Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A mid-winter day's trek

The title of this post might sound suspiciously similar to a play written by a certain Mr. Shakespeare, but let me warn you that the content does not contain any fairies or Athenian lovers. Instead, this simple post is about a trek that I went on last Saturday. It was my first trek in quite a while (more than a year infact). And when the idea of this trek was floated by Ali, I jumped on it. I thought it will be more than just a good outing over a Saturday. I saw in it a chance to test out my fitness in handling the demands of a trek. And so it was, that last Saturday (24th December), a motley group of 12 (linked together only by their common acquaintaince with Ali, and most meeting the others for the first time) assembled together for a trek to Sarasgad.

Sarasgad is situated near the temple village of Pali, which is famous as being one of the eight Asthavinayak temples of Lord Ganesh. Pali, in turn, is around 25km off Nagothane on the Mumbai - Goa highway. Our group of 12 (in two vehicles) started off around 6.45 am. After the usual time spent in waiting for some of the members to show up, we went out of Mumbai and onto the Goa highway. Before that, we stopped at the Datta Snacks outlet after Panvel, only to see a mob of Mumbaikars at the place, all stopping by while leaving the city for the X'mas weekend :) We managed to get vada-paos for ourselves, thanks to Vinay who (allegedly) reached the kitchen. Going on, we had another stop at the Kamat outlet after the Karnala bird sanctuary. This was a more leisurely stop with Idlis, Vadas and Dosas being gorged upon. Of course, the downside of this is that we got late in reaching Pali (also thanks to the omni-present traffic jam at Vadhkal Naka - from where to road to Alibaug splits from the highway). Reaching Pali nearly at mid-day, as we got out of our vehicles in the parking lot near the temple, the first sight we saw was that of our destination. The twin peaks of Sarasgad (around 1500 ft high) stood imposingly over the car-park and, indeed, the entire village. I would be lying if I said that, on first glance, nobody had any second thoughts in going ahead with the trek. But thankfully, any apprehensions were quickly dispelled and off we went, exactly at 12 noon by my watch.

Sarasgad is relatively a simple trek. However, the obscene time at which we started the trek more than made up for the gentleness of the track. After about half an hour, the distance within the group started widening. To the credit of those behind, they showed great strength of character (more than fitness) in continuing with it. Mostly, the trek consists of a mud path with small natural steps. There is a small plataeu (with a torn down hut) about halfway up. However, the absence of any big trees with their shade meant that we could not escape the sun, now scorching right above us (even though it was mid-winter). After about an hour and half of pushing and constantly motivating each other, we all reached the base of the two peaks that are so characterisitic of Sarasgad. There are a series of steps in between those two peaks that finally take you to the entrance (darwaaza) of the fort (now almost non-existant). We stopped before the stairway to recharge ourselves and then set out for the final phase of the ascent. Managed to reach the fort entrance just before 2 pm.

There is precious little on the fort by way of things to see. There are some caves with fresh-water natural tanks around. Actually, Sarasgad is not so much a fort as it is a vantage point. Hence, there are none of the sights that you would normally see on the better-known forts (e.g. fort ramparts, cannons, temples etc). Though, being a vantage point, it gave us wonderful views of the surrounding hills. The village of Pali at the foothills could be seen in detail (including a cricket match from 1400 feet up !!). Nevertheless, we were overjoyed to have made it and quickly found a place near the caves and sat down for lunch. The group lunch was a delightful and delicious assortment of fruits, sandwiches, theplas with cheese and even Maggi :). After a lot of gup-shup over lunch, the more enterprising of us set out to go the summit of the peak (a couple of hundred feet up) while the others opted for a snooze besides the cave in the cool afternoon breeze . This was a short 15-20 minute climb that took us finally took us right to the top. On reaching there, we found a big group of TCS people who had come for a trek. After surveying the summit for 10-15 minutes, we started our descent only to find a big traffic jam caused by this group who were just beginning their descent. It is said that the commercialization of Mount Everest has meant that there are traffic jams at 25000 feet plus too. As we awaited our turn to start descending, I could partly imagine what it must be to have a traffic jam near Everest  :) We rejoined our team that we had left behind just below the summit. After the mandatory photo-session and after refreshing ourselves with the ice-cool (even in the afternoon !!) water from one of the tanks, we set out for the descent. The descent was relatively easy, although we did make it interesting by following a couple of local boys who took a different route (also to avoid the TCS guys). Starting off at 3.45pm, we were back at the Pali village in just under an hour. Then it was time to hit the watering hole i.e. the many juice stalls that are situated near the temple. As just rewards for our exertions, each one of us had nearly 3-4 glasses from amongst nimbu-paani, kala-khatta, kokam etc. Finally, we started back at around 5.30 pm. Taking a different route (Pali to Khopoli and then onto the Expressway) we were back much quicker than expected (even after taking a dinner break at Chaat Ke Thaat in Khargar - highly recommended !!). I was home at 9.30pm, having loved every moment of the day and excited at getting back to trekking and looking forward to more such times ahead !!

I have put up snaps from the trek (snap courtesy others in the group) on my Facebook profile.

Some info:

Difficulty level: Easy to moderate. Only be mindful of the start time. If one starts early morning, then it should be a comfortable trek even for first-timers. There are a couple of spots where one has to be careful though.
How to get there: From Mumbai, taking the Khopoli route is better. The road from Khopoli to Pali is quite good. The traffic on the Goa highway can be bad.
Facilities avaliable: None at the top. But Pali has places for basic snacks etc. Advisable to carry your own food.
Duration: Easily completed in a day from Mumbai or Pune


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