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Climbing Dhak Bahiri

Submitted by chakvaa on 2003-12-12

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Amol’s statement shocked me at first. I had only heard about Dhak-Bahiri before from some of my friends. Those who had been there said it is tough and “enjoyable” trek. The trek was especially tough because of the vertical rock patch towards the end. They said that the last part was the worst, and we have to use ropes and tree-trunks and creepers to get into the cave!

As a group of enthusiastic trekkers, Dhak-Bahiri had been in our “must-do” list since the first time we heard about it. December being a good time for this trek, we decided that we had to go for it.

Once decided, we started gathering information and photos from the net and from friends who had already been there. Whatever we gathered only confirmed that this was going to be one tough trek. But the photographs did not seem to confirm what we heard and read about it. We compared what we saw in these pictures with our past trekking experiences, and wondered whether people were giving exaggerated details about the trek. I wish even today that we had been right!

So we, a group of five (Salil, Amit, Amol, Aniruddha and Vikram) set out on Friday night. Our destination was a village called Sandshi near Karjat. We took the Pune-Karjat passenger, which left Pune at exactly (!!!) 10.50, its scheduled time.

The connecting ST from Karjat to Sandshi was at 6.00 a.m. Since the train dropped us at Karjat Station at 2.30 a.m., we made ourselves comfortable on the ST stand. We had a refreshing sleep of nearly 3 hours.

We reached at Sandashi village within an hour, at around 7 a.m. From the village, we could see Dhak-Bhairi on our left and Rajmachi fort on the right. The village itself is located at the base of these two forts.

After having breakfast and Tea prepared by a localite, we embarked on our hike to Dhak-Bhairi on 8 a.m. We all were fresh and full of enthusiasm, but still very worried about the rock patch. All of us had the same thought running through our minds: “Will the rock patch be as difficult as described by people or will it be as we imagined it to be?” As always, we were hoping for the best and were prepared for the worst.

The route to Dhak-Bhairi took us through a very dense forest. There was some possibility of a wild boar or the ever-elusive leopard to cross our path and say hello to us, especially since these two animals are known to roam forests around sunrise and sunset. As a precaution, we had taken fire-crackers with us.. We had also heard that there is a great probability of losing the way in forest. And this probability came true, twice while climbing up and once while coming down!. But this exercise of getting lost in the jungle, backtracking and finding the right path again can be real fun if one knows how to enjoy it.

We had now been climbing for almost 4 hours continuously, with just a couple of breaks. However, the thick green forest provided a very shady path, so we were saved from direct sunlight. Also, there was enough water along the path, so we did not have to carry much of it in our sacks.

There is no direct approach road to the cave in the Dhak-Bahiri, and the path towards this cave goes through the adjacent mountain. At this point, one has to descend about 100 metres deep through a very narrow rift in the mountain. This patch is locally called the “nali”. We had heard enough about it before we had been there.

After 4 hours, we reached the top of the mountain adjacent to the Dhak-Bahiri. This point is also the place where the “nali” begins. What we saw there left us totally stupefied. A range of emotions swept our minds, ranging from happiness to raw fear.

The “Nali” is a small rift between two hills. It is a very narrow passage.At a time only one can walk through it. It is inclined around 60-70 degrees, and is extremely slippery bcos of the loose sand and gravel at the bottom. One is almost guranteed to slip if one doesn’t use one’s hands to support himself using the walls.

But the most amazing thing about this “Nali” is that when one stands at its beginning, one sees two hills on either side of the Nali, and blue sky in between! Because of the steep inclination of the Nali, its base is not visible when one stands at it’s start. This is a very amazing and breath-taking view, but the mere thought of walking(or rather, crawling) through this patch is enough to make one’s legs shiver.

While we were looking at this view, we heard some people coming from the bottom of the “nali”. The first 1 to emerge was a small kid, around 10-11 years old. His father emerged soon after him, along with another couple of men, all around 20-30 years of age. They were local villagers, who had gone to visit the Dhak-Bahiri temple.

