This is the second and concluding post of the Range Trek series. Read Part 1- Sondai Fort Trek for the events preceding our trek to Matheran via Rambaug Point.
Trek to Matheran via Rambaug Point
Quick recap: After Manikgad and Takmak fort, we were attempting the third trek of the 5th Season— Sondai fort & Matheran via Rambaug point. We had descended Sondai fort & were gearing up for the second leg.
We reached Sondewadi at the stroke of noon. I looked across the valley— Rambaug spur, also called Elephant’s trunk for its peculiar shape, was glistening across the Katwan stream.
We had completed about 3 km of the trek and Dasturi Naka was another 13 km from there. My right knee though, was feeling good and I was raring to start the second leg. A quick stretch later, the four of us— Abhi, Manish, Tejas and I, started walking towards Pokharwadi, base village for the Rambaug pt. trek.
- You can download logistical information about the trek: Matheran via Rambaug Point trek information PDF.
- All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by me or my friends, unless stated otherwise.
- The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore, strictly at your own risk.
A Walk To Remember
We had started the day quite early and having had nothing after the light breakfast in Karjat, were running on fumes. Our tummies had started rumbling and I was drooling over imaginary food in my head when Manish shook me out of my reverie.
Burujwadi, a hamlet at the base of the Rambaug spur, was right across the valley. Manish asked if we could just go straight down the valley and scramble over to the other side. From what I had read, it indeed was possible to cross the riverbed in winters but I wasn’t so sure about monsoons.
I gave it a thought.
Katwan stream, with multiple dhaars feeding it, is the major source of drainage from the U-shaped Katwan valley into Morbe Dam. Its current can be deceptively strong, especially after a heavy downpour. If we did take a chance, it would cut 3 km from our planned mileage. On the other hand, if we couldn’t cross it, it would add another hour to the already tight schedule. I voiced my apprehensions to the Gang and we decided to continue along the metalled road.
Not that the walk down to Pokharwadi was monotonous by any stretch of imagination! About a kilometre from Sondewadi, lies a tiny hamlet called Wagheshwar, with a huge pond next to it. Just another pond, I thought, until we noticed a herd of buffaloes entering the water body for a soothing mid-day dip! The unhurried way in which each of them waited for their turn would have put the most civilised of men to shame.
A short distance from the pond, we came across an open plot of land with a solitary tree in the middle. We had packed lunch with us and the spot looked like the perfect place to have it. But not wanting to trespass, we looked around to see if there was a caretaker nearby and when we couldn’t find any, thought we might as well just walk in. And the very moment we stepped on the plot, we heard someone rebuke us from far down the road. Guess the day was panning out far too good and we needed to run into a real-life Argus Filch to balance things out. 😛
Nevertheless, we immediately stepped off the property and continued along the road. Thankfully, the surroundings were too good to remain miffed for long. A row of blooming Red Bird Of Paradise (Caesalpinia Pulcherrima) flanked the right side of the road while the boat-shaped pinnacle of Irshalgad was peeking through the clouds across the Morbe Dam.
The Holy Trio
The last stretch of road was winding and steep and exactly an hour after starting from Sondewadi, I was standing in front of the paved entrance to Pokharwadi.
But our eyes were fixed on something far more important— between the entrance and the concrete bridge a little ahead, was a small shop under a shed. Our grumbling tummies were sensing salvation!
We walked over to the shop and asked the owner if he could make us something hot to eat.
“Ho bhau (Yes, brother)”, he replied emphatically and immediately fired up his stove and soon, we could hear batata vadas sizzling in hot oil.
Just when we were wondering if it could get any better, the heavens opened up again and the Holy Trio—a warm place, rains and piping hot food—came together! Of course, it didn’t take us long to devour the multiple plates of vada-pav placed in front of us soon afterwards.
The heavy downpour had caught quite a few passers-by unaware and soon the place was teeming with people. One of the men there, presumably looking for co-passengers to Karjat, asked us where were we headed.
“Matheran. Rambaug point ne”, I answered.
“Ya veli (now)?” asked the puzzled enquirer.
“Hoy (yes)” replied Abhi, smiling.
It isn’t often that you see trekkers starting a trek in the Sahyadris past noon, so his surprise was understandable and maybe even coming from a place of concern but we had done our research and knew what we were getting into. With the rains showing no signs of abating, we picked up our bags and started for Rambaug point at a quarter to 2.
Tale of the Trail
The concrete bridge of Pokharwadi is the roadhead for Rambaug point trek and is also quite famous, having featured on the big screen!
About 200 metres west from the bridge, a kuccha road forks out on the right and gently climbs up the plateau of Dhanwadi. This road, extending all the way to Burujwadi*, is used by four wheelers to reach the interiors of valley. But we, as always, knew a shortcut! 😉
*Note: The road ends at Katwan, much deeper in the valley but a connecting bridge had collapsed in 2019, as per reports.
Immediately after the bridge, a clear trail splits from the right side of the metalled road and climbs up through short trees and bushes.
