If you’ve hit this page looking for directions on the Ratangad – Harishchandragad trek; I’m afraid, the bots have routed you to the wrong page. This is a travel tale of 30 wise morons from various places in India, on a mission to accomplish the R-H trek in three days as India rose to it’s 61st year of independence on August 15th. That said, you may want to refer to this link for more info and details. And if you just thought you’re going to find your way out and complete the R-H trek with the help of blogs and posts alone; Be forewarned, you’re surely in for hyper trouble and your close one’s would soon be contacting the forest gaurds to scout for yet another moron. Get the rules right and tread the path with someone who’s been there ample number of times!
Sometime during the month of July, one fateful day; Gourav drops a mail to Abhijeet and Suma on a long weekend trip to Pune for a trek. The plan then involved Kalsubai-Ratangad-Katrabai pass-Harishchandragad for a three day stint starting August 15th. With some cross checking and information from reliable sources, the plan is rejected, condensed, reworked and finally tuned. Two weeks before the dead line the plan is sort of base-lined. A team of 10 from Hyd, 12 from Pune and 35+ from B’lore were to touch base Pune on the early hours of August 15th. A series of conf. calls and mails throng the network in preparation for the I-day trek. Abhijeet monitors the status remotely from Kolkota. Nominations, food and travel arrangements are almost frozen.
On August 12th comes the bomb shell – Incessant rains strike Pune, Dams are full to the brim and a set of places are evacuated. Forecast for the weekend was remotely positive. Nishant gets updates from Nikhil and co. that doing R-H would be a bit dicey. Considering the situation, the B’lore team takes a call and all first time trekkers are given a NO-GO signal. The team is now brought down to 10 from B’lore, 8 from Hyd and 9 from Pune. All of us were to complete Ratangad – Katrabai pass- Harischandragad. The initial option of dropping out after Ratangad is obviated. So one mini bus and Travera is cancelled. At the last moment Nitin, Manzuma, Bhabhani and Balaji pitch in.
The final plan was that a set of seven people – Nishant, Nikhil, Kunal, Ashutosh, Suhas, Nitin and Bhabani would leave for Ratanwadi village by 6:00am and pilot the remaining team. Abhijeet and I would pick the Hyd and B’lore folks in a mini bus and move down to Ratanwadi.
Shekar wakes me up asking me for directions to Visapur. Giving him the directions I look at the watch. Damn! It was already 05:15am and I’d asked the Travera driver to be at Aundh by 05:30 am. I quickly contact him and wake him up from his slumber. By 06:00 am he hits for base and we go about the city picking up Ashu, Bhabhani, Nitin , Nishant, Nikhil and Kunal. The vehicle finally leaves for Ratanwadi at around 07:00am. I head back home and prepare a sumptuous breakfast for myself. A few more calls and I head to pick up the Theplas and chocolates that I’d ordered two days back. At 08:45am Gourav calls me informing that the Hyd team would be reaching Pune at about 10:00am. B’lore folks would be reaching at 10:35 am by the Lokmanya tilak express. To be on the safer side I google a bit on the place and important village names. At about 10:00am, Sami and I leave for the station with the mini bus. Siva joins us at the station as we wait for B’lore folks to arrive. A few minutes later the team arrives and as we hurl the Backpacks and other trekking gear onto the vehicle, Donald, Balaji, Sridar and a couple of other folks head to the station master to get the return ticket modified. For some reason this takes a while and we head for Breman circle at about 11:45am. Hyd folks meanwhile freshen up at my house and head for Breman Circle with Suhas. Abhijeet who’s been waiting for a while, gets into the bus at Shivajinagar. We finally leave the city outskirts by around 01:00pm.
The driver for some reason just wouldn’t cross 60kmph even on the Highway and we happen to reach Sangamner pretty late at about 05:00pm. All through the travel Abhijeet and I try contacting the pilot team to get status of the roads and weather there. As we have a late lunch finally we’re able to get the call across and Nishant hints that one of the roads to Bandhardara was blocked due to a landslide and by the time we reach, we may not be able to get a ferry across too. All that we had left was a longer route to traverse through and that would mean adding a couple of hours to the schedule. With no other option in hand we proceed towards Bandhardara through Akole and Rajur across the dam. The travel to the destination goes about with a weird mixture of anxiousness and enthrallment. We have a tough time rationing the Theplas. We were under the assumption that food would be available at the base villages but since we’d screwed the whole schedule totally, We had no other option but to stock them for further use. Bad news peps in soon with Nishant calling us and informing that climb uphill to Ratangad should be avoided as far as possible! We finally decide to split into two groups. Balaji, Manzuma, Sami and Pandey were to trek upto Ratangad and then get back to Pune on Saturday while the rest of the team would meet the Pilot team at the R-H bifurcation and proceed via Katrabai pass to Harischandragad.
