Valentine’s Day, 2010: A sunny afternoon it was. We were tracing our path to Bhimashankar through shady woods of the sanctuary and we had kind of lost our way. On the slopes was a patch of loose soil and pebbles which made it slippery and a little difficult to walk. I knew this wasn’t the way, so we turned around and suddenly I fell down. My left hand had a small wound with some blood oozing out. Nature has its own way of expressing love. And this was definitely one of them!
The plan was to trek from Khandas to Bhimashankar via Shidi Ghat. It had been a last minute decision and I wasn’t quite sure of the response. Moreover it was Valentine’s Day, so I thought we would hardly have 5 odd guys who would make it for the trek. I was however amazed to see a gang of 22 nature lovers who had joined in. It was nothing but sheer love for nature which had gotten these folks here on Valentine’s. We all wanted to celebrate this special day with our beloved ‘nature’.
We met at Pune station and with our tickets pre-booked, we all headed to board the ‘Sinhagad’ express. Everyone full of zest, there was chitchatting, card playing, leg pulling, and roars of laughter. Time flew and we covered the 2 ½ hour journey to reach Karjat. Here we had a scrumptious breakfast feasting on the famous Diwadkar’s Vadapao before we boarded the tamtams (six-seater rickshaws).
We reached Khandas to get a glimpse of the magnificent views here. All we could see were the mighty cliffs of Sahyadri wherever we could cast a glance. Mountains and mountains all round with a height of over 2500 feet. We were to climb these today! We could identify the lofty Siddhagad on the left and Tungi on the right with the inviting Padargad right in front of us as we started walking. The Nagphani was peeping through the plethora to say Bhimashankar was right behind it. What a sight it was!
We started walking admiring the beauty around. The 2 km tar road was left behind in no time and we entered the thick covert. It felt good. It had been a 25 minute walk in the heat. The greens and the shade had a soothing effect and had made the weariness disappear! With a new vigor we started to ascend. There was singing and merry making on the way which too added to the delight while walking. Half an hour later, a stream of water impeded our way. Though there wasn’t a constant flow, there were small pools still holding clear & cool water. We were thirsty by now & it was the time for our first break.
Folks with us though this was it. But when we said this was just the beginning, the expressions on everyone’s face was worth a watch. With breath caught in their throats, everyone looked awestruck(?) as I pointed out to Nagphani and the path to demonstrate what was to be accomplished. We quenched our thirst & after loads of photography we got back on our track again. We clambered a little ahead and then there were loads of alleyways which branched out of the main trail. It was here that we were kind of lost, climbed on a wrong slope and I fell off while getting back. I was with nature on valentine & how could it have missed this golden chance to express its feelings for me! 🙂
The climbing and un-climbing on a wrong trail had put us an hour behind our schedule. However the search was over and we were now tracing the right path. As we scaled up a little we saw the first iron ladder (and we knew we were right). Enthusiasm doubled and we quickly took the steps to reach a wee plateau which was at quite a height. There was barely some place to rest our feet and we were on a cliff around 500 feet high. It felt as if we were hanging in the air. Most of them were afraid to look down, but then the valley offered lovely views. There was abundance of green all around. We could spot the stream where we had just taken a break and far off was the wee settlement of Khandas village from where we had begun. Padargad & Tungi ensured they are with us to give us moral support.
The path from here on got a tough. There are multiple pathways going up to Bhimashankar (Ganesh Ghat, Bail Ghat, Karondara Ghat, etc) but this (Shidi Ghat) was the toughest of all. It was almost a vertical rock face that we were to climb. But thanks to that someone who had installed three iron ladders en-route making things a little easy. As we climbed the first one we were on an exposed rock face. A small rock patch had to be scaled to reach the next ladder and most of them trembled. Slowly and safely we helped all of them & we were done! Celebrating this small success we clambered the next ladder and here we saw the 3rd ladder at quite a height. Another rock patch to be done before we get there! But this was relatively simple. We got here in no time. The ladder was in a small gully and besides it was a natural cave like structure. While most of them were struggling to get on the ladder, we seasoned trekkers halted for a while in the cave for a quick break.
Needless to mention the views from here were splendid. We thought it would be an ideal place to halt for the night. (I have been thinking so and wanting to camp in the night here for quite some time now, but to no luck). But then we had a long way to go & camping plans were no way on our cards. So we involuntarily got up to scale the last ladder and another huge rock patch above this. Finally we again entered the woods and this was the end of rock climbing. Hush! There was a long silence and everyone heaved a sigh of relief. It was as though a new energy wave had struck everyone and we seemed to be walking fast. A short walk later we were on a huge plateau. There existed a wee settlement here inhibited by a few farmers who cultivated paddy as the means of their livelihood. This was a junction of the Ganesh ghat and Shidi Ghat routes. There were few hutments where we thought we should rest for a while and to quench our thirst the village boys sold us some buttermilk.
It was the mealtime and the plan was to have lunch at Bhimashankar. But we were running late so there was nothing much we could do. Everyone was hungry. So we gobbled some biscuits & dragged ourselves. The climb after this was a strenuous and sun over our head, it was difficult to walk. But then we were left with no choice. We walked and kept on walking – slowly and steadily till finally round the corner we saw some shade. The path was getting into thick woods again. Yippee! It was a moment to rejoice. It was a thick forest cover, densely populated with greens which left no room for sunlight. It was like entering a dark room. There was chill in the air here. The lovely breeze refreshed us. We almost forgot we were tired and kept walking. There was a new hope that Bhimashankar was just round the corner and we were going to be there soon. And how true! A 10 min walk in the jungle and the destination was right in front of us.
The walk in the greens was refreshing and within no time we were on the edge of a vale. On the left was Siddhagad standing tall inspiring us! “It is hardly 10 min from here”, I said and pushed everyone. It was surely the last climb, but not all that easy. Primarily because everyone was weary and hungry. But this too passed by and in no time were we at Bhimashankar!
As we reached here everyone “feasted” on the traditional chilled nimbu pani to quench the thirst. We had finally made it was the feeling evident on everyone’s faces. The lord had answered the prayers felt everyone who were now craving for the darshan of Lord Bhimashankar. Bhimashankar, said to have been carved by King Zanj in the 9th century, is a jyotirlinga – one of the 12 most important shrines of Lord Shiva! So the trek actually would have been incomplete without the experience of the holiness here! Everyone almost immediately rushed to the temple and came out satiated like never before!
There was still time for the 6 pm ST bus. None of us had had lunch. So we grabbed a stomach-full and came over to the ST stand to wait for the bus. Somehow Abhijit did not seem to be satiated by the lunch & had a strong craving to have cheeku and he got a few of them and some tamarinds. So the next half an hour flew by relishing the sweet tidbits.
The bus arrived. It was the last ST bus for Pune of the day, so it was going to be crammed. The moment it showed up, all the passengers flocked around making it impossible for us to get in. We were helpless but had strong determination of grabbing a set for all 23 of us. So we pushed some tiny tots amongst us through the window and they grabbed a seat for us. We then happily got in after all the crowd and proudly sat down. The expressions on the faces of the fellow passengers were worth a watch and the experience good enough to be remembered!
The journey began and we had settled quite well. The late lunch had given us good amount of energy to ensure no one dozes off. We sang aloud to play antakshari. At times we were so loud that eventually when we reached Manchar the conductor had to ask us to stop. A small nap thereafter and we reached our homes at around 2230 hrs.
Irrespective of the odds, it was a day well spent and definitely unique valentine celebration. I am sure it is difficult so forget such a wonderful experience!
© Amit Chilka