OxFam Trailwalker 2013 - an experience of a lifetime!

Adventure Nov 18, 2013

We finished the OxFam Trailwalker! 100 kilometers of mostly off-road trails through beautiful countryside around Mulshi lake, winding its way through the hills, meadows and forests – an amazing experience! A physically grueling trail that is supposed to be one of the most difficult OxFam trails around the world, we were thrilled to have completed it in less than 31 hours well within the 48 hour limit – though none of us have walked continuously for such a long trail ever before!

The trail starts at Garudmachi, with a climb over the Tamhini hills, then follows the coast of Mulshi lake till check point 6, then veers towards Tail baila, onwards through some really beautiful trails, and finally after a short trek through thick forests, ends at Cloud 9 resort

Milind Soman was there at the starting point to give the walkers some encouragement. The starting point was inside the campus of the Management Development Center (MDC) at Garudmachi

Our team – “Walking Souls” consisted of Swati Chemburkar, our team leader, Gautam, Sharmila and myself (see our team profile here)

The race started at 6:00 am sharp, and hordes of walkers – 78 teams of 4 participants each – started the walk together. A a short initial section followed the Tamhini ghat road, then quickly turned into an off-road trail that led to a steep climb uphill

As soon as the trail left the tar road, the trail looked quite innocuous, passing through some open fields and meadows. But soon, we passed the Vanjhai Devi Temple, and the trail climbed uphill

The sun had not yet risen, and the valley was still quite foggy so we could not see anything beyond the fields nearby

The uphill climb was tough and many of the walkers who did not have trekking experience slowed down considerably, thereby spreading out the crowd significantly. The downhill trek to Tamhini village passed through some dense forest patches and it was fun zooming down through the narrow trail

As we emerged out of the forest into some open meadows, it was lush green everywhere. We met Poonam (dressed in black) who is a ultra-marathoner from Delhi, and whose team finished just after us

We arrived at check point one at Tamhini village, where we got our first experience of the well organized OxFam team in action. Applauding every arriving team and escorting them to the check-in desks, assisting the walkers with water, tea and energy supplements, and always cordial and helpful in all ways

After the first checkpoint, the trail followed the coast of Mulshi lake. The lake looked great in the golden light of the rising sun

Thanks to an extended monsoon, the open meadows were full of long flowing grass, which had now turned golden. Even though the sun was high up in the sky, the heat was made bearable by the cool breeze flowing continuously

At some places the grass was almost waist high, and it swayed around in the wind like the tresses of a blonde princess

All through the walk till check point 6, the lake was always visible to our right, with the trail marker boards ensuring that we did not lose the way anywhere

We passed through several small villages, and the children in the village seemed excited to see so many trekkers pass by with their fancy accoutrements. This bunch of kids wanted to know why we were walking and whether we forgot our cars somewhere! We took a lunch break at checkpoint 3, where we got stretches done by the extremely efficient Physiotherapy volunteers from M.A. Rangoonwala college of Physiotherapy

At some places, there were rock patches that had to be crossed, and there were arrows that marked the safe spots for walkers to follow. The trail was extremely well planned and marked, with arrows, boards, kilometer markings and ribbons at regular intervals

We passed the many villages that surround the lake. The people living here are called “Mavlas” after the region’s name “Maval” that is derived from the word for the setting of the sun. These people are probably one of the earliest case of displacement of inhabitants due to development projects. The Mulshi Mavlas’ saga of displacement began in 1918 when the Tatas, with the support of the British government, began implementing their ambitious plan at the confluence of the Nila and Mula rivers at Mulshi Peta. Some 10,000 peasants had to move out and farmers had to give up land that would be submerged

Life is tough for the 1.30 lakh populace in Mulshi taluka. The villagers say their area remains what it was when the British left. “The roads arrived with big projects like Amby Valley, but we hardly benefit from them. Our villages still lack proper approach roads,” says Ranu Dhondu Khanekar from Vandre village (read more)

We walked non-stop between checkpoints, except for short breaks of less than a minute for water or to adjust our backpacks. This bed was lying in the middle of a field, and Gautam and Swati were sitting on it waiting for us to arrive. Sharmila’s foot had already started hurting quite badly and she was relieved to get a place to sit for a few minutes

Some parts of the trail was along small village roads like this one. This was between check point 3 and 4, when the Planeterians in white overtook us. They started almost an hour late, but managed to overtake several other teams to end up third! By the time we arrived at check point 4, Sharmila was in extreme pain due to her injured heel. She also had a fever due to the inflammation and so she decided to retire from the race. Seeing her condition, the rest of us did not push her too hard and agreed that she should take rest and recover. The Physio team at checkpoint 4 were the best! The stretches they gave us ensured that we could continue with significantly lower pain levels

As the sun started setting, the lake was still visible and looked as beautiful as ever, with a small island in the middle. The lake is formed due to a dam across the Mula river, which powers the Bhira hydroelectric power plant that supplies electric power mainly to Mumbai city

We continued from check point 5 to 6 in darkness. Some parts of the trail was off road, but there were fluorescent ribbons that marked the trail and these were clearly visible in the powerful torchlight that was actually my cycle’s headlamp. We reached our planned destination of the day – check point 6 just before 10 pm, where Sharmila greeted us along with Raj – our trusty support crew and driver who tirelessly drove from one checkpoint to another with our support vehicle. We had completed 65 kilometers in 16 hours with about 2.5 hours breaks at check points – making our speed slightly below 5 km per hour. We decided to take a good rest at check point 6 which was in the school at Barpe that we had visited during our recce. We had a nice dinner organized by OxFam, and laid down in the makeshift dormitories in the classrooms.

