In much of Maharashtra, winter is a brutal period. One of the hot and dry days and chilly nights. Barren mountains and leafless trees. But come monsoon, and the scenario changes. The trees are densely covered with fresh foliage, the mountains are sporting a green blanket and the rain can bring a chill even at noon. The sun peeks intermittently through a break in the clouds. It's obvious that going up into the mountains at this time will be fun. No wonder, then, that monsoon is the season most popular for treks in Maharashtra. But that's too mainstream! Choosing to brave the heat and brown mountains which are less pleasing to the eye than their monsoon green version, is not.
It is also something most would call idiocracy. But as we were in Nashik city, it was decided to go for a trek nearby. The Brahmagiri hills looked like a decent option for a short, day trek. The base of these hills lies not far from the Trimbakeshwar Temple near the city. For most of the climb, there are ancient stone steps. From the top, the river Godavari originates. This river is the second longest river in India and forms one of the largest river basins in the subcontinent. This river plays an active part in mythology too, as it is said that Lord Shiva diverted the Holy Ganga to Nashik which became the river Godavari. As an ode to this tale, the river is also called as Dakshin Ganga (Ganga of the South).
The religious significance of this trek though wasn't as much of a motivation to us as the trek itself. We started climbing around 11am. As we hiked our way up the steps, the day was getting hotter. The sun soaring high above our heads. There was a steady stream of devotees both ahead and behind us. Turns out we weren't the only ones stupid enough to go hiking in the winter. But of course, most others had different motivations than us to climb.
It took us almost an hour to traverse the time-worn, stone steps. At the top, we were greeted by a barren patch of land a downhill trail snaking away. The origin of the river was nowhere in sight. Looking at the ground, it was even hard to believe that a river flowed nearby, much less originated. We asked around and were advised to take the downhill path. The terrain was dry with loose soil. It was easy to slip down if not careful. At times we simply squatted down to avoid toppling over. The going wasn't completely downhill though. After a while, the land started sloping upwards again. Two or three such peaks later, we were finally able to see the temple housing the origin.
Many people had come up here, braving the weather to pay their respects to the river. I don't know what I was expecting a river origin to look like, but a stone gomukh (head of a cow) with a small but steady trickle of water dripping down its mouth was definitely not. I had expected a river origin to be more natural perhaps. Maybe a spring jutting from the bowels of the mountain or the water from a vast lake cutting its way down the mountain. Years of worshipping the river had given a very human touch to it. The temple is a Shiva temple and the gomukh lies inside the temple. The actual temple itself is very small, managing to allow only 5-6 people to be inside at a time, so there was no shortage of friendly senior citizens outside willing to tell the story of how the river Ganga ended up in Nashik.
With the source seen, we prepared to move back the way we came. Through the hilly terrain and down the steps. On the way back, a monkey climbed on one of us and started checking her pockets! She literally had to shake it off her. The sun had now started its downward journey through the sky. It was late afternoon and the heat showed no signs of relenting. Pushing ourselves and cutting through the stream of incoming devotees we finally made it down by 4pm. Just in time to attend a marriage in the evening, which was the real reason we were in Nashik!