Friday, February 24, 2017

Ghanchakkar and Shirpunje Bhairavgad - Welcoming Summer of 2017

"The long distance hiker, a breed set apart,
From the likes of the usual pack.
He’ll shoulder his gear, be hittin’ the trail;
Long gone, long ‘fore he’ll be back."
-- M.J. Eberhart

Wednesday was coming to an end; most of the trek mates were ready to hike on the weekend - 18th /19th Feb, 2017 but somehow location of the trek was not getting finalized. This happened as earlier plan of Vasota had to be cancelled due to non-confirmation of many members. As I was discussing about the list of locations with Tushar Dada, I called Onkar Oak to take his opinion and he provided many options. We liked the option of "Ghanchakkar-Shirpunje Bhairavgad" and decided to finalize the same.

I initially was not too keen to travel to Bhandardara region considering the hectic travel from Pune but seeing the excitement of other trek mates, I decided to continue with this plan. I incidentally decided to invite Ishwar Gaikwad Uncle with whom I hadn’t trekked for many months. He didn't accept the invite as he already had done this trek. But positive thing happened and Ishwar Kaka provided me contact of Shirpunje's local guide. I called the guide next day and provided him the heads-up for our visit during the weekend.

Following members from Pune Trek Group finally made it for this trek:
Prashant Kothawade, Tushar Kothawade, Chinmay Kirtane, Ajay Deshpande, Sandeepak Phadke and Shalabh Pareek

We started from Sus Road at 4.30PM in Tushar's Innova, picked up Shalabh from Aundh and soon were on the way towards Nasik.

Traffic at Pune-Nasik road was at its worst. Our Innova was plying at bullock cart's speed at some of the busy stretches. It took more than two hours to reach to Manchar. Banter and humour especially from Sandeepak Phadke kept the boredom at bay and this otherwise tiresome journey turned into a hilarious one. We stopped at a small snacks joint at Manchar and after feeding ourselves with sumptuous Vada Pav and Tea, we resumed our journey further.

At Alefata, we took the left turn going towards Otur. I was slightly worried our as our guide remained unreachable for the whole day. After reaching to Otur, I tried one more time and  finally our guide received the call. After establishing contact with our guide, my anxiousness dissipated and I found myself pretty relaxed.

At Rajur, we asked for the direction of Shirpunje and as per the instructions from locals, we resumed our journey towards the base village. In the dark, we had many confusions on the multiple diversions. When nobody was available on the road. we called the guide to confirm the correct direction. After a lot of confusion , we finally reached to Shirpunje around 10PM where Ramnath - our guide was present to receive us.

Our original plan was as below:
- Hike to Bhairavgad fort at night
- Stay on top
- Next morning: Fort exploration and hike to Ghanchakkar
- Back to base village

As we were very late in reaching the village, based on Ramnath's inputs, we revised the plan as below:
- Stay at base village
- Next morning: hike to Ghanchakkar
- Hike to Bhairavgad
- Back to base village

As per Ramnath, this revised plan would help us to avoid heat as hiking to Ghanchakkar in the afternoon heat would be tiresome. Satisfied with his suggestions, we proceeded to his house for dinner.

We had a light dinner of Dal, rice, Roti and Thecha at Ramnath's house and came back to the temple. Ramnath helped us to clean the temple. We observed sky for a while. Unpolluted sky and absence of any bright lights offered us great views of millions of stars. Soon, we retired into our sleeping bags and drifted off to sleep. I set the alarm of 5.15am as we wanted to start our hike before sunrise.

Despite the snoring of many members, I managed to have a good sleep and rose when my alarm went off. After getting freshened up, I disturbed the quiet sleep of other members. All got ready by 6AM and after taking only the essential items in the backpack and dumping all other items in car, we proceeded towards Ramnath's house. After having hot black tea, we started hike. Time: 6.30 AM

I somehow got confused regarding the direction when we started the hike. I initially thought that we would be hiking in East direction but I got it completely wrong when I saw the crimson red sky in the opposite direction. With cool breeze in the air and dawn just breaking up, we started our hike in the most pleasant weather.

Initially the slope was steep but we hardly broke a sweat with cold weather. As we gained height, we were elated to see sun gradually rising over the distant mountains.

Soon, peaks started wearing the golden look and all of us were delighted with the marvellous sights.

Ganesh, Ramnath's nephew who accompanied us as our second guide:

Tushar Dada posing for the photo:

Sandeepak Phadke in buoyant mood:

Chinmay Kirtane and Ajay Deshpande clambering the steep slope:

After climbing a hill, we had to traverse a mountain. We spotted many honey bees' nests and with total silence, we negotiated the traverse.

On the traverse

Sun came up above the mountains as we were negotiating the traverse. Turning right after the traverse, we again started climbing another hill.

Few monkeys were basking in the sun and their silhouettes with golden border looked stunning and I lingered on the same spot soaking in the great sight and clicking few good frames.

