It isn’t easy to escape the city’s love affair with the rains, especially if you aren’t a huge fan. On the first monsoon morning in Mumbai this year, nearly everyone on commute seemed to have be smiling. One’s hopeless search for a radio station that wasn’t singing paeans to rain was interrupted by a call — Could you skip work on Friday for a rain trail to Rajmachi?
Planner-in-chief for this rainy sojourn was the adventurous, trekker couple who had tried in vain for years, to hard-sell several hiking trails to the Sahyadris.The holiday was taken as one said a silent prayer for a rain-free weekend.
The start was ominous
The Rajmachi trek, as the grey squiggle on Google Maps is labelled, is about 19 kilometres long. Starting outside Lonavala, a grey road winds uphill to Udhewadi, a modest hamlet sitting in a valley between two ancient turret topped hills. It is a gentle climb, a long hike rather than a trek, along a tar road that quickly turns into a muddy, rocky path cut through the hillside.
Yours truly’s prayers for a rain-free weekend seemed to have been ignored. It was a grey morning to start with, and the drizzle quickly turned to heavy rain during breakfast in Lonavala. Sun and rain played hide-and-seek as we set off on the trail. Luckily, it was a fleeting shower, and we picked up pace as soon as we left the town roads.
Earth and rain
In less than an hour, we were deep in the woods, and high up in the hills. Barely a month ago, one had an aerial view of these hills, while on a flight into Mumbai on a clear, summer day. The mud brown cliffs and steep valleys were so vast, and so familiar from photographs, it might just as well have been a picture. What was amazing was to notice the drastic transformation that a little rain could make on the topography of this landscape. In the monsoon, the hills the rains feed the grass and the trees, create waterfalls and lakes, topped by the refreshing whiff of the wet earth The rain had turned the arid hills into rolling plains of green, dotted with golf course-like plateaus.
We walked at a steady pace, but stopping frequently to take photographs, to pluck wild berries, to get a swig of water, to talk to the occasional villager striding past us, for a quick bite of groundnut chikki. Four hours and seventy-five photographs later, a printed board ‘Reise Plate Available’ welcomed us into Udhewadi. Baban a villager from the area, at whose home we stayed, provides lodge and board to at least a hundred hikers every monsoon. His home is simple, but clean and spacious. In a village where everything, including the monthly stock of grain, has to be brought from Lonavala, home décor is limited to the essentials. Since we had telephoned him earlier in the day, a steaming meal of wood-fired bhakris and delicious yellow dal was awaiting us. After mopping up every last drop of the scrumptious rustic fare, we dropped like rocks on the charpoy laid out on the terrace. Clean, fresh air, cool breeze and the sounds of birds and rustling treetops filled the air. Calm… until a cloud burst sent us scampering in search of a roof!
Again, the rain stopped as quickly as it had started, and the sky cleared. Despite the 19-km hike, our day was all but over. Hot masala chai helped pep our spirits and senses. The next climb was a steep uphill journey to Shreevardhan Fort, the crown of one of the two hills shadowing Udhewadi. The hill rose right above us, challenging us to reach its cloud-covered pinnacle. It looked like a ninety-degree climb that would cause severe grief to the already-weary shins. Surprisingly, the walk and the climb eased them. Finally, as one reached the summit, the image resembled a detailed oil painting, which included the age-old walls of the fort, hills and cliffs, a little white blob that was our village, hills, plateaus and greens Seek solace in the hills It was nearing sundown, and the sun had cut open little gaps in the sky, creating streaks of silver, grey and white. A blue tint reappeared in the sky before the sun’s setting rays painted it a dusty orange. We stayed for a few more minutes, to soak in the subtleties and otherworldly qualities of the Sahyadris as its outline faded away.
We trooped back to Baban’s home in time for dinner — a quiet feast of rice-flour bhakris and hot potato curry. Next morning, we descended downhill from the other side — a 70-degree drop — to Karjat, instead of heading back the way we came, since that trail would now be crowded with weekend hikers. The rain maintained a civil distance, and we began our climb down. Endless new levels, shelves and tables were negotiated. The path was narrow, and the rain from the night made it slippery. We walked on quietly, encouraging each other along the trail. Whether it was the afternoon light, the fatigue, or the relief of making it to the end of the trail, was satisfying, to say the least. The two-hour train ride back to Mumbai gave one time to reflect —that the rains weren’t so bad, after all. To experience its niceties, one would need to leave the city.
Binge on Bhakri
Bhakris are round, flatbreads made using millet, rice or wheat flour. They are usually served hot with a dollop of clarified butter. This staple of Maharashtra’s heartland and is also served with green chillies. Also referred to as Dhebra, this humble food item is also eaten in Rajasthan, Goa and Gujarat.
How to get there
>> Lonavala is 100 kms from Mumbai, and 65 kms from Pune.
>> Buses, trains and taxis ply regularly from both cities. From Lonavala Railway Station, ask for walking directions to Lagoona Resort.
>> Continue up the mud path and into the hills thereon. Keep to your left at all forks en-route.
Man Friday at Rajmchi
For food, stay and directions if you’re lost, call Baban 09881215091