Sunday, July 22, 2012

In The Footsteps Of Shivaji



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As they say in Hindi, “Waqt se pehle aur Kismat se zyada, kisiko kuch nahi milta.” I got to know from Vikas Kavle Sir that Girivihar was planning a hike to Matheran via Shivaji Ladder on 22nd July 2012. He invited me and I replied in the positive. My good friend Jay also decided to join me. I was very happy that I’d be undertaking this challenging trek. I was relaxed as I was going to do it under the leadership of experienced climbers/trekkers from Girivihar. This was to be my first trek with GIRIVIHAR!


          We were a group of 12 trekkers of whom I already knew Bhaji and Vikas Sir (courtesy PHC) and recognized Arun Sir and Franklyn Sir as I’d seen them during Girivihar’s 38th Rock climbing Camp that I’d attended in Dec. 2009. I also got to know some new people. Noticeable amongst them was Aditya, a school kid who had come with his mother Mrs. Arthi. It was really great to see a boy of his age come for such a difficult trek. He was a champ indeed!

          The group met at Panvel Bus depot. We had breakfast at a nearby hotel. The ‘sheera’ I had was amazing and a perfect thing to have in the morning. We then hired a tum-tum to take us to Chowk railway station (which lies on the Panvel-Karjat rail line). In fact the driver agreed to take us till the base of Irshalgad near the Morbe Dam for 300 rupees. I was lucky to get a front seat because I know that the engine lies at the rear of this vehicle and makes a hell lot of noise. For the next 30 minutes or so, we sat still in our positions as we were cramped for space.

          We started the trek at approx. 9am. I was in awe of the preparations these guys did for the trek. Majority of them had walking sticks, hardcore trekking shoes and rucksacks (unlike us youngsters who wear sport shoes & carry college bags), sunscreen, glares, ‘piped’ water bags (so that you don’t have to stop to remove your bottle from the bag every time you feel thirsty. Just pull the nozzle to your mouth and have a sip! And I feel it’s actually a good idea because generally we tend to gulp down water from the bottle). This possibly indicated that most of them had the experience of trekking in the Himalayas.
Our route bordered the western edge of Morbe dam. In monsoon, the waters of the dam appear to be greyish and it is wonderful how it changes to shiny blue in the winters. It’s amazing how sunlight changes the way things appear to us! Seniors in the group recollected how different the region was prior to the construction of Morbe dam. All routes they’d used before lay submerged inside the backwaters of the dam. The Dam is flanked by Matheran on its Northeast and Prabalgad-Irshalgad on its Northwest. During the monsoon, rivers flowing down the slopes of these hills feed the dam.

          The seasoned trekkers of Girivihar were way ahead of us. Our walking speed was no match to their speedy walk! In spite of walking for 2 full hours, the peak seemed to be as distant as it appeared at the start. This pleasant walk on flat land passing through dense jungle had numerous streams cutting across it. I tried hard to keep my shoes from getting wet, but at times there was no other choice but to wade through knee-deep waters! Young Aditya enjoyed walking through the water, splashing it away carefree. Watching him one remembers the school days when we all had the happy-go-lucky attitude. This teaches us that in company of Mother Nature, you must consider yourself a kid and just enjoy.

Meanwhile, the wild (‘Raanti’) mosquitoes weren’t even affected by the Odomos and continued feasting on the blood arrived fresh from the city. The final walk upto the base village of Varosewadi / Umbernewadi was another marvel with the hill ranges running parallel to it on both the sides. Located between Matheran & Prabalgad, it was a boggy walk on grassland with an out of the world feeling attached to it. The natural surroundings kept the photographers busy in their pastime.

          In the village, the group took a halt of about 15 minutes to charge themselves up for the actual climb. Aditya was busy playing with his toy car in the mud. Some others took photographs of the surrounding natural beauty, while most of us relaxed. Along with drinking water, the generous villagers offered us the typical black tea one would find no difficulty to obtain when in the Sahyadris. Some biscuits and snacks did the round. Looking back in the southward direction, one was greeted with a strange view: the twin-forked peak of Irshalgad appeared like a Yamraj with two horns on the head!!
The villagers use the ladder route to Matheran frequently and ensure the stability of the ladder. We had a chat about the ladder route with the villager and he pointed us to the gully/patch where the route lay. It appeared somewhat red perhaps due to the soil of Matheran being eroded by the waterfall; in the middle of which is the Shivaji ladder we were here to ascent! Legend has it that Shivaji Maharaj climbed up Matheran on his horse through this route (or is it some other route?). I wondered how, looking at the steepness of the mountain slope!

          Our climb started on a wet note. We had to cross over to the other side of the stream that merged into Morbe dam. The water was cold and I tried to make use of the rocks as steps to avoid getting soggy yet again, but to no avail. Splash!! All the efforts I’d been taking since morning to keep the socks dry & the shoe insole intact were rendered useless again and again. There was no escape from water logging. After all these years, my second pair of Black Action Trekking shoes that I’d purchased just a week prior to the rock climbing camp of Girivihar in December 2009 appeared worn out and fading in colour. I had debuted with one of the same kind way back in July 2005 with the Podar Hikers’ Club. The apprehension regarding the grip of my shoes increased with every water body we crossed. But for the moment I joined the group in our attempt to trek Matheran via Shivaji Ladder.

