Stairs to Heaven and Beyond

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Have you ever trekked up a pathway washed clean continuously by gushing rain water? Do this and much more at the ancient route at Naneghat this monsoon

Trekking leisurely through the verdant and misty hills of Maharashtra in monsoon is an unforgettable experience. The landscape metamorphoses in July, with dry brown shrubs giving way to greenery and clear sky being hijacked by plethora of clouds.

Naneghat trek near Pune and Kalyan is a great monsoon trek for the beginners. It was an exploratory trek for us too as we tracked the trail without any guide and sought the help from other trekkers and local villagers when stuck. A two-hour ride on a rickety ST (State Transport) bus from Kalyan took us to the starting point of Naneghat trek trail. A board told us the route was as old as 250 BCE.

As soon as we started it began to drizzle. Donning our raincoats and windcheaters, we began the adventure. The initial half an hour of the trail was an easy dirt track. We paused occasionally to appreciate the tiny flora and fauna. Twenty minutes into the trek and we stumbled upon a small stream of water. Though the stream was not much of an obstacle, the shoes still ended up getting wet. A few minutes later, we encountered another stream — stronger and more voluminous. Another 10 minutes into the trek and we came across another stream. At the beginning of the stream, there were two paths, divided by thick cover of trees. One led slightly downhill and the other uphill. We chose the uphill one. This ascending trail was surrounded by thick foliage on either side and was easily manageable. Though the forest cover prevents much light from reaching the trail, we reached a clearing of lush green meadows after ascending for about 10 minutes.

As soon as we started to walk again after a brief snack break, we were delighted to see the first view of the majestic Nanacha Angtha (meaning thumb, owing to its shape). Enveloped in green cover and surrounded by thick mist, it looked ethereal. After walking through easily-negotiable green plains for around 10 minutes, we reached an elevated waterfall. After having feasted our eyes on the beauty of the waterfall, we continued on our trek. After 20 minutes, we reached another clearing. This time Nanacha Angtha was right in front of us. This was the most atmospheric patch, thanks to the wide open spaces, views of many waterfalls, proximity to mist-laden hills, seasonal tiny flowers and mushrooms carpeting the ground. From here, it was again a mild ascent on rocky patches and once again we were rewarded with breathtaking views.

 

Waterfall in Naneghat

Now, it was a relatively comfortable uphill journey to our destination. We had to ascend on the most uneven and oddly-shaped rocks strewn here and there, with water gently flowing on them, for some 20 minutes. About half an hour later, we reached the first water tank towards our left on the path leading up to the Naneghat caves. The tank was overflowing with water due to incessant rains. Another walk for 20 minutes and we reached our destination.

This last stretch of the trek was something we will cherish forever. It was a simple uphill route on neatly-made rock-cut stairs. What made it memorable was that we traversed it with gushing rain water engulfing our legs as we climbed up. While we were still on the ‘waterfall steps’ we saw the first glimpse of the caves on our right. The excitement to reach there resulted in buoyancy and urgency in our steps. In no time we were on the top, punctuating the surroundings with our cheers, high fives and guffaws.

Naneghat caves

 

The ancient caves, said to be commissioned by a woman ruler, Naganika, probably to serve as a resting place for the traders who used this route. Naganika was the wife of Satakarni (180-170 BCE), the third ruler from the Satavahana era. The Naneghat inscriptions describe Satakarni as ‘Lord of Dakshinapatha, wielder of the unchecked wheel of Sovereignty.’

On the left of the caves is the famed Naneghat Pass. The rock-cut stairs surrounded by huge rock walls on either side add to its allure and magic. The pass speaks volume of the enterprising nature and resourcefulness of ancient India. This pass was wisely and strategically carved out during the Satavahana period (200 BCE – 190 CE) to facilitate trade route between Kalyan and Junnar. The name Naneghat is self explanatory as ‘Nane’ means coin while ‘Ghat’ stands for ‘pass’. Once you cross the pass on the ascending stairs, you will again be surprised to see a new landscape — the Naneghat plateau. As we emerged from the pass on the left we saw a huge rock-cut pot which was used in ancient times to collect coins from the traders as toll.

naneghat trek

Hungry and drained of all energy, we were delirious with joy to see a local eerily emerging out of thick fog with a tea kettle. He readily took us to a makeshift room, a five-minute walk from the Naneghat pass. We changed our clothes and savoured the fresh kanda poha and warm tea. And, with those newly-gained memories, we headed back to the usual urban life. The only silver lining was that escaping is easy if you happen to live near the lovely Sahyadris.

Written by Abhinav Singh

 

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