19th– 20th June 2010
Yuvazhep’s Ratangad trek was one of the most memorable and remarkable trek. Why? Read ahead……….
After a week’s planning and preparation, a final list of 41 people was prepared for Ratangad trek. 30 of us caught the last 11.39 pm local to Kasara from Dadar and others joined us on the way to Kasara. The train got pretty empty after Thane and we booked our seats at the door. Then begin the usual pranks, singing, masti time. We reached Kasara about 2.15 a.m. The platform was not so alluring so we preferred the roof of sky. Thankfully it wasn’t raining than. Some of us surrendered to the goddess of sleep, whereas most chose to enjoy the night.
For our further journey we had booked a truck from Kasara station, which was not luxurious but surely created an adventurous aura (not sure how many aching bones will agree). We began the journey at 4 a.m. The route was kasara- Bhandardara- Ratanwadi and the distance is approximately 50 km. It was long and tiring initially but as sun shone and nature revealed its glorious treasures we went speechless. A cup of hot tea created miracles for our tired bones. Our first halt was decided to be at Ratanwadi but we stopped at Bhandardara Dam. The dam was not filled much but river was a beauty carrying green and cloudy reflections. Some cameras went ‘click, ‘click’. We were getting late and had to proceed further towards our destination. After relaxing our aching bones we hanged out at the rear end of truck to catch the glimpse of this amazing place. The way was through green mountains, ghats and tiny villages and fields. We lost the count of waterfalls on the way. Though the early morning fog was not yet lifted from the villages, farmers were already on their way to fields. I appreciate their enthusiasm for hard work. Approximately half an hour later, at about 8.20 am we reached Ratanwadi. Its a tiny village at the foothills of Ratangad. We got off the truck, immediate site was a well built Amruteshwar temple’s cistern. Its architecture was a marvel and same can be said about Amruteshwar temple. It is build around 1000 AC in Hemadpanti style. The speciality of such architecture is its minute carvings and spectacular dome. The inner sanctrum is generally filled with water and lingam submerged. Behind the temple flows the Pravara river and the fields are spread around. The atmosphere was exotic. It wasn’t raining but clouds seemed ready to shower.
Everyone rushed through their morning chores (in the jungle since there are no toilets) and gathered for a yummy breakfast of ‘pohe’ at a local house and set out our feet for an exciting trek. Only thing we didn’t knew was what challenge laid ahead. We began our trek at approximately at 9.45 am, which was pretty late. Actually such things occur when enthusiast first timer confuse between trek and nature trail-picnic. However the trek began excitedly. We had given packet of 8 theplas to each person for lunch which was quite adequate. Our group had many first time trekkers who were finding the trek difficult and tiring. Entire group was divided in teams of 7-8 people per team and were told to obey their group leader.
Our guide for the trek was Sagar, a 10 year boy who was very friendly and matured. Ratangad is a place with high possibilities of losing your way, hence local guide is a must and his help is indispensable on crucial paths. The trek takes about 5-6 hours to & fro. The trek route can be vaguely divided in 3 parts separated by 3 plateaus which can befit as resting place, otherwise the route is through dense trees. Trek begins with basic walking route adjacent to stream and few times cross the stream. Soon we reached the first plateau from where glimpse of ratangad peak was visible admist the fog. After the second plateau the road gets divided in two parts- left goes to Harishchandragad and right takes to Ratangad. One need to be very careful on this diversion as many experienced trekker also tend to lose their way here. Our guide was there for our rescue and took us on the right path.
As we headed further we reached the renowned part of ratangad trek- the ladders. Most of the trekkers were petrified at the sight of the ladder and rain added to the drama of the horrific experience for some. We lost our maximum time while climbing and descending the ladders. An erect rock after the 2nd ladder blocks your way and to conquer it takes much guts. Beyond the ladder there are steps which become very slippery and risky in rains. After passing through the darwaazas (Ganesh and Hanuman) we reached the top. Once you reach the top of the fort the view captivates you. As the fog mitigate you can see some peaks like Alang, Kulang and wall of Ajoba, but we were at no luck. On the fort you can find water cisterns which are filled through out the year. Also there is a Ganpati temple and 2 caves, one is small and can accommodate 3-4 people and other 30 people. Trekkers have an overnight stay in these caves. The cave also has iron gate for protection from animals. Other places to be visited on fort are Rani Mahal, nedhe (natural orifice) were you get to face strong winds, beautifully carved Trimbak Darwaaza, origin of Pravara river. The legend holds that Agastya rishi meditated here for a year without food, God pleased with his devotion dropped 2 drops of ‘amrit’ here from where river Pravara originates and also called as ‘amrutvahini’. Not much is known about the fort. We wander on the fort, had our lunch and hurried back for return journey. We already had taken longer time to climb due to the rain and descending was tougher.
