Saturday, August 10, 2013

Dudhsagar waterfalls - Gigantic & Stunningly beautiful gift of nature in lap of Sahyadris

My treks have taken me to places that I could never have dreamed before. Getting immersed in the beauty that nature have to offer is something every one longs for. This year with the start of monsoon, I had decided to visit places that were trekker's paradise and one's I had not been before. My trek journey had already taken me to Harishchandragad, Kalsubai peak, Avchitgad and now it was time for yet another stunningly beautiful place near Goa called Dudhsagar waterfalls. As soon as plan to visit Dudhsagar was organised by TMI group, the reservation was full in no time. This was in month of June. Train tickets from Pune to Goa and back were booked. We had almost a two month wait before D-Day arrives. We even created a secret group of people visiting Dudhsagar on facebook, discussing and debating how to make it one of the memorable trek, after all it was one of the most coveted place everyone was longing to visit.

About Dudhsagar waterfall : The name literally translates as Sea of Milk and in every way it stands by its name. Its a four tiered waterfall on Goa & Karnataka state border. Located on Mandovi river in middle of dense Bhagwan Mahavir wild life sanctuary. Its around 60kms from Panaji city by road and 11kms from Kullem in South Goa. Dudhsagar is one of the most exquisite falls and 227th in the world at 310m or fifth tallest in India. The water plummets over 1000 feet's in large volumes in rainy season creating one of the most spectacular phenomenon in Goa. As the cascading waterfall resembles like flowing milk hence the name "Dudhsagar".

Legend behind the fall : Legend has it that a beautiful princess lived in a palace in the forest. She loved and enjoyed bathing in a lake nearby and used to drink sweetened milk from her golden jug. One day while she was enjoying her jug of milk, she found herself being watched by a prince, who was standing amongst the trees. Red with embarrassment at her inadequate bathing attire, she poured the jug of milk in front of him to form a impoverished curtain to hide her body while her maids rushed to cover her body. Its is this sweetened milk they say, which cascades down the mountain slopes as Dudhsagar falls to this day as tribute to the virtue and modesty of the princess.

About my trek : After registering for the trek with TMI in June, wait of two months was killing, Having read about the beauty of the place and viewed pics online and then having to wait for the day when we would actually start our journey to get immersed in the beauty of the place was too hard to roll by. Our journey was meticulously planned by Manoj our leader from TMI. Finally the day arrived 3rd August 2013. It was decided to gather at Pune station for our overnight journey to legendary Dudhsagar by Goa express. Such was my excitement that I couldn't get sleep night before.At 7am I was standing at Dadar station for a train to Pune, All geared up, bags packed to the brim, camera ready to capture the beauty that till now I had only seen on Internet.

The group lead by Manoj arrived by 13.00hrs at Pune by Koyna express while due to some work, I had reached much earlier. Our train - Goa express was at 16.30 from Pune hence we had ample of time. After quick lunch, group settled on the station for game of Mafioso with narrator being Jaal. Its game of suspense, allegation, accusation and witty wickedly types, all so engrossed in the game with so much enthusiasm in the air that everyone on the station would stop by the group to see what was happening. Lucky we that we were not evacuated by the Police !!!!!

Our train arrived on time and whistling with excitement we all settled in the train for overnight journey. Train passed through some lush green meadows, forest and deep valleys near Satara. Some group members were catching with some sleep, others back with game of Mafia while Saroj, Adarsh, me and some other members shared our experience and talked our time out. At around 8pm, Manoj called for group meet and were informed that we would be getting down at Dudhsagar where practically train stops only for 30 secs to a minute, Its technical halt. We were in all 55 and getting down in 30 sec was going to be a task in itself, Also there would be others as well who would be getting down at same place. We decided to divide in group of 11 and would get down from different doors. That was going to be interesting. After our dinner, we decided to catch some sleep as it was going to be hectic tomorrow.

We all were awake by 3am, we were getting close to our destination. Dudhsagar lies between Castle rock and Kulem station. From Castle rock its 14kms and from Kulem its 11kms. Everyone wanting to go to Dudhsagar, gets down at Castle rock and take night halt on station and starts 14kms journey towards Dudhsagar via walk on railway tracks or via jungle route. At Castle rock station, its was mad rush with almost 2000 people already gathered and more got down from our train, But we were going to take our chance and get down in that 30 seconds technical halt. It had also started raining heavily now and we were in dense forest area. Between Castle rock and Dudhsagar, there are total of 10 tunnels and one gets down after 10th one. Also one needs to take care that there is no station platform but one needs to get down on side of the tracks. It was going to be a task !!! But in meanwhile Manoj our leader had arranged hot ....piping hot upma packed in containers from Castle rock station. It was best breakfast at 3am, with train passing through some dense forest and with heavy rains and chill in the air. Upma turned out to be awesome. Now as we neared our destination, there was confusion with which side to get down as on one side was mountains and other side was valleys. It was pitch dark outside and to top it up, it was raining heavily. As train stopped, everyone jumped from left door while I took chance on right as there was enough space to get down which I could see with my torch light. But I think its always better to get down from right hand side door at Dudhsagar because there is enough open space as compared to the left side.

