Good Morning, Sahyadri!
Thanks to the extra sleeping mat, which Krish had brought for me, I had a relatively comfortable sleep. I had learned the importance of a sleeping mat the hard way when I went on my first “jumbo trek” to Alang-Madan-Kulang back in 2006. A sleeping mat can make an otherwise hard, rough and uneven surface “sleep-able”.
Bottom line: it can make the difference between a restful sleep and a sleepless night.
It was November 1st and the time was 06:30am and I had slept for only 3 hours. In spite of that, I was fresh when I woke up. I don’t know what it is about mountains, but I seem to have an infinite supply of energy whenever I’m on a trek. This supposed “endless” supply of energy was tested shortly thereafter.
In the morning we learned that Shailesh and Deva had arrived via Kalyan a few hours before us. They had decided to wait for us at the bus shelter since they weren’t sure where we were at the time. Apparently they thought we had already reached the village (Savarne).
We packed up and started walking towards Savarne in search of water (for brushing and to freshen up). On the way we came across several women who were skillfully balancing three pots full of water on their heads. There were other women who were heading to get water and we followed them to the nearby water source. The source turned out to be several small trickles of water, which I’m sure would dry up by the end of December, which would only increase their daily walk to get drinking water.
Goshta Choti Dongraevadhi (Small Story … Like a Mountain)
After so many years of trekking, it is my elementary observation that people who live in villages at the base of a mountain are extremely vulnerable to the seasons. In the rainy season there is flooding and in the dry season there is not a drop of water. The mountains are lush green in the monsoons with huge waterfalls and plenty of streams, which inevitably become a source of drinking water for nearby villages. However, in the Sahyadri Mountains, these are seldom perennial. The dry season sees most of the waterfalls and streams getting dried up.
What the villagers need to do is come together and construct ‘check dams’. According to Dr. Vikas Amte, constructing these dams requires neither any high-tech equipment nor any specialized labour. Anybody can build these dams. The dams are sturdy, last a long time and the required raw materials are things such as discarded tires and plastic waste, which are easily available and help to reduce construction costs. History has shown that government-built dams simply don’t last very long. I suppose there is a lack of awareness and knowledge on this option. Dr. Vikas Amte has built several check-dams as proof-of-concept in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra where he lives.
It is interesting to note that most of the forts, which Shivaji Maharaj built hundreds of years ago, have rock-cut water cisterns (tanks) that have fresh drinking water year round. The cisterns are built such that they get replenished by natural underground springs. The cisterns show remarkable engineering and planning skills by the people of olden times (not all were built by Shivaji; some existed from ancient times). The forts, which served as bases for Shivaji and his troops, would have never gained importance without the availability of drinking water. Many villages now source their drinking water from these very tanks by the way of pipes. In the rainy season many of these villages are inundated with water; however, there is drought in the dry season. It seems modern India has lost the concept of water conservation.
We took our turns filling water in our bottles and freshening up. Then we walked over to Savarne village which was nearby. The simple little village overlooks the mountains and is close to the highway, but not right next to it. Many children were playing under a huge tree and they all watched us with curious eyes as we walked through their village.
We were debating whether to have tea at the village, or to make our own. In the end, we decided to make our own since we had everything, including a portable stove, to make our own tea. We also carried light snacks, rice, potatoes, onions, and ready-to-eat packaged food with us. We were also carrying packed lunches for the afternoon.
We walked out of the village and towards an old and seemingly unused bridge. I was surprised by how long and wide the bridge was. In the villages, I’m used to seeing small bridges. There was a fairly large stream flowing under the bridge. I suppose the women will have to come here for water when the trickles dry up, or perhaps the water here was not potable. We stopped here for breakfast and tea.
Krish was carrying the heavy portable stove and made excellent tea for all of us. We had an interesting discussion on Raj Thackeray and his MNS political party.
We were sitting close to the river/stream and the exposed river bed clearly indicated that it was drying up. I could imagine there being plenty of water in the rainy season.
At several places in the stream, we noticed the water being “channeled” into something. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an ingenious fish trap. The water was channeled through a small wooden “canal” that dropped into a wooden bucket from which water could escape but not the fish.
It was around 10:00am before we moved from the bridge. In hindsight, we had wasted way too much time here. We should have had tea and breakfast at the village itself to save time.
So far, it had been a beautiful morning.
Mountain or Mole-hill?
The route up Harishchandragad started from the under the Konkan Kada. This route is known as nali-chi-vaat. Our actual climb would start from the base of Konkan Kada, which we could not see due to a small hill that was directly in front of us.
As we started from the bridge, we came across a villager and asked him for directions. He advised us to cross the hill. It was past 10:00am and it was already quite hot and humid. The long breakfast break made it even more difficult to start. My heavy backpack wasn’t helping either.
We had to cross the hill to get to another village, Belpada, and a trail from there would take us to Konkan Kada. I had a very difficult time climbing the hill, which normally wouldn’t take more than 15-20 minutes. I found the heat and humidity combined with my heavy backpack to be almost unbearable. I worried about how I would manage climbing Harishchandragad via nali-chi-vaat, which was steeper and difficult. I thought about hiring a porter. I was having a lot of “I wish…” thoughts. My energy level had hit rock bottom.
We were all in pretty bad shape when we reached the top of the hill, which took twice as long as it should have. We had to take a break. Krish poured Electrol powder into a water bottle, which we all took turns drinking. We even ate the powder for more energy.
From where we were sitting, we had a great view of the imposing massif of Mt. Napta. All around us the mountains were rocky with little vegetation and I think that contributed to the heat. It felt as if heat was radiating from the rocks.
