Approximately 2000 feet above MSL as you cling to your dear life with those nimble fingers, along the crevices of a rock overlooking a deep valley; All you get to sense is the rush of blood across your veins up to your brains! For those few seconds, as you’re left with nothing but just sheer gut instincts to guide you through, you’re stupefied by the way Mother Nature whispers in your ears as to how important your life is! I guess at times, it does help to reason out how important that thin dividing line between life and death is!
4:13 am I get a call from Suhas. He’s right outside my door waiting for me to open it, just after his night shift work. Damn! Some people never change. Aditya gets ready for work while I hit the bed again trying to spruce out those few moments of sleep. At 4:30am the first wakeup call goes out to Rahul. This time for some reason he doesn’t pick the call even after about six or seven calls. I decide to leave it to him for some more time and get fresh in a few minutes. A few more timess I try in vain and then call up Trupti, assuming she’s already shifted to her new house which is close to his place. But then, things just don’t happen the way you’d like it to be! She still hasn’t shifted.
Ashu arrives at my place at about 05:10am. With no other option left, we decide to move ahead and reach ShivajiNagar station to board the 6:00am Sinhagad express to Karjat. Ashu and Suhas suggest we board the train at Khadki. As we head to pick a rick. I give Trupti on final call to decide on how we need to proceed. Her suggestion was that we’d decide that at the station. So Ashu and Suhas head to Khadki and I head to Shivaji Nagar. Vaijan, Trupti and Sourabh reach ShivajiNagar station well ahead of us and meet Prashant, Parin, Monica and Anshuman who’d already reached the station. Once I reach at about 05:50am, Trupti and I decide to head back to Kalewadi Phata and wake up Nair or at least see what’s been keeping him down for so long. Monica and Anshuman quit at the station for unknown reasons. Our plan was to try catching up with the remaining team at Khandas. Anup was to board at Pimpri and Aditya at Chinchwad.
At about 06:30am we reach Nair’s residence and despite several bangs on his door no one responds. Finally after about five minutes, one of Nair’s friends fearfully opens the door and lets us in. We rush into Nair’s room only to see him sound asleep. Boy! You must have seen the expression on his face as his friend woke him up – the startled look just buys out everything that we had! As we head to Swargate, We still wonder as to how he could have missed all our calls despite his cell being in the normal mode!
As there were no direct buses to Karjat, we board an ST to Khopoli at about 08:30am. The remaining team had already reached Karjat by then. At about 10:00am we reach Khopoli and from there we move ahead to Karjat phata. At about 11:30am we finally manage to head to Karjat from Karjat phata. At Karjat, Rahul speaks to a chap to drop us at Khandas. The deal is set for 400Rs. At about 12:45pm as we reach Khandas, this weird driver demands 200 more saying he was totally unaware of the 400 deal. We do try to put up a bit of resistance but then it’s always better to play safe when you’re not in you territory, so we end up paying a solid 600 bucks for the one hour ride. Big time looting!
As we head towards Shidi Ghat, Anup messages me the directions from the starting point. We had to take a left after a small culvert and then keep walking the path after we take a right turn as and when we get to see two wells. They’d been waiting for us for almost two hours now at a small stream ahead. As we walk towards the culvert seeking directions from the villagers, a stark reality looms ahead. Most of them without even volunteering to help, directly ask if we needed a guide. We out rightly reject it and keep walking based on gut instinct. Thankfully, we find a small shop where we ask for directions. The old man helps us out with pleasure in a jiffy and asks us to be cautious as Shidi ghat could be a bit dicey for first timers to this place. In about twenty minutes we finally manage to meet up with the remaining nine folks. It’s been a long long wait for them!
The ladder, the Stare, the Pull and the Jump!
