Trek to Monkey Hill

by Ashish Kuvelkar


The successful completion of 'tree' trek to Monkey hill on March 6, 2004, increased the urge of Pune chapter members to explore this region again. The countdown began with Apurva posting the date for the trek on mailing list. Apurva, John and I booked our ticket through IRCTC site. Harsh Pathak, Hrishikesh Moghe expressed their interest later, followed by a surprise member, Praveen Kumar, all the way from Hyderabad.

John Mani and I got into 1010 Sinhagad Express hauled by Kalyan WCAM3 21958 at Khadki. We had no difficulty in locating Apurva, who was waving at us through the window. We were glad to know from Apurva, that Praveen Kumar who had travelled the previous night all the way from Hyderabad, was able to make it (his bus had met with an accident) to the train. After scheduled halts at Pimpri, Chinchwad, Lonavala and Khandala, the train reached Monkey Hill Cabin (MHC) at 7:35 AM on line 3 (UP). The pole number was 119/10. We were joined by Harsh Pathak and Hrishikesh Moghe, who were travelling in a different bogie. Thanks to Mobile phones, it has become very easy to keep in touch. Being in close vicinity of Mumbai-Pune expressway, helps to get good GSM signal coverage in and around MHC.

Now a little about the 3 lines between KAD(Khandala) and KJT(Karjat). In 1982, the third line was added to the existing 2 lines. It was not laid as a single line end to end. Depending upon the terrian, in some stretches, it was laid on the left side of the two tracks while on remaining, it was laid on the right side. Looking from KJT towards KAD, the third line is laid on the right side and looking from MHC towards KAD the third line is laid on the left side of the original two tracks. These three lines are designated as DN, MID and UP(left to right, as seen from KJT towards KAD). As is evident from the names, the DN line carries traffic towards KAD and the UP line towards KJT. The MID line is bidrectional. The UP line, from MHC branches off to Nagnath and rejoins the other two lines at Jhambrung The MID and DN lines go via Thakurvadi between Jhambrung and MHC. The length of UP line is substantially more than the other two between the MHC and Jamrung due to the route it takes. This effectively reduces the average gradient as well.

I've observed that the MID line is mostly used for up traffic (towards KJT) in the morning hours. This may be because more trains go towards Mumbai in the mornings. I feel same may be the case during other times of the day as well, because it takes longer for a train to go down the ghats towards KJT than it takes to come up the hill towards KAD. This is so because there are three or four technical halts for brake testing while going down the hill, whereas most of the trains (aided by bankers) blast thier way up the hill, non-stop. So two lines (UP and MID) are used for the traffic that moves slower. I've also observed that goods trains take the UP line. This may be due to the lesser gradient that it offers. Experts can comment on usage on these lines.

When we decided to do the trek, our agenda was not fixed, unlike on the previous occasions when we had focussed agenda. Apu had this grand idea of going by train over the UP line upto Nagnath and waking back, but we decided against it, considering the time it would take and the high temperatures that we would be subjected to. Instead we decided to go by the DN line towards Thakurvadi. The aim was to explore the tunnels that we had seen from the top of the hill during our previous 'tree' trek.

The first train we spotted was a goods rake that came from KJT on UP line hauled by dual WCG2 # 20152 and 20157 in the front and triple WCG2 #20111, 20145 and 20114 in the rear. The load was 46 wagons of BCN and BCNA mix. At the same time triple bankers arrived light on DN line and went towards Nagnath.Then came 1021 Indrayani Express hauled by WCAM3 # 21884 and banked by dual WCG2 # 20127 and 20141.

Tunnel Visit

The first tunnel we approached was tunnel No. 23 (old no.). Tunnel 23 actually consists of 3 sub tunnels. It is in shape of a 'Y' (or to be more precise like greek letter 'lamda' as seen from MHC side ), with the common limb towards KJT and the fork towards MHC. The MID line passes straight through the tunnel(no. 23). The DN line enters the tunnel along with the MID line from the KJT side, but forks out inside the tunnel and passes through 2 small tunnels(no. 23A and 23B) before coming out at the MHC end. This arrangement of tunnels may have been necessitated due to the profile of the hills over the lines.

The dimensions of the tunnels are - Tunnel no. 23B (new no. 46DN) on DN line: L67.68, W5.99, H5.92 (all dimensions are in meters). Tunnel no. 23A (new no. 45DN) L64.63, W5.56, H5.97. Tunnel No. 23 (new no. 43 DN/MID) L 234.43, W8.283, H5.310.

