Andharban — The Dark Forest

This trek was the one that we had missed last week. Nature called, so we had to answer. This week, another guy, Purvang, joined Nikhil and me.

I have been asked by a friend to list out essentials of a trek for first-timers, so here goes:

  • Food: dry fruits, a few apples, energy-bars, glucose.
  • At least 2 L of drinking water. Packets of Electral/Gatorade to mix.
  • A medium-sized towel, few handkerchiefs.
  • Raincoat and track-pants. No umbrella please!
  • If not full set of fresh clothes, at least one extra pair of socks.
  • Emergency medicine and first-aid kit (Savlon, crep-bandage, cotton) and personal medicines, if any.
  • Pack everything above in small plastic bags. Take multiple extra plastic bags of various sizes. Better to have a cover for the bag as well.

As to what to wear, a T-shirt and 3-quarters/shorts (slacks for women), and very importantly, a good pair of shoes. At certain points along the trek, your life will depend on your shoes, and the grip it offers, so don’t wear a old worn-off pair.

We started from CST on the Chennai Mail at 2345 hours on Saturday night, and after a grueling journey in a general compartment — packed like sardines, the rain adding to the chaos of overpopulation of poor Indians who use the choicest of slangs at the drop of a pin and extract happiness from chewing Vimal khaini — we reached Pune at 0400 hours on Sunday, half an hour later than scheduled. I was so relieved to be out of the compartment. These journeys remind me of how poor India is, how much widespread smartphones have become, and tests my patience to an atmosphere that is hard to parallel even in Mumbai local trains.

We took a rickshaw from the Pune junction to the main bus stop at Swargate and boarded the first bus going towards Roha. The journey along the winding Tamhini Ghat road around the Mulshi dam, just at the break of dawn, left me speechless. It was raining incessantly, there was a thick fog all around. Finally we got off at the village of Vandre, and waited for our pre-arranged guide at a shade being passed off as the bus-stop. Although we put on our raincoats and track-pants, the gutsy winds along with the pouring rain left us shivering. As we waited, the gentle whistling of song-birds and calls of numerous insects soothed our souls.

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The view from the shack called bus-stand, at Vandre, at the break of dawn. (Photograph courtesy: Nikhil Moholkar)

Here is a video.

Finally, our young guide Mr. Mangesh Bhosale arrived, and took us to a village-home for breakfast: a plate of hot Pohe and a cup of Chai (tea). At 0750 we started for Pimpri dam, the start of the trek. It was a 3 Km walk along the concrete (but very badly maintained) GMCKS Ashram Road, and by the time we got to the start of the trail, it was 0830.

The initial part of the trail was a climb. In the heavy rains, a stream run against our direction for quite a long time, until we reached Independence point, and the first waterfall. It looked something like this:

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That’s our guide Mangesh telling Nikhil where the rapids are deep, where the rocks give footing, and where to safely plant the feet.

Here is the video of the crossing.

The mist added to the beauty, although preventing a clear view of the hydro-electric power-plant, the Bhira dam and the Tamhini Ghat, which can be seen in the dry seasons. The sound of the rushing waterfalls, and the thrill of crossing the rapids by foot, more than made up for it. As we went along, we had to cross five more such falls, and the views around were simply breathtaking. On the other side of each, a deep gorge waited, and here is where your shoes will save you.

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That’s Mangesh leading the way, and Purvang stopping for a pose. Another small group of trekkers had just managed to cross the falls. (Photograph courtesy: Nikhil Moholkar)
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The view from the middle of the crossing. Only daring souls like Nikhil can think of doing this (photograph courtesy).

Here is a view after crossing one of the big falls (and a few small accompanying ones), courtesy Nikhil.

Here is a video just before crossing one of the falls, and this and this while crossing the same (courtesy Nikhil).

And here one can see the clouds rising from the gorge below while sitting at the side of the fall (again, courtesy Nikhil).

The slow ascent was completed before 1000, finally leading us to the dense forest. This is the longest stretch of the trek. The only constant in this dark forest is the songs and whistles of a variety of birds, and the diversity of flora. We witnesses several kinds of fungi, mushrooms, wild flowers and fruits, and poisonous plants, other than the usual display of a variety of crabs big and small. Occasionally we could hear the call of monkeys, but much lesser than usual.

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Andharban.
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Wild mushrooms.

Because of the incessant rain, it was difficult to photograph all with the phone camera, but here are a few shots:

  1. A wild fruit?
  2. A solo wild flower
  3. Chessboard-earthworm
  4. A fungus growing on the trees.

(First three by Nikhil.)

