Hiking through Sandhan Valley: 24th Birthday Celebration

Hiking through the Valley of Shadows

If you ask me about my current travel preferences, it would be diving into nature––irrespective of it being a mountain, a hillock, a lake or a river. You handover planning a trip for you, and turning nature into your temporary abode would be the number one activity in the itinerary. I seem to have grown distant from celebrating occasions in resorts or a lounge because no matter the occasion, the first idea that invariably strikes me is to camp someplace overnight. Where to pitch the tents is another story. Camping by the lakeside implies the easy accessibility of the locals whereas on a mountain, the fear of leopards. The Sahyadris and the shorter hillocks around Sanjay Gandhi National Park both are visited by these big cats. Therefore finalising a campsite requires more amount of time. Nevertheless, staying in the wilderness is always clear.

Just like my 23rd birthday, this one involved camping too. Last year the situation was totally distinct from this year's as instead of camping by the beach, we were forced to rent a cottage and ended up making its veranda our campground. The story was so interesting that I had to stretch it into a four-part series.
Read: Camping at the Beach, Part 1

This year, initially, instead of the valley, we were planning to climb the state's second tallest fort, Harishchandra Gad. But the fort was just in talks and we never planned in that direction later. My brother had been to Sandhan Valley and seeing its eccentric beauty in photographs last rainy season, I was undeniably impressed. He was staying in Bhandardara for two nights and had discovered this place, which was about 10 times lesser popular than it is today.

I'm unaware of how we finalized this place. Anurag and my cousin Pratik were joining me but later Anurag suggested we ask my brother. Being the eldest amongst us, I thought my brother would reject but he surprisingly hopped in too! I was delighted. The trip becomes much safer and much happier when brothers come along.

My soulmates (From L to R): Brother, I, Anurag, Pratik

On the evening of 9th March, we left in my car towards Bhandardara. Until we reached, I had assumed it to be our campsite but on reaching, we made other plans.
This time’s camping excursion was slightly different than the rest because we were to cook outdoors. We had carried a large vessel, some bowls, forks, and a spatula to make Maggi, which by far, is one of my favourite foods while travelling. However, there was none of it left and we had to buy a family pack on our way. Additionally, to make sookhi bhel, we had carried farsaan and murmure but never had the opportunity to mix the two. The quest of buying Maggi became our only mission when we were about to reach Igatpuri since the endless talks and loud singing had got our throats dry and nerves overused. We quietly looked out for stores while humming along with the singers.

I thought the trip would turn out awkward since my brother and Anurag had been out together just once before this. But it was nothing like it, surprisingly.
The day broke into darkness and the sun stopped chasing our car. We looked above to find the moon, but we could spot neither its crescent nor its light. We wondered if it was a new moon night (but later at 3:00 am, found that it certainly wasn’t).

When we were nearing Igatpuri, we started to look out for Maggi. My brother regretted the decision of buying it on the way since we had passed over 20 odd stores that sold chips and drinks but no noodles. The yellow pack of the chips looked so similar to that of Maggi’s that the sight in motion made us believe it was Maggi indeed. We halted at a few stalls thinking it was Maggi, but it turned out to be a yellow pack of potato chips!
We were ready for any brand of noodles but the stalls had none.

Finally, we reached a stall that had four single packs of Maggi left. We bought those along with seven single packs of Yippiee. When it comes to ready-to-make noodles, I am not a brand fanatic. Any brand works for me as far as I’m getting something to suck and pull. (In that case, I love spaghetti too!)
We purchased four more litres of water even though we had carried around 10 litres. When it comes to staying in nature, it’s always advisable to have plenty of food and water.

Sitting by a crystal clear pool in the valley

After crossing Igatpuri, the road narrowed followed by the sights of small villages on the route. We could see small houses ready to retire, little kids still tottering around, and dogs, serving as their guardians.

It had become pitch dark by then, so dark that after turning off headlights, we could see nothing. We actually tried this out. We were amid a narrow, cemented road, which was surrounded by dense trees; such trees that appear beautiful in the day but haunted by the night. We stopped the car mid-way as there was nobody around, just us and two endless rows of thick trees. We turned off the headlights, and our eyesight blackened out! For few seconds, we forgot about where we were or who was sitting next to us or what lied in front. Within seconds, we turned the lights on! Boy, few of the terrifying seconds of my life.

