Monday, March 21, 2016

Travelogue – Trek to Bitangad, Patta and Aad Forts in the Nashik region- by Chakram Hikers, Mulund

The range of Sahyadri ,starting from Igatpuri is also recognized as the range of Kalsubai. Towards the western side of this range we can find forts like Alang, Madan and the Kalsubai peak. Towards the eastern side of this range the forts like Aundh,Bitangad, Aad and Patta are situated 

On the weekend of 27-28 February, we had planned this trek with main focus on visiting and visiting the forts of Bitangad, Patta and Aad and also, if time permitted, visit the Jagdamba temple at the village of Tahakari.

A total of 5 participants started from Mulund in a Jeep on the night of Friday, February 26, 2016 for the trek. The route uptoBhandardara is quite easy to navigate. Further down the route gets a bit tricky and the road markings are far and few which makes navigation in the night a real nightmare. We turned into the route going towards Kalsubai (the highest peak in the Sahyadri in Maharashtra). We had to take a turn into the TakedPhata but due to lack of anysignage pointing to the turn, we went right ahead for around 15 odd kms and reached Rajur where we were pointed back to the right direction. Backtracking all the way, we reached the Ekdara village and took much needed rest in a temple compound. We had already lost 2-3 hours of sleep in the extra travel and just got around an hour and half of sleep before we had to get up and start the trek.

A detailed writeup of the forts visited is given below :


Bitangad is located at the border of Nashik and Ahmednagar districts, a bit interior to the Ghoti – Bhandardara road. It is a part of the Kalsubai range, and is near to Aundha, Patta, Aad and Mhasoba. To the southwest of this fort are Kalsubai, Alang, Madan and Kulang.

 Since the mountain cap has scarce area, this mountain was fortified only to function as a watch tower. Hence there are very few remnants on the fort. However, this is a good place to hike and stay overnight as it offers scenic views from the top.

Ways To Reach :

The base village of this fort is Bitangwadi, locally called Bitaka, which is quite interior to the main road. Ghoti town is located on NH3 about 30 km east of Igatpuri, a known place on Mumbai – Nashik route. From Ghoti toll, proceed towards Bhandardara. At about 19 km, we need to take diversion at TakedPhata. (This phata is not marked and one can miss it if not careful. A very good landmark is the huge semi circular board welcoming one to the Kalsubai Region There is an immediate turn to the left which leads to Taked. Make sure that you do not miss this turn.  From Taked, we have to reach the Ekdara village diversion at 11 km and take the road to Bitanwadi (Bitaka) which is 6 km away from the diversion

From the Ekdara village, we proceeded ahead to the village of Bitaka which is the base village of Bitangad.
The road is full of boulders and holes and it was quite an effort for the jeep to drop us upto the base of the fort.  Though we had a general idea of the route, it was not at all easy to search for it, with lots of shrubs and trees and no clear route

We found a local cowherd and requested him to lead us to the top. This small hill is mostly a walk and then a little bit of an uphill hike. From Bitanwadi, it usually takes about 20-25 mins to reach the base of the hill where we start hiking upwards(another 45 mins). The route up is marked by a rocky staircase(like many other hills around Nasik). The holds around the steps are well placed so that the climb is easy. There is also a small cave immediately after three staircase. It can accommodate about 6-8 people in the dry season.  The top is a beautiful place with commanding views all around. The adjoining hill- Mahankal is filled with a large number of windmills. There are 2 sets of watertanks, one near the South side of the top massif and another on the East face. We can also see the other hills around and also the pinnacle of Shenit from the top of Bitangad. There was no water on the top and one has to compulsorily carry water to the top. It takes around 3 hours 30 mins from Bitanwadi and back.

The route from Bitanwadi passes via the base of another well-known giant fort called Patta (Vishramgad) which was our stop for the day and for the evening.

Patta Fort (Vishramgad)

There are two different routes which can lead us to the fort. One route starts from Pattawadi, which is the base village of this fort. This route is very easy and we can reach to the top early, as Pattawadi is itself situated on the plateau.The other route to this fort is from the Ninavi village.

