It was 3 PM of 31 December 2015 and it seemed like I will be welcoming the New Year in most traditional (boring) way. I was trying to convince (in vain) my mom to go somewhere… She didn’t want climb even the smallest hill nearby, nor she wanted to camp in a tent!
At about 1615, I saw some conversation between Prasad & Sagar which mentioned camping at Visapur and trek to Umberkhind or Ulhas Valley on New Year’s day. Like most of the times, this was a last minute plan. I asked my mom for permission to go. (Not that I am stopped anytime, but it is always better to follow the process.)
So at 1630, I informed Prasad that I would be joining his band. He told me to report at Pune Railway Station by 1845 and we would take 1905 local to Lonavala. Activa had a flat tyre so I knew I had to depend on public transport. That meant I had less than an hour to prepare and leave.
As such, packing my backpack for a trek is part of my skill set now yet it is a time consuming process. Process of elimination of necessities is the tricky part. Prasad had mentioned that we would be 5 heads trekking next day that meant carrying additional food. (Going by my previous experience, any amount of food carried is less on the trek. The more the merrier)
Finally with all the preparations done, mom dropped me off at the nearest junction from where I got a shared auto to Swarget. Looking at the watch, I knew I would miss the local train if I would stick to the plan of going to Pune Railway Station, hence I called Prasad and informed him that I would be boarding the train next suburban station Shivaji Nagar and he advised that if I missed this train then I could catch next train as well and reach Lonavala.
With all the game, I managed to reach Shivaji Nagar Railway Station in time and boarded the train. Looking at my backpack people were staring at me as if an alien has boarded the train.
Prasad and his gang from Pune were in the same coach yet it took few stations for me to locate them. Finally train reached Lonavala and we headed towards a hotel for dinner. At about 2030, the guys from Mumbai informed that they were still at Andheri as the bus hadn’t arrived. Prasad suggested them to stay back and arrive next morning.
Meantime, Sagar was mentioning about going to Raireshwar again next day. I had a feeling of being torn in 2 plans. It was like I wanted to step on both the stones simultaneously. Prasad as well was enthusiastic about Raireshwar. So he convinced Sagar to postpone the Raireshwar plan for some other day.
We had dinner and started going back to the station when Mehul called Prasad to inform that they had boarded the bus. Sujan and Prasad went looking for Maggi for midnight snacks and I and Shalini purchased the tickets to Malavali, the base village to Visapur.
We boarded the train at 2205 at Lonavala, got down at Malavali and started walking towards Bhaje village. Mehul again called and informed that the bus had reached Panvel. At this point, we decided to stay put near Bhaje Caves till these guys arrived and then to trek ahead later in night. The plan to watch crackers as part of New Year celebrations had doomed already. While, three of us, Sujan, Shalini and I stay put at the Caves, Prasad tried to look for the trail going further to Visapur in vain.
Prasad and band sat chatting for a while and I chose to snore.
Next morning, we headed back to Malavali Station. I checked the train time, we had to wait for good one hour before next train and Sujan and Shalini had a train in about half an hour so, instead of wasting our time We had breakfast and completed morning chores at station.
After reaching Lonavala, we purchased some chikki and buttermilk and took auto to Kamat Hotel. Some 5 years ago, I had been to Ulhas valley with my guru Ajit Ranade and few other friends. I missed them terribly.
It was 1115 when we started our descent from Shooting Point at Khandala. The descent is gradual and involves one or two tricky rock patches. At a patch, we used the 5 mm chord to emotionally aid the new bees. Prasad and I were laughing at us but it was important in order to encourage them.
Somewhere on the descent, Jill (read me) came tumbling down, bruised both hands and developed a small bump on crown. Team came to check if I was ok. I felt ok too. Rest of the descent was otherwise uneventful. After 2 hours we reached the base of the valley and before we would start traverse, we settled down and had lunch.
After that small accident, Prasad had already taken my heavy bag and I was carrying his lighter bag. This bag became lighter now.
We started the traverse and the most exciting part of this trek began. We had to cross the stream at times. We had started late that meant we had lost a major time of day light hence marching in speed was crucial yet safety couldn’t be compromised.
At several locations I noticed stones which looked like deliberately positioned. I would accept that as trail mark. So we were on right path. After some time we had to negotiate a small easy rock patch and commit to the stream again. After this point, I decided to position cairns for ourselves too. It also helped me rest before these guys would catch up.
It was 1530 when we reached base of monkey hill. The horns of Railways passing kept us the company all day. Apart from the rubbish thrown down the valley; that was only sign of civilization nearby.
We took few breaks in between for buttermilk and chikki.
Prasad said one stream comes from Kataldhar and joins Ulhas Valley. Post which there is village Mundhewadi, then Kondana from where we may get some vehicle towards Karjat. It was near this stream we got into the jungles drifted from main stream of Ulhas River as it had become deep and speedy. We crossed that stream and now Rajmachi was visible on our Right Side. Now the forests looked pristine. The water was not clean anywhere and was contaminated with sewage right from the beginning of trail.
This point forth, the trail was not clear and there were several misleading cattle trails around. Establishing trail marks like cairns made more sense here. Mehul kept checking our GPS location on his phone.
At a point, we saw few buffaloes in river, which was a sign of civilization nearby. Time was 1600. Prasad said we would need another 2 hours to reach Kondane. Sonam looked tired. Hats off to this girl for not giving up anytime. A well trodden trail led us from here.
Sometime passed and we came across few cattle like animals on the trail we were on. The debate is still on if they were bison! Prasad was leading the One of these charged against him. We retreated immediately, and took another trail which we had ignored earlier.
It was about 1830 when we saw some lights and as expected it gave us more energy to walk further. So finally we reached had reached Mundhewadi and now it was regular route to Kondane.
At Kondane, we got a dugdug to Karjat. Once back in the civilization, we all broke loose and had ice cream. I took a train back to Pune.
A New Year’s day was well spent in the lap of Sahyadri which also added more plans for the year.
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