One of the biggest advantages of living in Mumbai, is the easy access to the Western Ghats, also known as the Sahyadri. The Sahyadri starts from the south of Gujarat, and runs through Maharashtra, Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
After doing a trek in February 2015 in the Ladakh Himalaya, and in August 2015 in Kashmir, I started looking for mountains closer to home. That is when I came across an interesting 4-day cross-country trek, crossing through old trade routes, and some forts from the time of Shivaji Maharaj. This was the Naneghat to Bhimashankar trek.
This trek really piqued my interest in the ancient forts and peaks of the Sahyadri, and now, at the end of 2017, I have trekked to over a 100 forts and peaks in Maharashtra. I also trek regularly in the Himalaya. Trekking is now a large part of my life!
I wrote a short daily account of my very first trek in the Sahyadri right after completing it, and reading it now still makes me nostalgic.
We, a motley bunch of 17, started off at 11 pm with a rickety state transport bus ride from Kalyan to Vaishakhare village, our starting point. We had an exciting night trek to reach Naneghat. A quick lesson in history from Shilpa, who was part of the lead team, revealed that the route to Naneghat (2,750 ft above sea level) was an ancient trade route during the Satavahan rule. This was my first ever night trek, and the absolute darkness and quiet made sure none of us felt sleepy. After crossing flat patches, we started climbing. The path was full of rudimentary steps made from rocks, some so high that I had to clamber on all fours to get myself up. We took a short break once we reached a water cistern, to fill our bottles, and spent some time watching the night sky. We spotted many shooting stars, and it made the sky look absolutely magical. From here we also spotted Nanacha Angtha, a thumb-like rock protrusion at the top of Naneghat.
We made our way up the final climbing patch, and reached a cave, after about two and a half hours of climbing. This was where we spotted 3 snakes and many huge lizards! All our hopes of camping there for some rest were shot down the drain, and we moved ahead to a temporary shelter built by some villagers to rest.
We caught some sleep for two hours, because we had a long day ahead of us. Today we were going to explore Jivdhan fort, and then head towards Amboli, our stop for the night. It was also the auspicious day of Dussehra, so Vishal, our trek leader, performed the ceremonial puja on our ropes, carabiners, and other climbing equipment, and prayed for a safe and successful trek.
We filled ourselves up with some delicious poha and chai, and set off towards Jivdhan. Jivdhan (3,750 ft above sea level) is a hill fort also from the Satavahan era, and was destroyed by the British in 1815. The sun was starting to beat down upon us, but we climbed up steadily, through a dense forest cover, which ended to reveal rock-cut steps. We had the company of an adorable dog, whom we christened ‘Bunty’. Once we crossed the steps, we had to climb up to the door of the fort, using ropes. This patch was almost vertical, and the rocks were wet and slippery. But under the able guidance of Shilpa and Yadnesh from our trek team, all of us crossed it well. We were now close to the straight rock pinnacle right next to the fort, called ‘Khada Parsi’ or ‘Vanarlingi’. From here, we explored the fort ruins, which included an ancient idol of a goddess and a storehouse for grains. We also had a beautiful vantage point to view Harishchandragad, Ratangad, and Naneghat.
From here, we quickly descended and came back to have lunch. A delicious spread was awaiting us, and we ate without a word. We now had a long trek to reach Amboli village, so we tied our laces, applied sunscreen, and went out into the sun. We also had to say goodbye to 2 of our trek mates, because they felt unable to keep up with the challenging schedule of the trek. By now, we all were starting to feel sleepy, and everyone was eager to reach quickly. After traversing flat terrain, we had to do a fair bit of climbing through extremely dense Amazonian cover, with absolutely no sunlight. Our trek leader Vishal had badly hurt his toenail before the trek, so he was walking with sandals, not shoes. Yet, he was easily the fastest in our group. Whenever we thought of pausing, just the sight of him marching forward despite his injury, was enough to motivate us to walk. Everyone collapsed in sheer joy when we reached the plateau, and could see Amboli below. After taking a break, we almost raced (and fell a few times!) all the way down. Our stop for the night was inside an old Shiva temple. The temple was pristine, having been thoroughly cleaned for Dussehra. We took off our shoes and bags, and prayed before Lord Shiva. The boys went off to have a bath in a waterfall nearby, while us girls went to a stream and washed our faces. All of us had a delicious dinner made by the locals, and went off to a deep sleep. We had a long day ahead of us tomorrow!
Today was the day we were going to reach the highest point in our trek. So, we woke up at 6 a.m, and after taking some great group photos near the temple, left for Dhakoba fort, our first stop for the day. Dhakoba fort stands tall at 4,100 ft above sea level, and the terrain today was extremely testing. We had to climb up from Amboli to reach a plateau. Once we were at the plateau, and after a fairly level patch, we started climbing through a grassy terrain to reach the top of Dhakoba. On the way we saw a green viper snake, and the had quite a few streams of fresh water. This meant pit stops to fill up a massive 3 liter bottle with some ‘Tang’, and fights to have extra sips! The final stretch to reach Dhakoba was phenomenal, and the view was out of this world. We spun 360 degrees to see Naneghat and Jivdhan that we had crossed yesterday, and Durga, Ahupe, Gorakhgad and many sheer cliffs.
