Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Shankara...BhimaShankara...Reaching out to the Lord!

28th & 29th June 2013

The gang (in alphabetical order)

  • Anand Sharma - Kamaal hai!
  • Anil Kumar - Tellakutti tellakutti char ande!
  • Nagesh Gawade - Kadkya Shekru!
  • Pravin Pawar - Mr. Zubeida, Jai Mata Di! Lets Rock!!
  • Sameer Gogate - Milk man
  • Soumen DasChoudhury - Fattest, shortest, oldest!
  • Yashwant Wahlekar - Karach, teek aay chalel, ghe mag teen time, Eshtikutte

Bhimashankar temple covered in mist
          The name Bhima brings forth an image of a huge, bold, unbeatable, tall warrior, defining great strength. And now close your eyes and utter the name ‘Shiva’. A blue scantily clad mendicant comes rushing to your mind, a serene smile lost deep in meditation, an inexplicable calmness, a creator seemingly away from his creation. The halo mesmerizes you and when you are thrown out of your reverie, strange waves of quietness and peace engulf you.
Bhima Shankar
Bhima Shankar
          The tall and magnificent mountains arouse exactly the same feeling as its name purports. Though the mighty mountain of Bhimashankar has nothing to do with the mighty Bhima, it has everything to do with the peaceful yet angry Lord Shiva.
          As per mythology, to put an end to the fight of superiority between Lord Brahma and Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva created a pillar of light and asked each of them to find the end of it. While Brahma lied that he found one end, Vishnu accepted his defeat. Lord Shiva cursed Lord Brahma that he would never be worshiped on earth. The places on earth where the ray of light appeared are called the Jyotirlingas (abode of Lord Shiva) and Bhimashankar is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas.
          We left office on time on Friday evening to catch the train for Karjat. There was a lot of catching up to do for Pravin the non-stop Pawar since everyone else apart from him on the trek was from office. The normal dilemma of where to have dinner was solved as we landed outside Neral station and gave ourselves to the bar right outside the station. And as usual, the common “Kya khayega”…”Kuch bhi” went on for some time and the moment I ordered for “Chicken Sathe”, derogatory remarks rolled in whether that was the only dish I knew. The whisky people congregated to a table and the beer boozers on another. I tried having Pravins choice of poison but what’s an Antiquity to a Royal Stag and so I continued with mine. Andy suddenly realized that cigarettes are harmful for society, injurious to health, a disgrace to family, an addiction beyond repair and so he quit the cigarette in hand and ordered for a CIGAR!

          Satiated, we went to Sameers farmhouse in Neral in a tumtum, the darkness and quietness of the night being shattered by the blasting sound of the diesel engine. Any attempt to doze off in the tumtum was spoiled by the flashing of the torch in my hands in the sleepy faces. Sitting in his verandah, watching the illuminated bottoms of the fire-flies, we did best what should be done on such a dark night – ghost stories! While I was animatedly in the middle of one such story, out of nowhere, a whimpering jackal like howling right behind me made me jump of my chair. Only when Sameer cajoled the source of sound saying “Easy Champi, are you hungry?”, did we realize that this was no ‘bhatakti aatma’ and Champi, the bitch settled down after a few biscuits’ and we continued on our errand. Champi was kept alive in our memories for the next few days with Yeshwant singing/shouting every now and then “Champi champi, Chandan ki…”.

          Morning brought the same tumtum to our door and after Yashwant showed his love for Pravin by kicking him in the butt to wake him up, we started for Khandas, the base village for the trek. En route we had the worst breakfast of our lives at Kasheli and the missal paav was remembered by all and sundry as we visited the toilets for the next couple of days. Quite a few weekend houses, villas have spurted up near Bhimashankar Hills.

          “Har Har Mahadev!” We started the trek with a contagious fervor. This lasted only for a few minutes, approximately 30 as our inflated enthusiasms were deflated by the arduous climb till the Ganesh Mandir. Did I forget to mention that there are 2 ways to go to the zenith of the Bhimashankar hills, the Shidi Ghat way and the Ganpati Ghat way, the former being the shorter and dangerous one. We ventured on the latter! The Ganesh temple is located at a very scenic location in the middle of the forest. The first 30 mins gave us a glimpse of what the rest of the journey was to be, but we embarked again after a few minutes of rest.

          The trek to the top is completely uphill and you come across some plateau just when you are ready to give up. Most of the trek is through the jungle and part of it is on edge of the mountains. Every few steps makes you gasp for breath and you wonder if the water trickling down your face is your sweat or the rain water. It rained on and off. We kept ourselves together taking care that no one was too ahead or too behind. Like mules, as we walked being goaded by the sticks of our idiosyncrasies, a voice from the skies said “Rest for a while my child”. And you know what- there appeared a waterfall. And you know what – we rested, drank, splashed and frolicked! Leaving the waterfall after some time was like dragging ourselves with a huge log tied behind our backs. The gurgling and rapidly flowing water was the best therapy that could happen to your backs. No sauna or Jacuzzi could give you the kind of pleasure that the open air and the caressing water was giving us, that too in the middle of the jungle with a such a visual delight all around. This waterfall was one of the highlights of this trek. When we finally dragged ourselves away from it to continue our journey, we felt rejuvenated and replenished, as if we had just commenced the trek, emerging as new individuals. By the way, there was no voice from the sky – just clarifying unless a rumour begins!

          At one point in the trek as we were moving in a line through the jungle, I heard some ruffling in the nearby branches and thought it was a dog, but all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a huge monkey appeared and started advancing towards us. I shrieked at the top of my lungs and ran behind to crash into Pravin who crashed into Sameer. The monkey was neither after me nor Pravin, it had a soft corner for Sameer as he had a Cadbury Perk closer to his heart. Sameer thought that the monkey was coming after his camera and when the monkey held on to him, he too held on to the monkey and like lost brethren they almost embraced each other and went in 2 rounds before the monkey snatched what he was after. No one had the presence of mind to capture this circus in their cameras but it’s stamped in our minds forever – man VS wild!!
Can it get any better??
          As we continued, we came to a plateau and to our right was Padargad. Like an inverted cream-roll, it stood there, tall and upright, in concentric circles. I was told that the trek to Padargad is a challenging one. A little ahead, a narrow jungle trail to the right with a red leafed tree as the landmark takes you to Padargad. We had our first break for some munching here. Little flowers had bloomed and everywhere your eyes wandered, there was green. The jungles of Bhimashankar are famous for the presence of Shekrus (Giant squirrels), but all we saw in abundance apart from Nagesh was crabs of all shapes and sizes – mama and papa crabs, fufa crabs, bua crabs, uncle and aunty crabs, chunnu munnu crabs etc etc. Walking on flat ground felt like heaven. There are a few shacks built on the way by villagers and you can avail of food, tea, taak, cigarettes etc. As you come to the end of the plateau, to your left you can see the face of the mountain with numerous waterfalls trickling like sweat beads. Reminded me of Marleshwar! You can also see prominently one of the iron ladders – the way via Shidi Ghat. The uphill climb commenced again and we reached a point on the edge of the hill which took our breath away. It was truly a panoramic view with Padargad and another chain of mountain on one side and beyond the mist, you could make out the disappearing fa├žade of Peth/Kothligad and it felt happy to announce that we had been there. The other end of the view is a landscape stretching till the horizon. What a scene! Like a veiled beauty trying to hide her beauty from roving eyes, the clouds engulfed the mountains, giving us a glimpse only for a few seconds and what a beauty it was! No man made structure can ever appease you like this glimpse of nature did. No matter who you are, for a moment at least, you regret the life you are whiling away in the smoke of the city and you feel like being here – forever!

          There are around 5 rock patches on this trek, all of them almost at the end of it. It being Sameers first trek, he was doing exceptionally well and he braved himself through all the rock patches without a hitch. I always have a difficult time on these small stretches and as always, with my heart in my mouth and with helping hands, I crossed them. A little more of huffing and puffing through the jungle and we were at the top. We could hardly see anything as everything was covered in mist. You don’t need a Kumbh mela to get lost, a little straying away and you could lose your way completely in the mist. So, we stayed together – Hum saath saath the!

