Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Up Karoli, Down Sandhaan.

It was a challenge perceived, task daunting! We had chosen our trail. It was going to be trekking up Karoli Ghat from Varpadi, Dehne. Eight of us drove out on a Friday night, bellies empty we stopped prematurely at a joint just ahead of the Kalyan-Bhiwandi junction. Waited a lot for the meals to arrive, in the process got half eaten by mosquitoes. Food was just about okay. Overall, a bad call, this! Continued the drive through the night, thought we lost our way in the middle of the darkness but not yet! Reached the base village of what we thought was Chinchwadi (but actually was Varpadi), slept at 0200Hrs in the night, woke up at 0500hrs and began walking at 0615Hrs.

Karoli Ghat was a done affair earlier, so we knew what to expect. The trail after that was spectacular to say the least. One of us had to leave the trek due to bad cramps and going down 'The Sandhaan Gap’ (what we would like to call it) would have been a tough task with that kind of ailment, so we thought it was okay to let him go. He took the long way out, I am sure enjoying his part of the journey through some remote sections of the region.

The top of Karoli saw us on a plateau and a short walk took us to the village of Samrad, which was a first time. Well, not exactly. We had been to Ghatghar, a neighbouring village, many years ago. So many times we had climbed Ratangad, Alang, Madan, Kulang and looked down on these intermediate plateaus, discarded them as small. Now, here we were! Vast open scrubland with beautiful vistas of some of the highest mountains in the state. Chota Kulang, Kulang, Madan, Shiv Khind, Alang, Kirda, Kalsubai, Ghanchakkar, Ratangad Khutta, Ratangad, Kathra, Ajoba and Sitecha Palna all in one single sweep. WOW! It looked like an idyllic camping spot and a must do in monsoons.

We turned our attention to Sandhan valley! Sandhaan, or Saandhan, well I don't know, but it was something we had never seen before! I would call it the Sandhaan Gap! The local who lead us here estimated that it would take us 3.5 Hrs just to get to the patch from where we have to rappel and a total of 7 hours to hit the base from where we would again have a long walk back to our cars! Add another 1.5hrs. It was already 1245Hrs when we began our march to the valley.

The entry was nice and green, but then a few picnickers and revelers had been here before and left their garbage behind. A small water pond afforded some clear potable drinking water. A relief in this sun. A few steps deeper and the signs of habitation disappeared. Only few water bottles, some irretrievable, were found, signs of the struggle and the difficulty this terrain offers. You may wish,but may not be able to take any item that you drop, back home. So be careful of your water bottles, electronics, valuables…It was boulder strewn gap with the murmur of trickling water at places. At places the water collects into small ponds that we have to bypass or wade. It takes a toll on your legs. Mentally it is one of the most tiring things to do. Hop-skip- jump over rocks, big and small; some are as big as a truck or even bigger. What made us nervous was the width of the gap at places was no more than 15-20 feet. More importantly, it was the occasional falling rocks that causes a stir in the mind. You got to move very rapidly.

At this point, we were reminded of some stories and aspirations of large groups of people walking through this gap. Spine-chilling! Well, with a group that may not possess the kind of experience at this terrain and a marginal or no experience of rappel; if they do not move quickly out of this valley, we are almost certain, that this valley will assume a killer name soon! So beware of whom you are going with, what is the team size, their experience and yours too!

This gap has sheer verticals and overhangs that keep throwing rocks and pebbles, some sprightly monkeys playing donkey-kong with you; there barely being any gap or space for you to run! You will quickly see the signs of fresh rock fall too.

We moved pretty quickly over the rocks and reached the rappel zone in about 2 hours. Some old ropes/slings had to be done away with as someone in the future would use these only to realize halfway down a rappel that they are not as good and be helpless about the mistake. Many slings were burnt, old and brittle. The rappels at first don't look high, but all of them, even the short ones are daunting with various challenges like wet landing, overhangs, awkward patches, invisible steps, unstable rocks, rope abrasions, anchors locks, last man exit challenges etc. It is advisable to wear a helmet as there may be danger lurking in any corner. At a couple of places we had small pebbles fall hurtling straight at us. Looking for cover for more than 1 or 2 people is difficult and hence it is advisable for a group to keep moving on. A bunch of people-in-waiting is calling for a certain disaster. This brings us to the point that we needed more than one rope to tackle all the rappel points and as much experience. Luckily we were equipped enough.

Contrary to what we were made to understand, there were more than the 3 rappel points. There were 5! Some really small, but safer to do it that way. Certain other places, we had to go back and forth to find a way over the boulders and descend. Only after the last rappel, does the valley open up to the base and bingo! You are at the beginning of the stream. Walk into the dry stream-bed and out in the open. We finished the Gap in about 6 Hours reaching the base at about 1845Hrs. Just the right time to head to the village.

Of course the adventure never ends! Self and another walked out of the dry river bed, asked for Chinchwadi and walked past within 50mtsr of our cars in the thick of the darkness. Then we were directed to Dehne back to where our cars were at Varpadi. Actually we had our cars parked at Varpadi and not Chinchwadi. Anyhow we lost an hour at that. Reached Varpadi first at 2000Hrs and then again at 2100Hrs!!!

Driving through the night was another challenge. We were hungry, sleepy, tired and spent! But the bed was wanting. Reached home at about 0100Hrs!

Knees baulking, minds exhausted, muscles twitching, eyes strained, lower backs cringing due to all the jumping and hungry at the end of it!

Hungry for more of it.

What a trek it was!We will go back here with a DSLR one day! The point-n-shoot did not do justice to such a marvel of nature!

Please read all the sections above if you wish to do this trek!!!
We agree that its not that difficult a trek, but it has its subjective dangers!!!