Trek # 16
When: August ‘16
Height: 518m (till Nedhe)
Total Distance: 11 km
Duration: 6-8 Hours
Nearest railway station: Karjat (Central Railway) & Panvel (Harbour Railway)
Base Village: Irshalwadi/Nanivali
Route: Karjat- Chowk bus stop- Chowk railway station- Nanivali- Irshalwadi- Irshalgad Nedhe & back via same route
GPS trail: Irshalgad Wikiloc GPS trail and Map
Description: Alight at Chowk bus stop (NOT chowk fata, the station is a km from that stop) & cross Chowk railway station to reach the Morbe Dam road. The trail passes through Nanivali before climbing uphill to Irshalwadi (base village).
Take the mud trail in south-west from Irshalwadi (keeping Irshalgad to your right) and proceed for 300 m, crossing a temple and couple of seasonal streams along the way to reach a pass. Turn right (usually marked by a shoe/bottle on a twig) and climb the rocky trail to reach the main ridge. The way ahead is up the western face of the mountain. Negotiate a medium grade rock patch & a rickety vertical ladder to reach the Nedhe.
Follow the same route for descent.
NOTE: You can reach the base of the Irshalgad pinnacle by a narrow, exposed path to the north of the Nedhe. Utmost caution is advised in monsoon as strong winds lash the peak. Do NOT attempt to climb the peak without proper training and most importantly, without proper equipment.
Difficulty: Monsoon: Hard for beginners & Medium for experienced trekkers
Risk Factor: Medium till Nedhe & High for Peak. (What do these grading indicate? Find out here!)
Best Time: June-March
Travelling expenses: Less than 100 per head
Food and Water: Two water cisterns near the Nedhe are the only source of water on the mountain and they dry up in summer. Carrying adequate water (3+ litres is advised)
1. Irshalgad to Prabalgad traverse trek: This is a gruelling 20 km trek where one starts from Chowk railway station, climbs up to Irshalgad Nedhe and back to Irshalwadi before proceeding to Prabalgad by a 2 km long connecting ridge at the North. A tricky traverse over the prabalgad plateau (maal) leads you to the Poinje col, from where one can ascend Prabalgad via the route known as Poinje South ascend (aka Chincholi Vaat) or continue west to reach the southern Prabalmachi hamlet and then continue to Thakurwadi or Vardoli. I did this route in Monsoon ’17 and the guide is essential as the trail is often hidden underneath overgrowth during Monsoon. A young lad from Irshalwadi, Sunil Pardi (Contact # 8412824190) led us all the way to Prabalgad. He can also help you with the ascend to Nedhe if there are are newbies in the group.
- All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by me or my friends, unless stated otherwise.
Irshalgad is a 526m high hill in the Matheran range which might have been used as a watch tower to keep an eye over the region between Manekgad and Prabalgad. The final 10 m high climb to peak involves technical rock climbing and shouldn’t be attempted by amateurs. The following write-up is an attempt to give you an idea of the climb till the Nedhe (a naturally carved hole in the rock), about 518 m above MSL, which can be attempted with minimum risk. Annotated maps of the route have been added to help understand the route better.
The Gang: Rohit & Me
Account of the Trek:
I first laid my eyes on the boat shaped pinnacle of Irshalgad while passing through Irshalwadi back in July ’15, on our way to Matheran by the Pisarnath ladder route. Later I looked up every available piece of info that I could lay my hands on and one thing was certain: the final climb to peak is very dangerous. And when Harish Kapadia (Author of ‘Trek the Sahyadri’, for whom the risky Nakhind-Peb traverse is a pleasant morning walk 😮 ) cautions you to be careful while attempting the peak, you better pay heed 😛
On a more serious note, the final climb to the peak is notorious for casualties (atleast a couple of them have been documented: One in the 80’s and another one in the last decade. Memorial plaques have been fixed at the base of Nedhe & pinnacle in their memory) and best left to trained professionals with proper equipment.
So, I and Rohit finally decided to hike upto the Nedhe (easy in winter and medium grade in monsoon), last August. We have been friends since Jr. College and are always looking for trips that push our limits- but this one literally pushed me past my limits. A very hectic week leading up to the trek meant I had slept less than 4 hours in the last two days and this made the trek, a lot more challenging.
One of the things I love about trekking with Rohit is that he’s always game for an early start and this time was no different! We boarded the 4.48 am CST-Karjat local train, alighted at Karjat at 7.15 am and crossed over to the east side to enquire about the transport options.
