Friday, July 26, 2013

"SHIDI(LADDER) ROUTE" trek to Bhimashankar with "Shikhar Vedh" Group.

TOPOGRAPHICAL VIEW OF BHIMASHANKAR IN THE WESTERN GHATS OF MAHARASHTRA
The Himalayas  are World famous  for  their snow clad peaks for mountaineering  and  so also closer home to Mumbai  are   the "Western Ghats" of Maharashtra, famous for " Monsoon Hill Fort Treks". The  evergreen monsoon forests during the three months monsoon season is a naturalists fantasy come true.A trek to any of the numerous hill forts in the close vicinity of Mumbai during the monsoon season  is a normal week-end adventure for most Mumbaikars and there are numerous trekking groups organizing  treks from Mumbai. Bhimashankar Sanctuary was on my trekking agenda for 2013 and scrutinizing "Facebook" came across "Shikhar Vedh"  group conducting a trek to Bhimashankar on  Sunday(28-7-2013).As usual contacted the group leader Mr Jagdish.Govind.Patil on the phone and confirmed my participation for the trek, transferring the trek  cost of Rs 750/person by a bank transfer.
Bhimashankar is a famous pilgrimage centre in Maharashtra having one of the 12   Jyotirlinga shrines of  Hindu  God Shiva called the Bhimashankar temple situated in the midst of lush jungle at an altitude of 3296 ft.The Bhimashankar Temple is one of the top 25 pilgrimage centers in India and there is a direct road leading to the temple for pilgrims..Besides pilgrimage treks to the Bhimashankar temple the surrounding forests is famous for harbouring the National animal of Maharashtra, the giant Malabar squirrel known as "Shekra".Barking deer, sambar and the leopard are among the larger species of this mountain jungle besides reptiles,rare  birds and insects.Hence, Naturalists, trekkers as well as pilgrims make regular treks in the forests of Bhimashankar wild-life reserve and the Bhimashankar Temple.
Departure Mumbai(Saturday 27-7-2013) :- Bhimashanker is approx 250 Kms from Mumbai  near Karjat situated at the end of the Sahyadri Mountain range(Western Ghats) in Maharashtra.The base village of Khadas  for the start of the trek  is approximately 34 Kms from Karjat.Our scheduled departure by bus was 2330 hrs  from Dadar(East), the rendezvous being the vicinity of  Pritam hotel .As usual was the earliest  at Dadar and later met a few young co-trekkers which included Mr Pritesh.Pandya, his wife and brother-in-law, a small family of trekkers.The  trekker crowd gradually increased  and as usual made acquaintances.One thing i observed was that this was a total youth crowd and had their own groups, myself being the grand uncle of this trek group!Mr Jagdish.Patil arrived at approx 2315 hrs and it was a "House-Full' trek with 2 buses being organized and a total of 90 trekkers ! Our bus arrived and we finally departed at 0015 hrs past midnight, a delay of approx 45 minutes.My  co-passenger was Mr Ashok.Pandya and after brief  conversation  realized that the world is  a global village. Mr Ashok.Pandey was also a qualified marine engineer  having done his Marine engineering apprenticeship at "M.J.Patel Eng" and later  ventured into a different profession after sailing for a year or two for personal reasons.This was his first trekking  adventure experience although sea-life is a combination of different adventures  sports packaged into a single profession !..Drowsed through the night and was woken up at approx 0430 hrs due to the erratic movements of our bus. About  half an hour was spent in the driver negotiating a sharp bend on the narrow road towards Khadas village as these roads are not normally meant for large buses. .We finally reached the village car parking junction in the dark of dawn  situated near a gushing river bridge .It was drizzling but not raining heavily, excellent trekking weather.This was the largest trekking crowd in my trekking  adventure sports experiences with various trek groups of Mumbai, maximum trekkers being below the 30 years age group ..Breaksfast was  a delicious "Upma", a local delicacy..After breakfast Mr Jagdish.Patil gave a brief introduction about the trek agenda, a very hectic test of trekking skill,physical fitness  and  trekking psychology.Ultimately, besides physical fitness, akin to any sport trekking also involves mental toughness and thinking. a slight error in trekking judgement could result in a injury, death or being lost in a dense jungle.
"SHIKhAR VEDH" group Trek  participants. Some of the total of 90 participants.