The Maratha army, under the leadership of MoropantPingle had conquered this fort in the year 1671 from Moghuls. The top of this fort is actually a huge plateau. The forts like Alang, Madan, Kulang, Trimbakgad and Kalsubai peak are in the vicinity of Patta. From Patta fort one can keep watch on this complete region.ChatrapatiShivajiMaharaj has renamed this fort as Vishramgad. In the year 1688 Matabarkhan had re-conquered this fort.

The local gram Panchayat and the villagers have taken up the task, along with the ASI to rebuild the fort and beautify it as a tourist location. The government also has allocated around 1.5 crores for this project to the village panchayat. The fort walls and a few buildings on the top have been rebuilt and beautified. The panchayat has also built a welcome arch, a couple of temples, steps to the top and quite a few guest houses at the base of the village for tourists to stay and charge a fee of Rs. 500/- per cottage per day. They also charge an entry fee of Rs. 10/- per head to enter the fort premises. We, being hardcore trekkers, refused to stay in the cottages and made our base at the top of the fort in the Granary which has been fully rebuilt.

The expanse of Patta is huge and one would need an entire day to see the entire top of Patta along with all the fortifications and bastions, not to mention the caves and the water tanks. We spent some excellent time on top of Patta with some cooking and photography as a part of our evening activity. The night was clear with lots of wind which made the evening climate cool and pleasant. We also had some excellent birding all along the way and on the top. Birds that were sighed were the Red Vented Bulbuls, Red Whiskered Bulbuls, Pale Billed Flowerpecker, Crimson Sunbird, Long Tailed Shrike, Jungle Babblers, Greater Coucal, Green Bee Eater, Pied Bushchat, Siberian Stonechat, Baya Weavers, Spotted Dove, Indian Roller and many others.

Aad Fort

Our next day target for Sunday morning wasAad fort. We could not complete seeing the Patta fort the previous day, so took out a couple of hours to explore the Patta fort in more detail. So we proceeded toward Aad fort around 10.30 am instead of the planned 8.30 am. From Pattewadi, the road then leads to Thangaon and further to Aadwadi. Thangaon is a place known for tomato growers. You will find all farmers sorting tomatoes all over the place and then filling it in big plastic boxes for further transportation. There was also extensive fields of onions, celery, cabbages, broccoli and wheat all along the route.

The base village is called Aadwadi. The route to Aadwadi is very scenic with mostly gigantic views of the Wind mills. We cross into the village and the route winds up to the base through an embankment of a small holding lake. One can see the local women washing clothes and exchanging gossip. There is a well nearby from where one can top up the water bottles of drinking water.

Aad is a small but very beautiful fort. It is easy to hike from Aadwadi and usually takes about 30 mins from the base to top (for regular hikers). Although it is easy, the approach towards the right place to start the hike could be confusing. The top of Aad is a wide spread plateau with about 3 sets water tanks (non-potable), one door, and a cave on the other side. The cave can be approached via a staircase and a small rock step (not difficult, but be careful). The cave is worth a visit with a small compartment next to it. The cave and compartment can easily accommodate about 20 people. There is a good water tank next to the cave and it happens to be the only potable source of water. There are also some old structures above the fort which look like constructions and also some tomb like structures.

We descended the same way down and started our return journey.

There are numerous Shrines of various god and goddess in Maharashtra. Of which Mahalaxmifrom Kolhapur, Bhavani from Tuljapur, Renuka from Mahur and Saptshrungi from Vani are the most renowed divinities, which are the collectively known as “SadeteenShaktipithe”. In addition to these, there are many such other temples, of which one is of the vigilant Goddess Shree Jagdamba Mata at Village- TAHAKARI.
Tahakari is a small village located at TalukaAkole, District Ahamadnagar. Surrounding area of Tahakari is called “DandkaranyaParisar”. This location is considered auspicious as it has been visited by the lord Shri Ram according to folklore. The Adhala River flows nearby Tahakari Village and Shree Jagdamba Temple is situated at the bank of this river.
The Temple has been constructed by Yadavas. It is built using a style known as Hemadpanthi style. The entire temple is made with stones. It has seventy-two pillars and five pinnacle and many sculptural carvings on the exterior as well interior of the temple. There are also quite a few erotic sculptures on the outer walls of the temple akin to those found in the temple of Khajuraho.
Inside the temple we get to see an eye- pleasing idol seated on Tiger which has been carved in wood. One of the important peculiarities of this Goddess is that she has eighteen hands which hold various types of weapons. The panorama of “Mahishasrmardini” is displayed here. In addition to that in this temple, idol of Mahalaxmi is facing toward West and Bhadrakali facing toward East.
After a good darshan of the Goddess, we trace back out way to Mumbai and return home extremely happy and satisfied on a trek well done and some hard earned money well spent on an activity we all love to do. The total cost per participants, all included came to around 1700/-.