The dimensions of the tunnels are - Tunnel no. 23B (new no. 46DN) on DN line: L67.68, W5.99, H5.92 (all dimensions are in meters). Tunnel no. 23A (new no. 45DN) L64.63, W5.56, H5.97. Tunnel No. 23 (new no. 43 DN/MID) L 234.43, W8.283, H5.310.

After coming out of tunnel 23, we encountered 2124 Deccan Queen hauled by WCAM3 #21934 at 8:30 AM which went towards thakurwadi on MID line. After 15 minutes, dual WCG2 bankers running light followed on MID line.

We crossed tunnel no. 22 (New no. 43DN/MID) which has dimensions - L260.079, W13.542, H6.581. As the new number and the width of the tunnel suggests, the tunnel was common to both the lines. Soon 2127 Mumbai Pune Intercity hauled by WCAM3 #21894 arrived on UP line and it was banked by dual WCG2s.

After crossing tunnel no. 22, we were contemplating whether we should go further or not. The map which I had, showed two small tunnels closeby, but since it already was 9:00 AM and we wanted to walk back all the way to KAD, we decided to start walking back. The pole number at this location was 117/30.

1026 Pragati Express came on MID line hauled by WCAM3 #21939 and went towards KJT. Since we did not watch 1024 Sahyadri Express pass by, we assumed that it must have gone by the UP line towards Nagnathe. Tunnel no. 23 on MID line, has it's roof reinforced by curved steel beams supported by steel columns all along it's length of 224 meters. These beam and columns were rusted and seemed to be poortly maintained.

On emerging out of Tunnel 23 into MHC yard, we were greeted by the cool breeze. We decided to have a short break for sipping some cool water that John had carried, as dual light WCG2 bankers # 20153 and 20150 went towards KJT on MID line. Soon 1007 Deccan express arrived hauled by WCAM3 #21842 and banked by Dual WCG2 #20109 and 20113. The bankers had lot of local fellows hanging on to it. 1007 is one of few trains that has technical halts at various cabins along the DN line. This is to facilitate picking and dropping of crews that man these cabins.

As we were passing the Monkey hill cabin, it was close to 10:00 AM and we started feeling the heat. Dual light bankers WCG2 # 20157 and 20152 crossed our way on DN line and disappeared towards Naganath. After some time, 1014 Coimbatore Kurla Express arrived on MID line, hauled by WCAM3 #21942.

Much to our delight, we heard the booming sound of diesel loco, reverberated by the mountains. While we were trying to locate the source, a WDM2 #18259 leading a BCCN cement rake appeared out of tunnel no. 23B, at an appreciable speed. It was banked by triple WCG2 bankers. Considering the speed, and that the rake was led by a single loco, in all probability, the wagons was empty.

We continued our march towards KAD. Tunnel no. 24C starts at KiloMeter marking 120 on DN line, while tunnel no. 24 (new no. 48 MID/UP) starts at KM marking 120.300 on MID and UP lines. Tunnel 24 has dimensions of L99.702, W10.569, H6.452. We were wondering whether we should take the tunnel no. 24C or 24. But Apu said that taking 24C would be risky since it's very narrow. Further, we also wanted to have a look at the path, that the track used to take to reach the reversing station.While we took tunnel no. 24, Udyan Express passed through tunnel 24C and we could only get a glimple of it. The expressway and old mumbai pune highways pass over these two tunnels. After going a little further, one can see on the right side, across the valley, the place where the reversing station existed once upon a time. The only visible structure today is the abondoned bridge which was a part of the reversing station and underneath which Mumbai Pune road used to pass.(Detailed report about the reversing station supported by photographs and maps will be posted as soon as John, Apu and I get time to put it together. It is due for a very long time, we know).

Triple WCG2 bankers # 20119, 20149 and 20111 crossed us at this point. At KM marking 120.600 tunnel no. 25C on UP line starts. It is pretty long, about 2 KMs, and we were told by the gangmen working on the tracks that this tunnel has 3 ventilation shafts.

At 10:30 AM, 7032 Hyderabad Mumbai express hauled by WCAM3 21960 crossed us on MID line. Just before tunnel no. 25 (new no. 50 MID/UP), is a small bridge, below which pass the pipelines that carry water to Tata's hydel power station at khopoli, from walwan dam at lonavala. Tunnel 25 has dimensions - L354, W10.5, H6.45. On the other side of tunnel 25 one can see a nice waterfall on the left side. I guess water must be leaking out the Tata pipeline and finding it's way to this ridge forming a nice waterfall.

Just outside tunnel 25 is a service tunnel of about 200 m in length that leads to tunnel no. 25C on UP line. Lots of gangmen were working on the MID line. Appu took their leaders' 'permission' and then we entered the service tunnel. It was so nice, cool and serene inside the service tunnel, and with light breeze blowing, it was real refreshing change from the scorching heat that we were walking in. Had we not been in a hurry to reach KAD before noon, we could have spent lot of time in this tranquil atmosphere.

