Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Return Of The Peb

PEB FORT: 2011 JULY 10th.

Hello Hikers,
I had a beautiful hike to Peb fort yesterday. Narrating you my experience of the same:

On receiving Phadke Sir’s mail about Peb fort hike, I was excited and immediately booked my seat in the college bus. Several friends of mine also wanted to come for the hike, but since the ex-students quota was full, my friends and I decided to go by train. I had initially planned to trek Nakhind and then do a traverse to Peb fort. I have previously searched for the route on Google & saw photos of trekkers on this route but couldn't understand how they climbed the ridge above the "Nedhe of Nakhind". I even consulted Vikas Sir for this & I knew there is a route that starts from above the “Nedhe of Nakhind” and we need to follow the ridge till we reach Peb, but finding the correct route would've taken a lot of time and hence this plan seemed difficult to implement in a day's time.

Moreover, I was keen on doing Peb since it was my Debut Hike with PHC exactly 6 years ago (yeah, I had trekked Peb on 10July2005 when Viraj Keer was the Secretary). Subsequently seats were available in the bus due to Cancellations but we mutually decided not to change our plan considering that it’s important to keep things simple while planning a trek.

My fellow Podarites, Rahul Shah (a.k.a Shahu) and Trek Buddy Vikrant Keer (a.k.a Vicky); Hardik Shah (a.k.a Hardy) whom I befriended through Vicky during PHC’s Rajmachi night trek of 2007 and last year’s Dalhousie trek by YHAI; Vicky’s Office colleague from KPMG, Bhavik Shah and finally myself: Parin Shah!
The advantage of a small group is that we can move quickly and discover ‘new’ trekking routes. Also, a small trekking group helps build rapport quickly between the members and create some long lasting friendships!

Every trekker knows how advantageous it is to start the trek as early as possible. Accordingly, we took early morning Karjat local and reached Neral station @ 07:45hrs (we could’ve reached 20 minutes earlier had we not missed the previous Karjat local).
We could easily see the 3 basic Landmarks:
1. Eletric Pylons (towers).
2. The U-shape ridge between Matheran & Peb.
3. The W-shaped ridge between Peb & Nakhind.
As instructed by Amey Ketkar, we reached Divya Deep hotel and moved further ahead. I called up Amey to check with the college group. They had just crossed Panvel. It was around 8:15am. The climate was cool with light rain and breeze - So far so good. But we had a thrilling experience on the way.

We were walking on the road towards Mamdapur (base village of Peb). There was this herd of buffaloes grazing in the nearby grounds. The leader Buffalo of the herd saw us approaching and I sensed something eerie. The leader raised its head with a warning as we came closer to them. I could see the anger in its bulging eyes. But we just kept walking though not completely ignoring it. All of a sudden, the leader buffalo started sprinting towards us!
O my God! No time to think, the Adrenaline flowed and we just started running until we were safely out of range. Phew! What a warm-up! We had the last laugh. I remembered the episode of the wild bull of Siddhgad narrated by Shrikant Lad (my predecessor treasurer).

We continued further in search of the base “waadi” (hamlet or a small village) located at the foothills of Peb only to reach Dilkap College. From there we took a detour into a nearby private property. This time we reached a Tabela or something located near the “tekdi” (small hill) beyond which were the high voltage electric pylons (our first landmark). The man there directed us towards the exit door. While moving towards the exit gate, our shoes got filled with water. On exiting the private property we saw the hamlet, which was probably the base village. But there was no signboard through which we could confirm the name of the village. From the base village, we could see Matheran-Peb, the “naala” (a.k.a stream) running down the slopes of Peb and the line of Electric pylons. Our route lay in line with these electric pylons.

I was confident now, just wanted to confirm the path. Just then a village kid came running towards us. I was hopeful of receiving some sort of confirmation from him about the route. On looking closely at his face, I remarked he was tensed but had a glimpse of hope. I asked him in MY Marathi “Peb killya varti jaanya saathi haach rasta haay ka?” and pat he replied:”khau dyaana…”  “Lol arre thamb deto, aadhi saang rasta haach aahe na?”  (His interest lay not in the route but in the candy) So just nodding his head, he said: “ho, khau dyaa n…” “Yeto kaa aamchya barobar killyavar?” “Nahi, khau dyaa n…” I un-shouldered my bag to remove a zip-lock pouch containing Chocolates, a relative had brought from Malaysia. As soon as I removed the pouch he signaled his friends! While handing out half a dozen oval-shaped brown & white chocolates, I told him,”Sabko baatke khaana. Kaay tuzaa naav?”  Kishor, ajun khaau dyaa na…” Now he was acting like a beggar! I told him that’s enough for now since we would also require them later during the climb.
It was about 8:45am. We started our trek after clicking a group photo at the base. We could see trekkers from other group climbing the hill on which the first tower was located. A few steps ahead we were joined by yet another group. I was looking forward to meet the Podar group. A phone call to Amey indicated they had just reached Neral because they did some tp on the way. I hoped that I’d meet my friends from PHC during the trek.

