Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ratangad - Sonki flower special trek to jewel fort

Trekking season starts with first rains in Sahyadris mountain range, this year I had a "bucket list of to do treks", It included those spots in Sahyadris which are must do for all trekkers. These spots called Trekkers paradise just cannot be missed. One of them was "Ratangad".... The jewel fort in Sahyadris. It was on my do list for quite sometime and when TMI announced this trek, I just grabbed it with open arms. Another special thing about this trek was that It was organised at the time when Ratangad mountains are engulfed in very special yellow flower called "SONKI" in local language and biological name is "SENECIO GRAHAMII". Its during the later half of September with rains in departing mood and with sun shining bright after 3-4 months of rainy dull, it brings fresh lease of life on these lush green mountains. One of nature spectacle is SONKI flowers full blossom on the mountains creating a yellow carpet amidst lush greenery everywhere. So here I was backpacked and on my way to Ratangad.

Ratangad as the name suggest means 'JEWEL FORT". Its origin is around 2000 years old. It was one of the favorite fort of Emperor Shivaji. The location of the fort is such that it is surrounded by other important forts and due to strategic location of the fort it was called Ratangad. The base village is Ratanwadi overlooking Bhandardhara - one of the oldest catchment area. The famous Bhandardhara dam is just few kms away. One of other main attraction is the "Amruteshwar temple" at Ratanwadi which dates back to 'Hemadpant era which is roughly 8th century. Every trek to Ratangad starts by taking blessing at the 8th century temple.

MyTrek : Ratangad was on my do list for quite sometime and when TMI group organised it, I just didn't wanna miss it. Another advantage of this trek in this season was the Sonki flower bloom on the mountains which again was not to be missed.Our meeting point was Dadar station at 11.45pm on friday night. This was going to be a Saturday event.Our journey started with last Kasara train at 12.30am  from Dadar. People were going home after laborious day and we were off to our trek. As office goers slowly started to get down on their respective station, the train compartment was getting filled with trekkers joining the trek. By the time we reached Kalyan, half of the train compartment was filled with TMI group. Some discussions and gossips were in the air but while some like me decided to catch some sleep. I was off to sleep in no time swaying on neighbours shoulders in sleep and barely managing to hold myself from falling on trekker couple sitting opposite to me. It was journey of around 2hrs. We reached Kasara by 2.30am. Apart from some poor souls on the station platform, we were the only bunch of all charged up people for the trek on the station. Our leader Manoj had organised Trax and tum-tum, in all 3 of them to accommodate 32 of them.

Our tum-tum ride was going to be 3hrs !!!! I cozened at the back seat of tum-tum thinking this would be little comfy for catching up some more sleep. Our first halt was immediately at highway dhaba for midnight tea. Tea / coffee in middle of night is always welcome and specially when you are away from home and that too on a  highway. After a refreshing hot cuppa we were off to Ratanwadi which was our base village for our trek to Ratangad. This Ratanwadi is approx 16kms further from Bhandardhara on same route. I think I was under some deadly spell of sleep as moment I sat in our tum-tum, I was off to sleep again. But this was going to be for short time as moment we cut from main highway towards Bhandardhara road, we were in for bone breaking, horrible bumpy ride on the road. It was just nightmarish.......We were falling on each other and barely managing to sit on our seats. It was worst ride and road was never ending. We heaved a sigh of relief after more then 2hrs ride on such road when we reached Ratanwadi at 6.30am. It was surely a worst road trip ever in my life. And before we has started our trek, I was already thinking about our ride back in the evening on same road. Oh hell !!!!

Moving away from thought of bumpy ride back, We all settled at small veranda of Hotel Pravara where our leader had arranged for breakfast and tea before moving to the fort. Ratanwadi can also be reached by boat as its on banks of river Pravara on which famous Bhandardhara dam is built. Wish we had taken boat ride !! !! The view of the paddy field and calm waters of the river with lush green mountains was enough to energize us. The famous Amruteshwar temple was also just a stone throw away.

The temple was going to be starting point of the trek so it could wait but first it was time for breakfast of hot poha and another round of hot cuppa tea. Poha always tastes good when you are away from home, I still need to figure out the reason for it !!!! With our sumptuous breakfast over, We were off to see the famous Amruteshwar temple which dates back to "HEMADPANT ERA" - roughly around 8th century. It goes without saying that it had some eye popping architecture. Amazingly beautiful carvings dots the walls of the temple. Truly blessed and proud of our heritage.

After taking blessings at the temple, we marched to our destination - Jewel fort of Ratangad. It had started to drizzle which would be a boon while climbing up but also could be dampener once we reach the top as there would be no view. But with high spirit we moved on and crossed our first stream of gushing water. The feel of cold and fresh water from the high hills was tempting us take a plunge in water but our leader informed us that we would get that opportunity on our return journey. Moving on we were all mesmerized with little yellow Sonki's everywhere we could see. A lush green carpet on the mountains and Sonki's adding color yellow on top of it. It was just beautiful. It goes without saying that our photo session had already started the moment we started our trek.

