The plan was being formed over the past week like a brewing cauldron over the fire. Until the three chefs decided to unite over the weekend and make it boil over into a sumptuous experience. Although everyone was invited, it was the names of just these three wanderers that was written on the greens of Vangani, the starting point of the Sahyadris.
Here is how it started, Kunal and Raj MSNed me about a weekend plan to Matheran, which i topped with a proposition for a nice walk from Neral to Matheran rather than taking a cab or a train, where we could catch some scenic natural beauty and waterfalls where we could bathe in aqua pura before the mineral water companies could bottle it at the downstream(hehe and you thought that bottled water was untouched and contained only pesticides).
With the idea of trek being readily accepted, i was quick to present an alternate destination which is ideal for a one day tread, wherein we could keep the sunday to ourself and probably go for an oil massage if we found the slopes too tiring. I suggested Vangani, which is almost unexplored and has maiden natural beauty with very less footfalls. On clearer seasons Vangani is a star gazer’s dream destination, since its skies give clear details of the visible cosmos, undisturbed by the glare of the bright city lights.
The risk however was that i had forgotten the trail to the waterfall where i had been about six years back with my sister’s group and i had seen this place as absolutely rural. Nevertheless the three of us were willing to make this an exploratory trip with a promise to come back with a larger group after understanding the trails of this place.
Raj and i agreed to meet-up at 6 AM at Dadar station from where we would board a Karjat local. Kunal was scheduled to board the train at Thane.
The dawn of Saturday gave me a shocking realization.. i had fallen asleep, the last night, trying to set the alarm in my cell phone only to be awakened by my buzzing body clock which woke me half hour late from schedule. I immediately messaged Raj. Quickly had my bath, stuffed things into my backpack and set off while trying to reach Raj on his cell. The cell was ringing and unanswered. It happened that Raj and i are such great friends that we got simultaneously late by about half hour and he was answering another “call” when he missed mine over his cell. He called me immediately after the other “call” relieved him and we met at Ghatkopar Station.
We were all set on a Karjat Fast. Kunal played kho-kho in the train from Thane and took two stations to get to the compartment Raj and i were in. During the journey over a packet of Lays we caught up with many things in our personal and professional life. I was getting tensed since till Badlapur the beautiful rural landscapes were far from visible. Finally the scene changed as though someone right clicked and changed the wallpaper theme from Urban Chaotica to Rural Exotica. The clouds over the skies grew darker and yes!!! it began to drizzle even before we could sing “Allah paani de”.
As we disembarked from the almost hour long train sojourn, we could see the inviting hills at a distance which looked enticing wearing veils of grey cloudy chiffon covering their high held faces, like a beautiful damsels looking at strangers who have just come to her heavenly home.
Start with Wadi Paav byte (this ain’t a typo)
When we came out of the station towards a direction shown by the newspaper vendor, we were invited by a couple of autorickshaw drivers asking “Dab-dabba? Dab-dabba?” (waterfall?). We were determined to walk down to the place which took us about half hour. All of us were famished since we had not troubled our Moms/wives/girlfriends for an early breakfast (i did not even try.. hehe. Mom was upset and had an argument with me the previous night, since i was going slightly away from her caring protection to an unknown place with known mischevious colleagues. But sweetheart Mom packed a full pack of chaklis and wafers and served me a very early tea).
As our stomachs started gurgling with hunger, we found a tiny stall with a man wearing a glove of besan (chickpea flour) paste, frying mashed potatoes coated with the same which was served pattied between . Hold on this ain’t no continental dish, its our very own Batata Wada!! When we ordered for three we noticed that it was a winzipped, microminiaturized version of a Wada Pav. The vendor coyishly pointed to a school behind and said that the size was customized for the children there. Thats how we enjoyed our Wadi (not wada) Pau and strolled further.
A couple of directions from courteous villagers proved useful and soon we could see three waterfalls hidden in the greens of the hillock. We had a great bath there with the force of water pounding us to give a soothing massage. Raj almost got a Love bite from a native ( read crab in water). We climbed to the crest of the waterfall and lied down on the rocks over which there was a stream-lined flow of water. The sound of flowing water tickled our ears.