A thought came to mind after we started the engine, what if––similar to how it happens in horror movies––after turning on the lights, a lady appeared in front? A ghostly figurine with a long white robe, jet black hair touching her waist, and a pale face. She just stands and stares and then disappears, and until you digest it, she’s sitting on the bumper! How ghastly!
I am only glad that no lady appeared and we freely continued driving. For a few metres though, all of us had our own haunted scenarios still playing in our heads.

We were on the narrow, village road when we stopped to ask directions. (Pratik, who uses a Vodafone network, had a full signal; whereas the remaining three of us use Airtel, and it catches a signal at no distant place. Wherever I've been with Pratik, only he has had the signal till now. I am planning to switch from Airtel to Vodafone.)
The directions that Google Maps displayed appeared suspicious since my brother could not recollect the route we were on. We knew we had taken a long road but couldn't unnerve until we asked someone. We met a couple of locals by the roadside––one of whom seemed drunk, but wasn't––and enquired if that was the way towards Sandhan Valley. They nodded and after giving some more information, we started ahead.

On a La La Land

It's hard to believe, but we saw the roads were wet and upon drawing down the car's windows, we could smell the fresh aroma of the wet earth. Ah! The sweet goodness. We knew it had rained here. How incredible, we thought, that it would rain in the month of March. How fortunate were the villagers to witness the God's love so early in the year?
We continued driving, with windows still down and the fragrance of the wet soil still lingering to our nostrils and touching our senses. What a heavenly place to be! A smooth, cemented road with vast amber fields on both sides and dense, green trees making a guest appearance. The sight seemed like a mystical blend of summer and spring. What a perfect time to have passed on this road!

Mesmerised by what we had experienced a few minutes ago, we were still drunk in love when we reached the Arthur Lake. My brother recommended camping at a place near Sandhan Valley, to which we agreed. We passed the extensive lake that appeared full of secrets. This is the beauty of lakes, rivers, seas, and oceans; we never know what secrets they hold. I find it fascinating and maybe this is the reason why I love the waterbodies so dearly.

By 10:00 pm, we reached an open land, which I later learnt was Samrad Village; my brother told us that it was the place we were camping at! I was disappointed because I had expected something better. (Little did I know then that the location we were camping at was beautiful in the daylight!)

We parked our car and were greeted by a grey-furred dog, who had traces of blues on his fur. We were busy and did not understand when the dog ran away.
Our first goal was to try digging out mud using a tent-hook. We were looking for a suitable ground to pitch tents. Pratik and Anurag started setting up the tents, whereas, my brother gathered sticks and bricks for a campfire. He lit it and placed the big vessel to make Maggi. I was setting up my tripod and toggling between my phone and digicam to compare which had better low-light videography. My phone won and I kept the digicam aside. While I was busy with my gear, an aggressive dog came running towards me!

He continuously wagged his tail and jumped on me several times. I usually love when dogs are around but this naughty one was ferocious and violently adorable. His nails etched through my white t-shirt and later when I checked, I noticed my waist was bruised.
The dog seemed unstoppable. He constantly came in the way while we were setting up the tents and making Maggi. It turned annoying but luckily he paused when we sat down to eat the noodles. As soon as we were done and ready to make another vessel of Maggi, it was midnight!

Stirring Maggi as Anurag keeps the fire burning

The guys got a cake from the car and it was time to cut it. Even the aggressive dog, who like a nice boy, had given us our space while we finished dinner, joined in the celebration. After the cake-cutting, singing, and feeding were over, we sat down to eat our last bowl of Maggi while simultaneously feeding large chunks of cake to the dog. I ain't kidding but the dog ate as much cake as we did!
We even fed him Maggi but he seemed to love the cake more. Sweet-tooth, huh?

We sat by the campfire until it was 2:30 am by trying to keep the fire alive. Alas! The fire finally extinguised and then, only the soothing grey fumes emerged. Slowly, it was pitch dark again. Anurag lied on the ground that was partial mud and partial grass. I lied next to him and Pratik, next to me. My brother went inside his tent and put the bags inside the third one.

We had set three tents: one for our trio, one for my brother, and the third one, which I impulsively asked the guys to set, for the bags, (of course with no expensive items in them).

We three lied on the grass and looked at the stars. It was getting colder and though Anurag had lent me his sweatshirt, I was still cold. We took the cover from one of the tents and used it like a blanket to keep us warm.

When we were lost in stars, Pratik noticed something in the sky towards our right. It was a breathtaking red crescent moon far off! The clouds constantly moved around it, sometimes blocking our view, sometimes adding to the exquisiteness of the sight. (I attempted clicking a shaky, grainy picture of the moon and if you wish to see it, comment below.)