I couldn’t proceed further without mentioning about the discipline and teamwork at treks. People don’t understand that these issues are very crucial especially on difficult and dangerous treks like Ratangad. However few participants were reluctant to follow their group leader and were walking on their own. This is okay until the remaining group is in sight or at a reachable distance. Even after persistent warnings they didn’t stop and the leader couldn’t leave the remaining group for these people. It was getting late and we had to reach the base before 5.30 pm if we had to catch the last local from Kasara leaving at 8.40 pm.
I was at the base to arrange vehicles for a group of 14 people who averse to return by truck and requested to arrange for other vehicle. It was about 4.30 pm in the evening. There are only few spots in the village and fort where you get mobile network and thankfully I was at one of such spot when I received a call from Sachin, another volunteer who had not yet reached the base and had to admit whatever followed was totally alien, unexpected and time testing. He said that one of the participants has lost her way and has no clue where she is.
It was a time for some fast decision making. We decided since at the first ladder she was ahead him she might have lost her way somewhere near the first plateau. I spoke to her(luckily she was also on spot where there was mobile network), she said she was following her friend and realised about one and half hour of walk that he is nowhere to be seen and the route is unfamiliar. I and Pradnesh rushed to towards the base and to our surprise found her friend relaxing at the footsteps of an house and he had no clue of her being lost. We explained the situation to him so he might prove of any help as which route he had taken as she might be on same route. We asked her to come on nearby plateau from where she can be visible. On the basis of her and her friend’s information we figured out a spot between first and second plateau. I stayed at the base to look after other participants and co-ordinate with others. Pradnesh and her friend went back to look for her. After search for an hour or so she was nowhere to be traced and that the graveness of the problem increased.
It was 5.30 pm already, which meant we won’t be able to get the last train as many others had also not reached the base. We contacted our friend Amol in Mumbai to find some other long distance trains either from Kasara or Igatpuri after 8.30 pm.Darkness started covering us and finally we had to take a call on the matter before the mobile batteries die or network is lost. On the way Pradnesh met Vishwajit who went with her friend to look for her and Pradnesh stood at the bifurcation to coordinate in case they lost their way in dark. We divided the team of volunteers in 4 parts- Sheetal and I at the base for co-ordination and to look after other participants, Sachin and Dhaval went on Harishchandragad route, Vishwajit and her friend on probable place where she might be lost and Pradnesh at diversion for Harishchandragad and the route taken by Vishu. Mobile range for on field people was going on and off and only point of co-ordination were me and Sheetal at base, where too we had range only at the entrance of jungle. As the night fell everything got eerie, it was pitch dark, and we were not able to see even at distance of 3 feet. We were worried about the girl who was all alone there in the jungle. I had to admit that we were very angry on the girl, who because of her stubbornness had landed herself and us in trouble, she was not a kid but a 29 year old adult, but more than anger worry took hold on us. Time was ticking fast and we had lost contact with almost everyone in the jungle. We had no clue of either of the teams.
Somewhere around 7 pm we got a call that Vishu and her friend that they are near her and could hear her voice though they could not see her. We gave a sigh of relief, atleast someone was near her and soon she would be rescued. After many try we were able to contact sachin and Dhaval to reach at the spot where Pradnesh was waiting so they can be there to help if Vishu require anything. Meanwhile a group of 4 trekkers from Nasik met Pradnesh and offered help to him. Two of them waited with Pradnesh and two others had gone with Vishu to look for her. After an hour or so, Sachin and Dhaval met Pradnesh. Now they had nothing to do except to wait for Vishu and team, since the darkness had made it impossible to trace the route of Vishu.