There is one cabin close to the tracks which was used as shelter from rains by others, we also joined them. We now had to wait here till first rays of sun. As rains stopped, we sat on tracks but we could hear the sound of waterfall close by. It was pitch dark and only source of light was our torch we were carrying. Main waterfall is around 1km from this place. Around 5.45am we had our group introduction and then we marched towards our destination.

Finally here it was, As we stood in front of majestic waterfall, mesmerised by its beauty, drenched completely from the pouring rain, First view and it had taken us to different level of happiness. The wait for two months and the train journey from Mumbai to Pune to here was all okay, anyday, for this, anyday !!!!!!

I was awestruck. Exquisite sight. Clouds covering and slowly uncovering the zenith of the waterfall. It was massive, It was gigantic and it was something that I couldn't lay my eyes off. I didn't want to lay my eyes off.I stood there watching. I wanted to get immersed in its beauty, I stood there with my open arms !!!!

There are two cabins constructed along the side of the tracks. One cabin provides perfect view of the waterfall and shelter from the pouring rain while other provides perfect view of the deep valley and surrounding forests and cloud covered mountains. There is also a small canteen which provides hot tea and breakfast. One can also do camping in some space outside of the cabin, its available on first come first serve basis. It was occupied by group of people from Bangalore. They had pitched their tents and stayed overnight.We stayed at the waterfalls for over 3hrs, enjoying the beauty the place had to offer. We then decided to move towards Kulem which was around 11kms and it was going to be a walk on the railway tracks.

There are total of 10tunnels before the waterfall while coming from Castle rock and 6tunnels after the waterfall towards Kulem. Our estimate was to cover the Kulem - 11km walk within 3hrs. We walked on the tracks in small groups, clicking pictures and enjoying the rains. Torch coming in handy when we were inside the dark tunnels.

Around 30minutes from the main waterfall towards Kulem, we came across two spots which gave the clear and most spectacular view of the tiered waterfall with railway bridge over it. Now it was a wait for a train to pass over to get that one famous picture of train on the bridge and waterfall behind. Rains were pouring in and out but that didn't deter us as we waited to capture the moment and replicate the famous picture which has bought us all here. Lucky we,as in around 15 minutes we got the chance as one express train came from Kulem and we waited with our cameras ready for the train to pass over the bridge and then in few minutes as the train engine rolled over the bridge, there was clicks in the air........ Yes we had captured the moment, we had replicated the famous picture of the train rolling on the bridge with waterfall in the background.

I along with some group members decided to move ahead while some waited behind. We had all the time in the world as our train back to Pune was at 16.30 from Kulem. As we walked slowly on the tracks, it was becoming clear that walk was not going to be easy on the tracks with stones hitting the feet, making it very uncomfortable. But we were undeterred, enjoying the forest and numerous waterfalls on the way. The gap between our groups widened with some moving fast while some making it slowly. The walk on the tracks was challenging physically as we moved ahead. It was now Shreya, Saroj and me together, while Manoj and some others had moved ahead. Few others were still behind us.

On our way, we came across quite few groups, enjoying the waterfalls on the way but also some indulged in drinking alcohol. Not that it was restricted but it was too dangerous to be walking on tracks in toxicating state when the trains do pass every couple of hrs. As we kept walking, we did see landslide which has occurred may be few days back. Mud and trees from nearby hill were cleared from the tracks but debris were still lying on the sides of the track. My first sighting ever !!!!!

As we were nearing Sonalium station after a walk of around one hour, we could see from far that a goods train was standing on one track for another train to pass by on other and half of our group members running to climb on it. We were too too far to be able to run and catch the train. We knew we had missed the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to travel in goods train. Shreya was most disappointed of the lot.... She was not willing to come to terms that we had missed such an opportunity.... I couldn't control my laughter.Checking at Sonalium station cabin, they said other train would be in next two hours.

We decided to walk ahead as there was no point of waiting for another train in next two hours. As moved more into the Goa part of the dense forest, rains became more tropical types, It rained for few minutes very heavily and in few minutes sun was shinning again. As we kept walking on tracks in middle of forest, we could hear a train coming but we weren't sure if this was towards the side we were going or from their. Sounds can be quite deceptive in middle of dense forest. Shreya was all gung ho that if its going towards Kulem she was going to stop it and take a ride that we all wanted so dearly. After couple of minutes, sound become more intense and finally from the dense forest emerged train engine. The driver stopped the train engine as it moved past us. Shreya jumped with excitement and then slowly Rachana, Yashwanth emerged from behind, the rest of our group was on that engine. We climbed on it and were off to Kulem on a ride of a lifetime - Train engine ride.