As this season was end of monsoon, there were numerous streams that we had to criss cross, at some point the water force was strong and rocks slippery. One slip could give a nasty bump. Though there were minor hiccups but there were no casualty. On return journey we realized that this numerous stream that we were criss crossing was just one stream formed by waterfall from the mountain. Swapnil our co-leader informed that on their previous visits the flow of the stream was so strong that they had to form a human chain and use ropes to cross these streams but we were lucky to have crossed without such efforts.

After ascending for around one hr we reached first plateau. The view of the river and paddy fields below was breathtaking. This patch was such that we were standing on small hill plateau surrounded by deep valleys. It was amazing to be surrounded by lush green mountains. sound of waterfall and cold breeze with drizzling rains. It was an ideal spot to sit and spend hours doing nothing, away from world, lost in dreams !!

Oh !!! While writing this blog, It all came fresh again in front of my eyes. Coming back on the trek, we after spending some time, were back on our march to the fort. The path from here passes through dense forest. Its gradual climb on rock path.

Everyone was walking at their own pace with group having 13 first time trekkers on their maiden trek so Swapnil was back lead while Manoj was in front lead. Everyone was having fun while climbing with occasional stop for a photo shoot or to catch breath. Shraddha was our camera lady, clicking pictures of everyone. But too many halts by anyone would face wrath from Swapnil who would ask all to keep moving, chala chala chala !!!!!

Harishchandragad bifurcation landmark

One our way we came to a junction where straight road in the dense forest would lead to Harishchandragad, Its entire one day trek from here and route was part of Ratangad - Harishchandragad range trek, It would be an experience to do this range trek sometimes, But today our destination was only jewel fort so we took the route going up to the fort.

Its seems the monkey's of Ratangad have a name of being notorious & aggressive, occasionally taking away bags of trekkers in search of food. Manoj had warned us to keep everything in our backpack once the ladder starts just before the caves. After a climb of around 2.30hrs, we came across our first ladder, Our cameras and anything in our hand was promptly put in bags due to fear of those dreaded gangs. There are total of three ladders that one has to climb to reach first entrance of Ratangad - the Ganesh Darwaja. These ladders though being firmly bolted to the rocks, could be unnerving as these ladders have got rusted and at times shakes to the extent of giving any first timer on the treks a thrilling but unnerving experience !!!!

There is an arch door which welcomes you after third ladder which is Ganesh Darwaja, Some carvings on the door catch our eyes, one of the carvings looked like one of mermaid !!! Some of carvings looked like mythological characters while some where of Gods and goddess.

Taking right from the gate, there were proper railings and path which lead to the main cave. It was here that we saw one monkey coming towards us and after having heard the stories of gang of monkey's, our heart pounded at the sight of the monkey but it just walked past us. There were no sign of others may be because it was misty and it had been raining on and off.

The cave is big enough to accommodate 20-25 people and also there is also a small temple dedicated to Lord Ganesh. Just outside the cave there is sufficient space where one sit and relax. We all settled there. In one corner was small stall set up by a local selling tea, poha and even Maggie !!!! In no time the local stall had orders for 20 odd Maggie's and equal nos for chai.

We had our snacks along with chai & Maggie, Only regret was that there was no view from the cave as entire surrounding was covered by fog. After relaxing at the cave for more than one hr, we decided to explore other side of the Ganesh darwaja, It was still covered with fog but nevertheless we wanted to explore as much as we could.

Other side was like a garden full of Sonki bloom, It was quite exquisite sight. We found one arc shaped water tank which was full up to the brim. Nearby was remnants of watch tower. There was lot more to explore like chor darwaja, tyrmbak darwaja and natural hole created by wind in the mountain called "Nedhe". Nedhe is one not to be missed attraction of this jewel fort. It can accommodate 6-7 people and its literally the high point of the trek but due to zero visibility and no sign of fog getting cleared, We decided to skip these attractions. Manoj also informed that it would quite risky to attempt to go there due to fog and rains would have made the path slippery. There is always a next time.....

We now decided to move back to base village. Descending from the ladders was more than asked for quite few of them in the group but all managed to get down safely albeit with some thrilling experience. While descending one of the our group trekker was a casualty but it was just a sprain but not a serious one. I was also a casualty with slip on the slippery path but no casualty luckily. At the plateau, some realised that Alka one of group member who had hard time while ascending was missing and no one had seen her. Swapnil and some others had already planned to go back searching for her while Manoj decided to check at base first. And here she was with one bunch of group members, lavishly enjoying the stream water, she had descended much earlier than the group and was seen enjoying in the stream water at the base !!!! LoL

Back at the village, we had some amazing different varieties of rotis and classic lunch at our hotel and then moved back after yet again a real bumpy and hellish road ride to Kasara and back home. It was yet another amazing trek I successfully completed and thoroughly enjoyed it in the lap of Sahyadris.

(Pics have been sourced from well known photographers of TMI - Yashwanth, Ambrish, Shraddha, Paresh and others)

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