Ravi Vaidyanathan

Solapur - Osmanabad Trek Report

Date : September 24-27, 2004

Starting Point : Portuguese Church, Dadar, 11.10 pm

Started off at 11.10 pm after everyone assembled at the designated location. There were 9 of us for the trek, viz., Shailesh Kandalgaonkar (leader), Ashish Thakur, Ameya Datey, Ajay Dhuru, Amit Dhuru, Ketan Kale, Ravi Vaidyanathan, Nilesh Pitale and Mahesh Kadam. We booked a 16 seater Cruiser which was quite comfortable in accommodating all of us and our trekking sacks and other stuff too. Left the location and proceeded to our first destination Akluj.

Sept 25, 2004

Akluj (Solapur District)

A beautiful fort in Akluj was our first destination. Reached Akluj at 7.40 am, had our breakfast and then visited the fort. This fort is not quite vast and it took us around an hour to see it completely. Beautifully maintained garden inside the fort and quite a bit of it is being restored. This town in named Akluj after Aklai Devi who is the presiding diety of that town.

On the way to our next stop Velapur, we came across the village of Khandali, which had a “Ghadi” or fortified enclosure which we visited next. It is located around 6.5 kms from Akluj on the Akluj - Velapur road. The “ghadi” is made of compressed mud and stones and can withstand cannon fire. The cannon balls get embedded into the softer mud walls and hardly cause any damage to the stronghold. This one has the Deshmukh family living in it, and has belonged to them for generations. This stronghold is around 400 years old, the first level of fortification has already crumbled except for a small portion of it, the inner walls are also quite fragile. Out of the three entrances that existed in the past, the final inner one is still present.

Velapur (Solapur District) (distance 8 kms from Akluj) – Velapur has a very ancient Hemadpanthi style temple of Shiva & Parvati. The name of the diety is Ardhanarinateshwar. The beautifully and intricately carved black granite sculpture of Shiva and Parvati has been consecrated on the base of the Linga and is highly polished. This village was called Ekchakrinagar back in time but is known as Velapur now. Quite a beautiful temple worth visiting. A shilalekh in the devnagri script is present in the temple and another one on the right hand side of the staircase leading to the temple pond. Left for Pandharpur at 10.20 am.

Pandharpur (Solapur District) (11 kms from Velapur) – Reached the famous town of Pandharpur at 11.00 am. Washed our feet in the river Chandraprabha (Bhima later), had a quick darshan of Vitthal and Rakhumai, took our lunch and left for our next destination Mangalweda which had a fort waiting to be appreciated. Left Pandharpur around 1.00 noon.

Mangalweda (Solapur District) (20 kms from Pandharpur) – A huge crowd greeted us at the entrance of Mangalweda at 2.00 pm when we reached the fort. The whole of zilla parishad offices are located inside this fortification. All the bastions are in a very dilapidated condition but the fort walls are still quite intact. In many places the walls have been refurbished and rebuilt. The fort houses some huge ancient trees which gave the black ibis some good building sites for their nests. The could be heard communicating with their shrill calls quite often. Hardly any of the olden structures left inside, completely occupied by Zilla Parishad offices. Out next stop was the fort of Mohol.

