It all started when some of us from office went to attend Vishal’s wedding in Badlapur. As we approached the wedding venue, the whole mountain range from Tavli to Matheran was visible. The view was breath-taking. Naturally, the conversation turned to trekking and I promised that we would go on a trek during the monsoon.
I had thought that like many other discussions, this conversation would also be forgotten. But it was not to be. . I was constantly reminded of my promise. And so, I started looking for a trek destination. Many people from office wanted to come, and many of them would be going on a trek for the first time. So the destination had to be easy for first timers. It should not be too far from Mumbai, so we could do the trek in one day. I couldn’t think about any other place than Naneghat.
Naneghat has been my favourite trekking destination since long time. I visited Naneghat for the first time in 1980 and since then, I must have been there about a dozen times. There is a huge cave on top, that can accommodate about a 50 people for a night stay. I remember a night in that cave when I described my dream life partner to my close friends. I have been their in all seasons. Have climbed there even on a moonlit night in winter. Had even taken my whole family, including my parents there.
Naneghat is a mountain pass, a trade route, in the first range of Sanhyadris, the western ghats, that rises straight from the costal belt, Konkan, to the Deccan plateau. Since 100 BC, it was used for the trade between Kalyan and Nala Sopara ports to the Deccan plateau.
Finally, we decided to do the trek on 17th September. About 27 people enrolled for the trek. We hired a bus and decided to leave from the office at 7 AM in the morning. People started assembling and as we were about to leave around 7.30, we realized that Anoop and Paresh had to stay back because of some issues that had to be verified and solved immediately. We left without them. However, as we went about 6 Km., Anoop called up saying that he can come as issues were resolved. We waited for about 20 minutes for him to come and catch up. By now, we were about an hour behind schedule.
Next stop, Kalyan. Sanjay was to join us here. Sanjay actually reached almost an hour before us and was waiting patiently. None of us knew much about Kalyan. He actually found a place that was on our way and waited there. However, we waited for him somewhere else. . Lot of phone calls and about half an hour later, Sanjay finally came near the bus and we started again. After about 10 minutes of bus ride, Sanjay pointed a place where he had been waiting for us. Rather than asking him to come near the bus, had we continued to where he was, we could have saved half hour. To his credit, he didn’t rub it in. By now, we were almost 1.5 hour behind schedule.
All this didn’t in anyway dampen the enthusiasm of the team. Between the group, we had almost all the Hindi and Marathi songs by heart, and we were singing them merrily. Then we played dumb charades. We must be great mind readers, as we could even mime weird, non existent movie names that Shefali came up with.
By now, it was 11 and we could see the prominent cliff, नाण्याचा अंगठा (Nana’s thumb), which is one of the two cliffs that make the pass, jutting out of the range prominently. As we stopped at the Kalyan 60 milestone, many first timers couldn’t believe that we were going to make it upto there. We quickly ate something, packed our lunches and water and started walking around 11.20. We had originally planned to start from here at 9.30. So we were late to start by an hour and fifty minutes. It was very sunny and warm. We started praying that we get some rains.
To reach Naneghat, we first walk on a relatively plain ground for about 1.5 Kms. We cross two streams. At the second stream, we turn left and start the climb. Once we are there, it’s almost impossible to lose the way. Also, the route goes through forest, and the trees provide good shade from the sun. I wanted to be in the lead till we reached the proper route and then I planned to be the rear guard.
In about an hour, we had climbed the first knoll and reached a small plateau. Years of smoking has affected my feet and even though I quit smoking almost eight years ago, they are not what they used to be in my younger days. By now, my thighs had started hurting and I felt they were going to cramp. We were carrying electral. I dissolved a packet in a bottle of water and started sipping it. That made me feel a lot better.
We continued to walk. The sun was hot and the air was humid. I was sweating buckets. But we trudged along. An hour later, we were at the upper plateau and now the route was a lot steeper and through the gully between the two cliffs. This part of the climb is always very frustrating. You are climbing on a man made, winding route made of stone. You can almost see the destination, but the progress is still slow and takes time.
In this section, we suddenly discovered that refreshments are now available at Naneghat. An enterprising guy, Santosh Shinde, has put up a hotel on the plateau behind and has put up advertisements on the way to the cave.
As we went ahead, we encountered a landslide. This must have happened quite recently. It had washed down two hairpin bends in the route and exposed the earth below, which had become very slippery. We mentally marked this as a place to be careful while coming down. We crossed the landslide and suddenly, the sky was filled with huge clouds. The cliffs disappeared and it started raining. It was magical. The wisps of cloud were moving around us. Made me feel as if I was floating.
By now, the first group had already reached the cave, had their lunch and gone on ahead to the plateau. I was the last to reach the cave at 2.50. We sat in a circle and had our packed lunches. It was still raining and there was a complete whiteout in the pass. We decided that it was pointless to attempt to go on the top of the cliff. We had no time left. We agreed to do a quick round to the plateau and start the return journey at 4 PM.
The actual pass is unbelievable. It is a man-made pass. The stone between the two cliffs has been cut through to make the pass. It’s very narrow. A single person can block the pass, just by spreading his hands. The wind gets extruded through that small opening, attaining tremendous speed and making noise.
Just behind the pass is a huge grassy plateau. Also, there is a easy way to walk to the top of the Nana’s thumb. The view from the top is simply indescribable. But, we decided to pass the opportunity as the clouds meant we couldn’t see anything from there.
At 4 PM, all of us assembled at the cave and took a group photo and started walking down. The rains had made all the stones on the path wet and slippery. Many of them were also covered by moss. The progress was very slow. Fortunately, it was not raining anymore. We were particularly worried about the landslide patch. It was steep and slippery. For many people, particularly some first timers, this was a frightening experience. However, Nitin, Vikrant, Sandeep and others helped them get down by encouraging them every step of the way. When we were going down, we couldn’t believe that we came up the same way.
It was now getting dark. We, the trailing batch, reached the first plateau and it started raining again and with the rains came darkness. We were now seriously worried. We had no torches. It was past 6.30 now. We city dwellers can’t imagine how quickly it gets dark, and how dark it can be in wilderness. We were trying to walk as fast as we could. But we just couldn’t seem to reach the bus. It was now pitch dark. We weren’t even sure that we were on the right road. We were starting to panic.
And then, a group of people came from behind with their torches. . They belonged to another group, but we knew that their bus was parked next to ours. That was such a huge relief. Soon we were near the bus and started back. The journey homewards was quite uneventful. We were tired, but still happy that we had a great experience.
Looking forward to the next trek soon.