Trekking and being amongst nature was still an alien world for me until this happened in 1999.
Until then, i had been a regular traveller to distant places like temples, forts, sanctuaries etc, but never ever did trekking or venturing into deepest of jungles and that too during heavy monsoon days. It was my fascination and one of my wildest fantasies over many a years to trekk or spend a day in the jungle, but i never imagined that the dream would realize in such a way.
We were all new recruits with two or three years of government service behind us. Since we had all joined almost at the same period, we had gelled pretty well. Our average age was between 23-27 yrs. We enjoyed that phase of our job as if we were in our college. And planning a trip was obviously on the cards.
So one friend, a confident amongst us, suggested the place, those were rainy days, the rain gods was showering its blessings like never before. And the friend suggested that we should all plan a jungle trekk to Bhimashankar jungles – a wildlife sanctuary in Thane – Pune Belt of Maharashtra. A bit about Bhimashankar, its a thickest of forest one could find in this part of the world, is abode to many a kind of rarest of flora and fauna. Fortunately, in case of Bhimashankar, a mis-conception amongst the natives and adivasis have proved to be a blessing in disguise. Its believed here that if you cut a branch or a living tree, a member from your family will die. This fear, this misconception, has saved the entire jungle from getting hacked.
So we planned our trip to this jungle, the guy who leaded us was a married guy, his wife was with us, and she was our colleague as well. To add up, she was three-four months pregnant. And the guy convinced everybody that the trekk was the simplest one. We later found out that our trust in this team leader was misplaced, for certain.
We all met at around 12 pm in the night and we all met at kalyan station then, probably that was the very first time i had been out of my house at that unearthly time. We all boarded the empty train to Karjat which was good one hour’s journey, it was drizzling all the way through, but the exictement of doing something different was irresistible and we enjoyed the heavy showers that fell that night. At 2.00 am we reach the Karjat Station which deserted within minutes, we waited for the rains to recede, but it would not do so, finally we thought it would be foolhardy to wait for rain to recede and we sipped a cuppa tea from the station canteen which was about to close. The tea, one could dare call it tea, only because of colour of it, was nothing else but hot water with taste of sugar in between. But the chilling climate, we all were very wet and cold by that time, demanded that we needed something hot and that tea, that tasteless tea, tasted good that early morning.
Somehow, we waded our way through the tracks and reached the Bus Stand. Till now i had already started cursing myself that i was an idiot to venture out like this kind of wilderness. But when we reached the Bus Stand, i was amazed to see atleast 100 more idiots like me waiting for the first Bus which would have taken us to the base village Khandas from where the actual trekk would have begun. The bus, after a wait of one and a half hour in that rainy night arrived only to be cramped packed by all the trekkers and hooligans. We five six included in that listing. Somehow, we got the very last seat in that bus. The bus left immediately and the journey was equally entertaining, the entire bus was flocked with youngsters, there was lot of shouting, hooting, teasing and all sorts of things associated with youths of that age. We too mingled very easily. The whole bus was not wet inside out, outside by inclement rains and inside by the wet travellers.
We all reached that remote village at 4.30 in the morning. And out of a sudden the sleepy village shed its skin. We could see all the lamps lighting up and people opening their doors. The hutments were makeshift hotels, they would serve tea and biscuits, offer rooms to change your dress and you have to pay for their services. Every hutment became a mini business center then. We also sipped our cuppa tea and waited for the rain to recede and lights to improve.
The rains would not recede and finally at around 6 am in the morning we started our journey to the holy mountain of Bhimashankar. One has to walk three kilometers from the base village to reach the base of the mountain. Here the road splits into diagonally opposite directions both the roads further lead to Bhimashankar, but, one as we were told was shortcut. That route is called as route via “shidi ghat”. The other road a longer route is called “ganesh ghat” A curious traveller in me, i had already inquired from the villagers about both the roads, all the villagers advised us to travel through Ganesh Ghat as the Shidi Ghat was a treacherous one and some youths died just four days ago while traversing that path.
I informed my team members and my team leader in particular, who brushed off the story as a fabricated one, he told us that villagers took me for ride and that he had been through this route before too. His confidence forced me to buy his part of the story. Anyways i had no other option in that thicket.
By the time we reached that diagonally opposite route, it was around 7.15 am and we decided to have our breakfast enroute, before starting actual trekk. We had got our staple diet of vada pav packed from the hutment back in the village but were not finding a suitable place to eat as the rain was pouring blindly that day. Suddenly we saw one shed, we all knew what it was, but we were very scare in our options and entered that shed stood there and ate our share of vada pavs that morning. The girl in our group stupidly inquired why was this shed built in the midst of nowhere. Her husband quickly retorted, it was for travellers like us. Stupidly enough, she bought his version. After we had our morning breakfast, we left from that place and then the husband enlightened his wife, that the shed was a hindu creamtorium (smashan), where final rites were performed on dead bodies. The thought that we stood there and ate like hungry people shudders at the hindsight when i recall that day.
