Thursday, February 26, 2015

Karnataka Camping - Trek from Kalsa to Sural waterfalls

Day 2 at our campsite : It was time to wake-up at 7 am and to get fresh. Unlike the smoggy mornings in Mumbai, It was a foggy morning at the campsite. 

Winter chill was keeping us covered from head to toe in multiple layers of clothing. Our breakfast was ready by 8 am. Servings of Pavbhaji and tea !!!! Hot food on wintery morning is always welcome and any food on trek is always welcome. Ready by 9 am, we were off in our mini bus for village of Kankumbi on border of Karnataka and few minutes drive from our campsite. Today our plan was to start trek towards Kalsa waterfall , walk on rocky bed of Kalsa stream and trek would culminate in Sural village passing through the mighty Sural waterfall and traverse through the jungle path. Some 43 kms from Belgaum city in the dense jungles of kankumbi - lies a cusp region in Virgin valleys bordering Karnataka and Goa.... Kalsa stream & Kalsa waterfall also called locally as Barajanacha Vajra. It's a local folklore that villagers on one side of Kalsa river invited villagers on the other side for a festival. Twelve people set out for the village but before they arrived, Festivities had already begun. Humiliated, Those twelve people committed suicide by cliff diving off the waterfall. Hence the name Barajanacha vajra......

We drove from our campsite ready to explore the more greener part of western ghats. Passing through the small village of Kankumbi which is no bigger than a hamlet with couple of houses but has its importance as this is one place where you will get mobile network. Little ahead of the village was a muddy path leading into wilderness which was our route for the day. Our mini left us here and will be picking us on our return journey from Sural village.

Initial path passed through dry grassland but the greener forest area was not far away. Our local guide Gangadhar and Rishi from Camp leading the way. We must have not walked much in the forest and we were welcomed by sound of falling water. Kalsa waterfall was close by. Soon we were standing on rock-bed overlooking the waterfall. The water level has receded in last few dry months after rains but still it was an average waterfall. Kalsa is not a huge waterfall but water-flow was enough to last few kms and merge with few more streams on the way. The same would turn into mammoth and beautiful Sural waterfall which flows into the valley 350 feet down below.

After passing over Kalsa waterfall we gradually climbed down on the rocky bed of Kalsa stream, Moving deeper into the forest and were now criss crossing the forest land and riverbed laden with rocks. The cold water was flowing between the rocks but since level of water was not much we were able to jump over the rocks and managed to avoid getting wet. 

One of the occasion we had to cross the riverbed but the rocks were far and wide and only way to avoid jumping into water was to climb and slowly walk over Tarzan vines. The vines were strong enough but would bend with individual weight as we moved forward till we jumped over to the rocks avoiding the cold water.It was one thrilling experience of its kind, Rima who managed to find another way of crossing the river bed from a different route,was so awestruck watching us walk on the vines that she moved back and crossed the stream by walking over the vines all over.

As we moved further into the jungles, we were now walking on riverbed wide enough like a two way road, dense jungle on both sides. Sun was sucking all energy out of our body now so it was time for a dip in the water which at one spot was knee deep. Time was not a constraint and we had plenty in our hands. Cold water splash was welcome respite from the sun heat and everyone made most of it.

One our way ahead we came across huge rock lying in middle of riverbed. They has stood against the mighty forces of water during rains and summer heat, don't know for how long. This was one highlight of the trek so far.

It’s a walk of around 4 kms before one reaches Sural waterfall and we were at mouth of Sural waterfall. Also locally called as Ladkicha Vajra. The sight and sound of flowing water falling into the valley below was enough to make us forget the tiring walk we had since morning.The sight of deep valley and Lush green mountains surrounding from all 3 sides was mesmerizing. No wonder this is one of most famous treks in Belgaum.

We spent quite sometime at this place adoring and admiring what nature had to offer. What a splendid place !!! A trek so far was worth all the efforts we had taken to reach here, with most travelling from Mumbai, few from Pune and Sandhya who came solo all the way from Bangalore. Everyone was indulging in photoshoot while few adventurous among us even took selfies sleeping at the mouth of the waterfall overlooking the valley.

