I had been long planning to do treks in Maharashtra but the distance from Bangalore makes it difficult to do this over a single weekend. On Christmas day I drove from Karwar towards Hatlot — base village for Madhu Makrandgad and a few other treks. This was the closest trek to Karwar I could find in Maharashtra on indiahikes.com. Around 8pm that night I exited the highway following Google Maps into an unlit stretch of road with no idea of where I will be sleeping that night. About an hour of driving later I was relieved to see city lights; far away and well above the level of the road. And the road though winding was soon clearly heading upwards and towards those lights. I had no clue that Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar lay that way (both places I’ve only heard of through Bollywood films). I was lucky to find lodging in crowded Mahabaleshwar that too on Christmas day (they have a rule that rooms are not let out to single occupants).
The next day I tried to find this Hatlot village. When Google Maps tried to send me up a steep, very narrow patch of gravel I decided to drop the plan and return on the trusty Victoria to fight another day. I even started driving back. But… somewhere before Panchgani I realized that its a bit late to drop a plan after coming all this way from Bangalore. So asking around for directions I made it to Hatlot and took off with little ceremony. People in Hatlot are the nicest lot I’ve met anywhere (no exaggeration, you have to meet them to see for yourselves). They showed me the route with a lot of pointing, gesturing and a lot of detailed Marathi instructions the last of which I could not understand though requests for Hindi did produce useful results.
A team of some 40 others had already started the trek at 8am and I was starting at 12pm. Alone. So, one thing I really don’t understand (in hindsight), is why they didn’t stop me. This was leopard and gaur country. At one point on the trail there was a clear, prolonged slithering in the tall grass right beside me, there was one langur who seemed to be stalking me, I found one porcupine quill and there was no shortage of sounds in the jungle indicating company. So… why didn’t those nice people either stop me from going in alone or suggest I hire a guide?
Trek was easy going as far as there was tree cover and till I got lost. After that I had to do a lot of retracing, trial and error till I found some villagers collecting firewood and followed them to the first temple (looks less like a temple and more like a house with a tiled roof). From that point on there is no tree cover, and the trail is hard to find. It helps to follow the electricity cables/poles to locate where it passes by the trail at several points. The path goes in a zigzag, so you need to be careful because at some points you need to take the branch going backwards to your left to get to the top (yet another titbit of wisdom from the world of trekking). That brings you to the second temple (also looks like a house with a tiled roof). Behind the temple is a path going over an uneven, rocky and very narrow ridge. I walked up that path about halfway, but the legs weren’t steady and the sun burning so I actually stopped short by some 20 feet from the actual end of the trek. Actually on looking back at the temple I saw that there was this big burly guy — the pujari — who had appeared out of nowhere and was looking at me. So to avoid any Q&A I stopped where I was, took a few pictures and turned back after a brief rest.
I was a lone fellow walking along a narrow ridge at the top of a peak. That’s not something stealthy pujaris are used to seeing in these lonely parts. I actually turned back as I was afraid the pujari might think I was going to jump.