Friday, 17 February 2012

Lingana - The Complete adventure

Location :
The pinnacle of Lingana is located in between the two grand forts of Shivaji's Swarajya – Raigad & Torna – on mainline of Sahyadri. The nearest well known villages/towns are Velhe (base of Torna) and Mahad. Most of the trekkers travel to either of the location and then to one of the nearest villages of the fort like Lingana-machi, Singapur, Mohari etc.

About Fort:
Water Tank on side
The fort was built by King Shivaji in 1648 after he defeated Chandrarao More. The main purpose was to secure central Konkan against Sidis. As the shape of the fort pinnacle resembles to shape of Shivalinga, it was named as Lingana. The height of the top is about 2969 feet with respect to the sea level. During its ancient days, the fort used to house hardcore prisoners. These prisoners were made to climb the fort with the help of ladders and subsequently the ladders were removed once they reached the top. As it is not possible to climb or descend the fort without proper aids, the prisoners used to die either of hunger/thirst or a fatal injury.
Although History of Lingana is not as glorious as the major forts like Sinhagad or Rajgad, we get few references that put some light on it. According to the treaty of Purandar, Raigad and Lingana were retained by Shivaji Maharaj.
Records say that Lingana was maintained and looked after till 1786 regularly, from treasury of Raigad.
View from bottom
Finally when British took over the Maratha Empire in 1818, they captured and destroyed the Fort so that no one will be able to capture it back or stay on it. Thereafter the plight of this great monument has become sad. Nobody dared to climb it after that for more than a century.

Today many rock climbers look at Lingana as an excellent place for technical rock climbing in Sahyadri.

How to go?
Path 1 – From Mahad :
Most of the trekkers coming from Mumbai come by this way. One can reach Mahad by ST buses or Railway. From Mahad, we need to take a bus to Panne Villege. From here we can reach the village on plateau called Lingana-machi. Then there is 1 hr slippery walk that leads us to base of the Pinnacle.

Singapur village from plateau
Path 2 – From Pune :
The trekkers coming from Pune have to find their way to Torna. Lingana lies along the small path going around Torna towards Raigad. Most of the trekkers coming from Rajgad/Torna to Raigad come by this way. They either find Singapur or Mohari village in between. From these villages it is about 1 hr walk upto plateau of Railingi. Then through the Gully near plateau called as 'Boratyachi Nal' we come to the base of the pinnacle.

Difficulty : Veeeeeeery Difficult.

Best Time to Visit:
The whole trek, which is mostly rock climbing is best done during winters or early summers. So it is suggested to go during November to February/March Period.

Places to watch :
The place is paradise for rock climbers. This is technically toughest natural rock climb in Sahyadris. You need ropes, carabiners, tape slings and other rock climbing material. When one comes here the basic thing to watch is rocks. So watch everything around , Where to keep your next toe, where to keep your next palm. If you get time to look away from rock the see the things around. The view of the plateau of Rilingi is awesome from the cave on fort. In some places we can still see some broken fortification, but is really hard to recognize different from other rocks. In distant places you can easily see Raigad, Torna and Rajgad forts.

Our Story:
Till this time, no trek group from Pune had arranged the full climb to Lingana for wannabe
climbers. The explorers group once again (first was AMK) gave me the chance to go for a trek where I thought I will never be able to go.

I had always heard, 'Trek to Lingana is toughest trek in Sahyadris', and with the madness I achieved after AMK trek, I decided to jump right in. The organizer asked us to practice our palm grip and arm strength for the trek(of course stamina was prerequisite). So,I was practicing by climbing trees or small waterfalls. Unfortunately while doing so I hurt my ankle 2 weeks before the trek. Now the only thing which I could do was taking care of my leg & pray to god for fast recovery. The trek was on 4th and 5th February 2012. By this time I was almost recovered but still not 100%.
Boratyachi Nal

Plateau of Railingi from Lingana Cave
Our group was 15 people. As this was the first time the group was organizing the trek, two of the main climbers went ahead on previous day to fix the rope for first stage of climb and take all the instruments up to the cave and save some time on actual climb. On 4th February we left Pune early evening around 4 o'clock. The path chosen was Pune-Velhe-Mohari. After a short snack break at Velhe, we reached Mohari village at about 8 O'clock. As we had to start the trek early in the morning, after having our dinner and some chat, we went to find our sleeping bags.