NOTE: Tum-tums which operate on seat sharing basis, charge you 20 Rs/seat whereas Panvel bound buses will drop you off at Chowk bus stop for 14 Rs/seat.
We were busy paying for a samosa at the only hotel open that early when I heard the distinct rumble of the Laal dabba (that’s what the iconic red coloured bus of the State Transport is locally called. It’s fast & uncomfortable but more importantly, there are very few places it won’t go to in Maharashtra 😛 )
Now this remains one of the few instances when I had a bad experience with an S.T bus conductor cos usually, if you are polite with them then they are really helpful.
We had requested the conductor to let us know when the bus is about to reach our stop, which is a common practice in S.T buses. About 15 mins later, we alighted at what, according to him, was the Chowk bus stop. It was only after the bus had passed that I noticed we were at the Chowk fata (the junction where Karjat-Murbad road meets NH 48), which is a good kilometer away from Chowk bus stop. I checked the ticket and to my dismay found that he had fleeced us by handing us tickets to some random destination, the fare for which was a mere 2 Rs despite charging 14 Rs, which is the fare for Chowk.
Now in case you are wondering, No, the money isn’t the issue here- 12 Rs is petty change in today’s time. What hurt me was the fact that he had conned us and on top of that, knowingly made us alight at an incorrect stop.
I have since made it a point to check bus tickets thoroughly. It is indeed unfortunate that the goodwill built by numerous public employees over so many years is lost because of a single black sheep
Anyways, putting behind the unpleasant experience, we started walking along the highway but soon found out that it ‘ll be safer to walk along the very rarely used Karjat-Panvel railway corridor instead of the road, swarming with speeding cars 😛
The hills were enveloped by fog but the trail to Irshalwadi was clearly visible all the way from Chowk fata. We crossed Chowk railway station around half past eight and took the Morbe Dam road to Nanivali, a tiring walk of 1.5 kms on the paved road.
As mentioned earlier, the trial splits after Nanivali and we took the uphill trail in the North-west (slight left) while the broad trail in the North (slight right) passes through a 5-odd km stretch of dense forest to end at Arkaswadi, the base village for Pisarnath ladder trek to Matheran.
The trail zig-zags through the steep section of the hill and flattens out on the narrow section of the ridge before entering Irshalwadi. I had started feeling drowsy by then due to lack of sleep and I voiced my aprrehensions to Rohit. There was no point in putting Rohit at risk by continuing the trek when there were chances of me becoming a liability later on in the tougher sections but he would have none of it- Rohit was sure I could pull it off when I wasn’t sure myself! If it wasn’t for his constant encouragement, I probably would turned back from there. I didn’t thank him back then but I ‘ll make amends here. Thank you, Bro! 😉
The boat-shaped pinnacle of Irshalgad was still obscured by fog when we reached Irshalwadi at a quarter to 10. After confirming the path with a kid from the hamlet, we took the mud trail in south-east (keeping Irshalgad to our right) and crossed a seasonal stream in 5 mins’ time followed by the temple of Vishaladevi.
NOTE: When we were ascending in the morning, the visibility was barely 15 feet and hence, most of the pictures posted below were clicked while descending when the fog had dissipated.
NOTE: I was carrying a map made from the only GPS trail of Irshalgad trek available on wikiloc back then. It is correct save for the part I ‘ll mention below. You can find the my GPS trail of the Irshalgad trek, here.
We jumped over another seasonal stream to reach a pass. There was a trail on our right going uphill, meandering through boulders but the map we were referring to, indicated that the correct trail will turn right after some distance. With the visibilty down to barely 15 feet, I thought it best to stick to a known route (little did I know that the ‘known’ route we were embarking on, was the route most people end up getting lost on!) instead of finding a new one.
Barely 200 metres from the pass, the trail ended abruptly at the fence of a field and perplexed, we looked around for a farmhand to help us with the route but found none. I fished out my cellphone once again to check our location on Endomondo and guess what? The app had crashed!
With no internet to reload the in-app map (offline map option does not support satellite imagery), we had to rely on our sense of direction to find the way out. We looked around and inferred that we were still on the supposedly correct (i.e. the incorrect) path. Attributing the absence of clear trail to the incessant rain, we decided to proceed and find a way by circumventing the field. BIG MISTAKE. Despite knowing that a rarely used trail on a well-frequented mountain most often implies that you are lost, I went ahead only due to the map. After 5 mins of hacking our way through overgrown plants, we reached a small stream flanked by deep mud on either side and we looked at each other. We were lost.
