Monday, August 20, 2007

Achala Ahiwantagad Trek - 18th 19th August 2007

Come August & the rain had just started giving way to sunnier days. After weeks of spending weekends at home with the one exception of Kothaligad one rainy Sunday, I had almost spent the time since my Himalayan trek to Harkidun in July, in Pune.

What, with that behind me & the weather becoming so inviting (& to add to that a spending 15th August at home after planning to go somewhere or the other..), there was nothing to stop me from heading out for a trek. So finally it was decided.. we were going to Achala , Ahiwanta & Saptashrungi (( Yes it was in the original plan )

After spending a long time whether to go by car or S.T. bus, we finally decided on state transport as it would allow us to do a nice long open ended trek. After the usual yes’s & no’s finally we were left a group of five: Ashwin, Manali, Darshan, Himangi & Myself.

Boarding the late 11 00 pm Asiad ( For those not familiar with the word, these are the more luxurious state transport busses named so as they were introduced sometime when the Asian games were held in Maharashtra) bus to Nashilk & after a 6 hour ride reached Nashik. After having breakfast at a nice Udupi restaurant at the S.T. stand itself ( this was a surprise in itself!) we went to the other S.T. stand nearby from where the busses to nearby areas leave. From here we took the bus to ‘Vani’ which is about 40 odd kms from Nashik. The journey from Vani to ‘Pimri Achala’ the village close to the base of the Achala fort was completed by a Maruti van taxi which had the unique feature of a door that could completely come of its hinges!

A small hamlet called ‘Dagad Pimpri’ is the actual base of the fort & is about 3-4 kms from the Achala Pimpri phata. We reached the base village at about 9 30 or so. From here we took on ‘Bapu Choudhari’ a 65 something very talkative farmer to act as our watadya. (guide) By past experiences we knew that post monsoons most of the regular routes get overgrown & on many less visited forts completely invisible. Coming such a long way after such a long time we decided it was safest to take a guide & try to conquer as many forts as we could in the short time we had. And yes it turned out to be a very wise decision in the end!

The weather was absolutely splendid & sparing a few very short spells of rain, nice & sunny. We started the climb at sometime around 10 15 or so & reached about 40% of the fort in an hour. Here we dumped our sacks & tent in a bush & hid it from the sight of any casual passerby. From here on the route became less & less evident as the grass grew thickly together removing any traces of the route. But with Bapu mama guiding us we soon found a route traversing the huge rocky face of the fort from the right. It was slow going at times as the path was very slippery with mud of the kind which makes you just slide over it. Finally we reached some rock cut steps & some old crumbling masonry, the first traces that the mountain we were climbing was a fort.

After walking further for some 15-20 mins the route flattened down a bit & we came upon some old dry water tanks cut in the stone. Then the path sloped down a bit to reveal a collection of 5-6 water tanks on 2 levels. Here we met three villagers who had come on the fort from the village of Chinchpada on the other side of the ridge. It is said that bathing in these tanks can cure a patient suffering from ‘Kharuj’ .

After resting for some time near the tanks we went on to see the temple on top of the fort & got a great view of the peaks around. Ahiwant was looking especially stunning with the sun peeping out of the clouds at us. We could see in entirety, what was to be our route for the rest of the day along the ridge joining Achala & Ahiwantgad.

After spending some more time on the ‘gadmatha’ we immediately began our descent. The slippery parts were even more trying while coming down the fort but we managed in good time. We also got to see the opening of what is a very large water tank with a small opening carved horizontally in the face of the cliff. Though it is usually pretty accessible, we were only able to get close enough to get a photo as the notches made in the rock had become very slippery with moss. Another attraction is a deep cave like hole which you come across on your left while descending. Its actually a crevice made by a cliff fall & you can get down into it. Finally at about 1 30 pm or so we came to the place we had dumped our sacks. After a quickie lunch of Manali’s Puran Polis & Darshan’s Shankar Pales we continued our descent to the col between the ridges of Achala & Ahiwant. It was almost 4pm when we reached the base of Ahiwant. From here on it was to be traverse to the base of the stream through which we were to climb. Here we decided that it would be best to ask Mama to carry on with us which turned out to be a very good decision in the end.

