Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Lost and Found in Durg Dhakoba (edited to add a slideshow and dark descent pics)

(Now added : A rock climbing slide show and pictures of our dark and rocky Durg descent , courtesy Ranchoddas Das ) 

Saturday , the 16th of January 2016, saw us take off in the late evening for the Durg Dhakoba Trek.

Dara Ghat is a mountainous region between Junnar in the plains and Kokan , used by local people to descend to the Kokan  near Dhasai village and then to Kalyan.  There is a vast plateau all across Dara Ghat, and Durg Fort (1175 metres) and Dhakoba (1270 metres) are two projections on this plateau.  In the region between Malshej Ghat and Varandha Ghat, Dhakoba is the highest peak, and on a clear day you can see a panoramic view of the Bhimashankar area  and Harishchandragad.

There are various approaches for this trek, and we followed the path via Rampur village.

Rampur village is near Dhasai and from here you can climb to  Durg from here. This is a very difficult route and almost straight climb. This ghat name is Khutedara ghat . Probably based on some phrase in Marathi. In Marathi, people spell it as Kuthe Dharu ghat(~~" Where do I  hold?"  कुठे धरू ? ) ....

A straight climb,deep valley behind and you have to search for places in the almost vertical rock faces , to anchor yourself, as you try your best, loaded with backpacks and sleeping bags.  A difficult ascent and more so, descent.

 Mumbai suburban train  around 8 pm up to Kalyan, state transport bus from Kalyan to Murbad (complete with interesting social experiences) , and private vehicle then from Murbad to Rampur.  And we planned to begin our climb in the early hours of Sunday.

1. This trek was characterized by many "firsts".

I have never done as much difficult rock climbing as I did on this trek . The dense jungles, the almost vertical rocks, the steep climbs, and for the first time,  the entire trek being done over 36 hours, because we lost our way on the way back, thanks to different advice from three locals. Much of the return happened  with 4 torches, 7 people, and a dense jungle combined with steep rock drops.

We finally reached a base village (not Rampur) at 3 am .  The good world never sleeps, and a local Samaritan helped us fix a vehicle, offered us tea, and we were on our back to Kalyan , to tangle with the heavy Monday crowds going to work in Mumbai.

Lots of effort, lots of learning, and lots of other experiences.

2.  The state transport bus ride from Kalyan to Murbad on our way to the trek, was replete with obnoxious youths being objectionable with some of the lady trekkers,  not taking kindly to being rebuked , and being extremely physically abusive to the fellow male  trekkers who rushed to help. Physical fights ensued. Women and families with babes in arms who tried to intervene were roundly abused with filthy words, and then told to stay out. The conductor kept kept his own counsel as he sat in the driver's area. This was possibly a routine occurrence.  Our first experience amidst so many treks. (But it tells you a lot about how a society changes, when rural areas suddenly come within city limits, when farmers' lands are being sold to builders at outrageous prices , the new generation doesn't know how to handle prosperity for which it never worked, unlike their parents who tilled the land and slogged, and thanks to Bollywood movies, the youth learn wrong things about how it is smart to behave like a gunda.)

I guess rapid urbanization does that to some.

I've read many postings about this trek, and what keeps getting emphasized is that it is easy to get lost in this trek; you need to have a proper local person guide you.  The locals climb this routinely, while they tend to their sheep and cattle , and the paths they create are what we look for.

We got lost around 4 pm, and it was an experience  finding our way down in the dark, amidst dense jungles and steep rock faces.  After several efforts by the experienced members, we finally were able to make it down, across uneven stony paths, slowly , and reached another base village, not Rampur , by 3 am , on Monday 18th Jan .

Like I said, lots of effort, very tiring, but  a huge learning experience. About everything.

Clearly, Durg Fort was our destination, Dhakoba was not attempted due to lack of time.

But, now, for some pictures.   

Sleeping at the Feet of the Lord.  Late night arrival at the base village Rampur, and the local Hanuman Temple offers folks like us a place to rest till daybreak. 

