Sunday, August 11, 2013

Avchitgad - Simple trek in dense forest

I am writing this blog may be after one month of my visit but place and experience is still fresh in my mind. Also in monsoons, Sahyadri mountains has completely different face and where ever you go, its always going be lush greenery, dense forest, flora & fauna and to top it all experience of being on top of clouds. After Kalsubai, I wanted to do some trek which would be easy in grade and endurance. With TMI group organising easy trek to Avchitgad near Roha on Saturday, this best suited me as would get time to relax on Sundays.

About Avchitgad : This fort is located near Roha in Raigad district in Sahyadri mountain range. There are different routes to go to Avchitgad but the best and most common of them is from the base village of Medha. History says that this fort was built by Shilahar kings and subsequently used by Nizams of Ahmednagar. Our Maratha king Shivaji is also said to have reconstructed the fort. The work was carried out in hurry and hence the name Avchit - means hurry and gad - means fort. The fort was won over by British from Peshwas in 1818. The approximate height of the fort is 977feet, its not a huge fort but still worth a visit. From atop of the fort one can see neighbouring forts of Telbaila, Sarasgad, Dhangad, Sudhagad, Raigad and Savashnagad.  The fort has dodecagonal shaped cistern and 6 other small cisterns on the fort. A temple dedicated to Pingalsai goddess and Lord Shiva is situated at the top.

How to visit : There are 3 routes to Avchitgad, Pengalsai, Medha and Padam villages, all are accessible from Roha by bus and shared tum-tums. 1) Pengalsai village is around 5kms from Roha and from here it takes one hr to reach the top. 2) Medha village is 7.5kms from Mumbai - Roha highway and it takes one hr to reach at the top. 3) Padam village: There is old factory beyond which is the way to the top. It takes 2hrs to reach the southern entrance of the fort.

About my Trek : We started for this trek from Dadar east near Pritam hotel at 6am. It was Saturday and it was raining cats and dogs. More heavily it rained more we were determined to go on the trek. It was a small group of around 30. As our bus picked up people from Chembur, Deonar and moved on Mumbai - Goa highway, it seemed clear that reaching the our base village was going to be a task as roads were filled with potholes and also it seems that everyone in Mumbai was following us on the Goa route, top it up some heavy rains. I had done last night shift at work on Friday and so was eager to catch up some sleep, With others in the group playing Mafia, I was off to sleep in no time. I woke up when we stopped for breakfast in a typical Keralite hotel serving one of the best misal pav - Hotel Konkan Palace. Funny listings on the menu of this hotel was its "SOULKADI" "SWEAT LASSI" "SPECIAL TEE"" NES COFFEE"... Lol. I didn't want to try any of these nor i think any one tried anything else. Manoj our leader on the trek was a worried lot. It was already 11.30am, our expected time to reach base village but due to road condition and slow moving traffic we still had another 1hr 30min more to reach the base.

Finally after another two hours, we reached Medha base village which lies on Roha - Nagothane road. It was around 1.30pm when we finally got down from the bus. It took 7hrs for us to reach this place ... whoops !!!!!

Serene forest surroundings, mountains covered with clouds and sleepy little village - such surreal atmosphere immediately charged us all and we were ready for the trek. Gathering in a school compound, we had our customary introduction round. Amidst our group was a tiny todd - Reeva, who not only introduced herself but also introduced her parents and also their profession. Chirpy little Reeva.

Manoj also got one of the local villagers as our guide. At the start of trek, we were welcomed by beautiful waterfall. Its was going to be easy trek as maximum time one can take to reach up was 2hrs. There are two wells near the base and road to the top is right behind the well. The fort is surrounded by some thick forest and one has to climb up through this dense forest. From the base itself, we encountered some dense and thick vegetation. we literally had to make our way through muddy path with trees and shrubs with sharp thorns. Luckily I was wearing full sleeves Tshirt and also covered with windcheater. While ascending, the fort is always to your right and route goes through the forest on the neighbouring mountains. We came across a plateau after some climb which gave scenic view of paddy fields at Medha village. After some more climb we reached a col where our guide informed that road to the left leads to a tribal village while one to the right would lead us to our destination. Our youngest and smallest trekker - Reeva was most energetic, she wanted to climb first and would want everyone to stop so that she can lead the way. In her quest to be first, she was most of the times climbing with everyone else than her parents !!!!!

On the way as we followed our guide, we came across a dead end, due to landslide the road leading to the fort was blocked. Back tracking we followed another route and finally we reached the main entrance of the fort in 1hr and 30min. The entrance was in pretty good condition and on the fortified wall on the left, close to the entrance lies a stone carved with some animal just like UNICORN. As we moved in to explore the fort, first thing that we came across was water cistern and clouds covered scenic view of opposite mountains. We spend some time here.

Moving forward, we reached the buruj, from here one can get panoramic view of the entire region. It was fantastic. We also came across a canon which though was lying in neglected state but sure had a rich past. Manoj - our leader decided this place to be our resting place for having packed lunch before we start our descend.

Our guide suggested that we see other attractions of the fort, while everyone decided to stay, Kaustubh, Kalpana and me decided to check out the fort. On other side of the fort lies a man made pond. It was huge pond but water I am sure was not potable. Moving ahead we came across a small Shiv temple which had some neatly carved stones of Lord Ganesh. Behind the temple there was seven tanks called "Saptakund". Designed in such a way that overflowing water from the top tanks would get collected in all the other tanks. It was tempting to have a swim but I resisted. There was also some rock carvings of Gods and Goddess but they were again lying in neglected state. There were two doors on the each side of the tanks, Our guide informed one would lead to Roha directly and other one would lead us back to buruj. Kalpana, Kaustubh and me had some photo session before we moved back to join others. The fort though in neglected state was still in good condition.

After spending some time at the fort, we decided to move back as it was already 4pm. It was getting dark and rains had also started. Descending was again not easy due to muddy path and loose rocks. Thorny shrubs and dense forest making it difficult but nevertheless we were able to descend within one hour. Jaal was the only one to take a dip in the well at the base while others decided to move back to the bus. As we walked past the village road, we got the feel of village life with small houses, schools and anganwadis, gram panchayat office, temples and pond outside the village.

We started our journey back at around 5.30pm with halt for tea and snacks at some highway hotel, Again our journey back to Dadar was no less irritating with bumpy potholes ride and traffic, I reached Dadar back at around 11.30pm. Apart from to and fro travelling to Medha base village, the trek was simple yet interesting and nice. But Avchitgad is definitely worth as a one day trek especially in Monsoons.

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)