Saturday, December 13, 2014

Bhorgiri to Bhimashankar - A Magical Trail Trek

Friday, 29th Aug

Time 4 pm: 
Plan for Bhimashankar was set perfectly. This time, my cousin Sanjay Amrutkar, a famous trekker and photographer and his group from Nasik and my group from Pune were going to trek together. Both the groups were formed but alas! There was some communication gap. I prepared the group to hike on Saturday, 30th Aug and my cousin prepared the group for Sunday, 31st Aug. Though I had sent the detail plan to my cousin on whatsapp, he forgot to notice the day and date. There was a sudden last moment’s twist in the overall plan. Changing the plan at the last moment was difficult and after discussing with my trek-mates, I decided to go ahead with the trek without Nasik Group.

Time: 4.30 pm:
Rain was pounding on the occasion of Ganesh Chaturthi.It poured heavily for more than an hour and
there was water everywhere. This was a potent sign considering I was going to trek in the Bhimashankar region – the region known for its heavy rainfall.

Time: 5.30 pm: 
Tiny droplets were hanging on my balcony grill. I decided to capture it in my camera. To my dismay, message popped up on my camera screen “No Memory Card”. I checked the camera and memory card was in place. I shook the camera, re-inserted the memory card but still the same message. Damaged memory card on the previous evening of the trek. Another bad luck!

Well, three instances happened which could have easily toppled the plan of hiking to Bhimashankar but the sheer determination helped me not to deter from the original plan. By evening, rain was abated, I purchased the new memory card, personally called each of trek mate (Milind Patil and Siddheshwar Kadam - my office colleagues, Sameer Kadam - my regular trek mate and Tushar Kothawade - my elder brother) to take the final confirmation and finally, everything regarding the trek plan came back to normalcy.

Saturday morning dawned without any rain which was such a big relief. Siddheshwar was supposed to join me on Sus Road at 6 am but he called saying his two wheeler got punctured and he would be coming by his car. He arrived almost 25 minutes late and we started around 6.25 am from my home. Siddheshwar was in mood of driving his car; so instead of taking my car, we decided to take his Swift Dzire car. I was happy as I was delegated to the rear seat where I could just relax and enjoy the whole journey as a passenger. We picked up Amol from Pimple Saudagar and Sameer from Kalewadi and we were on our way to Rajgurunagar – our first halt for breakfast.

After breakfasting Misal-Pav at the restaurant, we enquired about the petrol pump on the way to Bhorgiri but as there was no petrol pump available on that road, we drove backwards for 2 kms and got the petrol tank filled up.

We needed to take a left turn from Rajgurunagar. There are arrows indicating the direction of Bhimashankar. We came across Chaskaman Dam along the way and its backwater accompanied us for most of the journey. Whole expanse of water was looking gorgeous and we soaked in the views.

The weather was overcast but there was hardly any iota of rain. Whole earth was carpeted with lush green grass and it was sight to behold. Road condition was better than expected and we all were enjoying the scenic ride.

Soon, we reached to Bhorgiri and parked our car beside a temple. Many college going boys were sitting in premises of temple and after enquiring for the guide, one of them, a boy named "Ajit" agreed to join us and we started our hike amidst the breathtaking scenery.

Initial walkway passed through the dirt and muddy puddles which gave fair indication how our next hiking trails would be. After walking for certain distance, we came across first stream which we had to cross by jumping on stones inside the stream.

Soon, the hiking trail entered the dense forest and there we had our first glimpse of Giant Malabar Squirrel (called as Shekroo) – the famous squirrel in Bhimashankar forest. There were two of them -  giant, brown coloured squirrels with a very long tail. We were awestruck by the beauty of this magnificent animal and tried to click few photos. But these squirrels were very agile in nature and we did not get any clear photograph but nevertheless we were happy to imprint the image in our mind.

Soon, we came across a small plateau and from there surrounding mountain range was visible. We spent few moments doing some photography and resumed our hike.

