Friday, April 27, 2012

A Hike into the valley of shadows - Sandhan Valley

Sandhan valley always seems like a mysterious place that a few have visited. Its description as a valley of shadows added to its charm even more.

The valley is located on the west side of beautiful Bhandardhara region near Samrad (pronounced sam as in farm and rad as in rudd) village. The village itself is located approx.  at 3000 ft above sea level. It is made of up of folks who stare at you are you walk by, but are equally eager to help if you hesitate even slightly. About 500 meters away from the village is where the Sandhan valley entrance is located. Nothing fancy there, just the point where the path starts to descend steeply.

All around the village you will find the great peaks of the Sahyadris – the famed Alang-Madan-Kulang (AMK) tri peaks, followed by Kalsubai, Ajooba and of course, Ratangad.

When you walk to the mouth of the valley you realize that you are essentially walking in the path of a stream, a big one at that. In summers and winters, except for a few ponds where water remains accumulated, the rest of the route is dry. In the rains, the area is inaccessible, as expected. This is that unusual trek where you go downwards first and then hike up.

We left Pune at 4 since the journey was a lengthy one. We went via Kasara, Bota and Kotul bifurcation, and reached Sandhan at 1.30 PM (We would have typically reached at 10 AM had our bus not run out of fuel near Ratangad. It is quite a story, more later). Since the walk was to be in shadows we set off immediately. A local youth joined us as a guide.

There are a couple of ways to see the valley. The easier route ends where the valley slopes down sharply to overlook Thane district. You can make a halt here and return, the total distance covered from mouth of the valley till this point is about 2.5 KM. We reached there at 3 PM or so and had our lunch. The return took longer as it was a climb and we were back in our seats on the bus at 5 PM.

The longer and more exciting route is to continue down the slope all the way to Karoli Ghat and then to Dehane village (Base of Ajoba fort) in Thane district. This involves a couple of rappels down the rock face along with trekking downstream through huge boulders and rocks. You will most certainly need to wade through waist deep water. This trek is an overnight affair and it is best done when the sun is around. The terrain is tricky to navigate in the dark  due to the fact that it is made up of boulders, rocks and stones most of the way. In the dark shadows can trick your feet into a hole which may deeper than you think it is. Even the full moon may not help – if the valley shades you from the sun, then so will it from the moon.

The other way to enjoy the longer route, part of the way is to continue from Samrad towards Karoli Ghat and return from there back to Samrad. This should take about 4 hours. This also involves the rappelling point mentioned before.

The typically routes to go to Samrad are three:

  • Via Sangamner  - (Total Distance approx - 248 km)
    Pune - Narayangaon - Alephata - Sangamner - Akole - Rajur - Randha falls - Ratanwadi phata- Shendi Bhandardara - Panzare - Udhawne - Ghatghar Dam - Samrad village

  • Via Bota - (Total Distance approx - 200 km)
    Pune - Narayangaon - Alephata - Bota - Bramhanwada - Kotul - Kotul Phata - Rajur - Randha falls - Ratanwadi phata - Shendi Bhandardara - Panzare - Udhawne - Ghatghar Dam - Samrad village

  • Via Otur - (Total Distance - 200 km)
    Pune - Narayangaon - Alephata - Otur - Bramhanwada - Kotul - Kotul Phata - Rajur - Randha falls - Ratanwadi phata - Shendi Bhandardara - Panzare - Udhawne - Ghatghar Dam - Samrad village

Of these, the route via Bota is recommended as it is shorter and take you via major state roads which make your journey faster.

Now about our fuel fiasco. It seems the bus driver was under the impression that the tank is full and by the time Samrad was much in our grasp, the bus finally shut down in protest. We managed to convince a fellow working the land using a excavator to spare some diesel for us. After taking about 5 litres, we proceeded and stopped every time we saw an excavator or a loader. Thankfully there was some road work or other in progress on this route so excavator we plentiful. Interestingly, the jeep drivers, who ferried passengers on those routes refused to help us.

