This week I take you on a journey into an untouched forest, deep in the interiors of Maharashtra as I explore the unknown.
We lose our way in the early dawn and end up about an hour away from where we were supposed to. We turn around our cars and begin the long ride back catching the rays of the rising sun over the lake. The scene is magical and I have a good feeling about this trip.
I’ve accepted an invitation to explore and trek in a reserve forest around the hills of Mahableshwar. An eclectic of group of explorers (and some old friends) have come together to explore what promises to be fabulous patch of forest, pretty much untouched by humankind. We leave Mumbai just before midnight and the plan is to drive all night to reach the base village. From there, we plan to trek on into the jungle and spend the day exploring the forest.
After a rather long ride we finally reach the base village. A quick breakfast later and we are off to begin the trip. The trail begins near a few houses and quickly enters the forest. In a few minutes, the landscape changes from the fields just outside the forest, into tall trees and thick bushes. We can see the almost dry riverbed, running parallel to the path we are on.
The plan is to eventually walk along the riverbed till we make it to the ridge line. Along the way we plan to explore the forest and try and spot wildlife if we can. A forest guard accompanies us, our guide for the day.
For me, the forest always holds a special place in my heart. Walking on dry leaves, along narrow paths, with small slivers of sunlight lighting up the path from the trees overhead, connects with me at a deeply personal level and is a serene, calming experience. I find the worries and troubles of the week gone by vanish as I take in the forest, the sounds of the birds calling out and the low background buzz of insects.
The path we take cuts through forest and riverbed alike. The river still has a little water in parts. I wonder how the river might look in full flow, with the water running swiftly over the circular boulders. Walking on the circular boulders and rocks is difficult, balancing and jumping across some of the bigger ones becomes the norm. Along the way some of the rocks are decorated with lovely patterns formed by dried lichen.
We stop along the way to rest for a bit and take in the wonderful atmosphere of the forest. We are not far from the end of the route, and I reckon maybe we have about an hour or so left in the hike. After the rest stop, we begin the hike again.
The jungle is fairly alive with the sounds of bird calls and some chance sightings. We go on to recognize some 60+ bird species during the course of the day. Somewhere along the way we spot some paw prints. The prints look like those of a leopard cat. In another spot, the bark of tree is all scratched up, the handiwork of a bear. Overhead, nests of the Giant Malabar Squirrel or Shekru, the state animal of Maharashtra can be seen. We also see the remains of a deer, probably brought down by a pack of wild dogs a few days earlier. These signposts along the way, make us acutely aware that we are not alone on the forest trail.
After much walking, the river bed finally ends at what looks like a waterfall. In the rains it must be a magnificent sight, I think to myself. A small path quickly takes up the hill and across the “waterfall”. And then it begins.
The path ahead is well almost non-existent. One of our guides leads us ahead, cutting away a path through the bushes wherever needed. We follow, careful of the sharp thorns all around us, as we scramble upwards on the steep slope. We finally reach a clearing of sorts, clearing because at least we can stand without our heads bumping into some bushes.
Our guide motions towards a steep path downhill, saying this leads to the end of the trail. I’m skeptical, and want to stay put. The climb back up, promises to be painful. But I’ve come this far, and so my sense of adventure gets the better of me and I scramble downhill. We finally come to a stop on a narrow clearing on the hill, just enough for the lot of us to sit and have lunch. Down below, the hill continues in a steep sheer drop. Ahead we see the valley below, with forests and hills all around. With this view and the cool wind blowing all around us, we have our lunch.
We return by a different route, one that takes us through parts of the forest which make me marvel at the relatively untouched nature of the jungle we are trekking in. A longish walk back and I’m back in civilization, refreshed by that walk in the jungle. As I rest for the night in the village house, I cannot help but wonder how much longer would this forest survive the onslaught of modern civilization and remain intact for wanderers like me to enjoy.