Blog Content to begin from here...
Bag feeling extra heavy - realized only later it was because of 4 litres of water and 3 litres of gatorade, and half a dozen cans of corn and beans.
Note to self - do NOT shop before trek. And do NOT pack when optimistic and hungry.
C, Rc, G, R are duly collected, all in various stages of sleep-deprived collapse.
Reach Neral, get out, stretch, pig out at platform canteen while the waiter goes mad. Walk out to tumtum stand, pile into 3 tumtums, push off. Turn back 5 km later, when Asif realizes he's left his phone behind.
When we get back to the stand, we find lying on the ground a 30-GB, U2 collector's edition iPod. S had apparently dropped it and not even realized it was gone...
Debate pocketing it, but honesty - and group surveillance - wins out. Found only one U2 number on it, though... apparently they had been elbowed out by Vengaboyz.
Start the climb up. Fairly pleasant initially... nice shady trees, not too steep. Ok, slightly steep. Steeper. Whoa!
End up going vertically up cracks in the rock after a while. Most fun - watching the first-time climbers look up at what they're going to be doing. Sorry, second-most fun. Most fun is actually watching first-time climbers reach halfway up, and make the mistake of looking down.
Pass a shallow natural cave, the 3 ladders of Sidhi Ghat - that's what's it's named after, by the way - 'Ladder Mountain' - 3 extremely rickety, wobbly, shaky, broken-down aluminium ladders on the mountain, anchored with small sapling trunks. These shake, tremble, groan, move, slip, and behave more like a bronco in a rodeo than unmoving vegetation.
Some more slightly shady, extremely steep climbs, then we rest... and the next 45 mins is going across the rock in full blazing sunshine. Can't stop, we'll just fry... you got to keep moving.
Then, like the proverbial garden of paradise, go from steep uphill sunny hot climbing to cool shady strolling through the forest on the plateau. Ahhh.
Reach the top, gulp down nimbu paani while Asif, D and N fix up the rooms. I make friends with a local dog, an extremely healthy and well-fed-looking white mongrel, who comes and affectionately rubs against you. And when you're tired, exhausted, and carrying a 15-kilo bag, legs trembling, the last thing you want is a portly canine shoving against the back of your knees. He looked quite hurt - emotionally - when I collapsed on top of him.
C is by now frankly obsessed with the dream of Bhakhri chicken. We try to convince him to have more realistic dreams - like a cup of tea, which can be fulfilled - but he's resolved. Chicken or Bust. Naturally, it's bust.
Spend a while resting in the evening at the edge of the plateau, watching the sun go down. Looking down at where we had started from, barely visible in the distance. Immense sense of achievement, and a little vertigo.
Last thing before dinner - head off into the sanctuary in the dark, off the path, through the bush until we reach a small embankment over the river. There we all lie down, staring up into the night sky, stars blazing like the heavenly highway we never see in the cities, drowned under the orange soup of halogens, billboards, and headlights.
C gets into fight with old lady over a bucket of hot water, which he desperately wants and she refuses to give him without proper administrative procedure being followed. He yells, she shrieks, dog howls... better than any alarm we could have asked for.
We head off, enjoying the icy mist, more refreshing than any shower after the heat of the day. Walked through the Bhimashankar plateau, past an ashram of sadhus in traditional clothing - or lack of it - in dead silence. They're generally okay, but it's better not to disturb them. And, of course, you have to take your shoes off while passing through. There's also a temple of Anjana, Hauman's mother, here.
Standing on the edge of the cliff, watching the cloud pour upwards in a gigantic, ghostly reverse waterfall... screws your entire sense of perspective. First, it's so big. And completely silent. And it looks solid enough to sweep you off into the sky, so you keep leaning into it... and then find you're walking, tilted, along the edge of the cliff, drifting closer and closer...
More pleasant walking around, the peace broken briefly when R tries to pet a buffalo calf and gets a scorcher of a dirty look from its' mother. Head back, have more hot chai and omelette at the dhaba while a hungry cow - Who R named Jassi - stared beseechingly at us from the entrance, giving occasional nudges with her nose.
After breakfast, we go down to the main Bhimashankar temple, an imposing edifice of black rock towering over it's surrounding village, a short way down the path. And from there, it's another walk deep into the sanctuary's forest. Bhimashankar has several protected forests, and houses several species of animals rarely found in more populated areas of Maharashtra - the Shekhru, or giant Indian squirrel, is the foremost example. We saw lots of Shekhru nests, but sadly no Shekhrus. They'd probably gone to Lonavla for the weekend, like most of Maharashtra.
The end of the walk was Gupt-Bhimashankar, or Hidden Bhimashankar - a natural formation like a lingam. There's a lso a small shallow pool of water and a tiny trickle that must be one major waterfall and rock pool in the monsoons. Accompanied by the dogs again, who are definitely the most chipku of all dogs I've seen till date. Do a little rock climbing at the falls, and then head back to the main village from where we grab an ST bus for the next major population center.
To know more on ST bus travel and the experiences it offers, read Amit's blog.
Eat like hogs, change into jeeps, and head back to Bombay.