"BHIMASHANKAR TREK" ( Shidi(Ladder) route Ascent and Ganesh Ghat route descent) Sunday 28-7-2013 :- The Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary covers approx 131Sq Kms in area with large rainforest trees averaging above 60 feet in height and hence the home of the Shekra(Giant Malabar Squirrel".The sanctuary  which has 9 tribal villages within its boundaries was created recently in 1984.We began our trek at approx 0630 hrs walking along the road towards the "Shidi(Ladder) route" and passing  alongside Khandas village.Khandas village was a  small village  with rice  paddy  field surrounding the vllege , absolute picturesque in the lush green monsoon climate.
START OF TREK :-Passing along "Khandas village" enroute to Bhimashankar using the "SHIDI TREKKING ROUTE",
There was greenery all over the horizon from rice fields to the lush rainforest mountain of Bhimashankar. Our first hurdle in the trek was the crossing of a gushing stream and most trekkers went crazy having a dip in the pure gushing stream.A dead  tree  fitted along the narrow stream acted as a support while crossing the powerful  stream.Without any support the chances of being swept away by the rivers flow was a possibilty, especially amongst beginners in the adventure sport of trekking .
Crossing a gushing monsoon stream enroute to Bhimashanker.
After crossing the stream we entered the dense rainforest foothills of Bhimashankar forest.It was a steep  walk up a rocky path with small boulders on the route. Some of the boulders were large and slippery due to the rains and had to be carefully  stepped on while climbing.The forest was infested with mosquito's a sign of a healthy forested jungle.the weather was cool and pleasant, just excellent for a hard days trek of one of the top three trekking mountains of the Shayadri's.At approx 0745 hrs we reached the first ladder, a metal staircase across a steep face of Bhimashankar mountain.Prior to the installation of this ladder the only means to climb this mountain was by mountaineering rock climbing method with ropesRealized that my left shoes sole had ripped off the shoe, the ultimate handicap in trekking. The importance of proper and good trek footwear is part of  the success of any trek.I had carried two "Fevikwik capsules" in my repair kit and applied one capsule to my shoe.The sole got stuck to my shoe and i was relieved..It took a long time for 90 of us to climb this ladder very precariously supported and which could collapse under excessive weight."Shidi" in  Marathi language means staircase and hence the name "SHIDI ROUTE TREK".
SHIDI (Ladder  Route):- "Shikhar Vedh" trekkers in a queue to climb the vertical mountain staircase.
After climbing the steep flat face of Bhimashankar we arrived on a small flat plateau with a beautiful birds eye-view  view of   Khadas village and the surrounding farmlands.After a brief rest we began our ascent, a torturous path through large rock boulders and slippery pebbled pathways.The entire route had numerous small monsoon water streams and waterfalls, scenic and rare monsoon topography of the Shahyadri(Western Ghat) mountains.At a large waterfall most of the trekkers had a  natural waterfall bathe, the ultimate in "Monsoon trekking" in the Shahyadri mountains of Maharashtra. Filled my water bottle with fresh jungle water and drinking the same, pure , fresh and unadulterated.This is the beauty of jungle monsoon treks, a taste of pure forest river or stream water.We later came across the second ladder, a very normal steel ladder placed against the face of the steep mountain.
Shidi Nos 2 :- The last ladder on the "Shidi Trek Route" , a ordinary steel ladder.
This was the last of the ladders in the treacherous trekking game of "Snakes and Ladders" where a slight  mistake  or error of judgement could be catastrophic.Trekking is a very serious outdoors adventure sport and most mountaineers begin their career  by  trekking/rock-climbing through small mountains like Bhimashankar.Presumed that the ladders were the last part of the tough trek but were in for new surprises and scares.After climbing the second ladder it was again a sheer upward climb across steep rocks, all of us literally crawling on all fours  with the help of a rope .We came across the largest monsoon waterfall and everyone had a waterfall bathe.Sadly, the area was littered with empty plastic bottles and other waste, a tragedy of tourist trek picnics by irresponsible tourist-trekkers..My left foot sole  came apart , the temporary fevikwik repair  proving futile and luck seemed to be abandoning me at a crucial juncture in this punishing trek. Mr Pritesh.Pandya advised me on fastening my laces in reverse to prevent the soles from falling apart and i did the same to both my shoes leaving  the rest to destiny.After a brief rest we began our ascent towards Bhimashankar Temple.The pathway after the plateau was a gradual natural stairway of large rocks.Walking over these large boulders was a test of foot nimbleness and patience.with destiny favouring me as my laces held on to my shoes soles providing normal foot cushioning.After a brief rest at the waterfalls it was another upward steep climb and the most dangerous part of the trek was awaiting our arrival."Pinnacle Point" was a steep lonely rock that had deep crevices on three sides, a slip  on one side meant definite death with  a fall on the rocks deep in the mountain  below.I had just read the autobiography of Edmund.Hillary titled "Nothing Venture Nothing Win", the first man along with Tenzing .Norgay to climb mount Everest in 1953.Seeing the uniqueness of this pinnacle i have named it "PINNACLE POINT".