Barely 300 m from the bridge, it merges with the aforementioned kuchcha road, which takes a longer (& gentler) detour to the plateau. Proceeding north along the road, we exchanged greetings with a couple of passing villagers and walked down a long row of fields to reach Dhanwadi.
Dhanwadi is a tiny hamlet made up of a dozen-odd houses. Almost every settlement around Matheran has a trail climbing up the surrounding hills. So I asked a person from the village if there exists a trail to Matheran from the wadi as well and turns out, there indeed is. The Dhanwadi trail originates from the back of the wadi, climbing up the spur from the steeper southern side and even passing close to a waterfall on the way. Some day!
The kuchcha road meanwhile, dips for a short distance after Dhanwadi and turns sharply to the right before climbing up to Burujwadi. We reached the latter in half an hour from Pokharwadi and pleasant memories of our last visit, when the villagers had graciously invited us to attend an aarti during the Ganesh festival, came flooding back 🙂
Our plan was to proceed to Borichi Gaani, also referred to as Dhangarwada, from where a more direct approach is possible.
But we are always open to changes on the fly, especially if they are interesting! So when a young couple from the wadi told us that the trail from Burujwadi was just as good, if not better, we mulled over it for a minute and decided to take it up. Thanking them, we turned around and hopped onto the paddy fields built on higher grounds opposite the wadi.
There was no clear trail as such and we had to dodge plenty of deep puddles along the fields’ periphery. Fog and heavy rainfall were making it difficult for us to gauge how far was the spur but we kept walking in its general direction. After crossing what felt like the zillionth field, the faint outline of a hillock appeared through the fog and we promptly jumped into the foot-deep stream circumventing the fields.
The rainfall was too heavy for me to risk checking our location on the phone but we were pretty certain that it was the Rambaug spur. A row of trees lined its base and we had to walk around to find an opening through the dense growth. A steep climb through the opening brought us to a small clearing with a mind-boggling maze of trails crisscrossing it.
Half a smile
We were trying to figure out the correct one when the familiar thud of an axe hitting a thick chunk of wood caught our attention. We started walking in the sound’s direction— stopping every few steps to strain and hear it over the constant din of heavy rainfall.
Barely 100 metres from the maze, we found the source of the sound— a native woman, shielding herself from the rains with a blue plastic sheet, was chopping woods in the forest. She didn’t look the least bit surprised at our sudden appearance, most probably used to lost trekkers springing out of the unlikeliest of places, asking for directions! 😛
We asked her about the vaat (trail) to Rambaug point and she pointed at a place slightly above us. Turning back, we saw a thin brown line climbing up the crest of a spur, beyond several rows of trees. Elated at finding the correct trail, we thanked her and had just turned around when I remembered our interaction with Gangman Om Prakash during the Gambhirnath caves trek. The sheer delight on his face when we had requested a picture with him was something I have always cherished.
I quickly turned around and shouted out to the lady –
“Kaku, photo gheu shakto ka?”, holding an imaginary camera in my hands, in case she couldn’t hear me over the din.
Her lips curved into half a smile. A second later, she nodded.
I fished out my phone and captured a slightly hazy picture before turning around— a grin plastered on my face, remembering her half a smile, which was anything but hazy 🙂
I caught up with the gang a short while later as they had slowed down on what looked more like a trench than a trail. A steady stream of brown, muddy water was running down the middle of it and our feet went a few inches into the soft mud on every step. But it lasted for a short stretch and a minute later, we emerged onto a small clearing. We had barely stopped after Burujwadi and I was catching my breath when Tejas asked us to turn around.
The Greatest Artist
Across the valley, Bhivpuri hill stood like an almost vertical wall of green, punctuated by numerous white streaks cascading down the face and disappearing into the forests below. I stood there transfixed for a good minute or two before Abhi tapped on my shoulder.
Little did I know that this was going to be the first of many stunning sights from the most beautiful stretch of the trek.
The trail climbed up from the clearing and led us to a narrow table-like plateau. ‘Matheran- A Mountaineering Manual’ refers to this trek as the ‘Trek of Four Little Plateaus’. This narrow plateau is the second of the series after which the authors have named it so, first being the plateau of Dhanwadi.
Beautiful fields were swaying on our left side and on the right, was a singular row of trees. In front of us, the faint trail disappeared into the forest ahead.
We looked back at the valley; clouds were gliding in, covering the range at once and giving a glimpse of it the next moment. The landscape on our right ebbed and flowed, swathed in more shades of green than an artist’s palette could hold. Out in the distance, the tiny bridge was the only man-made structure in a sea of blue gradually fading into the whites of the distant sky.
It took a lot to wean my eyes away from the enchanting sight but we had a mountain to climb. Pulling up my bandana, I turned around and walked headfirst into the needling rain.
The trail climbs steeply up the spur, sometimes traversing a little below the crest and sometimes winding around it.
There was no one around us, except birds who kept flitting in and out of trees and kept us going with their cheerful songs of monsoons. The trail dipped a little before climbing up again and the narrow crest finally led us to the third plateau of the trek.
