This is the second part of Bhimashankar trek series. To read Ascent via Shidi Ghat, click here -> Part I.
Quick Recap: We had started off from Khandas at 0830 hrs and climbed up by the Shidi Ghat to reach Chahacha Aamba at 1145 hrs. After a quick brunch, we started the most exhausting part of the trek: The Mungi Ghat!
Ants are called Mungi in Marathi. There are several explanations behind the interesting nomenclature of this place but I ‘ll mention the two most believable of the lot-
- The zig zag trail over the steep terrain makes people climbing the plateau on a clear day look like Ants from the stall.
- The steep terrain takes the wind out of the fittest person’s sails and reduces the climbing pace so much that it’s (warning: exaggeration ahead) equivalent to an Ant’s speed!
The initial part was a gently inclined rocky trail through the dense forest which soon transformed into a narrow zigzag trail snaking through a carpet of stunted grass with an odd shrub here and there.
The climb is followed by a south to north traverse, which is one of the most enjoyable parts of the trek if the weather is right, which is what we got!
The trail occasionally transformed into a stream due to the numerous mini waterfalls intercepting the path.
With the south-bound winds carrying tiny droplets that pricked like needles, the visibility soon dropped to less than 20 metres as we moved into the clouds and at 1315 hrs, we entered the hallowed forests of Bhimashankar.
The Dark forest (Harry potter inspired name 😝) is so dense that raindrops trickle down the tree trunks instead of falling directly on the floor to form streams & puddles along the trail.
Even the precious little sunlight that seeps through the foliage takes on a green hue through the fog, changing shades with increasing distance.
The trail led us out of the forest and took a U-turn along the cliff edge. The valley below looked mesmerising with the vast expanse of fog filling the gaps between trees and not a man or man-made structure in sight. With some more distance to go, we couldn’t afford spending more time and had to carry on with our march to the temple.
Another hill comes into view after the U-turn and the trail morphs into a boulder climb with mid-sized rocks covering the trail until a left turn leads you back onto a mud trail. Abhi told us that the pond (& level ground) was barely 100 metres from this point which got us all pumped up and we literally ran over the muddy terrain to finally reach level ground. And then we got stumped.
A 5 feet high fence erected on a foot high concrete boundary, stood between us and the pond! Abhi looked just as perplexed. He didn’t remember seeing a fence or even the signs of one under construction, the last time he came here. I checked the map and the trail went through the point where now stood the fence!
We looked around the perimeter of the fence but all we could see was the famous whiteout of Bhimashankar. The rainfall and fog had reduced visibility to less than 15 feet and the water running through the red soil had washed off any signs of a trail.
It was close to 1400 hrs. We needed to make a decision and make it quick. We could either spend time looking around for a trail but that could take upwards of half an hour OR try and jump over the fence and hurtle straight ahead from there.
We decided to do the latter. Shardul volunteered to climb the fence first and check if there was a gate nearby. The part monkey-part human hybrid that he is, he was over on to the other side in a moment. He returned after a couple of minutes with a shake of the head. We looked at each other and we knew what had to be done. Off came the bags and shoes and we climbed over. I was the last person to climb the fence and just as I was preparing to jump over to the other side from the top of the fence, emerged 4 villagers from the bushes on the left.
Imagine the look on our faces, when they said the only way to the temple was from the bushes they had emerged from! We contemplated climbing back over the fence but then thought better off it. If there was an enclosure, surely there must be some way to exit it! And even if there wasn’t, the old trail went through it. So if there wasn’t an exit, we ‘ll climb over just like we had climbed in! 😀
With that I stopped being on the fence (for once 😝), and jumped over.
Walking along the left hand side of the enclosure, all we could see was the fence disappearing in the distance, raising our hopes of an exit only to find it turning sharply. After a couple of such false alarms, we finally found it! A 20 feet wide break in the fence was guarded by a horizontal pole (fatak). We jumped over it and found a narrow trail, most likely the one those men came by, split from the path and went left into the bushes. Making a mental note of the turn for our descent later in the day, we continued straight along the path, passing a huge parking lot before arriving at a tar road.
After climbing over 3400 feet in little under 6 hours, we were finally standing at the entrance of Bhimashankar Temple!
The temple lies approx 158 feet below the entrance, accessible by a series of long and wide steps. A number of shops selling everything from sweets, incense stick and even small restaurants line the staircase to temple. Literally running through the ultra-slow moving devotees, we reached the temple only to find a 3- fold queue of people waiting for their turn to get a darshan.
It was already 1430 hrs and from the pace of the queue’s movement, it didn’t seem likely that we would have got darshan inside an hour. Manish and Shardul went ahead and spoke to a volunteer there and he allowed us to pay our respects from the other side of temple.
NOTE: Photography inside the temple isn’t allowed.
