I had known for a long time now that the Sahyadri mountain ranges are the trekking mecca of this part of the country. Not too high or difficult, it doesn’t need specialized equipment unlike the Himalayan treks. Pune being in the core of this mountain range, has numerous trekking destinations which make enjoyable hikes. I was always interested in going for these one or two day hikes in and around Pune. Then summer came with its killing forty plus temperatures and dry hot wind and roasted away all my plans. Pre-monsoon showers that lasted Thursday and Friday changed all that.
As we sat in my cubicle over a coffee-break , Sonali and I decided that since the weather is now behaving, we can try a trek. What better place to start other than the super-famous Sinhgad? We made enquiries about how to get there and the unanimous answer was “Go on a two-wheeler”. That option being impossible, we chose the other not-so-exciting-or-romantic option of the State Transport Bus. There is a motorable road that takes you directly upto the Fort, just 400 mtrs short of Pune Darwaza or the city-side entrance to the fort. “Don’t try the trek, it is too dangerous, go by car to the fort entrance and enjoy”, many such suggestions came by. Suddenly, everyone was the fort and Sinhgad and trekking expert. We listened to everything patiently and then used the www to make our decision. No, we were trekking. All the way up.
The bus ride was beautiful. The NDA and the huge Khadakwasla lake comes enroute and we began clicking. The last few kilometers had pathetic roads which shook us up out of our laziness and almost was a mini-warm-up. We could not see the fort from below. We captured what we then thought were tall and vertical cliff-like mountains, only it later did turn out to be the fort. The bus stopped at the last stop of Atkarwadi and a small, narrow road started the trek. It was a brown, arid landscape just recovering from the intense heat, not green and cloudy as everyone else told us it would become in monsoons. We were leaving Pune before proper monsoon set in. This was infact the last weekend we had to ourselves. The morning was cool and breezy and a few trekkers were already returning from their hikes at 8:30 am, just as we were about to start!
At first the route seemed pretty easy. First was small rocks set in a pattern making it appear like a stone road. The walk intensified and so did the slope. After nearly one kilometer, the path disappeared and it was just wilderness. There were a couple of people walking ahead of us and they traced a path. As I stood there waiting for Sonali to catch her breath, I could slowly make out the way we’ll trek all the way up. It was vertical rocks at some places, other times it was a meandering path.
Climbing was always easier than coming down. We continued our walk. The sun brightened our path and the hills surrounding us slowly appeared from under the early morning fog. In the distance we could see the Khadakvasla lake and the expanse. The village of Atkarwadi became smaller and smaller and we reached the top of the first mountain. For the first time, I realized where my gymming and running had helped me. I could walk up easily, no tiredness, to leg-aches, my breath for normal and I needed no breaks. But stop I did coz Sonali couldnt take the walk as well as I could.The trek isn’t easy for someone who doesn’t exercise regularly. My own stamina surprised me. I scampered up rocks and my mind was able to formulate patterns to climb spotting crevices for footholds. We climbed on all-fours, ran up other parts and sometimes had to stop to think and decide where to place the foot next. At almost half-way up the next mountain, I could see tiny human figures at the top and strained my eyes to get a glimpse of the fort. I did! It was so beautifully hidden, that the broken ramparts gelled in perfectly with the rocks and was almost invisible unless you look up intently. We could see the fort walls and the Pune darwaza. We now knew our destination. I felt a surge of energy come again as the excitement grew.
The last mountain or the mountain where the fort stood was the toughest to climb. Vertical rock-faces, pathways of loose stones and precarious ravines laced the route. There was a part of the climb which was almost a 90 degree upward walk and we needed to climb a tree and then jump on the other side to climb out of the steep ravine. A loose rock from the people walking upwards hit me on my ankle. That was the only injury during the upward trek. Some parts of the climb were so bad that the person trekking in front actually stopped by to check if we could climb up and if we needed any help. We didn’t. Sonali was now almost cursing the route and I kept encouraging her, luring her with the apparent short distance to the fort walls. Finally, we did it! It took us a good two hours with numerous breaks. Good time for the first time, I’d say!
The fort is now in ruins. We entered via the Pune darwaza which had hawkers lined up selling lemon water, dahi, cucumbers, Taak (chaach) and other refreshing drinks. Stone steps lead up all the way into the fort. The half-standing doorways give the place a mystic touch. There are many huts inside the fort area and stone walkways leading to the various places. First we saw the Kalyan darwaza (another entrance to the fort). The sites did tell us that there are ways to start trekking from other base villages to reach Kalyan darwaza but this route is even more dangerous and not frequented by many. We traced the path from the top and boy! it did seem tough. Then we continued walking to the other ruins and lookouts located at the ends of the fort. We walked along the fort walls, climbed broken stone steps, looked through the chutes used to pour hot-oil on the invaders and basked in the cool wind. It was fierce and blew away our caps and sunglasses regularly. The sweat evaporated in the cool breeze making it even better. The rustling of the tall grass and the sound of the wind among the trees was enchanting. It wasn’t very crowded being a Saturday. Our stomachs growled with hunger.
The food was by far the best part of the trip. The small huts provided authentic Maharashtrian village-fare in the typical style. We sat on straw-mats under the shade of a tree and ordered our lunch. We weren’t eating heavy since our trek downwards beckoned us. We ate hot Bhakris ( jowar rotis), Jhunka ( besan sabji), Thecha ( hot chutney) and I gorged on the fresh matka dahis. We took off our shoes and rested. At 1:30 we began our descent.
The route downward was tougher for the first 45 minutes. There were places were almost sat and walked down on all fours, sitting and scraping through huge boulders. Loose gravel made the walk even more slippery and I fell in the first 10 minutes of our trek. No damage done but further caution was exercised and we walked even more slowly. The rocks were now very hot in the heat and it wasn’t easy to sit or scrape or even hold on to them. One stretch was indeed very bad and scary and it was only later we realized that there was an easier but longer route to descend. The trek downwards after that was faster and we took just one break from the sun. It required immense concentration and we hardly spoke to each other. All the focus was on where to place the next step and choose among the alternatives which route was easier. We reached the Atkarwadi bus stop at 3:00 pm.
We ordered lemon juice at a small shack and washed our faces with cool water. Our hands were dirty from the falling and the scraping and there were salt patches on my clothes where sweat had evaporated. We weren’t hungry just red and black from the trek. Only tomorrow would we know how many shades of skin-colour we had changed. The tan was impressive. There were lines from where the sleeve of the shirt ended and the watch outline was engraved on the arms. We waited for the bus to arrive. It came at 4.
We got off the bus at Shaniwarwada, the last stop, 25kms away from Atkarwadi into the city. An auto-ride later to F.C Road and we were digging into food at Vaishali, perhaps the dirtiest and reddest customers they had at that time. By 6:45 we waited for another bus to take us home. Another 45 minutes and a kilometer walk later, we crashed on the sofas, took off our shoes and cooled off under the fan.
Easily, the most thrilling and adventurous days I’ve had in recent times. This became my second-favourite trek till now. The first and the best one was the walk to Kedarnath in the Himalayas. But this was a different experience. Not something I’m going to forget in a long-long time.