Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Panshet Parikrama - Chasing the horizon

Recces are always exciting. Going into uncharted territory (well, not strictly uncharted since the arrival of google maps and smart devices), to places I have never been to before seems like a quest for hidden treasures. There is much anticipation in the air some days before the trip is made – the hows, wheres and whats. Never the whys.

I don’t not really thinking of the recce itself in the days leading up to it. It is the small things that I turn around in my head. If I am going on foot, there are a thousand possibilities to consider. If by car then a different thousands of them. I might have done about seven recces so far to explore place to go and have an adventure at. They prepare you for anything and everything. All of them are exciting experiences in themselves and they just drive home the point that I enjoy recces more than the “planned” adventure.

That being said, my recent recce for exploring a route for an ultra relay marathon was a fantastic outing after a long time, besides being a memorable adventure. Me and my good friend, Samir, started the drive down at about 9 AM. We had chosen Panshet as our start point and planned to go all the way to the very source of the lake. Then we planned to cross over the water body and return from the other side. We proceeded via the tried and tested road circumventing Sinhagad base, leaving Donje behind. The road was fairly ok with occasional potholes and loose mud patches. We went via Malkhed and were soon at the point where we could cross over to the other side of the Panshet dam, but we continued on since it was the source we sought. If we had crossed here, we would have joined the Panshet – Lavasa road.


A road towards your left just before Malkhed, goes all the way to State Highway #65, to Velhe, base of Torna fort. Another tar road turning left, a little before the actual dam also goes to Velhe to join State highway #65 in the area around Gunjavane dam. This turn has a landmark – a zilla parishad school. You pass a village named Kadve if you take this road towards Velhe. Both these are handy roads to know in case you want to detour to Torna from Sinhagad base.

The road we were driving on became fairly lonely once we passed Shirkoli. There was a change of drivers here. We met the occasional Bullet walas, a few bullock carts and a couple of tempos. The back waters were constantly to our right as we drove by and it was a beautiful clear day. We spotted many possible sites that we could return to camp at along the lake. It would be equally beautiful at night I think with no traffic or big settlement immediately nearby. We passed tiny hamlets of Vadghar and Givashi. As we neared Ghodshet, the road turned sharply inland, away from the water. For sometimes, we could not see the lake at all and continued the drive over small rolling hills. Ghodshet to Ghodkhal is another beautiful, but lonely stretch. The road is ok for ATVs, SUVs, sturdy 2 wheelers, but not a Honda City.

Against the advice of the small voice at the back of my mind and for the lack of any other suggestions, I had chosen to take the City on this recce. It was going to be a roughly 180 km ride by our mapping estimates, so what better vehicle than this. I had discounted for bad patches too. I drive a lot all over Pune so the City can take the occasional muddy, slushy road with me at the wheel.

When we neared Kurtawadi at about 2 PM, it was immediately apparent why getting the City along was a bad idea. Bad, bad idea. We were confronted with the “Source” - a wide, but shallow stream full of rocks, mud and stones. The water from this stream feeds into the lake and this was the ultimate turnaround point for Panshet. It was a scene right out of a Tata Safari advert. This was the part where the Safari takes the plunge without a care and there we were, heads in hands, looking like fools with the City in tow. Damn! We had only 2 choices - turn around and drive all the way back or try the tricky way across. We got down to make a mini recce of the possible route the City could take across. Some local folks in a battered Bolero came out on the other end and started picking up big rocks to take away. Someone was building a house nearby it seems, and the stones was handy material. They looked at us and then at the City, clearly puzzled about why we would be there. They thought we had come scouting for land to buy around those parts (not a bad idea actually). In the course of asking them for a spade to see if we could clear a route, we explained the mad enterprise behind the long drive. Our explanation seemed to have some effect for they were in a sudden hurry to leave. And no, they did not have a spade.

We were really and well stuck now. I went to the other side to see if I could visualize a path for the City to take, once we could dislodge some stones, pat down some mud, and fill up some ruts. This was the easy part. Both me and my friend discussed the pros and cons with a lot of humour at our predicament. We were hopeful that with some manual (or divine) intervention, we could pull through the rough patch. The hard work began.

To make things merrier, we realized the mud also had dung in it. Stellar! We really were in deep shit. Both Samir and me got ourselves stout sticks to poke around stones, loosen them up and lever them upwards. They lasted no longer than a few minutes and it was back to good ol’ hands. As I continued to push the stones deeper into the ground I remembered telling a friend how recces excited me. They prepare you for anything, really. I was living the proof.

There was a dilapidated bridge behind us a little upstream, but it was just a foot bridge. I imagine that in monsoons, this stream must be overflowing and that bridge would be the only connection to the other side.

