Trek to Rithyache Daar & Ghodepaani Naal
Well before metaled roads were invented and automobiles could help reduce the travel time, the ancient Sahyadris range boasted of an intricately developed system of Trade Routes locally known as “Ghat Waat” – ‘Ghat’ meaning ‘Mountain Pass’ and ‘Waat’ meaning ‘Road’! Since times immemorial, these roads have served as the arterial pathways to keep the trade routes busy from the harbors in Konkan to the cities and capitals on the High Deccan Plateau of Sahyadris. Imported Goods coming in from as far as Europe were unloaded from ships at the bustling Kalyan Harbor. They were then loaded onto bullock carts and this caravan of hundreds would begin the arduous journey to the base of the legendary Naneghat pass. Depending on the traffic in the narrow mountain pass, the caravan would have to wait below after completing the paperwork. Once the green signal was given, the winding journey up the serpentine pass would begin and from the top the flat road on the plateau to the prosperous city of Junnar would begin. The caravan would reach Junnar, unload the goods and after a brief rest, would load the goods to be exported and head out towards the Kalyan harbor again. From what we can derive from known historical records, these roads in Sahyadris helped the legendary Indian empires like Satvahans, Chalukyas, Rashtrakuts and Yadavs to trade with countries in Europe, Africa as well as the Far East!
Naneghat, about 60km from modern day Kalyan city, is the most well-preserved historical trade route, complete with an ancient cobbled pathway up the mountain! However, this time around we decided to visit two of the more remote and smaller routes just before Naneghat. These routes were not a hive of economic activity like Naneghat because these are narrow paths and quite steep for traders to take their caravans up the slope. These were probably used by villagers to quickly travel between villages of Deccan Plateau and Konkan. These two routes are known as Rithyache Daar & Ghodepaani Naal.
Our Trek Route – Climbing Rithyache Daar and Descending Ghodepaani Naal
Places in Sahyadris often have strange names – many times the origin of these names is deep rooted in local legends, myths or historical events. These two routes are subject to the same nomenclature logic! In Marathi Language, ‘Daar’ means ‘Doorway’ which implies that ‘Rithyache Daar’ is a doorway to the Deccan and the route probably had a lot of ‘Ritha Trees’. Similarly, ‘Naal’ in Marathi means ‘connection’ and geographically it denotes a connection or a vertical pass in the mountains. Hence, ‘Ghodepaani Naal’ actually means a ‘connector of Konkan and Deccan’ where probably traveller’s horses used to stop for drinking water.
Centuries have gone by and the once busy trade routes have fallen silent. These ancient trade routes have become obsolete due to the modern tar road network that has now connected the Konkan and the Deccan. Minor shortcuts like Rithyache Daar and Ghodepaani Naal have become totally desolate.
Hence, when we decided to explore these routes, we did a lot of reconnaissance for it. We spoke to friends who had visited the place recently, took to Google Maps to study the satellite imagery and also contacted the guide who would take us through this rarely visited territory. These difficult routes have now become so less used that in the base village of Singapur, we found only one person who knew the route and was ready to accompany us up and down the steep passes! Sankalp Chaudhari, who had visited the region in January 2021 was of great help and provided us with the contact of the guide, Kailash Wagh.
Driving all night and battling the unlimited stream of idiots coming head-on with high beam lights on the dark roads of rural Konkan, we reached the already asleep small hamlet of Singapur at around 0130 am. Strong, chilly gusts of wind greeted us as we got down from the vehicle. Shivering, we moved towards the village school in darkness. Illuminating our mobile phone flashlights, we scanned the Veranda for any ‘intruders’. No sooner than we stepped on the Veranda, a fiendish little mouse darted out of the corner and scurried away into the darkness out of our sight! Having evicted the rat, we occupied the tiled Veranda and settled comfortably into our sleeping bags, hoping it would not come back and scurry over our sleeping bodies! The school Veranda was our only defence against the onslaught of the invading wind and it defended us through the night! As soon as we hit the “beds”, Sameer and Mandar started snoring, and I, as always struggled to sleep in a new place. With the wind to keep me company, I tried hard to sleep but rarely succeeded. After a fitful and restless sleep, we woke up in the early morning. As soon as we woke up, Mandar informed us that something ran across his face in the night! That fiendish little devil of a rat had scored one over us in the dead of the night and had his revenge against those who dislodged him from his rightful place! There was nothing we could do about it now and needed to move on! And so, we did!
