The route: Bhimashankar is around 250 kms from Mumbai and falls on the border of Pune, Thane and Raigad districts. One way of getting there is to go to Karjat and take an auto rickshaw/ST bus to Khandas, which is the base village for the trek ahead. Another route you could explore is the Mumbai-Badlapur-Mhasa-Malsej-Junnar-Ghodegaon-Bhimashankar route.
Why go: Actually, the question you should ask is, why not? Bhimashankar is rarely frequented by tourists, it has an endemic fungus which glows in the dark. Hooked already?
Red Whiskered Bulbul in Bhimashankar. Pic Courtesy/ Adesh Shivkar
Shivkar says the best way to discover Bhimashankar is to turn explorer, even if it is for a day. “As a trekker, you could finish the trek in five-six hours and return to Khandas, but I wouldn’t call that the best way to see Bhimashankar.”
Trust Shivkar on that. The idol in the ancient shrine of Bhimashankar, he elaborates, has one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India. At about 3,000 feet, it has Maharashtra’s fourth highest peak. “Given its height, Bhimashankar’s flora and fauna is not the sort you’d find on every other trek,” says Shivkar. The majority of forests are covered with Anjani trees (Memecylon Umbellatum), and the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the Malabar Giant Squirrel, the Barking Deer and Sambar. If you’re lucky, you could also spot the Blue Mormon, a rare and beautiful butterfly.
Bhimashankar is also home to numerous species of reptiles, such as the Bombay Shield-tail snake, Mahabaleshwar Shield-tail snake, Bamboo Pit Viper, Green Vine snake, Green Keelback and the Bombay Bush Frog. If moths interest you, wait for the night to fall at Bhimashankar. You will not be disappointed.
It’s special because: Bhimashankar received electricity only seven-eight years ago, so it is relatively unaffected by irresponsible tourism, says Shivkar. “I’ve explored Bhimashankar with a Jim Corbett book in hand and tracked a leopard after sitting in a machaan for hours. I’ve even slept on Bhimashankar’s highest point, Nagphani, alone, and I can never forget how secure I felt even in the dead of the night. And it is something to lie around the region’s luminescent fungus,” smiles Shivkar.
The route: Sudhagad is a relatively simple, short trek and is not very steep. Be prepared to rough it out in some patches here, though.
You could hit the Goa Highway from Mumbai and turn left at Nagathone. After abour eight kilometres comes Pali. Sudhagad is best accessed from Paachapur, which is about 24 kms from Pali. If you’re feeling religious, go to the Ashtavinayak temple in Pali.
Why go: Sudhagad fort was built in 200 BC and is worth a look. But the reason Shivkar recommends this trek is because of the people you meet on the way. Near the temple, he says, lives an elderly couple who rustle up a delicious meal for trekkers, when requested. “They cook with jungle vegetables and few spices. I haven’t had anything like that again, except in a remote village near Nainital.” During the trek, you’ll come across strategically placed ladders to help trekkers and will be treated to a large plateau at the top.
It’s special because: While at Sudhagad, go beyond the scenery for once, insists Shivkar. “The locals here are exceptionally warm and can tell you everything you want to know about the region, and even about life in general,” smiles Shivkar.
The route: The best way to go to Harishchandragad is to go via Malshej Ghat, climb Khubi Phata, walk up to Khirshwar and beyond, until you reach the base village of Hari.
Why go: At the top of your trek at Harishchandragad, you get to live in caves. Enough said.
It isn’t everyday that you reach the peak, which is higher than Bhimashankar, and find a pond surrounded by a hilly terrain. Sadhus and cowherds occupy many of the aforementioned caves, so do greet them while you go finding one for yourself. There is no electricity and food supplies at the top (naturally), so get out those electric stoves and cook away, recommends Shivkar. The water could come from the streams around you. The Taramati and Rohidas peaks will beckon.
It’s special because: How often do you sleep in caves, sans urban ennui, with a sadhu snoring in the cave besides yours? “In Harishchandragad, it is man versus wild, really. You’re all by yourself, even if you decide to go with a group. It is like a remote sky island, except the creepy crawlies, of course,” says Shivkar.
Located at an altitude of 1,357 feet or 452 metres, Sagargad falls in the Alibag region. You can drive up to the base village of Khandala within three and a half hours if you set out from Dadar or Bandra. Once you park your vehicle there, set out to trek. It takes approximately 90 minutes to reach the Siddheshwar Temple. From the temple you can trek further up to the top of the Sagargad Fort from where you can see the entire Alibag region. It’s a wonderful sight.
There is also a reverse waterfall where the water flows down and then comes up again. Sagargad is an easy beginners’ trek and can also be done as an over nighter as you can stay in the temple. For an overnight trek, you are advised to carry mats, sleeping bags and food. Word of caution: Beware of monkeys. This trek can be done through the year.
Located at an altitude of 1,876 feet, Manikgad is situated near Karjat in the Panvel region. Take a local train to Karjat and then take a direct bus till the base village of Vadgaon or you can drive up till there directly. You can get a guide from the base village for a nominal amount. It takes two-and-a-half hours to trek. Once you reach Manikgad fort, you get a good view of Prabalgad, Karnala, Irshalgad, Chanderi and Matheran.
Word of caution: There is no shelter on top of the fort and carry at least a litre and a half of water as there is no water source on the top. Also one feels dehydrated while walking. This is a medium-grade trek due to the different kinds of terrains and drastic ascents.
Shivkar’s wise words for debutante trekkers
>> While monsoons are the best time to trek, know that some trails often turn inaccessible. Always go for a trek with a Plan B if you lose your way.
>>Inform locals in the base village, or anyone you meet on the way, about where you come from and where you intend to go for the trek.
>>Don’t depend on the group leader for everything – go prepared with maps, medical supplies, address of the nearest hospital and
>>Never stray away from the group, and keep everyone informed of injuries, no matter how minor they appear.
Subramanian recommends a few things one should bear in mind before starting out on trek:
>> >> Wear a T-shirt and capris or track pants. Avoid wearing jeans, as they become heavy once they get wet. Don’t opt for shorts, as you can cut or nick yourself easily due to leaves or thorns and also get bitten by insects
>> Always wear trekking shoes. Avoid wearing sports or gym shoes. Also, bear in mind once you buy good-quality trekking shoes, ensure you use them regularly. If you don’t them, they will wear out easily. Apart from wearing trekking shoes, also carry a pair of floaters in case of an emergency
>> Ensure you carry a good backpack with sturdy straps. Carry a rain jacket, water, dry lunch such as cheese sandwiches, chips, theplas, cup noodles and identity proof as at some villages, you will have to show it before registering your name at the local booth and starting the trek
>> Carry a first-aid box comprising an antiseptic, cotton, paracetomol, tweezer, band-aid and odomos
>> Always walk slowly and remain within sight of your guide and other members of the trekking team
>> Be alert, attentive and communicative
>> Always research the place before setting out
>> If you are going in a group or with your friends, then ensure that you know whether any one of them has a medical condition. This makes it easier to administer medication in case of an emergency
>> Remember trekking is more about mental strength than physical strength
>> Walk fast
>> Listen to music while trekking as it can be fatal