SANDHAN VALLEY, also known as the VALLEY OF SHADOWS and sometimes as the VALLEY OF SUSPENSE is one of the greatest canyons in the SAHYADRI mountain range. It is a very good combination of a canyon and a valley. Located in the Nagar District, near the famous fort of RATANGAD, Sandhan Valley is truly a Valley of Shadows.
Walking through the narrow streak of valley with 300ft rock walls o both the sides, is a “lifetime experience.” Descending the Sandhan Valley is always a memorable outing and the overnight stay under the sparkling sky, along the reservoir side, is the sweet cherry on the cake !
A hidden gem of the Sahyadri Range, known only to trekkers and mountaineers, Sandhan Valley is as wild as nature wanted it to be. The scenic beauty and weather at Sandhan Valley is like “Heaven on Earth” an ideal place for astronomy and time-lapse photography due to dark skies around a new moon .
Sandhan Valley is a “gorge” cut to geological change and wild water streams gushing down ferociously from the nearby mountains during the monsoons and for the past 1000s of years. The streams fall into the valley, beyond the gorge, to form a pool. To reach the pond, one has to rappel down from the far end of the gorge into the valley. The views from the far end of the gorge are truly breath-taking and the experience is amazing.
Sandhan Valley can be reached from SAMRAD, which is the base village that is approximately 30km from BHANDARDARA and 3km off the GHATGHAR DAM ROAD. Besides being known as the Valley of Shadows, Valley of Suspense, it is also called the GRAND CANYON of Maharashtra. However, Sandhan Valley is no comparison to the GRAND CANYON in the Arizona State of USA, which is a 445km long canyon, cut by the Colorado River, Sandhan is barely 2km long.
Sun rays reach the gorge only for a short span of time during the day, when the sun is directly above the gorge, thus the gorge remains in shadow for most part of the day. Sandhan Valley is a “wonder of nature” with stunning views, chilly weather and the spellbound majesty of nature.
From Samrad (the base village), a 2km-walk in the southern direction leads to the entrance of Sandhan Gorge. The trail isn’t visible, and thus difficult to find without local assistance. On reaching the entrance of the gorge, a steep descent through “craggy boulders” leads to the 1st water pond in the gorge. The water level depletes every month till the monsoon. Typically, the water is knee-deep in the month of December.
After crossing the 1st pond, a descent through rock boulders leads to the 2nd pond, which is even deeper and longer. In December, the water is up to the chest level. After crossing the 2nd pond, the path is relatively easy through small rocks till the far end of the gorge. Inside the gorge, there is a 300-ft-high rock wall on both the sides along the “serpentine path”. An average trekker returns from the far end point through the same route.
This requires an ascent up to 300ft on the way back climbing the rock boulders. It could be very tiring during summer. The intrepid trekker can descend the valley beneath the far end of the gorge through rappelling.
There are 3 big rock stretches, one 40ft high, while the other 2 smaller at 15ft and 10ft high. Post descent, there is a beautiful pond formed by the gushing water downhill. There is ample space for camping around the pond. It takes about 4-5hrs to descend. Many trekkers camp overnight near the pond. A “panoramic view” of the peaks around, includes the BANN PINNACLE & AJOBA HILL. Further descend from the pond leads to DEHNE VILLAGE, which is the base village for the AJOBA HILL TREK. From Dehne Village, state transport buses are available for ASANGAON railway station. As an alternative, it is also possible to return to Samrad village from the pond, and the route takes another 4-5hrs.
KONKAN KADA (kada= cliff) is a naturally-formed viewing gallery about 3km from Samrad in the southwest direction. A broken trail leads to Konkan Kada, and it offers a very magnificent view of the high mountains around.
STAR GAZING : The skies above Sandhan Valley are darkest in Maharashtra and offers an imposing view of the heavens above, thus making it an ideal place for photography and astronomy. The skies are absolutely free of stray city lights or vehicle lights lighting up the sky or causing a halo. The skies are ideal for “time-lapse” or “long-exposure” photography and astronomy. A good telescope, binoculars and a DSLR camera are necessary . A “new moon” night is also an ideal time to camp under the darkest skies.
TREKKING : Sandhan Valley and Bhandardara region is surrounded by mighty mountains on all sides, offering challenging treks. The trekking grade could be “Moderate” or “Difficult”, thus requiring good endurance and experience. The most challenging trek, popularly known as the AMK, named after the 3 mountains —ALANG, MADANGAD & KULKANG. Further north is Mount KALSUBAI, the highest peak of Maharashtra at 5,400ft ASL. At close proximity from Samrad in the eastern direction is the famous Ratangad, an to the south stand high the Ajoba and the Bann peaks. All the peaks are amongst the mightiest peaks in the Sahyadri Range.
BHANDARDARA is a popular hill station 30km away from Samrad. It is less crowded compared to the other hill stations in Maharashtra, and is known for the Wilson Dam built on the Arthur Lake. It is also known for the RANDHA WATERFALLS 10km away.
AMRUTESHWAR is a 11th century Shiva Temple in the village of RATANWADI, 10km from Samrad. Ratnwadi is also the base village for a trek to Ratangad.
TIPS & SAFETY GUIDELINES : Although trekkers have classified Sandhan Valley as an EASY GRADE trek, it requires a fair amount of endurance and stamina to cross the gorge. The valley descent up to the pond is considered to be a “Moderate” grade, as rappelling is required. Good and quality trekking shoes, with good grip on the slippery rocks, are extremely essential. Do not carry sling bags, but a rucksack is needed if planning to descend the valley and camp near the pond beneath. Carry sufficient drinking water and Enerzal to replenish lost electrolytes.
It is highly recommended to avail services of a local guide while visiting Sandhan Valley., as the trails are misleading and one can get lost easily. The locals can be of great help in case of medical emergencies or injuries.
Do not shout in the gorge out of excitement, as the energy released out of reverberation caused due to loud sounds hitting back and forth on the narrow walls can dislodge loose rocks which can fall and crush people below. Shouting can also scare monkeys wandering on top of the rock walls of the gorge and they may start running, thus dislodging loose rocks.
Do not walk in the middle of the gorge to avoid casualties due to loose rock falling down, take cover of the walls while walking. Be careful while crossing the pond, as the water is chill and the rocks beneath are very slippery.
IN winter the weather is very chilly, so carry warm woollens, as the temperature can drop up to 12degrees in the night. Carry essential medicines, torch (carry extra batteries), also dry snacks like biscuits, dry fruits, plum cake and chocolate bars. Avoid farsans and oily snacks.
Marathi is the most widely spoken local language, while the locals also speak Hindi and understand English. Many locals serve as guides and make homestay arrangements for travellers at nominal cost. The people are friendly, simple and hospitable.
The best time to visit Sandhan Valley is during winters from November to February. Sandhan Valley is inaccessible during the monsoons as the area witnesses heavy rainfall.
—————- Rajesh Deshpande (based on a personal visit in December 2013)