Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Days trek to "SAGARGAD FORT" in Alibaug district.

 AN INTRODUCTION TO THE SPORT AND HOBBY OF TREKKING :-After quitting my sea-employment as a "Marine Engineer"i decided to pursue my hobby of "Trekking", a rugged natural fitness sport as well as the accompanying enjoyment of viewing nature in its unpolluted splendour. As a "Life-member" of the "B.N.H.S (Bombay Natural History Society)" which conducts numerous overseas and local "wild-life tours" as well as "Single day treks" within Mumbai region, i decided to begin my trekking with the "B.N.H.S Trek expeditions".After a few treks with "B.N.H.S" i was amazed to realize my ignorance of the natural beauty and slendour that exists within a 150 Kms vicinity of the congested and polluted city of Mumbai, a literal unexplored backyard of my own city.I am commenting after decades of visiting different "Port City's" of the World during my tenure of employment as a "Marine Engineer" on board "Ocean ships".Later after switching over to "Coastal shipping" did "Solo Back-packing " tours at my own personal expense to exotic foreign locales, also intermingling with various cultures and nationalities. "Trekking" is my latest hobby of spending my week-ends mingling with nature , meeting acquaintances as well as exploring the unknown ,later blogging a travelers account of my "Treks" in the vicinity of congested Mumbai city. SAGARGAD FORT TREK(SUNDAY 16-8-2009):-I boarded the "B.N.H.S" tour minibus at Dadar T.t near "Chandulal Halwai shop", the normal boarding point for trekkers residing in this locality of Mumbai City.I had booked my trek tour ticket costing Rs 350 in advance to avoid disappointments of the "trek tour group" being full. We were met by local B.N.H.S trek guide Mr Vinod.Patil and after a "Roll-call", the minibus departed towards its destination of Alibaug.As i was a regular trekker with the "B.N.H.S Group" in the recent months, met some familiar regular trekkers and hence got acquainted to Mr Jayesh.Shah and Mr Sunil.Bidadar,trekkers of my generation,besides manny other first time trekkers."B.N.H.S" organizes "One day" or "2 Day" treks on most week-ends to various locales near Mumbai city, a refreshing break from "City Monotony" to the retirees,city executives, businessmen,businesswomen, housewives,collegians, students or children. En-route to Alibaug we stopped for breakfast at a local "Dhabba" near Panvel, our usual regular stop on trek trips and i had a lavish "Missal-Pav" with tea, the ideal Maharashtrian breakfast local delicacy.After breakfast we proceeded on our long and tedious journey, collecting a few more trekkers on the way including trek group leader Mr Sujit.Narwade, a veteran of the "trekking" routes" conducted by "B.N.H.s". "Sagargad Fort" is situated at a height of 452 metres(1357 feet) and can be ascended from 3 different routes A)Khandala village route, B)Vaghede Route and C) Bail Khind Route.We finally reached our ascent point at Khandala village after approximately 3 1/2 hrs of road travel,passing through "Karnala Bird Sanctuary" and green paddy fields, the first time i saw rice cultivation in the vicinity of Mumbai city.3 1/2 hrs of road journey is an equivalent time distance of a journey from Mumbai to Pune, proving that the best and quickest route to Alibag is by sea from Mumbai city and then by road to Khandala village for trekking to "Sagargad Fort".Sagargad or the "Sea Fort" name as designated by the British ( Mr F.B.O'Shea, superintendent of post offices (Konkan division) in the "Bombay gazette" of 5th Jan 1882) lies nineteen miles south of Mumbai,six east of Alibag and 6 east of Dharamtar landing place.It is mentioned in 1713 as being one of the 16 fortified forts given to Kanoji Angre by Peshwa Balaji Visvanath. Prisoners, sentenced to death were said to have been hurled from "Monkey point" of the fort.
