Monday, October 12, 2015

Heavenly Trek to Shivtharghal through wilderness of Gopya Ghat and Upandya Ghat

Rain had taken a bit of hiatus and month of October had really started heating up. Carpets of wild flowers of myriad varieties had started showing up in Sahyadri and we trekkers were keen to utilize every bit of this season. After experiencing sheer bliss of doing trail trek of "Vadgaon-Kudpan-Pratapgad", I was muling different options of trekking in ghat routes of Sahyadri mountain range. So I started checking it with my cousin and a prominent trekker from Nasik - Sanjay Amrutkar (Nana).

Me: "Nana, what's the plan on 3rd and 4th Oct?"
Nana: "No plan yet"
Me: "Let's plan something. Have you done Tailbaila to Sudhagad trail trek via Savashni Ghat?"
Nana: "Yes"
Me: "Then suggest some other option"
Nana: "Yes, sure.'

After some time, Nana replied back with the initial plan "Goypa Ghat- Shivtharghal-Kavlya Killa" which was later changed to "Gopya Ghat-Shivtharghal-Ambenali Ghat-Kelad".

With few whatsapp messages, Nasik and Pune teams were finalized. Nasik team of 7 group members came to my home for stay around 1.30 AM and after resting for 5 hours, we started our drive towards Velhe via Pabe Ghat.

We stopped at Pabe Khind to take few photos of mighty Torna and Rajgad forts seeing in one frame. Rich history of these forts flashed through my mind giving me the goosebumps as I witnessed these great forts partially enveloped in the clouds.

As we reached near Velhe, we didn't resist stopping and wondering at the mighty Torna fort towering above the rest. I felt nostalgic as I remembered my trepidation on conquering this fort as I was recuperating from my broken hand.

Just before reaching Velhe, Milind Dada provided a great idea of visiting Rayling Pathar (Plateau) before actual start of the trek. As per our initial plan, we had free afternoon after descending to Shivtharghal. So we immediately accepted his suggestion. Group members in other vehicle were not aware of this plan. So, as soon as we halted for the snacks break, I announced that a surprise would be waiting for the trekkers. Few unsuccessful guesses were made of the surprise but we did not reveal it.

After heavy breakfast, we started our drive towards Kelad village. Road was in bad condition but nature's beauty was more prominent than the ugly condition of the non-existent road. It was a crisp morning. Fluffy clouds were dispersed in the blue sky till the distant horizon. Backwater of dam hosted reflections of the clouds and hills creating a picturesque setting.

Innumerable flowers of Karvi blossomed once in seven years made the whole journey scenic and we couldn't resist stopping frequently to capture few snaps.

While going towards Kelad village, we took a right turn on a clay road going towards Rayling Pathar. Here, the road condition was more pathetic and we took a lot of time to reach to starting point of this small trek. During the drive, car swayed in random direction on a muddy patch of about 15 meters . With valley on left side, manoeuvring the car through the mud was nerve-racking experience. Its wheels were almost stuck in the mud but with collective push from the group members, car finally came out of the mud without any untoward incident. 

Just before Mohri village, we parked our cars and started a scenic walk of about 3 kms towards Rayling Plateau . As Milind Dada had already visited it few months before, we didn't need guide and followed Milind Dada's instructions.

During the trail, as the summit of Lingana started appearing in front of us, we felt overwhelmed with the ecstasy.

Dazzling wild flowers were adorning the lush green plateau of Rayling. With the mighty Lingana unleashing in front of us, my wish of witnessing Lingana from the close quarters finally got fulfilled. 

I waited for many years for this precious moment to occur and I felt truly humble to stand in front of this breathtaking pinnacle.

It was past noon. As visiting Rayling Plateau was not in the original plan, with the realization that we were nowhere near to Gopya Ghat, our original starting point of trek, we hurried back. Soon, we headed in search of our starting point of the trek.

"Mama, your smile is beautiful. We want a guide with a smiling face; so you have to come with us to Shivtharghal via Gopya Ghat and bring us back via Ambenali Ghat" Sanju Nana was convincing one of three villagers we met on Kumthe road near Kelad. Mauli Balkawde was the name of the villager who kept on smiling as Nana was trying to convince him to accompany us as a guide. Finally, oratory skills of Nana weaved a spell of magic and Mauli became ready to come with us. He asked us to park our cars at Bope village and wait till he joined us after getting equipped himself for the trek.

Our Guide: Mauli Balkawde

It was overcast with signs of imminent rains. As it was almost lunch time, we stopped at a school just at the start of the Bope village and had our lunch. While we were lunching, rain started lashing. It worried us a bit as we definitely didn't want to hike in the heavy rains.