It was now time to reach Sural village which was walk through jungle route and it takes approx 2-3 hrs. Initial climb was steep ascend for 20 minutes which left us all gasping for breath. The climb takes us to the top of the mountain plateau from where it was a plain vanilla walk for another 20 minutes. Even the mountain top was covered in thick vegetation unlike in western ghats of Maharashtra where we are exposed to direct Sun.

Yet another thrilling part of the trek was, After climbing to the top one has to descend wherein the path was full of scree and no proper grip. We literally had to sit and slide ourselves down. This was I think the only patch where it took lot of time as some of us were gripped with fear.

Successfully descending the sliding patch, we were now in core area where jungle cats encounter were a possibility. Walking among dense overgrowth we moved in alert. Sunlight barely reached the ground. The path was carved among the Karvy like shrubs with long stems. Suddenly a call from our guide to stop and there was a pin drop silence. We at the tail end of the line didn't quite understand what was happening at the front. After a wait for a while and only after the area was sanitized by our guide that we moved forward. It was later that we were appraised of the situation wherein few of our group members sensed something was walking in parallel to our group in the dense overgrowth and then something jumped among the bushes, hide and took cover. All this happened so fast that except for two or three members no one could understand the situation.

We had walked for almost 2 hrs from Sural waterfall and all this while we were moving in arc shape path from Sural waterfall and our destination was in the mountains facing the waterfall. Finally we came across some clearing in the forest and woods stockpile lying to be collected. It was an indication that we were now nearing our destination. Also some liquor bottles lying littered in the forest indicated we were now in Goa and our trek was nearing to an end. 

A walk of 2hrs and 30 minutes and we finally reached the viewpoint near Sural village which overlooks the deep valleys and gives a panoramic view of the dense forest cover and Sural waterfall.

There was a  dilapidated structure nearby the viewpoint, It had stood by the time and as informed by our guide, It was once a border check post of Portuguese Goa and entry point from British ruled India. 

Finally we had reached the quaint village of Sural on Goa – Karnataka border, passing through the village and getting a glimpse of village atmosphere we reached the main road where our mini was waiting for us to return back to our campsite. It was search for Heaven that had led us to Belgaum and we were happy to have explored one part of it today. The trek offers a scope to witness the flora and fauna of the region and walk through dense forest presents a possibility of sighting various animals which inhibits the region but it is always advisable to take a local guide along as the route is tricky and not well marked. A visit during moderate monsoon would present a lovely sight of deep waterfall but the trek through the jungle path would be risky during heavy monsoon and also the place would be infested by leeches.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Karnataka Camping : A trek to Vajrapoha waterfalls

Day 3: It was our last day in Belgaum, Some of us had to return by Puducherry express which arrives Belgaum at 18.02. Our plan for the day was a visit to beautiful Vajrapoha waterfalls and catch our train / bus in the evening to return home. We were running short of the time and as informed by our leader that we will have to do a marathon trek to Vajrapoha waterfalls and back for it takes around 5-7 hrs from Jamboti village and there was fair chance of we missing our train if we delay.

Taking chances we bid adios to our campsite by 8.30 am after breakfast and boarded our mini bus for the village of Jamboti. Jamboti lies around 30 minutes drive from our campsite on Belgaum - Goa route. This is the only place where one can purchase food or bottled water. Here we were joined by few more local friends of our leader Praveen as we moved off the main road towards Katni Dam site on the jungle route for around 4-5 kms.

Vajrapoha waterfalls lies in the dense reserved forest of Bhimgad wildlife Sanctuary, The beautiful waterfall located in the green canopy of western ghat is pretty much less explored and away from routine tourist traffic. The falls created by the gushing water of Mahadeyi river originates from stream nears Degaon village near Khanapur, fed by other streams in the mountainous western ghats in Karnataka,the river flows from elevated region creating a beautiful and mesmerizing Vajrapoha waterfall which falls at a height of 200 feet in the deep valleys and further flows into Goa and then meets the Arabian sea. The waterfall creates a diamond shape droplets while falling at a staggering height and hence the name Vajrapoha. 

