There is something to be said about treks that involve taking local trains at 11 PM! But then again, no experience thus far (and there have only been three) with Mapping Journeys have been minus a certain level of the crazies! So on a Kasara bound local that Friday night in October 2015, I had hardly expected to be cooped in like I would during the rush hour in sleepless Mumbai. But then I should have known better!
Where were we off to? Sandhan Valley.
What if I told you that Sandhan Valley is the stuff magical realism and fantasy novels are inspired by?
For the uninitiated (and I have been there), Sandhan Valley - also known as the Valley of Shadows - is located in the Western Ghats of the Sahyadris near Samrad village around Ratangad. Trekking enthusiasts would also be familiar with Kalsubai, Ajobagad and the Alang, Madan, Kulang among others in the surrounding area.
From Kasara station we made our way by road to the base village, Samrad and made an attempt to get our forty winks inside the local village temple. Oh the things you add and strike off your list of experiences is what travel is made up of!
I was awakened a couple of hours later by the murmurings of my fellow-trekkers who enjoying the nippiness in the air, preferred the comforts of the sleeping bag. In a show of strength, I joined their numbers. But the absence of any sound of traffic the moment my eyelids opened and greeted the daylight was an incentive to want to sit up straight and soak in the idyllic environs. After a quick (and light) round of poha and chai, we were off.
The first 15 minutes into the trek. It's still a cakewalk
A mere 15 minutes into the trek – which had been nothing less than a walk just yet – we were already near the first pools of water. The shoes were drenched but my feet were tickled with excitement.
The trailer before the real deal
What sets Sandhan Valley apart (and left it on my travel bucket-list for almost a year) is that it is naturally carved out from the waterfalls. So throughout the trek one is either walking, hopping or wading through water.
Cue: More water. Deep water.
The Valley ranges anywhere between 200 feet to even 300 feet deep and is about 2 kms long. But those are the most exhilarating 2 kms you’ll ever walk! That’s probably also because you are walking through water that is anywhere between 4 ft. to 6 ft. deep. It does not get any more immaculate that this.
Mapping Journeys ensures that safety measures and precautions are undertaken. So we had a rope that we could hold on to and walk the distance as we nimbly placed our feet on the stone floor, mindful of the moss that made it tricky and slippery. Once we lined ourselves along the rope, we began moving our bags.
Note: We couldn’t be wading through waist-high or chest-high waters with our backpacks.
So once the bags were coolie’d safely, we lugged them on and continued onwards.
Fun fact: The reason why it is known as the Valley of Shadows is that there are segments where the Sun’s rays are unable to penetrate through. So, picture that!
Another useful tid-bit of information is that the Sandhan Valley is a downhill trek. It’s almost as if you are on a film reel, rolling off its edges and the panoramic expanse in front of you is Nature’s very own 7D auditorium!
Wading through the Valley. You may want to watch the video at the end of this post created by an extremely talented duo and see what this truly looked like! | Photo courtesy: Veeral Raj
View through the 7D auditorium that is Nature
Because it's time for a selfie
But for a downhill trek, this one lines up one high after the other.
And sometimes both literally and figuratively.
After wading through waist-high water, it was time to rappel down a waterfall from 50 ft. Having rappelled just twice before – once against the wall of a dam and another which I can only recall as an absolute fail moment, the addition of the waterfall, left me in slight trepidation.
The section I rappelled through thankfully didn’t have as much of a gushing stream overhead but it also missed rock surface – leaving me suspended on nothing but my harness mid-air and about 10 ft above the ground.
But to the ground I did make it, minus any other event!
Waterfall rappelling - a first | Photo courtesy: Leisann John
Taking in the view from below
Stopping by to erm, click a few
What's not to love about this paradise?
As the Valley remains closed during the monsoons owing to the risk involved, ours was amongst the first batches of the season making a foray through it. It meant that the waters we were walking, hopping and wading through were pristine and untouched (mostly). And it also meant, that no one knew how the monsoons had changed the course of the Valley in the preceding 4 months!
But we would. Shortly!
The Valley continued as a cascade with visuals arousing humility and gratitude at the sights until we were stopped short in our tracks. We had factored in two occasions that would require us to rappel down waterfalls. But as it turned out we were staring at a straight drop right in front of us. Ropes would be lowered and our bodies would undergo a 'cubist' routine as we would slide, contort, wriggle and sometimes even fall trying to make our way through and around crevices!
I have lost count of the number of times that happened.
That’s what happens with the things you enjoy the most.
Cubist's routine: Take 1
Cubist's routine: Take 2. If you follow the line, you'll notice it disappears behind the boulders before people get on to making a straight drop
And then some more rappelling
Around 4 PM we had reached our camp-site for the night. We found ourselves a spot and laid out our sleeping bags.
And for the first time, I slept under an open night sky.
But the clouds played spoilsport so it wasn’t as magical – except for the part where I woke up around 3 AM to a very clear night sky that left a smile on my face lulling me back to sleep.
The next morning we plonked ourselves at a naturally formed pool before making our way out towards Dehena village – which would mark the end of our trek!
Who wouldn't want to undertake an arduous trek it it didn't end at a venue like this?
Rolling out those sleeping bags and waiting for the stars to come out | Photo courtesy: Ajay Chaudhary