At Rajur, we’re advised not to go further beyond Samrad colony as the dense fog and rain would make visibility close to zero. A bit of tinkering here and there in the dense fog and we hit Samrad colony finally. It’s close to 11:00pm. Hunger just adds up to the long travel strain that the B’lore and Hyd folks have had and all that anyone around there was thinking of was to hit the floor as soon as possible. Kedar and Sridhar distribute the Sleeping bags and mats and in a few moments everyone dozes.
Morning at about 4:30 am, we’re woken up and by 06:00am we head towards Ratanwadi. Abhijeet and I scout for a route, find the wrong one and lead the bus there. Fortunately a villager redirects us to the right path and from there on we manage to reach the Ratanwadi village. We pay a brief visit to the temple and about 07:45am leave for the R-H Bifurcation with two villagers as we didn’t want to lose any more time. At about 09:00am we reach the bifurcation. The pilot team too happens to reach at almost the same time. We have a quick introduction and from then on decide to walk as soon as possible to reach Kumshet village. After a series of getting lost in the foliage , despite having a guide we manage to reach Katrabai pass at about 11:30am. All that drives us ahead is the assumption that we’d find food in the base village. The road never seems to end and it takes a while before we reach the village. The moment we reach Kumshet all eye’s scout for a fireplace and a vessel above it. Ah! Surprises never come when you need them. The villagers inform us that had we been there a bit earlier they could have arranged something. Cooking now for 30 of us was simply out of question. Nikhil then informs we may be able to find something to eat at Pachnai village. But for that we’ll have to leave as early as possible as a river was to be crossed. From hearsay we get to know that the river was in spate and crossing it would be very risky and difficult. Theplas had to be kept as the last option and we move ahead after gobbling a set of munchies. Had blessings been tangible, I’m sure I’d be suffocating to death from people showering them on me for having made such wonderful arrangements for food.
Everyone is literally pissed off and we finally take a call. Not one of us walks slowly till we reach Pachnai village. Gourav, Animesh and Kedar brief people and we move on with high spirits. Food at times can be such a motivating factor! More so, if you’ve had literally nothing for the past two days! About fifteen minutes of pure hiking and thankfully we get to see a river flowing about 300 feet below us at the end of the plateau. It’s a breath taking sight from here and we’re literally hooked to this place for about five minutes. ‘Something’ again reminds us of our destination and we head down through the hillock and reach the base.
Learn the Fisherman’s knot !
As we near the point where the river is to be crossed we really get to see and feel the real currents. From the 300ft hillock, what looked like a silent stream was indeed a river in full spate. Nishant tries wading through to test and see if the stream was traversable. The rock climbing rope that the B’lore team got all the way from B’lore finally comes to use here. Nitin and Abhijeet wade through the currents to the other side of the stream and tether it to a bark of a tree. While Nikhil and a couple of other folks tag it to a stout tree at this end. One by one each of us cross the stream with the rope’s support and reach over to the other side. You need to have a look at the snaps and videos to really admire the team work that happened across there! Nitin was really helpful in doling out his scout expertise there but I guess the fisherman’s knot was the best part of it all ! As we cross the stream and walk a bit ahead, we get to see a village not far across. Moments before we fall under the impression that this could be Pachnai, we’re told by a few villagers that we crossed the stream unnecessarily and we had to head to another place instead of this. From here starts the way back across the stream but from a different point where the current was not that powerful. A couple of villagers help us cross the stream and get to the other side. Once on the land, we had to walk a few more yards ahead and cross another easily traversable stream and finally we hit land for good. I wonder what we would have done had we not carried the ropes along with us!
Trust your instincts.
