Harishchandra via Nalichi Vaat – Dec 2009

I had been to Harishchandragad once before , via the Tolar Khind route and since then , had always wanted to try the tougher , more thrilling ‘ Nali chi vaat ‘ . Trek Mates had organised one for the 12th , 13th of december , which suited me just fine . ( exam getting over on the ninth and a trek on the 12th ! what else could I ask for ! )
I reached Kalyan station on the night of the 11th , alone as usual from Navi Mumbai ! . I met Vishal , Meenu , Parikshit , Dilesh among others over there and we were soon joined by the others. Well , this is the last time I am reaching a TM trek on time , because there is always a one hour cushion which I intend to make full use of ! . We clambered into the bus at around 11 30 i guess , only to find it full . So obviously we had to stand , and with that went my plan of taking a good nap before we got to the base village . I managed to sit down in the alleyway between seats , with my bag as a backrest .Not very comfortable , but whos looking for that on a trek ! . The ST bus dropped us off near Tokawade , a village by the side of Malshej Ghat .
So , there we were in pitch darkness , waiting for our next transport to arrive ! . The beautiful winter sky was in full bloom now , and I reminisced about all those nights I had spent star gazing . We travelled by lorry to Belpada , the base village for our trek . It was great sitting in the lorry , at the edge of the cargo compartment . A sudden brake , and all four of us would be on the road !!. But it was fun sitting there , watching the narrow and dark highway recede into the distance . The canopy of tall , dark trees made it look even more eerie .
We reached Belpada by about 2 in the morning . I was feeling damn sleepy by then . Without even bothering to remove my shoes or jacket , I rolled out my sleeping mat on a suitable peice of land and was soon fast asleep on it . Sleeping bag and all could wait for later .
We freshend up in the morning , had tea and after a quick introduction round ( in which just about everyone faked his or her trekking experience ) started off towards Harishchandragad .
As soon as we left Belpada , we could see the huge concave wall of the Kokan kada looming over us . Well , if you could imagine a bowl with a dia of 1800 metres , you could get a slight idea of what I am talking about ! . Keeping the huge mountain to our right , we passed through well trodden paths and fields and finally joined an empty river bed . Round , smooth stones of all sizes made up our path as we made our way ahead . Constant wear by the elements , especially water had coloured the stones various hues of white and grey . With the hot morning sun beating down on our backs , the river bed looked all the more brighter . The path meandered on , the stones and pebbles getting progressively larger as we moved ahead . After an hour of trekking , we came to the ‘giant steps ‘ – two huge rocks lying right across our path , each roughly rectangular in shape and a good ten – twelve feet high ! A staircase for giants , no doubt ! This was also our last watering point , and a great place for photo ops . From here on , the route really began to climb . Each step we took was at least as high as our thighs , and the continous plod made it a tiring proposition . We were now close to the ‘ nali ‘ and decided to halt for lunch . Lunch , well basically consisted of eating evrything that everyone else had brought ! So by the time half an hour was up , I had eaten cakes , theplas , pomegranates , chips , biscuits , puran poli and few other assorted foodstuffs . It was noon by now , and the hot afternoon sun beat down on us . In the far distance , I could see the peculiar ‘human ‘ shaped pinnacle , on the far side of Kokan kada. Closer by , a few trees and of course the long path we had come by . Above us , a cloudless sky and a gentle breeze . Add to that a full stomach and I reallly wanted to lie down and go off to sleep then and there .
But there was a trek to do , so I picked myself up , put my bag on my shoulders and started off once more . In any case , the trek to follow put to rest any plans to doze off !! .
The path moved ahead , and up into two huge enclosing walls . The right hand side was off course the near end of the Kokan kada and the one on the left a separate mountain . We were following the path of a waterfall which cascades in between the two in the monsoons . Wether the waterfall caused the split or the split caused the waterfall , I do not know . Anyways , such intelligent thoughts were furthest from my mind then , as the large stones of the river bed gave to small rocks and scree . The whole place looked like a blasting site , like someone was using dynamite or something to build a tunnel throught that place . The route moved to the right , traversing the wall , then further on to what looked like steps ! I am really amazed actually , as to how are the rocks in that place cut into such sharp geometrical shapes . I could see a lot of straight edges wherever the waterfall had flowed .
We soon came to the first rock patch , which i reckon was about 15 – 20 feet high . I remembered climbing barefoot on Madangad , and managing pretty well . So I decided to climb this one barefoot too ( maaz actually . I had seen 3 -4 guys manage quite well even with their shoes on ! ) But this was not Madangad , and the rock face was soon poking into the soles of feet . Apart from that , there wasnt any hassle and I soon managed to get to the top . Even got a sarcastic applause for that !!
The route to the next rock patch was just scree and nothing else . The path climbed steeply and getting ahead was a case of two steps ahead and one step back ! . Brittle slate rock covered our entire path . Rocks as large as our foot crumbled beneath our feet , and every now and then someone further up sent a generous helping of stones and pebbles downhill ! The route had also got narrower now , and the two huge walls on either side of us seemed to have an overbearing presence . A slip and fall on this patch , and well , one would have to do the whole patch again .