Though we had reach Samrad, we were still woefully short of fuel to carry us till the nearest pump. It was 60 KM away.

Help came in the form of a local boy who took his van all the way to the state highway and came back with 20 litres of diesel for us. He also runs a small snack centre, can prepare meals if requested I advance and has a room that you can rent for a short overnight stay. With the bus as nicely fed and rested as us, we were on our way back.

A great experience with the members of a new group I meet and agreed to go out with. Sandhan valley is a must visit for many times.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Princess on a bike

Shocked silence greeted me when I identified myself as the bike’s prospective owner at the showroom. Of diminutive appearance, I did not appear up to the task of riding an Royal Enfield let alone a tricycle.

After a few mumbles to recover his stance, the salesman ran me through the choice of colors available.

I had done my research on the bikes made in the stables of this particular brand and needed to make a final decision. The salesman was not really helping my cause. Little did he know that I had grown up around these roaring and beautiful machines.

My first bike was an old Java, when it was neither a type of coffee or a programming language. It was a great bike of its times. We actually, it was my Dad’s bike. Every now and then I would demand to be given my fair share of rides on the mean machine. As I started saying my first words, I used them to make sure the rides lasted longer and longer. My parents did not know how the loud monster could hold any fascination for a little girl. They realized though that I was hooked.

When the Java finally gave out after decades of joyous rides, Dad opted for a sleeker and more ergonomic Hero Honda bike. I had a big say in that choice. I loved the smooth lines, and the uncluttered look. Though my father never ever gave in to my request to ride the bike by myself, he always indulged my hunger to go for a ride with him. This one made much lesser noise and I could hear the wind whistle in my ears. I loved the rides we went on, away from town where the roads opened up, the skies seemed blue-er and the wind blew unfettered. I loved the bike for enabling me to experience these moments of pureness and natural beauty.

We seemed to like the brand, Hero Honda. The next bike I bought, on my Dad’s behalf, was one of its kind. Again a breezy design. This one was more powerful than the first, at my insistence. I would soon be legally eligible to drive and I wanted to cut my teeth on a racy machine.

The learning lessons went well, I took to the bike like a fish to water. Most of my early rides were on country roads. We’d take a nice picnic basket, pack a camera and Dad took the driving seat till we left the city chaos behind. Then I’d take over. Though country roads do not need you to walk a tight rope between other vehicles who do their best to drive you off the road, you really have to watch out for the unexpected. And I have a scar on my chin to prove it.

That buffalo just turned up from nowhere right on to the path I was riding and decided at that very moment, that this spot was nice to stand and gaze. Along we came, cashing headlong into the surprised beast. The bike fell sideways, throwing me and Dad off. The helmet I wore saved my head but could not prevent a loose rock from scratching my chin badly. Dad managed to injure his leg.

And what of the big beast? Well, it just stood there as if a fly had settled on him and without a second glance at us, set off at an easy pace.

Soon it was time for Dad to let go and watch his princess take the machine out for a spin all by herself. With the usual dire warning that only Dad’s can give, I was handed the keys. It was the most joyous day of my life. I could ride to college, I could ride to the umpteen classes I had enrolled in, I could take a friend along and I could ride when I felt like. The bike meant freedom to me in many ways than one. Where girls had posters of their favourite heroes, I had those of the world’s most powerful bikes.

The bike was with me when I applied and got selected for my first job, but sadly it was my turn to let go now. Which brought me to the Royal Enfield showroom a while afterwards. It was the culmination of the passion of my entire life so far. The Royal machine with the famous thunderous firing. I gazed spell bound at the shiny machine, powerful and majestic in appearance. Inviting enough for me to want one right away.

Finally I gave up on the salesman and decided to take things in my own hands. I made my selection, I handed over my hard earned money—a result to many months of savings. The Bike was mine. Mine.

On a cloudy evening, with signs of imminent rain I took possession of my dream bike. Then I took my Dad on a long ride back to those country roads we loved so much.

This is my entry to the The Castrol Power1 Blogging Contest. Visit the link here: