6:30 pm and it was dark already. It had been around 6 hours since we had begun to descend, but we were no were close to the destination. We kept walking stumbling upon the rocks and finding our way through the thicket in the diffused beams of our nano torches. A stream surged gently along our pathway playing odd games. It at times went far away from us; while more often we found ourselves walking through it. The water abruptly disappeared below huge rocks and showed up again a little ahead. We soon became a part of this game and took pleasure in walking despite all odds. Alas, it was short-lived! We had lurched on a huge rock face. There was nowhere to go. We were stranded! We looked around but couldn’t find the way. Then we tried harder, but in vain. We finally decided to camp near the stream – fortunately there was some open space; than wandering in the forests and getting nowhere. And it was a night to remember!
It was November 20, 2010. Seven of us were we, who had set afoot to explore the wilderness of the jungles of Mahabaleshwar – the famous hill station mere 120 km from Pune. The plan was to descend the Dhavalya Ghat; the not much used old walkway which connects the Mahabaleshwar’s Arthur Seat Point with the Dhavalewadi village in the Konkan. It was a steep descend of 2500 odd feet through the thick woods offering fantastic views of Sahyadri cliffs and the Dhavalya (Chandragad) fort in the milieu. We had been waiting for this trek for long.
We had reached Mahabaleshwar around 10:30 am. We enquired about a taxi to Arthur Seat 14 km away and they were charging a bomb – more than what we had actually spent on getting here from Pune. So we decided to wait for another bus to take us to Khetra Mahabaleshwar, from where it was 8 km. It dropped us to our interim destination at pilfer rates and we happily started walking the tar road. After walking a km or so, a cab driver gave us a lift. We were finally at Arthur Seat – standing amidst the chaos of thousands of tourists and a few hundreds of vehicles – responsible for a km long traffic jam.
It was 12 pm by now and we had no time to waste. In the midst of the marvelous sierra that we saw from the Arthur seat point, we identified the set of hillocks we were to go down and headed in the direction. A 10 min walk and we found ourselves atop a massive rock. There was an aperture here, which gave this place its name – the window point. From here we descended a 25 feet rock face which consumed an hour, being exposed and having few newbies with us. From here we were to walk past three rises on the pathway which passed through the overgrown Karvi and Bamboo bushes, climbing up at a few places while mostly descending the rest. It was fun walking. The Karvi at places had grown taller than us. There was a little space. Only one at a time could go through. Fallen trees blocked our way at some places make us hop over or bend down at times. It was quite a long walk, but weather was pleasant. Clouds dominated the sky not allowing the sun to expose its rays. The fatigue thus faded away every time it showed up on us.
An hour and half later we had reached a watercourse that led us to a cistern – neatly dug out of rock. It contained cool water which we drank and satisfied our thirsty selves. This could be the only source of water in this entire route if done in the summers. We thought it was wise to have our lunch here too. It was already late and we all were hungry. So it took no time to finish all that we had brought. A quick rest and we were off again on our trail. A 5 min further descend got us to Bhairichi Ghumti, a wee open shrine dedicated to the local deity. The place was clean, well maintained and commanded a magnificent view of the bottomless valley below. It stood well protected by the high cliffs of the Sahyadris and the scene was worth a watch. From here began the endless steep descend to reach the bottom of this bottomless valley.
The descend began with a traverse to the reach the ridge of the mountain we saw in front of us. It was a steep slope. Our knees had begun to hurt. But we continued. In our minds we knew the destination wasn’t close by. We keep walking. Then for a change the going down stopped and we walked horizontal. We traversed a mountain slope from where we could see Chandragad at a distance standing in the middle of this valley. A ridge joined it with the main range. Fortifications crowned the hill, leaving us awestruck. The sight made the tiredness disappear in a jiffy and kept walking tirelessly until dark.
We had missed the way in the dark and everyone agreed to be put up at the open place near the stream at night. We settled down, had a dip in the nearby pool, prepared dal khichadi (which took quite a while on the small stove) and then cuddled up to each other gazing at the sky. The moon showed up from the clouds – bursting and bright. Its reflection in the clear waters nearby had lit up the entire place. We felt special. Our tired eyes closed in no time.
Everyone woke up with a start. The moonlight spread all over made it seem like dawn. I saw my watch. It was only 3:30 am. It had started drizzling. My tired self had no mood to get up so I lay still. It then started pouring and I had to. All of us quickly packed up whatever was lying uncovered and sat down with the bedding mats over our heads to prevent from getting wet. It poured and poured. We sat covering ourselves as much as we could, shivering. Finally after 45 min, it disappeared as if it was never there. We heaved a sigh of relief and got back to the original positions, snoring!
The rains in the night had delayed our getting up. Everything was wet. So we couldn’t have cooked. We quickly grabbed something for breakfast and got back on our way. We found it easily! It ran into the thick woods as we kept walking – confirming we had made a wise decision to halt at the open space. Half an hour, and the endless descend was over. We had now to walk on plains, traversing the fort. With Chandragiri popping out from the left and the stream which had now taken a form of a river, on the right – we continued our march to Dhavalewadi. Our knees and thighs were hurting, but the plains gave us the confidence to walk. We suddenly felt energized. The scenes around had served as the energy drink!
It took us two hours from our camping spot to reach the village. We had planned to trek up the fort too. The trek meant an hour and half of ascent and yet another hour to get down. Everyone was tired. To add to it, the last bus out of the village was to leave in a couple of hours. We decided not to attempt the fort and walked up to the village school to wait for the bus to arrive. There was some time. Everyone was in a state which people in the bus wouldn’t have accepted. So we all went over to the river nearby to have a refreshing dip. Meanwhile a kind villager had prepared poha – which we ate our hearts full, had a quick nap and patiently waited for the bus to arrive.
It was 2:30 when it arrived – an hour and half later than scheduled. We quickly got in. It dropped us to Kapda. From here a jeep dropped us to Mahabaleshwar and then a 4 hour ST ride got us back to Pune. We got back to our homes around 9 pm, our thighs still stiff, minds still wondering in the forests and we talking about this wonderful experience over and over!