Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Challenging Hike Through Savla and Gadhavlot Ghats

I am strong. I am fit. I can do it. I have done more rigorous treks before. Fatigued, enervated, frustrated with myself I was finding the motivation with these words. Today I was really having a bad hiking day. Very rarely had I felt so drained out; stopping and panting with every few steps. Heat was emanating from every pore of the body. Humidity had taken its toll and every ascending step was a labour. To make the matters worse, stranded on the mountain and away from destination, darkness was quickly embracing us. Today was the rare day when the golden sunset felt listless, crimson peaks looked uninviting. 

Everything was going so well just an hour back. Descending Savla Ghat had provided so much of a joy. Walking through the boulders of Kundalika river with walls of mountains on both sides was so invigorating. But the last minute change in plan to ascend to Hirdi village through Gadhavlot ghat instead of resting in Bhira village for the night had made me suffer. 

With the ever growing fascination for ghat routes, I and Tushar Dada decided to explore the ancient ghat route of Savla which descends from top of Tamhini to Kundalika valley. Our plan was as below:
Day 1 (21st Jan, 2017): Descend Savla from Paratewadi, stay at Bhira village for night
Day 2 (22nd Jan, 2017) : Ascend Gadhavlot ghat, reach to Hirdi, take Andharban trail to reach to Pimpri and walk back to Paratewadi

We parked our car in front of a house in Paratewadi village after taking permission from the house owner. After confirming entry to Savla ghat with the house owner, we started our hike. Milind Dadu had probably done the same ghat route but he was not sure whether it was Savla ghat.

An innocent girl from the village:

In the crisp afternoon, Jambhalya dongar appeared slicing into the blue. Cattle were grazing without the care of the world.

Soon, we reached to entry of Savla ghat. Milind Dadu recognized that this was the ghat that he descended many times before. This made us relaxed as we now had our own trekker as our guide.

Tushar Dada soaking in the great views of Bhira dam and Kundalika river's basin:

Milind Dadu ready to guide us on the trail:

Myself at the entry to Savla Ghat:

Start of Savla ghat;Steps indicating this route was frequented by our past generations:

Three of the fittest trekkers (Milind Kulkarni, Tushar Kothawade and Namdev Gaware)I have ever seen:

Water cisterns on the route:

Descent through the boulders:

In the scorching heat, mountains looked more rugged and formidable:

Milind Dadu during the descent with the backfrop of Jambhalya Dongar:

More boulders on the way:

After descending for one and half hours, we reached to the basin of Kundalika river. Shalabh was ecstatic and posed for the photo.

Rest of the group members had already found the spot for lunch. It was around 2PM and a perfect time for lunch. Curd Rice brought by Milind Dadu and me were the star attractions for the lunch menu.

Tushar Dada drinking the water in the most natural way:

At the bank of the water and in the shade with a hearty meal, we decided to take a siesta.

Mountains loomed large as we started walking towards Bhira dam through basin of Kundalika. Rocks of varied shapes and sizes were scattered through the basin. Caution was the key while walking through these rocks.

Devkund waterfall hidden somewhere in the left mountain range was next in the plan but not sure about its location, we kept on marching from the river basin towards Bhira village. We stopped at the first hut on the trail and asked few kids about Devkund. They said that we had come much ahead. On hearing that it would take about an hour to reach Devkund, we decided to skip it considering it was past 5 PM. Now, our plan was just to reach Bhira village.

Exhaustion was taking over as we were walking towards Bhira village. I was feeling drained and somewhat feverish. I felt happy when large expanse of Bhira dam appeared in front of us. I just threw my backpack, removed my shoes and washed my feet with cold water. A lot of heat was emanating from body and contact with water felt so blissful. I lay down for a while.

After resting for a while, we got up in anticipation of reaching Bhira village before dark. As we were about to resume hike, a shepherd passed us.

"How far is Bhira village from here?"
"2 hours from here"
"We want to stay at Bhira village tonight and next day want to ascend Gadhavlot to Hirdi village"
"Why do you want to go to Bhira village? If you take the trail going up the mountain, you will reach to Hirdi village within 2 hours. Come, I will show you the trail"

We weighed the option suggested by this shepherd. Hiking to Hirdi village looked the better option as compared to walking to Bhira village considering both would take the same time. Trusting shepherd's advice, we altered our original plan and started hike on the trail shown by the shepherd.

There was still more than 1 hour for sunset and assuming that twilight would linger for a while, we made some calculations and felt confident that we would reach to Hirdi village just before dark. We knew we had to be very swift to cover the distance as we were hiking without the guide in unknown terrain. Direction shown by the shepherd was the only information that would have led us to Hirdi village.

With the mix of anxiety and excitement, we started ascending the hill. We came across a dilapidated house as earlier indicated by the shepherd and kept on following the distinct trail. Our first confusion came when we reached to a point where our trail was diverting at two directions opposite to each other. Pondering over the correct trail, we decided to take the right trail. Shalabh had descended this trail but still he was unsure as he had descended it in the monsoon. But considering this trail was distinct and taking us to top of mountain, we kept on marching further.

My energy level started dropping as we were ascending this trail. I attributed it to the blood that I donated the earlier day. I was feeling very weak and I perched on every flat rock I came across and sipped water. So exhausted was I that I just wanted to sleep on any given flat surface. Milind Dadu and ND both being marathon runners had gone far ahead. Tushar Dada was slightly ahead and Shalabh was the only one who was giving company to me. Seeing my condition, Shalabh prepared Tango Orange Juice. I felt a little better for a while but soon I felt my condition getting worsened with every pore of the body emitting the heat which made every step laborious.

