Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chanderkhani Pass - The call of the Mountains Part 1

It’s Day 8 and chilly wind is blowing outside the tent. Its middle of the night and time on the watch shows 2.30 am. Just didn't want to leave the warmth provided by blanket and sleeping bag !!!!. The whistle blew and it was the morning call for the bed tea. I had to get up as it was not only most important day of our trek but was also very important day in my trekking journey so far. I had done trekking in Sahyadri Mountains in Western Ghats and this was my first journey in our great Himalayas. Today’s successful climb would be feather in my trekking cap. We would be reaching height of 12600 feet at Chanderkhani pass located in Malana region. Nestled in two beautiful and mighty ranges of Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar. Today we had to climb another 2800 feet, walk in the snow, reach the highest point and then climb down to last camp of Nauya Tapru with estimated walk of 14 kms.

Taking a deep breath, I moved out of my sleeping bag, peeped out of the tent, camp was lit by moonlight with all my group members busy with their morning chores. Hot tea, morning chores sans bath (it was 9th day without bath, not that I don't like to but didn't have the guts to take a bath in such climate, none of 43 members of the group had done it), followed by breakfast and packed lunch (Lunch was frooti, chikki, sakkarpare). Everyone then gathered outside the tent, stood in the line wearing multiple layers of clothes which were still not enough to protect us from cold and chilly breeze, listening to group leaders sermon’s (instructions) before moving ahead.

Also we had one more planned event to do before moving, Celebrate B'day. Yes, It was also her birthday today, She is Maya. She had come all the way from Hyderabad, all alone and standing at Nagroni camp (10000 feet above sea level) with her backpack at 5 am in bone chilling cold morning to cross Chanderkhani pass on her birthday. What a feat to accomplish!!!!  

Manjusha Madam arranged for a small piece of cake, Lit candle, everyone sang and wished Maya a very happy and delightful birthday!! …........ So much for now, She will come more often later in the blog…

Finally all set and ready, Like the Hitler army offering salute “Heil Hitler”, We saluted our camp leader, cooks, guides and finally chanting Ganpati Bappa Morya, We started our march to cross Chanderkhani Pass……. …It was 5 am in the morning and we were told we are late !!!

As I write my blog, everything is flashing in front of my eyes. It was “the moment” we all had come here for. What a day that was 19th May 2014. For this day the preparation had started 3 months back. BBM group created, list of essentials shared, trek essentials purchased, bus and train booking done and then that infinite wait for the day when we started our journey….. This was by far the most memorable trek and most memorable journey I have done in my life.

Getting Ready for the Himalayan adventure: 4 years back I was bitten with bug of trekking. I must have done number of treks in Sahyadris but Himalayas was distant dream. A year back I got my YHAI registration done but didn't enroll for any trek as I felt a company would be good rather than going alone. Then one day got a call from Ajay – Let’s do Himalayas this time !!!. And without even thinking twice registered on pre- decided date.  It was “Call of the Mountains”. I remember doing google on Chanderkhani much later after I had registered for it. Registration was followed by phones call and exchange of emails to office management to approve my leaves, I realized my convincing power than !!!

Our group included Ajay, Shreya, Nanabhai, Shiv and me. Shiv joining us from Delhi while rest would be starting from Mumbai. I was told by Ajay that our group was just a splinter group as there were larger group of all BHMS students of Nanabhai Sir joining us directly at base camp. All in all we were almost 35 out of 50 people for YHAI batch starting on 10th May !!

We even created a BBM group for daily discussions among us apart from preparing list of trek essentials. This was followed by number of visits to Decathlon and Nandu’s and Avi industries to purchase things, We had 73 items listed in our trek essentials and longest discussion and hunt happened for none other than kurmura, 

I and Ajay had developed liking for wheat puff (wheat kurmura) and wanted  it as our train companion on our 30 hrs journey but after lot of hunting settled for corn puff !!!!.Not to forget the railway booking on IRCTC website. The railway booking was major achievement among other things though we didn't get full confirmed booking even though we were hooked to the website on the day the two months window was open and at 8am on Sunday morning. Our tickets were confirmed much later credit of which should go to Shreya for praying daily to IRCTC god as she didn't want to go on RAC ticket !! . Bus tickets on HRTC was easily available, In fact the day I booked bus ticket, all seats were available for me to choose from !!!  HRTC must be happy to see the booking of bus two months in advance.