I was trying to remember if any blogger had mentioned being in a similar situation at Irshalgad when Rohit suddenly heard voices from the mountain (which was a miracle considering we were standing near a deafening stream! Or maybe, the people up the mountain were just really loud 😛 ). We had been the first ones at Irshalwadi in the morning and nobody had passed us either, which meant the right turn at the pass had to be the correct path!! DAMN!
We carefully started making our way back through the foot-deep mud and reached the pass. When we had crossed it earlier, the visibility was so low that we had failed to notice a twig on the left side, with a small bottle hung on it pointing right, as a marker for the turn.
NOTE: Just when you think you know it all, Nature gives you a jolt. Never rely on a single source if your instincts tell you otherwise. Always ask the villagers if you are unsure of the route and if you can’t find any, trace back your path instead of making a new trail. Chances are you are on the wrong trail and trying to persist will land you in deeper trouble.
We negotiated an easy rock patch after taking the uphill trail on the right and soon we were on the main ridge staring at the famous pinnacle straight ahead!
We saw a couple of guys disappearing into the bushes (no pun intended 😛 ) on the left (western face of Irshalgad) of the pinnacle cluster and promptly followed them. The overgrown bushes had actually hidden a trail that gradually turns into a narrow, zig-zag path that climbs steeply over the western face.
The final stretch of the trail consists of several small rock patches and a ladder fixed over a slightly tricky portion.
The 20-odd strong group in front of us was being guided by 2 villagers from the wadi who were helping them climb as well. The constant drizzle and slippery rocks had rendered the holds useless but what’s a trek if you can’t help each other? I cupped my hand and gave Rohit a firmer footing as he went up first and then he gave me a hand over the tricky portion! 😀
Once you cross the ladder, you can find a small depression on the left just beneath the Nedhe wherein lies the original idol of Vishaladevi.
We reached the Nedhe at 11.45am and boy! It was surreal!
The valley below was playing hide and seek with the fog clearing up for a few seconds to give us a clear view before engulfing it once again.
A very narrow, exposed trail crosses the Nedhe to emerge on the eastern side and turns north towards the base of the highest pinnacle. Here’s a picture of the dreadfully exposed pinnacle:
After spending 15 unforgettable minutes in the Nedhe, getting our faces pricked by the the needle like water droplets, we began our descent. Here are a couple of pictures clicked while we waited for our turn:
There were 5-6 first timers in the group which considerably slowed down our descent as well. Nevertheless, we took the opportunity to converse with the experienced back-leads of the group. I told them about my plans of trekking to Prabalgad & Kalavantin Durg in the following winter but they suggested visiting them in monsoon itself (and weren’t they right!! Both hills transform into mighty monsoon beasts but also reward you with unparalleled experiences 🙂 )
It was half past 12 by the time we came back to the main ridge and opted to stay back while the group continued their descent to the wadi where they had kept their bags. The downpour thankfully stopped after a few minutes and we were treated to awesome views of Matheran, Prabalgad & Sondai! Karnala and Manekgad though, were not visible due to the clouds.
Soon a steady stream of trekkers started making their way up and we directed them towards the trail for Nedhe. About an hour later, we started our descent and passed Irshalwadi in another 20 mins.
Here’s a clearer picture of the Pinnacle:
The rest of the journey was quick and routine except for a few photostops here and there.
AND we saw this cute litter of very young puppies in Nanivali. Their mother was dozing off every few seconds but then would wake up with a start at the thought of her vulnerable ‘pink nosed’ pups! Adorable! 😀
We crossed the railway station at 3 pm and boarded a bus for Karjat. Despite the driver trying to fulfil his F1 aspirations on the excellent Karjat-Murbad road, we missed the train for CST by a few minutes and so, took the opportunity to have a quick lunch in a nearby hotel before the next train arrived half an hour later.
Irshalgad had always mystified me. The unfortunate history of the place coupled with the unique topography struck fear and awe in equal measures. Multiple canned plans, less than ideal physical condition during the trek, incorrect reference map and getting lost in the forest! Everything seemed to point to one thing: Turn back and try another day. But there’s this quintessential line by Rumi which seems to make sense of the coincidences which conspired to help us climb it:
Maybe, just maybe, the mountains seek You as well.
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