"PINNACLE POINT":(Named by me !Rudolph.A.Furtado)- The most dangerous  ascent.OBSERVE THE SINGLE PINNACLE WITH NO SIDE SUPPORTS AND JUDGE THE EFFECT OF A HUMAN FALL.

 The lesser fall would be approx 20 feet below on solid hard rock.A volunteer  of "Shikhar Vedh" group assisted each trekker individually as  we climbed past "Pinnacle Point". In my short trekking experience in the Shahyadri hill forts and mountains have never ever come across such a dangerous death-defying rock climb.Finally all 90 of us made it past "Pinnacle Point" and made our way  towards the second plateau which had a small village with rice cultivation.i somehow trudged my way towards the plateau. There were a few village-tea shops on this plateau and   refreshed myself  with tea and roasted maize.The weather was excellent, cloudy with no rain and cool.As usual made acquaintances with Mr Jigneesh.Gheelani and Mr Niraj.Kumar ,both Mumbai city dwellers with hectic schedules on a week-end trek.I spotted a trekker who seemed older than me and realized that  Mr Apaji.Sawant and not myself  was the oldest trekker amongst us, beating my age by two years !Trekking is basically a youth adventure sport as it is strenuous and dangerous.
  Mr Yuichiro Miura  climbed  Mt Everest  in May 2013 at 80 years of age and hence in comparison  Mr Apajay.Sawant and myself were teenagers in the adventure sport of Trekking.Similarly if  Guribadat Singh, Prithvi Singh, Ajay Sohal, Shubham, Fateh Singh and Raghav Juneja of St Lawrence school Sanawar  aged between 15 to 17 years became the youngest  school boys to Climb Mt Everest in the same month  then our entire trekking team  of young men and women seemed  like "Old Men and women"! Chronological age is just a number and barring few natural  physical deterioration of the human body with age or monetary retirement with fixed age limit, most accomplishments, both physical and mental are a mind game.IF YOU THINK YOU ARE OLD THEN YOU ARE OLD AND NONE CAN CHANGE THAT.If not a "Marine engineer" then i would definitely have become a lawyer since i love reasoning and introspecting situations in life.We finally reached Bhimashankar village  at approx 1115 hrs our entry being  near the entrance of Bhimashankar temple , the total  trek time being approx 4 hrs 45 minutes.The change in weather was drastic on arrival at Bhimashankar village, the entire town being covered with thick mist and visibility reduced to approx  25 to 50 meters.Spotted the first wild-life sighting, a macaque monkey on  a tree near the main road.Macaque monkeys always  Was surprised at the abrupt change of topography from dense rain forests to a small town with roads and vehicles.Saw a few old pilgrims being carried  by 4 men on "Palki's" to the temples, the first time i witnessed this scene in India.The entire town centered around the temple and the pilgrims with numerous small hotels and religious stalls on the narrow main road.Trek leader Mr Jagdeesh.Patil informed us of the lunch itinerary and the departure timings from Bhimashankar village.
                                                                                                                                                             

Religious  and souvenir  handicraft shop in Bhimashankar Village.
While all the trekkers visited the temple i  strolled alone along  the small village town Of Bhimashankar which has a few shops and eatery hotels  along the main road in the vicinity of the temple.There was a car park at the extreme end of the road , a small one horse   town in the midst of dense forest.There is  a direct "S.T Bus Service" from Pune to this pilgrimage town , a distance of 127 kms and wild-life enthusiasts unable to trek can use the road route to reach Bhimashankar town.
