air with everyone who had planned to sleep outside the cave, slowly deciding to change the plan and sleep inside the cave. Our chefs first served us piping hot Knorr soup which was the need of the hour, giving some warmth to the body and it was followed by amazingly tasty pulao. Now it was time to be little cozy and with food cooked on wood fire having created smoke which drived all mosquitoes from the cave, it was best place to sleep now. With nothing else to do, I was asleep in no time in the cave. I must have slept around 9 pm while others gossiped and sang songs. I had the best sound sleep not aware of what was happening around. We all were awake by 6.30 am as it was time to capture sunrise.

Taking our camera we all headed east towards Alang point. The ground was covered with morning dew to the extent that all our shoes and trousers were wet by walking among the grass. As we were moving towards our point, I didn't noticed the wet slippery rocks and here I was counting stars in early morning !!!! It was nastiest fall ever for me... Lucky that I didn't had a slip disc problem. But the pain vanished with beauty that engulfed again. The first rays of Sun on 4822 feet !!!! Just wow.

Basking in first rays we indulged in capturing it in our lens. The first rays of sun slowly covering Alang and Madan mountain range was the moment not to be missed and we were lucky enough to have witnessed the spectacle. After spending some time at the point, we returned back to our cave. We had some more time before we bid adios to the Kulang mountain. Sitting on top of the cave, getting the warmth on the body from the morning sun rays and waiting for morning tea was all that we could ask for. Addi - our chef, once again with helping hands from his wife, Rids, Neepa and others prepared the nicest tea and breakfast of maggie pulao. It was yummy breakfast from all the mummy's in the group. Not to forget the breakfast of Thepla's which were never ending from the time we started our trek, Someone or the other would come up with thepla's.

Also worth mentioning was Krishna Kaya who carried two papayas, all the way to the top, making this trek as fruitilious trek. But on treks, everything taste yummy no matter what !!!

With all packed again, We bid adios to Kulang at 11.30 am. The return journey was more thrilling then I had expected. The rock steps seemed more vertical and valleys more deep. While climbing I couldn't gauge the depth or may be I was not looking at it but it was all in front of the eyes now. Slowly we began our descend, calculatingly putting each foot on the rocks. that thrill I just cant forget. The thrill lasted for over an hour by that time we were all safely back to the place where mango tree stood tall and from here it was again walk among the thorny shrubs and tall plants to the south. Vishal indicated that we would be taking longer route due to one difficult patch on the way so we descended via waterfall route which was full of boulders and huge rocks. The place would really have waterfall falling from massive height of 4800 feet but now it was all dried up. We came across one small stream from a small waterfall which really quenched our thirst and provided us with cold water, it was welcome relief from humidity and blazing sun.

We were back at the starting point of our trek by 2.30 pm and had descended in around 3 hr and 30 min which was not bad by any standards. But it was not all as we now had to walk to the base village which was 4 kms away. Oh boy !!! Ambewadi village seemed like mirage, we could see the village but just couldn't push that last leg of our journey in hot sun. Finally around 3.30 pm we stepped in the village. What welcomed us was the water tank almost 3-4 stories high was getting cleaned so water was pumped out which served as waterfall for us. Standing under the falling water was all that one could ask for after such a trek. Walking to the house of one of the villagers where our lunch was ready. Spicy sabji with dal and rice was best lunch ever. We all had successfully completed one hell of a memorable trek to Kulangad, words cannot be expressed for this trek it can only be experienced. It was by far my best trek ever. On our return journey, Vishal arranged for a tempo ride back to Kasara which was a joy ride and from there we took the train journey back home.

This was one memorable trek which I would remember for long. Blogged down the experience so that memories would come fresh each time I read about it. Hopefully come back again some other time to explore and experience the same thrill and fun again. I bow to the mighty Sahyadri mountains for getting me one more feather in my trekking cap.

I close with a quote from the famous movie "The way - 2010" where Martin Sheen's son tells him                                                      "You don't choose a life Dad, you live it"

(Pics have been sourced from everyone who was on this trek.....Thank you contributors)

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