Raireshwar – Nakhind – Aswalkhind : Jan 2011

DAY 1 : Raireshwar – Nakhind – Kudali

It had been 5 months since my last trek , what with me being away in Delhi . For someone accustomed to trekking once every 20 odd days , 5 months was quite a sabbatical ! . So when Priti asked whether I was interested in a trek to Raireshwar , and further to Nakhind and Aswalkhind , I jumped at the chance ! More so , because this would be a raw , hardcore trek , right from finding the correct route . Organized trekking , though hassle free , does take away this element of exploration and watching the trek unfold before you through its various ups and downs .

The place we were to go to , Raireshwar , is a hill situated about 200 km away from Mumbai , in Satara . It is famous as the place where Chhatrapati Shivaji took his oath of swarajya , to free the Sahyadris from foreign rulers . Thus , for us it is a very important historical place , almost a pilgrimage . From Raireshwar , we were to proceed to Nakhind , a nearby hill , then descend down to a pass called Aswalkhind . At least that was the initial plan . Aswalkhind would put us close to Poladpur on the Mumbai – Goa highway. Thus, we were to trek and descend from the Mumbai – Bangalore highway (NH – 4) onto the Mumbai – Goa highway (NH -17)

We started from Mumbai for Bhor on Friday night , me joining from Vashi . Priti , Rajas , Ameya and Saurabh had boarded the bus much earlier in Parel itself . Manoj Kalwar would join us later , as he had been caught up in some work .The rickety state transport bus prattled down the highway to Pune , stopping at Panvel , Khopoli and Lonavla en route . I tried catching up on some sleep , which was quite a challenge considering the roller coaster rides that state transport buses offer !! . From Pune , the bus continued for an hour till Bhor , the driver all the while driving like a wannabe Schumacher . I reckon we reached our destination at around 4 in the morning . After that , there was nothing much to do apart from shivering in the cold and having a cup of hot piping tea from a roadside stall till Manoj arrived .  He did come finally , almost an hour later . We then busied ourselves in looking for someone to take us to Raireshwar , in one of those Sumos or Trax they have . One guy finally agreed for a total of 1000 . Which was quite good .

It was almost day break by the time we alighted from the jeep . I believe we got a good bargain considering all the driving he had to do through the narrow ghat. The sun rose from behind Kenjalgad , a nearby hill – fort , as we began trekking along a well worn path leading to the temple of Raireshwar . The flat saucer – like top of Kenjal could be seen beautifully silhouetted against the rising sun , as we plodded on . A couple of iron ladders had been put in place to make our job easier , as well as a wide well made staircase . Reaching the temple was thus a cakewalk . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh went ahead to a small village on the mountain , to arrange for some food while me , Manoj and Ameya decided to visit the temple .

