I opened my eyes. It was daybreak. I turned around to look out of the window and the view that greeted my eyes made sure I won't go back to sleep. I checked the time- 6 AM. As I looked out of the glass windows of the stationary bus, I realised we were standing under a green mountain that was clad with white clouds and a lonely old bungalow stood below it. The pristine setting wasn't anywhere in the Himalayas. It was, in fact, right here in Maharashta, a little over 130 kms from Mumbai. The surprise and awe were real.
I looked around in the bus. Almost everyone was asleep; a few eyes were opening here and there and expectedly, being left in awe. I got down from the bus and walked around. It was a view to be captured in the memories in every detail.
|Clouds hovering above the mountains near Andharban, Tamhini Ghat, Maharashtra|
An hour passed. We freshened up and had a Maharashtrian breakfast of misal-pav and poha. We were then headed to the start point of the trek, around 10 kms away.
The Andharban Trek in the Tamhini Ghats in Pune district, takes one through 13 kilometres of descend through mountains over varied terrains. The initial part is on level ground with a few waterfalls on the way; the latter part is a steep descend through rocks ending at the Bhira Dam. The views throughout the route are breathtaking. The trek should ideally be done during the monsoons so as to enjoy a rich variety of weather, greenery and with seasonal waterfalls coming to life.
Along with Arpit and his wife Sandhya, I had joined this trip with the Shikhar Ved group last night and had arrived here early in the morning. The entire bus journey had been filled with some dangerously sharp turns on the mountain road, games of antakshari and a lot of solo-singing. Even after we had reached and were actually willing to catch a few hours of sleep in the bus before the trek began, the singing continued and jingles of popular TV ads became part of the fun as well. (Later in the day, Dhiraj, was to take proud credit of the singing!)
Jagdish, aka Jaggu bhai, was our trek guide and he started off with a quick round of introductions of the 35 members in the team and basic guidelines for the course of the trek. There were people who had been on over 25 treks and there were ones who were here on their first one. Soon after introducing myself as an employee of a media house, I wondered probably it's time to change the introduction soon to being a travel blogger. May be that piques more curiosity and interest!
Within the few minutes that the introduction happened, magical white clouds engulfed the entire area and the fog made it impossible to see beyond a few metres.
We started the trek, passing over a small dammed waterfall. A few group pictures and selfies later, we were headed into the jungle.
|Introductions and Guidelines, Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Walking over a dammed fall, Andharban Trek begins|
|Be careful where you put your feet, Andharban Trek begins|
|Walking into the clouds, Andharban Trek|
We walked through grasslands and hillocks in the initial few hundred metres before arriving close to the valley and walking on the hill side. We could see the mountain on our right, with streams of water flowing every now and then. There was absolutely nothing visible on the other side.
'How and when do you know what is going to be part of your post while on a trip?' asked Payal, a fellow trekker, when she got to know about my blog.
'I don't really know. It just happens. May be you should give my blog a read sometime,’ I said and smiled.
She said she definitely would. If I could, I would probably have made her read one of my trek travelogues right there.
'What's your name?' I asked and I am sure she didn't realise this conversation was going to be part of this post.
|The mountain on one side, white void on the other. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Walking into the jungle, Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Clouds kept playing hide-n-seek with the mountains. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
At some point over the first two hours, when we had covered just 2-2.5 of the 13 kms of the trek, the fog lifted to leave us with a spellbinding view of the ghat below and the innumerable small and large waterfalls flowing from the hills on all sides. I, for once, never imagined something like this could be spotted near Mumbai!
The sun kept greeting us a few times here and there. Before the heat could have an effect, the clouds made their way back into the valley shielding the mighty light. We kept walking and playing at the waterfalls on the way. Arpit already seemed to be doing his 'guidance' duty, although for a change, he was here with a different group as just another trekker.
|Minute creatures walking through nature. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Fun moments. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|A little carelessness and you slip and fall. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Selfie to banta hai. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|For epic views like these. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
Andharban literally means 'dark forest'. A couple of more kilometres later, while we were walking through the central part of the trek, under the most dense forest cover, it started raining heavily. It wasn't pitch black dark, but dense enough to shield most of the rainfall. In a few seconds though, all the wind cheaters and umbrellas were out and there was water flowing on the forest path; we moved dipping our feet into the flowing water, enjoying the rains, with caution for all the algae and slippery rocks.
