This is a travelogue on my first ever trek. Like all first attempts in life, this too was a remarkable experience. We sensed all emotions during this journey including excitement, self-doubt, fear, a sense of foolishness and elation. The destination was Bhimashanker the popular Jyotirling near Pune and the date was the millennium eve Dec 31’1999.
It was the last week of December in 1999 and half the world was drowned in the Y2K paranoia. The other half was busy preparing for a sensational New Year celebration to welcome the new millennium. My friends and I did not fall into either camp. We just wanted to have a quiet holiday away from the din of the usual New Year celebrations of cities. One of our friends had been brought up with a staple diet of Sahyadri treks and he suggested why we all don’t try a trek. The idea was novel as most of us had never trekked before.
Next task was to choose the destination. I came across a trekking guide for Sahyadris written by Harish Kapadia at a railway station. So I purchased that and over the next weekend, we all went through the book to decide on the peak we wanted to climb. There were more than 300 destinations to choose from and we decided to go to Bhimashanker. There was no particular reason behind this choice, it was just that the name sounded menacing and fit for our first trek!
Work was hectic during the last week of December and we had no time to properly plan for the trek. We had no idea on how long the trek will take, the terrain and what to carry. By the time we had finished our work for the weekend, it was already 31st afternoon. We all assembled at Dadar Station and took the train to Karjat at 1 pm.
We reached Karjat by 3pm. After enquiring at the station we found out that a bus is the best option to reach Khandas the base camp. The rickety State Transport bus ride lasted 45 minutes but seemed like eternity. Once we stepped down from the bus we were already tired and the trek looked a daunting task!
An enterprising village elder saw our caps and other amateur gear and quickly offered his services to guide us to the top. The only issue was he spoke a village rendition of Marathi and did not understand most of the Hindi we are communicating in. I tried to ask him how much time it will take for first timers like us so we can plan to reach the top before dark. He mumbled something and I assumed he said we can make it on time. It was 4pm in evening and we commenced our first trek behind the Guide.
The sense of excitement was overwhelming and drowned our inner doubts on whether we will be able to make it. The scenery was picturesque with lots of greenery and the majestic mountains as the backdrop. Suddenly the straight walk ended and we were climbing up rapidly. After climbing for half an hour, the guide stopped and asked us if we want to use the Ganesh Temple route or through the Ladder. We were told that the Ladder route is much faster. Sensing a catch I asked how tough it would be and if there was any danger for first timers. I don’t know how much of what I asked was understood, but the guide just said something like no fear and looked like he had already made the decision. So we took the path that took us on the ladder route.
The terrain kept changing from plains, to plateau and then steep climb. First we took snaps at every nook and corner with innovative poses. But as the climb increased, we could hear our breathing and the camera took a back seat.
Soon we spotted first of the three ladders that have been placed by good Samaritans to help cross over the boulders. The first ladder crossing is still etched in my memory despite having done close to 50 treks over the last 10 years. We all held our breadth and crossed the ladder one at a time while our guide placed his lathi at the edge to widen the support base. It was reassuring to note that any slip will take us all the way down to the base of the mountain! The other challenge was not to put too much weight on the narrow stretch of rock which was being supported by the Lathi. With lady luck on our side, we all made it safely across all 3 ladders albeit with faster heart beats.
After huffing and puffing for 3 hours we reached a plateau where we could see several logs stacked. It had suddenly become dark. The time was 7pm and we had no idea where we were. The guide who seemed least concerned announced that we are at Padarwadi village and that’s the end of the days climb. So we asked how far we were from the top and he said we would need another couple of hours! We panicked and asked him how we all plan to spend the night in this jungle. The guide seemed to have made advance bookings with his wood cutter friend and we were shown our quarters. The hut was the abode of a wood cutter and his family of 6 people, 2 dogs, few fowls and a parrot.
It was a good shock and for the first few minutes no one said anything. It soon dawned upon us that we were at the mercy of our Guide and had to stick to his plan. The night sky looked magnificent and nothing like what we have ever seen before. Away from all the pollution, we could actually spot more than 2000 stars.
The lady of the house was very gracious and we were served rotis made of rice and dal. While the cuisine was simple, the taste was awesome. Post dinner we sat outside the hut gazing at the stars. We were wondering if ATMs will work the next day after Y2K. In our hurry, we didn’t even withdraw money to last us a week, while some meticulous planners had actually withdrawn their entire savings! Time literally stood still and the minutes seemed to take hours to pass by.
As we were planning to lie down in the verandah, our host asked us to come over inside the hut. Despite our protests, he insisted we share the room with all the rest of the family and pets. Then he removed a giant plank and with the help of 2 more people he put it across the wooden door. It seemed bears are on the prowl at night and they can smell food inside the hut and come knocking. We saw some scratch marks on the door and were glad our host was gracious enough to let us in.
We hit the sack as early as 930pm to take a well-deserved rest after the first trek of our lives.
I felt a wet tongue on my feet and woke up with a start to discover the wood cutter’s dog besides me. On impulse I checked the time and lo and behold it was 2 minutes to 0000 hrs! I shook my friends up and we all ran out of the hut to experience the arrival of the new millennium. We spotted some shooting stars and kept looking for any other omen from the new millennium, till few minutes past 12. Then we went back to the hut to the amusement of the local family. They couldn’t understand what the ruckus was all about! My friend rued not withdrawing his savings from the ATM and was convinced no ATMs will work due the Y2K bug in the coming weeks.
We woke up to the year 2000 at 6am courtesy the rooster of Padarwadi. The day looked splendid and we started on the remainder of our journey. After an hour’s walk we reached a scenic jungle. It was refreshing to hear the chirping of scores of birds and the grunts of a few monkeys as well. It looked like a great picnic spot. In fact Bhimashankar is also a small wildlife sanctuary and is home to Indian Giant Squirrel, Leopard, Sambar, Barking Deer, Wild Pig, Hanuman Langur and Rhesus Macaque.
After a short break here, we resumed our trek toward Bhimashanker Temple.
After a couple of hours, we reached our summit, the famed Bhimashanker. It was a sense of elation and achievement difficult to put in words.
After washing up and refreshments, we proceeded to the Temple. Bhimashanker is one of the 12 Jyotirling temples of India. The shrine dates back to 13th century and is supposed to have got erected over a Swayambhu or self-emanated Lingam. The temple is built in Nagara style of architecture. In the 18th century the Sabha Mandap was built by Nana Phadnavis. Legend has it that it is in this place that Lord Shiva took the form of Bhima and slayed the demon Tripurasura. The lord’s sweat is supposed to originate the Bhima river which flows south east and merges with the Krishna river near Raichur. The temple houses the Shiv Linga and a deity of Goddess Kamalaja who is an incarnation of Parvati and had helped Shiv in his battle against Tripurasura. There is also a small shrine dedicated to Shanesvara.
An interesting object here is a roman style Bell placed at the entrance which was gifted by Chimaji Appa, brother of Baji Rao Peshwa. He had donated the Bell after winning against the Portuguese at Vasai Fort.
The origin of Bhima River can be seen just behind the Bhimashankar temple.
The most picturesque spot of Bhimashanker is half an hour of trek away at Gupt Bhimashanker. You can see 5 stone carved Shivlings under a waterfall. The stream roars past the rocks and it’s a great place for a picnic lunch.
Bhimashanker is 127 Kms from Pune and easily accessible for via state transport bus network, that is if you don’t want to trek up!
The return journey took 3.5 hours and was less eventful. After reaching Padarwadi we took the Ganesh Temple route as the Ladders are a little riskier on way down. A Ganesh temple is located on this route closer to the base and we took a 15 minute break there, before proceeding to Khandas and back to the chaos of Mumbai.
To our pleasant surprise ATMs were working and Y2K bug turned out to be a hoax.
For my travelogue on trekking upto Everest Base Camp, visit here.