A few villagers passed us as we sat there recovering in the shade. They were on their way to another village. Many villagers prefer walking from one village to another (using mountain passes) over taking a bus as it takes longer to reach their destination via winding mountain roads. Infrequent bus timings and ill-maintained roads don’t help either.
Feeling re-energized and with fresh zeal, we started our descent. It was past 11:00am.
The Right Decision
It didn’t take us very long to descend to the other side. It was still hot but we were feeling better. My heavy backpack was continually weighing on my mind and was a severe drain on my energy. We were now walking in the grassy plains and rice fields. We weren’t sure where the other village (Belpada also known as Thitbi) was. We wandered a bit and took another break near a small stream where I told everyone about my New York City trip; they all had a good laugh.
After some asking around, we were soon on a tar road and on our way to Belpada (Thitbi) village. On the way, we could see a large channel that had some water flowing through it. I figured this channel was nali-chi-vaat. I could also see the Konkan Kada in the background. I remembered seeing some pictures of this place, which were taken in the rainy season – it was foggy and the volume of water flowing through the channel was huge – it was so beautiful. Ever since then I had wanted to do this trek.
There was a small bridge over the channel. From the bridge, I could see some kids bathing in the water under the watchful eyes of the Konkan Kada. I was thinking how lucky the kids were to be playing so carefree in the lap of nature. They waved to us and came over to see us. For many people in remote villages, city people are like foreigners. There is a lot of curiosity.
On our way to the village, some people had asked us if we wanted a guide and we didn’t want one (although, in hind sight, we definitely needed one). Krish had already done this trek last year and was confident that he knew the route. What we didn’t know at the time was that the route changes every year due to rock-slides which happen after the monsoon season. There had been a rainy season already since Krish’s last visit.
As we passed through the village there was conflicting information on the route ahead; some people advised us that the trail is blocked due to a rock-slide (darad kosalli ahet), and others said the trail is still open. We didn’t know whom to trust, so we kept moving forward.
Meanwhile, I was contemplating whether to ask someone in the village for a porter. Just then, as if reading my mind (or seeing the look on my face), some guy asked me if I wanted him to carry my bag. My eyes immediately lit up. I asked how much he would take and he said Rs.100 up to the start of the ghali (gully), which according to him was just 1.5-2 hours of walking. He said he would not accompany us all the way to the top because he had work to do. My friends started to negotiate the price down to Rs.80. He was adamant at Rs.100. It was around noon, the sun was blazing hot and I knew I needed a porter. As the negotiations were about to breakdown, I agreed to give him Rs.100. I think sometimes we end up bargaining too much for little things – no one bargains in a mall where prices for goods and services are ridiculous.
The next thing I know I gave him my backpack and was a very happy lad. I felt like that was the best decision of my life.
The Grand Lunch
My porter was leading the way and quite naturally he became our (invaluable) guide. Looking back, it would have been very time consuming for us to find the right way. Being at least 12 kilos (~30 lbs) lighter, I was now enjoying the trek. Others teased me for hiring a porter, but I had to do what was best for me. I conserved a lot of energy by hiring a porter, and, more importantly, I was enjoying the trek.
Our guide was carrying a dao (large knife) with him to slash grass and cut over-grown shrubs along the route. It seemed as if no one had come here in a long time, or at least since the rains had ceased. The guide indicated that we were the first ones to come here this year. It’s hard to imagine anyone coming here in the hot summers, and in the rainy season the climb is too risky. However, it is possible that some groups had come here in January or early February before the weather became too hot.
It was amusing to see our guide with an expedition style haversack on his back. To be honest, I thought he was a drunkard, but I was wrong. He was quite nice. Most villagers are simple and honest people. These very qualities often make them vulnerable to exploitation.
When asked how long it would take to reach the start of the ghali, he said it should take no more than 1.5 hours, and from there it was a mere 1.5 to 2 hours to the top. I was hoping we wouldn’t reach the ghali until after the peak sunny hours.
After roughly an hour of walking from the village (including a break), we reached the mostly dry rock-strewn river bed. We started walking up stream jumping from one big rock to the next.
We came across a couple of young girls and some kids who were carrying some firewood on their heads. Presumably they were heading to Belpada. Our guide said that his village uses forest resources in a sustainable way – that way the forest gets a chance to regenerate itself and there is something left for the next generation. However, with the way trees are being chopped by greedy developers in the name of “development” (or destruction?), I wonder if anything will be left for the future generations. We say villages are under-developed and backward. However, can we really call a village, which supports a self-sustaining society, “under-developed” and “backward”?
It wasn’t long before we left the channel and entered a heavily wooded area. This is where the guide proved to be the most valuable. If it wasn’t for him, we would’ve had a hard time finding our way through the woods. We might have had to take the long way by simply going up the channel.
In a short time, we were back in the channel. There was a stream flowing through the channel and we drank water from it to our heart’s content. Since I wasn’t carrying my backpack I wasn’t as tired as the other guys.
We could now clearly see Konkan Kada, which was in front of us, although still quite a distance away. After a quick photo session, we decided to stop here for lunch. I didn’t have any food on me, but those who had generously shared with everyone (including with our guide). That’s one of the important things I’ve learned since I started trekking – sharing. Sachin had brought from home chapatis and delicious bhendi sabzi for all of us. We devoured it with a touch of chutney. It was finger-licking good!
Everyone was tired and we took our time to eat. By the time we were done, it was already 2:00pm and we hadn’t even made it to the start of the ghali yet. We filled our bottles with water and got ready to go. We must have spent 1.5-2 hours for lunch. Our guide had been very patient with us. He still had to get back to his village.
We paid for this time wastage later – with interest!
To be continued… Click for Part Three.