Group at Base

U-shaped col connecting Matheran (Left) and Peb Fort

It wasn’t raining on our way up so we were disturbed a lot by the flies (and machchars) whenever we halted for rest or photography. The climb was good and I think by 9:30am or so we’d crossed the 3 electric towers to reach the plateau level from where the waterfall route (naala) would begin. One must not make the mistake of following the 4th pylon as it branches rightwards. From this plateau we could easily see the other 2 landmarks, viz. the U-shaped col connecting Peb to Matheran and the W-shaped col that connects Peb with Nakhind. We were supposed to now take the waterfall route, which would lead us to the “leftmost stroke” of this “W”. The chain of electric towers passes through this ‘W’ and goes all the way to the other side of the range, i.e. towards Panvel.

On the plateau there was hardly any breeze and for a few moments we even walked in the sunshine. But before the temperature rose further, the sky got covered with clouds once again. As soon as we took to the waterfall route, it started drizzling, thus cooling off the climate. On this path, we came across a huge tall tree with a hollow at its base. We clicked photos here. But couldn’t stay for long at one place as insects were ever ready to suck blood!

         Further ahead on this route we come across a hollow place just 10-15 steps on the right, where there are a couple of small waterfalls and a very small pond. We spent almost 30 minutes here taking photographs and trying rock climbing. It had also started raining by now. This was the bonus gift from the mountain and the rain gods! Maal Laao!
I thought we spent a lot of time here and expected the college group to catch up with us. But that did not happen. I tried calling some friends but I guessed they must’ve left their phones in the bus itself. So we continued further. I was feeling exhausted on this stretch of the climb. The rain had left me drenched and so the weight of the bag and clothes had increased. Also the spectacles were of no use as raindrops covered them and there was no dry cloth to clean them. But such things hardly matter and I continued at a slow pace taking numerous halts until I joined my friends who were in the lead.
We were just 10-15 minutes from making it to the ridge when we halted. We had a few chocolates. The view from here was amazing. We could see the Ulhas River (winding its way through the plains), the base village and Dilkap College, the stream running down the slopes of Peb, the chain of electric towers.  We also spotted a CST bound local train. It appeared like a small snake!

We soon made it to the top of the ridge. It was joyful to reach there without losing the way. I felt proud. This called for some celebration. I removed a bottle. We all drank a sip each. It tasted a bit strong. So we diluted the drink (before your imagination runs wild, the drink was nothing but Glucon-D) by adding water to it.  Here, there was a junction/crossroad:
1.    To the NORTH (Right Turn): was the way towards NAKHIND.
2.    To the SOUTH (Left Turn): was Our Lakshya, PEB FORT.
3.    To the WEST (straight): was another route from PANVEL.
4.    To the EAST (back): was the route from NERAL, from where we’d climbed.
The view of the entire Matheran range was truly beautiful. Nakhind and Chanderi were covered in clouds! Soneri came out of its ghoonghat for a while but Chanderi was too shy to come out of the cloud cover. We could also see the Panvel Lake and Kalavantini Durg (Pinnacle of Prabalgad). The peculiarity of this range is that the peaks are always under cloud cover in the monsoon. But we could clearly see Peb now. We took the left and continued towards Peb.
There was some crowd at the “rock patch”, so we spent our time in photography. The “rock patch” is not a big deal for experienced trekkers. But if there is a college crowd, then it becomes time-consuming.
It was nearing 11am. We were done with the “rock patch” and in the next 10 minutes, reached the cave. Here we removed our shoes and visited the temple inside.  Then came, the ladder, which I hadn’t got to climb in 2005! The view from the ladder was also praiseworthy. From here on we continued to the topmost part of the fort. At the top, some group was busy involved in constructing a temple/Ashram. The teamwork was laudable. Here again the wind was strong and the view of Matheran was enchanting. This place provides a 360-degree view of the surroundings.

It was 12pm and lunchtime. Everything was happening on schedule today. We all were hungry after the superb climb. Theplas of 3 different kinds with Chhunda/Mirchi, Corn, fruits, Chocolates occupied the lunch table (i.e. ET newspaper)! Many people crib about lack of variety in food when on a trek. But I can assure you theplas (& even Paraathaas for that matter) are ‘One of the best’ option, as they don’t get easily spoilt, they’re easy to digest and satisfy your hunger too! And with select “accompaniments” like Shrikhand/Curd/Chhunda/Mirchi/Chatni/Aachar, they taste even better!
Vikrant probably had no other choice apart from theplas as he himself had not brought any Tiffin and anyways he was also the main consumer. This proves that most trekkers secretly love theplas.  Over the years I have seen people bring in a variety of dishes, popular of them being Idlis, Sandwiches, Noodles, Pulaav…etc etc.  Personally, I prefer more of fruits and fluids now a day. The lunch was followed by Chocolaty Melody.