Anyways, we reached the jungle, it was still raining, crossed one waist deep rivulet which was gushing with full force and then went into thickest jungle we ever saw in our lives, we had to literally seperate tree branches and the creepers to venture in further. All kind of voices unheard of before we heard that morning, the background was complete with rain music that day. We walked and walked and still walked further. It was around 11 am and the difficult stretch of trekk began. We were already half way up and had at places climbed cliffs which were 70-80 degree straight, so returning back was an option not available to us. Now the cracks were seen in the team, the team leader showed restlessness, he finally conceded that he had never been to this place, and only heard about this place from his stories. His wife, a south indian girl, they had a love marriage, literally abused him like anything. We all were equally angry. We realized that day, how much trouble once could land in, if the leader was not a good driver. But the most important thing now was to reach to safe place either atop the mountain or or nowhere. For we could not have steered our way downwards, as nobody amongst us were professional trekkers or had trekking gears. That day i agreed to the saying, fools rush in where angels tread to.. yes i thought i was a fool
We could see a straight 90% round cliff which was about 100 foot in length and one had to climb to pass that cliff only with trust in his fingers and trusting god. For there was hardly any place to place your feet, you have to just use your hands and like spiderman cross the cliff. To add to your woes, the rock had became slippery and one mistake on your part and you were around 3000 feet down, presenting a good lunch for wild animals below. We were all really scared that moment, here we were in deep trouble, with a pregnant lady with us, at a place not suited for even the fittest one, with the rock cliff grinning at us and teasing us to climb. But, we were lucky, we had a last laugh that day, from just nowhere, a local reached there, he was a youth, strong and sturdy and for them this was their routine route to reach early at the small town atop the mountain. He saw our plight and he literally held our hands and directed us where to place the fingers in that cliff and just held us tight and made 7-8 trips that route and ensured all of us were able to cross that cliff. We profusely thanked him, and offered him Rs.500/- money was not the most precious belonging that day. The guy told that we were in safety now and that we only had to cross three “shidi” stairways to reach the safety route. He left exuding confidence in us that now we could make it. We were now a happier lot, quite often but, we cursed our team leader for his shabby knowledge. He had gone mum by that time anyways. We then thought of having our lunch break, it was around 12 in the noon, the rains did not stop anyways, one of my colleague brough some banana leafs from the jungle and we sat there to eat what we had got. It was raining, we were wet from head to toe so it never mattered where we sit. We sat there on a small plain and gulped whatever was served. I still remember, the lady had made some rice dish, it tasted very good that day. We were happy that we were alive to eat those grains of food. We were now bit relaxed, bit fresh as we had our stomach full and then we started our trekk further.
Oh Lord, here we saw a ladder, made of iron, which was already rusted and the ladder in the most dangerous situation dangling there, the ladder acted as a bridge between two huge rocks, one had to climb this ladder to cross that rock, while crossing this ladder on the right hand side one big waterfall was pouring in full flow, the droplets of that waterfall made this ladder even more slippery. On the left hand side, as usual was the entire stretch of the deep valley and the thick green cover of jungle. Thick is the most inappropriate word to use to describe the thickness of that jungle. Huge trees like banyans would look like small pins, it was that thick. The gap between these two rocks showed us the valley down there, it was a threatening scene. We all again shivered while trekking that route. We somehow crossed that ladder each one trying hard to motivate and convince the other that it was not that difficult afterall. But the facial expressions belied the words that day. Somehow, we crossed that ladder and the next and the last one.
Phew!!! finally we crossed all the risky patches and the road finally further was a simple one, we waded through some of the most beautiful scenery we saw that afternoon, huge straight trees, rivers and waterfalls in full flow, the squeaking of birds and different voices of animals we all now started enjoying. Indeed, human life is more precious, we learnt that day. We somehow reached the top. It was around 3 pm by the time we reached top. The entire city was clouded with thick cover of fog, the rain did not stop to follow us even here.
The rest is just descriptive of a pilgrimmage, we visited the Bhimashankar Jyotirlinga and then caught the first available vehicle to reach back to our places. Yes there are vehicles available directly from Bhimashankar town to Mumbai. But the trekkers prefer to wade their way through jungle, for the thrill and adventure part of it. Visiting a pilgrimmage centre is an ancillary goal for them.
Yes, we all were very frightened, very scared, i would not mask it as if we were very adventurous or brave, we were scared and its normal human behaviour to feel scared, i feel.
But the beauty of the place never stopped to fascinate me after that, after that memorable trekk, i have visited the jungle atleast eight times more, adopted the same risky route only once thereafter, remaining six trekks i did, i adopted simple route of Ganesh Ghat.
The apathy of government authority is seen in that route. Every year, stupid ignorant trekkers like us fall and die, their families even dont find their bodies in many a cases. But the government has not closed the route or atleast provided any kind of facilities to ensure safety of those who risk their lives in that patch.
Anyways, i will be visiting the jungles in a couple of weeks from now and already i am feeling thrilled like a kid.🙂
Some videos i found :
The roundish cliff
The Shidi Ghaat