We went crazy taking photos of the view, and feeling the wind in our hair. All the strain and stress from climbing continuously was forgotten, and was replaced with the joy of being on top. We promised ourselves to come back to Dhakoba again in the future, and set out to Durga fort, our next stop. The route to Durga was confusing, and full of twists and turns. Here, the terrain had red soil, rocks and medium forest cover. We first reached the temple of Ma Durga, just below the fort, and then made our way up to Durga. Durga stands at an elevation of 3,900 ft above sea level, and now only has remnants of the original fort. We had to stand atop the rocks, because the grass was chest high, and filled with snakes.
After this, we halted for lunch at the Durga temple. Lunch was polished off in minutes, and we also helped ourselves to some Tang. We also saw many slaughter stones kept for animal sacrifice to the Goddess nearby. From here, it was a flat, short walk to Durgawadi, a nearby village, where we were to rest for the night. We stopped at an old school, quickly sweeping the floor with bundles of grass. As the sun had not set till now, we all decided to go to the village well and take baths. To our surprise and shock, we found a dog stuck inside the well! It had jumped into the well after being chased by some other dogs, and was shivering and badly scared. We conducted a full-fledged rescue operation, thanks to our climbing ropes. Shilpa, Yadnesh and Sandesh from our team used their nifty knotting skills, while we coaxed the poor dog to put its front paws into the noose they had created to haul it up. It was quite an experience!
We finally then had our baths, and while we were going back, met a naughty bunch of kids on their way back from school. They sang poems, danced, played games with us till it was dark, and then we headed to have dinner at the village. After dinner, we stayed up late into the night, having crazy fun playing ‘Mafia’. We settled into our sleeping bags, and tried to catch some sleep for our next day. It was going to be the longest day of our trek.
Our day started early, and by early I mean at 2 am! We were up and ready by 3, having had cups of strong chai to gear us up for the day. Another trek at night, and by now I was not scared of trekking in the dark. We fished out our torches, and walked without pausing for 3 hours! I still remember how we walked in complete discipline, without losing sight of people ahead. I was only looking at the feet of my trek mate Kailesh, who was walking ahead. We hit the tar road at daybreak, and decided to take a short breather. Someone played songs, and we all started dancing on the road! From here, it was a long, straight walk, alternating between tar road and dirt road. We saw a glorious sunrise, took many photos, ate a lot of snacks on the way, and had fun despite the unending road. We finally reached our first stop, Ahupe (3,900 ft above sea level), where we had some food, and filled our depleting supplies of water, and moved on towards Bhimashankar.
It was hot, and we had to climb a fair bit to reach a plateau. We were powered by a supply of Tang, and songs, and jokes throughout. By now, we were all just moving like a single unit. Everyone had bonded extremely well, and we all kept the pace of the group going. Once we reached the plateau, we walked all the way till we reached a van, which was going to drive us to the final 5 km stretch to Bhimashankar. We all ran towards the van, and most of us clambered on top of the van, including me. We had a short but exciting ride, with the wind blowing in our hair. We also spotted the Indian giant squirrel, with its luxuriously bushy tail, and reddish brown colour.
We finally reached the gates of Bhimashankar, at 3,500 ft above sea level. Bhimashankar is the house of Shiva’s Jyotirlinga shrine, and is also the source of the river Bhima. We were all very thrilled. It was officially the end of our trek. Now we just had to descend back from here tomorrow. We gathered around and took many photos. We also explored Gupt Bhimashankar, a hidden waterfall 20 minutes away from the temple. All of us dipped our feet in the cool waters, and a brave few went and got drenched under the falls. It was a lot of fun!
We then had a bath, went to have some delicious vada pav and missal, and then went to the Shiva temple and took his blessings. I think we all simple expressed gratitude at having safely completed the trek. After a delicious dinner, which we all devoured, we went off to sleep.
We started our descent today at express speed. We walked, only to stop for water once, and finished our descent stretch in two and a half hours, while it normally takes 5-6 hours! Everyone had nicknames by now, we never felt the strain in our legs, everyone shared their food and water freely, and if anyone was stuck, there would be many helping hands to the rescue. Khushal, one of my trek mates remarked that if one truly has to know a person, they should come on a ‘trek date’. I fully agree with him! We were people from such diverse backgrounds, and yet in the course of 4 days, had become great friends.
The journey came to an end at Bhivpuri station, from where we took a train to go back to our homes. Till the very end, we were filled with excitement and enthusiasm.