Seeing my condition, Shalabh got the idea and poured a bottle of water over my head and suddenly my body temperature came to normal. I felt completely rejuvenated and later I hiked with the normal speed. It had almost become dark. We lost our way while finding the way through the bushes but again we were back on the correct trail. Milind Dadu and ND were waiting for us as we reached to top of the mountain.

It was almost dark now. In the fading light based on shepherd's earlier suggestion, we noted further trail. There was a descent for about 10 minutes and then the trail was going up another mountain where lay Hirdi village. As per shepherd, we just needed to follow this trail which would automatically lead us to Hirdi village.

Things were not so simple as we realised it later. After resting for few minutes, we lighted our torches and started descending a trail. We now were about to enter the woods. We noticed the few arrow markings and became confident that we were on the correct trail. We kept on ascending through the wood. Despite ascending for half an hour, we were not seeing any indication of Hirdi village.

Confused we stood thinking that this did not seem to be the correct trail. Some flights flickered at the right side from the woods and there was temptation to follow the trail leading towards those lights. But somehow I was confident that we were on the correct trail. "Hirdi village is difficult to spot in the woods and you will automatically reach to it if you follow the trail" were the shepherd' words ringing in my head. So I urged others to follow the ascending trail for next 20 minutes. "If we don't reach to Hirdi in next 20 minutes, we will camp in the open and figure out the way next morning" were my assuring words. Fortunately, all agreed to my suggestion and we resumed our hike with the new vigour. As we had sufficient water and snack items to survive the night, camping in the open did not seem such a bad idea.

My intuition turned right. After hiking for further 10 minutes, Milind Dadu and ND who were just a little ahead heard some conversation coming from the right side and elated they shouted at us to take the right trail. Soon, flickering lights appeared from the woods and our joy knew no bound. Finally we had found Hirdi village and a safe place to spend a night.

Cluster of villagers were chatting in front of a house belonging to a headman of the village.Surprised to see us at such an unearthly hour, they offered us water and charpai to sit. There was an additional bed in the porch and I just lay down for fifteen minutes. Exhaustion took over and I even had a small nap in these fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, other trek-mates enquired about possibility of getting any food. Old woman in the house was reluctant to prepare the food as it would have been exhausting for her to prepare food for so many people. Realising this, headman went inside to convince and help her for food preparation.

Meanwhile we chatted with headman's father. We were amused to hear his age which he told was around 100 and his wife's (old woman cooking inside) around 105. We just couldn't believe it. In further conversation, we came to understand that in this village of around 250 population there were only 5 to 6 old people left. All the young generation from this village had been shifted to Pune and Mumbai for better lives. Only during the festivals did these people visit their village. Generally their day ends around 7PM. Only because of that few young boys were there in the village for the weekend, they were awake till this time. We considered ourselves lucky to have these boys in the village otherwise we would have probably missed the sound from the distance which helped us to locate this village.

Headman made our sleeping arrangement in the school in the village. Because of absence of any school kids, this school is permanently closed now. After chatting for a while, we drifted off to sleep. Our tomorrow's target was to reach to Pimpri village via Andharban and then to walk to Paratewadi village where we had parked our car.

Alarm went off before the crack of dawn. With early morning chores, we returned back to headman's home. Drinking black tea, we thanked elderly lady who prepared dinner for us and paid money to her. After having black tea, we started our hike. Headman's father decided to accompany us till start of Andharban trail. Before that, we visited an ancient temple in the village.

With headman and his family:

An old lady in the village:

Milind Dadu had a longing to pose for such a photo since a long time and finally his wish was fulfilled:

It is always exhilarating to start hike early morning.

Ancient temple in the village:

Four of us on this trek (me, Tushar Dada, Milind Dadu and ND) had already done Andharban trek as part of Sahyankan 2015. Nostalgic we savoured the great memories of Sahyankan 2015.

Headman's father returned back only after making sure that we were on correct Andharban trail. For initial half of Andharban trail, we didn't come across a soul. We hadn't breakfasted and we decided to have it after crossing the first half of the trail.

Clicked during the Andharban trail:

After resting for a bit, we resumed our hike. Now, Andharban seemed swarmed with many trekkers. We came across more than 100 trekkers along the trail. We also met Vinit Date recuperating from his leg injury accompanying a group from Chinchwad.

It was absolutely humid when we covered the later half of Andharban trail. Scorching heat welcomed us as we came out of the woods.

Namdev Gaware (fondly named as ND) a veteran marathon runner since 1991:

No scorching heat can dampen the spirit of hardcore trekkers:

View from the last traverse on Andharban trail:

Pimpri Pazar lake:

Our car was still few kilometres away when we reached to Pimpri Pazar lake. It took us further 30 minutes to clamber along the long winding tar road. Finally we reached to the village and rejuvenated ourselves with half water bath under the water tank in the village. Feeling refreshed, we started our return journey to Pune. We stopped at Mulshi for a sumptuous lunch and returned to Pune with a feeling of jubilation.

Date: 21st and 22nd Jan 2017
Trekkers: Prashant Kothawade, Tushar Kothawade, Milind Kulkarni, Namdev Gaware, Shalabh Pareek

Special thanks to Saiprakash Belsare ( for his valuable inputs!

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Happy hiking!

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