Mohol (Solapur District) (around Kms 14) – Reached the fort of Mohol at 4.15 pm. Inside the village and not visible from the main road. Hardly anything left of the fort except a bastion (out of the 4 which was originally present), and that too in a very bad condition. All the fortification stones are lying around and quite many have been used to reconstruct houses around. Left Mohol in ½ hour and proceeded to Solapur Fort.

Solapur (Solapur District) – (Temple and Fort – reached 5.20 pm – 15-16 kms). The temple is located in the middle of a lake and the fort stands in its banks. A very beautiful temple of Shiva (Siddheshwar Temple). After visiting the temple, went to see the fort. One part of the fortification is right opposite the temple with a river running in the middle and acting as a natural moat. The fort was closed due to rains and we could not have the opportunity of visiting it and seeing its grandeur from inside. However, we managed to get permission from the owner of a tall 6 storey building located in the opposite site of the road to the fort and video shoot the entire fort from above. Disappointed, we left for Tuljapur for the night halt.

Tuljapur (Osmanabad District) – ( Kms) Reached around 8.15 pm for the night halt. Had dinner at a hotel and booked room for ourselves at the pujari’s place which is just next to the temple. Got up at 4.30 am, had a bath and went for the early morning darshan by 5.15 am. A fantastic darshan of Tulja Bhavani at close range was a very pleasurable and beautiful experience. Left for Naldurg after having breakfast at Tuljapur at 6.50 am.

Sept 26, 2004

Naldurg (Osmanabad District) (32 kms) – Reached Naldurg at 8.30 am. This fort comes under the ASI and is a protected monument. Photography is prohibited but the watchman appointed by ASI can be pataoed. Mahesh was the guy whom we used to send to patao these guys for photography, and it worked ….. always.. A land fort which has been quite well preserved and is very beautiful. This fort covers an area of around 35 acres and is quite huge. It took us a full 3 hours to see the complete fort and still we missed out on a few things.

Ausa (Latur District) (70+ Kms from Naldurg) Our next destination Ausagad was no exception to the rule. The route was through Umarga which is 35 Kms from Naldurg and Ausa was 45+ kms further down. Reached the fort at 1.30 noon. Ausagad is not as big as Naldurg but equally impressive. The fort is under the ASI and is being maintained well and repairs are underway to maintain it in a good shape. Some statistics of Ausagad are – 7 entrances, 7 wells, 26 bastions, 65 canons and 25 acres spread. Finished our rounds at Ausagad at 2.45 and then proceeded to have our lunch and further down to our next destination Udgir.

Udgir (Latur District) – (91 Kms from Ausa) – Udgir was another lovely fort not worth missing. It is as extensive as Ausagad and has lots of original buildings and construction left in it, though in a bad shape. The beauty of the remains makes us wonder how beautiful the actual buildings and the fort would have been in its glorious past. Reached Udgir at around 4.45 and finished our rounds of the fort by 6.45. We left for our next destination which was supposed to be Ambejogai for the night halt (distance around 117 kms).

Parli (Beed District) – (120 kms from Udgir) One our way, we changed plans and diverted to Parli as we had to come back the next day to Sirur and we had to do that via the Ambejogai route. The last diversion to Parli (around 16 kms) was pretty bad with roads giving us and the vehicle a very bad time. Reached quite late at around 9.45, searched for a Khanaval and had a good meal there. Stayed at the guest house belonging to the temple.

Sept 27, 2004

Woke up quite early at 4.30 am, had our wash and went in to have a darshan of the Jyotirling (Vaijnath “Vaidyanath” of Parli). After a lovely darshan, left at 6.10 am for Ambejogai to seek the Darshan of Amba Bhavani. (24 kms from Parli). The darshan at Ambejogai was also very good, hardly any crowds and we had a good look at the diety and quite much time to pray too !!.

Dharur (Beed District) (40+ Kms from Ambejogai) – On our way to Dharur stopped midway at Aadas when we sighted a ghadi there. This fortified enclosure has been standing proudly for the past 400 years and time has taken its toll, as usual. Left Aadas at 8.00 am for Dharur fort, where we reached at 9.00 am. It took us nearly 2 hours to go round the fort looking at the various structures there. A beautiful fort with lots of construction, dyke protected, and strewn with lots of lakes and tanks too. Left Dharur at 10.45 for Paranda.