High above, at the head of the spur, stood a tree; its windswept canopy enough hint of the conditions on the Rambaug forest plateau. Behind it, Matheran was split into two— its southern cliff lashed by rains while the eastern face was enveloped in clouds.
Strong winds coupled with heavy rainfall had left us feeling cold. We had been trekking for close to 6 hours by then and the carpet of green around us was too inviting to pass up the opportunity to lie down for a bit. Without saying a word, we just plonked down on the grass!
As we sat there eating to our heart’s content and laughing like maniacs, I looked around me. Now I have been trekking for a bit and have been witness to my share of jaw-dropping sights. But they haven’t made the most lasting of my memories.
The most lasting memories are made up of people and the moments shared with them; of people who have walked the path with me—some in person, some in spirit; of people who have laughed, cried and shared those moments of wonderment with their mouth agape. And in that instant, I knew that this sight— of these three blokes laughing their heads off, bound by something beyond articulation, was going to make for a memory of a lifetime 🙂
I was still lost in my thoughts when a woman and her young kid passed us by on their way down from Matheran. She told us that Rambaug point was still another hour’s trek from there. An hour for the natives is two for the city folks and it isn’t wise to trek after dark unless one has planned and prepared for it, which we hadn’t; so we immediately packed up our stuff and set off for the Rambaug forest.
Crossing the grassland in less than 5 minutes, we hit the steepest part of the trek. Dense forest cover coupled with humidity were making us sweat buckets despite the rain. Huffing and puffing, we quickly reached a slightly exposed section where the trail switchbacks to ease the steep incline. 5 minutes later, we reached Chowki, a L-shaped bench constructed by the natives to rest after the steep climb.
The Chowki provides a panoramic view of the range, from Garbett point to Morbe Dam and in clear weather, even Manikgad. A couple more women passed us by at this point and while talking to them, something caught my eye in the valley below— discarded plastic bottles bunched up in a small pocket just off the trail!
One of the best things about the trek until then had been absolutely no trace of plastic, and that very fact made this visual even more painful.
In the meantime, the weather gods had calmed down and a cool, gentle breeze was blowing over the plateau. Rejuvenated, we started the final stretch of our trek at half past 4.
The trail from Chowki ascends over a short distance before levelling out in the dense forested stretch.
Tiny streams running down the hill station had transformed the trail into a stream at several places. As we waded through ankle-deep waters, more natives passed by, looking spent after what must have been a hard day’s work with the huge influx of weekend tourists.
About a kilometre from Chowki, the forest thinned out and the trail disappeared into a short, steep boulder section leading to a ramp made from stones.
The ramp gains considerable elevation, but at a gentle gradient, courtesy a switchback over the cliff. Although the stones can be a problem in slippery conditions, but they also help prevent the trail from being washed away by waterfalls that plunge with great force from the cliff in monsoons.
As we walked north along the cliff, the plateau on our right gradually dropped off to reveal the stunning valley.
A short while later, we noticed a small depression with an idol on the left of the trail. Most trails to Matheran, if not all, host a place of worship in different forms— from a simple temple on the Dodhani trail to the cave on Pisarnath trail, these deities are guardians of the trail and of the people passing through them.
The trail continued along the cliff’s base, occasionally cutting under the rock with streams forming water curtains at these overhangs. Manish and Tejas enjoyed the ice cold waterfall at one such place while Abhi and I admired the serenity of the valley on our right, shrouded in mist.
Moving ahead, the trail dipped very briefly along an exposed section and led us to another stone ramp. The ramp, in turn climbed steeply up the hill via switchbacks to end at a red cobbled path, hinting at the proximity of Matheran. A short climb up the path and sure enough, the metal railings of Rambaug point appeared through the fog.
A mixture of relief and elation is oftentimes associated with the completion of journeys, especially treks. And yet, ever so rarely comes along a journey so beautiful and fulfilling that somewhere in your heart, you don’t want it to end and all that the destination manages, is a resigned smile on your face.
At a quarter to 6, we walked up the final ramp to Rambaug point in a similar state of mind— sad that the trek had come to an end but grateful that we had experienced something none of us will ever forget.
Matheran, despite the unchecked commercialisation in recent years, still manages to sweep me off my feet. The undulating red paths snaking through centuries-old trees, gently glowing in the evening light with hardly a soul in sight, is a visual that treads that very fine line between spooky and mystical like no other.
We reached Aman Lodge just when the last of daylight was fading from the skies. The railway station, now sporting three platforms with a shed over them, had come a long way from the bare minimum days of my first visit, almost a decade back, much like me.
I stood there at the entrance, reminiscing about that trip and the countless others it had spawned.
As Abhi, Manish & Tejas passed me by, walking into the light at the end of this metaphorical tunnel, I couldn’t help but wonder what a long journey it had been, this quest in the mountains.
‘And yet, it’s only the beginning’, said a voice in my head.
A special note of thanks to Harshad, Mansi, Mona, Nisha, Ramya, Shardul & of course, the Trek Gang for all the help & motivation to get me back to writing 🙂
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