Oct 11, 2008, 7 am : Tired and helpless. We, a group of 6 trekkers who had ventured out in the wild woods of Chandoli sanctuary, were not able to find our way to Kundi – our final destination. We had walked over 70 km in the last 3 days in the absolute wilderness of Sahyadris. There had been loads of surprises. Not a single soul had we seen since we left Patharpunj – the only inhibited village in Chandoli. All we came across was some wildlife and bison on the way!
Trek to Prachitgad and Chandoli sanctuary was being planned and re-planned a several times since I had read an article on Prachitgad in a local newspaper. Eventually I also had read some blogs on the internet and the experience shared by these trekkers had developed in us a strong craving to experience this wilderness. The craving had grown stronger when I had 2 failed attempts too. The plans finally materialized when Nikhil & I along with 4 others (Mahendra, Cyril, Yogesh and Rajendra) ventured out putting aside all other priorities!
Day (? / night) 1 ( Oct 8 ) – Pune to Helwak
We had planned well. With all the necessary camping gear, raw food to cook for 4 days, clothes and all essentials we all met at Pune ST stand. Cyril had come over from Mumbai & I had a long day in office too. We were to take the 10 pm bus, for which we all had just made in time. Luckily the bus got delayed and we got a breather.
We boarded the Chiplun bound bus at around 10:30 pm (finally) to find a crowd of people yapping and yelling in typical Konkani style which I find rather funny and enjoyable. We managed to squeeze ourselves, somehow found place for our huge haversacks and had to stand for lack of vacant seats. Eventually came out my sleeping bag and we all were found resting down on it very comfortably.
It was a long journey to but the weird experiments we tried to make ourselves comfortable made time fly and we found ourselves in Helwak in the wee hours of night. It was from Helwak where we were to begin the trek. But it was around 3 am and it was pitch dark. So the bedding and blankets came out and it took no time for us to start snoring!
Day 2 (Oct 9) – Ramghal – Bhairavgad – Patharpunj
We woke up at 6 am as it is always advisable to start trekking early. Done with our morning rituals we feasted on vada pao at the local eatery beside the small ST shade of Helwak. We were now fully equipped to begin this exhilarating trek for which we have been eagerly waiting. Wasting no time we left Helwak and began our journey. We were climbing the hill behind the ST shade. After a short climb we could see the tiny settlement of Helwak left far behind and at the back drop was the colossal wall of Koyana dam. Some part of the backwaters was also visible adding charm to the entire landscape!
A tiring 20 min walk got us to a small plateau atop the hill and as we reached here, there was another splendid view to bequeath us a warm welcome. The morning mist had all gathered together and we were almost in it. It had comfortably established itself on the farmlands we were walking through and the views above it were absolutely clear making it a scene that was picturesque!
We continued our trek and reached Dhangarwada in no time. From here it was another 30 min walk to reach our first destination – Ramghal! We rested a while here before we got on track again. This year Karvi (the wild flower which is the pride of Sahydri & blooms only once in 7 years) was in full bloom and it offered spectacular views on our way. Another icing on the cake this was after a series of spectacular views and there was more to come.
We reached Ramghal to catch the first glimpse of it, with a breath caught in the throat! Ramghal is a natural cave hiding behind a giant rumble. You enter the cave to see the water fall over you & this is an experience to die for! The location is so exquisite that the pictures taken here always remind the onlooker of some foreign location. One fails to believe that something like this can really exist in India!
We were here just after the monsoon and hence, there was good amount of water here. Enticed we almost immediately ran into it, to enjoy the shower. The water was cold enough to make everyone shout as we got under the fall, but then it made friends with us almost immediately. And we really enjoyed this friendliness! None of us wanted to get out, but we had a long way to go and hence I forcefully pulled them out and no sooner did we do that than we were on our way to our next destination – Bhairvagad, around 4 hours away!