At about 2:00pm we start moving ahead. The climb up Shidi ghat is pretty straight forward for the first sixty minutes or so. A few pulls on the calf muscles and you shouldn’t be finding it that difficult to tread up the hill. At about 03:15 pm we happen to meet Tukkaram, another villager. A few yards ahead and we realise how helpful he was. Right round the corner lay the first hurdle of Bhimashankar – a rickety metallic ladder that is supposed to take you up to another adjunct cliff. Though chances are highly remote that you’d miss your step here on the ladder rungs; midway through, as you climb up the sloping support the very look at the precipice below would definitely give you a few missed beats! Once you cover this span and move a bit ahead, the second daunting phase of Bhimashankar presents itself in all glory – In the same cliff, to move ahead you need to literally hook up with your fingers to the rock crevices and hang parallel to the rock for a few moments before you get a foothold on the rocks again a bit further ahead. Supporting your 65+ body weight with your fingers at a height of about 1000ft – The emotions on people’s faces as Tukkaram kaka helped us out through this spot would probably be the best Kodak moment of this trek! Ah, and then comes another close to vertical Aluminum ladder supported by freshly added bamboo supports. Just when you think you’re almost up there, the ladder starts its slant towards the right cliff. It takes a few moments to get your balance right and then when you finally reach the last rung of the ladder all it takes is just a mighty push on the slippery rocks to gain firm ground. Shidi Ghat ROCKS!!
One by one we finally manage to reach the first level of the climb – A wide plateau on which on which are banked four to five houses and Paddy fields. This is where Arun – a seven year lad comes and enquires if we need anything to drink? Not wanting to lose any time we plan to move ahead without any breaks. Even before we cross one of the fields, this chap runs home and gets a vessel filled to the brim with ‘Thak’ – Buttermilk. Phew! Now that’s business. I’d bet a 100$ on someone who’d morally and whole heartedly not want to have that drink after all the climb and jumps .
Once everyone’s rejuvenated themselves, we start moving uphill. At about five we reach the Shidi Ghat-Ganesh Ghat junction. This is the place where both the routes culminate to lead to Bhimashankar. Tukkaram kaka takes leave here and directs us to Bhimashankar. Probably Anup and Aditya would be the best people to describe the last level climb . We literally had Rahul behind their back at every step prodding them to move faster and bucking them up. For the last half an hour all we hear was a soaring ‘Chal’- Keep Moving. Probably, Had Rahul known Anup’s been in Infy for close to six years now, things would have been different . Around 6:00pm we reach a diversion. We randomly chose the one that went straight and moved ahead. A fifteen minutes climb and even before we realize, we’ve reached the Bhimashankar Peak. Wohoo! All that was left now was to find the temple / village.
In search of wildlife!
As we tread along the well laid path and look a few yards ahead, we just have gaping faces. For a few moments not one of us talks. We’re left spellbound by just another creation of Nature. It’s just clouds, breeze, sounds of birds chirping and you! At a height of about 3600ft as you sit silently on the edge of the cliff, with the chilling breeze whining across your ears what else could you ask? I’m lost in deep thought of things past, present and future. Flashes of incidents just whizz past and as you reciprocate to Nature with a smile on your face, another set of memories get frozen somewhere and etched out!
Darkness finally gets us back and then when it looms on us that we still had to reach the village, we try scouting for directions. Rahul thankfully gets the line across to Bhavna who’d been here recently. Ah ! Surprise. We were actually walking towards the Bhimashankar Wildlife sanctuary. A few yards and we would be lost in the wildlife . We finally head back and come to a place where diversions were found. Visibility was real low. With not much to believe on but sheer instincts we huddle together and head towards a path which seemed more convincing. Just then, a distant sound of a bell catches our attention. We tread in the direction of the sound and in a few moments we sight lights a bit ahead. The chime and people’s voices become much clearer. A turn round the corner and behold! We find the temple at a distance. In about five minutes we reach the village. We’re surprised looking at the village size. What we expected to see was a small temple and a few huts here and there. But what we saw was a total contrast – A well maintained temple with big huts and houses. The whole place was sort of commercialized -Thanks to the road route that you have to Bhimashankar!
