(1.I have not bothered with the proper formatting of text and pictures..so please dont mind..2.people have been referred to by their initials..)
Day 1,25th Dec 09:So after an eventful night journey in a tempo traveller,which involved our ride getting late by 3 hours and an exhausted driver who had to wake himself up occasionally ,we were ready to set our foot on the AMK(Alang-Madan-Kulang)terrain.
Road head was a village named Ambevadi(Igatpuri,Nashik).The location is directly amidst the mountains.You step out of the vehicle and are immediately surrounded by that typical Sahyadri vista-High,rocky cliffs and outcrops interspersed with yellow dried grasses of the winter.
We started the approach march at around 10.30a.m.The itinerary said that we were to reach the top of Alang fort that day.The initial route was a normal trail along the base of the mountain,through deciduous vegetation and karvi grass.
Around 3 hours of walking like this and we reached the first few stairs that would lead us to the rock patches the fort is so famous for.
Climbing up the stairs cut into the rock,we could see a line of trekkers getting down the 1st rock patch.Soon enough,we were at the base of the very same patch;but considering the long queue that had already formed there,we took a break in the adjoining cave and finished our packed lunches.
This first rock patch is quite simple but has a considerable gradient.SS and ss set the rope up and i was told to free climb the patch;which i did..but with my rucksack on,i had some difficulty pulling myself up at the last step.So at that point,i was pulled up by ss and i reached the base of the stairs leading to the next rock patch.
Here again,the rock was already being climbed by other groups.So we waited for our turn while SS and ss set the rope up. Theres a ledge beside the base of this patch which can easily house 8-10 people.This became our pit stop and we spent quite a lot of time just looking around in the valley and clicking pictures of our rucksack and other climbers being pulled up on the rope up the path.
This 2nd rock patch is 50feet long and is very difficult to climb i.e.only if you are the lead climber.The local people,who are generally hired by trekking groups to work as porters cum route guides(vatadya),carry out the task of free climbing.They dont even need a harness.They just hold the rope and almost run to the top.Amazingly fearless!
I put on my harness,clipped the carabiner in the rope and was put on belay.Since i am supposed to be one of the better trained people in the group,I was told that i wouldnt have the luxury of being pulled up from the top.So even though i didn’t have to ‘rock climb’ as such,i had to brace myself against the rock face and pull my body up.i managed to do that easily till the last 2 pulls;where my hands gave up and again,i had to be pulled up by the top ropers.
Theres a wide ledge at the top of this patch where the anchors are set up and adjoining the ledge is a cave.
It took considerable time till the last person of the group was inside this cave.Now only the last few stairs remained to be climbed before we reached the top.These are deep cut stairs and have an exposure on one side,which makes the climb a bit unsafe;especially if u are carrying a heavy pack on the back that can push your body away from the rock wall.Though the group ahead of us opted to go without a rope,we chose the safer way and within 10 mins,everyone was on the top.
Alang top is a huge plateau(1260m on my barometric watch) with caves in the middle.The remnants of the fort are on a small hillock on the top of the caves.The caves were already occupied by trekkers who had reached earlier.So the plateau leading to the caves became our tea point.Before it was made though,a beautiful sunset was ushered in.My god,the colors!!The dark,deep orange shades!i was entranced.Shutters kept fluttering & i did whatever i could to capture those sinking moments on the electronic medium.
Summing up day 1’s trek:A moderate level walk in the beginning.Its impossible to climb the 50ft rock patch without technical aid.Here i would like to point out,that all the hard work was being done by our leaders-Sachin Sir,Sagar Sir,Suresh Sir and of course the local people.After the rope was set up and we were clipped on to it,all we had to do was to pull ourselves up..in the case of newbees,task was even more simple..they were given a chest harness and pulled up bu the people above…frankly,i didnt have to do any real rock climbing.if you go as a part of a big group,obvious priority goes to safety and speed.Theres little scope for trial and error.This will always happen if you go with a registered group.if you want to do real climbing,you should go alpine style or otherwise,you should be experienced enough to act as the leader of such big trekking groups.I would like to do these climbs again,in a smaller group where i will have to be responsible for my own climb and safety.Nonetheless,i enjoyed the climb made a piece of cake by our leaders.The sheer exposure gives you a thrill and you get the opportunity to negotiate tricky patches on very few other treks.
We spent the time till 9pm on the plateau itself,where dinner was cooked.For the night stay,we shifted to the caves.there were around 50 ppl on the fort and all of us were accommodated inside the caves.The caves were HOT owing to the lack of wind and the fire that was set up inside by other groups.i didnt have to use my sleeping bag.I used it as my bedding and didnt even have to wear any woolen clothing.
Though being in a crowd annoys me,seeing such a large number of people on the AMK trek(supposedly the most difficult in the sahyadris) was a good indication.Pune & Mumbai has just a fabulous population of mountain lovers.There are numerous groups or organisations one can join so as to go on regular treks..or at a later stage,one can just form a group of like-minded and experienced friends and hike on in the mountains.
