Monday, September 17, 2012

Trek to Bhaje caves & Iron Fort - Lohagad

It was almost one month since my last trek to Kothaligad and I was getting "paranoid" as missing out on treks in this monsoon season due to commitment at work. Finally after long 3-4 weeks I did manage to get myself a break on weekends. I was all charged up for yet another trek, another place to explore and after some suggestions, Dr Pradhan from Wanderlust group decided to trek to Lohagad - also known as Iron Fort near Lonavala and also cover Bhaje caves on the way.

Lohagad - The Iron fort as its called has history which dates way back to Satavahana period, situated around 52kms from Pune at elevation of around 3052 feet. It divides the basin of Indrayani and Pavana. History shows that the fort was in hands of different dynasties and they built and rebuilt the fort.In times of Shivaji, it was used to store the loots that he got from Surat and there is still a store room where all the valuables were kept.Today its one of the few forts in very good conditions and reasonably intact. On eastern side is Visapur fort and on west side there is extension of fort in form of long and narrow fortified wall called Vinchukaata (Scorpion tail as it resembles it).

Bhaje Caves - These caves are nothing short of architectural marvels, a group of 22 rock cut caves dating back to 200BC located near Karli, They are extension of another set of caves situated close by called Karla caves. The caves literally catches the eye with horseshoe arched entrance with some amazing carvings. The other caves are nothing short of some great skills with meticulous planning which went into making these caves. Its a great heritage site that we have inherited. Its very close to Malavli station (station after Lonavala on Lonavala - Pune railway line).

My trip - Sunday wee hours and I was up at 3.45am, getting ready for my yet another adventure trip come trek to Bhaje caves & Lohagad fort. Meeting point was decided at Malavli station after Lonavala. I even though was up early, could barely manage to reach on time at Dadar to catch Indrayani express at 5.50am. I was the only one with confirmed reservations while other members of our Wanderlust group were in general compartment. Being Monsoon season, rains had turned the entire landscape after Kalyan into lush green table, it was sight worth watching from the train windows. It was first time I saw the mini train to Matheran amidst the mountains winding its way up to the destination from Neral station but wtf !!!! I didnt have cam ready for the pic of lifetime !!!!

On reaching Lonavala station, I rushed to get local ticket to Malavli and then to one extreme corner of another platform where the local train was about to leave in gap of 10mins. I just felt it wasn't going to be my day as ever since morning I was just running to catch the trains. Phew, I barely managed to enter the local train where I found that every member of Wanderlust group had some story to tell. Our Leader Dr Pradhan was indeed a leader who wanted to catch Indrayani express from CST instead of Dadar and when realised he had missed the train from CST, caught a local train to Dadar back and managed to catch Indrayani express in nick of time. And some other members had not even got tickets as they didn't want to miss the train and miss the adventure and thrill of trekking. I was amazed to find so much zeal and enthusiasm for trekking among the group ..... Wow !!!

Starting our trek from Malavli station, we walked from the station to Bhaje caves first as having enquired that it wasn't far away from station. Walk was for around 10-15minutes. As everyone had been running since morning as not to miss the train and the trek, we were hungry by 8.30am and having seen some restaurants on the way, felt the urge to have the morning breakfast. Omlet pav, poha and Indian burger - vada pav with hot cuppa of tea was all that we wanted on a dead hungry stomach.

Just before Bhaje caves, there was huge waterfall in the village and village ladies were busy washing clothes near the waterfall. Giving a second thought, felt that we come all the way from Metro cities like Mumbai and Pune to catch a glimpse and enjoy waterfalls and for these simple villagers, it was part of their daily routine every morning.

We marched forward as we didnt have any intention of emersing ourself in waterfall except capturing it in our lens. Our first destination was in sight - Bhaje caves, we climbed up the stairs enroute clicking pictures and capturing our second destination Lohagad and the village down below surrounded by green carpet of nature. The first sight of the caves and we were all awestruck with grandeur and beauty of the place. The horseshoe shaped entrance with chaityagraha having main stupa and small caves on top and around the main cave were sheer architecural marvel and meticulously well planned. Just couldnt appreciate the fact that such engineering skills exist in 2nd century B.C.

