Trek # 26
DISCLAIMER: I do not accept responsibility for, and explicitly disclaim all liability for any illegal or dangerous acts carried out by any person or persons in the pursuit of railfanning or hiking. I urge you to exercise extreme caution whenever in the vicinity of trains and railway lines in general & also follow all applicable laws, rules, and regulations, whether on railway property or not.
When: Summer ‘17
Where: Gorakshnath/Nagnath Temple & Gambhirnath Cave complex.
Range: Bhor Ghat
Nearest railway stations:
1. Thakurwadi Station (Down & Bidirectional Line): 2.4 kms
2. Nagnath Cabin (Up line): 1.3 kms
3. Monkey Hill (Up & Down Line): 4.5 kms
Max Elevation: 1292 Ft Above MSL
Total Distance: ~7 km
Total Active Time: 4 Hours
Approx. expenses: Below 250 Rs/Head
Best time to visit: Monsoon
Risk Factor: Low but walking along the tracks is an inherently dangerous activity.
What do these gradings indicate? Find out here!
Route: Mumbai-Thakurwadi Station-Nagnath Cabin-Gambhirnath caves-Thakurwadi Station/Nagnath Cabin.
Directions: Alight at Thakurwadi and enter the Service tunnel by a trail south of the station. Exit near the top of Nagnath catch siding and reach Gambhirnath viaduct after crossing three tunnels via Nagnath cabin. One of the trail to the caves originates from the right of Tunnel # 36. Cross the sparse forest to reach the col by a traverse beneath the caves. Climb the rock cut steps to reach the cave complex and temples. Shivling on the northern hill of Nagnath cha Dongar can also be visited. Turn right (east) from the col to descend to Thakurwadi line. The trail leads you to a series of irregular steps culminating at the southern end of Tunnel 29. Walk back to Thakurwadi by the Down line (right most track when facing Karjat) and board any UP train/Banker.
Banker: A banker is a locomotive that assists the leading loco in hauling the train up a steep gradient.
Catch Siding: A siding along a steep railway grade so placed as to catch runaway trains.
Central Railway HQ: Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST).
Down (DN) line/Train: Down refers to a train travelling away from its headquarters.
UP line/Train: Up refers to a train travelling towards its headquarters.
MID line: A bidirectional line used by trains travelling in both directions.
Railfan: A person interested in the technical & historical aspects of Railways.
Service Tunnel: A tunnel through the mountain behind Thakurwadi (TKW) used for ferrying Men & Material while constructing the Nagnath line in 1982
For more info about such terms, visit: IRFCA FAQ
1. Service Tunnel (Thakurwadi side): 18.831820, 73.364113
2. Diversion to Caves on Nagnath side: 18.817101, 73.368515
3. Diversion to caves on Thakurwadi side: 18.817167, 73.371010
4. Gorakshnath Temple/Gambhirnath Caves: 18.816570, 73.369690
5. Shivling on northern hill of Nagnath cha Dongar: 18.817799, 73.370102
Transport Options: People travelling from Mumbai can reach Thakurwadi by multiple ways.
- Alight at Karjat, take a tum tum/auto to Kondivade village (also the base village for Kondana caves hike) and trek to Thakurwadi station (1.5 hours).
- Alight at Karjat and take a tum tum to Beed gaon and walk up to Nagnath cabin/ Thakurwadi station. (1.5 hours).
- Board a Pune bound train and alight at Thakurwadi (Only three Down trains stop at Thakurwadi station- Deccan Express, Sinhagad Express & Siddheshwar Express in the morning, evening and late night respectively. Obviously, Deccan Express is the most convenient for a one-day trip from Mumbai).
- Alight at Khopoli and trek all the way to Gambhirnath caves (2 hours).
- Alternatively, Alight at Kelavli stn (CR) and hike up by the beed route to join the railway line at Nagnath cabin and walk up to the caves (2-3 hours).
0700 hrs- Deccan Express from CST
0930 hrs- Reached Thakurwadi station
1100 hrs- Crossed Nagnath Cabin
1200 hrs- Gambhirnath Caves
1400 hrs- Started descent to Thakurwadi line
1430 hrs- reached Tunnel 29
1545 hrs- Thakurwadi Station
1630 hrs- boarded Banker for Karjat from Nagnath Cabin
1720 hrs- Fast local train for CST from Karjat
For Pune folks (Both routes have been planned in such a way that you ’ll always be walking against the rail traffic on the given line as it’s safer):
- Monkey hill Loop: Alight at Monkey hill and start walking along the DN line (right most track when facing Karjat), visit a small temple besides the track and take the diversion on the right of Tunnel 29’s entrance to hike up to Gambhirnath caves. Descend to Nagnath UP line on the other side of the mountain and walk towards Monkey hill to board a train for Pune.