Our guide Ramnath waiting for us to join:

Beautiful mountains seen during the hike:

Bhandardara dam with the backdrop of mighty mountains:

Tushar Dada basking in the golden light:

Sandeepak wrapped in his own thoughts:

Ghanchakkar- the triangle shaped mountain welcoming us:

Spectacular sights of the glorious Sahyadri mountains; these sights make us venture into Sahyadri mountains again and again.

We hadn't breakfasted yet. As the sun was warming up, Ajay urged us to stop as he was worried about his packed sandwiches getting foul in heat. As we had gained a lot of height and covered a lot of distance in initial two hours, we decided to take a break for breakfast. We feasted on the sandwiches brought by Ajay.

After climbing another hill, we reached a plateau from which Ghanchakkar was at a striking distance.

Ghanchakkar looked like a tiny hill from this plateau.

We took a trail leading us to col between two hills. As we reached to this col, vista of Ratangad, Khutta Pinnacle, Katrabai, Gavaldev mountain and many other unknown mountains made us speechless.

View of Khutta Pinnacle and Ratangad:

After doing some photography, we climbed remaining slope of Ghanchakkar and reached to the top. Time: 9.15 AM.

Ghanchakkar top offered us mesmerizing views spanning 360 degrees. We spent a great time in identifying many forts and mountains.

Celebration time for standing on third highest peak of Maharashtra:

Ramnath and Ganesh resting on top:

We descended and decided to explore hill to our right. We got great views of Gavaldev Mountain from it. With plan of visiting it sometime in future, we started descending.

Gavaldev Mountain:

Sandeepak posing for the shutterbug:

As we were descending towards Gardevi Point, I fell down on the scree. I tried to check my fall with the help of my palms but in the process, my palm got cut by the sharp stones and blood started oozing out. All rushed and helped me sanitize the wound and after a while, we resumed our hike. I now started descending with much more caution.

Gardevi Point:

Now, our next aim was to hike to Bhairavgad over the mountain ridges. We started traversing the mountain.

Traverse was narrow with a lot of scree. We experienced some anxious moments along this traverse. We came across two caves like structure during this long traverse.

Thrilling traverse:

Dog (Bunty) accompanying us throughout the trek:

On the traverse, we had to find our way through the bushes indicating that this trail was not frequented by trekkers or locals.

Finally, the ordeal of the long horizontal traverse got over and we joined rock cut steps of Bhairavgad. Time: 12 PM

Throng of pilgrims were on their way to take blessings of Lord Bhairavnath. We were surprised to see all these pilgrims bare footed. We did not dare to remove our shoes and started ascending rock cut steps of Bhairavgad.

Soon, we were on top of Bhairavgad. We rested near the two water cisterns. Splashing water on the faces and wetting the hair with the cold water completely rejuvenated us. I was carrying lemon, Jaljira powder and sugar and we prepared two bottles of Jaljira and lemon Juice. It replenished all the lost minerals and we felt alive again.

We entered the temple after a while and perched in front of Lord Bhairavnath's idol. Monkeys seemed to be trouble maker and all the pilgrims advised us not to keep anything outside. We somehow managed to fit our backpacks, camera bags inside already cramped temple.

Lord Bhairavnath:

After sitting for 10 minutes, we decided to come out to explore remaining parts of fort.

Exploring the fort where we came across many water cisterns and idols:

Seeta Gumpha:

View from top (Durg-Dhakoba, Jivdhan and Nanacha Angtha forts in Junnar region clearly visible):

Group photo:

Water Cisterns from top

It was past noon when we finished the exploration. We then decided to descend. Descent was quite tedious in the scorching heat. After one to two short breaks, we reached to the base.

At the base:

There was further walk down the tar road to reach to our car.

Looking back, Bhairavgad was looking rugged and hostile in the afternoon heat.

We soon reached to the temple, got refreshed, changed our clothes and after paying fees to our guide, left towards Pune. It was 4PM when we stopped for lunch. Famished, we feasted on Punjabi Food and resumed our journey towards Pune. It was again a nightmare in the evening traffic and finally we reached around 9.30PM in Pune culminating the tiresome but satisfying day of hiking.

Ghanchakkar, the third highest peak in Maharashtra offers great panoramic views from the top. Very few places in Western Ghats offer such sweeping views of Sahyadri Mountains. Bhandardara dam in the foreground provides added beauty to this magnificent landscape. A must see for hard-core trekkers! Bhairavgad (Shirpunje) also doesn't pale in comparison with Ghanchakkar and provides some stunning views from the top. 

  • Special thanks to Onkar Oak to suggest this trek when I had run out of the options of deciding the trek location.
  • Special thanks to Ishwar Gaikwad Uncle for providing information for local guide (Ramnath: 9762105585). It definitely made trek more predictable and comfortable.

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Happy hiking!

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