After all this, it was endless wait for one and half months, with each one reminding daily that it was one day less. I remember having lost complete interest in my office work in last week before our journey day. One of the days in between I and Shiv even purchased a DSLR with Ajay doing dual work of instigating us to buy DSLR with no personal benefit and also providing us with his expertise.Remembering all these events make me laugh but the adrenaline rush before the trek was so high. We didn't want to miss anything and our single minded focus was to make this trek a memorable one.

Start of our journey and trip to Chandigarh:  May 10th finally arrived. We were all backpacked and ready in the morning. Shreya and Nanabhai Sir reached Bandra station to board Paschim express an hour early. Ajay’s excitement was more than anyone else, He went all the way from Borivali to Bandra to board the train even though the train would have halted at Borivali station. His excuse was the train stops only for 2 minutes at Borivali.  Hell !!!!  Half of the train gets filled with people boarding from Borivali. I decided to board from Borivali which gave me another hour more for my last minute packing, thought would sleep for some more time but the excitement was such that I was awake at 5.30 am on that day. Our train was late by 30 minutes. This specially happens with me when I am super excited about something and that something never falls on time.

We were joined by Dr Shukla and his daughter Reem who even though had done booking at last minute had got the seats in the same compartment so now our group was bigger.  Reem was quietest of the lot, sitting in one corner, listening to songs, not interacting much with us. Dr Shukla kept assuring us that she will gel with us once she is comfortable. Now how do you make school girl comfy !!!!!!  We were bluntly refused every time we tried to involve her in some conversation or offered her something to eat. We were like aliens to her !!!

In the train Ajay developed an uncanny interest of taking note of all rivers and rivulets passing by and getting down at all stations where the train stopped to click pictures. He was doing live blogging and keeping his followers updated on his journey. Nanabhai Sir with his numerous years of trekking kept us engrossed in his stories. Our train journey was of 30 hours. I lost count of how many chai we had in our journey while Ajay lost his interest in noting the name of rivers and rivulets but he continued with clicking pictures of all stations. Not sure if he did that also in middle of night. I was off to sleep after Dr Shukla and me had sumptuous dinner meal which was ordered on TravelKhana and was delivered at Ratlam station. Morning again was not much to do in train, we just wiled away time. We reached Chandigarh around 3pm. Jeevan one of fellow trekker whom Ajay and Nanabhai Sir had met in previous trek with YHAI had travelled 200kms from his hometown just to receive us and be with us till we were in Chandigarh. I was truly amazed with his humbleness and hospitality. 

Our first stop was bus-stand luggage room in sector 17 where we dumped our luggage. One thing worth mentioning was fruit juice kiosk. Half glass of any milkshake is enough for any Mumbaite to get a loud burp and full glass is unthinkable from my standard. We settled for half glass of milkshake which was worth all the money.  

Moving on we did rickshaw ride passing through important landmarks in Chandigarh like Rose gardens, Leisure valley. I was in awe with the cleanliness and green cover. Chandigarh is regarded as one of the best cities in India with its planned urban development, wide and well maintained roads. With limited time that we had in our hand we only decided to see one of the main landmark – Rock garden and then if time permits get a sneak peek of Sukhna lake close by. The climate was very pleasant even in month of May partly because it had rained last night so we didn't feel the pinch of summer heat.

Rock garden was truly magnificent sculpture garden spread in area of 40 acres. Built completely with industrial and home waste and throw away items.  Truly amazed at scraps of bottle, bangles, titles, ceramics, electrical waste turned into sculptures and beautification objects. 

Equally amazed was story of how its founder Nek chand secretly started collecting waste and turned into a magnificent wonder.  