Pros: Zenith waterfall & crossing the 150m long Viaduct # 6.
Cons: Longest route, fewer DN trains stop at Monkey Hill.
- Thakurwadi Loop: Alight at Nagnath Cabin (or cross over to the catch siding by the service tunnel if your train halts at Thakurwadi) and hike up to the caves by the trail on the right of Tunnel 36’s entrance. Descend to the DN line on the eastern side of the mountain and walk towards Thakurwadi Station to board a train for Pune.
Pro: Shortest route.
Con: Fewer DN trains stop at Thakurwadi Station.
For Mumbai Folks: Follow the same itinerary as we did till Gambhirnath caves. Descend back to Nagnath UP line and walk towards Monkey Hill Station to board any UP train/Banker.
Pros: Zenith waterfall, crossing Viaduct # 6 & greater number of UP trains halt at Monkey Hill Station.
Cons: Longer route & you do not get to explore the eastern trail to the caves.
NOTE: The page may take a few moments to load due to the numerous pictures. All the pictures in this post, unless stated otherwise, have been clicked by my friends or me.
Our quest to find a summer hike concluded after reading about a cave complex nestled in the mountains of Bhor Ghat near Khopoli. After three days of research, we set out with a rough map of the trail to Gambhirnath caves. I would like to thank veteran Railfan and IRFCA member, Mr. Apurva Bahadur for his invaluable help in planning the hike as well as assuaging my concerns about Railfanning in the busy Ghat section of the Indian Railways.
The Gang: Abhishek, Krunal, Manish, Shardul, Tejas & Me
Account of the trek:
To all the Trekker (& Blogger) friends of mine who were eagerly looking forward to being a part of the next trek- I am really sorry for not inviting you for this one! Since this was my first attempt at combining Railfanning and Trekking, there was an element of uncertainty in the trip. Considering the risks involved, I had no choice but to keep the gang as small as possible. Next time Pakka! 😉
Also, there is some confusion about the cave’s name. So, let’s get the facts out of the way –
- The caves are located on Nagnath Hill, locally known as Nagnath cha Dongar (Dongar means Mountain, in Marathi).
- It is known as the Nagnath Temple because of the Idol of Nagnath on the left of the cave’s entrance.
- An Idol of Gorakshnath is carved from the wall in a chamber of the caves, which is why the place has been named Gorakshnath Temple on Google Maps
- I have come across two different boards referring to the caves specifically as Gorakshnath and Gambhirnath caves-
For the purpose of this post and the Map, I have referred to the cave complex as Gambhirnath caves as I found it to be the most widely used.
Now let’s shed some light on the background of our trek! Two months had passed since the Rajgad-Torna range trek and we were as always, itching to get back in the mountains.
The restrictions on my movement had eased off a bit as my right knee’s MCL was recovering well. Now the only thing holding us back was the small matter of climbing hills in the 40+ degree heat. Did you say heat stroke? Meh 😝
Jokes apart, trekking in peak summer is a perilous affair and hence, we were looking for a short hike. I was sifting through my usual go-to blogs to find such a destination when I came across a post by Shrikant Shimpi about the hike to Gambhirnath caves, nestled in the mountains of Bhor Ghat. The post was a treasure trove of information but a few blind spots remained.
We soon found out that the nearest railway station for Mumbai folks is Thakurwadi, a mandatory technical halt for UP (coming to Mumbai) trains but not one for the DN (going to Pune) trains. This meant that returning to Mumbai wasn’t a problem but reaching Thakurwadi was.
While collecting info about the numerous trails of the Ghat section, I came across some IRFCA articles about trekking around Monkey hill by Apurva Sir and we figured that he might be able to answer our questions about the section. I got in touch with him and he was kind enough to take out time and help us with many details about the route along with the service tunnel’s exact location. More importantly, he told us how to stay safe while Railfanning in the Ghat section and that was a great relief.
With the final piece of puzzle falling into place, I was literally doing a countdown to the trek when Tejas called me up. Something had turned up at the last moment and he couldn’t make it the next day. Before this, he had missed a trek only once and from what I knew, he wouldn’t have backed out if he could have helped it. We even tried to move around the date but with everyone busy in the coming week, it was impossible. So the Gang was now down to five, including me.