It was a little steep climb over the waterfall before we entered the wild woods, thickly forested and just a narrow path to follow. The sun’s rays made futile attempts to reach the ground & the walk was extremely pleasant. However after a small walk ahead I had an itchy feeling in my foot and I bent down to see a leech crawling over me to extract all the blood it could. I swung it away, but then I realized there were too many of them. And when I turned behind I saw all my trek mates being troubled by them. All this while we were happy about coming just after the rains but now we were getting to know the negatives – the damp soil is extremely favorable for the leeches to breed! All throughout the trek we were going to be troubled by them. L
However, our enthusiasm did not die down. Sometimes letting them suck the blood and sometimes swinging them away we kept going. Nikhil and others made attempts to keep them away by rubbing salt over the exposed area, pressing the infected area with turmeric and so on; but all in vain. The leeches kept on crawling over and doing their job. Someone then talked about leeches sucking the bad blood and it being good for health. These days leech therapy had been recommended for people troubled with pimples and similar problems. I had already stopped bothering about them and let them do what they wanted. Surprisingly, I seemed to be least troubled by these tiny creatures!
We walked our way with the woods playing hide and seek with us. We used to be walking in the woods and then suddenly they seem to disappear. And then they seem to appear from nowhere and this continued for quite some time before we reached the end of the plateau. Out here we were stunned by an absolutely spectacular view. The land came to an end and all we could see were bottomless valleys thickly populated with foliage of all kinds. It was an uneven lush carpet of varying shades of green with no scope of even the smallest part of brown (land) being seen. We could spot a stream of water flowing amongst the greens. The sun was right above our head and it made the water glitter, having a mesmerizing effect on us!
We now began to descend in this valley and reached a place where there were lots of plinths lying in ruins. Supposedly a village viz. Waghane is said to have existed here long ago. When Chandoli was declared a sanctuary the villagers were asked to move from here to a safer place & from then on no one has been staying here. The path beyond this led us to a stream. After following it for a while we were to cross over and clamber up the mountain. I had been here twice earlier, but even then we lost our way. The banks had widened as the river had swollen during the monsoon & hence the confusion. A lot of time was wasted in tracing the path, it just seemed to have disappeared somewhere rendering us helpless. We were hungry by now and it anyways was time for lunch. Probably that was the reason why we were not able to find the way. So we relished on the pack lunch of puri and srikhand, relaxed for a while and then searched for the way. And to our surprise we found it in no time.
It took us around 2 hours before we could spot the temple at Bhairavgad. The temple is dedicated to lord Bhairoba and hence the name to the fort. Bhairoba is strongly worshipped here & is the main deity of most of the villagers around. The temple is huge and it used to have beautifully carved wooden pillars. Today the pillars have disappeared and what stands around the main deity as temple is a concrete structure. I was really disheartened to see this as I have, in my last 2 visits have stayed here in the original temple and the feeling was heavenly. The concrete structures can never give you such a sentiment.
We (I personally) were a little upset about this and hence decided to walk up to Patharpunj(The earlier plan was to halt at the temple and leave for Patharpuj the next day). Patharpunj was an hour’s walk from here – a beautiful hamlet & perhaps the only inhabited village existing in the Chandoli sanctuary as on date. We reached Patharpunj and it had been quite a walk since morning. We were tired and weary. We thus lodged ourselves at the village school.
It had been raining since we had reached the Bhairoba temple. The rains subsided a little when we had reached Patharpunj. The weather was just perfect – absolutely clear! There were lush fields around us and 2 simultaneous rainbows in the sky added to the magic! Wow what a way to refresh ourselves after a weary day! We chitchatted, talked to some village kids who had gathered around us & then went off to bed after dinner.
Day 3 (Oct 10) – Patharpunj – sada – halt in tent
We left Patharpunj around 8 am to continue our journey further. We asked for directions and crossed the bridge to enter thickly forested area. It was a bright sunny morning. The sun was peeping through the clouds. The sunrays were soft and tender. It was a good start!