We awoke at 4:30 am and set off on the trail at 5:30 am along with another team. The first section was quite tricky because there were some downhill patches with loose rocks, so we had a guide who took us through this section as it was still dark. But once we emerged on the other side, we had to follow a mud road for a few kilometers, and we could see the rising sun shed light on the mountains. The temples in the villages were already busy singing bhajans blaring from loudspeakers and the singers’ skills left much to be desired

After passing through the Ekole village, we entered one of the most beautiful sections of the trail, that leads up to Telbaila. Along the way, we saw some sites where adventure camps had marked spots for valley crossing and rappelling

We caught the first glimpse of Telbaila peak, and thereafter we had to follow the trail towards it for the check point 7 was just at its base

The view of the mountains with the rising sun behind was just perfect for a photography session, but we did not have time to stop and admire the views – we were busy walking like our tail was on fire! On the extreme right of the mountain range in this picture is the peak of Ghangad fort. Ghangad fort is the site where Milind Kshirsagar of the Durg Sanvardhak Mahasangh does an amazing job of fort restoration.

As the sun rose, the light of dawn cast a beautiful glow all around, and the drying grass shone in the golden light. This was surely the best section of the entire 100 km trail

As we arrived closer to Telbaila, it’s unique shape stood out sharply against the blue sky. Telbaila is a steep vertical wall of rocks divided into two dykes at the middle. At one time, it was a fort that the British destroyed so as to prevent any possible resurgence of Maratha military action

Telbaila is now one of the most prominent rock climbing sites in the Sahyadris that requires highly technical mountaineering skills. When we reached checkpoint 7 that was located at its base, we also met some mountaineers who had come to scale the peak. This is where we hogged on our breakfast that Sharmila and Raj had picked up for us from checkpoint 6

Both I and Swati were suffering from knee pain and the doctors had given us a pain killer injection before we left check point 6. The effects of the injection would last only 6 hours so we were keen to move on at full speed!

While we sipped on the excellent tea and finished our breakfast, Gautam was busy getting his blisters tended to. His feet were in a pretty bad shape, and the bandages almost covered his entire foot! Inspite of that, Gautam was always the fastest of the team and kept egging us on to maintain our speed

We then started the last few sections of the trail, all charged up and excited. We kept up an amazing pace, much faster than the first day!

Thanks to the painkiller injections, both I and Swati were literally flying! Gautam was desperately trying to manage the pain from his blistered feet, and for a change was lagging behind. But in a short while, he was joined by Kashyap Mody – a marathoner who was the only remaining participant from his team – who kept company with Gautam and made him forget his pain – soon they both caught up with us. We reached checkpoint 8 – covering a total distance of 86.4 km – only 13.6 km left to go! We barely stopped for getting a quick stretch from the physiotherapists – for we could do without food and water but not without these stretches! Checkpoint 8 to 9 was through some dense forests, and we crossed the Amby Valley road a couple of times

After checkpoint 9, which was in the middle of the forest at Nangaon Ashram School, we continued at the same pace for the last 6 kilometers, which was mostly through dense forests – so we had to slow down a bit. But as we emerged out of the forest, we were greeted by this board – the last kilometer!

The last kilometer was through this open meadow and we could already see Cloud 9 resort on our right. This photo was taken by Sharmila from the resort. But there was one last surprise left for us!

We thought we had finished as we entered the gate of Cloud 9. But then we saw this steep climb up to the finishing arch – that was the most difficult climb we did! But we did complete it, and reached the finishing point in 30 hours 58 minutes and 22 seconds – just under 31 hours! And our speed on day 2 was higher than day 1 – we finished 35.5 km in 7.5 hours with about an hour break – making our average over 5 km per hour!

Soon after we arrived at the finishing line, our certificates and medals were presented to us by Nisha Agrawal – CEO of OxFam India and Gopal Jain – Manager – Events (Trailwalker)

One last picture of the entire team with OxFam CEO and Trailwalker Manager. Great feeling to have completed the event within 31 hours!

The certificate and medal to prove our achievement. This was one highly memorable event, and amazingly well organized one at that! Kudos to OxFam India for a very successful first Trailwalker event in Mumbai!

A special thanks to all our donors for generously donating to the cause and thereby encouraging us to complete this physically challenging but extremely enjoyable trail!

Our donors:

  • Prasanna Desai
  • Kishore Musale
  • Sangeeta V Mhatre
  • Vikas S Mhatre
  • stuart milne
  • Maruti and Shobhana Bijoor
  • Atul Kanetkar
  • Ritu and Deepak Sodhi
  • Devaki Nadkarni
  • Raman Lakshman
  • Shanthi Kumar Raja Charitable Trust
  • Heik Fleckenstein
  • Shamala Joshi
  • Tarini Desai
  • Sanjay Aggarwal
  • Ashwin Chemburkar
  • Ankush Shetty
  • Rick McMurtry
  • Gunveen Lamba
  • Dr. Milind and Dr. Manjula Pishawikar
  • Shreedhar and Nalini Chemburkar
  • Anand and Jayashree Pandit
  • Manjushree and Nilesh Desai
  • Anjali Devidayal
  • Shivani Kapoor

Thank you all, and hoping for your support next year!


Ashutosh Bijoor

Adventurer, mathematician, software architect, cyclist, musician, aspiring wood worker