The plan was to board the 11007 Deccan express, alight at Thakurwadi station, walk along the tracks to Tunnel 29 on the DN line, hike up to the cave and come back along the same route after exploring the service tunnel. Manish was the first to board the train from Dadar at 0712 hrs while the rest of the gang except me, boarded from Thane. I reached Kalyan junction at a quarter to 8 in the morning & no sooner had I stepped on the platform that the PA system warned commuters to stay away from the platform edge. A minute later, the 12128 Mumbai-Pune Intercity express hauled by WCAM-2P #21885 whizzed by the station in no time.
A Kasara bound local train followed the Intercity express before the Deccan Express sauntered onto the platform at a quarter past eight, pulled by a WCAM-2P (#21879).
I boarded the train amidst much jostling and tried to find a familiar face in the crowd. Imagine my surprise when I saw not four, but five of them smiling back at me! Sitting by the window and sporting the widest grin of them all, was Tejas! Turns out that after a lot of back and forth, He decided to come for the trek after all but since it was very late in the night, he got in touch with only Abhishek and together they pulled off a fast one on the rest of us. Poor me being the last one to board the train, was also the last one to know!
The Express soon accelerated out of the city and the hill ranges replaced the town’s high rises. The first mountain to greet us was the peculiar, square massif known as Chanderi followed by the trio of Nakhind-Vikatgad-Matheran. I managed to click a few pictures before the burgeoning suburb of Neral again obscured the base of the lovely range.
We cruised into Karjat a few minutes past nine where the aroma of its famous coconut chutney allured us into buying Vadas! If you haven’t already tried Karjat’s vada, jot it down as the #1 thing to do the next time you shuttle between Mumbai & Pune! 😀
The morning had been an unusually cool one with the temperature hovering around 26 degrees- something we seldom experience on the western coast in peak summer. We remained sceptical of the clouds until Karjat but when the Sun didn’t come out even after we passed it, we started imagining us climbing to the caves in the unseasonal rain- struggling against the heavy winds, lashing our faces with thousands of tiny, needle-like droplets! 😃 (In case this reads like the perfect description of torture to you, I am guessing you haven’t trekked in Sahyadri in the monsoon YET. What are you waiting for?!? Go on! Do it and you ‘ll know why we love it!)
Alas! It didn’t take long for the Sun to dash our foolish hopes. The overcast sky cleared up as soon as our train started climbing uphill beyond Palasdhari and we could literally feel the temperature rising with each passing minute.
The plains quickly transformed into the steep valleys of Jamrung & the drastic change of landscape, unlike the gradual one that happens while travelling by the painfully slow Neral- Matheran narrow gauge railway, is difficult to put into words. It feels like someone chips away a barely noticeable piece of the picture every time you enter a tunnel only for you to realise you are staring at a completely new picture when the train suddenly emerges amongst the hills.
When the third line split and turned west at the Jamrung Cabin, we got up from our seats and slithered through the gangway crowd to stand at the door. A couple of long curving tunnels later, the train emerged between a narrow piece of land in the east and a hill on the other side. It slowed down to a crawl as we approached a small hamlet by the railway line and we knew our destination had come- Thakurwadi.
I had read that the train stops at Thakurwadi station (TKW) for a couple of minutes but to my surprise, the halt was less than a minute long! If you are part of a large group, I would suggest splitting up at multiple doorways to make sure nobody has to ride up to Monkey Hill against his/her wish! 😝
The WAG 7 banker triplet flexed their muscles to help push the train and we crossed over to the Station Master’s office near the MID (bidirectional) line. An unused line split from the MID line and went uphill- the Catch Siding!
I was clicking pictures of the siding when a trio of light WCAM-3 bankers appeared round the corner. My friends, taken aback at the sudden appearance of the locomotives out of nowhere, confused the siding with the main line and jumped onto the latter! Thankfully, they realised their folly in a split second and hopped right back with the bankers still a safe distance away.
The startled voices though, brought out the Station Master. Frowning down on us from the balcony of his first floor office, he asked us what we were doing in this part of the Ghat. I told him all about our plan and he scanned us carefully to make sure no funny business was going on. His steely gaze must have found whatever he was looking for, ‘cos he smiled and told us that we should consider climbing up to the caves from the UP line of Nagnath cabin and return to Thakurwadi by the DN line. That way, we would be walking against the railway traffic for the entire hike, which is obviously safer than constantly having to look over your shoulder for a sneaking train.
We thanked him and walked a few metres to join the join only trail going west (in the hill’s direction). It led us to a series of steps made from irregular rocks and the adventure had begun! 😊
We got a final glimpse of the railway line from the bushes before the trail took a U-turn to leave us facing the hill again. A few more steps and we were staring at a partially blocked opening in the base of the hill- Service Tunnel.