We were walking through the extreme interiors of the Chandoli sanctuary. Lush all around and not a sound except the faint chirping of the birds. 30 minutes of this pleasant walk and we were bunged by clear waters of rivulet flowing gently. Then there was a splash … and then a series of them as we crossed over. The trail here was a little misleading, but we made it to the right one and which almost got us into obscurity. Oh well that was due to the woodlands so dense – sunrays couldn’t get through!
Finding our way was tough, for the pathways were narrow and there seemed to be so many of them. Some turned right and some left. Some climbed small hillocks while some others took us to small brooks. Some were straightforward while some others were confusing. Sometimes we relied on the directions we had, while many a times on commonsense. Thus continued our march towards Prachitgad!
It was almost chowtime when we got to a roaring stream of water. Clear waters hopping over life-sized rocks, with gorgeous greens in the backdrop – made it a picture perfect. The waters were inviting and we were tired enough to take a break. The sacks went off the shoulders voluntarily and so did we into the water. A dip here was incredibly refreshing. And then there was a delectable lunch followed by some rest.
We crossed the stream to climb the cliff in front of us. The pathways were confusing. So there was a lot of climbing up to learn that the route was wrong and then coming down to look for the right one! This happened a couple of times when “gutkha” pouches lying on the soil showed us the way. (Since these were there we were assured that people have used this path in the past and that it was right!) We environmentalists and nature lovers have always been cursing people who throw plastic dump & spoil the natural beauty. But this was probably the first time we thought we shouldn’t be doing so!
We climbed up the cliff and found ourselves in bright sunlight. The thicket had suddenly transformed into barren land and we were on a plateau full off rocks of various shapes and sizes. This was a sight we had never seen before. This place was the famous sada – another attraction of this particular trek. It was a vast spread of volcanic rocks that lay over acres and acres of land almost forming a desert. And then there were series of such sadas spread all over. We crossed one to enter another and we kept on doing so for quite some time. There were prominent pathways which led us to the next one & we kept on wondering if we were being lead to the right destination. Our intention was to reach Prachitgad, but then we couldn’t get a slightest clue of where it was. All we could see around was shingle and plenty of woods far off. There visibility was good but we were still lost!
We walked quite a distance trying to make sense with the directions we had but eventually found ourselves playing hide and seek with ourselves! It was 5 pm and almost getting dark – early because it was cloudy. And then suddenly it began to pour. We were least expecting it today – but then destiny had different plans for us! We decided to pitch our tents on the sada (away from the woods to keep away from wildlife if any in the night). Strong winds blew rendering the situation tough. With great efforts the tents were pitched we almost immediately got in.
The ambience was a dark, rainy and chilly. Most of us were almost shivering. So I quickly got in & within no time we were all relishing steaming hot poha and chai! That served us our dinner along with some ready-to-eats.
It was raining till wee hours of the dark and this resulted in the base of the other tent (occupied by Nikhil, Mahendra and Raju) layered with few inches of water. Poor guys were awake throughout the night and so were we to give them company. Mahendra read and reread the directions we had & kept on deliberating on the way to Prachitgad and we kept on giving the inputs. It was definitely a night to remember!
Day 4 (Oct 11) – Prachitgad – Chandel
Good morning wilderness (I would have loved to say Prachit though!). Having survived the tantrums of the night, the tender sunrays gifted us with a fresh morning. The entire night we had deliberated enough on the route. It was now time to act and conquer. Thus, with full of vigor & zest, we were now on mission Prachit!
There is an incident worth a mention before I begin about the mission. As we were packing up, I happened to ask everyone to wind up quickly so that we don’t lose on time. To which spontaneously Yogesh answered “I am ready”. We all turned to look, to find him in his undies & cap still packing up. And then there was a roar of laughter, making it another episode to remember!
We had to trace our way a little backwards to find the first arrow directing towards Prachitgad. Incidentally I had noticed this yesterday on our way, but then nobody seemed to listen to me. As we kept going we found a series of arrows which eventually were taking us close to the destination.
