This is Part 2 of the Railfan Trek to Gambhirnath caves of Bhor Ghat. To read Part 1, click here.
Quick Recap: We were exiting Tunnel 32 when we heard the unmistakable rumble of a heavy train charging towards us at a great speed.
We darted back into the refuge point and the same instant a WAG-7 (#27132) appeared out of tunnel 36, hauling a rake of BCNA wagons.
The Goods train took a good minute to pass us and melt into the tunnel’s darkness while we wondered about what could have happened if we hadn’t been alert.
As you have already read, a small viaduct made of stone lies between tunnels 32 and 36, (unofficially) known as the Gambhirnath Viaduct. The caves were clearly visible now but there was still no sign of a trial. We could make out a flat patch of land over the tunnel but with no visible way to reach it, we contemplated climbing an easy 10m slab of rock (50-degree incline with a rough surface and no scree at all!) on the left side of the track. But it must be impossible in monsoon! Surely, there had to be another way up and we were determined to find it.
Tejas and Manish started scouting the area on the right of the track while the rest of us looked around the exit of Tunnel 32.
Down in the valley, I could see some village women going home with a stack of firewood on their heads and I thought how sad it is that people living so close to the city still have to rely on firewood for cooking purposes. Right then Tejas called out from the top of tunnel 36 and signalled us to climb up along the path he had taken. We promptly scrambled up the scree-laden slope to find a family of three sitting near a faint trail coming from the southwest.
The middle-aged man, taking a break from cutting wood with his wife and son, told us that the trail leads to Khopoli (a hike of about two hours according to him) and the one from Nagnath cabin climbs up the mountain somewhere before the entrance of tunnel 30 to traverse all the way to the col of Nagnath cha Dongar. Which meant we had made a way from the right side of tunnel 36 when there was none to begin with! Errm.. not for the first time! 😃 😝
We could see the actual trail leading to the col from north but dense shrubs made it difficult to make out where it started from and again, we hadn’t been able to spot it from the tracks despite the best of efforts. I am guessing the path we took shouldn’t be too difficult in monsoon either and hence, while making the map, I have marked it instead of the proper trail.
We joined the Khopoli trail and proceeded in the cave’s direction. It was exact noon and the heat was well-nigh unbearable! Patting ourselves for sticking to a small hike instead of risking dehydration by going for a long one, we took a break to sip some electrolyte water before continuing. The trail soon led us to a traverse covered with scree, about 20 metres below the cave along a horizontal crack in the mountain. The traverse itself is not exposed but slipping down into the shallow valley was not exactly top of our list. 😝 We crossed it carefully to reach the col where the other trail joined ours.
Col is the lowest point between the two hills of Nagnath cha Dongar. The Gambhirnath cave complex is located on the southern hill while a small Ganesh idol stands at the base of the rocky northern hill.
Beautiful winding steps carved in the rock of the southern hill led us to the entrance (a bell hung on a metal arch) of the cave complex. There’s a temple of Nagnath carved in the rock on the left of the entrance.
We decided to visit it later and went straight along the carved path to find a small cave with a Shivling inside it. Further south, a makeshift roof made up of metal and asbestos sheets shields the entrance of the biggest cave from the Nature’s elements.
A group of six intoxicated young men, residents of Khopoli and staying there since the previous night, greeted us. The priest was nowhere to be seen and whether the holy place was a one off stop for a night of intoxicated revelry or if it had unfortunately become the go-to place for people to spend their days of drunken stupor, I do not know. Even though the other group did not bother us, the possibility should be considered and due measures be taken while planning a trip to the caves.
Regrettably, this has become a common sight around Sahyadri and I am sure if you are a regular trekker, you too must have come across it. Not only is it disrespectful to reside in places of worship in an inebriated state but they are inadvertently putting other’s lives, besides their own of course, at risk by undertaking an activity like trekking that demands utmost alertness. Unfortunately, it looks like only a tragedy can knock some sense into these folks.
Anyways, coming back to the trek! A mesh fence with a door on the right side protects the cave (from the marauding monkeys).
A chamber carved in the left wall of the cave has steps that lead you to a water tank (with supposedly potable water) about four feet below the opening.