Unique thing about the hike that you continuously hear gushing sound of nearby streams which really is soothing to your ears. Along the way, we again had to cross second stream which was larger and wider. Crossing the stream without wetting your shoes requires a lot of skill – good firm grip, confidence on your shoes will take you through. If you are not confident, don’t try the acrobats and walk through the stream even if it means wetting your shoes. Wet shoes are better than a bad fall.

After crossing the stream, again on the left side, we spotted the giant Shekroo. This time we really got a good view and better time to photograph it and we were so ecstatic.

Beauty of the hike was that we hardly had to drink water from our bottles. Fresh and gushing water from the streams quenched our thirst.

Last part of the hike was again through the dense forest

After crossing a stream of big boulders, we reached to Bhimashankar and we were greeted by the hoard of pilgrims, chanting mantras, bathing in the kund, standing religiously in queues to take darshan of God Shiva. It was 12.30 pm and we decided to stand in the queue to take darshan. We had to wait for about 45 minutes. Finally we entered the innermost part of the temple and quickly bowed our heads before being quickly ushered outside by the priest whose only job seemed to make sure that  no devotee would spend more than 5 seconds in front of the deity.

After coming outside of the temple, we rushed to find Kshitij restaurant suggested by Onkar Oak. After munching lunch followed by a hot ginger tea. we got the much needed warmth and energy and started descending towards Gutpa Bhimashankar, a secret Shivlinga tucked away in the dense forest.

There is a sign board attached to a big trunk of a tree indicating the direction of Gupta Bhimashankar. 

Again, the trail passes through a denser forest. As we were passing through the forest, loud noise of thumping water caught our attention. We followed the direction of a sound and were refreshed to see a medium sized waterfall falling merrily. Sameer and myself decided to go to the base; I gave up midway because my shoes were slipping on the wet rocks but Sameer went ahead and reached to the base of the waterfall.

Soon, we came across a fallen gigantic tree and we clicked a group photo around it.

After trudging for few more minutes, we came across a small temple.

Soon, we came across a big stream which was getting transformed into a small waterfall. Gupta Bhimashankar lies at the base of this waterfall. Again some boulders are placed in the stream and you have to do some acrobats to reach to the other side of the stream. My HEAD shoes were deserting me throughout the trek and I had almost lost the confidence on the grip of the shoes. As I was planning my next jump from a rock, suddenly both of my feet slipped and I had a bad fall with few cuts on my palm which oozed some blood. I immediately removed my shoes and walked through the stream with bare feet.

Soon, we were at the base of the waterfall and we were just wonder struck by the beautiful Shiv-Linga of Gupta Bhimashankar. Really one of the most amazing feelings!

After spending few moments of real bliss in the presence of divine Gutpa Bhimashnkar and splendor of nature, we started our hike back to Bhorgiri. As local boy was our guide, he took us some shortcut from the dense forest and we joined back to the hiking trail. Looking back, we couldn't believe how we came out safely from the dense forest. This is where local guides really help.

Along the way, we came across a snake which was resting on the trail as if it were dead. Probably it had eaten something and had got lethargic. Considering it may get killed by other hikers or it may cause harm to other passerby, we poked it gently using the stick and after a while, it coiled itself around branch of a small tree.

Soon, we reached Bhorgiri village. Though legs were tired, we were determined to visit Bhorgiri Fort and we proceeded towards it.

Soon, we reached to the cave where there is a small Shiva Temple. It was very serene there and we rested a bit. Sameer had brought home made  Gulab-Jamuns  and we couldn't have got a better place than this to feast on the desert.

There is another cave just few meters away from this cave and it contains water tanks and a temple inside the water tank. This was again the sweet surprise. Though nobody was willing to enter the knee-deep water and walk for almost 20 ft inside the cave to reach to the idol, I and Milind decided to explore it with the help of Ajit and everybody followed the suit. It was again one of the most amazing feelings and after a while, we all came out, wore our shoes and started descending with a simpler route.

Soon, we reached to the village. Bhorgiri is a tiny village with very few houses.

I talked to few villagers and photographed an elderly man who was sitting in front of his house. I was expecting the man to give a smile but sombre expressions on his face stirred my soul making me wonder if this man had really lived a tough life!