We were still walking through the sada. But the path was huge and pretty well defined. Thick woods seemed to like our company and they followed us at a short distance on the left. While we crossed probably the 4th arrow, we came across huge water cistern on the way. This confirmed and gave us the confidence of being on the right track. We filled our bottles with the cool waters & quenched our thirst before we moved forward.
A short walk later the trail began to slide down & we were cutting our way through the thick woods. Eventually we found ourselves right atop the Western Ghats. We were overlooking the lofty Prachitgad which appeared to be a broken piece of the Sahyadri Mountains. Wow, Prachit looked simply stunning! We have had been waiting for this moment ever since we began this trek and finally we were there. Prachitgad – the king of the forts in this region was standing tall right before our eyes. It was a moment of rejoice! We couldn’t control our emotions.
Slowly and cautiously we continued to descend. A small ridge coupled Prachitgad with the Sahyadri Mountains. In no time did we reach this link and crossed over. From here on we had to hike a few meters to hit the iron ladder. The steps hewn out of rock were broken and hence the alternative arrangement. We climbed this to enter the fort.
The fort is spread over in the North-South direction. A fallen door welcomes you followed by a small square-like water cistern. It is followed by a bunch of house likes structures in ruins. There is a small Shiva temple atop with 4-5 small cannons lying in front of it. There are also loads of water cisterns and a couple of bastions. Barring this the fort was in extreme dilapidated condition.
We had a quick visit to all the ruins and with the roars of “Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji” traced our footsteps back. We were to reach the place where we had tented last night. So we were walking on the same path again. Had we been to Prachit yesterday we would have saved an hour’s walk! But then destiny had plans of its own.
The path after this was pretty straightforward. It was a clear demarcated road for the forest officers to pay a visit in their vehicles. We however were to walk this route for quite a distance before could hit Chandel village. The walk was fun but at times a little boring too. There were twists and turns… highs and lows… shade and sunlight… and a lot more on offer on this path. We sometimes found ourselves walking over the edge of a vale & sometimes over grasslands. The edges offered dramatic views of the Konkan while the grasslands offered a beautiful carpet to walk over. The tweeting birds allured while the bisons made an effort scare us. There were dogs, wild hens and others who crossed our way. And well not to forget the tiny leaches which seemed to like our company so much that they followed us everywhere!
It was a little over 4 hours we had been walking & the destination seemed to be nowhere close. Suddenly we came across a small rivulet. The waters were clear & gentle. There were trees around. The environs were scenic making it an ideal picnic spot. Our weary legs were yearning for a break and there could have been no better place! We munched, chitchatted and rested for a while to have our bit of picnic!
We crossed the watercourse to carry on with the never ending walk again. This time a little more willingly of course! The short break had rejuvenated us enough to walk for another hour or so to cross another stream and reach Chandel. We had high expectations of getting to meet some villagers here but in vain. This settlement too like Waghane had been relocated elsewhere. There was not a single soul here except for a herd of bisons. They ogled at us. So did we and slowly moved away from their sight.
It was getting dark while we made futile attempts to find our way to Kundi. Eventually we realized it was inane to do so and returned back to Chandel. We got into a hut to be put up for the night. To our surprise it was clean and well kept. Some firewood lay in the corner. It wasn’t a 5 star but the comfort it provided to weary souls like us was simply out of the world.
It got a little chilly in the night and we couldn’t resist burning some firewood. And while being besides it we also threw in some onions and potatoes. In a short while we had in front of us a delectable platter of starters. Every bite of it was from heaven which titillated our taste buds. We hogged as if we had never gotten to eat. These starters were followed by generous helpings of ready-to-eats heated in the same fire to serve as the main course. This scrumptious meal more than made up for the pain of walking since morning.