While we were still lying on the grass and contemplating on life and its busyness, we heard an engine roaring from a distance. Just like dogs transform into an attentive mode with ears erect and body alert, we stood up to check the bikers. We voiced my brother who was sleeping in the tent and he replied saying he was awake and he heard the sound too. He came out of the tent to see who it was and it turned out, there were three bikes and six people, including a girl, who intended to camp. On understanding they were not a danger, we finally went inside our tents to sleep. I kept my phone on charge via a power bank as all the vlogging had placed the battery at 35%.
As sweet as it sounds, I got one of the best slumbers of my life...

Splitter and Splash: Passing through the pool

Though we had plans of hiking the valley next morning, we were in no hurry of waking up early. In fact, none of us had set alarms! This is the first time in my camping history when I have not set an alarm! Even then, when it was 8:30 am, we woke up. Nothing too great about waking up early naturally, well, only if it was naturally. We were woken up by the heavy growling of a couple of dogs. On coming out of the tent, we saw our dog, who we lovingly named as Sheru. He was growling at his enemies from another territory. Yes! That's exactly how we could manage waking up early!

The vocal battle between Sheru and the enemy dog (and two more adult dogs plus three puppies) seemed pretty one-sided. Sheru wagged his tail and jumped on Pratik while still growling at the enemies. We understood that he was saying he had a human which was better than having a group of dogs. We could understand that he was showing Pratik off!
Since Sheru had guided us the entire night by growling on sensing danger, it was time to return the favour. I folded my tripod and handed it over to Pratik, who then, as filmy as it appeared, started walking, like a hero walks to save his heroine. He walked with a tripod in one hand and Sheru on the other side. Sheru's growls suddenly grew two times louder and more powerful. Pratik shooed away the enemies and Sheru had won the battle.

At that moment, I realised the power of Karma and how true it is. The dog stayed up the entire night to protect us and in return, because of his good deeds, he was protected by us. I just smiled and applauded my cousin.

We started freshening up by washing face, brushing teeth, and changing clothes. Soon, we packed our tents and breakfasted at Hotel Tanaya, which was opposite to the campground. I ordered a bowl of Maggi and others had pohe. The tea served was so delicious that it was just the right taste of tea and the one I absolutely relish.

I had assumed the valley to be at a faraway distant, but it was just a kilometre away from Samrad village. We walked and the valley commenced...

The initial few scenes had dense trees that had developed shadows throughout the area but then the trees disappeared and what left were rocks. The entire route further was full of rocks except for a small patch, which had rocks but also water on them.
We started hiking and imagine whom we met! Sheru! We were clueless how Sheru reached there but he was so happy after seeing us! He followed us but then we had to separate from him when a large rock obstructed his way. We surpassed the rock but our dear friend Sheru stayed back on it. The look of separation in his eyes was saddening. He cried and howled loudly but we had to leave. We hoped to see him when we returned but he was not there. We would never meet him again...

The last point; photo captured after I broke my foot

We walked further while clicking breathtaking photographs that were overpowered by the huge rocks. We appeared tiny in front of them, so tiny, that our whole existence was a question mark.

Finally, we reached the much-awaited part. I had watched a video of Sandhan Valley where the vlogger had to pass through a pool. I thought the water gets accumulated in monsoon but his video dated a week back, which meant, if we were lucky, we too would have to pass this pool. I was excited!

We packed our phones and wallets in the only bag we were carrying and tied our shoes on our shoulders to prevent them from wetting. My brother took a lead while we followed. On entering, he realised the water touched his chest and the surface was full of little rocks that needed extreme caution to walk on. We somehow crossed the pool and needless to say, it was so, so thrilling! We continued and I was hoping to find another pool but I was aware there was not any.

We reached the far end of the valley (which I later learnt was just one phase of the hike). The sight in front was too beautiful and I got so excited that I hurriedly hiked ahead. And...that's when I twisted my ankle! It was tolerable until we hiked back but when we were seated at a shack for some refreshments, I asked Anurag to massage my foot. After the rejuvenating lemon juice and cucumber slices, when I tried to stand on my leg, I was devastated! I could not put my foot on the ground, the pain had grown that severe!

I was struggling to walk when Anurag offered to piggyback me until we reached the village. Almost 600 metres this boy carried a 55kg girl. Both my brothers were impressed. It was such a sweet gesture that I don't think I would ever forget.

