I walked into the warm embrace of nature…..
Not knowing what it had in store for me…….
I am, but still walking clueless of my future……
Never ceasing to be surprised by thee….
It all started one fine day when after having heard and read about stories on ‘Solo travels’, I decided to hit on one may be just for the heck of it. And after too much of contemplation, hesitation, deliberation and many other ‘tions, I ended up with this place, after all it does call for a toast when you are adding another year of life onto your calendar. Here I was for the toast on turning an year older, two years back.
Situated in Pune district, near the borders of Thane and Ahmednagar says Wiki Naani about Malshej Ghat – a mountain pass in the Western Ghats range. A very rare combination of brown, green and blue of course. The idea was to spend my birthday in Shirdi, my evergreen favourite place to hang out and then may be hop around a little. What more could you ask for than the coolest darshan and a treat to almost 1000 people together at the Bhojanalay. Felt like they had all come down just to celebrate my birthday. It was the very next day, that I visited the Malshej – a great beginning to the year that went by.
How I got there is no less interesting than the visit itself. After consulting Wiki Naani and Google Daadi about this place, I figured out that I would be needing the support from locals and went knocking on to every face that looked local enough, quizzing about this place and how to get there. Most of them were either not aware of this place or were skeptical to share the details with a single lady who wanted to venture out all alone to Malshej from Shirdi. Few even cared to ask me if everything was all right with my top portion, in good spirit though. Finally, one of the travels guy agreed to offer me a drive to and fro the next day for nothing less than a fortune. And, it was all settled. I would take a cab to Malshej early next day and be back to Shirdi by evening for the Aarti probably. Not until…..
Not until I woke up with a thought of ditching the idea. So I get ready and rush off to the nearest bus station to see if there is a bus that can take me to Malshej. Few elderly people suggested that I either take a bus to Pune or Thane which might make it easier to reach the place I was actually routing for. Sorted. It was already 5.30 in the morning and the buses had already started to take off from the station. Suddenly, out of nowhere I hear this guy saying Nashik, Nashik, Nashik……as if calling out to me. And the next thing I knew was that I was on this bus that goes from Shirdi to Nashik, with no clue whatsoever of how I was to reach Malshej.
But I guess sometimes you got to ditch safe and sorted plans to see exactly what life has in store for you. The ride was nothing less than awesome. Probably the best way to enjoy the route from Shirdi to Nashik next to foot, was the public transport bus that was carrying us. There were not many women though on the bus, and those who were there had their veils put on to avoid unwanted stares from the randomly weak ones.
After a while, which looked like it lasted just for couple of seconds, it was time to get down the bus and bid adieu to all the wonderful and friendly co passengers, I realised I was actually at the Nashik bus depot. The people around at the bus depot looked a lot friendlier and knowledgable. So I when I went around asking about Malshej, every one had the same response – ‘you should have gone to PUNE instead….vedi mulgi (crazy woman)’.Suited me right. So, without wasting another minute there, I got onto the bus where a not so pleasant guy was screaming Pune, Pune, Pune in his typical accent and a screeching voice. Seemed like he already knew my story with all the glares that he had for me.
By the time I set foot in Pune, there was a rumbling effect in my stomach, or I think it was the other way around. And to top it with the smell of vada pav, raged pattice and garam garam chole. It was lunch time and I stopped by a road side eat out. The cashier (also might be the owner) walked up to me to take the order personally. I told him I had to go to Malshej and he said that if I take a bus route, it might be late to reach there and I would have to stay overnight there to see places around. I was not prepared for that now. So I dropped the idea….. of listening to the Good Samaritan and chose to stuck to my plan (which was no where).
Bingo!!! While I was having lunch at this place in Pune, I happened to notice that the street was filled with shops that offer travels to places around Pune. It took me a while to convince one of the owners that I just wanted to visit Malshej and get back to Shirdi and it had got nothing to elope with a guy, commit suicide because of a love failure, do weed / dope. Man!!! That was the hardest part of it. My parents never asked me so many questions. Mr. Aslam, thank you for making my day and sending one of your best drivers who turned out an even better detective than you.
Must say, the way up there was not that easy. And to top it there were no other visitors, cars, vehicles on the way, which made it even more weird for the driver to get on with it. But I decided to face it with all my gut and courage and asked him not to worry. For a while, his weirdness had managed to intimidate me. Or probably my queerness had managed to scare him. Whatever. Then came a whiff of fresh air (fresh air mixed with the aroma of Maggie and Corn).
The Maggie and corn were saviours, not just from hunger but from the fact that I was just watching the view and cool breeze go past me sitting inside an Air-conditioned Cab. That reminds me of the stall holder Kasiram who shared his trade secrets with me and said that it was off season then (month of March) and that the peak season is when the monsoons start settling in. During the monsoons, he said that there will be about 30 – 40 stalls along the path and the business goes booming wham wham wham. He also said that he had never witnessed people other than locals visiting during off season. He said earlier they used to put up stalls of Vada Pav also, but then they realised that it was better to have something that could be easily transported up and down on the Ghat road and switched to Maggie and Corn instead. Apparently, corn is their major local produce around areas there. May these vendors flourish and their kids cherish with good health, education and happiness.
Because I chose to travel by the abnormal way in reaching here, I could not spend more time in visiting few other places like Malshej water falls, Harishchandragadh fort and the Shivneri Fort. May be there is another visit written for these places. We had to start back as the sun was about to set. And what a way to set. Guess the sun too had decided to play around a little. People generally put in a lot of effort to reach from ‘Before’ to ‘After’. But this little sunny brat did it in less than a minute. Effortlessly too. I somehow feel that we have devices to capture moments into photographs and videos but the experience stays with us, uncultured by any device. Can’t say the same will remain forever, thanks to Captains like Zuckerberg, Cook and Pichai.
We hit back to Shirdi by the Shej Aarti time, thanks to our driver who I guess must have overcome the feeling of a single women travelling all the way from Hyderabad to Malshej Ghats just because she wanted to start the day after her birthday in a nice way.
Place: Malshej Ghats
Location: Western Ghat range on the Pune – Thane way.
Entry Ticket: Free. Enter at your own risk. People with respiratory diseases, weak hearts need to think twice before going up there. It takes a lot of courage and crankiness to withhold oneself after witnessing the view there.
Eateries: If you are travelling by road, make sure you carry water and basic stuff along especially if you have kids on your kitty. The corn and Maggie stalls start almost from half way of the route and one is likely to come across them on the way back.
Lessons from my GHATY trip
- A trip can become adventurous from a surprising one within a minute. Be ready for that.
- Planning too much too ahead might not always be the correct thing to do while on Wanderlust.
- It is good at times to listen to advice local people offer, better to stick to plans but best to be yourself and adhere to no one but you.
- If you are a solo women traveller and people around have inhibitions and questions about you, don’t feel ashamed, instead feel proud you did what the likes of Bachendri Pal, Arunima Sinha and many others did.
- Be prepared for a stop over, a night stay even if you have a plan of coming back on the same day.
- Make sure to list out places that you missed seeing and visit them for sure, lest your soul wanders around these places after you are gone.
- The signals around the Ghats are a little tricky. So if you want to show someone the live coverage of the beauty, you better get them along with you.