On the top of this scree filled patch , was our second rock climb . A 10 – 15 feet high rock , which at first would seem like a dead end ! . Nilesh did the free climbing part . There were twenty of us , and one by one all of us managed to scramble up the rock face ( ofcourse with a rope aound our waist ! ) .
Further on , an exposed traverse which brought us closer to Kokan kada . A tree was growing here , of all places , to add to the thrill . Keeping myself as close to the mountain as possible , I made my way to a third rock patch . Since the traverse had taken me around the earlier rock , my field of view now changed completely ! Instead of the ‘man ‘ shaped pinnacle , now Rohidas came into view . That short traverse in the evening light , with the huge mountain of Rohidas in the background was another memorable part of the trek .
Tiny foot holds made the climb over the rock patch easy . We were now nearing the end of our trek . Bushes and shrubs near the top of the mountain came into view at last . Two more relatively simpler rock patches , and we were on familiar terrain . Yellow grass scrunched under our feet and each step threw up tiny puffs of soil . The huge sweep of the Kokan kada was now in view . We had reached a plateau by now , on the far left of the massive cliff . The sun was almost beginning to set now , and had acquired a fiery orange hue . We still had a long way to go though , especially over a small hill covered in dense forest . I personally found that part of the trek very irritating . A steep gradient , loose soil and roots and branches all over the place . My sleeping mat got caught , torn at least half a dozen times on that little hill . After a hard day of trekking , that is the last thing you want .
We all finally managed to reach the plateau . Some of us had already got there sometime before , as usually happens with a big group on a long trek . Some of them had collected firewood for the night , and after resting for some time , all of us started off for the caves . All of us trooped of in one file , torches in hand away from Kokan kada . After trekking for about half an hour , we came to a small plateau which directly overlooked the temple to the left and the caves to the right . We soon lit a campfire , which we fed with lots of firewood to ensure it glowed brightly . We had collected enough for a funeral , so that was thankfully , never an issue . All that firewood would come in handy later on , when it got really cold . For the present though , all of us assembled around the campfire for antakshari and other such timepass . We also had our dinner over there and then each one retired to sleep .I was glad I had brought my jacket along , alongwith the sleeping bag . Lying down , I could see the winter sky in all its splendour . I could spot the beautiful cluster of stars known as ‘ Pleadies ‘ alongwith Taurus the Bull . I moved my head to spot Orion and Gemini , with their host of bright stars . I had spent hours as a child looking at thoseand other constellations , and with that thought in mind , I drifted off to sleep . I awoke at about 5 , and spent the next hour discussing with other such early risers wether we should go to Taramati to see the sun rise . Well , sun rose while we were still at it , so obviously the Taramati plan was off . We instead decided to pay another visit to Kokan kada . Another trek along familiar trek and we were at the cliff . Looking down from there , I could see a river path meandering and then disappearing into the rightmost edge of Harishchandragad . That was the path we had come by yesterday . A long photo sessions followed , which is understandable at a place like the Kokan kada ! We returned to the caves , had our breakfast and went ahead to the temple and Kedareshwar . The temple was ancient , 6th century or something like that ! Kedareshwar was basically a Shiv Ling covered on all sides by water . The eight foot tall structure is a sight to see !
After this we started descending the mountain . Descent was well , quite uneventful . And I am also getting bored of writing this now , so I wont describe our descent in detail . Well , basically , the ten of us formed the back lead , and we stopped at evry opportunity we could . My right knee had quite inexplicably begun to pain by now , so I was limping along , although I must say the relis spray helped . We had limbu sharbat twice on the way down , sat down and chatted a couple of other times , aani umbryachya zhadachi fala khanya sarkhya faltu goshti karat hoto ( credit Vishal with that ) . And took our own sweet time in getting to Khireshwar .
At the base village , a great lunch , a visit to a marvellous temple and we were off to Mumbai , or rather to Khubi phata , where we spent a great deal of time flagging down tempos , trucks and buses . Finally , just after sunset we managed to get one lorry going to Kalyan . All of us clambered in and lorry driver drove off towards Mumbai . Harischandragad receded into the back ground in the fading evening light as a fantastic trek came to an end .

Closing comments , well , another great trek by TM . Had a whale of a time . Kudos to evryone for attending and completing the trek ! Thanks to Priti , Nilesh , Vishal , Miron for managing the rock climbing patches . Without rope bahutekanchi hava tight zhali asti !! . I hope to meet all twenty of the trekking group on further treks too .

Published by Aneesh Gokhale

Author - "Brahmaputra - The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji" , "Sahyadris to Hindukush" and " Battles of the Maratha Empire". Written over thirty five articles for a history column in DNA Newspaper. Published on many occasions in online publications such as IndiaFacts , Swarajya , TFI , Creative India , Indic Today and others. Given talks on Maratha and Assamese history at Pune Intl Lit Fest , INTACH (Delhi), Wadia College (Pune), Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (Mumbai), Thakur College's TCET Talk (Mumbai), Pondy Lit Fest (Pondicherry), various Rotary Clubs and educational institutions in Pune and Mumbai. Also, qualified to navigate a ship.

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