I got too heavy for him later as his pace slowed down. I insisted to put me down but he insisted back. Finally, we reached the eatery where we had had breakfast in the morning. My brother rushed ahead and drove the car near me. I somehow managed to sit on the front seat. There was a large group of Kannadigas lunching in that eatery, from which, their team leader enquired about me and offered a pain relief spray.

The road connecting Samrad village and Sandhan Valley

Anurag sprayed on my affected foot and covered it with his sock. You have no idea how painful it got! I could not even lift my leg and whenever the car moved, the pain increased!

The boys wanted to freshen up by dipping in the Arthur Lake, which was our actual plan. But seeing my condition, they quickly jumped in its backwaters and came back in 15 minutes. I was sitting in the car meanwhile.

On our way, after crossing Igatpuri, we stopped at Om Sai hotel for lunch. The weather was cloudy and it started drizzling! We witnessed a 5-minute heavy downpour, after which, the rain stopped completely. The delicious egg masala and the stern-as-an-iron butter roti delighted me. Oh! For the love of food.

It was around 3:00 pm, before reaching the hotel, when my Airtel network finally had managed to capture the signal. I called my poor mom immediately who was at home, alone, desperately waiting to wish her daughter on her birthday. My network had gone from previous evening till that afternoon. Almost 24 hours without a network. Kudos, Airtel!

On the call, my mom informed me that a certain farmers' strike had hit the Nasik Mumbai Road. We didn't bother since it was a WhatsApp forward but then when we were nearing Bhiwandi, we were stuck in traffic for 3 hours! I was sitting with a broken foot, hoping to visit the doctor and praying it's not a fracture, and these farmers had gathered all over. I was so annoyed! And, the sadder part was, the next day was Sunday, the day doctors are holidaying and clinics are shut! I thank God, it was not a fracture, which I learnt after two days due to the reduction in pain.

What we did after was mindblowing. The guys asked the truck drivers to move their vehicles in such a way that we get to move ahead and then take a U-turn to go to the other side of the road that was free of traffic. They pleaded the police saying it was an emergency and the kind policemen let us go.
We came inside Bhiwandi city and taking an offroad, somehow managed to reach Thane. Even so, though we were in Thane, we were not in Thane. We were stuck on the outskirts of the city, again with a dead traffic.

My brother got restless and called his friends for help. We took a detour on our way where his collegemate lives. The guy managed two mopeds and Anurag and Pratik dropped me home while my brother stayed back with the car and his friend. On our way to my home, we did not encounter traffic at all. The streets were quiet and I felt so peaceful. I somehow sat on the tall seat of my brother's friend's bike. My stuff was still in the car.

First selfie using a tripod after turning 24

Pratik helped me climb the stairs and finally, I greeted my mom at 12:30 am. I had to cancel all the evening plans with my friends and family, needless to say...

The one thing I understood out of this is that next birthday, I am not going camping. I'd rather spend my birthday with friends and family at home than get caught in traffic. I know the traffic was a one-time thing but it saddened me as I could not be home with my momma the whole day...

SANDHAN VALLEY HIKE DETAILS

Starting point
Samrad Village

Length
4 km (not confirmed)

Difficulty
Moderate

Trail Type
Full rocky route with a short patch of water (the water touches your waist to chest, depending on your height)

Parking Facility
Available at Samrad Village

Duration
1/2 day

Best Season
All round the year

Water and Food Source
Water and food available in Samrad Village. (There are local boys that carry lemon juice and misal pav through the valley and if you're fortunate, you'll encounter them.)

View from the top
A deep valley view

Sheru, the dog

What can you expect
No sunshine, pleasant weather, rocky route, a small pool, waterfall in monsoon, breathtaking valley view on reaching the last point, rappelling (on contacting the organizers)

Who can trek
Avoid taking oldies and kids as it would be a difficult hike for them. 

First-aid
Carry antiseptic liquid, cotton, bandaid, pain relief balm/spray, crepe bandaid

Clothing and gear
Quick-dry long pants or shorts, comfortable tee, hoodies in winter and raincoat in monsoon, shoes for the hike and slippers for the water patch, bottles of drinking water, and a backpack to keep your shoes and a plastic bag to keep phones while crossing the water patch

Campsite
Samrad village or by the shores of Arthur Lake

Contact details for food and hike organisers (Sahyadri Sandhan Adventure)
Tushar and Lalu Bhangre 9657052946, 8530392946, 9112669058, 8308020865

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