Monday, December 23, 2013

Salher-Salota, Mulher-Mora - Trek

Ever since I heard about the highest fort in Maharashtra, Salher, and saw the pictures of the impressive mountain, I've been making plans to visit Salher and it's satellite fort of Salota. I came across a group that had organized a 2 days and 3 nights trek that also included Mulher and Mora and immediately decided to board the ship.

Salher, Salota, Mulher, and Mora belong to the Baglan region of Sahyadris. This area has experienced vibrant and intense moments in history. The famous Battle of Salher (1671-72 AD) took place near Salher fort. This major battle was probably the only battle that Shivaji fought on open ground against the Mughals. (Most of his battles involved sneaking up on the enemy and taking them by surprise.) The forts do have remnants of their original splendour albeit in a dilapidated manner. If you allow your imagination to soar, you can build up a splendid and vivid picture of what these forts would have been in their glory. I wish our leaders or institutes would have spent some money to maintain such monuments from the past.

Day 0 - Pune-Waghambe
We started from Pune to Waghambe village that is just before Salherwadi, the base village for Salher fort. The journey was quite long and we reached at around 7:30 AM at the base. After a quick breakfast, we started the climb for Salher.

Day 1 - Salher-Salota
The plan was to climb Salher and Salota and reach the Waghambe village by evening. We started at around 9:30 AM for Salher. The climb though not difficult, is on a continous incline.
Salher fort from Salherwadi
The route throughout has several doors or gateways. Some of them are really impressive. There are some steps on the way cut in stone.
You can see the incline
After reaching a plateau, we walked along till the main caves on Salher. The caves are big enough to fit almost 20-30 people. From the caves, we started our walk to the highest point on Salher, the Parshuram temple.
Towards the Parshuram Temple
From here, we see the Baglan range. We could also spot Mulher-Mora and Hargad. We could also spot Salota that is connected to Salher.
Nearest mountain is Salota
It's difficult to guess the way that takes you up Salota. It seems as if it's cleverly disguised. After spending some time near the Parshuram temple, we started climbing towards the ridge that connects Salher and Salota. This walk was the best part of the trek.
Salota on the left while traversing Salher
Traversing around Salher, looking at the steep valley below, walking along endless water cisterns and caves, sometimes walking under overhanging rock, and continuously looking towards the beckoning Salota.
Salher to Salota - route map
While exiting Salher towards the connecting ridge, there is another door that leads to steps down to the ridge. Walking across the ridge, we looking for a road towards Salota. This is another traverse around till the point of stone-cut steps. We managed to get lost and after asking a shepherd, we got back on track.
Onwards the ridge to Salota
Salota is steeper and more challenging than Salher. All along the traverse, there is a valley on one side while you are continuously climbing. Even the steps are high.
Salota and it's rock-cut steps
After reaching the top of Salota, we were amazed how similar Salher looks to that of salota from afar. It's almost a pyramid in shape.
Salher as seen from Salota
There are water tanks on top of both Salher and Salota and if you carry Medichlor, you can be relaxed about the availability of water. The vegetation is sparse around and because of the continuous shining sun, you are bound to be thirsty and so do not worry about water.

From the top of Salota, we again descended to the ridge connecting Salher-Salota and from this point, we started walking towards the base village of Waghambe. It was quite a long walk and by the time we reached the village, we had to use torches as it became dark after sunset. At Waghambe village, our bus was waiting to take us to Mulherwadi, the base village for Mulher, where we planned to stay overnight. We stayed in an ashram overnight and ate at a locals place.

Day 2 - Mulher-Mora
After an early morning breakfast, we resumed day 2 of our trek. I was worried that the long walk and climb that we did for Salher and Salota would cause some muscle ache on Day 2, but the deep overnight sleep and limbering up done in the morning sun proved to be rather good.

Mulher trek starts from Mulherwadi. All along the trek, we could see the steep peaks of Mangi - Tungi right opposite Mulher.

After the initial walk traversing around the fort through shrubs and grasses, we reach the beautiful Ganesh temple.
Ganesh temple en route Mulher. Hargad in the background.
From here, the route towards the east takes you to Mulher while the western route takes you to Hargad. After a while we came across another water tank called “Moti tank”. There is a story that Shivaji dumped some of his loot from Surat in this water tank to lessen his load. There is a big tank nearby that is called “Hatti (elephant) tank.”

The climb towards the top of Mulher is across a beautiful route that goes zig-zag between walls built to stop the enemy.
It is incredible to see the old structures standing the test of time and nature. Then again, you can stop and wonder about the erstwhile original structure and be completely impressed.
Reaching the top of Mulher
I loved the climb on Mulher more than the climb on Salher. It was a lot more impressive in terms of beauty but not as difficult.
Mulher on left, Mora on right - route map
The tricky part was the connecting ridge between Mulher and Mora. While it was not as long as that between Salher and Salota, it was quite tricky in terms of the slope and the deep valley on one side. Mora can be climbed from the ridge via a stone-cut steps leading towards a door.
The stone steps leading to the top of Mora
There are no structures on top of Mora and after spending a little time, we descended as we had to resume our journey to Pune.