Mauli arrived fully prepared for the hike. After lunch, we rested a bit waiting for rain to subside. As rain receded, we put on our rainy jackets, covered our camera bags with rain cover. I and Sanju Nana took the umbrellas as we did not want to miss on photography.

It rained steadily when we started our walk towards Gopya Ghat. We experienced absolute tranquillity during the walk. There were hardly any words spoken. There were only sounds of chirping of the birds, sounds of our footfalls on the muddy trail, sounds of the rain spluttering on the umbrella. There were few drops of the rain on my spectacles which I had to clean frequently. Gradually fog started enveloping us reducing the visibility to a great extent. Branches of the nearer trees looked absolutely mystical in the fog.

Many rocks of varied shapes and sizes heralded the start of ghat route of Goya Ghat. Moss was rampant on all the rocks and we had to negotiate each rock carefully. This type of descent through the rocks in rainy season is very tricky. You absolutely have to concentrate on the present moment and hardly any thought pops up in your mind except where to place your next step. A momentary lapse in concentration and you are bound to slip. And you cannot afford slipping as you never know how badly you can get hurt and how difficult is to get proper medical care.

There were patches when we were walking through the canopy of the bushes finding our way through the entangled branches of the bushes. As it was already raining with the thick cloud cover above, it had almost become dark inside the woods and we really had to adjust our eyesight to this low light.

Though I was hiking with light backpack, handling Camera Bag, umbrella and walking stick while descending was making me very slow. Besides, I was hiking with floaters which were deserting me while negotiating the rocks. Despite being extra cautious, I bruised my toes couple of times. Seeing my plight, few of the group members helped me carrying umbrella and camera bag for some time.

Finally, the arduous route of rocks and boulders was almost over. We were mostly in the woods most of the time and were quite ecstatic when we came out of the woods in the open. Clouds hovering over the mountains provided feast to the eyes.

A long walk through the lush green fields awaited us as we reached the base of the mountain. Before resuming this long walk, we stopped at a hut and gulped on the water.

Though it had almost become dark, I was still lagging behind clicking many photos in the fading light.

All group members were waiting on a bridge and as soon as they spotted Sanju Nana and me, they shouted for a group photo.

A board of Shivthar welcoming us while it had become almost dark.

As we were taking our last strides towards Shivtharghal, few lights flickered on the mountain in front of us indicating that we were in the close proximity of Shivtharghal. We had hiked for more than 20KMs and body desperately needed some rest. We took a small tea break at a small snacks joint. Everyone relished on hot tea while I preferred to have two glasses of fresh curd milk as I was sweating profusely. 

Soon, we entered the main premises of Shivtharghal. We forgot our tiredness as chants of evening prayers reverberated through our ears. Soon, prayers were finished and we enquired whether any accommodation could be arranged for us in the dormitory of the temple. We were told to wait for some time and after some time, to our joy, not only accommodation but food was also getting arranged for us. 

We freshened ourselves and changed our clothes and waited till we were called for dinner. Soon, dinner was ready and as most of us were quite hungry, we wolfed on the food. After dinner, we were escorted to the dormitory which was very clean with proper ceiling fans in working conditions. By 9.30 PM, most of us tucked inside the sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep.

Sunday dawned with shouts of Sanju Nana urging us to get up as it was almost 6.30 AM. Everyone started getting ready and after getting ready, we had a small photography session near the gigantic waterfall of Shivtharghal. I had few nostalgic moments when I reminisced the crazy younger days when I had a bath under this waterfall with my childhood friends.

Breakfast of Zunka-Bhakar was already ordered at the snacks joint as we were getting ready. As we didn't know when we would be able to lunch, we had had our stomachs full and also took few parcels of Poha to eat during our ascent via Ambenali Ghat. 

It was a quiet morning as we started our march towards Ambenali Ghat. Initial route again passed through the village. Beautiful flowers of different colours adorned both the sides of the route passing through the village.

Soon, we turned to the right trail from the village going in the woods. 

We soon joined a Kuccha road which was leading us to a village. To avoid winding route, we decided to take a short cut with a small rock patch. It looked a bit risky and as we had a large group, many of us preferred to avoid it and took the winding route.

Soon, we entered a village. Sagar and Pankaj, two of the members from Nasik Team did not reach for 10 minutes and we started worrying. One of the members again descended to search for them and we were relieved to see them coming. Sagar and Pankaj were having a tough time with humidity and had taken a long break to cool down before entering the village. Till these two members joined, I took opportunity to click few pictures in the village.

Paresh Amrutkar posing for portrait:

A beautiful house in the village:

As Sagar and Pankaj joined, we resumed our hike. At one point, Mauli was not sure about the trail and he asked us to enter the woods which did not have any distinct trail. As there was another trail going from outside the woods, we overruled Mauli and decided to follow the distinct trail.Base of Ambenali Ghat was still far away and we kept on walking and walking.