We continued to work in the afternoon heat. The rocks were sharp and Samir had a bad cut on his foot from one. We took a break to clean the wound. A woman grazing her sheep had been watching us all this while. Seeing Samir hurt, she came to us with a ball of crumpled leaves to press into the wound. A herb with healing properties apparently. My car’s first aid kit came in very handy here. One more item to include in the next recce – a full service FA kit.

In an hour and a half’s drudge work we managed to change the geography of the possible route, enough to satisfy ourselves at least. We cleaned ourselves in the clear waters of the stream before turning to the task at hand. Samir as the guide to watch all 4 wheels and me at the helm was how we were going to get the City across. I put the car in first gear, took a deep breath and rolled forward. Inch by agonizing inch, the City went forward under Samir’s careful eyes. I was quick on the brake, anticipating a soul crushing denting sound every time the car moved. I visualized the path in my mind beneath the car while Samir watched all 4 wheels on it. We had to look for jutting rock, rocks too near the car’s underbody or it’s side skirting, and rocks near the exhaust pipe. It was an agonizing drive of no more than 25 metres, and took about 15 minutes. Every second my ears strained for a metal-on-rock sound, but I need not have worried, Samir was instructing very carefully.

FINALLY! The car was across!! I must have taken in gulps of air in several deep breaths. We had done it! A high five and some stress relieving banter later we were on our way up the slope towards the other side of Panshet.

The road we took was primarily unused. It was not tarred, there was grass and hay everywhere, and very faint rut marks of rare vehicles. But it was still a road. We were cheerful that we had made it through when another danger loomed. We came upon another stream, thankfully with a crude concrete bridge on it, but with a possibility that it did not touch the other side. Muttering curses at myself, I got down to inspect, again. Samir was already half way there and much to my relief, confirmed that the bridge was actually that, a bridge. It touched the other bank of the stream albeit the road descended very sharply once the bridge ended. Thank god that the PWD’s funds did not disappear half way through while building it. Here was another situation we had to save the City’s underbody from.

I slowly took the car up the ascent to our end of the bridge only to have the wheel turn in place in the dry mud. Our man was quick to the rescue pushing the car from behind in spite of his hurting foot. The wheel finally caught on to something and the entire car was on the bridge. Very, very carefully, I let is descend on the other side and hurrah, we were across one more hurdle. The road continued to be in a rough state and we almost though that we had managed to lose ourselves. Samir’s phone map helped us retain some sanity by showing that we were on the right track and lo behold a tar road. A sweet sight for our eyes.

As soon as we were on the smooth road, we stopped in the shade to let out some steam and eat some snacks. There had a been a few discomforting sounds that the City made during those rough ascents-descents and I was sure I had hit some crucial part. I thought I smelt some coolant too. Just too much love for my City manifesting itself, I think, because we gave the car and the underbody a thorough inspection and found nothing wrong. I kissed my car fondly, petting it heavily for being such a good sport.

There after it was a smooth ride back to Panshet dam. We turned right on the tar road to go towards Panshet. If we had turned left, we would have continued to a village called Ghol. Another scenic place and the base for the Konkan Diva fort. Worth a visit for sure.

We made our first stop at the canteen near the Panshet MTDC and had our lunch at 3:30 PM. Post lunch, instead of returning to Pune directly, we took the Nilkantheshwar route towards Temghar. The Nilkantheshwar road turns inland near Jambhli and a road to the left takes you to the temple. We continued onwards without going to the temple and the road naturally turns perpendicular to the river at Davje. Shortly after that, we turned right to reach road 3 via a small bridge. Turning left at road 3, we joined the Lavasa-Temghar road at Mutha. We made this detour to stop at Col. Godbole’s MI Initiatives camp. We were treated to chai and kanda pohe before we started back to Pune via Mutha.

It was 7:30 PM by the time we reached the city in the City. Samir, gallantly, had me go straight home preferring to take an auto to his place.

A quote from my friend Alistair’s book would be an apt conclusion for our day of adventure.

“I am also drawn by the randomness and unpredictability of horizon chasing. I like having to respond to new situations. Out here I do not just have the opportunity for spontaneity; I am compelled into living spontaneously. I often fear this in anticipation, but love it in hindsight. I know that these are the fun times, the mad times, the exciting times. Living by my wits. Trusting them to keep me alive. Standing on a hilltop and singing at the sky with no idea where I will sleep tonight. But with enough chutzpah to be confident that it will all work out. And enough positivity and humour to accept that the worst thing likely to happen is a long, uncomfortable night. Morning will come. The sun will rise. And I will sleep extra well tomorrow because of tonight’s travails.” 

-- Alastair Humphreys from the book “There Are Other Rivers”.


Making a road for the City


The view of the lake from the road

The City on a precarious perch crossing the stream

The road from Kurtawadi


The just-about-complete bridge

The steep descent from the bridge

The small bridge to road 3 from Nilkantheshwar road.


A beautiful sunset from MI Camp

Route map

1 comment:

Kedar Pitre said...

You forgot to mention the curses you gave to the author of the route! :)