          As we reached the steps leading to the temple marked by the presence of a huge bell, we were disappointed to see a huge crowd and the usual queue and the needless pushing and shoving. It seemed an entire village had come down to take blessings of the Lord. Dressed identically, the men in dhotis and the women in the same kind of saris, they had come here for a purpose. A guy was selling plastic coverings for INR20 and almost all of them has them on their heads and backs saving them from the rain. Anand with his limited skills in Marathi twice got a taste of the local ire. Seeing this long snaking queue, we decided to wait for the darshan and went ahead and booked a room – a pretty basic one right behind the temple. Food also was available here and the long and arduous trek of almost 5 hrs had our stomachs churning and we feasted on the rice plate. Pravin wanted a Maharaja Burger but all we got was hot chapattis – poor guy. And then he also insisted on fried pappad instead of the roasted one. Post lunch we retreated to our room and Pravin and me brought out the Kishore Kumars and the Rafi in us as others snored to give us the background score. We attended the last Arti and it was really a nice and peaceful arti, well sung by the priests and at the end of it a conch shell was blown and another unknown instrument similar to the conch sounded melodic. Anil missed it since he was down with fever after being harassed by Yashwant all the way singing "Telakutti telakutti chaar ande". The temple is built in Hemadpanti style and inside, opposite the Shivling is kept a mirror so that devotees can see the image of the Lord even during the Arti or while standing in the queue. The idol of Lord Shiva has four faces and a moustache with Sheshnag hovering over it. We offered the purple Datura flowers, Datura fruit and bel leaves. We sat for some time inside the temple and narrated mythological stories amongst ourselves. Inside the temple we saw huge butterflies shaped like kites – Sam said they were Mormons. The temple is surrounded by other smaller temples of other deities. Nearby is the Bhima kund, the source of the Bhima river. Seeing the kund, you would only wish that the river is not so polluted and dirty because the water in the kund has been dirtied by humans. The Bhima river flows ahead into parts of Maharashtra where it is also called the Chandrabhaga. The stairs to the temple premises are lined by small shops selling kandi pedas, idols of gods and goddesses, various sacred threads, some eatables and other offerings. The walls of the temple are lined with small statues which seemingly are the Dashavtars. Houses crowd themselves outside the temple premises and are not a welcome sight and are rather dirty.

          Dinner, on public demand was Pithle bhakri – a delicacy from the ghats of Maharashtra. During dinner, Nagesh was eager to know why Dhritarastra was blind and we continued the story of Bhism, Amba, Ambika Ambalika and others before we dozed off. At night, the wind roared like a lion and the rain fell in torrents but Yeshwants undies didn’t dry. All of us thankfully got up in the morning on time and as we ventured out, the rain and mist was still impenetrable. So we decided to skip going to Gupt Bhimashankar which is around 2 kms from the temple. A waterfall falls directly on a Shivling at Gupt Bhimashankar. We started our trek back to the base, being extra careful at the rock patches since the rains had caused it to get more slippery. While crossing the rock patches, if fear creeps into your heart and mind, it can be a really dangerous affair as unconsciously your ears start hearing crushing bones and your eyes see you free falling and with a heavy heart you can feel the disastrous effect of gravity.

          A lot of trekkers felt like spending their Sunday climbing the mountain as there were too many groups while we were descending. For the localites, climbing up and down is a regular affair, it’s like a walk in the park for them and whether it’s Ganpati ghat or Shidi ghat, there’s no fear at all.
          We again spent considerable time at another waterfall formed near the ones we had bathed in earlier due to the heavy rains.Paisa vasool! The descent also seemed to be forever and we were so happy to see our tumtum. All through the descent, on fauji bhaiyon ki farmaish, we sang songs of all genres and stopped only when we saw the tumtum – ‘Aaj ke karyakram yehin pe samapth, fir milenge…”

          We were in for a surprise when we reached Neral station as there were announcements of a mega block. Luckily we got a train and almost picked up a fight with a dehati firang who thought he was the best standup comedian in the world.
Anyway, this trip I would rate right UP there because it was a really nice and enjoyable trek.

Keep walking!!

The infamous five
Batman and Robin err Pravin
The climb begins...

Chadhte raho..rukna mana hai

Resting for a while


The concentric Padargad

Bhil Raja and a single praja

Batman Fatman

Jungle men

Jhoola time

Back to his true self!!

Crossing a rock patch

Dissapearing into the forest

The forest ate up the path!!
Announcing to the Lord
Bhimashankar temple

For the Lord

Together we trek..together we sleep...YUCKS!!

Sam looks like the director saying "Good shot"

Sam - the monkeys are coming!!

Foonk foonk ke kadam rakhna

The gang

Kevin kekda

The peak of Padargad

In Hemadpanti style - The Bimashankar temple
Rock solid

Silhouettes - My best photo of the trek
Marching ahead

Moughli where art thou??

The twists and turns of life

Ganesh temple sitting pretty
The mighty Bhimashankar hills


Naghoba the waghoba

In the clouds


Another rock patch against a beautiful backdrop

Pandit YoPrasad Chaurasia

Meditation ain't easy

Survivors in office, survivors on the trek!!


Gheun taak!!

A slice of heaven

A stream

Sarjyachi Bails

Tellakutti telllakutti chaar ande

Sharad Kandi posing against the mighty Bhimashankar