Monday, September 22, 2014

Mesmerizing Dudhsagar - 6,7 Sep 2014

The more popular a hill/waterfall becomes, its aura growing every year, the tougher it becomes to pay your first visit. Especially if you choose a date believing to be less strenuous but turns out just the opposite. All the effort and unsavory aspects perhaps impresses the memory much longer. And by that token, the pleasing moments seem even sweeter, giving a magic touch to enigma that is nostalgia.

To tame this beast, we had to register within hours of three BTC openings more than three months back! Organizers (Deepthy and Channa) had to re-schedule and settle for two train solution. And even then the bookings were spread across different coaches to accommodate our 22 member group. Detailed three page plan was sent more than a month back, but of course, we love last minute rush ;) Who'll get ponchos, tent, sleeping mats, food? To pack extra pair of clothes or not, shoes or slippers with straps, etc etc etc.

Sep 5. Train leaves at 9:15 PM. Friday evening. Priority for many is leaving office early, packing bags and beating traffic to reach Majestic. I recognize two back packers ahead in subway from previous treks - Vaibhav and Sudesh. About 30 minutes left, enough for them to have quick dinner. Long walk to platform 8, shoulders already protesting the heavy load. Too many chattering and excited trekking groups, identified easily by their backpacks/tents/sleeping bags/mats/plastic covers.

By 9 PM, most of our group had gathered near S4 coach, catching up with members met in previous treks. And after requesting some relocations, we squeezed and stood around full 8 seat compartment at one end of S4. Gaurav, as is his wont, got himself in line of fire, his Dum-malang-malang will probably become a legend in BTC history. Abhishek was another routine punch bag. Sudesh and yours truly were tagged the 'silent' and 'nice guys' :P. The raucous winded by 11 PM for fellow passengers benefit.

We reached Londa Jn around 7:30 AM. By then, we had freshened up and got a preview of things to come - lush green plants and trees, mountains, waterfalls and RAIN. Breakfast was assortment of idli-vada, vada-pav, tea/coffee etc. The vendor even had to replenish his stock to serve all of us. Crows and dogs on the hunt for scraps. Howling of few dogs roaming on the tracks was unbearable.

After packing/re-packing our heavy loads, round of introduction and group photos, we caught the second train to reach Castle Rock station. Contrary to our expectations, the general coaches was free enough to keep our bags easily and few seats to sit as well.

Finally, starting on the real tracks, we divided into two groups - fast trekkers to reach quick enough to reserve camping spots near waterfall and slow trekkers to follow behind leisurely ;) A sharp shower and multitudes of trekkers meant we couldn't assemble for whole group photo before starting. Out came our rain jerkins and ponchos and for most of the duration of our two day trek, we kept them on.

A dilapidated building just past the station, green all over courtesy algae, grass and the likes, was irresistible for a photo shoot, despite the rain and fierce wind. I guess the structure has become symbol of Castle Rock.

Our slow trekkers group itself got divided into two. Walking on rail track is monotonous and boring, which I had experienced previously at Sakleshpur. The concrete sleepers below the tracks are  preferred over rock ballast, but also slows our speed due to closer spacing than our normal walking length. And of course one had to avoid nastiness too. With about 14 km to be covered for the day, our heavy back pack and rain, one has to wonder the sensibility of such an undertaking.

Along our way lay plenty of small and medium sized water falls, tunnels and bridges. Plenty of rain in recent days and continuing, not unlike monsoon, meant that water gushed with plenty of force after passing man-made small tunnels under the tracks, joining some river beyond the cliffs to our right.

Now and then we would stop for passing trains, posing besides sign posts (especially the Goa-Karnataka one), waterfalls, bridges, tunnels (in total 11 from Castle Rock to Dudhsagar, each carrying a number and length among other details), etc. Ankit took most of our photos, but we didn't always take his :P And to make it worse, near a waterfall, a notorious monkey snatched a toffee packet while he was opening his bag. It was scary.

About lunch time, we reached half way mark - place called Caranzol. Owing to rain and other trekkers, we could find only a small shelter, just enough to place our bags and stand. Cakes, biscuits, Sudesh's khakara like snack were shared around. Plenty of monkeys, but not wild enough to come and snatch at us.

The other half of trek was more of the same - albeit even more rain. We saw railway workers having their lunch inside some of the tunnels. Thankfully, we didn't get caught inside one of the tunnels and having to endure loud passing of train - some trekkers from other groups did get stranded just as we had crossed.

At Dudhsagar station, huge crowd (after finishing their visit) was waiting to catch a train back. The waterfall itself is more than half a km ahead. Lot of groups were still moving forward for their visit - hawkers calling out for tea and snacks.