On the right side of the cave is a cavity used for storing huge utensils, presumably belonging to the priests. The major attraction though, lies in the centre of the cave- a 2×2 feet wide opening in the wall that leads you to a barely 4 feet tall chamber.
I went in head first through the opening and the sudden transition from bright sunlight to the dark interiors of the chamber made me grope my way to the floor. Once my eyes adjusted to the dim light, I noticed the white coloured walls of the chamber, faintly illuminated by the amber glow emanating from an even smaller opening in the farthest corner. The opening, barely two feet high, led me to the innermost chamber of the cave.
The chamber, painted in red save for a small square cavity in the middle of the opposite wall, was smaller than the outer one. An oil lamp was placed at the bottom of the soot covered cavity & its glow only added to the aura of the place. In the middle of the cavity, carved out of the cave wall as if standing on a pedestal, was the idol of Gorakshnath, looking surreal with its white coloured eyes standing out starkly against the black colour of its surroundings.
Now to the traditions around the Idol. Apparently, printing or publishing pictures of the idol of Gorakshnath is prohibited and hence, I have desisted from posting them here. I hope you‘ll excuse me for that.
I paid my respects and crawled out to let the others in, after which we sat in the outer chamber but came out soon as the lack of ventilation coupled with the strong vapours from the lamp made it difficult to spend any more than 10 minutes inside it.
With no monkey in sight, we spent a peaceful hour having our lunch (Abhishek for one must have been relieved- he lost a Tupperware tiffin to a monkey on Vikatgad last year 😝). Several trains and bankers passed by the Nagnath line before I managed to snap a pair of WCAM-3 bankers entering tunnel 32.
While I was busy trying to frame another express waiting at the Nagnath cabin signal, Krunal noticed a small sculpture on the northern hill across the col. I turned the digicam on the hill to get a better view using its zoom and voila! The sculpture was a Shivling!
Now, if there was a sculpture, there also had to be a way to it! We looked at the hill from the metal arch and there it was! The hint of a trail going straight up the hill from the col. So the hike was not going to be without its share of rock climbing after all! 😃
We quickly wrapped up our belongings and left for the northern hill after visiting the Nagnath temple.
A small open space near the temple provides a panoramic view of the twin Rajmachi forts across the valley in the east- Manoranjangad and Shrivardhangad.
Once at the col, we understood the reason behind the lack of a proper trail. Rocks jutting out of the hill face, steep drop on both sides and scree all over meant very few people must have attempted it.
Note: We never overestimate our skillset and only attempt climbs that we know can be pulled off reasonably safely. If you, or anybody in your group, is in doubt about their ability to tackle a certain section, step back and analyse. Proceed only if you are prepared to mount a rescue in the worst-case scenario or better still, help is available at a short notice. After all,
“The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too.”
– Hervey Voge
We weighed the risks and decided to continue. The slope of the hill coupled with the lack of proper holds meant we had to climb on all fours at times.
Barely a minute of climbing later, we were staring at a tree standing right in the middle of the hill with a slanting path on its right. Traverse over a near vertical 50 feet drop with nothing to break your fall? Check.
Shardul went first, followed by Me, Manish, Krunal and Abhishek. It was easy except for one tricky step where we had to reach out to a flimsy branch of the tree to get an additional hold.
And there it was! Shivling along with two other sculptures- Of Nandi, the bull and Ganesh!
Part of the allure of peaks is the amazing view it affords! And such was the beauty around us that it took us a minute to realise Tejas wasn’t with us!
He certainly hadn’t stayed back at the col. We called at the top of our voices but got no answer. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind in the fraction of a second and we were about to head back to look for him when he answered!
A few moments later, he appeared round the tree and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. No.. No! we weren’t worried about Tejas if that’s what you are thinking! He was carrying the DSLR! The thought of losing the best camera of our gang sent shivers down our spine… body’s aching all the time… Goodbye everybody.. oh wait.. that’s Bohemian Rhapsody! 😝
As is the norm, the descent was more difficult than the ascent and it took us almost double the time to reach the col than it took us to climb the peak.
Now it was the time to explore the Thakurwadi line trail! We turned east from the col and descended steeply to join a zigzag trail that passed underneath a fallen tree.
With trees in full bloom along the trail and the forest canopy providing respite from the harsh afternoon sun, we covered ground quickly.