                                                                                                                                                TREKKING TO THE PEAK:- It was a long and narrow path to the base of the summit from our "mini-Bus stop" at the Khandala village entrance on the main road and our first encounter with danger was a "Red Ant Nest".The local adivasi villagers had cut a tree in the midst of out pathway and we walked right through it with myself being a major source of antagonism to the disturbed ant nest and finally managed to get rid of them with the help of fellow trekkers, also photographing them in the process.This is the fun and beauty of trekking in the forests, jungles or in the midst of cultivated vegetation, encounters with unknown beasts, insects or birds of the natural wilderness as we humans are trespasses on their territory.The peak of "Sagargad" from a distance on the ground resembles a small hillock from its exterior , "Childs play" for a seasoned trekker and world walker like me.The same proved absolutely deceptive and it was one of my most grueling treks for various reasons.The humidity was high and besides i was carrying just 1/2 litre of water and to add to my woes, my old jogging shoes were gradually disintegrating during the trek.The start of the ascent begins in the form of large rock-cut staircases akin to walking up a building and this continued for at least an hour until we reached the narrow trekking paths, typical of "Trek routes".Our first rest stop was at the spur where we could view the Dhondhane river source(Alibag river) falling as a waterfall from the cliff above, a sheer drop of over 300 feet during the "Monsoon Season".Although 2009 is considered a "drought Year" with very low rainfall , the Dhondhane waterfall was in full flow, panoramic beauty amongst the green vegetation and dense forest growth.After a brief photographic session and also some photo's with the absolutely humanized forest monkeys we began our onward journey to the summit.Our next stop was at the local "Siddeshwar temple", a temple dedicated to Lord Shanker built in a dome-shaped structure unlike most Hindu temples which are normally spire shaped, something unique in this region of Maharashtra which had a strong Muslim influence since historical times.The lone lady trekker and a fellow gentleman trekker were exhausted and couldn't complete the trek, hence, they were advised to rest at this temple confines until we completed the summit trek and returned back, collecting them on our descent."Trekking" is a total "Team sport" and although a few individuals might be "class 1 Trekkers or mountaineers",age playing a vital role, its ultimately the "Team" that should accomplish the task of reaching a "Fort,Peak or destination point" and returning together safely, the natural art of "Human Management" or "Company management".From the temple, to the left, it was another grueling 1 hrs walk through the local Adivasi villages of Siddeshwar, where the local houses walls were made of karvi tree branches and cow dung instead of the normal bricks or mud, besides, all these houses were installed with "Solar Power Batteries" on their roofs, a case of 21st century technology mingling with rudimentary original natural forest house dwellings.We finally reached the fort boundary walls, a few ancient rock stones being the indication that this particular plateau was once a massive fortress housing an entire military and civilian army.The hill of Sagargad is a "Jig-Saw puzzle" and after the ascent into the "Fort walls" precincts one can lose their directions while returning since the entire plateau is vast with numerous detours.Thanks to "B,N.H.S" trekker guide leader Mr Sujit.Narwade , we managed our entire trekking expedition. I realized the importance of trekking with a experienced trek group leader in forests or unknown forts through this simple yet jig saw puzzle trail of "Sagargad Fort".A Ganesh and Shivling temple is situated on the Fort precincts and further on the fort trail are the Sati plot or "Satichi Mal" where 9 tombs in the form of mounds previously existed on a large plot of hillside land. Records of their existence upto the 1800's during the British era is shown in their "Gazette records",but, with the passage of time and soil erosion are almost non-existent today. We later had our lunch near the "Ganesh Temple" and took photographs of the breathtaking view of "Vanartok Pinnacle" also spotting a "serpent eagle" in the sky above, classic scenery and locale.

                                                                                                                   This hill was once abundant with "Long-Billed vultures" which are now totally extinct in the entire region. We quenched our parched mouths at the spring water cistern called "Pandavkund", a untraceable and unexplained perennial source of fresh water on this isolated mountain top.Some mysteries of nature are unexplainable even in the 21st century "Rocket science" era of human progress and evolution. After a brief rest and lots of photography we made our way back getting lost momentarily and later re-guided by group trek leader Mr Sujit Narawde, a real nightmare if attempting to trek this simple looking deceptive "Hill Fort" all alone.The sole of my right "Trek shoe" had partially opened and i was just holding onto my right foot shoe through years of trekking and walking experience.Shudder to imagine trekking down this hill barefoot on rocky stones and gravel, a disaster for severe foot or body injury's.The descent which began at 1515 hrs approx was quick and we reached the base of the hill within 1 1/2 hrs compared to 3 hrs to reach the summit.After a warm cup of tea at the local village Dhabba we finally boarded the "mini-bus" and made our way towards Mumbai city at peak traffic hours, finally reaching "Dadar TT" at approx 1945 hrs.Co-Trekker Mr Jayesh.A.Shah gave me a lift upto 'Century Bazaar" on his way to home at Worli, an end to a memorable day of adventure, fun and extremities of human physical boundaries.With every trekking adventure one becomes experienced since trekking unlike "Back-packing" of which i am a veteran is totally different."Trekking" is akin to sailing on a "Ocean Merchant vessel" or competitive "Sea-sailing", requiring skills in "Jungle, forest terrain or steep walks" besides "Physical and psychological stamina". The right "Trekking gear and clothing" is very essential , hence a lack of proper conditioning or clothing or knowledge of the "Trekking Terrain" could be disastrous and even fatal.