“ALL THE BEST”, was regular SMS from one of my friend, who responded to my regular Facebook status update, on countdown for Trek to Harishchandragad. I took it very offhandedly, since these comments are quite casual. But, was there any need of him SMSing me on my mobile? I was not able to understand, perhaps, till I descended down from this high altitude trek of northern Sahyadri or let’s say 5B zone of Western Ghats.
This trek was organised by Kalavardhini Prathishthan, an organisation, which is in the field of trekking and mountaineering since last 10 years or so. Around 30 participants were suppose to attend it, which meant that planning of logistics and execution must be well managed. And that was the reason for the organisers to opt for a chartered bus, from the origin (Thane) to base (Khideshwar) and back, via Kalyan, for two days. I along with 5 more individuals were picked up from Shivaji Chowk, Kalyan at 1.00 AM on 25th June, 2011 and rest 22 individuals were already in bus from the origin i.e. Thane. The formal introduction, without waste of any time was done in the bus itself. I realize that apart from four individuals, I didn`t knew any one, and these four individuals were also unknown to the rest of team, and thus we were called as “new comers”.
The drive between Murbad to Malshej Ghat tunnel was very much misty, even the professional bus driver had to negotiate with such non-visibility. At often and again, he almost zeroed down the speed on the Ghats, and fortunately at that point of time (between 4AM – 5AM), the traffic was also sparse.
Anyways, at around 05.30 AM we all reached at Khideshwar (base of our expedition), Saurabh Thakekar (one of the founder member of Kalavardhini Prathishthan and my good friend), instructed us to have rest for another hour or so, before we start this trek. I don’t know, who followed him, but there was complete silence during this hour. And at around 6.30 AM, after having cup of hot tea, we started our trek.
The start of the trek was clear plain walk (around a kilometre), with beautiful landscaped scenes, including typical village life, cattle, well , rice fields and gushing waterfalls from the surrounding tall mountains. From 2600 feet (Mean Sea Level) to 4100 feet, this was to be uphill trek of around 7 Kms. Thankfully, the route was clearly indicated with arrow marks, making it easy for climbers to head towards right direction.
Must to mention, Harishchandragad is part of Kalsubai – Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary, spread up in apprx 300 Sq. Kms of area, part of Nashik Wildlife Circle, in Maharashtra Western Ghats region, notified as protected area (PA) in 1986. This PA has few of the best surviving patches of northern evergreen forest types of Western Ghats, but majority of patches have declining close canopy forests, excluding the hills and hill tops, which are rugged and not easily accessible. Few of uncommon species which are reported in this PA , earlier, are Indian Giant Squirrel, Sambar, Indian Crested Porcupine, Leopard, Ruddy Mongoose, Hyena, Mouse Deer, Barking Deer, Palm Civet, Jungle Cat , Wild Boar, Indian Rufous Babbler, Bonelli`s Eagle, Yellow Wattled Lapwing, Hanging parrot, White Bellied Minivet, Long Billed Vultures and White Rumped Vultures.
Anyways, coming back to my trip, the patch of the initial plain walk had Persicaria glabra ( Marathi Name: Sheral, Common English Name : Common Marsh Buckwheat),this plant grows along the marshy areas, in this case, there were flooded rice fields, where a White Breasted Water-hen also feasted on these fields. Thereafter, as the terrain became hilly, the abundant cucurma pseudomontana (Marathi Name: Ran halad, Common English Name: Wild Turmeric) appeared on the forest floor. The identical whistling calls of Malabar Whistling Thrush, Brown Headed Barbet and Orange Headed Thrush were often heard then seen.
But the twist of the highly excited journey fussed, when my health collapsed, due to dehydration. My haversack was almost 10 Kgs in weight, which added up to another problem. The need of the urgency, as felt by my co-travellers, was to take away my bag and carry it up by them and to immediately offer me electoral mixed water, sweets and glucose biscuits. In honest approach, I was feeling ashamed, for all my preparations, which went in vain. Nilesh & Sushant took every step for my care and encouraged me at time and again that ALL IS WELL. I was afraid that all I ate, my stomach may throw out. But, we had to trek up and standing in the midst of rains was absolutely not the option.
I think, I was bit more comfortable, after we reached and relaxed for some time at Vyaghrashilp (a pass which connects, Khideshwar, Harishchandragad and Otur, at 3100 feet height), which is an ancient sculpture of Tiger, formed & worshipped by earlier nomads, in protection from wild animals. The team shared their meals and also shared, especially Nilesh, the knowledge, about this temple.
The need of energy was much high, hereafter, since we were suppose to traverse through Tolar Khind, a steep and erect terrain, with few old time railings on it and on top of it light showers. This steep hilly terrain would surely be a good platform for small herbs post monsoon, which are said to be endemic to Sahyadri or of medicinal importance. One among such important medicinal plant that I saw here was Tylophora indica (Marathi Name: Pitkari, Common English Name: Panacea Twiner).