A quick darshan in the temple and a dinner at the adjacent restaurant and we are set to hit the bed. This is when we decide to explore the place a bit more. Rahul, Ashu, Suhas, Vaijan, Anup, Prashant and I head towards thick foliage with no destination planned as such, while the remaining stay put near the temple outskirts. The temple was to close at about 10:00pm so we could loiter around till then. After a dense path, we finally reach a wide open plateau. Just to make things interesting, we switch off all the torch lights and sit in a circle and while away time. The Amavasya night made things all the more interesting. Finally at about 09:25 pm we decide to head back to the temple. Rahul, Anup and I had earlier spoken to the temple security guards’ to let us sleep in the temple. He was fine with it but then later we got a better place in the adjacent durbar type stadium. A bit of cleaning and most of us hit the ground by 10:15pm. Sleeping mats and bags were scarce. So we had to spread out the bags on newspapers. Bedsheets were scarce too! Most of us spend the night shivering under the sparse bed sheets. A marvelous night spent listening to dog wails and human snores J .
The alarm hoots at about 05:15am and I wake every sleeping soul in the team. It’s close to 06:30 by the time everyone finishes his obligatory duties and we decide to leave the stadium towards Ganesh ghat. We’d targeted the 4:00PM train to Pune from Karjat. Moving on those time lines we had to leave Bhimashankar by 07:00 am. Though we’d initially planned to re-visit the spot that we’d been to late last evening, it had to be skipped.
With some more help from the villagers we find the trek path back to Khandas through Ganesh ghat. We take almost an hour to reach the Ganesh Ghat-Shidi Ghat bifurcation. A quick breakfast here and we start off towards Ganesh ghat. We’d heard Ganesh ghat was a pretty simple trek path. It’s just about following the path downhill. Rahul, Ashu and Vaijan more or less keep the pace by leading way ahead. The rest of us follow a bit leisurely. By around 12:00pm we reach Khandas village. The eleven of us hustle in a sever seater Minidor and head to Khasheli village. Another Minidor from here gets us to Karjat station by 2:00pm. The train was at 4:00pm so we did have ample time. A sumptuous lunch followed by a much needed Sugarcane juice and we proceed to the station. The tickets that Rahul had booked were on WL so we had to book tickets afresh.
Anup, Parin, Prashant, Sourabh, Rahul, Trupti, Ashu and I decide to leave for Pune by a Passenger train at 03:30pm instead of waiting for the express at 4:00pm. We get seats but still hurl over to the upper birth, spread the sleeping mats there and sort of settle down totally. The 2.5 hr journey back to Pune is spent playing funny yet interesting games. As I head back home at 06:00pm, it finally sinks in me that Bhimashankar is finally struck in my to-do trek list.
Route: Swargate ->Khopoli ->Karjat Phata ->Karjat ->Khasheli ->Khandas | ShivajiNagar ->Karjat ->Khasheli ->Khandas
Distance: Karjat ->Khasheli : ~30kms | Khasheli ->Khandas: ~13kms
Altitude: ~3650ft. above MSL.
Endurance: High | Difficulty : Ganesh ghat -> Medium ; Shidi Ghat -> High
Time : Uphill: 4.5hrs. Downhill: 4.0hrs
Transport: Train to Karjat: 6:00am from Shivaji Nagar | Karjat -> Khasheli : ST at 10:00am or TT for 16Rs. Per head | Khasheli -> Khandas: TT for 15rs per head.
- Once at Khandas town ask for directions towards Bhimashankar. Keep walking straight till you reach a small culvert just ahead of a T Junction. The Right path leads you to Ganesh Ghat and the left leads you to Shidi Ghat
- For Shidi Ghat, Take a left and walk a bit ahead till you find a small Kirana shop. Not very far away take a right and walk ahead. You should be spotting two wells on your left. Walk along the path. Within twenty minutes if you do not spot a small stream / Cascade it’s time to think twice before proceeding.
- For Ganesh ghat take a right and follow the path. Pretty straight forward path up wards. Probability of getting lost for a sane soul is pretty bleak .
- Once you reach the Bhimashankar peak, to reach the village take a left and move a bit ahead till you find a Pond to your right. The village/ Temple is a straight path from here. Bombay point should be lying to your left as you walk towards the temple. Watch out for signboards en-route.
- One wild suggestion if you get lost – Take the path to the left. It worked more or less in our case
Expenses: Rs 250
Stay: Bhimashankar temple / adjacent stadium. Lodging available
Duration: Preferable opt for an Overnight stay.
Best time to visit: Monsoon!