At approx 1150 hrs made my way to "Shithiz Hotel" and was the first in the group to  have a  excellent vegetarian thali .Rest of the 90 trekkers gradually followed and the small hotel was packed with "Shikhar Vedh" trek group tourists. Breakfast, lunch and tea was included in the total trek charges of Rs 750, excellent value for money for a week-end adventure outing.After lunch i purchased some sweets and also tasted a few local sweets , excellent and cheap.
The weather in Bhimashankar town was straight out of a film set, heavy intermittent rain with dense fog.Visibility was reduced to a bare 25 meters and photography not possible in the dense monsoon fog. After everyone had finished lunch, a total of 90 trekkers we finally decided to begin the descent to Khandas village.
"GANESH GHAT" trek route:- Village cattle being herded through the narrow forest  path.

Keeping trek of 90 trekkers is not easy management, especially in forest trekking where a person could get lost or face serious injury.We began the descent in small groups, the younger trekkers literally bounding towards base while a few of us trekked at medium pace, never last but not also  first!  I was  in  a group of approx 15 trekkers  along with Mr Niraj.Kumar ,conversing and discussing the toughness of this simple altitude mountain.As we walked ahead we suddenly realized that we were on the wrong path, the worst fear of any professional or first time trekker.We had done approx 15 minutes of walking before realizing our mistake and returning back to the town.Inquiries with local villagers put us on the right pathway  and we finally began our descent at approx 1330 hrs.The "GANESH GHAT ROUTE" descent is easier than the tough "Shidi Ghat Route" but of a longer duration.We finally reached the "Plateau Village", the common link base for trekkers  from  both, the "Ganesh Ghat route" and the "Shidi Ghat route".Our group had some rest at this village base along with the normal village tea.The beauty of treks is that total strangers become acquaintances and sometimes friends and in a few cases into love story's! At the Village tea-shop we exchanged conversation and got to know the different adventure sports undertaken by other fellow trekkers. A young lady  trekker Dipti.Lapasiya astounded me with her adventure sports conversations reminding me of the young women  Western trekkers i came across in Nepal  who made me look like a novice  in "Solo Travel".I was pleased to learn that ultimately young and wealthy Indians were into expensive "Adventure sports" with  the same being  conducted in India, a generation change from  a mere 100 $'s foreign exchange  tourist allowance prior the reforms era of 1992.We Indians have come a long way in tourism , both local as well as International.The very fact that there are numerous local adventure sports agencies in Mumbai  indicates the enthusiasm of the average Indian youth in travel and the outdoors.There is a local adventure sport suited for every budget and one of the cheapest could be the "Bhimashankar Trek", moneys worth of adventure and experience.

"PLATEAU VILLAGE" :- Common village base on Bhimashankar mountain for "SHIDI GHAT" and "GANESH GHAT"  route trekkers.
After a brief rest at the "Plateau Village  Base" we took the "Ganesh Ghat Route" for our descent.The descent along the Ganesh ghat route was through a narrow forest path in dense jungle canopy.There was a continuous drizzle and the entire forest seemed like a flowing stream, just beautiful. We were walking along a forest stream with the sound of gushing waterfalls never far beyond human hearing.To think that this dense rainforest jungle was a mere 45 hours drive from concrete jungle Mumbai was unimaginable.A village dog followed us from "Plateau village" base, a young bitch, absolutely playful akin to us being its owner..Along the forest path suddenly heard some sounds and the bitch ran into the dense jungle disturbing a pack of Hanuman langurs. "Ganesh Ghat" route had Hanuman monkeys in the forests  while Bhimashankar town  had Macaque monkeys.Seemed both these monkey species lived harmoniously in different territories of this forest sanctuary. Now, where was the leopard, the Shekra, barking deer or Sambar ? Wild-life spotting is best done in the dry summer season when most of the forest vegetation is dry and land mammals and bird species spotting made easier. In Monsoons, the dense rainforest canopy makes wild-life spotting rare unless a  enthusiasts camps in the forest for a few days exploring various segments of this dense jungle as done in million dollar "National geographic" wildlife  film documentaries.As we walked through the puddles of streams  realized and was amazed at literally walking in the midst of the "BHIMA RIVER". The "Bhima River" has its source in the Bhimashankar mountain near the Bhimashankar temple which we had visited and hence we were witnessing geography in motion.I