          The route straight ahead would’ve led us to Dudhani (often called Dhodhane), another base village for a trek to Matheran (via Porcupine point/Sunset point). We took a right passing through Umbernewadi and one could witness the increased slope. So now we were back to serious business after the initial walk in the park. The gradient of this path is similar to the one that takes you to Irshalwadi or the hillock, which we come across while trekking upto Gorakhgad. But I can assure this path is longer in comparison to both.

It was a perspiring effort in the beginning with no wind and a lot of insects to bother us. That day particularly lacked in rain and wind. It was laudable to see Mrs. Arthi encouraging young Aditya every now and then, even as he complained of insects & humidity. But he did not give up and continued relentlessly. He is indeed lucky to get involved in an activity like trekking at a very young age. Something for us to learn from him, isn’t it? Everybody cheered him, more so since this was supposed to be such a lengthy and challenging trek. Kudos to the kid!

Trekking with experienced people has its benefit; you get a perspective about your performance compared to the group as a whole. By the time we reached the halfway mark, the hardcore trekkers like Arun Sir, Shyam Sir, Franklyn Sir, Mr. Narayan and a few others had taken a very big lead. I decided to take a 5-star break and noticed that the views were astounding! One could see Irshalgad and the mouth of Morbe dam in the South; the two hamlets in the base engulfed by the wall of Prabalgad to the West and a faint Mhasmal in the North.

No winds and no rain made the steep climb even lengthier. We soon came across the first ‘ladder’, which is nothing but a thick tree trunk having the shape of a Slingshot with 2-3 footholds carved into it. By then, most of the group members had crossed the second ladder that is made up of iron metal. Soon Bhaji and Vikas sir joined Jay and me. We four relaxed under a tree, (eating kachoris I think) and hoping for some wind. After 5-10 minutes, we again resumed the upward journey. Mandar Marathe and Manish Pathare were waiting for us at the second ladder. Mandar had clicked some excellent photographs during that day.

The thrilling part of the trek starts upon crossing the iron ladder! Here one comes across a huge wall of rock face from where a right has to be taken. This narrow path, lying on the edge, takes you to the small temple (probably the old Pisarnath mandir) that sits nicely in a cave like structure formed below the mountain wall. You cannot call it a full-fledged cave because the height of the cave is so small that it’s impossible for a person to sit with an upright back. Sleeping overnight in your sleeping bag sounds dangerous too ‘cause any slip may take you down into the valley!

And now, finally, we reached the most thrilling part of the entire trek. Located just a few steps beyond the temple; is the gully where a waterfall flows. Nicely perched in the middle of this waterfall, lies the Shivaji Ladder with a good 15ft in height and consisting of about a dozen and a half steps formed by fastening small wooden sticks horizontally to two long vertically parallel sturdy wooden branches.

Leading by example, Arun Sir and Franklyn Sir had already climbed up the ladder to guide the subsequent trekkers. Shyam Sir stood by the bottom of the ladder to ensure all climbed up perfectly. Not that we were afraid, most of us were decently experienced, but obviously none of us wanted to be left at the rear end of the queue. I was very excited and a bit tense at the same time. Excited - due to the thrill of tackling the much heard of slippery patch above the ladder and tensed because I was to follow Bhaji in climbing the ladder!

One at a time, the trekkers, climbed up the ladder with caution. I was relieved that the ladder succeeded in carrying my weight. The rock patch above the ladder was slippery and one has to exercise caution there. Naturally you’d want to be highly alert but somehow I found it to be easily manageable. All the apprehensions about the grip of my shoes quickly evaporated! My eagerness to reach the top only pestered Bhaji. I enjoyed this part very much. Only the last few steps require one to stretch a good bit. One will be put to test here and one may even need some help, as I myself did. I wasn’t getting a handhold and fortunately Franklyn sir helped me out with it. I was very happy that something tough had just been conquered. It felt as if one followed in the footsteps of Shivaji Maharaj.

Seeing us climbing up from nowhere the crowd of Matheran yelled: “Hey Suicide….?..Suicide?” I laughed it off. Slowly but steadily we all made it to the top. We were successful in completing an adventurous climb. Obviously the trek would not have been possible without the use of ladders. Only technical climbers would have negotiated it in case there wouldn't have been any ladders. I greeted and congratulated everyone with a handshake. Everyone was joyous and cheerful.

We walked the red-soiled paths of Matheran to reach Cecil point where we had some group photos. The rock steps took us further to the Pisarnath temple near Charlotte Lake. The place was full of people; some enjoying with friends and families, some participating in adventures like river crossing etc. while some others were having fun time in the water. It’s a proud moment for a trekker to walk among the crowd. You feel you are a cut above the rest especially when you have just trekked one of the awesome routes of the Sahyadri.

A 10-minute uphill walk led us to a junction where we decided to have lunch. Thankfully, we had finished lunch when the monkeys attacked. Afterwards, the group split into 2 -- one group was to trek down via Sunset point and another group that was too tired to trek further decided to take a taxi to Neral station from Dasturi naka. I was part of the second. The groups bid each other a good bye!

The walk up to Bazar Peth was calm and peaceful. We entered a roadside shop to have some tea. And then we walked straight to Dasturi naka. I got some hot buttered sweet corn to eat on the way and was successful in protecting it from the berserk monkeys. At Dasturi, as usual we hopped into a cab for Neral station from where we took a train back home.

          I look forward to more such challenging treks with Girivihar.

Thank You.
The End.

Regards,
+Parin H Shah