Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kothaligad (Peth fort) trek - Simple yet enchanting

" Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are cathedrals where I practise 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 !!!!!"

So very true .............

In this post I am going to take you to my journey at Kothaligad - Peth fort trek. Few words to describe the trek  is Its "SIMPLE YET ENCHANTING". 

Kothaligad - Peth fort :- A relatively smaller cousin of forts (1500 fts) as compared to others forts in Sahyadri range. Base village is called Peth village and hence the name Peth fort. Its not a fort but sort of watch tower built by Marathas to keep an eye on the Mawal regions and surrounding areas. There is small temple and large cave at the base of the funnel shaped fort. It has a water storage tank and spiral and steep steps inside the funnel shaped fort to reach the top. One cannot stop but appreciate the engineering marvel of the engineers who built the structure when there was no modern tools like we have now.

My Trek :  It was yet another Sunday and it was yet another trek, another place for me to explore. Dr Pradhan from Wanderlust decided to capture Peth Fort and here I was joining them to be a part of the adventure. Meeting place was decided at Neral station at sharp 8.30am on the east side. For the first time I came to know how people could commute from far away places like Kasara, Karjat or Khopoli to main city..... Hell one way commute takes 2-3hrs !!!!!! I had to take 4.56am train from Borivali to reach the destination on time. As our group motto " Miss the train and you miss the trek" as no matter what our position is we start our return journey at 2pm in order for everyone in the trek to reach home safely on time. Our group Wanderlust gathered at Neral station by 8.30am. Dr Pradhan had already made arrangement for two large cousins of our Auto rickshaw (Tum-Tum's) which would carry us to the base village Ambivali from where we would start our trek to capture Kothaligad. Tum -Tum ride was far from smooth as each carrying 11 person each and with rains in the area having made the road travel a real bumpy ride. But the plus point of my journey was sitting close to the driver of Tumtum and experiencing the thrill of travelling first hand. The climate adding the spice with lite rain drizzles and the entire area in lush greenery. Urbanisation has not yet made in roads in this region so one still comes across small villages and rice paddy fields on the way. The rain waters flowing down from the mountains far away having created numerous rivulets on the way. It was fun filled bumpy ride of almost one hour before we reached our base village. AMBIVALI

After a quick round of introductions and do's and don'ts we all marched first to the base village of Peth. It a clearly marked muddy road to the village with slow ascend. Rains had truly transformed the area in green corridor, we had hardly walked for few minutes and we came across amazing waterfall with water gushing down in full force. 

The noise of water flowing down in full force was enchanting and sight nothing less than spectacular. Excited we were. We had quite a few first time trekkers in the group and it was nice to see that there was lot of awareness among people to do trekking and exploring nature rather than exploiting it.The walk to Peth village is like driving through any ghats, all twist and turns.The walk through the muddy and rocky path does take the breath out of you. At each turn you would hope and wish for a flat path but end of turn shows you another uphill. The entire path is up...up and and above. Finally after a climb of more than one hr we could see flat land. We managed to reach the plateau from where we could see our destination clearly. 

The funnel or nipple shaped fort. The first part of our journey was complete in little more than 60 minutes. The wind was now blowing in full force and the since being at a height. The sight of surrounding region was absolutely stunning, green paddy fields and mountains with waterfalls and our destination in clouds !!!!! It was wow place.... The villagers had created small huts on the way which was like a resting place for trekkers, with village kids selling corn, lime juice and pet water bottles. I just felt like just sitting and watching the mountains with waterfalls from it and clouds hovering over it. What a sight it was ...............

Having taken a few minutes of rest and tried our hands on photo shoots we all moved ahead. The village of Peth was now stone throw away. The interesting thing about this trek was its proximity to base village of Ambivali and Peth,due to which one could easily find lunch and some snacks in the local house come hotels. The rains had now started pouring heavily and we had to remove our windcheaters to protect from wind and rains. We moved past some small and unique huts, interesting to see that these villagers had utilised even a small patch of land to cultivate something for their own use. 