We asked them the way up to the cave. They said it was a bit tough and asked us to be careful. One of us asked them “Can we do it?” The villager simply said “ Have Trust on god bhairi and go ahead, He will take you up to His cave”. The confidence with which he said the above words had a very positive impact on us. It removed the fear from our minds, and gave us the confidence we desperately needed.

So after a 30-minute rest there, with the newly found courage in our hearts, we finally started to descend. All of us were tensed, and every step was a cautious one. One mistake, and the person would slip 200-300 metres down, taking with him whoever came in his way. To add to this tension, we spotted a few rats along the walls of this Nali. Imagine what would happen if a rat crawled on your hand when you are gripping the walls! Thankfully, nothing like that happened to us.

The most terrifying point of this ”Nali” is at its end, where it opens into a fully exposed valley. When you reach this point, a valley, almost 200-300 metres deep stares you in the face. A very small place, not more than 1 foot in breadth, separates you from the valley.

It took us about 30 minutes to cross this Nali. When you approach the end of this patch, you can see the main Mountain of the Dhak-Bahiri, the one that has the cave in it. This is a straight, towering mountain and the passer-by seems to be dwarfed by its sheer size. It almost feels as if Gulliver is looking at the poor Lilliputs. We reached the end, and felt very relieved. But alas! That relief was to last only a fraction of a second. The last person among us had just crossed the Nali, when Amol called out “Where do we go from here?”

Such a question baffled us at first, but then we saw the logic behind it. The point where we were standing was right at the edge of the valley. Towards our left and straight ahead, there was this valley, running to a depth of around 300 meters, almost vertically. Towards our right, there was the mountain, rising almost straight upwards. And behind us was the way we had come. So, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Fear was written all over our faces. We looked at each other, but the expressions were the same on all faces. We thought maybe we have lost track. But that was out of question since the Nali has a single outlet, the place where we were standing. So we had to be on the right track. But there was no track! After the fear inside us settled a little, we started thinking a little more clearly. It was then that we realized what we had heard so far, “the rock patch is a difficult one, unlike any other”. We realized the gravity of the statement. The way to Dhak-Bahiri was along the vertical mountain toward our right. We had to cross this mountain, this piece of rock rising almost vertically upwards! Fortunately, we had to travel horizontally across the breadth of the mountain, and not vertically upwards. Had it been vertically up, we would have almost certainly have started back home.

So that was it, we started ahead. The rock was full black, facing west, and the time was around 1 P.M. The sun was right where we did not want it to be, on our head. The rock had become hot by this time. The path was very difficult. There were not enough places to get a proper grip by foot or by hand. Generally, when there are patches like these on any fort, there is some way using which one can safely negotiate the part. Either steps are cut into the rocks, or then a metal railing is drilled into it. But here, this was not the case. We literally were crawling on the rock, but never did we feel sure that the grip we took was safe enough to hold us. The rock did not even have crevices where we could get a comfortable grip. [page] All of us were suspended on whatever meager hold we managed, hanging on for dear life. The sun was beating down on us, and the rock was so hot it burned our palms. Relaxing the grip to reduce the effect of heat was out of question; we would have slipped if we tried to do it. After all, it is better to have scorched hands than a lost life. All of us were drenched in sweat, and were tremendously exhausted mentally and physically. The sweat on our palms further made it difficult to grip the rock. The sack on our backs, weighing not more than 5kg, felt as if it had a truckload of stones in it. It took us about half an hour to cross this part, definitely one of the worst in our trekking history.

It still feels like a miracle thinking how we managed to cross the rock.