Also of interest is that Nek chand’s work has been recognized world wide and today USA owns largest collection of Chand’s work outside Chandigarh.

We didn't have much time but still decided to visit Sukhna lake. It’s again prominent tourist attraction. It seemed like half of Chandigarh had come with their families. Nevertheless we sat on the promenade on the banks of lake for sometime admiring the place. Now it was time to collect our luggage from sector 17 bus stand and move to sector 43 bus stand from where we were to move to Kullu. Rick shaw ride that we did in Chandigarh gave us glimpse of city life and its attractions. This short visit to the city was like a recce for us and would surely help us for more planned visit to the city in future.

Jeevan was still with us till the bus stand and only left after we had settled in our bus. Not budging to our request to go home as he had to travel back 200 kms and it was already 10 pm. Truly moved by his humble nature. We had dinner at the bus stand while Dr Manjusha and her friends and few of Nanabhai’s student also joined us. So our group was now a bigger lot with one more splinter group called Teja ka group joining us next day directly at base camp. Bidding adieu to Chandigarh and thanking Jeevan enough for all he had done for us we started our overnight bus journey to Kullu.  

Tomorrow will be our reporting at Seobagh base camp – Kullu.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Night trek to Siddhagad

"I have been off the trekking circuit !!!!" "It's been ages buddy since we have seen you " ..... Those were the reactions when I was seen as part of the group to Siddhagad trek. Well !!! It is true to some extent that I have been doing less treks than I used to but still the passion and urge to be in laps of Sahyadris is and will always be there. There is some allure about these mountains that cannot be explained in words but can only be experienced while trekking and this is what attracts me to them.

End of March and the dreaded summer is all set to engulf Sahyadris for next few months making it difficult to do treks during day time so here I was on night trek to Siddhagad. I had missed one of the range treks from Siddhagad to Padargad in October so it was my second attempt to be here. Meeting place for the trek was Kalyan station so my trek started 3 hrs earlier than actual meeting time when I left my house at Borivali to catch local to Dadar and then another one to Kalyan. Travelling in local trains especially from Dadar is no mean feat and probably worth more than a trekking experience. It was Saturday evening and it was more or less a smooth journey till Kalyan. We were to catch a local ST bus from Kalyan at 10.30 pm but as normally happens, some of the group members were late and we decided to catch the last bus to Murbad at 11.00 pm.

We were group of 24 with lot of new faces in the group. May be I need to become more regular on trek circuit !! Our ST was packed as soon as it arrived at Kalyan depot with our group and one more group heading towards Gorakhgad. We reached Murbad around 12.15 only to find from locals that due to bad road conditions the ST buses bound for Milhe village stops 4 kms away. So our actual trek started from the place where our ST bus dropped us. It was walk of around 45 minutes to Uchale village which was going to be base village for the trek. One can also go from Narivali village which is just 10 minutes away from Uchale.

A brief introductions and we were walking inside the Bhimashankar wild life sanctuary. It was surprisingly pleasant climate. We lost our way at the start of the trek and had to back trek and wait till our leaders went ahead to find the correct route. Initial route passed through some fields and forest area before we entered a small village. It was nice to see that all the houses in the village had electricity but lights were kept on in all the houses even though the entire village was asleep, could be because these houses had open doors and windows. We were welcomed by village dogs which eventually woke some villagers who guided us on right path on our way to the top.

It was around 1.30 am when we had started our trek, our aim was to reach Siddhagad machi by 5.00 am, rest for couple of hours and then do the onward journey to the top and be back for lunch at Siddhagad machi by 12.00 pm. The climb through the forest was gradual ascend and we were following the path which would would be gushing stream in rains made by waterfall from the mountains, As entire route was laden with rocks and stones of all sizes with soft mud at some places indicating the water in the rains would have got accumulated at this point bringing soft soil of the forest along with it. Bhimashankar region is famous for its rains and this trek would be an experience to try during the rainy season.

