I started from TIFR yesterday, taking the 2315 jeep to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), boarded the Varanasi Express (general compartment, quite an experience!) at 0015 today and got off at Igatpuri at 0320. Once I made it to the western side of the station crossing over the footbridge, from where I knew I had to walk around 7 minutes for the bus stop, I had some trouble finding it because there wasn’t a soul around to ask which way it was. Basically, you have to walk northward along the road.
At the bus stop, I met a group of five, who had also come from Mumbai and were going to Kalsubai. I chatted with them a little and went off to sleep, waking up around 0430 when a few other groups of trekkers started coming and the rain was pouring down heavily. The first bus to Pune started at 0510, 10 minutes behind schedule, and after another bit of delay to transfer passengers from a different bus to Pune which had stopped in the middle of the road, it got going and reached Baari village at 0545, when dawn was breaking. There I had breakfast at one of the stalls, and started walking at 0605.
The first 1 Km walk is through the village, which ends after crossing the waterfall from which the villagers draw water for irrigation, and the trail starts. A few steps up, one reaches a semi-temple from where the main trail starts. This stretch of the trek is the most horrible, as a huge number of mosquitoes swarm all around you all the time, making it impossible to do anything peacefully; moreover, there are streams flowing over the trail, making it a very slippery and muddy terrain. If you encounter rain here, it gets worse. My advice for trekkers in the monsoon will be to put on the raincoat after crossing the waterfall, and keep going non-stop until you reach the staircases, which marks the end of the mosquito-zone and the start of the monkey-zone (never mind, they are a little unpredictable, that’s all). That will also mean you have covered one-third of the total distance, and the fun is about to begin. I got off to a patchy start, but that did not dampen my spirits.
The next part consists of four long and steep staircases made of iron, with slippery handles, and bits of pleasant trails in between that offer a very nice view of the Baari village and also a bit of rest from the steep climb. On the stairs, be extremely careful — try to maintain a steady grip, don’t panic, concentrate and keep moving, and never over-take or let others try. Once this stretch is over, you have reached 1,360 meter from the mean sea-level and two-thirds of the distance to the top has been covered.
Here, it is advisable to take a break, have a tea in one of the local stalls, take a good look of the view down the valley, wear a jacket instead of a raincoat if it’s not raining very heavily, and start afresh.
Up next is the last and the best part of the climb. In the monsoon, the beautiful greens can blow you over, but make sure you are not blown away by the strong and gutsy wind from all sides. Cover yourself well, since it’s going to get really cold from here. At the end of this stretch, one encounters the final stairs which take you to the Kalsubai summit-cum-temple. At 1,646 meter from the mean sea-level, this is the highest point in the state of Maharashtra.
Although I had started after the main big groups (TrekMates and Youth Hostel), eventually I had overtaken all of them since they were stopping a lot on the way, even before reaching the stairs, and also later to rest, chat and click selfies, in which I had no interest in. So I reached the summit at 0835, which means I had taken exactly two and a half hours on the way up, including a tea break and a few stops to click the breath-taking surroundings. This ensured that I had a good 20 minutes of sheer peace at the summit, and all the wind to myself, with no one but the priest of the temple around. I chatted with him a bit: he stays at Baari and does the trek up and down every single day, starting at 6 in the morning and reaching at 7.
In the winter, one can see the Bhandardara dam-cum-lake, the plains stretching all the way to Thane, the Harishchandragad national park, the windmills in the park, and quite a few forts on the nearby peaks. However, it being monsoon, the visibility from the top was absolutely zero. One has to take it blindly that you are at the top of the state. I plan to go back in winter, just to take in the view.
After a reasonable number of other trekkers had reached the summit, making it very crowded, I started climbing down around 0930, slowly this time, taking in the surroundings. Stopping time and again, I was joined by some of the people from the TrekMates group I had met on the way up. The human traffic was heavy: many were climbing up, including the five from the Igatpuri bus stop. The huge traffic ensured that there was no option than going down the stairs in a queue, simultaneously allowing another queue of trekkers to come up. It is risky to have too many people on the stairs at the same time, especially since some of the steps have long gaps in between, and the handles are a little loose at places — co-ordination between the queues is necessary. I reached the waterfall around noon, and cooled myself down with the fresh monsoon water. The Sun had started to come out. After crossing the village, I found myself a taxi back to Igatpuri.