On the side of the caves, was another cave which had around 4-5 huge stupas inside and equal number of them outside, carved out of one rock. It was like small factory to just carve stupas from the rocks. There was another beautifull waterfall next to the caves. From the caves the sight of Lohagad and Visapur was amazing with rains clouds hiding them at times.

Having spent quite some time exploring the caves, we decided to walk towards our main destination - The iron fort of Lohagad for which we had come. Visapur and Lohagad forts are within the vicinity of the caves complex and an experienced trekker can do both the forts in one day. On our way to the fort we came across another huge waterfall where a people had come with their families to enjoy the place. While we climbed uphill, we had a huge company of almost 250 newbie trekkers who had come to trek to Lohagad, that's when we realised that since the place had so much to offer and Lohagad fort being categorised as easy trek, was very popular among trekkers and non trekkers alike specially in Monsoons.

It wasn't difficult climb and within 1hr 30min we were at the base of Lohagad. The place was surrounded by eateries offering hot chai and vadapav, which was always welcome in this rains. It had started pouring now and fort above was covered completely in clouds. Another 30 odd minutes of climb and we were at one of the main gates of the fort. The fort is really in good shape and standing firm even after so many years. We explored the fort as we moved up and as reached the top of the fort, the view of neighbouring Maval region and Pavana river following through it was just beautiful.

But there was more surprise for us as there is huge plateau at the top of the fort which gives stunning view of the neighbouring areas including Tung and Torna forts and river Pavana. Apart from small shrine and small temple, the plateau has couple of water tanks and entire plateau was covered with green grass and small flowers just like we have at KAAS plateau. The place was sheer beauty and with rain drizzles and rain clouds covering the plateau every now and then, it was like icing on a cake.

We clicked and clicked pics of everything that came our way, while we moved towards one end of the fort which is a fortified wall called "Vinchu kaata" as it resembles Scorpion tail. The first sight of Scorpion tail was like "OMG". how can someone built something of this magnitude and rains had painted the entire structure lush green. I have been doing trekking for sometime now but this structure was like one beauty I had never seen before.

Our group had decided to have packed lunch at the end of the tail, enjoying the beauty the place had to offer but going to the far end was little difficult for me with only two ways to reach the end and one had to climb down one rock patch. I decided to quit and decided to wait at the fort while my group lead by Dr Pradhan and others moved ahead. They explored the tail and had lunch at the end of the tail while I decided to enjoy the beauty and my lunch from the fort overlooking the Scorpion tail.

It was 4.30pm already so on deciding to climb down, one of our group member Retd Captain Afzal initiated clean up drive on the fort and we picked up every plastic trash that came across our way. All thanks to our Captain Afzal and in fact we were much appreciated by a group on the way who pledged to do the same from next trek and even clicked our pictures to be posted on social networking sites to create more awareness. Nice Nice ..... On reaching the base, we decided to take share a cab to Lonavala rather than walk back as we were already running behind schedule, We had barely managed our time schedule for the day since the time we left our house for the trek but we didn't have any regrets for we had "One more trek in our cap". From Lonavala station we purchased choco fudge - a speciality of Lonavala from Coopers and walked our way back to bus station hoping to get empty bus to Mumbai but our adventure was not yet over as buses to Mumbai were far less and were crowded to the core. No place to sit but not wanting to waste any more time we boarded bus to Thane and from their we got local bus to Borivali. The travelling to & fro for the trek was more than the actual trek and we were dead tired by the time we reached our homes but again no regrets for the hangover from experiencing the sheer beauty of the place will be something that we will remember and will take time to get over before we start our another trek to experience another hangover !!!!!                                                                                              

Till then Adios Amigos

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