Sunday, September 29, 2013

Kondana caves - Truly our rich heritage

A busy week filled with work should always end with a visit to offbeat location, So after week of hardwork at office it was time to unwind. We had decided to do a small trek or trail or sort of outing so as not to be lazying around on Sundays at home, doing nothing. Dr Ajay put a plan to visit Kondana caves at foothills of Rajmachi. It was wonderful idea and in no time we were a group of 20 people on our way to Kondana on a Sunday morning.

Kondana history : These are group of 16 buddhist caves located in village by same name, Kondana or Kondivadi. These caves are on the way to Rajmachi and approx 33 kms from Lonavala. Its part of three sister caves located in and around Lonavala, viz Kondana, Bhaje and Karla caves. Kondana caves were carved in 1st century BC !!!! These caves enclose sculptures, viharas, stupas, chaityas which are all part of magnificent Buddhist architecture. Although earthquake in early 1900s destroyed and damaged many stupas, front entrance and floor of the cave but still some of the architecture is intact and is best example of our glorious past.

My Visit : We decided to meet around 7am at Dadar station. It was group of 20 people which included well known Doctor and avid trekker, Sir Nanabhai. Our adventure starts from the time we leave our home as Ajay and his mom barely managed to catch our pre-decided train to Karjat. As trains to Karjat are few with long time gap in between so if missed the train then its almost certain to miss the trek. But it was all good start. Our gathering happened on Karjat station. It was a hot hot sunny Sunday at Karjat and we were literally fooled by nature as while coming in Train we saw dense fog in Thane, Mumbra, Kalyan, raising hopes of pleasant and rainy Sunday trek but on reaching Karjat there was no sign of pleasant climate.

Karjat is famous for its vadapav and we had sumptuous vadapav breakfast and tea just outside railway station. It was a welcome start. Now it was a walk of around 15minutes to Shriram bridge on Ulhas river. This was nodal point to get tum-tums to Kondana caves. Hiring two tum-tums for Rs 300/- each we were off to our base village. Sitting close to the driver in Tum-tum is nothing short of thriller ride. As we zipped past Karjat town, lush green carpet covered mountains welcomed us. It was ride of 30minutes. 

We got the first glance of Rajmachi mountain range with Manoranjan fort standing tall at the top. There is also a river flowing close to base village but seems there was some dredging work was going on and supposedly a dam was getting built on it. Another instance of man playing with nature. 

We walked past small houses in the village and then past well marked signage indicating our route to the caves. There was one small hut shop selling bottled water and cold drink which after the trek we realised was last place to get water as we didn't find any water source at the caves except for the waterfall at the entrance of the caves but this is only in Monsoons. 

There is a entrance fee of Rs 20/- to visit the caves and forest dept has pitched small tent as collection window. Hope they maintain our heritage.The path to the cave was gradual ascend but we were all walking at our own pace, clicking pictures and with company of Sir Nanabhai who with his knowledge of botany, butterflies and creepy crawlies would share it which was making our walk quite interesting. But also with sun blazing hot after a prolong monsoon was taking toll on our body and we were sweating like hell. Only solace was that we knew the route from base village to the cave can be covered in approx 1hr.

On the way we did come across waterfall but with no rains it was almost dried up so we continued our walk towards main cave. On reaching the cave we were greeted with waterfall curtain over the cave and large chaitya with beautiful carvings. Entrance of the cave has such beautiful carvings that one surely feels proud of our heritage but then one can also see neglect and disrespect for the site with lot of scribblings on the walls of the caves.

The main cave has large entrance which is shape of fig leaf and supported by curved beams. There are many pillars with a large stupa in the cave. Sir Nanabhai gave quite interesting lecture on the caves and also pointed out that small model of the stupa which was carved on the wall. This model showed how the stupa originally was. There was anther 3D version of stupa in neighboring cave also.

Apart from that on the entrance walls were carvings of men and women in dancing form. Dr Nanabhai pointed that these were images of Kings and Queens who had donated generously for making these cave !!!

One eye catching thing was life sized statue of a lady coming out of the rock. Alas the face was completely damaged but her hairs and ornaments were neatly carved in the rocks and were intact. Some thing was scribbled in old Pali language close to it but it also sported someone had scribbled own name close to it which was clearly a eye sore and showed our negligence in protecting this beautiful heritage.

Close to the main cave was another cave which might have been a sort of dining hall or kitchen with small rooms carved in the wall. One can clearly see the "BHOR GHATS" from here and we were also lucky to see trains on Mumbai - Pune route passing through the tunnel on the ghats. I must have traveled on that same Mumbai - Pune route but never saw the caves from moving train..... May be next time !!!!

One noticeable thing about the cave it had carved drainage system on the floor to sip out the water from collecting in the cave. The ceilings of the cave had some square design which Nanabhai Sir pointed that it was engineering skill to prevent the cave wall to collapse. So much of engineering in those days !!!

There are other small caves in the complex but that was nothing to watch as they were only chambers cut in the rocks. With our cave exploration complete, we couldn't wait to get in the waterfall. It was welcome respite from the hot and humid climate. We spend some time getting good massage on head and back from falling water and some photo shoot.

With our stomach calling out loud, it was time for lunch of thepla's and ladoos by chef Bharti, Potato sabji by Neha. Now it was time to say adios to Kondana caves,  Dr Bharat- one of our adventures leader decided to go all the way to Manoranjan fort alone so he left for the top and we left for the base village. On the way we came across one spectacular moth, something not seen very commonly.

Reaching base village, our tum-tums were ready to take us back to Karjat and from there by train to our homes. It was small and wonderful excursion to a important heritage site, hoping that it remains a heritage site worth a visit in years to come. Hope we all strive to conserve and preserve our heritage.