After a restless night we had a daunting trek ahead! Our tummies needed to be fed some fuel if the old engine was to fire up and navigate the daunting steep ascent. We splashed our faces with chilled water to causing the remnants of last night’s sleep to flee. Plates of Hot Poha garnished with fried peanuts and onions were waiting for us at the village. In a matter of minutes, the entire breakfast was devoured leaving the plates spotlessly clean! Burps of satisfaction were drowned by cups of steaming sweet Tea and finally we got ready to climb!
By now, the rising Sun had begun illuminating the crestline of the Western Ghats. The looming mountains, which seemed like dark obscure shapes against the moon lit night sky were now slowly becoming clear. The gullies, valleys and pinnacles of Sahyadris, well concealed by the darkness, revealed their true identity to us in almost a theatrical manner! On reaching Singapur in the dead of the night, the massive shapes of the Sahyadris did seem daunting at first but now as the sunlight lit up the nooks and crannies of the mountains, what really lay wait for us on the trek was enough to dampen anybody’s spirits! However, having done so many treks we knew exactly what to expect! We just had to put our heads down and climb on without complaining. On top of that, we would be helped by the fact that the sun wouldn’t hit us while climbing – thanks to the west facing climb.
By the time we had begun our trek, the crescent moon had ended its night shift and was off to sleep, a shadow of its former glory! Our guide, Kailash led the way, treading the fields and plains rapidly with us in hot pursuit. Our aim was to climb up as fast as possible so that the descent could be done at leisure. As we speed-walked, the previous night’s gale refused to relent. With all its might, it rushed down the narrow gullies of Sahyadris, gathering force as it descended and hit us full force in our face! Sending a chill down our spine, it blasted away any remnants of lethargy – a different kind of welcome indeed!
A brisk stroll over the limited plain ground took us into a river bed – as dry as a desert! Climbing down around 20 ft to the base of the river bed made us realize what a huge and wide river this must be in every monsoon! The Konkan receives one of the heaviest rainfalls in India during the monsoons. As the rain clouds clash with the Mighty Sahyadris and pour down torrents of water from the heavens, this water cascades down the steep slopes and every tiny rivulet becomes a roaring monster! After crossing the river, we entered the dense and pristine forests nestled in the nurturing arms of Mother Sahyadri. Thankfully, “less touched” by humans, these forests continue to thrive wildly, the way they were meant to! After a short walk through the cold forests of the morning, we felt the earth rising beneath our feet. The gradient had begun. Climbing a little through the rocky river bed, we arrived at a fork in the road. Kailash informed us that the left route took us up the Ghodepaani Naal while the right one – the steeper and more precarious one – took us up Rithyache Daar. As decided and recommended by Kailash, we would trek up the steeper route first. There had been landslides and the route had a lot of loose boulders and rocks waiting to be dislodged at the slightest touch. Moreover, it would be advisable to do so till the air was cooler and we were fresh! Once this difficult problem had been done and dusted, descent through Ghodepaani Naal would be long but relatively relaxed – as it was a wider gorge. I likened this to the great Indian Freedom Fighter Lokmanya Tilak – a brilliant mathematician – who in school used to tackle the difficult mathematics problems first and then do the easier ones later! Since the logic fitted our situation perfectly, we agreed to follow his advice and set off climbing after him.
As the ascent started getting steeper, the boulders got bigger! There was no fixed route so we had to scramble up the loose rocks and soil that peppered the mountain gully. From way down here, we could not see the top of the mountain pass even if we craned up our necks! This signaled the beginning of the actual climb. From way down here, if we looked up, we could not see the top of the mountain pass as the overgrown jungles and rocks blocked our view. The wind was blowing harder than ever and it we started to sweat, it sent chills down our spines! We shuddered but this wind was a welcome one because it kept us from getting tired throughout the entire climb! Soon the terrain changed to a mixture of huge boulders with razor shar edges, 6 feet tall Karvi shrubs and loose soil and rocks below our feet! We had entered the premium ankle-snapping, bone-breaking and skull-cracking territory of Sahyadris! One wrong step, one hurried move and you would pay a heavy price for it!