The temple itself was rather small and simple , with a brown tin roof . In front of it a bust of Shivaji had been installed . Inside , especially inside the sanctum sanctorum , it was pitch dark and I had to make use of my torch to ensure I didnt stumble somewhere . The famous pindi , where Shivaji took his oath , was in this part , and we dutifully paid obeisance to it . A glorious painting , showing a young Shivaji taking his famous oath adorned one wall , while a pair of swords and a shield adorned the other . From the temple , we proceeded to the small village , where we had our breakfast . We also took care to pack bhakri and mirchi cha thecha from a kind villager , before we left . Now began our real trek ! . No one knew the route for sure , not even the guide we had taken with us . All we had to rely on were photographs clicked by some other trekker and maps from Google Earth ! So we began , at around ten in the morning , across the plateau of Raireshwar , which I reckon was around 15 km long . The sun was by now nearly overhead , beating down on us . Thankfully , it being the month of Jan , we did not get scorched ! The path was a well worn one , which alternated between flat patches of grass and dense undergrowth . The weed called ‘karvi ‘ in local parlance was in abundance here , and it would keep us company for a long time ! .There was nothing much we did , apart from trudging from one end of the plateau to the other . En route we got beautiful views of ___ dam as also Pratapgad , Chandragad etc . Our first aim was to have a good view of the nedha ( hole in the rock ) of Nakhind  . perhaps try and reach there if possible . Every nedha is unique in itself and a sight to see . After a couple of hours of walking , some of it through head high shrubs and a small traverse , we managed to get a clear view . But it soon became evident that getting there was next to impossible . The path ended over there , and beyond were simply tufts of dried grass overlooking a dangerous drop . So we trekked back to a fork in the road which had brought us there . This time , instead of going left , we turned right , and headed straight into some very thick and thorny shrubs . My hands , legs and ofcourse my sleeping mat were continually getting pricked by thorns m twigs and branches left right and centre . There was no route to speak of really , we were making one ! . Half the time I spent in avoiding tripping over some branch or weed at my feet , and the other half in stopping something from hitting my face . After trekking like this for some time , I reckon an hour , the shrubs opened up to a more regular forest . The trees were taller now , and the ground much better . A couple of them had even an arrow mark on them ! . Our guide then led us to a path , that , to me on first glance seemed to head into thin air . A closer look told us that it was a narrow and very exposed descent , possibly towards Aswalkhind . We asked our guide to take us there . ” It is a very difficult route . See if you can manage , we won’t be coming with you ” came the reply ! . Ameya and Saurabh then decided to check out the route for themselves , but came back after some time . ” It is difficult with our bulky bags . Plus , once we start , there is no turning back ” . Now we were in a quandary . Which way to go next ? But since it was already nearly 2 , we decided to have lunch , which also gave us time to think over our next step .

It was then decided that Priti and Saurabh would go towards the nedha , to find a route via one of the channels made by waterfalls . Ameya and Manoj proceeded , with the guide , to the far end of the hill , to find a route to Kudali village . Me and Rajas were left guarding the bags . Rajas promptly went off to sleep , while me , after stretching out on the bare ground for some time , busied myself with photography ! . After about half hour both search parties returned , one with good news and the other not so good . Priti and Saurabh , for want of a sickle , had been unable to get to the point of finding any route . The other two had been luckier ” Yes there is a route . A rarely used one , but a route for sure ” Ameya reassured us .The guide had left us by now , after taking his pay . From this point , we were entirely on our own .  Once again , we trekked , plodding through grass and karvy , till the path abruptly finished as the plateau ended . I could see a well worn path going across a ridge in the distance , but how would we get there ? I could make out a narrow path , the kind made by cattle , descending from Raireshwar towards the ridge . Dusk was almost upon aus as we began our descent . The path was narrow and exposed , with plenty of loose soil and dry grass . Using bottom theory was a good idea here ! . Slowly but surely , we got to the ridge as the sun set behind the mountains . We were glad we had managed the descent well before nightfall , and now had the luxury of watching a beautiful sunset . What’s more , we found ourselves on a well beaten track . Snacks and jokes and wise cracks followed in a relaxed atmosphere with sliced cake and biscuits and such stuff being passed around .

It soon started getting dark , and we had to take a call , whether to spend the night there itself on that ridge , or continue further . And there was no second opinion about it ! Out came our little electric torches and the night trek to Kudali began in right earnest . We followed the mud path which had guided us on the ridge . It snaked along , sometimes svwerving to the right , though our destination was to the left of the ridge . This did cause some doubt in our minds initially , but those were quickly put to rest . As we sped along , the stars came out one by one , making the sky a very beautiful and enchanting sight . Under the company of the stars , we finally reached the village called Kudali .

For dinner , Priti prepared her exquisite bhel . It did not last long among 6 very hungry and tired trekkers , though I think quite a quantity had been prepared ! . Quite expensive too .. we had put onions in it !! . After this , we proceeded to fill water from a nearby pond . Nothing refreshing like cool water after a day of hard trekking . We decided to put up in the verandah of the local school for the night . It had been a hard day of trekking .. more than 13 hrs of walking in total ,and I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately after lying down ! .