After a climb of around 2 hrs we came across a plateau which housed a lonely hut. It was best place for rest and most of the first timers wanted to rest here till wee hours but then it was decided to at least reach till machi before taking couple of hrs of rest.It was around 4.30 am when we reached a rock plateau and it was virtually a dead end. With dense forest around and no route to the top in sight, We decided to spend time here till first rays of sun.

As we lied down to rest our back, we were in for some spectacular display of stars, with clear sky and Amavasya night so no moon light and zero pollution. It was dazzling display of glittering stars I had ever seen. Due to fatigue from climbing, within no time, I was off to sleep and so were many of group members.

When we woke up, It was around 6.15 am. By that time our leader Aniket and Puneet had searched for correct path to the top. From this rock plateau one has to take a small traverse and then take a path to top, there is clear path with markers on the rocks from here.

Again from here it was a climb of 1 hour and 30 minutes. It was here we got first glimpse of Siddhagad mountains and neighboring hills.

We reached fortified entrance for Siddhagad machi village around 7.45 am. It was then a gradual walk of some 10 minutes before we could see a small hamlet of couple of houses.

Interesting to find a village at such a height and no motorable road to the top, these villagers would have to travel almost 2 -3 hrs one way to get basic things. On inquiring with our host at the village later, We found that they do one trip down and up to get household things every 15 days !!!

From the machi, one gets a clear view of neighboring Dumdumia hills which one has to criss-cross on the way to Bhimashankar. We could also see Gorakhgad top which has temple on it.

Siddhagad fort stood tall over the machi and first rays of sun turned the fort shine brightly. It was still early morning but the heat was too intense. We settled in the verandah of village house which was to be our resting place for the day.

Siddhagad fort top climb from machi is steep and with intense heat and overnight climb exhausting most of group members. Few decided to go up to the fort top while others including me decided to rest at the village. On the way to the top of Siddhagad, there is small cave of Sadhu baba where one can take some rest and it gives spectacular view of Gorakhgad and neighboring mountains. The top of the fort does not have any fortified structure but an entrance and small temple.

Our group decided to explore the village while our lunch was being cooked. The girls gang decided to get first hand experience of pulling water from village well and carrying it in metal matkas.

By the time we reached back to our host house, Our lunch of waran, bhath and spicy sabji was ready. It was again best lunch I had ever tasted.

I have always noticed that the simple food cooked by villagers seems to always have a unique taste, may be because its cooked with lot of warmth in the heart by village host and also because after a long and tiring climb in the forest and mountains we are dead hungry and what is served taste far more as hunger takes control. !!!  By the time we finished our lunch, Our rest of the group had come back from top. On hearing their experience of reaching the top, I felt it was wise decision of not making it to the top in blistering summer heat.

We started our return journey around 12.30 pm, initial descend till the plateau with lonely hut was smooth and fast. We reached within one hour of our descend and decided to wait for rest of the gang to join us, only to realize that 4 of our group members had not taken the correct path from the machi entrance and had gone straight on the way to Bhimashankar instead of climbing down. But luckily on the entire trek there is mobile network available and we were able to guide our lost friends to correct route.

From the lonely hut plateau to the base village it was descend in open with completely no shade and with blistering summer heat, It resulted in couple of group members suffering from dehydration. But luckily again villagers from the nearby village came to rescue who not only provided us with space to settle in their verandah, but also treated us with water, butter milk and chai. Not a single penny was charged from us and we could only thank them from the heart. It was all fine in the end and everyone was safe with no casualty in the group. Our leader Aniket arranged for two jeeps to pick us up from the entrance of Bhimashankar WLS which saved us another 45 minutes walk and ST bus travel to Kalyan.

Trek experience are always wonderful and even trek to Siddhagad was no exception, Barring our return journey in summer heat which took toll on some of our group members but thanks to those villagers for their kind hospitality. I don't regret to have not climbed up to the top of the fort which will be one more reason to trek the same mountains again in some other season.But it's a trek worth doing in winters and hopefully will come again to experience a new face of mountains in different season.