No one really sleeps.  There is a lot of chit chat, talk, and looking forward to the climb  ...

One of the coldest mornings in recent times, and our leader , Ranchoddas checks out how we are doing....

Very early morning, and we are now organized and ready to leave.  The gentleman in the blue shirt who doesnt seem to feel the cold at all, is a local person who accompanied us up as guide .  This particular climb is through very dense jungles growth, and steep rocks, and it is very easy to get lost.  He guided us up, and had to then return down to attend some celebration at the village.  We descended on our own , and thereby hangs a tale....

 The trek begins
PC : Jayanand Supali

Onward we go
PC : Ranchoddas Das

Here Comes The Sun !  Sunrise at Rampur...

The climb is fairly steep, and at every plateau encountered, we tended to take short rests, for water and so on.  This is breakfast !

The sight of the Durg peak, shining in the morning light. 

Some way up the mountain, and we take a fruit and water break. Lots of dry stuff like dates, cakes, theplas, etc is carried by all of us, and this time it also included some tilgul.  

Amazing clear blue unpolluted skies, and this tree was just asking to be clicked. I obliged. 

The higher you climb the happier you are. At a short clearing in the densely wooded terrain.  And you can tell the sun is up....and climbing..

The tree again...    But the shadows and sunlight now makes it look so different. Same holds for humans in different situations...

A view of the valley landscape.  The area  we climbed is between the Ghod and Mina river valleys and you can see some water bodies ..

Rocks are such an integral part of this climb. Vast undulating rocky plateaus and then  It is either a dense jungle of steep rocks. Thanks to an insufficient monsoon this year, and four months since, we see dried grasses amidst rocks .

Yes, we climb one by one. Unlike some other forts where climbing armies probably carved steps and places to hold,  this climb involved finding our own supports and almost lying on the rocks.  Notice our guide at the end of the queue.  The villagers climb this every single day along with their cattle/sheep  since the plateau on top offers excellent grazing . They climb with hawaii chappals. And we make such a fuss about "trekking shoes" , "back packs" , "waist belts" et al...

Our leader Ranchoddas Das , clicked some amazing rock climbing pictures , and I have assembled them in a slide show below . Watch.

Our gentleman guide in his simple "trekking"  avtar. Simple  footwear !
 Respects !
PC : Jayanand Supali.

Yes, the steepness of the rock intimidates you...

Some more steepness...  but a climb to the top, anywhere in life, is always difficult...

Some different climbing , made a bit tougher because of the backpacks...
PC : Jayanand Supali

We had to find our own paths and own anchors on the tough climbs. Something that is true otherwise in life as well !
PC : Jayanand Supali

Another view . Notice the sharp drop below. One must be very alert while climbing. Two of my trekmates  doing their climb...

Sometimes, a sudden rock displays an inviting perch, and my friend Ranjana responds by taking a break to rest a while...

Hum Dono ..

Hum Paanch.  One was clicking. And one was possibly shaking his head at the need to indulge in all this ...

There is a huge undulating plateau between Durg(Fort)  and Dhakoba (mountain). And this is where locals bring their cattle to graze.  A brilliant sunny winter morning, and for some local folks , this is actually daily work !  
A typical landscape . Paths to the top through the thick jungle often wind around the mountain to avoid very steep climbs. Alternate paths also exist , which might be a bit difficult.  This is what makes this particular climb confusing and needs a local guide, who is familiar with the terrain. 

On our way through the jungle...

The Durgadevi temple in the dense Devrai at Durg.  It is possible to stay here, but no facility for cooking food like in other forts.  There is NO Historical Fort as such, here at Durg, and so most trekkers prefer not to stay overnight here. 

Another temple detail.  The maintenance of this temple seems to be by the locals, and some restorative construction is visible. 

Prayers for Durgadevi. These would be much needed by us.
PC : Ranchoddas Das.