There were a lot of falls. Not waterfalls. But 'slip and fall's. Two friends in the group Aashi and Madhvi did keep a count of the innumerable falls they had throughout the day, and we are certain it touched the double digits.
Emerging out of the dense forest we were out in a huge grassland. The rain had stopped and Jagdish instructed us to have our lunch before proceeding for the next half of the trip. It was past noon. There was still a long way to go, but no one seemed to be complaining. The amazing and varied views of the valley had everyone enchanted.
There was a 57 year old lady and proud trekker in our group, Jahnavi, who was probably the most enthusiastic and adventure-ready in the group. More than physical strength, one needs to be mentally prepared to go on treks and here she was proving it. The easiest of treks can seem a highly enduring task for the unprepared. A small stream on the way that needs to be crossed can become a daunting task if thought of that way while it can seem like cakewalk for someone else.
|And the dark-forest part begins. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Emerging out of the heavy rainforest into open fields. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Lunch time. The sun is blazing high. Not for long. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
Soon we were back on our way to the finish point. A smooth and easy walk through a long stretch of paddy fields and green grasslands, with occasional spotting of crabs, prepared us for what was to come in the last part of the trek.
'Have you come alone for the trek?' Debika, another fellow trekker, asked me.
'Not exactly. But I wouldn't mind coming alone if the destination has enticed me enough or if I am certain I want to go somewhere,' I said and smiled.
These treks do connect us with a lot of new people, but if their spoken language isn't something you understand, it can get a little difficult and time consuming to get along. And if one is travelling alone, it can take a while to befriend new people. I wish I could have interacted with everyone on the trek, and got to know their stories.
Around 2 pm, we arrived at a lonely mountain village with just a few huts and cattle (and solar panels attached on top). How do these people survive here, so far away from civilisation? I wondered looking at the few villagers who seemed to be enjoying the company of 'foreigners from Pune and Mumbai' in their home.
Jagdish informed us that the last two hours of the trek remained and it was a steep descend from here over rocks. We then realised this was the most challenging part of the whole trek and utmost caution needed to be exercised. Within a few minutes I was wishing for this stretch to end soon.
|Walking through vast stretches of grasslands. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|Slippery rocks constitute largely of the last two hours of the trek. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|One for apna group. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
We were soon greeted with our first view of the Bhira Dam and having the final destination in sight felt amazing at that moment. We continued the descend.
A few minutes later, I could hear the sound of flowing water. It was a sign of a waterfall or stream nearby. A foreshadowing of what was to come. We crossed the stream easily and were finally on the final stretch to the dam. I had read somewhere that this stream had waist deep water couple of weeks ago, and the trekkers had a difficult time crossing it considering the fast flow. Right now it wasn't even knee deep, and I could only imagine the scene I had read about.
In a few minutes we were out on level ground. Walking on concrete road felt blissful. We walked over the Bhira Dam, one slow step at a time, our legs ready to give way any moment. It was past 5 pm and we had completed the 13 km trek in about 8 hours with our innumerable fun stops, photo-ops, Everest and several other 'lets-do-this' plans, discussions about my name and work, and a lot more. Endurance persisted and no one had given up. The joy and relief of completion was evident on each tired but smiling face.
|First glimpse of Bhira Dam, the final destination. Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
|The mountains we conquered. Andharban Trek, Bhira Dam, Maharashtra|
|One for the group! Andharban Trek, Maharashtra|
We got on the bus and were on our way back after a short tea and snacks pit stop. I had been disconnected from social media and phone connectivity throughout the day, out of a sheer will to stay away from them (and also because my Airtel 4G SIM does not work in any of the treks I have been to!). A quick call home calmed my mom who had been trying to reach me since early morning.
The Sunday evening traffic on the Mumbai-Pune expressway and while entering Mumbai could have delayed our arrival by hours, but surprisingly there was no traffic and we reached Dadar by 9.30 PM. The entire two-hour journey was filled with singing and drumming with the Latas, Ashas and of course Arpit and Dhiraj with everyone else humming (and making some noise with) the best of tunes. I was reminded of my college trip to Jaisalmer a few years ago. And like all good things, this trip had also come to an end with loads of memories to take home. With eyes set on planning the next one, perhaps?
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