We reached Kulem by 12.30pm, it seems the entire crowd on Kulem was trekkers returning from Dudhsagar. We changed and settled on station platform. Tea, samosa and then our lunch of Biryani made from locally grown rice was most cherished food on the station. By time it was 16.30 for our train to arrive, the station was full of people who had come to visit Dudhsagar. We boarded Goa express for Pune which again would be going past Dudhsagar and we would again have one last chance of bidding adieu to nature's marvel. The train got packed at Dudhsagar but lucky we that we had our reservations. Reached Pune at 4am and then reached Mumbai by bus.

As I sat to write this blog, I am short of words to describe what I have experienced, Hence If I have not done justice of describing completely then pack your bags, head towards her before monsoon season ends - enjoy struggle and let her get you drenched and fall in love with her all over again.

(Pics have been sourced from albums of Rachana Shah, Yashwanth Shetty, Paresh Soni and others in same trek)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kalsubai peak - Mt Everest of Sahyadris

After my first trek of the season at Harishchandragad, I had adrenaline rush to do another trek for which I had registered month in advance, It was highest point in Maharashtra at 5400 feet - Kalsubai peak. Honestly till last year this trek was never or last on my list. I was not confident that I would ever be able to successfully do it. But after HCG trek I had sudden increase in my confidence and was all excited for this upcoming trek and finally the D-Day arrived. It was Saturday 13th July when TMI group decided to take a total of whopping 90+ trekkers to highest peak in Sahyadris mountain range. It was going to be a experience of a lifetime and add to the spice was heavy rainfall that Mumbai witnessed a day before.

About Kalsubai peak : The everest of Sahyadris, Kalsubai is the highest peak of the mountain range of Sahyadris at 1646meters (5400 feet). Its part of Kalsubai Harishchandragad wildlife sanctuary which spreads from Kalsubai to Harishchandragad. There are more than one route to reach the peak summit however ladder route with Bari village as base is the most popular route. Bari can be reached from Mumbai - Nasik route and then taking a left for Bhandardhara. Its 8kms before Bhandardhara.Other route being from Indorey village which is steeper, tougher climb and not very popular among trekkers. One a clear day one can see to the north, mountain ranges like Ramsej, Brahmagiri, Anjaneri, Ghargad, Tringalwadi, to the east we can see Aundha, Vishramgad,Bitangad, to the west its the famous sisters Alang, Malang, Kulang and to the south its Prabhargad, Harishchandragad and south west its Ratangad.

Legend of Kalsubai : According to the legend, Kalsu was household who worked on one condition that she should not be asked to clean pots and sweep, however when she was forced to do it, she did it and then climbed the peak and stayed there till her death !!!!!. A temple dedicated to Goddess Kalsubai is built at the peak and is worshipped by locals. A traditional pooja is performed at the summit temple every Tuesday and Thursday by local priest. On occasion of Navratri, its a festive atmosphere as many people come to worship at the summit and Fair is organised during the nine days of Navratri.

My adventurous trek : It was Saturday night, meeting place Pritam Hotel near Dadar station east.It was from here that our journey to explore (not capture !!) the highest mountain peak started around 11.30pm. Two buses and 90+ all charged up trekkers, many first timers, some repeaters. Our team lead by Manoj Kalwar and ably supported by Rachana, Swapnil, Sai, Puneet, Nishant. We picked some of group members from Thane and had our first midnight tea / coffee at Highway Dhaba near Kasara ghat. Hot brewing cuppa in middle of night at highway dhaba and supported by rainy atmosphere, Awesome !!!!!!!. We must have reached Bari - base village around 4.30am, it was pitch dark as we parked our buses outside the village. It was drizzling on and off. We still had few hours before we start our journey so few decided to grab some sleep in the bus while most of them were loitering around on the road, waiting for first rays of sun, excited to reach the top of summit (5400feet !!!!)

At around 6am, We started our journey by entering the base village of Bari, we could see first line of mountain range covered with fog, it was our destination that we all were here for. First glance of sleepy Bari village with paddy fields, small houses, streams of water, some waterfalls from top of the mountains, it was pure bliss, serene atmosphere, a perfect surroundings one would always love to wake up every morning !!!!

Dumping our bags or things we were carrying extra in one villagers house, we all gathered at temple compound at the village bari. The sight of village ladies filling water from hand pumps and carrying it home, small shops and houses in village giving first glance of life in villages. We had our breakfast of poha and hot tea, it was all prepared at villagers house, arrangements made by TMI. Now it was time for introduction round and do's and don'ts before we start our journey. It was interesting to know the trekking experience of everyone and broad spectrum of industries that we all belong to. Manoj our leader informed that trek was uphill climb and could take 3-4hrs climb and 2-3hrs descend.