Another set of steps, not unlike the ones to the service tunnel, took us to the southern end of Tunnel 29 in another 10 minutes.
There’s a board placed near the tunnel indicating the trail to the cave complex. After clicking a few pictures of the surroundings for the blog, we decided to rest a little near the tunnel entrance before continuing to Thakurwadi.
We should have known that our treks rarely have a quiet moment and no sooner had we settled down, a shrill horn warned us of an approaching train. Even though we were sitting on the DN line and any train would have entered the tunnel from the other end, we didn’t want to take a chance and waited anxiously by the wall. What followed this shall remain amongst us but suffice to say that Abhishek ended up with a deep gash on forearm for no fault of his as the train passed safely from the adjacent tunnel! 😝
A very sharp curve, flanked on either side by high walls leads to the northern end of tunnel 29.
It is one of the more dangerous points of the hike as the train isn’t visible to someone inside the tunnel until seconds before entering. Four of us were waiting near the curve for Abhi and Tejas when the tracks suddenly began to vibrate. We gestured them to find a safe place inside the tunnel while we tucked ourselves in a corner just outside the tunnel. Moments later, a WAG-5 (#23086) galloped into the tunnel hauling another rake of BCNA wagons with a triplet of WAG-7 bankers helping move the tonnage from the rear.
Tejas got some really good pictures of the train from the refuge point. Here’s one of them:
We made it a point after that to stay close together while walking to Thakurwadi, a distance of roughly 2 kms from Tunnel 29.
Around 1530 hrs, the 17031 Hyderabad express hauled by WDP-4D (# 40312) streaked towards Lonavala on the DN line.
Followed closely by a pair of WAG-7s pushing a Plasser track maintenance machine.
We reached Thakurwadi cabin around 1600 hrs to find 15 odd people already waiting for bankers. The UP traffic slows down considerably between 3 to 5 pm and people wanting to reach Karjat from TKW/NNCN generally travel by standing on the banker’s buffers. We knew that chances of boarding a banker with 15 people were almost nil and it made better sense to head to Nagnath line and try our luck with the bankers there if not the Indore express.
With that in mind, we dragged ourselves onto the trail one last time but the effects of hiking all day in the sun started telling on us. Barely making it to the service tunnel, we crashed near the entrance to get some rest when we saw the silhouette of a man carrying something from the Nagnath end. That we almost pounced on him when we realised he’s Tea-cum-Coffee-cum-Chocolate milk vendor goes without saying! 😛
Every hike teaches you something new and this one taught me that a piping hot cup of chocolate milk in the midst of jungle is pure bliss! 😀
With our fatigued body rejuvenated by the break, we crossed the tunnel with a spring in our step and quickly descended to Nagnath cabin. The Nagnath station-master was kind enough to let us replenish our depleting stock of water and told us that a pair of bankers was about to reach the brake test signal.
We hurried down to the signal and 5 minutes later, a couple WCAM-3s turned up and the benevolent locomotive pilot let us board the cab of the trailing banker.
When you have been trekking with someone for a long time, you learn to make out what your partner is thinking from the tiniest of gestures. Watching Manish smile after boarding the locomotive cab, I knew he was recollecting last year’s Hadsar incident when we had returned in the back of a tempo after missing the day’s last bus to Junnar!
The locomotives cruised downhill at a speed of 50 kmph to reach Karjat in 20 mins flat.
Thanking the pilot once again for putting up with us, we alighted and walked over to the platform #3 to board a local train for CST.
After exchanging pictures, we got down to the business of finishing the stuff that had survived our onslaught during lunch. When even that failed to satiate our hunger, we alighted at Thane for an early dinner before heading home. That the food was nowhere near as good as we had been promised (I am looking at you, Shardul 😝) is a story for another day.
The long ride back home gave me plenty of time to think about the day’s events. A worthy hike had finally brought down the curtains on another Season Of Mountains but I was sad, as everybody is, when something they cherish comes to an end. I tried to take heart from the fact that this season had been, by far, the most epic of all with its impromptu hikes, multi-day treks and near fatal experiences. And I had almost resigned myself to spending the rest of the summer completing the long pending blog posts when a lightning flashed in the distant sky.
The clouds were hovering in to make up for the morning’s betrayal, ready to unleash a torrent of summer rain.
And a new Season was beckoning me…
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