When we reached tunnel 25C we found a gangman working inside tunnel. He had a kerosene lit lamp to find his path. After exploring the ventilation shaft we came out. We wanted to climb the hill and locate the other end of the ventilation shaft, but the heat made us think otherwise. We decided to defer this exercise to the next trek.

As we approached tunnel no. 26 (could not locate the new number), we noticed a small stream that was flowing by the sides of the tracks,out of the tunnel, down the hills. Praveen could not resist the temptation of getting refreshed by the cool water. Harsh too joined him. While we were relaxing a bit, we could hear the whistle of electric loco inside the tunnel. While Hrishikesh and I waited near the UP line, John and Appu took position near MID line armed with their cameras. We were expecting the train to come on UP line, but the last moment, we found that it was coming on the MID line. When John and Appu noticed this, they jumped to safety by crossing the MID line. That was a real close shave. The train turned out to be 6012 Chennai Mumbai express hauled by WCAM3 # 21943.

The dimensions of tunnel no. 26 are L945, W10.595, H6.328. The lights in the tunnel were on. So walking was bit easier in the sense that we did not have to use a torch to see the path. The sleepers are pretty consisitently spaced, so once you latch on to the rhythm, you can keep walking without looking down. But there is a problem. One invariably steps on the lubricants and through the soles, it reaches bottoms of the trousers. The stains are difficult to remove, specially if you have light colored pants. Unforturnately one discovers that the trousers are soiled only when he gets outs of the tunnel.

The tunnel 26 curves continously, so you cannot see much ahead of you, though the tunnel is lit by sodium vapour lamps. While we were walking inside the tunnel, we suddenly heard the humming sound of diesel loco.We ran for cover and positioned ourselves between the two tracks. A service train with few coaches and wagons having a WDS6 in the lead and WDS4 in the rear went past on UP line. It went so fast that it was difficult to notice the details in the dark. We kept walking, and due to the curving nature of the tunnel it was difficult to comprehend how far the end of tunnel is. Finally we saw the light and it made me realise the significance of the phrase 'light at the end of the tunnel'.

We were planning to have snacks that we were carrying, outside tunnel 25, but due to presence of Gangmen working on the lines, we kept postponing this event. This was not to happen even outside this tunnel, as we were greeted by dual bankers WCAM2 #20113 and 20109 running light on MID line. They were leading a Track machine Plasser CSM 918. We asked the gangmen, the significance of the bankers. They told us that the bankers would push back the track machine to KAD from where machines finishes it job at the end of maintainence block.

The track machine, we were told, pushes the ballast below the sleepers. An operator is able to see the sleepers through a camera and he positions the veritcal arms close to the sleepers. There are six pairs of arms and they push ballast below 3 sleepers at one time, then the machine moves three sleepers ahead. A person who is walking ahead of the machine, copies KM markings from the marker stones besides the tracks on to the sleepers. I guess this must be for reference of the machine operator. He also puts a 'X' on those sleepers that are not to be worked on. One such sleeper I saw, had a return conductor connected to track on it. I guess there was a chance of the arms getting entangled with this conductor, hence it was ommited.

At 12:20 we reached Khandala station and after refreshing ourselves with cool water, sat down for a well-deserved lunch. We had puranpolis, idlis, sandwiches, banana chips and top it all, fresh made vegtable sandwiches. Hrishikesh, you won't believe had come prepared with a pack of bread, cucumber, tomatoes, cheese cubes, ketchup pouches, knife, grater, the works! He prepared veg. sandwitch 'on-line' for each one of us. While we were having snacks, a container rake comprising of 28 coaches of BFKHN and BFKN lead by triple WCG2 # 20112, 20116 and 20136 took UP line to MHC.

Having filled our tummies, we were set for the last leg of the journey. We walked down to Mumbai-Pune highway from KAD station and took rickshaws to Lonavala. After picking up some chikies, we boarded the 2:00 PM local to Pune. We did not forget to take the coach that had panto on it, so that we could hear the rumbling sound of the air compressor undneath the coach.

I got down at Khadki, while rest of the gang went ahead. John was to take care of Praveen, to help him book the return ticket. Three of us were Monkey hill veterans, and three were first timers. I was particularly impressed by the conviction of Praveen in doing the trek, who travelled overnight to reach Pune,did the streneous trek during the day, and was ready to travel overnight back again to reach Hyderabad.

The total distance trekked was 7.3 KMs in slightly less than 5 hours.

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