After lunch we set out in search of the route to Matheran, which was not difficult to find at all. But before that we headed to the southern tip of the fort. The U-shaped col between Peb & Matheran lay just below this edge. This end of the fort had a ruined fort wall (which I’d say, was pretty strong and intact). It was difficult to maintain our balance on this wall because the wind speed here was tremendous!

At The fort wall on the southern tip of Peb fort; Matheran in the backdrop.

Soaking-in, the 360degree views
The view of the mountain slopes was amazing and it was indeed hard to believe that there really existed a route on this very slopes. I remembered the hike of 2005. The route which we used in that hike is probably washed out now due to landslide. We took several photos here.

(As seen from Peb top): The Col  and the Route towards Matheran!
            By 1:15pm we were ready to head towards Matheran. This route was a nice one with two ladders. These ladders make the route so easily accessible. I wouldn’t dare to think what it’d have been like without all these ladders! It took us 5 minutes to reach the col from here.

My memories were refreshed while passing through the ‘col’. We really had a wonderful hike back then (in 2005). Frankly, I think no other hike is as good as your first hike because it has a totally different feeling attached to it. The logic being that, what is already known, or what has been already conquered/overcome does not provide/possess the same adventure/excitement/utility as when you first encountered it. Remember, all the pleasures we experience for the first time in life are probably the best experiences! Though I don’t mean, that hikes other than your first are not enjoyable. Otherwise why would I still be trekking? I am passionate about trekking and want to scale the tallest mountain someday!
It is good to have ambitious dreams but not when you are crossing the col between two mountains! So let us get back to the hike. The path from Peb to Matheran wasn’t as difficult as it seemed from the southern tip of Peb. On this way, we came across yet another ladder and a small temple inscribed in a naturally formed cave.  It took us 30 minutes to reach the famous rail tracks of Matheran from the col.
Relaxing a bit on reaching the rail tracks of Matheran.

Peb Fort and the final steps leading to the rail tracks of Matheran.

The sun and rain were playing chhuppa-chhuppi. We clicked yet another round of photographs. We met a French trekker here. I asked him whether he was missing Le Tour de France. “No, I’m not interested” was his reply. We Indians are sometimes so much inclined towards western nations. But in our very own Motherland there are so many unexplored beautiful places, varied cultures, soothing music and successful people worth seeing and experiencing. Why would’ve the Moguls, the British and FIIs then come to India? India…Incredible INDIA…!

Beautifully painted idol of Lord Ganesha
On the rail tracks, just round the corner, moving towards Panorama point, we came across a tall idol of Lord Ganesha (which was actually a beautiful painting on a rock pinnacle; adorned with Mukut, ornaments etc.) After having darshan, we proceeded towards Neral. The walk on the rail tracks was tranquil. We enjoyed several waterfalls on the way.

Mini Waterfalls en route...

A final Good-Bye to Matheran!

By 3:15pm, we touched the road. The rain fell Off and On. Suddenly the environment and surroundings had changed. Throughout the day we’d spent our time with nature. And now we were exposed to human life. Taxis and people were everywhere. Waterfalls on the way had become abode for drunkards. We spent quite a while in the waterfalls. But it was a pity to see scores of drunkards lying all over the place. Matheran, before it was discovered as a hill station must’ve been like any other natural peak. The difference that human intervention has made to it is for everyone to see. In spite of that it remains a favourite weekend get-away for Mumbaikars!
We changed our clothes, had hot tea and bhutta. It was nearing 5pm and finally I was able to communicate with Phadke Sir over mobile phone. I told him that we completed the traverse and it was a nice experience! I would’ve loved to join the college bus, but by then my friend had already booked a taxi to Neral. Promising, sir, of a report from my side, I hung up!
The crowd at Neral station was massive! There was no chance of entering the CST bound train. I had pre-planned for this situation. I had instructed all to purchase Karjat-return tickets. Accordingly, we first took a train to Karjat. It was no less crowded, but at least we could board it and also got seats for ourselves! We reached home back within the planned time. Yeah, was back home by 8:30pm.
Had a repeat of the lovely 2005 debut hike. Eagerly waiting for photos!

~Regards & Cheers,
+Parin Shah  : )

(photos provided by Bhavik Shah)

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