We got up at about 3 o'clock, completed our morning tasks, had a tea and started off towards Lingana at 4 along with a local guide. From Mohari we came to Plateau of Railingi and then started the actual trek. The first part was a gully adjacent to plateau known as 'Boratyachi Nal'. This was just a narrow space between two mountains with many lose rocks. We travelled through this rocky slide of a kilometer or so, in darkness just before dawn. When came at about half the height of plateau, we took a narrow path towards right. Rested a little till daybreak.
After travelling this small path along the mountain we reached at cleft between Lingana & the plateau. Here we equipped ourselves with Tape-Slings and other instruments and started the climb.
The wall - first patch after cave
First part was comparatively easy climb. All ropes tied, almost zero fully vertical steps, so no huge amount of skills were needed. But the difference between previous climbs done and this was now visible. The soil here is eroded at much faster rate as all the existing grass that grows on the mountain slopes is burnt down. Due to this the soil loses its grip and is washed away. This would theoretically makes climb very difficult, but in our case we had rope in our one hand – so all safe.
Overall group was excellent. Although not having much of an experience of rock-climbing, all of us climbed upto the cave in about 1 hour. And this 'us' included one with almost zero experience of rock climbing. So hats off to him! It was about 8.30 – 9 o'clock, when we climbed about 40% of the pinnacle and were having fun around the cave, taking photographs. From this place we get an awesome view of the plateau in front.

The rock next to be climbed was looking like a 50 ft solid walls with some groves & cracks. Now was the time for real climb. The guy with zero experience decided that he wont be able to continue here onward. He stayed in the cave till we came back. It was almost 10 o'clock when first member started for next patch. All patches this point onward were just crazy, with our alpha ahead, fixing up all ropes and we following his footsteps. Sometimes sitting down on narrow edge of pinnacle, looking/learning how the leaders climb the rock without any rope, being thankful to leader/god that we have ropes for our safety. There were 4-5 major and many minor rock patches to go up. After last big rock patch no rope was tied, we just walked on narrow path with huge valley on both sides. The place is terrifying.
With steady and patient movements we climbed the whole pinnacle. All of us sat down with a sigh of relief. From this place we could see real roughness of Sahyadri. The capital of Swarajya – The great Raigad - right in-front of the eyes and the first fort of same Swarajya – Torna – right behind your back, somewhere lying the old capital Rajgad and 3000 ft vally on both side with you standing on a narrow pinnacle of hardly 6-7 ft width. If you can, imagine yourself....
We had many group photos here. Had some rest under bright sunshine of noon (Thinking, somebody should plant a big tree here). Then our leaders gave us required instructions for rappelling down. The return journey started.

First few just reached on top
The rappelling wasn't the regular style where you have complete vertical wall under your legs and you can go weee down the heights but you have to constantly change your direction of movement according to the next rock. It was practically semi-rappelling – some times your legs supported on the wall in front and some times on the rock grove below. This was something new..

When we reached back to the cave at 3, everyone was sun-baked finding their water bottles. After a while in cool shade, we took out our packed lunch and hastily finished. Then some sat chatting, some having nice afternoon time nap as always. Meanwhile leaders brought down ropes and instruments. Then after everybody had lunch, packed their water-bottles, rappelling of 450 ft started at about 5 o'clock.

the crew
This part was done in two stages. First a run down of 150 ft then remaining 300 ft. This part was actually proved worse than our expectations. As we climbed up this in about an hour, we thought we will go down by 7 o'clock. Unfortunately it didn't happen. The people which were beginners went first after the leader. And it took huge amount of time to teach rappelling on such a difficult surface. Hence the actual rappelling drifted till night time. Hardly 2-3 guys were reached to the base by 7 o'clock. And after this time the real disaster begin. Now the people which were used to rappelling started to take more time as vision was really limited (though there was moonlight). Besides the last man had to round up all the ropes and stuff while coming down – that was also a considerable challenge. Meantime the leaders who were already at the base took the people there to the top of the plateau in small groups. At least they were able to rest in peace there. I don't know if I was lucky or unlucky to stay as the last one of the participants to come down, but one for sure it was a great experience to see how the last guy rounds up all the instruments.

By the time I came down it was past 9.30. I came down, had almost a liter or so of water, and sat down on the ground till the last one came down. The group remaining was 5 people – 3 of the leaders, me and one more of the participants. We rounded all the ropes, tied them properly. Each one carried at least one rope along with the backpack and left the base at about 10.20. Walking around the plateau, climbing back the 'Boratyachi nal' was awesome. All of us came non stop through this part within 40 minutes or so.

