About Harishchandragad : Its a hill fort in Ahmednagar region and has played important role in guarding and controlling surrounding region. Its one of the few places in Maharashtra where remnants of Microlithic man have been found. Origin is said to be in 6th century during the Kalachuri dynasty and the caves have been built in 11th century. Great sage "CHANGDEV" used to meditate here in 14th century and cave is still present where he did his meditation. The constructions on the fort point to existence of diverse cultures. The fort houses some fascinating spots like Saptatirtha Pushkarni, Kedareshwar cave, Harishchandreshwar temple, most famous spot "Konkan Kada or Konkan cliff" which attracts people to come here again and again. Taramati peak the 2nd highest point offers Sunset view like none other place and amazing view of nearby peaks and valleys.
My visit : I had heard about Harishchandragad from time I started trekking and was longing to grab an opportunity to visit the moment I get it. So when I got update that TMI was organising the event in 22nd and 23rd June 2013, I jumped to register it and my desperation was such that I confirmed with different leaders in TMI that I was firmly a part of that trek. Lol ..... None of my old trek mates were part of this trek so I was alone but I knew I would be meeting and making lot of new friends. It was decided to leave from Dadar east on Friday night and trek would start on Saturday morning from base village of Khireshwar, stay overnight in cave at the top and back on Sunday afternoon. The plan seemed pretty exciting. Only worry about the trek was its uphill climb of 4.5hours one way and I was convincing myself till I left my house that Yes I could do it, Yes I could do it.
Reached Dadar at 11pm and found that it was group of 48 trekkers, few of whom where newbies and a large group. We boarded the bus and were on our way to most exciting trek I had ever done, The group was full of energy and started playing Antakshari, moment we left Dadar, I wanted to get some sleep before we start our trek so was off to sleep in no time. We reached Malshej Ghat by 3.30am and we just couldn't see anything but fog everywhere. Our driver had hard time driving due to low visibility but hats off to him we reached Khireshwar village by 4.30am. A small hamlet I would say with 15-20 homes scattered with rice fields near each of them. We slept in the bus till 6am. It was amazing to find oneself in such pristine surroundings, lush green mountains, tiny hamlets, drizzling rains and mountain peaks covered with fog. Oh !!!! What a sight it was ......Our leader had arranged for tea and packed breakfast. Hot chai in rains is always welcome and to top it up with such surroundings really adds the spice in it.
With group ready we started the march pass at 8.15am to explore and enjoy what Harishchandragad mountains had to offer. Initial route passes through some dense forest, It was well marked route winding up but due to rains it was muddy with path stewn with rocks. To reach our destination we need to first reach Tolar Khind, as we marched ahead we could hear the sound of waterfall and whistling birds. These sounds backed with fresh dose of oxygen really energies you. Our first main stop was a waterfall on the way, water was clean and really cold but getting drenched in it was really what we wanted to enjoy. In no time everyone was standing under cold falling water. It was much needed break. We had covered a distance in approx one hour. View of waterfall on mountains facing us and rice fields of Khireshwar village was truly amazing. More dense forest as we moved ahead.
After walk of almost two hours we reached Tolar khind from where one straight road goes to another village and one road leading up was our way to the top.
From here as we moved up we came across rock patch which has carved steps in the rocks but over the years have got worn out, in rains this is one risky patch where one needs to take care while climbing and coming down, good samaritarians have built railing which really helps in climbing up and it makes the climb quite safe. Everyone climbed the patch successfully with help from experienced trekkers Nishant, Nilesh and others.
We now were on the plateau where there are small huts to take rest, also best part about this trek is that local villagers sell tea, lime water and biscuits which is blessings for trekkers. View from here is mind boggling. One can see clouds engulfing the mountains and in few seconds one will get a clear view. I can actually spend hours watching and enjoying the beauty of nature which one would surely not get sitting at home wiling away holidays or weekly off from work. As everyone wanted some rest, we decided to take much needed break. Enjoying the serene surroundings, taking pictures and hogging onto snacks each one of us was carrying.
As some of our group members Shaaaiilesh, Pooja, Malvika, Khusboo and total of 8 members had already reached much earlier than entire group, they decided to move ahead after some rest. Here was twist in the journey.There are total of 7 hills that one has to climb up or walk before one can reach main caves and Harichandreshwar temple. The first group took the longer route and left early while Nilesh our leader with rest of the group decided to take smaller router bypassing Balle killa. As we moved ahead we came across wild turmeric flower, Cobra lily - flower which resembles hood of Cobra and also has stem which is like a tongue of Cobra !!!
It was now just a walk on the plateaus but rains and fog were playing hide and seek. Our group moved ahead taking short breaks when needed. We also came across small plants growing in a bunch and with another bunch at equidistant from other creating a amazing design. Artistic work by nature !!!!