Paranda Fort (Osmanabad District) (110+ Kms) Reached Paranda at 3.00 pm after lunch and chasing the pelting rains for an hour on the roads. The fort of Paranda was the cream of the cake. The chowkidar was again pataoed and he let us take photographs. The assistant who accompanied us to the rounds of the fort was quite surprised at the ease with which we got a permission to photograph the fort, which is prohibited according to the ASI notice. A fantastic fort with lots of bastions and crenellated walls. Most bastions had a huge cannon still lying on it and displaying its past glory. Cannons of the Maratha era, the Nizamshahi, Adilshahi, Dutch and English are all found here. There is also a store room where around 50 cannons and around 150+ cannonballs are stored. Quite a picturesque fort with lots of peacocks around voicing their presence regularly. Left half heartedly for our last destination – Karmala at 4.45 pm. A beautiful fort with lots of cannons in brief.

Karmala (Osmanabad District) (20+ kms) – A fort worth forgetting all about. From the outside the walls and bastions are extremely good looking and quite intact. It is when you go inside that u get the shock of your life. A whole town is thriving inside the fort. The walls have been sliced apart to build roads and the bastions are just nowhere in sight. We had the distinct impression of huge fort sets which are made for shooting movies, beautiful from the outside but nothing inside !!! None of the old construction remains inside… did see a lot of Ganpati idols being taken out for visarjan and that was a beautiful sight. Left the fort at around 5.30 and took the jeep back to our hometown Mumbai. Stopped on the way to have a late nite diner at around 1.30 and reached Mumbai Tuesday Morning (Sept 28, 2004) at around 5.30. Thus ended one of the most memorable treks of the Solapur – Latur regions. All pictures (290+) are posted elsewhere under the name Solapur Trek.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Sahyankan 97

Sahyankan 97 - Reminescences

The route : Jungli Jaigad, Helwak’s Ramghal, Bhairavgad, Prachitgad, Mahimatgad

Our Sahyankan-97 circular describes the route as “The route encompasses the Koyna-Warna Basin, starting at Koyna Nagar and ending at Kundi, a village around 16 kms from Devrukh in the Konkan. The entire region is covered with dense and yet unexplored forests and boasts of a variety of animal and bird life. Animals like the Bison, Sambar, Bhekar (barking deer) and some other species of the Deer family, Wild Pigs, jugle fowl, rabbits and specially the Bear inhibits these forests. We often encounter herds of Bison taking to flight as we approach them. The important predators include the leopard, tiger, panther, etc. It also has its share of the flora and fauna as well as the creepy crawlies including snakes, chameleons, scorpions, etc. The route includes Jungli Jaigad, Helwak’s Ramghal, Bahiravgad, Prachitgad and Mahimatgad. Most of these areas have been declared as Protected Areas / Sanctuaries under the Wildlife Conservation Act and need special permission to visit.”

We started off on a very sorry note. The S.T. bus which was supposed to leave Parel at 9.00 pm arrived at 11.15 pm and left only at 11.30 pm. It was telling on all the participants who would lounge on the seats for a while, get up and go out for a walk, come back to see if the bus has arrived and again sit down bored and still waiting. It was a scene akin to the scene encountered outside a maternity ward with expectant faces peeping out for the elusive (in this case, the bus) which would take them to their destination. I had heard a bit about Rajshri from another trekker of ours who is a reporter in one of the Marathi dailies, but I was a bit surprised to meet a different sort of person there, all bubbly and enthusiastic and jumping into something which she was not sure she could complete or finish and eager to take in new experiences and learn from them. She had joined in solely for the purpose of gaining an insight into what trekking actually was and report on the varied activities which comprise the art of Trekking. Some participants had their parents accompanying them and other had their brothers / husbands tagging along.As the leader of the group, I had the job of seeing to that all the participants had arrived, and that acted as the introductory phase of our relationship that would last for the next 5 days.

