Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Night trek to Siddhagad

"I have been off the trekking circuit !!!!" "It's been ages buddy since we have seen you " ..... Those were the reactions when I was seen as part of the group to Siddhagad trek. Well !!! It is true to some extent that I have been doing less treks than I used to but still the passion and urge to be in laps of Sahyadris is and will always be there. There is some allure about these mountains that cannot be explained in words but can only be experienced while trekking and this is what attracts me to them.

End of March and the dreaded summer is all set to engulf Sahyadris for next few months making it difficult to do treks during day time so here I was on night trek to Siddhagad. I had missed one of the range treks from Siddhagad to Padargad in October so it was my second attempt to be here. Meeting place for the trek was Kalyan station so my trek started 3 hrs earlier than actual meeting time when I left my house at Borivali to catch local to Dadar and then another one to Kalyan. Travelling in local trains especially from Dadar is no mean feat and probably worth more than a trekking experience. It was Saturday evening and it was more or less a smooth journey till Kalyan. We were to catch a local ST bus from Kalyan at 10.30 pm but as normally happens, some of the group members were late and we decided to catch the last bus to Murbad at 11.00 pm.

We were group of 24 with lot of new faces in the group. May be I need to become more regular on trek circuit !! Our ST was packed as soon as it arrived at Kalyan depot with our group and one more group heading towards Gorakhgad. We reached Murbad around 12.15 only to find from locals that due to bad road conditions the ST buses bound for Milhe village stops 4 kms away. So our actual trek started from the place where our ST bus dropped us. It was walk of around 45 minutes to Uchale village which was going to be base village for the trek. One can also go from Narivali village which is just 10 minutes away from Uchale.

A brief introductions and we were walking inside the Bhimashankar wild life sanctuary. It was surprisingly pleasant climate. We lost our way at the start of the trek and had to back trek and wait till our leaders went ahead to find the correct route. Initial route passed through some fields and forest area before we entered a small village. It was nice to see that all the houses in the village had electricity but lights were kept on in all the houses even though the entire village was asleep, could be because these houses had open doors and windows. We were welcomed by village dogs which eventually woke some villagers who guided us on right path on our way to the top.

It was around 1.30 am when we had started our trek, our aim was to reach Siddhagad machi by 5.00 am, rest for couple of hours and then do the onward journey to the top and be back for lunch at Siddhagad machi by 12.00 pm. The climb through the forest was gradual ascend and we were following the path which would would be gushing stream in rains made by waterfall from the mountains, As entire route was laden with rocks and stones of all sizes with soft mud at some places indicating the water in the rains would have got accumulated at this point bringing soft soil of the forest along with it. Bhimashankar region is famous for its rains and this trek would be an experience to try during the rainy season.

After a climb of around 2 hrs we came across a plateau which housed a lonely hut. It was best place for rest and most of the first timers wanted to rest here till wee hours but then it was decided to at least reach till machi before taking couple of hrs of rest.It was around 4.30 am when we reached a rock plateau and it was virtually a dead end. With dense forest around and no route to the top in sight, We decided to spend time here till first rays of sun.

As we lied down to rest our back, we were in for some spectacular display of stars, with clear sky and Amavasya night so no moon light and zero pollution. It was dazzling display of glittering stars I had ever seen. Due to fatigue from climbing, within no time, I was off to sleep and so were many of group members.

When we woke up, It was around 6.15 am. By that time our leader Aniket and Puneet had searched for correct path to the top. From this rock plateau one has to take a small traverse and then take a path to top, there is clear path with markers on the rocks from here.

Again from here it was a climb of 1 hour and 30 minutes. It was here we got first glimpse of Siddhagad mountains and neighboring hills.

We reached fortified entrance for Siddhagad machi village around 7.45 am. It was then a gradual walk of some 10 minutes before we could see a small hamlet of couple of houses.

Interesting to find a village at such a height and no motorable road to the top, these villagers would have to travel almost 2 -3 hrs one way to get basic things. On inquiring with our host at the village later, We found that they do one trip down and up to get household things every 15 days !!!

From the machi, one gets a clear view of neighboring Dumdumia hills which one has to criss-cross on the way to Bhimashankar. We could also see Gorakhgad top which has temple on it.

Siddhagad fort stood tall over the machi and first rays of sun turned the fort shine brightly. It was still early morning but the heat was too intense. We settled in the verandah of village house which was to be our resting place for the day.

Siddhagad fort top climb from machi is steep and with intense heat and overnight climb exhausting most of group members. Few decided to go up to the fort top while others including me decided to rest at the village. On the way to the top of Siddhagad, there is small cave of Sadhu baba where one can take some rest and it gives spectacular view of Gorakhgad and neighboring mountains. The top of the fort does not have any fortified structure but an entrance and small temple.

Our group decided to explore the village while our lunch was being cooked. The girls gang decided to get first hand experience of pulling water from village well and carrying it in metal matkas.

By the time we reached back to our host house, Our lunch of waran, bhath and spicy sabji was ready. It was again best lunch I had ever tasted.

I have always noticed that the simple food cooked by villagers seems to always have a unique taste, may be because its cooked with lot of warmth in the heart by village host and also because after a long and tiring climb in the forest and mountains we are dead hungry and what is served taste far more as hunger takes control. !!!  By the time we finished our lunch, Our rest of the group had come back from top. On hearing their experience of reaching the top, I felt it was wise decision of not making it to the top in blistering summer heat.

We started our return journey around 12.30 pm, initial descend till the plateau with lonely hut was smooth and fast. We reached within one hour of our descend and decided to wait for rest of the gang to join us, only to realize that 4 of our group members had not taken the correct path from the machi entrance and had gone straight on the way to Bhimashankar instead of climbing down. But luckily on the entire trek there is mobile network available and we were able to guide our lost friends to correct route.

From the lonely hut plateau to the base village it was descend in open with completely no shade and with blistering summer heat, It resulted in couple of group members suffering from dehydration. But luckily again villagers from the nearby village came to rescue who not only provided us with space to settle in their verandah, but also treated us with water, butter milk and chai. Not a single penny was charged from us and we could only thank them from the heart. It was all fine in the end and everyone was safe with no casualty in the group. Our leader Aniket arranged for two jeeps to pick us up from the entrance of Bhimashankar WLS which saved us another 45 minutes walk and ST bus travel to Kalyan.

Trek experience are always wonderful and even trek to Siddhagad was no exception, Barring our return journey in summer heat which took toll on some of our group members but thanks to those villagers for their kind hospitality. I don't regret to have not climbed up to the top of the fort which will be one more reason to trek the same mountains again in some other season.But it's a trek worth doing in winters and hopefully will come again to experience a new face of mountains in different season.

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