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Monday, 4 November 2013

Rappelling at Duke' Nose, Khandala

                                                                           Duke’s Nose
Nagphani, later known as Duke’s Nose after shape of nose of Duke Wellington, is a cliff at Khandala near Lonavala in the Western Ghats. The Cliff is pointed like a snakes hood and hence the name Nagphani (‘Nag’ means snake and ‘phani’ means hood).  This is a huge pinnacle which is highly visible while travelling between Mumbai and Pune through the expressway.
                                                          Rappelling at Duke’s Nose: March 2011
      Rappelling Height: 300 ft ;  Cliff Height: 2506 ft
Rappelling is a quick way of descending heights using adventure gear and involves sliding down the ropes. The speed of descend is controlled by the friction. Proper belay support makes this event 100% safe.

Thanks to our official training programme which had the agenda of making us do things which we would generally dread and find excuses not to do it. (read ‘Target’)

The rappelling at Duke’s Nose is one activity I wouldn’t forget in days to come. This is a spine chilling task we had no option but to execute. The mention of solo walk down 300ft on a 90 degree cliff is enough to put us off. The rocky cliff with total height of 2500 ft above the forested land and traversing for approx 1000ft along this cliff, with only death depth on one side, after the rappelling of 300 ft is more than enough to resolute a beginner’s mind not to mess up with one’s life at all. Our thought processed all the negative consequences possible.

And everybody said “This is impossible”.

This is how anybody new to rappelling on a natural cliff would think of. So did we.

We didn’t have any escape route as we were all being monitored. Any mischief is reported and reprimanded.

Our group boarded the bus waiting for us in our Hotel in Khandala. We had been briefed about the day’s activity and were prepared to “reach” the site at least. The bus dropped us at the point from where we had to trek for around 1 km to reach the peak of Duke’s Nose. This trek is an easy walk uphill.
There were already a separate group of people who had reached the summit and began their activities of Valley Walking and some seen Rappelling down.

Our organisers also had reached early and were all set with their rock climbing gears and ropes. Some of them had a very sarcastic smile as they had already read our mind. 

The top of this cliff has a Mahadeva Temple where the villagers pray. Atop this cliff is very windy and hence a windcheater can be very helpful depending on the month one would visit.

With the civilization
Valley walking between two peaks

To acclimatize us and overcome the fear of Rappelling we had to mandatorily go through the task of Valley Walking. There are two peaks. One being Duke’s Nose and another parallel to it separated by a gorge of approx 200 ft depth. These two peaks are connected with sliding ropes and we would have to slide from one peak to another with a halt above the gorge for around 1 min to see, feel the depth and fear. In fact the gushing adrenaline during this moment is motivating to take the plunge and rappel down later.

“Whoever goes Valley walking first will have to go Rappelling first”. Shouted our Instructor.

I didn’t dare to go first at all. As I saw my colleagues executed this first task apparently without any difficulty, me and the remaining friends also were gaining confidence as we saw some of them going down the hill rappelling. We had no option of taking feedback from the first few rappelers as there was only one way down. Sadly this place has no mobile phone network.

Like anybody, I completed the averagely thrilling Valley Walk and headed confidently towards rappelling point with all my gears on. Put on my mobile phone in video mode and hung it around my neck with the intent of shooting video at appropriate angle during the “downfall”.

With the instruction given, I was released. An important part of the rappelling is to keep your body in a chair-sitting position with feet apart by around 2 feet and body posture little less than 90 degree against the cliff. While going down this position of the feet is to be used to push yourself against the rock. Any contact of the rock surface with the body will give you serious and painful bruises.  A particular method of holding the harness rope and releasing is important to understand. The most important is to remain calm and follow the instructions.

I was the centre of attraction. All faces were towards me. After having taken the first step, there was no looking back in literal sense. All those peeping faces slowly disappeared as I descended downwards. After few jump down, I was alone. I could neither see anybody above or below me nor hear any voices.  Alone, tied to the rope, with gushing wind trying to shake me, I had to complete this cliff walk fast so that I could be with the civilisation.

After few feet below, suddenly, my feet could never touch the rocky surface.  I was dangling in the air, rotating, 720 degrees, until I slowly released the rope. There is a specific spot on this cliff where anybody would dangle in the air. With only death depth below and Mumbai-Pune expressway far far away which will be seen as you would be rotated on its own, you have nobody but to trust yourself and slowly release the rope.

After this dangling moment, it is very important to follow basics of chair sitting position as you touch the rock. I couldn’t follow this and ended with a scratching moment on the rock. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t detach my body from the wall of rough rocks as I slid down.

“Very Good, you are almost there...Few feet more...Common...”

The greatest relief is when you hear some motivating words from a team below waiting to receive and escort you. This 300 ft descent has been the toughest for me so far but I completed it.  As I landed, my both hands were numb and weary as it had balanced my own weight for gradual fall, the pair of gloves I worn was very much heated (due to the slide on the rope). The rope becomes so hot due to friction that if it touches bare skin, it will imprint burning marks.

I was yet to reach my destination where our group was getting assembled. It was painful when I realised that I had to traverse around 1000 ft along this same rocky surface, pass through the gorge, traverse and then only regroup.

However, it was known that the hardest part of this activity was already over and hence traversing was easily done relatively.

As we assembled after traversing I realised that I had bruised on my right arm.(as I was wearing Half-sleeve T-Shirt). My mobile camera was still in video mode.

 As I replay it today, the noisy gushing wind is audible, rough rock, clear blue sky and distant winding Mumbai – Pune Expressway can be seen as the camera rotates, blended with some momentary helpless cry of ‘Help, help’ can be heard, though inaudible to others.

Duke's Nose as seen from
Mumbai - Pune Expressway

The dot is a Rappeller

         Distant hill  is the other end
          of the nose - seen from trekking trail
Traversing Trail

Guide for the Beginners:
Must Wear: Full Sleeve T-Shirt,Track Pants with Walking Shoes having good grip, Sunglasses can be                     helpful.
Must Carry: Enough water as water is not available for sale at this peak.
Must Have: Little courage before the activity J to make you confident after the activity.
Organisers : This one day activity is co-ordinated by various organisers at a nominal cost.

My Opinion: This is a very safe activity when using all the rock climbing gears which the organisers use. The best weekend getaway for those in Pune or Mumbai, it leaves you on a high note making you confident and believe that fear is just an imagined emotion until conquered.