At last, the bus arrived. We all trooped in, with 4 of the total 24 who alighted helping haul up the rucksacks on the top of the ST and tying them down so that we do not lose them. Everyone settled down for a bumpy ride upto Koyna Nagar. The group was a cosmopolitan one, cosmopolitan in the sense of a mixed crowd of Gujaratis, Maharashtrians, South Indians, et. al. and cosmopolitan in the other sense that some had long trekking experince while the others were novices and had joined in for the first time (to relish or to hate trekking for ever)..

The other members, 8 of them were to join us directly at Koyna Nagar from Nasik and 3 from Dapoli. Thus a full team of 35+2 were to trek in Group 4 which I was leading. As a co-leader, Ajay, who had been assisting Mahesh Bhalerao at Koyna Nagar for the past 3 days, was to join in and give a helping hand. The group had a sprinkle of all age groups with the eldest member being above 50 years of age and the youngest only 9 years old.

The starting point, as already mentioned, was Koyna Nagar which is a settlement near the Koyna catchment area. We reached Koyna Nagar at 9.00 am instead of the scheduled 6.00 am and lost out on 3 hours of early morning trekking, when it is most pleasant, with cool breeze blowing and trekkers able to trek long distances without tiring. In the bargain, we had an exquisite view of the Kumbharli ghat which was full of greenery and partially covered in the early morning mist as we ascended towards Koyna Nagar. It is a breathtaking sight and not worth missing. It kindles the spirit of the wild in you everytime you see it and you never get tired of it. It made us forget our late start and filled everyone with enthusiasm to get out and get lost in the wilderness. MB and Ajay (Mahesh Bhalerao and Ajay Joshi) were impatiently waiting at the ST stand. We were greeted to the usual cheer of “Welcome to Koyna Nagar” and “Mujhe laga tum log nahi aayenge, main to abhi hope hi chhod diya tha. Devrukh se yeh pata chala ki Bambai se koi ST nahi aa rahi hai” by MB. The others had already arrived, the participants from Nasik landing there at 3.30 am and the Dapoli trekkers sometime later at around 5.30 am.

After dumping our sacks in the hotel and freshening up, we had a breakfast of small plate of Poha which was provided to the hungry particpants with comments such as “Oont ki muh me jira” from my brother and “Oont ki muh me ek jira” from someone else; we had not eaten the previous night and had survived on tea and Khajur which I had bought from outside the ST Stand at Parel to ease our boredom and our growling stomachs. Some were lucky that they had packed some food for the night travel and ate it with relish, much to the discomfort of others. Of course, a bit of it got passed around too !

The usual pleasantries followed with MB and AJ introducing themselves after we had had our (breakfast !!) and tea and assembled outside the hotel. Medical certificates were produced and collected and badges and caps distributed. We then jumped onto the van which took us to the point just ahead of Dicholi from where we began our actual trek to Jungli Jaigad (JJ).

The trekking path branches off halfway from the road and climbs up the range. The route winds up the densely forested hill and we reached the Col, after around 2 hrs of climbing, which separates Jungli Jaigad from the main range. Jungli Jaigad juts out into the Konkan giving an excellent view of the Koyna valley below and acts as a strategic checkpost in that region. The only visible constructions on the hill are a small temple, a water tank and a Deep Stambh that still stands majestically. There are no other approaches to this fort, the other three sides being vertical rock faces. It takes around 45 minutes to explore the fort and enjoy the view from the different faces of the fort. The Koyna Electricity generation unit is said to be situated directly below Jungli Jaigad around 250 feet below the ground where the waters of the Koyna are directed over turbines which supply about a quarter of Maharashtra’s electricity needs. By the time we climbed JJ I had a rough idea about the abilities and stamina of our group and knew about its shortcomings too, which, as a leader I had to stem and balance with its strengths. Kamlakar, who is an expert snake catcher caught a Green Tree Snake also called as “Harantol”and we had a good time photographing it, but kept our distance as it was semi-poisonous. He carried it all the way as if he was holding a cat in his hands. Drinking thirstily from our water bottles, munching our Glucose biscuits and sucking the peppermints handed over to all, we rested a while at the top before we started climbing down. The downhill part was easier and the strain lesser. The van was waiting to pick us up.