At the base we were relieved that within an hour or so these people will come and soon we will leave and this nightmare would be over. But life had no such plans. At 9 pm we again got a call from Vishu that they are trying but not able to see or reach her for last 2 hours and to add to it Vishu had got stuck up in a 10 feet trench. This freaked our minds out. Sheetal and I went blank for a moment our brain had stopped working but we had to make a final decision. We called the locals for help. Sagar our guide had just reached the base with an injured trekker from other group and he started crying when he saw us. He took the blame on himself for the girl losing her way and was running a high fever. We took him to his home and his family readily offered to help us. His dad and other villager agreed to go to look for her, I can’t go ahead without mentioning about Nilesh and Amol our participants who were our saviour that night. They were begging us to let them go to look for her but we were bit sceptical that we don’t want someone else to lose but finally agreed to let them go with the villagers.
This team left at 9.30 pm. …………………..
After this team left, though our mind was out we had to focus on other issues at base. Participants had no place to seat as temple was at a distance from entrance of jungle were we had network so we called our truck driver Shivaji to park the vehicle there. I must admit he was very helpful and friendly, he said he has no hurry and will leave only after the girl comes. We were suppose to reach Mumbai by 10.30 pm which was impossible now at this late hour we would be able to catch the first train on Monday morning. It was difficult to tell other participants that we have to stay back. Some agreed readily, while some unwillingly. We had few young girls with us and it was not easy to convince their parents, and they were shocked to know that a girl is lost and directly started blaming us, but we knew it was not the time to argue and just assured that their daughters are safe. We arranged for dinner and once everyone was full we asked them to sleep in the truck and not to go anywhere as there was no electricity and a total blackout. Thankfully Shrikant stood like a huge support. Once everything else was settled Sheetal and me were again at the start of route to jungle, just waiting and waiting. I can tell that this was the most difficult time of my life, at this hour mind was wandering were it should not be and all bad thoughts were peeping in mind. All this time we had been strong but slowly we were losing it. The girl felt like our responsibility, all our dear ones were out there somewhere in jungle, couldn’t call with fear that battery will get exhausted.
At 11.00 pm Nilesh called and said that they are near her and could see her light. Her torch was weak so what she did to attract attention was started clicking photos with flash on. Flash light made it possible to reach her. We wanted to be happy but were not sure whether this is final stage or there are more surprises like earlier one. Finally at 11.30 pm Nilesh called again and said that they reached her and she is with them. Sheetal and I cheered and hugged each other, I can tell this was one of the happiest moment of my life. But this was not over yet, Vishu was still stuck and Pradnesh, Sachin and Dhaval were at a spot difficult to descend at night. But the villagers were our knights and they rescued Vishu. Our mobile batteries were exhausted and we had nothing to do but wait for them. After sometime we saw a torch light near the first plateau, I felt a very happy and gratified deep inside my heart. But it was a false call, he was a villager and had not seen anybody en route. Tired and tensed Sheetal and I were sitting at the porch of a house, it was 12.30 am when we heard some noise of people talking and we rushed to the jungle and saw many batteries coming. Ah! Finally they had reached here, really. Now it was a final sigh of relief. We had dinner, thanked the villagers gave them good sum of money, thanked the Nasik group who helped us without any obligation, thanked Nilesh and Amol for their help and left Ratanwadi. Many things were going in mind but what conquered everything was sleep, we hadn’t slept for more than 48 hours. We reached Kasara and caught the first train back to Mumbai. Even now late night journey towards Kasara side gives me goose bumps and raise my pulse rate. We all would take some time to recover from this.
We didn’t said anything to that girl, she was very sorry for whatever happened, we too let go the issue, for what mattered in the end was, that she was safe. I am sure she’ll not do this again in life. We all learnt many things from this dreadful experience. We did what best we could do and tried to handle the situation in the best possible manner. We experienced various aspects of human nature, greed, ego, self centeredness, inconsideration for others, and also friendliness, willingness to help, trust etc. No hard feelings for anyone, only gratitude. But this trek categorized our group Yuvazhep in 2 extremes- people who thought we are totally irresponsible and careless and would never come with us again and others who appreciated the way we handled things and took care of everything(including calling the parents), considering everything as our responsibility and would always come with us.
To conclude with a special thank you to Shrikant, Nilesh, Amol, Vishwajit and Dhaval. Also to mention the villagers and our truck driver Shivaji.