DAY 2  : ASWALKHIND

Next day dawned bright and clear , with a rooster waking us from our slumber . Mountains loomed over the small village , a pleasing sight first thing in the morning . The fresh morning sunlight falling on the sloping clay rooftops of huts  , nestled among the hills , made for a quaint picture . We busied ourselves in collecting firewood for preparing the morning tea . Thankfully , there was plenty in the village , and the villagers as usual helpful . We soon sat down on the bare ground for having breakfast by the newly made campfire / temporary stove ! . We finished off whatever was left of the bread , cheese , biscuits and sauce with us . We even roasted a few potatoes , which tasted quite incredible . And of course tea ! .

We finally hit the road at around 9 30 , towards Aswalkhind . We intended to cross the entire pass and end our trek in Kamthe , a village in the Konkan . The route began on a well made tar road , before branching out into a more rugged path . As always , there were kind people around who helped us with the road we had to take . The path rose slightly after leaving the road , along a riverbed , although at a height . At one point , it descended rapidly and we found ourselves walking across the dry stream . From here , we could have a clear view of the pass , nestled between two tall , thickly forested mountains .

Hereon , the path climbed steeply into the jungle , though it was still wide and quite safe . Sunlight filtered in to the ground , obstructed by tall trees . This created strange mosaics on the ground , the kind of thing only a walk in the wilderness can give . We continued on , without stopping . Adrenalin had kicked in fully by now I guess . I say that , because after 16 hrs of trekking in total , my knees ought to have been aching ! The path rose in fits and starts . A steep climb for some time , then a flat walk , then the process would repeat itself . And all along we had the shade of tall deciduous trees for company . In fact , at one point , we even spotted dry feaces by the wayside , which Priti identified as those of a tiger . We even proceeded to crush it with a stone , only to find pieces of bone inside . Quite a find actually , considering how rare anything related to a tiger is , especially in these parts .

After walking through the jungle like this for three three and a half hour , we came upon a queer rock formation . A few massive boulders had been clustered together , almost as if a giant had marked the place ! . We decided to take a small break here , the highest point in the pass . We were now actually parallel to Nakhind , albeit at a much lower level . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh clambered up a small hillock to have a look at the route we had abandoned the previous day . Their hunch was right ! The path did lead to where we were ! . But I reckon it would have been too much of a risk to try the route the previous day . We spent some time here , busying ourselves with the usual photo ops and stuff .

The path descended ferociously from there on . Again the same pattern of steep descents and flat walks . Some of these patches were quite exposed and full of scree , making trekking tedious . And of course we had the company of the jungle . But this steep descent – flat walk pattern did help us maintain a very good speed throughout . By around lunchtime , we had arrived at a small clearing , where we had our lunch . This place had an awesome view of Nakhind and few other mountains , the vertical basalt walls making for quite a sight . We could also see our destination , Kamthe in the distance . Lunch consisted of bhakri and mirchi cha thecha , which we had packed the previous day . Rustic food in a rustic setting . We descended quite quickly from here on . The path was a lot more rocky now , making the descent easier . In another hour or so , we were at the village .

Thankfully for us , we didnt have to wait to much for a transport , since a jeep bound for Poladpur was already in the village . After a bit of haggling , he finally agreed to take us all to Poladpur . Poladpur was the closest town from where we could hope to get a ST or similar transport bound for Mumbai . Thus after nearly 18 hrs of walking , and 2 very memorable days of trekking , our trek had finally come to an end .I believe we covered more than 40 km in total .   We clambered into the jeep bound for Poladpur . From there , we hired a Sumo bound for Mumbai . And by dinner time that night , I was home . Quite something that trek , which we started on the Mumbai – Bangalore road and ended on the Mumbai – Goa road !

As a closing comment , would like to thank Priti , Rajas , Saurabh , Ameya and Manoj for a great time ; and will cherish this trek for a long time to come .

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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