It was now time for the real trek, climbing the muddy and rocky path to the top. We climbed up as water kept gushing down due to rains now pouring heavily. It was nice to see lot of trekkers coming down while equal number of them going up including our group of 21. Each trekker coming down trying to motivate the one going up that its a easy climb and also which patch is little risky and requires extra precautions. Reaching half way at the top we could see Ratangad fort with 4-5 waterfalls, Ratangad trek- again one of the must do treks in the region. We were now reaching for the clouds as we inched higher we could see our destination more clearly but covered in rain clouds. Just before the main steps which leads to the caves there is a slippery patch of rocks where one needs to be extra careful as one slip and one can easily see himself down by 20feet but we did have the support of water pipes laid  on the way. It was a easy climb of around 2hrs 30minutes from the base and we were now at the caves.

The caves is huge and can easily accommodate around 30-40 people with one group already occupying it. They had made it a base for cooking food and sleeping as they had done overnight trek to the top of the fort. From the side of the pinnacle one could come to a small patch of flat land which gives a clear view of Mawal region and surrounding areas. It was a sight nothing less than creatively crafted dream sequence by nature.It was so windy that one had to actually hold one another for fear of being swept away. There lay a small cannon and water tank which stored rain water. it was amazing as within no time we were standing in rain clouds and it was difficult to even view 10meters away with heavy winds. 
Our group decided to explore the top of the fort by climbing the steps made from within the funnel shaped fort while I decided to stay on the flat land and enjoy what I do best during treks, try my hands on photography. 

Since it had started raining heavily now, we decided to make ourselves comfortable in the caves which was now getting overcrowded due to heavy rains and wind. It was nice to get a dry place where we all had our packed lunch. One can easily make this cave a night halt and do star grazing on a clear night if one can carry all the equipments to the top.

After resting for sometime, we all decided to move back as it was already past 2pm. Our climb down was not tough but one had to actually take calculative steps as rocks on the path were slippery and loose. We had one casualty with one of our trek member slipping on the rocks and getting hurt but luckily it was not serious.It was little tough for first timers but we managed to complete the trek in 5hrs. It was simple trek by any standard but again for me it was one more place captured in my heart and in my lens. It was a beautiful experience which was accompanied by beautiful weather. 

On watching the small villages on the way, one could wonder why anyone could stay at such heights, so far away from actual civilization and you will have no answers. But I am sure this villagers do !!! walking through the mountainous forest is as close as one can get to the nature and enjoy the greenery. The highlight of the trek was standing in the clouds with heavy rains and strong winds and of course our very own Tum Tum ride which was nothing less than thrilling. I hope to continue exploring as many places as possible in Monsoons and then plan to come back to same places in winters to enjoy a completely different weather and the different look of the place...... Till then adios !!!!!!!!!!!!! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Naneghat - A walk in clouds of Heaven

After my last trip to Matheran, I was bitten with trekking bug and had planned next couple of Sundays exclusively for trekking to different places, In monsoons the Sahyadri mountain range becomes trekkers paradise and each place is like a heaven in clouds, lush green and some amazingly beautiful waterfalls and I really didn't want to miss any opportunity. One such place worth a visit in Monsoons is Naneghat - Also known as Naneghat caves. So as soon as our group BACKPACK decided to go to Naneghat. I was first one to enroll.

Naneghat : As the name suggest it means "Coin for Nane" and "Pass or road for Ghat".Its one the oldest know "Toll Road" used right from Satavahana (200 BCE - 190 CE). The route was extensively used as trade route connecting Junnar in Pune district to Kalyan. Once you climb through the forest, one will reach the base of pinnacle which is called " Nanacha Angatha" meaning "Nana's thumb" as the pinnacle looks like a thumb. From this base, 2 meter wide pass connects the plateau called "Naneghatachi Nali" .There still exist a pot which was used to collect toll from the traders passing through the route.Since those times villagers around the place still use the route to travel from Deccan plateau to Konkan and of course its a famous monsoon trek for trekkers like me and you.The nearest village is Vaishakhare on Ahmednagar rd which is approx 2kms from the main gates.

My trek: The day was decided for the trek on 29th July - Sunday and meeting place was Dadar east at the gates of Swaminarayan temple at 5.30am. Mumbai suffering from global warming and El nino effects on rain, had very scant rain this year but on the day of our trek in the morning it was good omen for it had started raining and I was completely wet waiting for my group to gather. But no regrets with hot cuppa of tea in the rains is any day welcome and especially when its wee hours of night or early morning.With the Backpack group all gathered by 6am, we all hopped into our bus for destination - Naneghat which lies on way from Kalyan - Murbad road to Ahmednagar or more close Malshej ghat. We reached Naneghat gates by 9.00am and it was so blissfull. lush greenery everywhere we looked, light drizzles and our destination covered in clouds. After a quick breakfast of Poha and cup of tea we all gathered for a quick round of self introductions.A group of 22 which included 3 Australian friends with two leaders Mayur and Akshay.

