Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A Day hike to Valmiki Ashram

We gathered outside Kalyan station by 6.30 where Rahul was waiting with his Sumo. Left Kalyan by 7.15. The team consisted of mere four – Amol, Rahul, Padmaja and myself. Since the restaurants around Kalyan were yet to open for the day’s business, we proceeded further and after about an hour’s drive pulled up near a wayside restaurant to indulge in idlis and dosas. The breakfast concluded with that extra-sweet tea one finds in these countryside restaurantsJ. That was enough to make me feel queasy in the stomach but it did not ruin my happiness for long.

The drive was pleasant and the road fairly good. Pointing out rollers, bee-eaters, drongos kingfishers and other regular village birds to each other, and admiring the Shayadri range of Kulang-Madan-Alang and Kalsubai, Ratangad on the South / south-East, and Naneghat, Jivdhan, Dhakoba on the North we reached the base village in good time by 9.00. Got the village oldie to supervise the parked Sumo and shoo away over curious young brats. A five minute walk up hill and we settled down to gaze at the Ghatghar school yard and water tank seen on the opposite mountain range, Kalsubai peak, Alang, Kulang Madan. No sooner had we settled down than we started munching on the Rum flavoured chocolates Rahul had brought thanks to his sister who had come down from U.K, and finished off a tin full of homemade kharvas. We trudged further the climb was reassuringly gentle and entered thick jungle cover of towering evergreen trees. Plenty of wood climbers- Lianas and strangler figs were to be seen; mushrooms on exposed wood, spiders baiting on giant webs, anthills by your feet and ant nests above your heads. This part of the forest is supposed to be a “Devrai” as Rahul informed. A Devrai is a forest surrounding a holy place often around a temple, which is considered the province of the God/Godess, and hence no twig/tree is to be cut. Left so untouched by human hand for years together they form amazing bio-systems. For once it feels good to see, trees getting their due space on this planet.

As we neared the top we could hear human voices singing bahjans to the tune of cymbals (zhanja). We let the procession of about ten men, women and children pass by (It was a DINDI from Valmiki Ashram to Alandi) as we sat enjoying kachoris and chatni. At about 11.30 we were in the so called "Valmiki Ashram". It consisted of a temple, a hut with a huge Banyan tree in the background and another hut showing signs that it earlier used to have walls and a roof. We rested in another dilapidated structure sporting a loft supported by wooden poles. All about there were signs of burned out wood fires (chul) lit by villagers who camped here during specific festivals. After resting a while, Rahul, Padmaja and myself continued further to check out “Site che Paalna", which also has impressions of Sita’s feet left here while she took refuge at this place for delivering the much prized twin sons. The paay-waat to this place was as steep as the earlier had been gentle with some scree put in to make it that bit stimulating thru thick cover of Kaarvi. Panting and puffing we reached the top. Negotiating a small rock patch had been made manageable by resting a wobbly iron ladder on it. Once on the top on the left was a small cave with the “Site chi Paavle” in it. And thank God for small mercies in life - on the right was a small water tank. Drinking water from it meant balancing one self precariously on the edge of the rock face and helping oneself to whatever water you could retain in your palm. A coconut shell made the process easier. Refreshed and energized by life-giving water we spent some minutes watching the grand balancing act by the world’s greatest acrobats- monkeys – rhesus macaques and languors. The rock we were sitting on faced the popular Ajoba mountain wall. On the other end of the tank, we had a panoramic view of the range from Kulang to Kalsubai.

Back to base by about 1400hrs, we joined Amol for lunch which comprised of Methi parathe, Green-Garlic chatni, lemon pickle, Nestle Dahi, kachori, and plum cake (Ovenfresh) and more chocolates for dessert. We filled up our water bottles at the nearby watertank - there are two- the upper one has collected water while the lower one flowing water. A good one-hour’s siesta post lunch did us good. Few villagers who had come for an excursion and dev darshan stopped by to bathe in the water tanks. They were surely a noisy lot. Soon after at about 1600 hrs we started on our way back. Nearer the base, the light was good and suitable to shoot the panoramic range around and view the top most point of we had attained today.
It was about 1730 hrs by the time we touched base and found the Sumo intact, thanked the Ajoba for guarding the car and started our drive back. Once within the citylimits we stopped by again at Hotel Kasne for some pet puja of idlis, vadas and some decent coffee. We reached Kalyan by 2030hrs. This was one of the most leisurely trek I have had.

Text : Rama Bhave

Photo courtesy : Rahul Natu



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