After the darshan, we went to the Ganesh pond besides the temple which has an idol of Ganpati on one side and a Shivling on the other side with 5 odd steps in the middle to help one descend into the pond. The constant drizzle allowed me to take only a few shots of the pond while Mansi removed her shoes and entered the pond to bow before the lords.
We took a look at the start of the Gupt Bhimashankar trail besides the Ram mandir but with very little time on our hands, we had to forego the plans of attempting it.
Our tummies had started rumbling from all the exhaustion and the cold atmosphere (we could literally see vapours emanating from our bodies) wasn’t helping matters, so we picked up a few bottles of packaged water and proceeded to the entrance after disposing off the empty ones in a trash can kept near the staircase.
Odd that I mention a trivial thing like dumping empty bottles in a trash can? Disposing waste properly is of paramount importance. Even if you don’t care for the environment (which you absolutely should) and head to the hills only for the sights, ask yourself whether you would like to visit a trail full of discarded bottles? So, please do the needful. If this blog turns out even remotely helpful to you, do me a favour and don’t litter this beautiful place. Or any other place, for that matter. Trek safely, Keep Nature clean.
Anyways, back to the trek! The tar road on the right of the entrance is lined by restaurants on either side and takes one to the State Transport (ST) Bus stand, about 500 metres from the temple.
And before you get your hopes high, the restaurants are nothing but verandahs (a platform along the outside of a house) and stalls masquerading as restaurants. After looking around for quite some time, we finally settled for one of the relatively cleaner food stall called Hotel Rudra and plonked down for a hot meal of Misal Pav/Chapati.
By the time we started our descent at 1530 hrs, rain had picked up. The temps had dipped below 20 and the wind howling through the huge parking only added to the chill.
When you are trekking in the Sahyadris, improvisation is the name of the game and accordingly, we used everything from a bandana to cap/handkerchief/unused plastic bags to cover our ears and beat the chill. Thankfully, there was no jumping over the fences this time round as we turned right from the enclosure’s fatak onto the faint trail going through the bushes.
We had come prepared, wished even, for a heavy downpour. Now that our wish was being fulfilled, we had to pay the price for it in the form of aching knees and stinging quad muscles as the thin film of water running over the smooth rocks made the descent dicey. The positive side (possibly the only positive side 😝) of the steep descent was the fact that we covered ground quickly!
Passing the dark forest, we reached the horizontal rock patch, again slightly trickier than it was in the morning due to the water flowing over it.
Another bumpy descent over the Mungi ghat followed and we finally took a break after reaching the Chahacha Aamba at 1700 hrs.
Incidentally, the rain stopped as soon as we reach the stall and I took the opportunity to fish out the digicam to get a quick snap of the upper plateau.
Ganesh Ghat is a long circuitous route and for a fleeting second, the thought of descending by Shidi Ghat did cross my mind. But then none of us except Abhishek had been through the Ganesh route and it didn’t make sense to not experience it after coming so far. And thus we set off for the lengthier route, left of the Chahacha Aamba. On the other side of the bushes was not one, not two but THREE deserted stalls! Imagine the number of people using this route if four huts in such close proximity can pull off satisfactory business on a weekend!
Having the trail to ourselves is one of the perks of trekking on a weekday, the trade-off obviously being that you have to be prepared for every eventuality with no potential help nearby.
Boards hung on trees at regular intervals by Prashant Arts group of Kalyan, same as the ones in the dark forest above, serve as markers. There’s little chance of missing the route here as a single broad trail cuts through the forest. At 1745 hrs, we crossed the waterfall from where the trail turns 90-degree to the west.
We were now walking parallel to Padargad, with a dense forest separating the base of the fort from the trail.
The trail to Padargad originates from a well, some 300 m from the waterfall and marked by a small white board hung near the well.
The Bhimashankar view point lies another 200 metres from the well and just as its name suggests, provides a splendid oblique view of the entire western face of the lower plateau with the Shidi Ghat in the middle of it. Here are some pictures:
The steep terrain had started taking a toll on our bodies and it was here that Abhishek started his “5 minutes more” chant to get the gang moving. I had traced the route on Google Earth and knew that we had barely reached the midpoint of Ganesh Ghat but decided to play along as any talk of the long route ahead was only going to deflate the gang’s morale.
As we turned South from the view point, Suresh Bhau called up Manish to ask if we had crossed the well and we confirmed the same. He said he had parked his car near the bridge and was ready to pick us from the point where the tar road meets the Ganesh Ghat trail.
NOTE: The following section is the area where most trekkers get lost. Not cos it is some Bermuda Triangle but because the plateau frequently gets enveloped in a fog whiteout making it difficult to orient oneself. A compass or a map will come in handy if you happen to get caught in a whiteout. If everything else fails, you can resort to walking along the right most trail until you find a trail lined by stones or one of the ribbon marked trees.