Crossing the stream along the way:

Soon, we came across a villager who told us that we were on the wrong trail and showed us the correct trail. Fortunately, though our trail was wrong , our direction was correct and we entered in the jungle to join the correct trail.

As base of Ambenali Ghat was still nowhere in sight, we kept on walking non-stop for almost 4KM and were surprised to see a big house on the trail. We took a small break and asked whether we could get a tea. We were quite sure that we would get tea without milk but house owner served us tea with milk much to our surprise. 

House owner asked us many times to visit his home, I finally gave in and visited his home from inside. Rest of the group members preferred to perch on the grass outside. There was a reason that they did not come inside the house which I came to know later. House belonged to Tantrik who is known to have some magic powers to ward off the ghosts. Once I learned this, I had a hearty laugh with the group members.

We came across few villagers descending the ghat route at different stretches. As we had climbed more than half a mountain, we came across an old local woman who was looking in great discomfort. Apparently, she had slipped while descending and there were multiple bruises on her legs. She really was in great pain. Fortunately, we were carrying the First Aid kit and few members made sure to clean her wounds and wrapped bandages around the wound providing a lot of relief to this poor woman.

Few clicks during the ascent:

Last stretch of the climb was utterly exhausting. By this time, we were dripping with the sweat. Water was also exhausted. Therefore, it was a great relief to come across a small water stream falling over the rock. Though its force was too weak, we felt rejuvenated by drinking its fresh water, splashing water on our faces and directly standing below the dripping water.

Mauli during the last stretch of the hike:

Few of the group members had already reached to the top and waiting for others to join. As soon as I was about to reach, I asked them to pose for the photo.

Moment of victory:

When we reached on top, we rested for a bit; wondering and patting ourselves to successfully ascend Ambenali Ghat. We were joined by a local villager who was going down the ghat with the heavy grain sack on his head. He said that being regular on this ghat route, he would be reach to the base in less than 30 minutes.

I was anticipating another walk of 4-5 kms but was relieved when villager told us that we would reach Kelad village in 10-15 minutes. This short walk was again on the lush green grass.

Soon, we came across a large stream and decided to take a plunge in the cold water. We had almost hiked for more than 14 kms and had sweated a lot. Flowing water had a remarkable effect on our bodies. All the tiredness evaporated as we immersed ourselves in the gushing water. It was a fitting end to our adventurous trek.

Soon, we reached to Kelad. There was a moment of panic when we did not see our cars parked at a pre-decided location. We were also not able to locate our driver as well as there was no network coverage in the region. I along with our guide and ND Gaware Sir decided to check our cars at Madhe Ghat parking which was around 1 km from our spot. To our relief, we spotted our driver waiting for us in that parking. He thought that we would be coming via Madhe Ghat road and used his brain unnecessarily to change the location of the parking. To his credit, he managed on his own to bring both the cars from Bope village to Kelad village.

Finally, we started our drive towards Pune. On the way, we had a hearty lunch as Hotel Swapnil at Velhe. Our drive was again through the scenic Pabe Ghat. Near Khadakwasla dam, rain absolutely pounded for almost 15 minutes deluding the roads completely. It was again an adventure driving through the puddles of water on the road full of potholes. Finally, we reached to my home around 6 PM. Nasik team enjoyed tea at my home before departing to Nasik.

As I reflect on this trek, breathtaking sight of sky-cutting pinnacle of Lingana witnessed from flowery Rayling Pathar still seems vivid in the memory. Experience of walking in the rains with fog enveloping us still lingers in the mind. Memory of descending Gopya Ghat with moss covered rocks still provides a feeling of pain in the knees. Steep ascent of Ambenali Ghat followed by the lively bath in the stream still evokes the feeling of euphoria.

Note: Recently Saiprakash Belsare ( having immense knowledge of Sahyadri's Ghat Routes brought to my notice that ghat we ascended was Upandya and not Ambenali. I researched further and after observing the available photos of Upandya Ghat, I, too, feel that we ascended through Upandya Ghat only. We had given instructions to guide to bring us up via Ambenali Ghat but he never uttered a word that he was taking us up via Upandya Ghat. Considering my faith in Saiprakash's knowledge, I am replacing Ambenali occurrence with Upandya in my blog title. I am not changing the other occurrences of Ambenali as it would totally change the context of the overall hiking experience.


Pune Team: Prashant Kothawade, Milind Kulkarni, ND Gaware

Nasik Team: Sanjay Amrutkar, Paresh Amrutkar, Sameer Kakad, Sagar Gunjal, Ratnakar Bhamare, Pankajdada ghuge, Niranjan Nasikkar

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Happy hiking!

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