Kashid is a nice beach. Still unknown to a hell lot of people, so even on the weekends the number of visitors to the beach is astonishingly lesser than the beaches I have visited before. Despite the fact that I hail from a Coastal town, the frequency of my visits to the beaches in Alappuzha or Thrikkunnappuzha is very low.
The first sight of Kashid was astonishing. We crossed the Revdanda Bridge to the edge of a cliff, passing a policeman in his post-lunch retirement thoughts, and took a sharp right turn; there was the first full sight of Arabian Sea! At first, it was just an unimpressive rocky beach with grey water and suddenly the car was filled with groans hinting repulsion. As we drove on, the sea became more and more clearer before it disappeared from our view completely. We were climbing up fast. After the road became even and straight, the sea appeared again on our right. Only this time, it was shimmering blue with all its might; majestic waves creating white froth when it embraced the shining rocks. As I come from a below-the-sea-level beach town, watching the sea from a height is something of an unusual experience. But driving a car with two other souls in it and carving out geological explanations for the beauty of a scenery didn’t seem like a very good idea to me hence I forcefully kept my eyes on the road. The roads that we took from Pune till Kashid and even up to Phansad was impressive except for (may be) a 10 km stretch near Alibaug. First the National Highway and then the Expressway which was followed by a State Highway (so much for the downloaded Google route maps, we got ourselves lost for a bit on the way!. Coming from Andhra Pardesh, the roads in Maharshtra seemed a lot better and the traffic, a lot more tamed and less aggressive.
Since our first destination was supposed to be the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary, we drove through the Kashid Beach road after briefly stopping there to cut a cake for S’s birthday. The cake was J’s idea of her way of celebrating. Once we left the beach behind, we started asking people for the location of Phansad Sanctuary as the Google maps seemed to be a little fuzzy about it. At first someone directed as to a trail (as it cannot be called a road even though there were traces of Tar and rock pieces once in a while) which lead us through a very small village with villagers looking up from their day-to-day affairs with curiosity matching the ones their ancestors must have had when they saw a Volkswagen passing through it 70 years ago. Anyhow, we found ourselves on the top of a hill in a few minutes, overlooking a valley and a not very promising road which was going higher up. If it was not for a man, who suddenly decided to stroll that way and pass on the information that this road was leading to Phansad Dam and not Phansad Sanctuary, we would have ended up somewhere deep inside the forest. For a second or two, it seemed the locals are unaware of this phenomenon of a region playing Multiple Personality Disorder. Anyway, a truck driver who spoke Hindi well (who am I to say that?) gave us exact directions to the Sanctuary with the promise that we will see a board displaying directions to the sanctuary.
It took us a couple or more U-Turns to figure out a junction and from there we were lead to a narrow mud road which ended at the shade of a mighty Peepal tree. There was a school but no students. An old Maharashtra SRTC Bus passed us, like in a village based film, with loads of stuff on the top. It was swinging through the road, filling it with dust which looked extremely bright brown, thanks to the evening sun. Some by-passer told us to follow the bus as it was supposed to be going the ‘Phansad Way’. Soon our slow journey began; following the bus like in a espionage film. The village was beautiful. Very soon we approached a huge crowd, which was cheering violently. There was a Kabbadi match going on in a small ground and the crowd had spilled on to the road too. We followed the bus closer than its own shadow, as I thought that people would give way for the bus. Then the roads started resembling spiral staircase. The bus would sneeze, shake and groan as it climbed the road up with our car on its tail. Whenever it took a sharp turn, the passengers looked down like curious wolves. Some kids waved. The traffic from the opposite side was limited to an auto rickshaw or a mini van, once in a while. The changing heights enabled us to watch the village down taking a lazy evening sun bath. It seemed the bus driver thought we were too scared to cross him; so when he got time and space for us, he waved for us to overtake (something I have never seen happening in AP). I accepted the offer and took the road to ourselves. It was a beautiful road, heavily wooded on both sides. The road itself had sunlight coming filtered through the trees displaying wonderful orange patterns. Still was no sign of the holy board, everybody on the road promised us. J kept trying to call her contact in the Sanctuary but was told that the man is out of coverage area. We made up stories about the man being a ghost or something, trying to lure people into the wilderness to have their blood extracted and stocked in wine barrels! Suddenly, a not so impressive gate appeared on the left side of the road; it was latched from inside in a lazy manner. I stopped the car and J and S ventured out to see if this was the ‘holy shrine’ we were wandering the whole day to visit. After a nod of confirmation from the both of them, the gate slowly opened to both sides reminding me of the scene from Jurassic Park. Cursing myself for cultivating such scary thoughts, I geared the car into motion and make it climb up through a trail and pulled over in what seemed to be a courtyard in front of three dilapidated looking mud houses. There was already a car in the place with some people around. They seemed to be in a hurry to leave the place which sort of reinstated my doubts of being in the wrong place. Another thing attracted my attention; (see the photo below)
Anyway, we were showed some tents. We were free to choose one from them. So, we chose one which was closer to the wilderness and was bound by a fence. But, after the choice was made they gave us a tent closer to the mud buildings saying that it was closer to the toilet and bathroom too. I signed up the necessary papers and gave the money as advance, which again made me think about their motives of taking the whole payment in advance. The sun was beginning to set and we thought of making a quick walk into the jungle. I put on my new half-trousers and picked up a stick from the trail and started walking in front like Charlton Heston in ‘Ten Commandments’ as if I was leading a people to some promised land! S’s protests made me slow down a bit. A shaggily painted map on the premises of the tent had showed some ponds in the sanctuary and also some watch towers. After some climb ups and a couple of halts to take snaps, we reached a point were a watch tower was erected and the trail split in to two. The signs meant nothing much to us except that we could read it and the sun was setting pretty fast. I decided to climb up the watch tower. To my disappointment, I found out that all I can do is to stand on the top of the rusty iron ladder because the watching base had thin wooden plates as support. But, that was a good height to get a glimpse of the sunset and I utilized it like this;
After that, we took the left trail and proceeded down. There was utter silence except for the leaves crunching under our enthusiastic shoes. I kept poking the ground with my stick as I walked, producing a noise like the ground was hollow. As soon as I pointed that out, S and J reached a conclusion that I could be right. Since one don’t get that opportunity much, I guess I enjoyed that bit a little. Very soon we were rushing out of that place, abandoning the evening expedition to an already darkening jungle filled with hoots and howls rising up from different directions. My statement that the forest was responding to the noise that we were making, sank like a rock in a pond! Our pace increased and very soon we reached the base camp, all sweating and panting.