Rappelling down
We just came up. No sooner we had touched our a**es to the ground, the leader said, “Hay we need to move fast, I don't think anybody will serve you food at any hotel nearby after 12 o'clock”. Hell! Once again we got up and started running towards the vehicles kept in the village. It was past 12 o'clock when we actually sat in the car and return journey started. Of course no hotel on the road was open. Some guys had some food left with them. We shared it as much as possible. Had a great nap in the car and finally reached Pune at 3.30 in morning of 6th. Somehow reached home by 4 and slept immediately.

This was the most amazing experience of trek I had till the date. It included long sprints, exhilarating rock climb, rappelling in both harsh sunlight and soothing moonlight, night run along the edge of valley and through the gully – what more does a trekker wants? [Yeh, next day holiday.. unfortunately it was once again 9 o'clock office]

Friday, 30 December 2011

Alang Madan Kulang - Trekkers' Paradise


The fort trio of Alang-Madan-Kulang is situated in Kalasubai range. This area is rich with few of the highest mountain peaks in Sahyadri. Nearby peaks recognized are Kalsubai (higest peak in Maharashtra) & Ratangad. Other nearby landmarks are Bhandardara backwaters and Igatpuri.

View Alang-Madan-Kulang Trek in a larger map

About Forts / Trek
The trek to Alang-Madan-Kulang is considered to be one of the toughest treks in Maharashtra. It tests your stamina, patience and mental toughness. Kids this is not your place to play your games. Overall trek includes rock climbing, rappelling, high steeps, long walks. To support all these you have very less amount of guidance available in any (printed, Internet) written material, and confusing ways to go. As a result this trek stays as just a dream for many trekkers or many even don’t know about it.
Due to their remote and difficult location the Forts have remained neglected by Gov. of India. According to what I heard, it seems there was no professional group arranging this trek until last decade. Some very passionate and experienced trekkers used to come here that time. Recently some groups from Pune and Mumbai have started planning this trek regularly.
Also to mention very less amount of historical information is available about these forts.

How to go?
Path 1: Igatpuri/Kasara
This path is preferred by trek groups from Mumbai. One can come to Igatpuri/Kasara then to Ambevadi via Igatpuri/Kasara-Ghoti-Pimpalnermor route. Bus facility from Ghoti to Ambevadi is also available. From Ambevadi, through the ridge between Alang & Madan one can start the trek.

Path 2: Ghatghar/Udadvade
This path is preferred by Trek groups from Pune. Go to Ghatghar/Udadvade via Goti-Bhandardara. It is a small walk upto base of Alang from both villages.

Difficulty: Very Tough

Best Time to visit
Rock climbing is best done during winter and early summers. DO NOT go there in summer or rain (if you are not planning a suicide).

Places to Watch
Beautiful scenery around, raw beauty of Sahyadris, view of backwaters of Bhandardara and many more natural sites from all three forts. It is a paradise for a photographer. But most important of all, please watch your steps. Keep them in right places.

Our story
I was in a bit of confused state initially to go for the trek. According to what I heard this was really a difficult trek. Besides I had no prior experience with Rock Climbing or Rappelling.
So obviously going there with professional trekkers was safest option for me. I came to know that the Explorers group was arranging one on 16th to 18th Dec '11. I asked a few trek-friends for company, but they were either too afraid or had some work.
Yes or No, Yes or No ...?!!
Nobody I knew was coming but, it was a great opportunity to know new people and I took the call as 'Yes'.

Day 1
We left Pune at midnight of 15th December from SP College and reached Bhandardara MTDC at about 5 o'clock in morning. We were a group of 20 people including 3 guides. After having heavy breakfast we traveled to Udadavade village. It was just the time after daybreak when we reached base.
Water tanks on Alang
We did some stretching, rounded our backpacks, tightened our shoes and stood ready for the mission. We were accompanied by 2 local folks who knew the path very well. The mission started at about 7.30 o'clock in morning.
Initial path to Alang was pretty easy - mixture of steeps and planes. We were warming up through this part. At about 9 o'clock we reached to the first plateau. After this was a plain walk of about 1 to 1.5 hr. While we were covering this path a funny / horrifying thing happened. While we were passing by a herd of about 10 Buffaloes, one of the group members made some weird noise to tease them. One of the Buffaloes wasn't big fan of that noise. And guess what??!!, next thing we knew was we were jumping out of the way as that Buffalo charged to hit her target. Fortunately we all were successful with dodge and nobody got hurt. God bless the Buffalo who went into those thorny bushes.
Alang Rock patch
After the plain walk there came the first rock patch of about 15 feet. We did enough to get past it. Then was a walk on edge of valley up-to the actual fort where all of us arrived at about 2.30 o clock. Then we had our packed lunch.
In evening we were going to cook the dinner. Some collected firewood, some water, while some helped with cooking. In evening we went to see around the place. The fort has good collection of drinking water in form of 11 water tanks on the top. Some ruins of historical buildings are still here in form of 'Sardar Kothi'.  After looking the sunset we came back to the cave where we were going to stay. As expected members not involving the actual cooking process were just hanging outside the cave, looking at stars, sharing their previous trek experiences, joking around (I was part of this group). At about 8 in evening dinner was ready. After dinner we played Antakshari and some other games before we packed ourselves to the bed at about 10.30.