The Durg-Dhakoba connecting plateau is home to many such trees, that continue to thrive upright despite being affected by severe weather conditions forcing them to bend. Perhaps a nice way of offering more expansive shelter under them...

A short distance down we came across this well, which to this day contains excellent potable water.  Modern technology seems to have reached here  with pipes and stuff which we noticed. 

Ranchoddas  operating the pump at the well, , so that we may collect fresh water for our meal and well to fill our bottles of water .
PC :  I dont know who took this picture, but it was on Ranchoddas's Camera.

Yes. I couldn't have asked for a better pose from these two. They are so aware of the shape of their horns, and what intelligent framing of one's face by the other .  Our modelling types have so much to learn....

What a lovely mealtime panoramic view for the cattle of Rampur !

Celebrating the peak at Durg !
PC : Ranchoddas Das

 And a selfie to celebrate making it to the top !
PC : Jayanand Supali

The sun had moved on, and we decided not to trek to Dhakoba due to lack of time. There were steep rocks to be managed, pathways to be searched in the jungle, and our gentleman guide had returned down the mountain to attend some social commitment at the village.  

We started descending at 4 .Some passing locals were consulted and they gave some conflicting replies.

Following pictures clicked by the trek leader Ranchoddas Das, who finally led us down successfully to the village.

 We first attempted descending via Nadi chi waat.
PC: Ranchoddas Das

 By 6 pm, the sun was setting, and we still had not been able to find the path.
PC: Ranchoddas Das

 Then we almost found the Nadi Chi Waat; but it looked difficult at that time, and so we did not go that way.
PC: Ranchoddas Das

 This was the situation at 2 am that night.  7 of us,  still finding our way with 4 torches, in the jungle and the rocks with steep drops. Some of the  more experienced trekkers would go on a path search while we others waited together.
PC: Ranchoddas Das
All of us extremely tired , it was 2.45 am , our torches were almost kaput, and suddenly in front of us we could see the faint lights of the village.  (You do not see me, but the print on my teeshirt saying, "I shoot people" with a picture of a camera. At that point nothing was further from my mind ...)
PC: Ranchoddas Das

Clearly, someone, somewhere  , was looking after us , that night.   The group back at the village at 3.30 am , Monday 18th Jan , 2016.
PC: Ranchoddas Das

  But trekking teaches you things. And nature teaches you. The expert trek leaders amidst us, fanned out to take reconnaisance, as the rest of us stayed put in one place. Sighting a peak might unnerve someone, but it also indicates to some about a possible path around it and away from it on another side.  

The path was full of stones and rocks, and we had to descend very very carefully and slowly , keeping track of each other, conserving the light power.  

We made it to the base village at 3.30 am.  

As mentioned before, the good world never sleeps, some folks were awake then in the village, a gentleman arranged a vehicle for us, with a phone call,  made some tea for us , and seven very tired trekkers, after 6 hours of trekking got a shuteye en route to Kalyan .  

Some of us looking forward to a forced leave, some  having been through worse calamities, not thinking much of this one, and some grabbing quick naps in the vehicle, in anticipation of having to rush to a full day of work , within an hour of reaching home.   

Yes, there is much to learn.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aisa bhi hota hai ! My 4th 100 kms, 1st puncture, and 1st medal !

Sunday, 10th January 2016, saw a event being held in Mumbai, called " I can ride  - creating confident cyclists!"

There were 4 levels of distances one could choose to cycle;

25 kms Mulund-Kalyan-Mulund),
50kms, (Mulund- Yewai-Mulund)
75 kms  (Mulund-Khadavli-Mulund)
100 kms (Mulund-Asangaon-Mulund)

I have already completed 3 100km cycling runs, and I wanted this to be my fourth.  Asangaon is a place i have visited several times en route to my many treks to Forts, and cycling to the place  sounded interesting.