Well trekked and well landed on the small platue, after crossing Tolar Khind, I heard someone calling me my name and this voice was of none among them, who were with me on this trek. Sipping cup of tea and raising his hand towards me, this was Nikhil Bhopale, one of well known naturalist, working with BNHS and a known friend to me from last few years. His team of less than 20 individuals were here for one day trek and were suppose to return back the same day to Panvel. Nikhil & I were together hereafter, at some occasions parted as well, till the Temple, our destination at Harishchandragad. This walk was sometimes, plain, uphill and downhill, crossing few smoothly flowing streams, much slippery and full of moss. So I think at around 12PM we reached the top and took refuge in one among the caves to freshen up our selves. Wherein as Nikhil and his team said us good bye and decided to descend down to Khideshwar, after having their food.
Our team cleared up the caves and settled in to have the food, which we were carrying with us. It was enjoyable moment to share and pass on the food brought by everyone. I, still not all fine, decided to have some rest and went in my sleeping bag, immediately.
At 3 pm the instruction came that we all are leaving for Konkankada, Taramati and Rohidas hilltops. Unwillingly I also joined the rest of team, although my body was expecting more relax, which I ignored. We ventured in nearby areas and paid a visit to Kedarling, Ganesh Temple and Vishnu Temple. Near these ancient monuments, the vegetation cover was seasonal including arisaema murrayi.
By now the wind pressure and the its speed had increased many folded and on top of that heavy fog, at the height of 4135 feet , it was impossible to see anything beyond 4-5 feet of distance and we were heading towards Konkankada. The instructions came that all are to unzip the raincoat and tie it at waist. This situation was most difficult for those, with slim built, me being one among them. It won’t be wrong to say that this wind pressure was almost in capacity to blow away any unfixed object on that part of the earth. The monsoon vegetation had undone all the trace marks of human presence on this trail, making it difficult for leaders to find out the way. Up, down, here, there, left, right and where not, we tried all the directions, which could have lead us to Konkankada, but no success. And unfortunately, this area had no arrow marks, which only appeared from Khideshwar to Harishchandragad temple, only. Few of experts, tried to find out the trail, but again not to succeed. Raj, the technical resource person, in such attempt, had lost its way and didn`t returned in time, back to the group. The tensed group leaders realised that this is the time of dual crisis of not only one of the important member, who was missing but also of losing on the trail and our exact location of whereabouts.
Saurabh strategically chalked out a plan, by dividing the group in three unequal parts, one to find out Raj, second to find out the way and third to be at the present location. First two groups were given exact timing to return back, irrespective of results. This was 6PM and chances of any good finding were becoming grim by every passing minute. The second group came back in 5 minutes with no indication of finding the way to caves. The situation became tenser by now and all hopes were to find out the only technical person, who could have lead us to the right direction, was himself missing. Suddenly, someone shouted “Raj is found”, oh what a sigh of relief it was! All hugged him and thanked god that our friend was back.
We, within few seconds, decided to leave our quest for Konkankada or Taramati/Rohidas shikhar and to immediately return back to the caves and this was the need of the hour after the lost and found episode of Raj. We were hardly couple of hundreds of meters away from our caves, but in such environment, it took more than 30 minutes for us to reach back to caves.
At 7PM we all reached at caves, had a chit chat and shared our knowledge of earlier experiences, prepared food for night and at 11PM we all were slept. So, it was 22 degree Celsius temperature at 4135 feet height on 25th June, 2011. Forgot to mention, Deepti in her loud voice, instructed all to wake up next morning at sharp 6.30 AM.
Next morning, Sunday, 26th June, was relaxing day. It was relaxing because, we were not in mood to go to the areas, which we were planned to go the previous day. We all had our morning routines and had our tea and breakfast.
Some gossiped and some played games and some done abstract photography of monuments. I was part of the group, which was busy in playing Antakshri and a Marathi game called “Kaan Goshthi”. My very little knowledge about Marathi added a little of spice and sense of humour among the other players, during this game, which I enjoyed and it also helped me get more grip on the language.
By 11AM, we all were served with lunch and thereafter we packed ourselves to trek down to base i.e. Khideshwar. This trek was suppose to take 3 hours, depending on the rains, to reach down. I must say, in monsoon, trekking up is more easy then trekking down, specially at locations, which are of rugged terrain.
Considering my health problem, Chetan, Nilesh and Vaiibhav, helped me in by sharing my haversack at timely occasions and instructing me on where to put my feet and where to not.
At 4PM we all had reached down at Khideshwar, where we all had Poha and Tea. Few also paid a visit to nearby old Shiva Temple, which I and Mayuresh, didn’t opted for and relaxed at hotel.
At 6PM our way back journey from Khideshwar to Mumbai started and at around 9 to 10PM we all were back through our chartered bus, which was stationed for last two days at Khideshwar itself. In bus, we discussed and shared our review of our experience of this trek, which was much mixed up but all echoed it to be thrilling, adventurous and fantabulous trek with awesome food.
And, it was an end of an exciting trek.
The Harishchandragad trek was neither as easy as understood by me nor as difficult as it was projected by my friends. But yes, it was worth a visit and another, if not in rains.