After reaching to our parking spot, we handed over Ajit his fees (300 Rs) as a guide,changed our clothes and rested outside the temple. Three small kids were playing in the premises of the temple and we offered them biscuits. As we had still many biscuits available, I asked them to call their friends and gradually there were almost dozen of kids. All seemed happy after receiving the biscuits and they were more than happy to pose for a group picture. Seeing the happy faces of these lovely kids was the fitting end of the trek and we started our journey back to Pune.

Along the way, we halted at Rajgurunagar for tea, called our respective families as we were out of mobile coverage all day along and finally reached to Pune around 9.30pm.

Exploring the wilderness of Bhimashankar Forest was a sheer divine experience. Sometimes nature just makes you speechless and spellbound with its beauty. As I am penning this post, fragrance of woods of Bhimashankar seems still fresh in the nose, melody of gushing water of the streams still seems musical to the ears and sights of the giant Malabar Squirrel still brings a rapturous smile on the face.

Special thanks to "Onkar Oak" whose inputs helped me plan this hike perfectly.

Tips for the hikers:
  • Best season for this hike is just at the start of rainy season.
  • Hiring a guide is advisable as there are some confusing trails.
  • Don't miss visiting the place of "Gupt Bhimashankar".             
  • Don't miss visiting Bhorgiri Fort. 
Thank you for reading the blog!

Do visit my home page to easily navigate to my other blogs.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Nimgiri Fort - A Monsoon Hike in Junnar Region

A long weekend with 15th Aug falling on Friday was fast approaching. My favorite region Lonavala was still looking unpromising prospect for trekking due to tourists flocking on the weekends bringing traffic to a grinding halt. In contrast, Junnar region, truly a paradise for trekkers with hardly any crowd was beckoning once again and a plan for Nimgiri fort along with Narayangad was finalized on 16th Aug and few whatsapp messages a group of five was formed comprising of Amol Chandurkar (my colleague in office), Sameer Kadam and Chinmay Kirtane (my regular trek mates) and my elder brother Tushar Kothawade (who gradually is becoming a habitual trekker).

So a long weekend was set - 15th Aug for family; 16th Aug for trekking and 17th Aug for rest and family.

Friday 15th Aug dawned and with the spirit of patriotism in air, I along with my wife and son set out to rather unplanned hike to Tikona Fort. It was going to be first real hike for my son Arnav (5 yrs old) and we all were equally excited. It turned out to be an amazing day with lots of rain and Arnav truly enjoyed his first hike; at times, he even guided us how to hike on slippery patches.

Saturday 16th Aug; other two forts were waiting for me. But things didn't start well in the morning when we were pounded by rain when we started our journey from Pune to Junnar. Rain lashing the windowpanes of the car, puddles oozing with water and sign of deluge on the road made the heart skip a beat and I began to doubt whether trek on the unknown fort with heavy rains was really a wise decision.

Luckily, when we neared to our breakfast joint near Manchar, intensity of the rain lessened and weather was back to normal much to our relief. After munching on the delicious snacks, we headed towards Junnar. My longing to capture a photo of Shivneri with statue of Shivaji Maharaj was finally fulfilled when I asked specifically to stop the car just to capture this photo.

Soon, we were on our way to Nimgiri. Along the way, we passed Leopard Rescue center and Manikdoh dam. Monsoon magic had really done wonders to the whole landscape and every nook and corner of the nature had turned into a verdant carpet.

In few days time, Hadsar fort also bore the look of green carpet and it was a sight to behold. 

Finally, after a hiatus, rain god had finally pleased the farmers and there was a surge in the farming activities.

Though, we had planned Narayangad as our second hike of the day, we just did not want to hurry just for the sake of covering the second fort and were enjoying each and every moment of our travel till Nimgiri. Chavand Fort was standing prettily behind the backwater of Manikdoh dam.

A joy surged through us when twin forts of Nimgiri and Hanumantgad along with Tiwai Pinnacle (pinnacle seen on the right) appeared before us. Automatically, a car came to a halt, cameras were out and few photos were clicked.