When we were finished with this horizontal patch, we again felt a feeling of relief. And like the earlier one, this too was short-lived. Right ahead was the vertical rock patch, the one that took us right into the cave of Dhak-Bahiri. We could see the cave right on top of us, about 20-25 feet up. We could also see a couple of ropes, and a couple of tree trunks that lead to the cave. It was a very ingenious and highly effective solution someone had devised to get into the cave, The trick was simple, a very thick rope was suspended, the other end tied very firmly to a rock inside the cave. And then there was this tree trunk, with all its branches cut off. The branches were cut in a very clever manner, and the end result was that the trunk could effective be used like a ladder. It looked somewhat like the illustration below: ~||

The rope was suspended along the length of this trunk. To climb up, one had to grip the rope and pull himself up, with the branches for footholds. Though it seems somewhat easy, it was quite the reverse. The trunk was just rested on a small crevice made in the rock. What if it slipped due to our weight? Our hands were full of sweat. What if we lost grip of the rope. What if the rope was not tied properly? These and a million more questions came to our mind. But knowing well that this was not the time to lose heart, we braved on. One by one, we started climbing up, gripping the rope and using the trunk. The rest of us had to wait at the bottom till the one climbing was safely up into the cave. Two people clinging on the rope at a single time meant only one thing: disaster.

Amol climbed into the cave first, followed by vikram and anirudhha. Amit and me were the last ones to go. We could hear the cries of those who had reached up. Amol, vikram and anirudhha were shouting excitedly, and amit and myself were full of fear here at the bottom. Anyway, amit started climbing. Amit is the fattest guy among us. While climbing, he was standing on the log, with one hand on log and one on the rope. This was not the ideal way to climb; he should have been holding the rope with both his hands, using the trunk only for foothold. I realized his mistake, but thought it better not to advice him when he was climbing. But this proved a very wrong, almost fatal decision. Amit was using both his hands to pull himself up, with one hand on the rope and the other on the log. While doing so, he happened to pull the log too. The log shifted from the base. Amit lost his foot grip, and he almost slipped down the trunk. Had he not been holding the rope with his other hand, he would have landed down, on me, and would have taken me along with him 300 meters down! Fortunately, he controlled the fall and gripped the rope with both the hands. He waited there for a brief moment, took a few deep breaths and then continued. Surprisingly, Amit was not afraid to continue. When we talked about this incident afterwards, he said that he was so full of tension, that no other feeling had any place in his mind. He had just one thing in mind; he had to scamper into the cave somehow. And he did just that. I followed. As soon as all of us were into the cave, we went to that corner of the cave where Lord Bhairavnath’s idol was there. We thanked him for getting us up there. Then we relaxed for some time, yapping away excitedly about the things we had just experienced.

The cave was very beautiful. It had two sections, each one the size of our recreation hall in Unit Number 3. One of them had a big pool of water in it. The water was cold and clear. It is amazing how our ancestors could find water in the middle of nowhere with whatever technical know-how they had at that time. The cave was full of names, addresses and love tales written on the walls; the disgusting marks that indicated people had visited it earlier. It makes me wonder what heart people have to destroy the natural beauty of such a wonderful cave. While we were inspecting the cave, another group of trekkers came in. They had come here before, and knew a better way to come up. The way they had come up, they did not have to come through the nail or the dreaded rock patch. It was a shorter, easier way. The only tough part was the rope, which we too had to cover anyway. We were very relived to hear that there is an alternative to the rock patch. We took the directions from them, and unanimously decided that tomorrow we take the new way down! After all, who wants to try his luck with death if it can be helped?

These people waited in the cave for half an hour, and set back again to go home! We didn’t!

We cat napped for some time, and then woke up fresh, but hungry. We used the firewood available in the cave and prepared “Pohe”. Even without much masalas available, it tasted great and all of us relished it. We did not carry a knife with us to cut onions, so we used an axe to cut them! On treks like these, we generally carry firecrackers with us. These are of dual use, it helps scare away monkeys and other unwanted four-legged intruders. Also, when firecrackers are exploded at such heights without any noise interruption around, the echoes generated are awesome. At this particular instance, we could hear at least 5 distinct echoes, lasting for almost 7 seconds. Human voice doesn’t get echoed so much, because the basic noise created is not loud enough.