Even before the falls became visible, it announced itself with its loud roar around a bend. All the wind and rain spewed up enormous amount of water spray - flowing outwards from the falls and drenching people on the famous railway bridge. On occasions, it completely hid the other side. Someone throwing his t-shirt high up lost it to wind before gravity could win. Trains passing through were subjected to thorough wash as well.

Fast trekkers did such an amazing job of reaching early that our 6 tents had ample space to be put together near a two storey broken building on the other side of tracks. Of course, the rain meant it would be wet inside too, but there was no other option at all.

A small shop sold hot beverage and snacks - the best being vada-pav. Most of us reached well before 4 PM in the evening and it was a long wait for night fall. In an effort to keep the tents as dry as possible, we resorted to keeping our bags on wet floor and under dripping roof. That meant, very little space to move around or sit - there were trekkers from other groups as well. Those who were completely drenched just kept visiting the falls to be sprayed cold, now and then few snaps taken when rain relented.

The shop keepers weren't agreeing to provide hot water (for our cup noodles) like in past, so organizers did a quick fix of ordering Poha for dinner. It was good enough, considering the circumstances. By then, we were getting into our allocated tents and changing to something drier. And tents from other groups completely covered the small area, had to be careful in avoiding nails and ropes. Sleeping was difficult on wet mats, roar of the falls and trains passing every hour or so not helping - we weren't really too tired, more of shoulder aches and leg pains. 

Nonetheless, early morning just after 6 AM, we woke to much clearer view of the majestic falls. It lasted long enough for plenty of snaps before rain returned, igniting the ferocious spray again. After freshening up, we had Upma for breakfast. Channa distributed Chappathis he had packed from Bangalore. The shop also relented to give us hot water - atleast some cup noodles were consumed and importantly reducing some weight :P

After dismantling and packing the tents and back packs in rain, we had a group pic by the falls and started second leg of train track trek. We continued in the direction we came - intention was to reach Kulem and take a train back to Londa.

Around the bend, some distance ahead are multiple openings amongst trees giving the complete picturesque view of the falls and the railway bridge in one shot. There was even a hut built to the side of track, perhaps used by railway workers, there were trekkers hanging about when we crossed. The view and experience around the falls was reason enough to justify every other annoyance over two days and two nights in bad weather and difficult track.

Radio Dudhsagar, led by able Gaurav, Sudesh, Vaibhav and others, kept us entertained. They even tried to keep a theme going - new Hindi songs, old goldies and Kannada songs later on.

Distance to Kulem on rail route is less than first day's trek, but we took a detour at in between station - Sonalium (the name was cue to pull Sonali's legs). The muddy path was wide enough for jeeps to go, but it was numerous bikes that we saw (some sort of service provided as pillion ride - all the way from Kulem, nearly half that distance besides the rail track itself!)

It was a very welcome relief from having to walk on rail tracks. Even rain stopped while we were on this path. Dense forest on either side, plenty of streams cutting across - some wide enough for two buses side by side but not deeper than knee level, large butterflies, snails, etc. Thankfully, not a lot of dead leaves for leeches to prosper. Even so, just as we reached the train track again, one bit me and luckily was aware to remove the other.

Rain returned on the tracks. Our next destination was a small waterfall, 1-2 km before reaching Kulem. Mostly hidden behind trees, the noise gives it away. We left our bags on a small platform besides the track with someone manning the spot as and when the small groups arrived. Christening it as 'Chota Dudhsagar', we spent plenty of time there, with Channa again patiently catering to our photo demands. Not a waterfall as such, but series of rocks led to gushing water at some places. Force was so much that it was difficult to resist the flow and lean against the rock.

Snack and fruit fest after we were done. Thankfully, it had stopped raining. Our bags now were lighter too. A short distance ahead, all the streams we had passed by was flowing together as a river.

After reaching and dumping our bags in middle of platform, most went outside to have proper lunch. The few who remained had some more of Channa's Chappathis and tea. A cow on platform was hungry and stubborn enough to get something just to be rid of it. A large group (presumably from Pune) were having their feedback session. Some of then changed to drier clothes by utilizing a train scheduled to leave long afterwards.

By the time the train to Londa arrived, crowd had swelled to such an extent that people in general coaches shut door! Most of us had decided to risk the sleeper class anyway. And rain had a parting shot at us while climbing. Good business for TTE. We glimpsed more mesmerizing view of Dudhsagar as we neared the falls. The queue there was even more daunting that most/all sleeper coaches now resembled general ones.

The train covered the distance in about an hour what we trekked over two days. The misty mountains that we could see now and then were simply too good - worth a train travel just for that ;) Dosas, more vada-pavs and Ankit's chocolates for dinner. Feedback was full of praise for the organizers and fast trekkers. Cup noodles and weather were a sore point, but then the waterfalls more than made up for all for pains :)

Picture credits - Channa, Gaurav, Ankit, Anubha

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