We were greeted by villagers when we reached to the base. After parking the car and exchanging some pleasantries, villagers showed us the hiking trail and we started our hike in a fantastic weather. As soon as we started our hike, a kid started walking in front of us. We had not hired him as a guide but still he was accompanying us. 

After walking for some distance, we realized that there were few confusing routes and the local kid accompanying us proved to be blessing in disguise. We tacitly accepted this kid as our guide and started following his instructions.

Along the way, we came across a huge tree succumbing to the heavy rains and probably its old age blocking our path and we had to take some alternate route to join to the main trail again. After walking for about an hour, we came across few villagers descending with heavy load on their heads. Staying in the vicinity of the mountains has its own pros and cons. Staying in nature provides a lot of pure joy to the soul but body goes through a lot of hardships to earn even the smallest of the things so easily available in the cities.

Soon, we spotted few caves carved in the vertical rock face of the mountains. This place is known as Ghodyachi Paaga.

Sweeping views of the entire landscape made us hooked to this place for quite a sometime.

After spending few blissful moments in the cave, we resumed our hike and immediately came across broken steps which looked very slippery and difficult. Fortunately, there is a route that bypasses these broken steps and join them somewhere in the middle after which climbing is relatively easy.

The route bypassing the steps passes through the col between Nimgiri and Hanumantgad Forts and you get some breathtaking views of the western side of the fort.

Sameer and Tushar standing in the col with Hanumantgad in the background:

After soaking in some beautiful views, we resumed our hike and soon joined somewhere in the middle of the steps which were slippery and we had to be cautious on each step.

View of Hanumantgad while ascending steps of Nimgiri:

Guard’s room (known as Devdi)

A large plateau of Nimgiri was carpeted with lush green grass. Few cattle, shepherd with mountain ranges on the backdrop provided a perfect frame for my one of the treasured photos from this hike.

Water Cistern on the fort:

It started drizzling when we came across a small temple (without any cover).

Intensity of the rain increased and we ran for a shelter in the caves. There was a stench of cow-dung coming from the caves but still, we went inside to explore and take shelter from the rain.

It was still raining and stench of cow-dung was becoming unbearable and we came outside and visited top most point of the fort. Innumerable white flowers provided feast to the eyes and we made sure to capture few photos though it was raining.

At last, our exploration of the fort was complete and we decided to descend. Descending was more difficult from the slippery steps and we had to be very cautious on each and every step. There are some cisterns on the adjacent fort Hanumantgad but we decided to skip that part of exploration as we were not carrying lunch and we still had not given up the hope of visiting Narayangad.

Soon, we reached near to the base and was happy to see some idols carved in the rock tucked away in the bushes which we had missed during our ascent.

Our guide then took us to a temple which was on the left side of the ascent and was not visible because of the dense vegetation. Our guide was proving to be a blessing in disguise; otherwise we would have definitely missed visiting the temple.

Some beautiful rock carvings in front of the temple:

After spending few minutes in the temple premises, we headed towards our car but not before passing through the thick forest.

After getting refreshed and handing over some money to the kid, we left Nimgiri village and headed towards Junnar for lunch before proceeding to Narayangad, our next destination.

Overall, the hike to Nimgiri turned out to be a picturesque one. Approach to the base village was equally scenic. Twin forts - Nimgiri and Hanumantgad carpeted with verdant grass made an everlasting impression. Stunning views of the surrounding mountain range covered in the clouds from the col provided immeasurable satisfaction. Overall, a day well spent amidst the scintillating nature!

Special thanks to "Onkar Oak" and "Nikhil Margaonwar" whose inputs helped me plan this hike perfectly.

Tips for the hikers:
  • This hike can be combined with Shivneri, Hadsar, Sindola or Narayangad. If you have only a day to hike and want to cover two forts in a day, choose any one of the above options.
  • Hire a guide as there are some confusing trails.
  • No food facility available on the fort. Ideal would be to have the packed lunch or go back to Junnar for lunch. If neither is possible, put order at base village before you start the hike.
  • Beware of the broken and slippery steps if you are hiking in rainy season.
Thank you for reading the blog!

Do visit my home page to easily navigate to my other blogs.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!