Our journey now begin, passing through paddy fields and crossing stream with gushing water from mountain top. Initial climb was through muddy path and it was little slippery as well due to overnight rains. Luckily it was not raining today. After a climb of around 20minutes we came across temple of Kalsubai, which was the base temple at machi. Here we got the first glance of Diety Kalsubai.

Everyone climbing at their own pace, some experienced trekkers moved much faster while some first timers were slow in their climb. Sai, Nishant, Swapnil and Rachana our leaders moving along with small groups while Manoj leading the group from front and Puneet - our backlead ensuring that no one was left behind. On the way we came across one small hut or I would say shop selling tea. lime water and biscuits, One can only imagine the important role they play in our journey to the summit. Place where one can sit and catch breathe, have tea, biscuits, or lime water, reenergise oneself and move up to the destination. After a climb of around 1hr we reached first plateau, view from here of mountains covered with fogs and waterfalls was mesmerising. We had some rest for sometime with group indulging in photo session at this point.

From here I could only see ladders and railings and we had a huge mountain to climb ..... I literally had goose bumps !!!!!!!  All the way I was just wondering will I be able to complete this trek !!!!! and heart in hearts I was trying to motivate myself that Yes I could and Yes I will.. Again this was best season to the trek as its one trek where one can only find water at the top of the summit and at base village but in between there is no source of water and it would be really dehydrating to do this trek in other seasons.

There are total of four ladders on the route and then there are carved steps on the rocks with railings on the side, this really make the route quite safe and easy ..... EASY is the word I really wouldn't have used when I was climbing but yes today after completing the trek and as I write this blog I had change of opinion !!!! We climbed the ladders slowly, taking calculative steps, ensuring one doesn't become a casualty. At times we had to stop on the way as there would be long queue at certain points where it was important to climb slowly and also along with us there were other groups as well. But all ensured that we had fun while going up. Photo session at every point where we stopped. We crossed around three plateaus and three ladders before we reached the final plateau.

We didn't experience rains and it was at times humid but as we moved up, climate was changing and it was getting windy and chilly. On the way, we came across small streams of water gushing down from the top of mountains and it was icy cold. Once we reached third or fourth plateau, clouds had started playing hide and seek. From here we had first glance of last ladder and peak Kalsubai ......... It was our destination......We were at 5400 feet and we had almost reached the top.

Nandini and her group, Sai, Swapnil, Adarsh, Nishant... I am sure I missed names of so many who were with us and we had gala time climbing up.

Just before the last ladder, there was small hut or a shop where one could get hot kanda bhajia, tea and there was small well which was probably the only source of water in entire journey. As we had to climb last leg of our journey and then move down so didn't wait to eat or for hot cuppa. Also we were running behind scheduled as we had taken more then 4hrs to climb and Manoj was getting desperate... Are you reading .....LOL

The last ladder was only way to go up and come down hence there was bottleneck with few trying to come down and many waiting to climb up. Finally after wait of over 30minutes we finally got the chance to climb up the ladder. It was "THE MOMENT"....... I had never imagined that I would ever do this trek initially when I started trekking few years back and today I was at standing at highest point in Sahyadri mountain range.

It was cloudy, it was chilly and to top it up it started raining heavily now !!!! Rain drops hitting us like someone was throwing small stones at you. At the peak there is small temple of Deity Kalsubai and I am sure view from the top would be amazing in non rainy season but all we could see was fog and fog around us.... We were literally standing in clouds. I was carrying incense stick and coconut offering which I offered at temple, small temple which didn't have space for more than 5people. Standing here it really gave first timer like me a sense of achievement and a feather in my trekking history of being able to summit this highest peak in Sahyadris. In meanwhile it was getting more and more cold as we stood at the peak, fingers getting numb, we were all shivering but the it was joy of reaching at the top and experiencing the moment of a lifetime that was holding us back...... Sheetal one of co trekker was literally in demand as she had carried "Bhakarwadi packet" all the way to the top and group members pounced to get a piece !!!!!! Moments to remember .......hahaha

It was now time for descend but again due to bottleneck at the ladder we waited for almost 30minutes before we got chance to climb down. It was thrilling moment for some as it was little difficult to climb down and to top it up there was rains and winds but touchwood we all climbed down safely. We started our descend without wasting much time as only thing that was on mind now was "Lunch" waiting for us at base village. It took around 2hrs to reach back the base village - Bari. We had our lunch - which as usual tastes the best after such a wonderful trek. Looking back I can only imagine how difficult this trek would have been if those railings and ladders were not put in place. All in all it was experience that would be cherished by one and all for years to come.

Here again I say "AU REVOIR" with moments to cherish and would be back next time with yet another feather in my TREKKING CAP. I bow to mighty Sahyadris for experience that would be remembered for years to come...