The night in the tent commenced with us transferring our stuff from the trunk of the car to the tent. They had provided us with a gaslight for the night. There were two people whom looked like the caretakers and they promised us that the tent will be safe. But, when we came back from the mini trekking, we couldn’t really find any of them. There was heavy wind and the improperly erected tent was waving like a flag on the mast of a yacht. There were some small bricks lying around which we tried to keep on the edges of the tent to stop it from shaking frantically when we were inside. But, the wind only got stronger defeating our plans. Soon, chillness started spreading inside and we started planting our bags on all the openings on the bottom of the tent. Dinner came at exactly 8.00 pm, delivered by the guy who took money from us.
It was a nice and simple meal with rice, dal, papad, some dry curry made of Cabbage and Bhakri (a kind of rottis). The food was good and the three of us ate as much as we could. While eating J pointed out the moon which was already rising. I finished my meal as fast as I could and ran to get the cameras. Since the moon was all covered with tree branches it was difficult to get a clean shot. Any way, I clicked away photos while the rest of them finished the food. The only light in the compound was from a dim bulb coming from one of the mud houses. We had to use torch to get to the toilets (which also did not have any lights of its own). All I could think while doing that was the news that some venomous reptiles were released into this forest for mating and reproducing more of its kind! There was a shabby dog sleeping in a pit after eating the leftovers of our food. He raised his head and analysed me in a split of a second and went back to his blissful pit-sleeping. At night, the wind grew stronger and at times we could see the full moon through the wind-blown patches and cracks of the tent. As a lycan backdrop, there were wolves howling from not very far. I fell asleep faster than the other two. Some time later, I was shaken from my sleep by a shivering S with an equally shivering J besides her. Shaking with fear, they conveyed the horrific story of a growl from right outside the tent. I had to fight the fear in me first to make out a full sentence. We waited in silence for sometime and all I could hear was the wind’s whistle. Few minutes passed and suddenly a shadow of a dog was seen passing through the tent cloth. I was relieved and tried to tell them that it was a dog, not a leopard. I don’t remember the rest of the night except that it was too cold.
We had plans to start early in the morning which of course, did not work out like the rest of the trip. Finally we started by 6.45 AM and before even we crossed ten feet, we were overtaken by the dog. Initially we thought it was gonna go to some place all by its own. But, soon we realized that the dog had decided to come with us for the day. Our destination was a lake in the middle of the forest; that is 6KM from the base camp. The forest had a trail that we could follow and there were even smaller trails going inside the forest. The Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary is famous for its birds. Even though there’s a considerable amount of leopards in it, they don’t come out much (unless they want a change in their diet) and it is almost impossible to spot them. Soon the sun was up and it started getting hot. The wide trail gave way to a dry-leaf coated thin trail. We stopped in some places to take photographs and also to rest. The forest started getting thicker and thicker. The dog was an impatient one and it would dart ahead of us only to realize that we weren’t born in a forest like him. He would stop and wait for us, pee on a stone or a tree then if we aren’t showing up, comeback to check on us. He was a very loyal companion at that and even responded to my whistle at times. He seemed to have grown an interest towards S’s chocolate stuffed Gujiya and stayed loyal to the taste of it towards the end of the trekking.
Finally, signboards after signboards (most of the time they were just green arrow marks on trees) we reached the lake after a steep. Some squirrels were jumping around, making noises and when I caught the glimpse of the lake, I was totally disappointed. It was no more than a mini pond, protected on three sides using cement walls. There were some old, gigantic trees around which looked pretty ancient to me. There was a clear ground and remains of a campfire made not so long ago. Even though there was a warning from the Maharashtra Tourism department to no desecrate the nature and the pond with plastic and other materials, there were lots of plastic bottles and tetra packs lying around.
We decided to sit somewhere and eat our breakfast that we were carrying in a bag. The dog also joined us after ‘setting up a perimeter’ of urine and a ritualistic sniffing around. We had Khakra (packet ones) and the dog ate it much more than we all did together. Hence, we decided to name him Khakra. After eating the breakfast, we did a little bit of photography and decided to walk back to the base. The dog decided to lead us back. Walking back was much more tiring may be because there was no motive (like the lake) to push us. It was hotter as the sun was right on top of our heads. Slowly, we walked back and reached the base camp by 12.00 PM. After cleaning up a bit and transporting our stuff back into the car, we payed for the hospitality of the man who gave us the lunch and drove off the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary leaving a night and day of wilderness behind.