A little tired and triumphant that we had begun the trek well, we stopped at the Garden which is being speced out near the dam, had a beautiful view of the dam and then reached Koyna Nagar for lunch. Being a small hotel, we had to eat in two groups, with the first group leaving ahead for Helwak and the other group following (with sacks it was difficult to accommodate all the 37 inside the van). Helwak is the base village of Ramghal, a cave in which Sant Ramdas is supposed to have stayed and meditated. Ramghal is a large cave excavated on the rock face, facing a deep thickly forested valley. The only approach is a trekker’s path winding up one of the sides' upto the cave. Dada Naphade was waiting for us at Dhangarwada with peppermints and a welcome smile. Dhangarwada is the nearest settlement about an hour and a half climb from Helwak. The climb upto Helwak showed up the groupings which normally occur in large groups and the weaker links. It also gave the first hint of what was in store in the days to come. Some like Rajshri, Kranti Janjale and Poonam Kulkarni, having no previous trekking experience, lagged behind and halted every few minutes to catch their breath, while others like Kamlakar Bhoir and Deepak Bapat were full of gusto. The cave is concave, hugging the face of the hill and has an average area of around 3000-4000 sq. ft. It can accommodate much more than 40 people at a time. A waterfall overshoots the cave from above, giving a superb view. We reached Ramghal for the night halt, the camp leaders making us welcome with hot tea and biscuits and the promise of a good dinner teasing our noses with the fragrant breeze wafting across the side of the cave earmarked as the kitchen site. Dinner was served and we all assembled for a quick introductory session and a camp fire. The tiredness of the day was forgotten with Antakshari and dancing which went on till late at night. The only memory that drove them to bed was the day ahead and the walk upto Bhairavgad.

Getting up in the morning and finishing our daily chores, we had breakfast of Shira and hot piping tea and proceeded towards Bhairavgad. The pack lunch was Bhakri and Bhaji to be eaten on the way. The road to Bhairavgad, out next stop winds up the opposite side of Ramghal to climb the top of the hill, just above Ramghal. It then winds through dense forests where sunlight seldom falls on the ground below.

We also come across the abandoned village “Juna Waghena” which was completely destroyed in the Koyna Quake quite some years back. There are numerous streams on the way and the group had a whale of a time bathing in one of the larger streams where we stopped for eating out pack lunch after about 3 hours of walking. We had to reach Bhairavgad at around 3.30 pm (the Camp leaders need their rest too, and rightly deserved it !) and we had lots of time at our disposal. We would, with one pretext or another, stop on the way to catch our breath. This had a soothing effect on those who were not used to strenuous trekking but bored the hard core ones. But, I had to control the group and strict instructions not to proceed too ahead were well heeded. A placard declaring that a further walk of 45 minutes would take us to Bhairavgad (a great feat for those tired legs !) greets one and all, the smaller print on the placard declaring “by the pace of an ant” is not easily noticeable and people wonder whether they have to take a break or not. A further 5 paces away the jungle abruptly opens into the clearing near the Bhairoba temple. The view is superb and very unexpected for those expecting a further 45 minute walk. The temple is large and can accommodate around 50 people easily. There is an open clearing outside the temple for camp fires and other allied activities. The clearing is coloured brown with dried grass and offers a contrast to the greenery around. Being surrounded by thick jungles, it is said that we can spot groups of Gava (Bison / wild buffalo) basking in the sun. The camp leaders received us with gusto and remarked that we were the first group out of the first four which had given them time to rest, the previous groups reaching Bhairavgad between 12.30 and 1.30 giving them no time to rest. After the usual introductions and instructions, we all sat down to have hot tea, a welcome break after tiring walks. The second day had its victims too, with Rajshri complaining of severe pains in both her knees and Rupal Dave lagging behind and needing a lot of coaxing and cajoling. Poonam and Kranti, thank goodness, had their husbands, Sachin and Dinesh, to prod and coax them along and they would reach the camps tired and worn out and at the end of the group. They also had a good helping of Electral and Energal to give them enough energy to pull along. I can judge how they would be feeling as I have gone through the phase myself in my early trekking days.

