Just last week, I was going on endlessly about my trek in Himachal. Then I heard a friend, Pritha Ghosh’s, account of the Gorakhgad trek. Or saw the pictures, rather. Unbelievably beautiful as my trail was, it can’t hold a candle to the physical and technical trial that Gorakhgad poses!
Gorakhgad is an ancient fort located close to both Mumbai and Pune. It stands tall amidst the Sahyadri ranges, along with its twin, Machhindragad. It was of strategic importance during the rule of Sahahji Raje Bhosle, a Maratha general. The name of the fort comes from Saint Gorakhnath, who used to meditate here.
Climbing in the dark
Pritha is no novice. She admits that as a college student, she used to bunk her lectures and go off on treks. Three years of that, and you can definitely see why she says her feet are ‘ape-like- designed for the wild’. Even so, the ascent was tough for her.
The group started out around midnight, since trekking during the day is more laborious. This is something she encourages everyone to do- The cool winds make the uphill hike breezy. (‘Breezy’- see what I did there?!)
Funny as it may sound, the main advantage of ascending at night is that you can’t see the valley down below. This means you’re not imagining your death, you’re not very scared, just the perfect level of cautious. So, you’re fast.
From the base village, the initial 2 hours is a steady 60-degree rise through a forest. If you’re trekking in cooler climates, you won’t be feeling much fatigue on this part. The main task is to keep your breathing and your body temperature regulated as best as you can.
At the end of this trail, the path becomes quite tricky– you’ve got straight 80 – 90 degree climbs. Pritha says the main challenge here is that not all steps have enough space to set your foot properly. There are also some taller rocks with only little crevices that you can hold onto, and haul yourself up!
After one hour of the steep climb, you reach a clearing where you can rest for a couple of hours. There is cave out here, and a man-made ‘chulha’ that is used by trekkers. While the rest of the group made some piping hot Maggi, Pritha wandered off to go stargazing.
“It’s a wonderful sight. We don’t pay much attention to the pollution in the city. But we don’t even know what we’re missing out on.” Because from out there, the stargazing experience that trekkers have, makes me envious. This is what camping under the stars should be like. You don’t even need your torch- the stars illuminate the entire trail. They were lucky enough to witness more than a couple of shooting stars too!
Pritha recalls lying down here for hours, wishing the night would never end! Another breath-taking sight is the city lights in the distance- all in a line, looking like a necklace of precious stones of various colours. Made the fatigue completely worth it. The group got about some shut-eye before taking on day 2.
They woke up early next morning to witness this breathtaking sunrise.
From the cave, you’ve got to tackle another part- a steeper climb up to the peak. After feeding the leftover Maggi to the monkeys, they started out and took just over half an hour to get to the top.
The peak has a small Shiva temple, with a Nandi idol outside and a Shiva linga inside. The sight from here is marvellous! You get a 360-degree view- of the entire Sahyadri range and the tiny Murbad village, far down below.
After spending some time at the peak, they began the descent. This took long- about one and a half hours because of the entirely vertical trail. In several parts, you need to hold onto the crevices and lower your bodyweight, until your feet get some sort of a hold below.
Trekkers should ideally halt at the cave on the way back too, and relax for a while. There is water available here which can be consumed.
The rest of the journey down lasted 3 hours, with the group speeding up when they finally reached flatter terrain. Pritha says never in any of her treks, has the descent been this tiring. The path was slightly moist because of the dew, and the rocks, loose. You are constantly trying to hold yourself up, giving your legs quite a workout.
She describes the week that followed, as one characterized by pain in muscles she didn’t know existed before! But it’s definitely a feather in the cap!
Some advice before you go
If you’re heading to Gorakhgad from Mumbai, you can take a jeep from Kalyan Station to Murbad. From here, the base village, Dehri, is a 25-minute walk. From Pune, it takes you about 3 hours to reach Murbad by road.
On this one, Pritha says you most definitely need good quality trekking shoes. Some of the trekkers who came with improper footwear were the ones responsible for the delays- don’t be that guy.
You can do the trek in a day, beginning early morning, but she strongly recommends that you make an overnight trip, if possible. This is not just to avoid the sunlight and heat, but because the view of millions of stars in the sky- the brightest and the clearest you’ll ever see them- and camping inside the spacious cave, is not to be missed!