This was a memorable trek, and very different from the nearby ranges in Pune. The mountains in the Baglan region are steep and most of them have a prominent cliff peaking on top. I’ll remember this most for the wonderful traverses that were challenging for the body and mind.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Kulang trek - Camping on the edge of the Kalsubai range

Ever since my earlier trek to Kalsubai and Ratangad, and after looking at the magnificient trio of Alang-Madan-Kulang (AMK), I kept yearning for a trek to Kulang. Kulang is the easier of the trio, but it is also the highest climb in Maharashtra. Imagine the joy that I felt when I found out that a trekking group was planning an overnight trek to Kulang in the cool month of December!

The trek began overnight on Friday. A bus was arranged for a serious group of 10 people. We started at around 11:30 pm and after an event-filled night that included a tyre puncture at around 1:00/2:00 am, no sleep because of the bumpy route, driver acting cranky because of the long route, et al, we managed to reach Ambewadi/Ambevadi village at 5:30 am.

Sleep was out of question for me. I was just glad that we reached a place where I could see the mountains.

Some people from our group managed some sleep in that short time while the rest of us roamed about. The plan was to take a break of about an hour and then have tea-breakfast and move to Kurangwadi / Kulangwadi from where the route to Kulang trek starts. We took the help of a local villager to show us the route as it could be confusing at times. There are ways that villagers use to take their cattle for grazing that are misleading.
Kulang trek begins.
The route initially takes you along some small farms, Kolhapur-type dams, eventually leading to the base of the mountain and the start of the incline. The walk is continuously upwards almost at an angle of 40-45 degrees.

After almost 90 minutes we reach a rocky patch that has footholds in the rocks that are remnants of steps. The angle of inclination slightly increases here and for a long time we climb along the rocky patches. Along these patches, we collected fallen twigs a wooden sticks that we intended to use as firewood. It's better to collect them in the last two-thirds of the climb because once the rock patches start, it's difficult to find any firewood. There are no trees on the top of Kulang.
Eventually, we come near a stone staircase which probably got saved from the British canons because of the height from the base. This staircase is remarkable and you keep wondering how the people from the yore would have managed to reach till this point and then use tools to cut through the stone.
That slight opening in the rock face are the stairs.
After climbing the staircase, we finally reached on the top of Kulang. It took us about 2 hours 52 minutes to climb. This is probably a good time according to one of our instructors since it included a couple of breaks as well.
From Kurangwadi to the top of Kulang (click to see the larger version)
On the top of Kulang we settled in a cave. The cave is big enough to accommodate 20-30 people. We were just 10 so it proved to be rather big for us.
The cave
After settling down for a while, we started preparing lunch. It was indeed a fun time to make a rustic stove made up of stones and use firewood as fuel. We also visited the water tanks (about 7-8 in number) that are on the east of the cave and used them for cleaning up the dishes. There is one particular tank that has cleaner water and we could see the bottom of the water tank. We used water from this tank for drinking (after treating it with Mediclor!) Lunch as usual was splendid for the hungry appetites and the sleep that followed was blissful.
Some water tanks
What woke us up after the afternoon siesta was a slight chill in the air, mostly because of the drop in the temperature of the cave floor. The silence inside the cave was deafening. No external sound at all! This was around 5 PM. A plan was made to walk towards the edge eastern of Kulang from where we could see Madangad, Alang, and the unmistakable peak of Kalsubai. It probably is the highest point on Kulang and a splendid place to catch the sunset from.
The first peak on the left is Kalsubai. The immediate peak in the front is Madangad.
We walked back to the caves in that twilight time and then settled outside the cave for some soup and dinner. Then we met another small trekking group that had climbed after us. Some of these guys had a tent and others were planning to sleep outside in the open. This was a very inviting idea and I always like to test my sleeping bag so I was all for it! What an experience it was to sleep outside in the open, where the wind chilled our senses and the innumerable stars shined upon our eyes, while the moon smiled in it's glorious crescent.
Our camp site facing the entrance to the caves. (morning time)
Though I did wake up whenever the wind managed to sneak inside my sleeping bag, it was indeed a splendid idea to sleep out in the open. I just had to lift myself slightly towards the east and I saw the hint of the rising sun. What a peaceful morning time it was!
Shades of the morning
Then after the usual morning activities and watching the sunrise and basking in its warmth, we decided to break our fast, pack our bags and start our journey back. While others were packing up, we decided to visit the western end of Kulang. The view from this part of the mountain was beautiful. We could see the ranges all in their morning glory (though under a net of haze) and were amazed at the magnificent beauty.
We could have easily spent a lot of time watching these mountains and the surrounding scenery. The edge becomes sharper towards the flag and the subtle thrill that walk gave is difficult to describe.
Top of Kulang showing the relative location of caves and water tanks. The green marker is the location of the flag.
The downward journey was swifter as expected, but we managed to get lost because we did not have anyone to show us the route. But this was just once and after asking the few villagers, who had climbed to collect firewood, we managed to reach the base, cook lunch, find our bus, and start our return journey to Pune.

Kulang indeed is a beautiful trek. Best time for the trek would definitely be just after monsoon when the grass is green yet the sky is open and the surrounding ranges are visible. It is so serenely peaceful on the top, that I thought of planning a stay for a week sometime. Think about it, collect firewood, cook food, read, sleep, roam around.

In peace!