This steep climb up this crag of Sahyadri took about 2 more hours. It was almost 12 noon now but still the blistering sun could not reach us such was the density of the forest around us! The cool wind and the shade kept us going till we reached a place where a small Cluster Fig tree had grown out of the rock. Just below the tree was a small cavity. We sneaked a peek inside the cavity – Lo and Behold! – a small stream of ultra-pure and super-cold water was flowing from below the roots of the tree! This nectar from the belly of the rocks was an adrenaline boost for our bodies!! We soon drank our fill and with renewed fervor started the climb towards to the summit of the pass! In no time under the expert guidance of Kailas, we negotiated the dense Karvi thickets and reach the sunny top! From here, the spectacular and awe-inspiring depth of the Gorge was unbelievable! We could see the entire Konkan plains from the top! Behind us was the vast and ancient Deccan plateau but as is often the case in Sahyadris, visuals are often tricky! We had imagined a flat terrain upon climbing and expected a flat and straight forward walk to the starting of the Ghodepaani Naal. However, the entire area behind us was hilly and covered in impenetrable vegetation! Far in the distance, settled on the banks of a reservoir was the small little village of Amboli -the first village on the deccan plateau when you climb Rithyache Daar!
As we were searching for shade to have a quick lunch before beginning our descent, we stumbled upon the faeces of a leopard! The hair of its last night’s dinner could be clearly seen in the dried-up faeces. Certainly not wanting to end up in its tummy, we hurried away from there. But I am quite sure, the leopard would have already seen us before we saw it, if it was anywhere nearby! We soon found a spot to eat lunch and had an assorted lunch consisting of Methi Theplas, Chilli Pickle and lots of dry fruits. After resting for a few winks, we set off again to the mouth of the Ghodepaani Naal to start our descent.
The view that awaited us took our breaths away! The gorge descended deep into Konkan plains and right in front of the gorge stood 3 massive pinnacles called the “Bahuli (Doll)” pinnacles! Behind them, overshadowing everything and dominating the landscape was the Massive Fort of Jivdhan with its Vanarlingi Pinnacle!! Behind that mountain, one could see the massif of Naneghat – called Nanacha Angtha or Nana’s Thumb! Like children in a candy shop, we devoured the splendid feast with our eyes and forever froze the frames in our cameras!
Soon the descent began and we settled into the routine of descending huge and loose boulders, finding our way through the thick vegetation while the plants scratched at our sides! We kept the descent slow as we were well within the schedule. Under the watchful eyes of the ancients, we kept on proceeding till we had to leave the gorge and turn to the left where within half an hour we were back at the fork from where we started! We turned back to the see the Majestic Basalt Wall of Sahyadris lit up in the late afternoon sun! We could see the crucial arterial trade routes clear as a crystal. They were flanked by their Guardian forts of Jivdhan and Dhakoba. This system of building economic activity around defence structures is key to the sustained survival of civilizations not only in India but also across the globe! Mesmerised to the core, we stood rooted to the spot as we took in the magic of Sahyadris – as much as the human eye could capture!
After a brisk walk, we were back at the village where our guide, Kailash invited us to his humble abode introduced us to his family and offered us sweet black tea! Such a sweet refreshing tea after an arduous trek is what the soul craves and Kailash won our hearts with his whole-hearted hospitality. He was insisting we stay for dinner and was ready to cook chicken for us! But civilizational chords had by now started pulling at our mind. Tomorrow was Monday and however blue it might be, one had to suit up and appear for duty! We bade a sad farewell to Kailash and his family and started our drive home along the winding and bumpy roads of Rural Sahyadris. The setting sun had now turned this Ancient mountain range into pure gold. As I steered my trusty vehicle and negotiated the curvy road, my mind followed suit and set off on the winding thought highways. If one was really not seduced by the desires of the modern civilized world, if one had but a small piece of land and could grow his own food was there really anything else which man wanted but to bask in the glory of these mountains?
– Pranjal Wagh ©
07 Feb 2021