I had heard of a place called Nakhind which is supposed to be the starting of Sahyadris and western ghats. Surprisingly the locals did not know much of that place, however they showed us the way towards the hills where they knew that a tribal village existed. The hills looked pretty lonesome. The tar road came to an abrupt end and the trail started off into the paddy fields. At a distance we could see a waterfall which was much larger than where we bathed, much more hostile and unapproachable. The water from that was stopped and held by a manmade reservoir for irrigation. The flowing water was very clear. A farmer showed us the way going up the hill which was shrouded by wild shrubs and snakepits.
The trail started getting steeper and slippery, with Raj mastering the fine-art of mud-slipping on the way. Our heartbeats were as loud as the loudest sound there which came from the waterfall about a kilometer away. We had our own doubts about that place till we spotted footprints in the mud and an emptied biscuit wrapper that read “TIGER” in the middle of the jungle trail. Soon we could see the waterfall below us, and the reservoir dam was reduced to a tiny rectangle.
Spirits of the slopes (here is where the mystery starts)
Few paces ahead we saw a man dressed in white shirt and three boys. All of them carried sticks. The faint look on the man’s face reminded me of stories of mysterious spirit wanderers of the forest, who sometimes serve as guardians and waypointers. However sometimes they are tempted to take other wanderers to their mysterious abodes and make them a part of their league.
We asked him what was lying ahead on the path “A village of tribals” he replied. We asked him from where they had come “Yaheen neeche se” ( from down there) he said pointing towards the way down. I asked “Vangani gaon?” . He nodded. My attention drew towards the far off peaks with a flat profile. The man said that those were natural caves, the trails to there were not as friendly as the foot-trail that we were treading, but we could easily scale it.
“We are going towards the same place and you may join us if you want… dont worry its an easy climb and I have also wandered on the ridge of the hill all over the place.. join us”. I could not take my eyes off the peaks and the caves till Raj said that we couldn’t since he had a cricket match the next day and wanted to play it (a)LIVE!
Village in the Clouds
After a forty five minute climb, with the other wanderers still around, we were pleased to hear chuckles in the approaching plateau which were soon claimed by their cute faces that came in sight. A whole set of energetic kids dotted a beautiful paddy terrace on top of the hill. It was one of the most beautiful villages i have ever seen, beyond my dreams. We followed the wanderers beyond the village and then watched them negotiate the slopes further till they disappeared and became one with the woods. Few seconds later we could see the man still inviting us, far away on the hill waving his staff at us. His voice could be heard clearly, We waved back and they were gone for good, perhaps to their abode without their guests.
We returned back to the village where the children were still shouting and waving at us. With permission from their parents i called them all for a photo session. Their scanty clothes and undernoursihment touched us deep, despite which they were full of happiness and content unlike the cry babies in the city. After the photos, i gave the eldest child a packet of wafers and watched them all smile. I told them to share it without fighting. I was deeply moved to see the kids line up in a disciplined fashion in front of their elder who would distribute the packet amongst them. The kids saw us till the beginning of the return path with their waving hands and chuckles, which soon merged with that of the waterfall. The descent was faster and soon we found ourselves waiting to get ourselves to the nearest source for lunch.
The walk in the clouds at the station unexplored proved to be very fulfilling to our senses and spirits. We resolved to visit the place again and move further towards the caves. As we returned, the sky cleared a bit and i could see another peak named Chanderi, which takes a two day trek to explore.
We reached the Station where Raj played music on his cell phone that sounded as loud as the announcement speaker. The crowd there was entertained for the next half hour when we waited for the Karjat-VT up Local. My gaze was still fixed at the far off peak till a girl on the platform was flattered thinking that i was watching her. Before she could pick up the wrong sign, I plugged my music player to my ears and waited for the red and yellow worm that turned into a train as it drew close to the station and took us home in its belly.
Hope another day at Vangani Returns soon with more friends sharing the privilege.