The idea to go for a trek was a welcome change. I was bored of hanging out in the city and doing the usual movie, lunch or dinner routine with friends. I have no idea how we zeroed in on Kondana Caves. Perhaps it was while I was randomly looking for places to rappel and came across an ad for rappelling down the water falls at Buddhist Caves. I'm glad I did :)
We boarded a Karjat bound local train from Dadar station at 7 am. As we got off at Neral station we were excited to begin the trek until we realised that the Caves are actually accessible from Karjat station. It was a disappointing realisation and somehow our google search hadn't proved effective enough. Anyhow the slight flawed research gave us the chance to have piping hot Karjat vada pav for breakfast, which are quite famous. We quickly bought tickets to Karjat and boarded the next train which set us back by about 45 minutes.
After the confusion about the stations, we had bigger worries or rather adventures ahead. Hardly anyone had hear of Kondana Caves. Luckily, some people at the station gave us precise directions to Kondivde village, the base camp for the trek and after that there was no looking back.
We took an auto to Shriram bridge and from there we took a Tempo, more popularly known as 'tum tum' till Kondivde village. We drove along the Ulhas River, the road and the river meandering in sync. It was a 20 minute ride. The tum tum was jumpy, but the breath-taking views and the cool breeze kept our spirits up.
Our tum tum driver Deshmukh dropped us off and wished us a happy trek. He also gave us his mobile number so that we could call him up while we're heading back to Karjat station after the trek.
We began the trek listening to the Moo-ing of the village cows and drinking water from a hand pump! There was a wide enough mud road that we had to follow, however we decided to steer away from the path and walked on the left side of the path with a presumption that this road may lead us to the caves!
Needless to say that the presumption was wrong. After walking close to 25 minutes in wet mud and grass we reached a roadblock, a high gauze fence, a gate that was locked and a glimpse of an ostrich like bird (though I bet it was am Emu!!). We returned back to the gravel path and decided not to steer again considering the scorching sun that was already getting to us.
There on we walked like disciplined kids on the gravel path. We made a small conversation with the school kids we spotted and asked for directions, even though the same wasn't rocket science. That is precisely the beauty of nature trail, everyone is at peace- you, the nature-and hence the moods are jovial.
We reached a fork in the gravel path. The straight road was wider, while the one on the left was narrow. An Indian Archaeological Survey Board guided us to follow the narrow path. Thus began our trek.
As we turned left and started to walk, the gradual ascent began. We came across a small shack selling water, chai, kokam sherbet, chips and water!! So if you're trekking to Kondana, stock up on the water from this shack, else you'll have to drink the water from the water fall, or the small water flows that cris-cross the trek route. Further, as per a website that we researched on said, our only hope to find our way to the Caves without losing our way was to follow white route markers. So if you're doing this trek, keep your eyes open for the markers!
The trek route was wet in parts and quite slippery as well. But the stones wedged strategically by nature help the trekkers get a grip. We perpetually hoped someone would fall and we could freeze it in a photo. Sadly, when a friend fell, the camera man was trekking way ahead!! The climb was fairly easy and the occasional splashing of water from the numerous water flows kept us refreshed. It would have been a more comfortable trek had the sky been overcast or if the rain gods had been liberal. But then again, rains=kichad=slipping. :P
We reached the 20 odd steps that take the trekkers to the mouth of the cave son about 50 minutes. Most of us sprinted up the stairs ecstatically, some out of the excitement of seeing the water fall, others out of relief!
The caves and Buddhist caves, cut in rocks. They have all the Buddhist jazz - stupa, viharas etc - but all in very devastated state courtesy a severe earthquake in 1990's. Nevertheless, whatever remains is beautiful in a haunting way. The caves smell of water and bats. The air inside is heavy. In peak rains the entrance of the caves gets curtained by waterfall. I'm sure that sight would be grand, for even the small waterfall falling over the left-most corner of the caves looked pretty.
The sun had friend and tanned us all. We were fairly dehydrated and enormously hungry! Our came our water bottles and dabbas. We hogged on a sumptuous spread - sandwiches, samosas, thelpas & chunda, idli-chutney, cheese paratha, biscuits, chips, juice etc. While we fed our bodies and enjoyed the shade, some other group of trekkers were enjoying under the waterfall. As soon as they left, we took-over the waterfall, or did we take-under the fall? ;) Either which way, all 10 of us got under the chilling blow of water, almost like a gang who'd conquered the waterfall!
The blows of the water were ruthless in parts. The pebbles under our feet hurt. We all were cramped under the fall. yet it was soothing. The water calmed me, erasing all my thoughts and bringing a smile on my face and peace to my soul. The whole time that I was under the water I was content. I loved how the water felt on my face. I loved the earthy smell that drenched me and stemmed from me. In one word it was rejuvenating. It made me re-iterate my love for water, for despite the woods, the mountains and the views, I was most delighted and moved by water. Perhaps a deep set association with this element of nature.
After bathing and the customary photo session. It was time to leave. Most of us had a spare change of clothes but we decided against it. We began the descent drenched, willing the sun to soak up the water from our clothes and attempt to tire our wills. Ultimately our fondness for nature and a good time won. We descended safely in record-time. It was a successful trek, apart from a minor dehydration scare by a colleague.
Remember the shack I spoke about earlier? The It turned out that it was an emu farm after all! The Emu's are apparently exported and their eggs are used to make medicines. I do not know how accurate the information was, but I believe the guy at the shack. Yes, the same shack that I spoke about earlier. We rested at the shack, sipping kokam sherbet and letting the nature and our feelings mingle.
We had a choice to make - a tum-tum ride back to Karjat, or a trek back along River Ulhas. We were leaning towards the latter until a villager told us that the trek back would be a 3-hour walk covering 12-kms. Instantly we changed our minds and called up the tum-tum wala for our comfortable ride back.
As we drove back to Karjat it began to drizzle. The sign of rain gave me a reason to come back, i.e. to see the waterfalls in their full glory as they curtain the caves, enveloping them and raising the spectators' curiosity about what secret lies behind the veil of water, or perhaps their hearts.
Group: 10 people
Reaching Karjat: Any Karjat or Khopoli bound Fast(preferable)/Slow train from CST/Dadar. Board the earliest train possible. Find the timetable here.
Reading Kondivde Village (base camp for the trek): Take a share auto costing Rs. 5 per person/Rs. 20 for full auto till Shriram bridge (20 minutes drive). Hire a tum-tum/tempo from Shriram bridge to Kondivde Village costing Rs. 200 for the full tum-tum (seating 10 people). Do not forget to take the contact number of your tum-tum wala as you'll need to call him for your return from Kondidve to Karjat.
Trek Intensity: Easy
Trek Time: 1.5 hrs ascend, 30 minutes descent.
What to carry: Water, food, cap(for sun)/wind-cheater(for rain), a shoulder bag, sun-tan (don't forget, i still have tan marks :P), camera and a desire to enjoy!!
Caution: Slippery trails during rains, crossing water flows and avoiding running out of water.
Cost: It cost us approximately Rs. 100 per person incl second-class return ticket to Karjat from Dadar, Two way auto-rickshaw and tum-tum fare and cost of kokam sherbet and mineral water.