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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Harishchandragad Trek

For the past three years, I have been visiting Mumbai during the Monsoon; specially timed around the Ganesha festival. Meanwhile, I also go on a trek in the enchanting Sahyadris which would have just begun to colour itself entirely in light green. This year, I thought of doing something different. I decided to visit my sister during the Dasera festival and planned to rope in a trek around the same time. For weeks, I browsed through the web page that lists all the treks arranged by different groups in the city. I had trekked with a group last year and somehow, I had not liked that a lot. There were about 25 odd people on that trek and many who knew each other already, formed sub groups. Moreover, there was always a rush to get to some point before breakfast, lunch or dinner. That to me was a little frustrating because, it did not allow us to enjoy the nature at leisure or walk in a relaxed pace. That experienced, it was a conscious decision on my part to look for a better group. 

I went through the Mumbai trek list and firstly decided on the trek. Harishcandragad seemed the most exciting of all. Google images made me immediately zero in on this location. Now, there were three groups offering this trek on the same weekend. Among them, Abbarent wanderers (AW) seemed to me, the most appealing. Their website was neat and impressive, their plan was sufficiently detailed and seemed to allow flexibility. On their blog, I read about their adventurous journey to the Himalayas in a Tata Nano and found that very interesting. When I conversed with the organisers Sanket and Hemant, I was almost certain that I would trek with them. My niece, Deeksha wanted to join me as well. 

I reached Mumbai on the 7th of October. The flight was uneventful. I took a taxi to Panvel and reached my sister’s house a little before midnight. Woke up Akki and Deeku, packed our bags, had some delicious parathas and retired to bed. Like always, I was anxious about the unexpected moments and adventures that were to come.; to pleasantly surprise me. 

Next morning, Akki dropped us at Panvel railway station and we took the 5:45 CST local to Kurla as suggested by Hemant. Once we had crossed Vashi and entered the main city, we witnessed unpleasant sights along the railway track. Unclean slums filled with garbage made me further supportive of the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Movement) initiated by our Prime Minister. At 7:15 AM, the Kasara local arrived. The train took us out of the busy city setting and introduced us to the first patch of greenery, as we approached Kasara. 

At the railway station, we met up with our trek lead Sanket and our co-trekkers - Dr Jyothi, Brajesh, Soham, Dhirendra, Zeesham and Rutwik. Since Rutwik had missed the train, he had to catch a fast train to Kasara. After he arrived, we took off on a hired jeep towards the village of Paachnai which is about 100 kms from Kasara. 

We took the Nashik road first. On the highway, the driver was alerted of the RTO checkpoint ahead and thus he, for reasons unknown to me, decided to take a diversion. The road to Paachnai was not in a good condition but the views that this route bestowed was so brilliant that it allowed me to ignore the bumpy ride. Village girls dressed traditionally and  carrying a Kalash (A pot; the mouth which holds a coconut) forcibly stopped vehicles and prayed before requesting donation. Seems like a practice in the area during the Dasera festival. The route passed through the famous Alang-Madan-Kulang mountains (One of the toughest treks in Maharastra) and Kalasubai (Maharastra’s highest mountain).






Paachnai is a very small village with not more than 10 houses. Magnificent mountains walls covered the three sides of the village. They reminded me of the "Wall of the North" from the Game of thrones. The village was almost deserted except for three kids playing on a swing, next to a small school building. 



AW has teamed up with a villager to take care of the food and we directly went to their house. A middle aged lady was cooking chapatis for us. Her son Bhaskar told us that the village does not have electricity during the months of Monsoon. Reason being, the authorities do not bother to repeatedly rectify the faulty power lines. We had some tasty Chapatis with Pitla, some rice with dhal and potato curry. A spicy chutney called Techa, made of peanut and green chilly was very tasty. 

After lunch, we began our trek. A short round of formal introduction was done before starting. The trek was not very long and would have probably taken us about 1.5-2 hours to reach Harishchandragad. However, Dr Jyothi could not walk fast, so we matched her speed. The good thing about that was that I got to capture the spectacular view in leisure. Since we were a small group, we bonded really well over this journey. Brajesh, Soham and Dhirendra who knew each other from before, lightened up the journey with their witty talks. And the view, of course was mesmerising. 



I absolutely loved this one part of the trek, it had a rock cut cave with water droplets continuously falling from the top and forming a crystal screen like appearance. 



In this cave, was a villager preparing black tea and obviously we wanted to drink some tea there. With a tinge of lemon it tasted like heaven. Dhirendra is extremely fond of tea and where ever we stopped he wished for a cup. Being a tea fan myself, I appreciated and welcomed the idea. 

We took much longer to trek up to our base camp but the view from the top was just amazing. There seemed to be no rush. It was getting misty so obviously we could not have viewed a good sunset. The base camp is a vast plateau like region filled with wild flowers, caves, a few ponds and an intricately designed Harishchandreshwar temple. That view made me forget everything else and admire the beauty of nature and some of man’s most thoughtful creations that perfectly complimented and blended with the nature.






At Kedareshwar cave, three of four pillars supporting the shrine is broken. People believe that the pillars represent the four yugas (Eras) - Satya yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. When the fourth pillar breaks, that would signify the end of Kali yuga that we now live in. 



After a walk around the area, we headed towards the cave. Bhaskar and perhaps it was his wife, were up there already, cooking dinner for us. 



Sitting there with the rest of the group, silently observing the lights fade behind the beautiful temple, lush surrounding and carpet of flowers, I felt so much in the moment. Nothing else worried me. All I knew at that moment was right there! All I was thinking about was right in front of me. That feeling is unmatchable. 






We sat there chatting until the dinner was ready. We had food using some flash lights and then headed uphill to relax. We found a spot for oversells that overlooked the base camp and we played music on a blue tooth speaker and sat there chatting and singing songs. It was a magical moment. There was no hurry in anyone to go anywhere, do anything. We were all right there, in that moment, talking and thinking only about what was happening right there.

At 10 pm,  while others stayed back, Dr Jyothi, Deeku and I returned to the cave and dozed off almost quickly. A few other groups in the neighbouring caves played loud music but nothing bothered my tired body which badly needed some rest. 

Continued Here - Konkan Kada & Taramati Peak  

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