Our trek: On reaching the spot from where we had to enter the jungle route, Our guide stopped the bus. There is no indication on the route but I could see a board indicating route to Katni Dam site which was the landmark, just opposite to that signboard we have to enter the dense forest to visit the waterfall. The initial route was walking through knee high grass but the surrounding forest seemed to grow more dense with every steps we took further on. At some point the trail passed through some really dense and high shrubs where we had to bend and walk on the narrow path. Yesterday's close encounter with the what seemed to be a big cat was still fresh in our mind and mere thought of it was enough to give goosebumps in the stomach.

Traversing through the dense forest was challenging and at the same time thrilling as well. We surely got a feel of what a real jungle is. We would have walked for around 40 odd minutes when we heard the sound of flowing water. It was the sound of Mahadeyi river flowing casually between the rock stewn path.

Our path was now a walk along the riverbed and our very first encounter was with freshly shedded snake skin. Wow !!! It was almost 6 feet tall. Luckily or unluckily we didn't see any snake close by. Not that I was interested in seeing one.

It was just a different feeling of walking / jumping on rocks lying on riverbed with water flowing besides you. Dense forest lingered on both sides of the river. We walked at times on river bed jumping on small and big rocks while at times walked on the banks when the water level increased at some places. We kept encountering snake skin in our path and within a few minutes of our walk we must have come across 3-4 of them. The rocky bed seemed to be ideal ground for snakes. Mahadeyi river was regularly fed by water from the mountains at different places which was also our source of drinking water. The river water didn't seems to be potable.

Even though the level of water was not much but the massive size of the river bed gave an indication of what the flow and force of water would be during the rainy season. Our guide informed that in rains it was practically impossible to get down on the river bed due to massive force of flowing water.

Huge boulders and rocks along with elevated path at some places created a sort of mini waterfalls. We came across few of them on our way. The sound of flowing water and wilderness around was truly a mesmerizing experience. Everyone was enjoying the walk in the wilderness and indulging in photo shoots along the way.

As we walked towards our destination, we again came across pugmarks of bigcat in the sand close to the river bed. But the illusive cat was no where in our sight but may be we were in her's. Who knows 

We had been walking for almost around 2 hrs and our destination seemed to be close by. The water level had been steadily increasing as we moved towards our destination. At one point we had to walk on very narrow strip of rock which was underwater close to the massive rockwall. A thrilling experience as the narrow strip of rock was barely visible.

From here we climbed higher on the rocks as it was now not possible to walk on riverbed due to increased level of water. But we could now sense our destination was close by as the roar of falling water increased with every step we took. The sight of swiftly flowing water of Mahadeyi river heralded our arrival at the destination. It was walk of nearly 3 hrs when we finally reached the mouth of the waterfall. Each one of us eager to sight the massive waterfall and deep valley below.

And lo behold there it was, the magnificent Vajrapoha !!!! It seemed more beautiful than the two waterfalls that we had visited yesterday. What an awesome sight it was. Words falls short and feelings is difficult to describe here. Our tiredness of our long journey was soon forgotten.

Removing the burden of backpack from our shoulders, all indulged in photo shoots and admiring the lovely sight the region had to offer.

Close to the waterfall there is way to go few feet below and be at the touching distance of the flowing water from above. The patch is difficult as it involves climbing down with the help of two bamboos which is cut and placed in a strategic way. Few adventurous among us did go down to be at a kissing distance of the waterfall while few among us were content to be at safer higher ground.

Bamboo climb to go down one level for kissing the waterfall
We spent some time here and wished we could stay longer but we had to taken a return journey and then reach the station on time for our journey back home. Time was a constraint for us. With one last glance at the waterfall and gorgeous valley below we started our return journey along the same route. Our return journey was quick as we didn't spent time in any photo shoot and we easily covered the distance back to our starting point in little over 2 hours.

With enough time in our hand, We had a sumptuous lunch at Jamboti dhaba and were well before time at Belgaum station for our return train journey. Some of our group members who had booked return journey by bus had more time in hand to explore the market place of Belgaum while Chari & Neha had planned onward journey to Goa for few days so they took direct bus to Goa from Jamboti itself. It was one hell of an amazing trek in Belgaum region and all were so much in love with the place that planning for next trek to explore many more places around Belgaum had already started even before our return journey was complete.

A special mention requires about our trek leader Praveen Pawar who organised the entire event very well and not to forget Rishi - owner of the campsite and Gangadhar for their valuable support.