The stream crossing sort of re-vitalizes us and we move ahead towards Pachnai. Walk, Walk and Walk was the sole mantra! Two hours and still no sight of any village. Every turn round the corner we hope in vain to spot a villager, but then Murphy always wins! At around 7:00pm, the gap between the team widens and people slowly start giving up. To avoid blackout’s we finally remove the penultimate reserve of Theplas and chocolates. About twenty minutes is spent flat in the middle of the road. Siva had brought some sweet bun and mixture. We’re least bothered of anything, as we rest in eternal glory chomping on the little food that we had in our hands. Having regained a bit of energy the ten of us walk along the path. Rains are something that we now start detesting! Dusk looms and we get our torches outside. Not one of us is really sure if we’re moving on the right path. All that we knew was that we had to keep moving on and on till wherever the road leads. At a certain point the road bifurcates into two. Tired of taking decisions we follow our instinct and take the road to the left. Finally after about thirty minutes of walk we come across a tarred road. A bit of relief thumps in our veins. The tarred road for sure meant we were heading to a village – How far was an issue, but then we at least had a goal now!
Someone’s found us!
As the quest for human beings continues, somewhere far ahead we hear a double whistle hoot. Boy, Oh! Boy. We’re overwhelmed. I instantly pull out the whistle from the sling and respond the call. We run a bit ahead and make sure the call is from one of our folks by the adventura whistle code. A bit ahead as we turn round the corner we see headlamps flickering. We’ve finally found the team! In a few moments we have Nikhil and Donald running in our direction. They guide us along a bit ahead and inform us that they’ve found the Pachnai Village. Food arrangements have been made and everyone in the team is safe! We’re sure had Donald and Nikhil not traced back the route to find us we’d stopped right at the spot where the tarred road was submerged by a small stream in spate. We finally make it to the village in about fifteen minutes guided by a villager. These villagers rock!
The expressions on the faces of everyone, as we huddle in the cow-shed warming up in front of the Kerosene lamps is something that I’d never forget! As the Besan dal and rice go down the our throats, a burning sensation grips the flow. Getting to eat proper food after about two days of hiking,wandering and losing the way is heavenly pleasure. Every little step becomes painful and all that anyone was looking forward to was to hit the floor. Nikhil and Nishant help in sorting out the temple floor for everyone to sleep.In moments we’re equivalent to dead logs!
At about 7:00am after a hot cup of milkless tea, Nikhil, Nishant, Kunal and Nitin decide to move ahead to Harishchandragad. The Hyd team had to reach Pune by 4:00pm and not many from the B’lore team were ready to walk another mile. The final action plan was to reach Pune ASAP! We had to contact the drivers of the Mini bus and the travera as they’d not yet reached Pachnai village as asked to. As there’s no network coverage in the village, Our host at the village volunteers to take us to a place about 3kms from here where we could get coverage. Once we reach this spot and dial the numbers, we’re in for more surprises! The drivers are not reachable. With no option left, we decide to walk another 4kms and reach lavaii village from where we could PROBABLY find a means of transport to Khireshwar and then to Pune. Abhijeet and I have literally no idea how we’re about to spell this out to the B’lore and Hyd team. As we almost come to a conclusion that the Hyd team would have to miss their train, round the corner the Pink Satava mini bus followed by the Travera winds up the road. Phew, We’re more than exhilarated!
The Hyd team leaves in the travera and later we get to know they’d reached right on time. The remaining twelve of us head for Rajur hoping to get news from the other four who’d started their climb up Harischandragad. All attempts to contact them turns futile as none of them are reachable Finally at about 02:00pm we get a call from Nishant from a village booth giving us their location. At about 05:30pm we reach NarayanGaon and stop there for tea. As we have a befitting snack, Nishant calls us and lets us know that they were somewhere close to Junner and would be able to make it to NarayanGaon in probably another thirty minutes. At about 07:00pm the group of four finally make it to the place where we were waiting and we head towards Pune. At 11:30 pm as I make the final payment for the vehicles at Aundh and head back home and recall the eventful past three days, I’m reminded of the first mail that Gourav had dropped .
Most of us haven’t covered Ratangad and Harischandragad as planned. But I guess, there’s a lot of learning and enriching experiences that we’d take back home from the villages that we’ve hit.
I wish I could capture the moment when people got to see real food on the second night at the Cow-Shed! That would have been the Kodak moment of the trip. As Abhijeet once put it, Trekking is not all about reaching the peak, It’s the expressions that you get to see on the faces of people at times that makes the trip all the more enriching. Miles to go before you Sleep !