The route through the nala was initially pretty straightforward, a typical nala climb with steep patches here there. It reminded me of the climbs at Hargad & the Ratan Dehne route. Later on it started becoming a bit steeper & we were almost making a route as we went. Finally the route was almost blocked. I assume we must have missed the route some way back (this I read later & I quote the same. Start climbing the slope on the right after you come across some remains of ramparts)

Then all the fun started! After a lot of clinging to Karvi & climbing over rockfalls in the rain for about 45 mins we finally got on to the right track. Well it was the right track but we weren’t quite on the top yet. It was another hour or so when we finally reached the mandir & small octagonal tank on the top of the fort. I think it was about 7 pm or so when we reached here. But we still had to find the cave that we were planning to live in. According to the book it was on the eastern flank of the fort. So we continued on & climbed down the remnants of a huge stairway & descended on to the eastern flank. Here a huge water tank set approximately in the middle. It was empty except for small pockets of water here & there. Darshan & Mama had gone ahead & called out to us to take the route to the left keeping the flank on our right. Following his directions I climbed down to where the first cave was supposed to be by this time Darshan had gone on to explore another cave he’d found on the slope. He called out to me from there that the cave that I was near seemed to be full of cattle & to come with a torch to see the cave he’d found so we cud decide whether it was habitable or not. I peered into the cave mouth which was almost blocked by branches which I suppose were to keep the cattle in & greeted by the sight of horns everywhere. I too assumed the cave to be full of cattle & went on to meet Darshan & Mama. We were to discover the following day that only part of the cave had cattle in it & majority of it was very clean & flat & would have made an excellent place to sleep! When I reached the cave I found that it had a very low ceiling & I had to bend almost double to get into it. As I flashed my torch around I found that the cave was about 7-7 mts wide & about 4-5 mts deep & not even a metre & half in height. At the far end of the cave a rough ledge about a metre & half in width ran almost the full width of the cave. The floor of the main cave was completely unusable as it was all sticky wet mud, but the ledge seemed to be something we could manage to sleep on. On close examination I found that the ledge was very rough & there were only to places on it about 2 mts or so wide that were not so bumpy. Since our only other alternative was to descend down to Daregaw, which was a good 2.5 hrs from there we decided to spend the night in the cave itself. We called the others as well to that cave & slowly settled down after spreading & carry mats & newspapers on ledge in an attempt to make ourselves comfortable. After persuading Mama to stay on for the night with us rather than taking the route to Daregaw in the night we started preparations for dinner. We seemed to be short of water & no one really wanted to climb to the top again to fetch it from the puddles in the water tank at that moment, So after carefully rationing the water so that we would have at least 2 bottles to take us through the night we decided that we had enough to make us some soup & Matar Usal which actually turned out to be a Alu Matar sabzi. So Darshan got on to make the soup & Ashwin & Manali made the sabzi. We had bread to go with it & had a pretty filling meal.

Immediately after dinner we cleaned up a bit & tried to get settled down to sleep. Everyone was pretty tired out with the long trek & wanted to sleep as soon as possible. But the conditions were such that it was going to prove almost impossible! Finally Ashwin, Manali, Himangi & I cramped into one of the usable parts of the ledge & Darshan & Mama took the other part which was a bit smaller. The only was for the 4 of us to fit in that small place was to lie on our sides. Also we had to stuff a lot of clothes, our shoes & newspapers even to fill huge holes in the ledge. But it was a very tight fit.

Finally morning came & all of us got up or rather woke up…getting up was much much later... feeling rather more that stiff. We wouldn’t have woken up then as we had hardly slept the night before as we were traveling in the bus & last night hadn’t seen us getting much rest either.. But Mama had to leave at 6 & we had yet to pay him. I went out with him & the scene below was marvelous! The clouds had opened up & I could see all around a lush carpet of green dotted with small lakes & weirs. He introduced me to some of the village people who had climbed up the fort early in the morning to milk their cows on the fort. I also came to know later through Darshan who’d gone up to see them, that usually some of them lived in the cave we’d passed earlier but had only gone to their village yesterday to celebrate Nag Panchami. After seeing Mama off I went back into the cave & tried to catch some sleep. But after sometime I soon realized that sleep wasn’t going to come, I got out the ‘Makyacha Kanis’ ( Corn) that we’d brought along & started ‘bhazing’ it over the gas. Soon we were all sitting up munching the corn. Later myself & Darshan went up to the tank & fetched water after which we cooked some Maggi for Breakfast. It was almost 11 when we started climbing down the fort. The rain which had been merciful so far with only short showers came down upon us with all its might & we were drenched in as less as 5 minutes. It took us about an hour to reach the col near Daregaw. The sight that awaited us in the col was amazing. We could see Ahiwant on our right, Saptashrungi Fort could be seen in the distance & huge waterfalls cascaded from the cliff on our left. Another hour of decent & we reached the base. The village was still about 45 mins from here. Here suddenly the rain gave way to sunlight & we had a chance to get some superb videos & Photos. From Daregaw the entire Ahiwantagad could be seen & seemed huge from there. We also came to know from villagers about another route that went up to Ahiwant from Daregaw.

Another spectacular thing that we saw from Daregaw was something seemed to be a needle hole at first but on closer view from the Handycam zoom, It seemed be man made..More like a ‘darwaja’ carved out of a mountain itself. I hope to go there sometime to find out. From Daregaw the Vani – Nashik road which sees a lot of traffic is very close by. Catching a bus from the Daregav phata we reached Nashik at about 3 pm. After having a huge Lunch at a hotel we took the 5 30 bus to Pune.