Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sudhagadh Trek: Day 1

Monsoons finally get underway with the first official monsoon trek of the year. I Ryze again, and after some fairly desperate packing at 1 AM (just once, I'd like to go on a trek where I've actually had 8 hours of sleep before) I reach Andheri station at 6 AM and hop aboard.
Nature Knights is definitely going the luxury-adventure way; 2 Qualis(es) this time. I love it. Had enough of the last-train-for-Karjat-at-midnight scenario.
Sudhagadh fort lies near Pali - one of the famous Ashtavinayakas - the Ballaleshwar.

Route: Take your Qualis down the Mumbai-Goa highway to Pali village (little bit ahead of Pen), have breakfast, see the temple, then drive down to a village called Pachapur from where you have to walk.
Alternately, take the last train to Karjat from VT, from Karjat you have an option to either wait for a Pali bus or take a break journey to Khopoli and then to Pali.

One of the most constant Laws of Long Trips is that there will always be one person / large luggage more than the vehicle can hold. This meant I had to get into a position with a rucksack that, had it been a person, would have got me stoned to death in some countries, excommunicated, or at least forced into marriage. However, inanimate intimacy notwithstanding, had a good ride down (stopping at Chembur to pick up rest of the gang and re-pack stuff on roof.)
Some familiar faces - Dnyanesh and Asif are there, of course, and the rest of the NK regulars- Yogi, Rupa, Mithila, Unny, Bindu - and of course Navin - and plenty of new ones, including Hardik who's been my contribution to the ranks.

The last ten minutes of the road is too cool, a complete rollercoaster. Don't do this if you get motion sickness. Arrive and organize guides and carriers for the food, since we have lugged along what feels like half a ton of lunch, dinner, and brreakfast. Starts to rain and D&A produce a dramatic new entry into the world of monsoon treks - the Blue Tarp Poncho. The one-piece, all-weather, all-purpose protection.
Take a 10X3 plastic, fold in half, cut a hole for the neck, slip over head and tie rope around waist. It makes you look like a member of the Blue Lotus Brotherhood but what the heck, it keeps the rain off. Damn neat. I'm gonna make one for me for next time. Lovely weather at this time - rolling mist, occasional showers, and cool, cool, cool wind. After Bombay, this is heaven. And greenery that you actually need to get used to.
The trip up is good; the first quarter and last quarter of any trek are the worst, and this is no exception. Highlights are a ladder set in the rock face over the worst bit (you can see an older much more dangerous route under it) and a point where the slope falls away on both sides, so you're walking a path two feet wide with a ravine on either side. When the clouds roll over, visibility drops to a couple of feet or less; the villagers have stuck sticks along the path to stop people from taking an impromptu airwalk. Combined with the mists, gives a very Blair Witch feel to the place. The fort is 2030 feet high, and the last bit is a spectacular 75-foor shattered rock staircase going up to the fort. Too good. Loose rocks, steep slope, moss, rivulets of water... you have to do the trek for this alone.
Reach the top, where we rest and have lunch. The top is think with vegetation, and what Dnyanesh calls mehmaan log - 'guests' - which will happily take up residence in your bags, shoes, or stored clothing. Sudhagadh is famous (or infamous?) for its reptilian fauna. Which is dramatically proved when we find a tunnel heading down into a balcony-type structure where visitors coming up the steps could be addressed, or shot at. At the mouth of the tunnel is the biggest goddamn lizard I ever saw, evil black and green. At first I go right back out again, before I finally get enough courage to edge past it into the dark, dank dripping tunnel. I'm avoiding touching or brushing against the walls because of what else might be sitting there in the dark, but after a while that's impossible; the tunnel keeps narrowing till the point you have to get on your back, hold the ceiling and haul yourself out through a 2 foot by 1.5 foot hole in the wall. You literally emerge shaking with claustrophobia.
Hm. Time for a cig break, I think.
From there it's onto the main plateau. Unseen from below, the top is a gigantic flat table, with temples, lakes, skeletons, and ruins. There's a Shiv temple, and an Ambarkhana where - get this - elephants were housed. A mountain goat would take an LIC policy before climbing, and these guys brought elephants up here!!
There's also a temple for Bhoraidevi, where we stayed. Bhoraidevi is the resident local deity; the place was initially called Bhoraigadh until the Marathas changed the name to Sudhagadh. Yep, Shivaji again. If there's one common thread running between every monsoon trek fort in the Sahyadris, it's Shivaji Rulz!! and Shivaji Rocks! On the rocks!!
Sat around at the Wada (which is basically a courtyard with a kitchen) where 2 other groups were also sitting. Nice place. I loved it... sit in the shade, watch the rain, and everyone on the other side look so far away, remote...

Lazed around on the plateau for a while, discussing treks, India, emigration, and career options.
Dinner was around a lantern in the ashram; hot food, wet clothes, foggy darkness and a lantern.
5 of us went for a walk later; walked 2 minutes, turned, and found a white wall. A cloud had come up behind us and everything was gone. And the place is easily big enough to get lost in.
Went on a little further, watching the ruins loom up out of the fog... there was a very faint glow from the sky, maybe scattered quarter-moonlight from behind the clouds... Deadly silence, sound of our footsteps and typewriter frogs. It's a liberating experience knowing the only sound you'll hear is the sound you'll make. Creeeeepy with a capital K. I don't need to see The Blair Witch Project after this; It'll be a let down.
This was one of the most deliciously eerie experiences I've had this year, even more than my getting lost in Oracle reconciliation quarter-million-cell excels (that was just bad)

The temple was too good. lit some candles, talked for a while, but I guess people were tired... slept way too early. Realized I'd forgotten to get a sheet in the packing rush, but slept anyway almost like a log on a tarp.
Note: Always carry dry clothes.

For some reason, I'm not being able to add photos to my blog, so here's the link to this trek's photostream. If you want to download and save photos, click here.

1 comment:

Sudha said...

Loved the tunnel and the "white wall" part :). And needless to say, wonderfully described. This blog has officially reached my bookmarks :).



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