From the cave, we could see the Rajmachi Fort to our left, and in its background, we could also see the “Duke’s Nose” in Lonavla. By the time we settled in the cave, it was almost evening. The “sunset festival” had just begun. Indeed it was a festival, with the sunrays generating a wide spectrum of colors. A few strings of white fluffy clouds, with silver lining, added to the beauty of this view. For almost 30 minutes or more, we were mesmerized by the spectacle we witnessed. Utterly speechless, we could do nothing but try to capture the magnificent visuals in our ill-equipped cameras. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but even the pictures we took cannot express the actual beauty of what we saw with our eyes! As the sun set, the tiny villages below us began to come to life with the artificial lights. Above us, the stars started popping up in the sky, as if imitating the bulbs in the village.

Somewhere far off, a lonely villager in the forest (typically called a Dhangar) had lit up a fire. By 7 p.m., it was pitch dark. It was like midnight in our usual city life. We could do nothing but talk, which we did for an hour or so. Then our stomachs started talking, so we made maggi for ourselves and devoured it. Nobody wanted to sleep early, so we lit up a nice campfire, and started singing and dancing. After almost two hours of merry making, the camp-fire died out, and we too felt drained, exhausted. We finally covered ourselves with sweaters, socks and monkey-caps because we anticipated a lot of cold wind in the wee hours of the morning. Off we went to sleep. Surprisingly, the cave kept its warmth throughout the night. We slept peacefully. Well, almost…. Some rodents showed their presence, squeaking away throughout the night. One of the poor fellows even walked on vikram’s head. Vikram, not exactly one who loves rodents, had to use his hand to throw the it away. He never managed to sleep after that. Others did. [page] We managed to pull ourselves out of our “bed” by 7 next morning. A few snaps, and we were ready to descend. --Easier said than done!



What about the patch that we had to negotiate using the rope? There was no option for it, was there?

So one by one, we started to descend. The rope troubled us a lot. Descending using the rope was like doing something close to the “great Indian rope trick”. The toughest part was this: At one moment, you are squatting, facing the valley, the end of which you cannot see. You are at the edge of the cave, where the rope starts. Behind you is the safety of the cave. You have to hold this rope, and suspend yourself into the valley. Not only that, once your feet are in the air, you have to turn 180 degrees, so that you are now facing the rock, with your back to the valley. Then, you use just your hands to slide down the rope a couple of feet, and only then you come across the tree-trunk that can be used for foothold. Any wrong move, and god help you!

I almost made that very wrong move. When I suspended myself and turned around, I looked down. Seeing the valley below, a wave of panic hit me. I almost lost grip on the rope and slid down the rope almost 4-5 feet. Luckily I controlled the fall, and took a better grip on the rope, bruising my arms and thighs in the process. The rest of us finally descended the rope, and thankfully it was accident-free.

We were terribly exhausted within 15 minutes that we took to cover the rope. So we rested there for a few minutes. While we resting, a couple of villagers came along. One of them was the pujari, who came here very Sunday to perform puja of the Bhairavnath idol.

And while we watched with our mouth agape, they climbed up the rock path and the rope almost as if they were walking on F.C. Road! They literally took not more than 10 minutes to cover the part we took 45 minutes to cover! The new road after that was easy, with no major hurdles to overcome. So the return journey was a normal one. By the 1 pm we were in the village, where we had lunch and we got the ST to karjat. From karjat we got took the sinhagad express to Pune.

Overall, this was one experience in life that exceeded everything we anticipated. It was more dangerous than we expected, it was more strenuous than we expected, but it was also more rewarding that we expected. It increased our confidence manifold. It made us understand what raw fear is, how it feels to be in situations like the ones we faced. It also emphasized the fact no matter how much betterwe get through technology; nature still holds the upper hand. There have been, and there will be many more such instances, when man will be helpless against nature. It reminded me of a small comic strip that shows Bill Gates, with a spade in his hand, trying to move a big mountain. The strip quotes “Technology can move mountains!” Agreed it can, and maybe it has, but then…..


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