Day 5 (Oct 12) – Kundi Ghat – Kundi – Pune
The tickle of the sunrays at dawn woke us. After the sound sleep, none of us wanted to get up though. But the beauty of the morning sun was inviting enough! It was behind the clouds and not very keen to show up. It had painted the sky in various shades of vermilion. And there was very little blue which merged with it almost unknowingly. There was twittering all around and it strengthened as the crimson ball showed up. It was such a dramatic sunrise!
We began early to conclude early. Today was the last day and we all intended to reach home early to catch up some rest. Kundi was the direction we were heading (?) The Sahyadri Companion said “Once you reach Chandel ask for the route to Kundi and start the easy descend”. But then who could we ask? There was no one around and the Kundi ghat has not been in use since long. So locating the approach to the ghat wasn’t as easy as it seemed to be.
We wandered for a while & looked around. Eventually we followed a sada-like diversion and walked over to the edge of a dale. We could somehow identify Mahimatgad and we knew the route had to be somewhere around. But what lay in front of us was a thick undergrowth making things difficult. We made our way somehow through it and phew, we had found it. (We were not very sure though!) We all continued to walk in the thick cover making way for ourselves as we descended.
A short walk of around 45 minutes got us out of the jungles and we were standing on the Sahyadri ranges overlooking the bottomless green valleys of Konkan. We could now clearly see Mahimatgad and Kundi village at the foothills far away (but at least now we could see it). And we also could see our path downwards. “This is a winning moment & let me capture it” exclaimed Cyril with joy & we joined in. We triumphed. We rejoiced. And Cyril captured the spice of this moment in his camera before we moved forward. Everyone was overwhelmed and the zest had doubled. The speed with which we started descending more than doubled with Raju leading and not wanting to stop at all even multiple requests, orders or shouts.
We got into shrubs and waded through thorny bushes. The path was sometimes easy while otherwise there was a sharp descend. We found ourselves walking on small plateaus at times and sometimes on the periphery of the high mountains. There was a huge variation in the landscape every 200 m or so. And the walking was fun. We knew we were to reach Kundi in no time, but then that no time seemed to be quite long. It had taken us around 3 hours before we could hit the farmlands of Kundi.
We entered Kundi to be welcomed a gushing river. (Every day we came across one and today was no exceptionJ). We had gotten into the bushes & dirtied ourselves in the soil. So we couldn’t have ever ignored this lovely chance to bathe here. We got in and enjoyed ourselves as if there is no tomorrow. And that was practically true. Then onwards we were going to be bathing in the showers at home. So we made the most of this opportunity. We had a dip… we bathed… & we swam. We stared at some fish while some village kids gathered on the opposite bank to stare at us. There probably would have been a better thing to do after that enervating walk.
We were in no mood to get done with the bath. But we had learnt from the kids that the ST bus was to leave at 1:30 pm. We were running to close and so we dragged ourselves out. As we got back to dress up we found loads of butterflies had gathered on our shoes. This was another unique site we saw during this trek to make it even more memorable.
The kids guided us to the village and we were welcomed by an extremely hospitable family. They offered us cool water to drink and also offered some cucumbers to eat. These were grown in the farms by themselves and were huge. Some were as huge as a sword which they offered us for taking back. Nikhil seemed to be extremely overwhelmed with all this & was saying kind words in their praise. To this we wanted him to settle down here and went to the extent of asking the lady, about her daughter to wed Nikhil. The honeymoon of course would have been on sada – Nikhil was madly in love with this place already!
Shortly after some rest and Nikhil’s leg pulling it was time to bid adieu to the lofty Sahyadri mountains standing tall all around us at Kundi. We thanked them for the wonderful 4 days they gifted to us before we boarded the bus to Devrukh. We changed buses here & returned back to Pune.
It was a wonderful feeling to be back at home. But our mind wandered & stayed in Chandoli forever. Whenever we all meet, there is always at least mention about this trek. It is interesting to hear from Mahendra about his research on the leaches, about sada and more importantly the people who have visited there!
© Amit Chilka