On Thursday, 24th October 2019, I left work at 7 pm, and for a 4 km journey, I spent over 45 minutes sitting in a rickshaw, stuck in traffic. The only thing my ears heard was the noise of the blaring horns coming from every direction. It had been over two weeks since I was in the mountains, which meant over two weeks of city life, pollution, Mumbai traffic, restlessness and desperation to go back. I needed to be far away from any and every human being. I had to go somewhere in the mountains alone. There are over 200 treks in Maharashtra, and I had to pick one.
Here are ten things to keep in mind while planning a solo trek
1. The ways to get to the starting point, the ways to get back from the ending point, and a couple of backup options.
2. Bus frequency and their timings for your onward and return journey. Remember to enquire about the timing for the last bus back to the nearest city (from the bus conductor or a person-in-charge).
3. Trek difficulty level. Consult a couple of different websites/sources to get a fair idea of what to expect and ensure your fitness level matches the requirement.
4. Season and weather. In monsoon, the rocks become slippery, and this increases the difficulty level for most of the treks. In summer, it can get scorching in the day, so try to start and end your the trek before the sun drains you out. Remember to check the weather forecast a couple of days prior, and prepare accordingly.
5. If you're doing the particular trek for the first time, read blogs or watch vlogs related to the trek. Know how the terrain progresses throughout the trek. For example a steep or gradual ascend, plateau region, a dirt/unpaved road or "Kacha rasta", metalled/tar road, a patch of forest area, ladders or steps, etc.
6. Also, read about the check-points you should come across on-route. With this, you'll know if you're going in the right direction or on the right path and it boosts your self-confidence when you pass by them. For example - water tanks or wells, dams, waterfalls or streams, temples, villages, any particular shops, schools, caves, etc.
7. Now, document all the information you have gathered, on paper or offline, on your phone. Save images and download relevant videos. Information includes everything you know about the trek, about the path, view-points, bus timings, some important phone numbers, villages you should pass by, pictures of the check-points you should come across. 8. Avoid night travel or night trek for your first solo.
9. Google information how safe the villagers are its people are, and if there occurred any incidences in the past.
10. Carry a pepper spray, a Swiss knife, and you can always use stones to defend yourself. Make sure to carry your food and water. If you're going on a weekday, or to a not-so-popular trek, do not be dependent on restaurants and shops for food. Before drinking water from wells, tanks or streams, consult a local.
Now, Kothaligad Trek was what I needed. It was easily accessible via public transport, there are several blogs on it on the internet, the trek route to the fort was well-marked, and you get some mesmerizing views from the top. More importantly, the villages are incredibly safe for a young girl like me. Karjat bus stand is a 2-minute walk from Karjat railway station. The trek starts at Hotel Kothaligad, Pinglas, Ambivali Village, which is 45 minutes from Karjat and Neral by bus. To get to Ambivali, hop onto a state bus plying from Karjat to Solanpada or Jambrung. Frequency of the bus is 30-45 minutes and the ticket costs ₹50 one way.
My Journey - On Friday, 25th October 2019, I boarded a morning train from Dadar to Karjat. I reached Karjat station around 8:30 am and headed towards the bus stand. At the bus stand, the auto-rickshaw drivers offered a ride to Ambivali for ₹700. I refused as it was way over my budget, they tried to con me by saying that the next bus would arrive much after 11 am. Since there were a couple of people waiting for a bus to Solanpada that stops at Ambivali, I decided to wait. The bus came at 9 am.
I reached Ambivali by 10 am and asked a couple of locals for directions. Soon enough, a dog started following me, and my trek wasn't solo anymore. I had saved the essential bits on my phone that accurately guided me throughout the trek. The views were so satisfying, the fort is visible after a couple of kilometres, and far away you can see the range of windmills. It's so peaceful and breezy, watching the yellow-green stalks of grass dancing in the wind was an absolute pleasure. Once we reached the Peth village, the dog didn't come any further.
After futile attempts of convincing luring him to come with me, I decided to carry on, once again, solo. Seeing me walk alone, out of concern, several villagers asked me - "एकटी जातेस?" which means - "going alone?", and I wanted to reply - "Yes, and you are one of the reasons why I felt safe enough to go alone." The climb to the fort is an adventure in itself. It got denser, wilder and steeper.
After caves, the stretch from the shoulder to the top was more and more thrilling and rewarding with every step. There wasn't Single person on the fort other than me, and that was the highlight of my trek. By noon, I reached top, and after relaxing in the shade for a while, I began to explore parts of the fort. Once my heart was content with the views of the landscape, the sound of the chirping birds, the feeling of my hair flying in the wind, and the fresh air that the city lacks, I began my descend and reached Ambivali by 1:45 pm. I waited for the bus to Karjat which came at 2:30 pm. I boarded the train from Karjat Station back to Dadar, and that's how my first solo trek came to an end. It's a beautiful feeling, nervousness mixed with unusual calmness, all of this causing the adrenaline to rush through your veins. I had never felt so liberated, so confident about myself. Kothaligad was my first solo trek, but it surely won't be my only solo trek!