For the same reason, we continued walking at a brisk pace, and by 1115, had reached a plateau. Some soul-searching views of the surrounding awaited our sights. The greens of the plateau had immense diversity, from the small grasses to the bigger ones to bushes and trees stretching everywhere you see, all the way along the mountains on two sides, painted with milky-white waterfalls. No attempt to describe it will be enough, so I will move on, leaving you with some of the photographs:

  1. My companions, soaking in the rain.
  2. One of the mountains on one side, interspersed with waterfalls.
  3. A lake.
  4. A variety of plants, cacti and grasses.
  5. Crossing one of the numerous small streams.
  6. Where the streams meet.
  7. Rain pouring on one of the ponds.

Here is a recording of the whistling of the song-birds, courtesy Nikhil.

This is a view of the plateau, and these are my companions pointing to the falls.

By 1200, we had reached Hirdi village, and Mangesh knew a small temple 500 meter off the village, with a nice shelter. So we went there for a bit of rest, stretched our legs, had some food, drank plenty of water and refilled the bottles in the clean water from the falls, and then got going for the final stretch towards Bhira dam.

This stretch was the most beautiful of all. At every turn with a clearing, there was some spectacular view of the walls of the hills on the opposite side, punctuated by a series of waterfalls that we lost count of. Here are two few videos, courtesy Nikhil:

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Need I say more? (Photograph courtesy: Nikhil Moholkar)
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At another bend… (Photograph courtesy: Nikhil Moholkar)

As the rains continued, we as well continued to ascend and descend, and to be frank, here my knees had started taking a toll. We proceeded through the jungles at quite a rapid pace, taking in the views from time to time. And then we came across a river, that had to be crossed on two thin logs, one of them tilting towards the right. If you fell, you would be swept in by the rapids below. There seemed to be no other way than to have the heart in the mouth, and cross it: more like dragging the bums over the log halfway and crawling on the feet the other half. It had to be done one person at a time, and I was the last. We finally made it, and rested for a while, seeping in the truth of the matter. As we proceeded, we could see what we had come across, and to be frank it was no mean feat. Thankful that everyone was safe, we gathered pace again, and finally reached the start of the Bhira dam, which gave away to some spectacular views. There were hills on the three sides of the dam, all covered with uncountable waterfalls, and on the other side was a quaint village sloping down towards the valley. See the top-most photographs (just below the videos) from Nikhil’s album for a 360-degree view, as we crossed it. The trek was coming to an end, the Bhira village was visible on the other side.

When we reached the home in the village for lunch, it was 1430. All our belongings were wet, the touch-of my phone had stopped working long ago. The villagers who served us lunch were very kind to accept some of the semi-dried notes. We changed to some fresh clothes and got going towards the bus-stop at 1600, waiting for the bus to Pali.

It is to be noted that the Bhira village had a lot of trekkers in commercial groups from both Mumbai and Pune: not for Andharban, but for Devkoond waterfalls, an hour’s trek from Bhira, the start of t he Kundalika river, also famous for river-rafting. This is apparently a simple one, and the bath in the falls has been a special attraction for the past two years. We encountered so many commercial groups that we lost count. Not a peaceful place to be in.

Anyway, our bus arrived at 1700. The plan was to get off at Pali, take another bus to Khopoli, from where we would get a train to Karjat, and then could catch a local train to CST. Just when we had managed to find a seat for ourselves, though, the front tire punctured. There was no spare tire due to the fact that the rear tire had suffered a puncture on the same morning, and we were told that we would have to wait indefinitely, for an incoming bus to arrive and then the repairing work. This was a bit risky, since there was no information available about the timings of the buses that ply in the Pali-to-Khopoli route, so we collectively decided that we would return via Pune instead. Luckily we could hire a private vehicle to a village called Vile, another 2 Kms from Bhira, from where we could catch a ST bus to Pune, which was exactly 100 Km from there. Reaching at 1745, we had to wait at Vile till 1830 for the bus to arrive. At 2000, it stopped for 10 mins beside a roadside stall where we quickly managed to catch some dinner. We reached the outskirts of Pune around 2130, and finally the Swargate bus-stop at 2230. After some frantic searching, we managed to find a Mahabaleshwar-to-Dadar bus, on catching which, snugly went off to sleep, waking up at Dadar terminus at 0200 on Monday. Here we took taxis to the respective places and I reached TIFR at 0240. Total cost per head, except dinner: Rs 985.

The journey back home was long and hectic, due to the unaccounted change of plans. But it was totally worth it all for what we got to saw. This was the most endurance testing, long and tiring trek I had been a part of (estimate of 13 Km walk overall from Vandre to Bhira), and offered the most majestic views, although we did not really scale a peak.

Here are some of the photographs that I could take before my phone’s touch-pad stopped working.

And here are the ones by Nikhil.

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7 thoughts on “Andharban — The Dark Forest

  1. That is quite a hectic trek especially with all the travelling! But yes, the experience does make up for the fatigue… And thanks for giving me enough reasons to push Andharban up my list of to-do treks. 😀

    Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

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