We were slowly inching towards our destination, we could see the flag on the caves amidst fog but it was still far away. Again we came across some dense forest with climb down in muddy path with karvy like shrubs growing on both sides. Path was quite muddy and slippery and narrow as well. Here our group had first casualty, Naela one of our members slipped and twisted her legs, she was in pain and tears, her ankle was swollen and had turned black. While Nishant and one of our group member helped her overcome the pain while I ran for our leader Nilesh who was carrying first aid kit. Luckily she was up on her toes with help from Nilesh. Other group members in meanwhile had found waterfall and stream on the way and were thoroughly enjoying every moment. It was now turning dark with rains gaining strength and fog engulfing entire area. We decided to reach for the caves. As we reached the caves, surrounding area was completely in fog and it was dense with zero visibility. Two of our group leaders and experienced trekkers had started their journey much earlier from the base village so as to occupy cave for us and were waiting for us.We had successfully reached our destination at height of 4200 feet in approx time of 4hours.
As we occupied the main cave, It had two chambers and main cave, with enough space outside with adjoining smaller caves. There were other small caves in vicinity which was occupied by other groups or would be by evening. These caves were turned into mini hotels with local villagers making available simple food, tea and breakfast. Getting meal like roti, sabji, rice at such height was so heartening. As we settled in the cave, we realised the twist in our journey, Our group lead by Shaailesh, Pooja, Khusboo and other members had not yet reached !!!!!! They had left earlier than rest of the group and were possibly lost.Our leaders decided to wait for some more time before launching the "MAN - HUNT" .... We ate our lunch that we were carrying while we were still awaiting others. Naela our casualty member has recovered well, luckily no serious issue and was ready to join the group for exploring the area now.
It was now time to visit Konkan kada, (Konkan cliff) which has fascinated all trekkers for years. Its shape of Cobra hood and at a distance of around 2kms almost straight walk from the caves. On the way we came across more waterfall, one which was just next door to our cave. As we reached the cliff, area was covered with fog completely but still sheer sight of it made the group shout in joy. As we gathered around the railing constructed before the cliff ends, clicking pictures, something short of miracle happened, the clouds began to clear and it gave stunning view of the valley below, waterfalls from the nearby cliff. It lasted for not more than 5 minutes but that time was more than enough for everyone to experience the view of a life time. The wind here is so strong that throwing leaves or small shrubs would not go down but would be thrown back at you. They also say that at times coin thrown down would be thrown back at you due to sheer power of the winds but we were not that lucky.
In mean while our lost group members were back, giving us insight about how they got lost and how they explored the place, reaching dead end,coming across dead Cobra and so on, Shaailesh was culprit they said who took them to adventure trip, New book coming out "How to get lost in Harishchandragad" by Shaailesh ..... LOL, just kidding
After spending more than one hour at Konkan kada, we decided to move back to our caves before it could get dark, not wanting to loose any more of group members and spend entire night searching for them. As we settled back in our caves, our torch was only source of light. Some members relaxed, some slept while others played game Mafia, cards. With our dinner ready, We hungrily hogged on to roti, sabji, rice and peetha prepared by locals. I still don't know if I liked the food because I was dead hungry or it was taste of rural meal, But it was surely the best one could get in such a location.I was off to sleep at 9pm while group enjoyed their time by playing in their group. It was around 4am when I woke up, all group members were still sleeping and it was raining outside and dense fog. I went off to sleep again and woke up around 6am, it was most amazing foggy morning I had ever seen. It was now chai time, prepared on burning wood, it was just one of best chai I ever had, followed by poha in breakfast.
Around 8am, we decided to visit main Harishchandreshwar temple complex which even though was just bang opposite our caves, we couldn't see it through the entire evening due to dense fog. Our first stop was a lake called Saptatirtha lined with small temples each containing idols of different gods and goddess but now these idols have been moved in main temple.They say the water once upon a time was potable but today its not. It was unique temple I had seen ever.
Moving ahead we entered Harichandreshwar temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, If one looks at pictures of this temple on a sunny day it still looks magnificent on the plateau,standing tall since last couple of centuries.Its carvings are classic example of our ancient fine art which prevailed in earlier century. Its 16m high from the base. There are few caves close by, also one can still see the cave of Saint Changdev where he did his meditation.The river Mangal Ganga originates from one of the tanks close to the temple. The temple was built with interlocking system of rocks, same pattern is used in Kedarnath temple which still stands tall even after recent Himalayan Tsunami.
We also visited Kedareshwar cave, another main attraction, this cave houses a huge shivling surrounded by four pillars and cave is filled with extremely cold water throughout the year. Legend says that four pillars represented four yugs, all but one pillar is intact, other 3 pillars have fallen. One pillar standing tall today represents the "Kal yug", when this pillar falls, it would be end of the current era.
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We didn't visit Taramati peak, the 2nd highest peak in Maharashtra, but again in rains it was not worth a visit but with such an amazing experience, we all started our journey back down to the base village. Luckily it was not raining which really helped us in our descend. The rock patch seemed little more risky when climbing down but luckily all were able to do to come down safely. Again we couldn't resist the waterfall on the way and in around 3hours were back at the base village of Khireshwar. Our lunch was ready in of villagers house and again it was most sumptuous meal I ever had. With such wonderful memories and experience, We drove back in our bus to our respective homes passing through Malshej ghat.We were back to Dadar by 8.30pm, each one bidding adios to other, taking home memories which would surely be treasured for years to come. Words really cannot describe this trek nor can pictures but the experience is all that counts. One liner which really fits this entire journey is "Life mein ek baar, Life mein baar baar"
I bow to mighty Sahyadri mountains for letting me explore and experience a paradise in its lap called HARISHCHANDRAGAD.