Monday, 28 July 2008

Shilonda Trek

Went for a trek this Sunday. Over 50 of us from the BNHS trekked through the Shilonda trail in the Borivli side of the National Park. This has got to be one of the best treks I have ever been on. Everything about it went right and it had all the elements that make up a legendary trek - lots of rain, a good nature sensitive crowd, strangers who became friends and valued good conversation, teamwork, a little risk and danger, good shoes that held up, lots of excellent scenery and a little wildlife spotting.

Landed up at the park at 7.30 A.M, met up with the group, and walked the half hour distance to the start of the trail, wherein our adventures began. Our three guides took every opportunity to point out interesting Flora like the Ghost tree and the Flame of the Forest .

On one such stop, while the group stood observing an interesting plant, an observant member of the group spotted a snake just a few feet away and well camouflaged in the foliage (which I never would have been able to spot), which our guide confirmed was a Russell's viper. It was exquisite. I never thought I'd see a snake on this trek. This was to be just the first of our experiences.

Later on, our guides spotted a Praying Mantis and Stick Insect, both very beautiful, graceful and camera friendly. We also came across long and short horned grasshoppers, hairy caterpillars, huge spiders with giant webs, and the usual rock crabs that abound during the monsoon. We finally reached the halfway mark at around 10 A.M, the mark itself being a gushing river that we had to cross, at which point the family members of the trek - the children and their parents, went back with one guide, and we decided to push on.

We manged to cross the river though it was a bit tricky and followed a narrow trail through the forest, running more or less upriver, until we came close to it's origin - a waterfall. It became clear to us that the only way to get to the mouth of the water fall - our final destination - was to climb up the rapids that it's waters created.

This proved most tricky - deep waters where you can't see where you're putting your feet aren't that much of a problem. With a little time and effort, you can always find a foothold, shift your balance, and do the same for the other foot. But what made this dangerous was the water pressure. The flow was heavy and it took a lot of skill to zig zag across the rapids, upwards into the waterfall.

If I ever had to keep an account of when I did something that frightened me, which I wasn't sure I would come out of alive and well, this event would defintely figure on the list. There were a couple of points in this struggle where I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but forced myself to continue anyway.

I cannot stress the importance of good trekking shoes on a trek like this. They could save your life, or at least prevent you from slipping and falling and hurting yourself a lot, and definitely prevent sore feet at the end of the day.

Anyway, when we reached the waterfall's mouth and realised we could go no further, back we went.
However, it had been raining, the rapids had grown more ferocious and we were in no mood to tackle them again. Our guide managed to find a path parallel to the rapids, which we all gladly took, and soon doubled back to the original path back to the halfway mark, where we found a Gecko.

Now, the Borivli National park is famous for its flash floods, and when we got back to the halfway mark, we realised we were going to have a hard time crossing the same river we had crossed earlier. What was then a gushing stream and required a little effort to cross was now a raging torrent that truly frightened us.

But we had to push on and so began forming a human chain across the river. I, luckily was part of the chain at our end of the river, where the flow wasn't that strong. The guys who tried continuing the chain at the deeper end got it bad. The chain broke twice; once a guy was almost swept away by the river, and had to grab a tree trunk to save himself, and another time, three people were swept away. Luckily an outcropping of rock broke their free flow and what might have been certain death. They were in pain, but safe.

We continued building the chain, forming a double line instead, the line in front leaning into the current, the line behind pushing against and supporting them, much like a rugby defense tackle, the main difference here being that our opponent was a flooded river that seemed to be winning. Slowly and steadily however, and with a lot of teamwork, we managed to get everyone to safety and it was the chain's turn to cross, one by one. Each step was an effort, the water pressure was so forceful I found it hard to plant my foot down on the river bed and keep it there. Even when I did, the current tended to drag it along - so forceful was it. This crossing took great physical strength, we possibly strained very muscle in our legs fighting against the river to get to the other side, and I am grateful for whatever support I got from the remaining guys in the water.

We continued along our original path back to where the Shilonda trail began. I must say my new Woodland shoes really came in handy. I don't think I'd have been able to cross the river or trek through mud, moss and wet rock without slipping as easily, were it not for the fantastic grip that my shoe soles provided. Interesting finds during this last phase of the trek included a huge white rock crab - it's rare to see large ones and on the path itself. It probably came out with the rain.

Towards the end, we reached a wider motorable path, from where I caught sight of a lone Egret, and then lo and behold, a deer itself! A spotted deer! I had never seen a full deer before, and this one was out in the open, about a hundred feet away from the road in a clearing bordering the trees. I can't begin to describe how I felt. This was a rare sighting, a large mammal so close to a motorable road, and a perfect ending to a great trek.



Sankoobaba said...

seems like a very challenging and educating trek query I have is how to get there?? to the trail...details would be helpful...a couple of my friends are planning to go there..

Daniel said...


You just have to show up at the Borivli main gate of the national park. Buy a ticket at the ticket counter. Rs.20 per person. More for vehicles. You need to keep walking straight after the ticket counter, cross the bridge, and then take a left to get off the motorable road onto the Silonda trail. The start of the trail is characterised by a vehicle barrier running across it. It's a bit complicated as there are a lot of paths and trails originating from the Borivli side so your best bet is to ask one of the officials there for directions.

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