CAUTION: 25 Kv AC insulated lines run along the walls of the service tunnel. Hence, one should refrain from touching or going too close to the walls.
The sight of a partially blocked tunnel barely 100 metres from the heavily frequented Railway line made us feel like some explorer privy to a hidden treasure! (Yeah fanciful thinking, I know 😝)
Even though the straight-as-an-arrow design ensures natural illumination even in the middle of the tunnel, it is advisable to keep a torch handy before entering to prevent tripping over the missing chunks of concrete floor.
It took us 10 minutes to cross the barely 250m long tunnel as we made the most of our visit by clicking a picture in every imaginable pose! While the Thakurwadi side is partially blocked, the Nagnath side of the tunnel opens into the sky. Well, not literally but very close!
The Nagnath catch siding rises to a max elevation of about 350m and the tunnel opens up close to the highest point, thus giving an excellent view of the siding’s gradient as well as of Nagnath cha Dongar and Behran plateau in the distance.
From an aesthetic point of view, you ‘ll be hard pressed to argue against the spectacle that is Nagnath Catch siding. However, from a Railfan’s perspective, the Thakurwadi catch siding has history on its side with the last documented incident of a runaway train in the Ghats recorded on the Thakurwadi line back in ’93 making it part of the folklore. You can read more about it here (scroll to the bottom of the page)
Info: The Nagnath line was conceptualised for easing congestion on the old lines running through Thakurwadi following which the UP line of Thakurwadi turned into a MID line catering to traffic in both the directions.
Coming back to the trek! A couple of light WCAM-3 bankers did the mandatory brake test near the Cabin before speeding past us as we approached intersection of siding and UP line. I saw a young man quietly going about his work on the main line. Even though the Thakurwadi station master had given us a few pointers about the trail from Nagnath side, I thought it ‘d be better to ascertain the exact point of diversion with the guy. He seemed a bit apprehensive initially, but that’s understandable cos it isn’t everyday that a bunch of guys turn up asking you about a cave in the mountains. 😃 He eased up as the conversation went on and we ended up speaking about a variety topics including his native place! 😊
We often meet good Samaritans during treks who go out of their way to help us and we make it a point to click a picture of/with them. Naturally, we asked him for one as well but he was surprised that firstly, someone wanted to click a picture of him and on top of that, was asking for permission to do so!
Incidents like these only help us understand the chasm between our worlds. On one hand, we fret over choosing the happiest looking picture to share with the digital world while we drift out of that very emotion in real life and on the other hand, we have folks like our friend here, for whom, being photographed was reason enough to be happy!
If you ever come across Gangmen (now called track maintainers) doing their job, take a moment to walk up to them and strike a conversation. More often than not, you‘ll find them warm and helpful. They are the unsung heroes of Railways who put their own life on the line to make sure people like us can have a safe commute. Try it & see for yourself how putting a smile on their weary, greased faces brightens up your dull day 😊
Back to the trek! We continued walking along the tracks, looking out for any sign of a trail that climbed uphill in the east direction. One can see the small village, Umbervira, a little below the tracks on the right through which numerous trails pass including one to the suburban station of Kelavali (CR).
Then came the first set of Railway tunnels of our hike- number 30, 31 & 32.
The 341 m long Tunnel 32 was the longest tunnel we went through during the entire hike and being well aware of the dangers of complacency inside a tunnel, we decided upon a convention. Even though Refuge points are carved inside the tunnel at regular intervals and are the safest option, sometimes you‘ll have to just stay put at your position. Therefore, we agreed to stick to the outer curve of the tunnel to prevent another Thakurwadi-like incident. Despite the presence of bulbs in certain sections, large portions of the tunnel were pitch-black and that coupled with our silence, made us hyper sensitive to sounds around us.
We slacked off after crossing the majority of tunnel’s length and were 30 metres from the southern end when I heard a low, distant horn of a locomotive. Not wanting to take a chance by going for the exit, we quickly sprinted to a big refuge point on the left side despite it being only about 10 metres from the end. We waited for half a minute but there was no further sign of an approaching train. Manish walked out to look at the entrance of tunnel 36 across the viaduct and Abhishek too, walked out to touch the rails to check for vibrations (Warning: this is not a surefire sign of an approaching train, as you ’ll read in a while). Both of them emphatically declared that no train was coming and with no good reason to think otherwise, the rest of us moved out and then we heard it- the unmistakable rumble of a heavy train charging towards you at a great speed.
To know how what happened next, read Part 2 here!
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