Swades - Episode III

Trekking
I had decided to get away from the city sometime during the trip. So in between the ceremonies and pig-out fest I had this trek planned. So come what may we (my brother, Javed and I) were going for 3 day trek in Sahyadris. Nothing like the Sahyadris in rains, right? We planned this grand trek from Singhagad to Rajgadh and then onto Torna. After being dropped off at Swargate we waited for the bus; after waiting for about 20mins a six-seater stops by and offers to take us there for almost the same price, minus the wait. The six-seater is a great leveller - we shared it with a couple of sweeper women, students, teachers, labourers and farm folk. I was too see the amount of houses and apartments on Singhagad road. The city now extends all the way to Khadakwasla.

Pune has its fair share of trekking enthusiasts and despite it being the 15th of August there were not too many people on Singhagad. On Sundays it is as crowded as a village fair. Climbing is among the few aerobic activities that has something immediate to offer at the end of it - the view. Wonder why views from the top are always so exhilarating. Everywhere I looked I saw green and it always makes me really happy. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the human eye is capable of discerning more shades of green than any other color (since green is in bang in the middle of the visible spectrum). After reaching the top we had the mandatory dahi-tak and a rustic breakfast. Due to it proximity to Pune, Singhagad is perhaps one of the most 'gentrified' of all the forts in Maharashtra. It is easily accessible by road (no need to climb), lots of food and water and tons of 'hotels'. But thankfully these pleasures are still quite rustic. The bhajis and wadas are fried on a primus stove and you are served water that is stored in brass handis. Often you see the wood-smoke mingling with the fog.

Currently the amount of commercialization on the Sahyadris is none or minimal. Even famous forts like Torna have no food or potable water at the top. Most of the people who live in this region are shepherds or small farmers. A thought crosses my mind - If better roads and paths are built, better equipped hotels and facilities these lovely mountains would become more tourist friendly. It may not be long before some politician seizes the idea of creating a chain of hotels on the forts in the region. Perhaps a glossy brochure advertising - 'The Sahyadri Monsoon Trail'. It will improve definitely improve the economy of this place. Seriously it won't take that much.
Already there are website advertising their services (like these) to the world at large. I wonder if in a few years this chap below is selling selling mugs, t-shirts saying 'Singhagad Rocks!'. Is that what would I would like these mountains to become? By not realising the tourist potential of this place are these people being disserviced? I am not sure what the answers to these questions are. Manali and other places in North India have long been overrun and I don't want these beloved mountains become a place like that.
Thanks to the low commercialization there were no boards and signs to direct us towards Vinzhar. So we did as Harish Kapadia suggested in his fantastic book (Trek the Sahyadris) and managed to get hold of some local to guide us to the correct ridge. Walking on the ridge in some place was like walking on the razor's edge. In our excitement or ignorance we managed to take a wrong fork and landed on wrong side of the mountain and found ourselves going down to a little hamlet. Lost, urban folk with huge backpacks are always are source of great amusement for the locals. This would be story of our entire trip - Lost and Found. I, personally was not really hung up on finding or losing the way. For a change I didn't not want to get to some place, just wanted to enjoy the ride. So we climbed back up on the right ride now having wasted a good 2 hours on the wrong path.
Even in the wilderness in India you are not alone and you cannot travel for long without bumping into a shepherd or two. We also heard the beautiful melody of a shepherd playing the flute and I assumed that such stuff only happens in books. Then there are downsides too - on one occasion we managed to climb into an empty village whose ground was a foot deep with cowdung. We truly were in communion with nature.
We had walked almost continuously for 8-9 hours and now the wet socks were having their effect. Only when you sit down do you realise how tired your feet are and all you want to do at that moment is get dry, get warm and sleep. We were hungry but too tired to eat. We all slept like babies and snoring was never an issue. It poured like crazy in the night and we were really proud of our skills in pitching the tent right and not a single drop of water made its way inside. The heavy tent with all that water got even heavier. As we trudged along Javed's hip started hurting and it become worse.
We finally made it to Vinzhar but not without another test. The rain had turned the road into the worst mud bog I have ever seen. At more than one point I was knee-deep in mud and unable to move with this heavy backpack and my shoes were acting like suction cups. When we reached Vinzhar we looked like as if we all had had a nice mud-bath. We were the local spectacle again as we washed ourselves at the village handpump. As we asked for directions to the bus-stop a local looked at us and said, KantaLAat?' or 'Bored!'. I could not but laugh at his cynical laconic remark. City-slickers like to spend their time and money to tramp along the mountains for fun but soon they tire of it and then want the next bus home.
Javed's hip was really bad now and I did want the blood of my friend on my hands so we decided to return home a day earlier. I loved being back in the mountains.

More images from the Trek

7 comments:

Siddharth Rege said...

Hirak,

Great Account of the trip. The other day, here is rural Indiana, I had the pleasure of running into Mahesh Chengalva, who turned out to be an old Bombayite with a great love for trekking. He has been in the US for almost 15 years now, but returns every year to India with one of the chief attractions being a trek in the Shayadris. He has shocked beyond belief to hear that after living in pune-bombay area for 20 years I had never really trekked in the sahyadri wilderness.
So when I started reading your account I felt a tremendous resolve to go on such a trek when I am next in the area. The accounts of flute-playing shepards, smart-alec villagers and dahi-tak and pictures of onion bhajji only fuelled my resolve further. But as I read on the accounts of the mud and dung began cutting into the resolve somewhat. Nonetheless, thanks for inspiring a lazy man with atleast the desire for trekking in his old backyard!

Ashutosh said...

Great description and some wonderful photos there! I would not like to see Sinhagad commercialized (as I speak, it already has been). We have too few rustic places around, and it should remain one. But therein always lies the paradox of people rushing to a place because it is not crowded and rustic, and finding everyone having come there precisely for the same reason! Maybe the govt can declare such places as camping sites as in the US, and for a small fee, allow only a few people to trek and camp in there, with restrictions of course.

Anonymous said...

Man you made my day! That particular vendor has been there for years.I have known him for some time. Waiting to get back in december.

Hirak said...

Do you know his name? Always nice to put a name to a face.

Sujay said...

Its weird that you would ask that, i have never bothered to ask his name. Had his limbu sarbat on each of my treks, since he sits right in front of where the trail ends on top. I will ask him this december though.

GuNs said...

Hey there...

good to read that post. I was searching for TREK THE SAHYADRIS and came across this.

Have you been to other forts? I went to Harishchandragad this weekend. Check the post on my blog and if you like any of the posts, do leave a comment.

-PeAcE
--WiTh
---GuNs

Hirak said...

Yup! I have been to a lot of forts. Often been to the same place multiple times.
Trekking to Rajmachi is also a fun trip. By far the most interesting was Makramgadh, a lesser known fort in the Mahabaleshwar region. It is a really tough climb and at many places the path is not clear.