was walking alone, a group of trekkers behind me and the most of the young trekkers  way ahead in a hurry to reach home.Suddenly came across the beautiful sight of "Nagphani Peak(Cobra hood)", the highest point of Bhimashankar mountain.The peak was covered in mist and hence could not be photographed, besides, it was drizzling. Further ahead came across a open clearing which had a small tea-stall.Refreshed my energy with delicious "Khanda Bhajias(Onion waffles)" and rested for a while while the group behind me arrived.After a brief stop we began our onward trek, haggard but still functioning. It was now a straight path through rivulets and rock pebbles.Walking ahead i again realized i was the lone trekker.Further ahead came across Trek leader  Mr Jagdish.Patil who was guiding trekkers at a detour in the pathway. A wrong pathway could mean getting lost in this dense jungles and although a wild-life enthusiast i wouldn't like the idea of wandering in this lonely jungles at night  infested with mosquito's  with the odd leopard also on the prowl.Confirming the pathway with  Jagdish proceeded on the lonely forest trail.Further ahead came across slippery rocks where i slipped with a thud, landing on my buttocks with my left hand cushioning the fall.This was the closest i came to serious injury during the entire trek, besides i was alone.This is what makes trekking dangerous and adventurous, hence an adventure sport.The fall shook me  and luckily realized that all my bones were intact and akin to a jockey walking off from a horse fall proceed casually with the descent.Further across on a narrow pathway came across a herd of cattle blocking our path.Ahead of me was  another group of our fellow trekkers and hence realized i was not a laggard, many trekkers were still behind me.We halted at this pathway to allow the cattle to pass through the narrow  gorge and later began our onward journey.At approx 1730 hrs we came across a small plateau where the view of  the "Shidi Ghat" route  on the other half of the mountain was stupendous.Numerous waterfalls formed streaks of white lines across the steep mountain face, source of various monsoon  streams on the plains below the mountain.The entire "Ganesh Ghat Route" was through puddles of streams , something i never experienced on my previous mountain treks.From this plateau it was a rapid descent and at approx 1830 hrs we reached the "GANESH TEMPLE" from which the "Ganesh ghat Route" derived its name.from the Ganesh temple it was a descent of approx half an hour to the base of the mountain and at approx 1900 hrs we were on the plains of Khadas village.The village dog was following us all along, and i had a similar experience during a trek to Kalsubai mountain in 2012, the local dogs following us to the base from the mountain village.
KHADAS VILLAGE :- The beginning and end of our epic "BHIMASHANKAR TREK-2013"
                                                                                                                                                           Everyone was haggard irrespective of age, myself thankful for surviving the  bandaged shoes and a terrible fall.It was  the end  of our "Bhimashankar Trek" but still a long walk towards our bus.On reaching the tarmac road came across a SUV which gave us a lift to our bus.Was not surprised to see majority of the trekkers at home in the bus,some sound asleep. It was refreshing having tea and two vada paav's(Local Veg hamburger) on arrival at our bus.The ladies changed their attire while Ahok and myself changed in the bus, a relief from the damp rain-soaked clothing.Removed my shoes and was relieved of my shoe pain and feet distress.It started raining heavily and as we were about to leave Mr Jagdish.Patil gave us thunderbolt news that one trekker from the other bus in out total  group of 90 was missing. They intended forming a search party in the mountain and hence we handed over our torch lights to the members of the rescue party.This was the first time in my trekking  adventures that i came across a fellow trekker going missing. i realized that keeping track of 90 trekkers was not an easy task as individual groups explored jungle paths at their own risk.Our bus finally departed at 2030hrs, a long journey of approx 4 hours for reaching Mumbai.At Panvel we encountered a massive traffic jam which delayed our arrival by at least half an hour.Finally at 0030hrs we reached Dadar where i alighted the bus bare-feet and hopped into a taxi. Reached home  haggard, feet bruised but happy at being young at heart and not very old in trekking years.
The next day my leg muscles absolutely stiff i rang up Jagdish to inquire about the missing man.Thankfully he was found safe and sound  at Bhimashankar town near the temple.Would like to meet him to find out his description of the excellent and dangerous "BHIMASHANKAR TREK-2013"..

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