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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Kothaligad (Peth fort) trek - Simple yet enchanting

" Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are cathedrals where I practise my religion.... I go to them as Humans go to worship. From their lofty summits I view my past, dream of my future and with unusual acuity, am allowed to experience the present moment.... my vision strength renewed. In the mountains I celebrate creation. On each journey I am reborn !!!!!"

So very true .............

In this post I am going to take you to my journey at Kothaligad - Peth fort trek. Few words to describe the trek  is Its "SIMPLE YET ENCHANTING". 

Kothaligad - Peth fort :- A relatively smaller cousin of forts (1500 fts) as compared to others forts in Sahyadri range. Base village is called Peth village and hence the name Peth fort. Its not a fort but sort of watch tower built by Marathas to keep an eye on the Mawal regions and surrounding areas. There is small temple and large cave at the base of the funnel shaped fort. It has a water storage tank and spiral and steep steps inside the funnel shaped fort to reach the top. One cannot stop but appreciate the engineering marvel of the engineers who built the structure when there was no modern tools like we have now.

My Trek :  It was yet another Sunday and it was yet another trek, another place for me to explore. Dr Pradhan from Wanderlust decided to capture Peth Fort and here I was joining them to be a part of the adventure. Meeting place was decided at Neral station at sharp 8.30am on the east side. For the first time I came to know how people could commute from far away places like Kasara, Karjat or Khopoli to main city..... Hell one way commute takes 2-3hrs !!!!!! I had to take 4.56am train from Borivali to reach the destination on time. As our group motto " Miss the train and you miss the trek" as no matter what our position is we start our return journey at 2pm in order for everyone in the trek to reach home safely on time. Our group Wanderlust gathered at Neral station by 8.30am. Dr Pradhan had already made arrangement for two large cousins of our Auto rickshaw (Tum-Tum's) which would carry us to the base village Ambivali from where we would start our trek to capture Kothaligad. Tum -Tum ride was far from smooth as each carrying 11 person each and with rains in the area having made the road travel a real bumpy ride. But the plus point of my journey was sitting close to the driver of Tumtum and experiencing the thrill of travelling first hand. The climate adding the spice with lite rain drizzles and the entire area in lush greenery. Urbanisation has not yet made in roads in this region so one still comes across small villages and rice paddy fields on the way. The rain waters flowing down from the mountains far away having created numerous rivulets on the way. It was fun filled bumpy ride of almost one hour before we reached our base village. AMBIVALI

After a quick round of introductions and do's and don'ts we all marched first to the base village of Peth. It a clearly marked muddy road to the village with slow ascend. Rains had truly transformed the area in green corridor, we had hardly walked for few minutes and we came across amazing waterfall with water gushing down in full force. 

The noise of water flowing down in full force was enchanting and sight nothing less than spectacular. Excited we were. We had quite a few first time trekkers in the group and it was nice to see that there was lot of awareness among people to do trekking and exploring nature rather than exploiting it.The walk to Peth village is like driving through any ghats, all twist and turns.The walk through the muddy and rocky path does take the breath out of you. At each turn you would hope and wish for a flat path but end of turn shows you another uphill. The entire path is up...up and and above. Finally after a climb of more than one hr we could see flat land. We managed to reach the plateau from where we could see our destination clearly. 

The funnel or nipple shaped fort. The first part of our journey was complete in little more than 60 minutes. The wind was now blowing in full force and the since being at a height. The sight of surrounding region was absolutely stunning, green paddy fields and mountains with waterfalls and our destination in clouds !!!!! It was wow place.... The villagers had created small huts on the way which was like a resting place for trekkers, with village kids selling corn, lime juice and pet water bottles. I just felt like just sitting and watching the mountains with waterfalls from it and clouds hovering over it. What a sight it was ...............

Having taken a few minutes of rest and tried our hands on photo shoots we all moved ahead. The village of Peth was now stone throw away. The interesting thing about this trek was its proximity to base village of Ambivali and Peth,due to which one could easily find lunch and some snacks in the local house come hotels. The rains had now started pouring heavily and we had to remove our windcheaters to protect from wind and rains. We moved past some small and unique huts, interesting to see that these villagers had utilised even a small patch of land to cultivate something for their own use. 

It was now time for the real trek, climbing the muddy and rocky path to the top. We climbed up as water kept gushing down due to rains now pouring heavily. It was nice to see lot of trekkers coming down while equal number of them going up including our group of 21. Each trekker coming down trying to motivate the one going up that its a easy climb and also which patch is little risky and requires extra precautions. Reaching half way at the top we could see Ratangad fort with 4-5 waterfalls, Ratangad trek- again one of the must do treks in the region. We were now reaching for the clouds as we inched higher we could see our destination more clearly but covered in rain clouds. Just before the main steps which leads to the caves there is a slippery patch of rocks where one needs to be extra careful as one slip and one can easily see himself down by 20feet but we did have the support of water pipes laid  on the way. It was a easy climb of around 2hrs 30minutes from the base and we were now at the caves.

The caves is huge and can easily accommodate around 30-40 people with one group already occupying it. They had made it a base for cooking food and sleeping as they had done overnight trek to the top of the fort. From the side of the pinnacle one could come to a small patch of flat land which gives a clear view of Mawal region and surrounding areas. It was a sight nothing less than creatively crafted dream sequence by nature.It was so windy that one had to actually hold one another for fear of being swept away. There lay a small cannon and water tank which stored rain water. it was amazing as within no time we were standing in rain clouds and it was difficult to even view 10meters away with heavy winds. 
Our group decided to explore the top of the fort by climbing the steps made from within the funnel shaped fort while I decided to stay on the flat land and enjoy what I do best during treks, try my hands on photography. 

Since it had started raining heavily now, we decided to make ourselves comfortable in the caves which was now getting overcrowded due to heavy rains and wind. It was nice to get a dry place where we all had our packed lunch. One can easily make this cave a night halt and do star grazing on a clear night if one can carry all the equipments to the top.

After resting for sometime, we all decided to move back as it was already past 2pm. Our climb down was not tough but one had to actually take calculative steps as rocks on the path were slippery and loose. We had one casualty with one of our trek member slipping on the rocks and getting hurt but luckily it was not serious.It was little tough for first timers but we managed to complete the trek in 5hrs. It was simple trek by any standard but again for me it was one more place captured in my heart and in my lens. It was a beautiful experience which was accompanied by beautiful weather. 

On watching the small villages on the way, one could wonder why anyone could stay at such heights, so far away from actual civilization and you will have no answers. But I am sure this villagers do !!! walking through the mountainous forest is as close as one can get to the nature and enjoy the greenery. The highlight of the trek was standing in the clouds with heavy rains and strong winds and of course our very own Tum Tum ride which was nothing less than thrilling. I hope to continue exploring as many places as possible in Monsoons and then plan to come back to same places in winters to enjoy a completely different weather and the different look of the place...... Till then adios !!!!!!!!!!!!!