Day 2
Alang Rappelling
This was a hectic day. First day we walked for about 7 hours. Second day we woke up early and gathered near the Shiva-Temple at about 5.30. After headcount and photo-sessions we left Alang. Beginning of the day was a 50 ft rappelling in chilly air. It was a nice experience.

Then we had our breakfast and headed towards Madangad. This path was highly dangerous. First part was a kilometer of valley edge then tall steps and then the best adventure of the trek – The 25 ft Rock climbing patch. This place was breathtaking. Below was a depth of 3000 ft and above stood a vertical rock of 25 ft. I was standing on small patch of less than1 ft. Although with all the safety instruments attached the heights just take all the air out of your lungs. You have to sum up your courage and set the foot up on the rock. It was great moment when I climbed up. Those 5 mins felt like an hour with only one thought in mind, 'How much more?'
After the patch we continued the climb to madan. Actual area of fort top is very small – a water tank, a room where 25 people might stay and some remains of fortifications. Still the view from here was awesome. You can see from here the fort trio, kalasubai, ratangad, harischndragad and along with all a huge area of land all around you.
After about an hour we climbed down Madan, stopped a while for lunch and then moved ahead for the last one at about 2.30 pm.
Madan Rock Patch
The path between Madan and Kulang is covered with dense bushes and forest trees. It is a long way to go. You have to come down to the plateau and then climb all the way up. It is very steep walk up while climbing Kulang, highly exhausting. It took 5 long hours to cover this path with very negligible amount of party breaks. The last part of climb to Kulang – where we have to go up with steps carved into the stone – we went up with torch in our hand. Finally we reached to the top at 7.30 in evening. Considering Lunch and Snacks break, the day was almost 11 hours of walk.
Then we executed same schedule of cooking dinner and eating. The day was exhausting and everybody fall asleep after that.

Day 3
Plan declared was to wake up late and move back after lunch. Some people chose to sleep up-to 8.30 and some woke up early at 6 o'clock. I woke up in between the two cases – about 6.30 it was. It was a beautiful scene that time. We started looking around the fort and take some snaps.
The fort has many water tanks but only one seemed to be clean enough to drink. There is an old dam like structure, but it is broken. View of Kalasubai-Alang-Madan at the time of early sun was amazing. After a lazy walks around half of fort we came back at the camp at about 10 o'clock. We then packed our bed and backpacks and then went to see remaining half of the fort.
This side of fort is having some residential structures. In same area we saw a gang of monkeys, maybe 20 of them. They just ran away as they saw us. On this end of fort there is pretty narrow cliff. When you stand at the end you feel like you are on top of the world, the feeling is just intoxicating.
We then came back by 11.30. The people who woke up late were still busy cleaning themselves and packing up for return.
Alang (Right), Madan (Middle), Kulang (Left)
We had our lunch, clicked some final group photos and started the return journey. It took about half an hour to come to the base of Kulang. We waited there for a while and started the return towards the Bus at 3.00. We divided ourselves into two groups. First still healthy - able to move at good speed and other slower due to some injuries. I was in the first group, and we almost ran towards bus. Path was really confusing but all followed the leader correctly. We completed the half circle around Kulang and waited near the river. Had some time for relaxation, photography once again and then continued the run covering back Madan and Alang on ground. We reached the bus at about 5.45 in evening.
Exhaustive, Enchanting and Enlightening – that’s how we can describe the last 3 days.
We changed into clean clothes, freshened up and rested till the second group arrived. We started our return journey at about 8 o'clock in evening. On way back we had dinner in Sangamner, danced Ganpati-style in bus and finally reached back to Pune at midnight.
Then it was – Good night, sleep tight.