As rides go, this one was very well organized. We would be flagged off from Marathon Avenue , Mulund. There were to be various checkpoints en route, where water, electral, biscuits and bananas would be made available to us. Each rider would get a ride card, a route map, route sheet , a bib number, and there would be a support vehicle and others constantly available en route.

Helmets, Reflective jackets , and registration/signed waiver forms were mandatory.  

My friends from my Powai Pedals group and I left around 5.15 am for Mulund. I had my faithful Strava software monitoring me, and I hoped to make some good timings.

Like us, cycles are also human, and have health situations. My faithful cycle was destined to have problems this time. But there is nothing that cannot be solved with such helpful fellow riders, and  cycle shop dadas along the route. I was carrying my air pump, as well as a spare tube.  But this was an experience in learning how it feels as the air very slowly leaks out of your tires, and what to do when this happens.  Sapinder Singhji, and Piyush accompanied me for the removal of the puncture, at the cost of their own timing. Thank you!

A hot day, lots of sun, and the Neera stalls along the highway appeared to be most welcoming.

I lost 20-25 minutes due to the unexpected puncture and the overall timing suffered.

My ride card duly signed at each checkpoint, I turned it in at the completion of the ride, and the gentleman looked up and asked , "Your first 100 ?"  

"No. This is my fourth !  "

I grinned. He smiled. And handed me my medal and certificate.  

Like someone called Walter Wintle said (and the I-can-ride-wallas quoted) :    

Life's victories don't always go, to the strongest or fastest man/woman.
Ultimately, the one who wins, is the one who thinks: "I Can"!

 Reaching Marathon Avenue in Mulund before the flag-off.

 My fellow riders from Powai Pedals . From L to R ,  me, Pradeep Nayak, Ravi Mishra, Nikhil, Ankit Jain, Sapinder Singh, Elan Chelian
 PC : Ankit jain

 A quick photograph for the road, before we pedal away !  The cycles (and us) now have bib numbers. And we all carry a ride card which needs to be ratified by the staff  at the various official stops  PC : Ankit Jain

 Cycle no 129 ! My chariot ! 

  Replenishing ourselves with water/electral, bananas  and/or biscuits at one of the official stops.  

 At some point, tea appeared on the scene , and was greatly appreciated.  Me with my cuppa. 

 Must be the first time so many cyclists crowded at a petrol pump.  

 At one of the further official stops.  The ride card needed to be stamped and signed by the responsible staff , without which your ride was invalid. 

 Hum Log!   Yes, and a selfie !
From L to R, Ankit jain, Vilas Sawant, Piyush, and me.

 My bike developed a puncture, a first for me. I've been praising its performance during all the rides.  Maybe it is a lesson that one must expect some bad along with the good, and be prepared to face it. 
Luckily, I was able to get help from this cycleshop dada, who fixed the puncture for me , very fast, but very carefully as well . 

I was able to make it to the last checkpoint at the Food Hub , just before Shahpur.  Hunger pangs after all that pedalling, and sandwiches and samosas were very welcome , and promptly devoured.  

 An uneventful ride back, except the sun was overhead now, and a quick photo here while taking a short breather.  Thane was 25 kms away .

 A medal and a certificate for those who completed the promised distance . You can see the folks who sponsored the rides.   The certificate indicates that I completed 100 kms in 6hrs and 18 minutes.   
I must emphasize that this elapsed time includes the puncture, the cycleshop search and the puncture removal. 

The faithful Strava , gives the real pedalling picture. 
5 hrs, 50 mins,53 seconds. 
almost 123 kilometres...

There is something called January Gran Fondo

You need to ride at least one 100 kilometre ride, if not more, between Jan 1, 2016 and Jan 31, 2016. 

This is a world wide thing. With leaderboards and lists. Turns out that my rank amongst  1,32,941 participants, riding a total of 7,910,208 kilometres,
is  9335 . 

Top 7.02%  . 

And I found out that I earned this Gran Fondo Badge for performance.

Like someone said, between sips of coffee,  leaning back in the sofa, 
"not bad, not bad....."   :-)