Our groups custom of saying a clarion call by our leader "Jai Shivaji Jai Bhawani" - kinda thanking Shivaji our very own leader who built most of the forts in Sahyadris and because of whom we as trekkers are now able to explore such places, We all marched to capture one more destination - Naneghat.

First 30minutes was a simple walk on a plateau passing through couple of streams with cold water gushing through it. We could now see our destination clearly but at times getting covered again by rain clouds. Rains had started pouring more heavily now. Slowly marching forward with occasional stop for rest, the entire group was all excited with right weather and above all the entire surrounding place passing through some dense teak wood forest and sound of nearby waterfall.

After a walk of around 40-50minutes one comes across a winding and slow ascend road leading to the top with small and some large rocks and water streaming down from the mountains at the top. The roads is clearly marked and very less chance of someone loosing on the way. Reaching half way we stopped for some rest at a place from where we could see the entire surrounding region so lush green and beautiful and looking top we could now see that we were so close to our destination in the clouds. It was sight I could never forget. What a beauty...... I would only say one thing that if one is a trekker, then he has to do this trek specially in Monsoons. Its just a walk in clouds of Heaven !!!!!!

We continued our march forward with everyone cracking jokes and laughing, making our climb even more fun filled. Occasionally motivating group members who were first timers, who kept asking how long is our climb now !!! After a climb of almost 3hrs we came across a tank carved out of rocks for storing water, we stopped there again for everyone to gather. Looking at the tank one could only think that how the rulers of ancient time have taken efforts to build a tank on the route to store water for the traders passing through the path.

 Our destination was very close now as we could see the first and biggest cave of Naneghat which was our destination. We were now literally walking in the clouds as couldn't even see something which was 100 meters away. It was a trek of over 3hrs and 30min when we all finally managed to reach the top - Naneghat caves. We were thrilled to see ourselves standing in the clouds. The view from the top was just indescribable !!!!! whoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaa.

The main cave at the top can easily accommodate 50 people and two other smaller caves right opposite to main cave can accommodate around 10 people each. The main cave has some inscriptions in Brahmi scripts which is gradually getting destroyed unless our government takes some steps to preserve the heritage. The main cave is now closed after 3pm and overnight stay in the cave is also not allowed but its one cave which is cleaned and maintained by locals, one can sit and relax, have food and also tea which is made available by local villagers. There exist a water storage tanks close by which has potable water.

After relaxing for around 30-40min and also having our packed lunch, we decided to explore the place before our descend down. There is rock cut path next to the caves, on climbing it, I was actually in for a surprise. there lie a motorable road from Junnar side, so one can actually drive all the way to the caves from Junnar. The pot which used to collect the "Gold coin or the toll" from the traders in ancient times still stands firm. The view of the mountains covered with clouds was just magnificent on the Junnar side. We decided to climb to the plateau on top of the caves, though it seemed to be little tough and slippery but we did manage it. Once at the top, we could barely manage to stand due to strong winds and rain drizzles. We had to hold one another in fear of being swept away by the winds.From the top the view of the entire region of Deccan, Junnar & nearby peaks was something that just cannot be described, It was simply mind blowing. We sat for sometime with everyone doing  photoshoot. We were all thrilled to have completed half of our trek successfully with everyone praising the place was nothing less than A walk in the clouds of Heaven.

We all decided to move back and start the descend as it was getting darker even though it was only 2.30pm and it was now raining heavily. We slowly started the descend but it was tough for some first timers in the group due to loose and slippery rocks. It took almost another 3hrs 30min for us to reach back to the main gates of Naneghat caves where our bus was ready to take us back home. It wasn't a tough trek but the time to climb up and down was what makes this trek a medium grade. But everyone was excited to have done it successfully with smile on every one's face for MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. For me I felt it was the best trek I have ever done so far and would certainly love to comeback especially in Monsoons again, just to fall in LOVE with this place again.