Day 2:I had had a hard time catching on some sleep the previous night,thanks to a choked nose and an extremely uneven ground surface(i hadnt taken a sleeping mattress for myself).I finally got up at 6a.m.Very few people were up & i took the advantage of darkness to answer the nature’s calls.(Believe me,getting up early in the mountain has its own benifits.you dont get the toilet area already used up.so u dont have to go far to find yourself a suitable bush or a boulde r to hide behind. 😉 )
The more important benefit is from a photographer’s point of view.mountains look wonderful in the rising and the setting sun and the light conditions are ideal for clicking pictures.I spent some time sitting alone & idle on the plateau,looking around and breathing in the cold air.on the west,one can see ghatghar backwater and ratangad fort.on the east,avandha and patta forts are visible and so is Kalsubai peak.
After a while,i had to run till the top of the caves to catch the rising sun.Through the lens at least,The sunrise seemed more beautiful than the previous day’s sunset.The reflections in the water were fantastic.
We started the descent at 9.30am but lost quite a lot of time climbing down the stairs.
The plan was to climb Madan fort and then immidiately head to kulang and stay there for the night.We went till the pass between Alnag and Madan.But there we came to know that there were around 40 climbers still on the top of the rock and traverse patch of madan fort.This is again a very thrilling part of the AMK trek and we didnt want to miss the fun.But the technical difficulties meant that waiting for our turn to climb alomg the traverse & the rock patch would have taken a hell lot of time and time was at a premium.So we would have to cut short our itinerary for the day in any case.Out of Madan & Kulang,it was possible to cover only one fort that day.A vote was taken and quite expectedly,the four(me,Satya,Ajinkya and a few others i count as a single person) of us lost.
It was decided that we skip Madan and head to Kulang instead.When people voted for Kulang,they had mistakenly judged that the lack of a technical climb would mean an easy approach to the top of the fort.They couldnt have been further from the truth.From the pass,we made a straight descent down into the valley,which involved scrambling through a lot of loose rock and stones.It was quite tricky and our minds had to be on the alert mode all the while.Once we get down into the valley,we traversed till the base of kulnag and then along the base of Kulang.This traversing took 2 hours and at that point,we reached the base of the ridge that would take us to the top.
Theres a bifurcation in the trail and you come across a tree that is supposed to act as a route indicator.From here,its a bloody steep path up the ridge.Believe me,it takes your breath out,literally!Satya,DP and I were ahead of the group and since i didnt hear Satya & DP talk about taking any break,i didnt dare open my mouth and say,”Hell,i want to rest!”Having done mountaineering courses,it has become a prestige point now ;).So we kept going up,up and up.Its just steep,you know(not that i am complaining!).In the last one fourth part,u have to climb deep cut,vertical steps ,again with an exposure on one side.i feel the steps were easy,had it not been for the rucksac.The rucksac shifts your centre of gravity outside..Anyway,after an almost nonstop climb up the ridge(i admit,one break..),there we were,on top of kulang!!
I must say this climb was very satisfying.The exhaustion was detoxifying.when we had decided that madan was to be skipped,i was a bit disappointed.But Kulang turned out to be fun too!i loved the steepness.and it was just as well that DP & satya didnt stop anywhere in the route.
On reaching the top,i took a headside ‘dubki’ in the water cistern.
We then went around the plateau to look for firewood.We came across other water cisterns on the fort and again witnesses a gorgeous sunset.
An hour later,everyone had reached the top(1390m)nd it was time for a hot brew.There was only one cave on the fort(the other one is not habitable because the newspapers sticking to the ground make it look creepy..) and it was again already occupied.Kulang was hosting around 60 people that day.So we spent the time till dinner on the plateau,listening to survival stories and techniques from ss..later,i put my earphones on and scribbled away in my diary..it was good..the wind lashing my face,the crooning in my ears..the darkeness..this is what i come for….Unlike on Alang,it was very windy up here..my post dinner plans of staying behind with ss,SS and satya and sleeping in the open,without letting SP(trek leader & organiser) know about it, remained unrealised(i was not allowed! 😦 no probs though,i understand..)
The night stay in the cave was extremely uncomfortable.It was crammed with people..i got the innermost spot beside the wall..it was HOT…cudnt sleep due to the constant chatter…and woke up to a mouse beside my head!!..for the mouse experience though,i m glad tht i was made to stay inside the cave..
The climb down the fort the next morning meant negotiating those very same steps with extreme caution.the exposure is deep and direct.the walk till ambevadi consisted of a lot of walking and scrambling down scree and steps.i liked it very much.at the end of 3-4 hours,we hit the tar road.our tempo traveller came there to pick us up.
All in all,an excellent trek.Its tough in terms of stamina..even though its better to be trained in technical things,the climb is made possible for the newbies by the technical people in the group..the mountains are majestic..i have been around sahyadri before..but i liked the shapes here better..they are just vertical and in your face…an ideal place for photography…i experimented a lot this time and learnt a few new techniques fo AK..AMK trek is a good way to check and build your endurance…some time again,i am coming here again..Madan awaits!
My thanks go to Suresh polekar sir,sachin gaikwad sir and sagar sir and the local people who cooked tasty food for us and carried our burdens..
The return journey was not eventless either..See the pictures.
Hope you enjoyed the journey. 🙂