The trail from this point goes over huge flat rock patches and you ‘ll often see multiple trail emerging out of a rock patch when there was only one trail leading to it. The group had got divided into two at this point with Abhishek, Shardul & I making up the latter part as we took our time admiring the caves of Padargad. And if you have been reading my blogposts, you would have noticed how one of the trek’s surefire things hadn’t happened until then: Abhishek’s (in)famous falls!
Fret not cos it was here that Abhishek had a nasty fall on a flat slab of slippery rock, unfortunately betrayed at the unlikeliest of places by the very sandals that had served him so well over far more difficult places earlier in the day!
(Incase you aren’t familiar, Abhishek is one of the better climbers of our group and negotiates the difficult patches without breaking a sweat. But he has this superpower of hurting himself by inadvertently falling/slipping at the easiest of places. And there haven’t been many treks where this superpower of his hasn’t shown up 😝)
Jokes apart, it was a nasty fall and he ended up hurting his left knee. While Shardul and I were making sure he was okay to continue, the rest of the gang, oblivious of the incident, went ahead on the trail and stopped only when they realised we weren’t in sight.
Abhishek, the tough nut that he is, was okay to continue. Following on the footsteps of the leading group, we caught up with them some 300 m from the rock slab and then continued along the most prominent trail.
One of my favourite things to do on a trail is to look for signs of fortification and while going through the Ganesh Ghat blogs, I had been disappointed to not come across any. Hence when the trail suddenly turned to pass alongside a water cistern carved in the rock, I was surprised.
I looked at Abhi and he didn’t have a clue either! We quickly cross checked our position and realised we had missed the gentle right turn that Ganesh Ghat takes after the rock patch where Abhi slipped and had instead continued walking straight! But the trail we had taken was just as well trodden!
And then I remembered reading about it! It was the trail to Jamrung (passing through Rajape) from the Bhimashankar view point which descends through the valley south of Padargad.
It was close to 1845 hrs and the light was fading. We were at such a point that the correct trail was closer to us than the junction at which we had turned incorrectly. But going directly to the correct trail would also mean going straight through the forest on our west and knowing that trying to forge a path when there isn’t any is best left to local people, we decided to start walking back to the diversion.
We walked back about 500m along the Jamrung trail and finally reached the diversion at 5 minutes to 1900 hrs. The Ganesh Ghat route was the fainter of the two trails at this point before widening further down the valley. It seems that while Abhi, Shardul & I had been left behind, the rest of the gang took the more prominent of the trails, which happened to be the one going to Jamrung.
Thankful that we hadn’t encountered one of those famous whiteouts of Bhimashankar at this point, we turned right along the Ganesh ghat route and soon found ourselves in the midst of the forest on the steep slopes.
NOTE: There are ribbons tied to trees lining the path indicating the correct trail. The unfortunate part is that the point where the two trail diverge is a barren patch and therefore there isn’t any marker there.
With the trail getting steeper by the minute, the faint drizzle turned it into a rocky stream and the tree cover further reduced the amount of light seeping reaching the forest floor. Be careful while descending this portion without adequate light as it’s easy to twist one’s ankle over the smooth rocks and I almost rolled mine twice in this section.
We reached the Ganesh Temple at 1920 hrs and wrapped our torches in plastic sheets to shield them from the drizzle. Manish tried to call up Suresh Bhau to let him know we were starting from the temple but coincidentally, he called us up to tell us that he could see the torches flashing in the temple all the way from the Khandas bridge! 😃
He told us he ‘ll be waiting at the start of tar road, which according to Abhi was, WAIT FOR IT…. Only 5 minutes from the Mandir! I finally blurted out that we were still half way up the lower plateau and had quite a distance still to cover ☹
The trail after the Mandir is as steep as the Mungi Ghat at certain points and even though there are numerous shortcuts cutting through the trail that entice you with the prospect of saving time, you ‘ll be better off sticking to the trail cos they not only take you to point A to B of the trail in the same amount of time as the proper trail, they are often more hazardous.
With the moon lighting the trail on the sparsely forested portions, we continued our descent at a fair clip to reach the kuchcha road at 1935 hrs. We crossed another pair of deserted stalls here when the road lit up in the yellow glow of a pair of headlights and a second later, the car drove up on the steep dirt road like a messiah to save us exhausted souls!
Such was the toll of the hectic trek that the last picture was clicked with weary smiles (which is a rarity btw).
The 45-minute ride to Neral was uneventful (Thankfully!). We paid Rs 900 as decided and thanked Suresh bhau for looking out for us and saving us the kilometre long dull walk to the Khandas bridge. It was 2025 hrs when we crossed over to the platform no. 2, about half an hour early for the next train to CSMT.
Bhimashankar by Shidi & Ganesh Ghat is a beautiful monsoon trek but also an exhausting one, especially when one attempts both the routes in a single day. So if you have been wanting to do it, by all means, go ahead! But be prepared to ice your feet the next day! 😉
- All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by me or my friends, unless stated otherwise.
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