The route to Bhairavgad fort winds it way from near the temple, and with a little climb, we reached the fort. It takes around an hour to go around and admire the view. Bahiravgad too, like Jungli Jaigad, juts out of the main range and offers an excellent view around. The tank at Bhairavgad contained cool crystal clear water and everyone satiated their thirst. On the way is a natural rock formation which looks very much like a stone throne carved out of the rock. After a little look around, and the sun fast setting, we sat down to have Sukha Bhel, an item well appreciated, and after filling our bottles and cans for the night we proceeded back to the temple for our night halt. Water being scarce, we had dinner on Patravali. Camp fire followed with guys and girls responding with jokes and one liners and reminescing old but still popular songs. The gusto with which camp fire was held at Ramghal was missing, indicating the tiredness of the participants and need for much needed rest.

After eating a breakfast of Poha and sipping hot tea, we once again tread the dense forest paths, carrying our pack lunch of Bhakri and Pithla, to reach Patharpunj, a village which connects us to Prachitgad. We cross through the most dense forests with rivers/streams flowing down. One of the rivers on the way helped us freshen up and we all had a whale of a time immersing ourselves, again and again, into the chilly crystal clear water flowing by, thus relieving us of the tiredness and the sweat accumulated due to long continuous walking. Note that I have not mentioned “sweat & grime”, there’s no grime as the pollution is minimal. The pack lunch, after the bath, is just the thing that refreshes you and gives you energy to proceed with the trek ahead. But eating the already stiffening cold Bhakri with the cold Pithla truly needs a good deal of exercise for the jaws and the will power of the participant. Just before we enter the “Sada”, there is a small turning to the left which leads us to a huge cave in the valley. It is believed that this cave leads all the way under the Sada, to Prachitgad, a distance of about 3-4 kms. A portion of the ceiling has collapsed and the rocks are green with moss and algae. We dare not enter the tunnel for fear of snakes, scropions and wild animals. Stepping out in the open , we sight the awesome stretch of black volcanic rocks wherever the sight travels and ringed by thick green forests, aptly named “Sada”. It is just the surprise, both in terms of colour and background to make everyone gasp with astonishment and awe. Paths are visible through this maze that lead into different directions and villages at the base, viz., Rundhiv, Chandel, etc. We cut across this rock strewn plateau with and continue ahead. The group which proceeded ahead is seen far ahead as specks of colour in the dark background and I and Ajay, along with Rupal and Rajshree tagging behind, follow. After walking through the Sada for about an hour and half, we enter the path visible in the dense surrounding forest to make our to way towards Prachitgad. Prachitgad too, as the previous two, is isolated from the main range and appears suddenly as we reach the periphery of the main range. Most of the fort walls are intact and imposing. We are greeted by a banner welcoming us to Prachit, hung on the Fort walls by Lamba and his gang. Prachit is totally cut off and is approachable only through a Col edging across the rock face and climbing up an iron ladder giving access to the fort. Cool clear water is available throughout the year in a series of interconnected tanks cut into the rocks of the Fort. These water tanks are not visible until you go near them, they being well protected and hidden by the overhanging trees and Karvi above. Jutting out of the main range gives it an advantage of easy visibility of the plateau around. It was also strategically important, looking over the Konkan. We receive a warm welcome from Visu, Parag Oak, Lamba and Gora Patil who had come upto the water hole at the Sada. This place is called the “Haad” as we find skeletal remains of a bison killed long back by the villagers. We catch up with the rest, the path being narrow and full of scree, the participants ahead have slowed down and the pace is snail-like. Poonam has to be literally forced to go down the slope and it took the supreme effort and an hour for Parag and Visu to get her across to Prachit. She was greeted with “Hip Hip Hurrah” and piping hot tea. We help ourselves to hot tea and toast, and as usual, Kunal Patil nicknamed “Howrya” sits down near the heap of toast to make a meal of it. The sunset is beautiful and the participants who were lazing around, run to their sacks to remove their cameras to capture the sight. As soon as the sun sets, the temperature around goes down quite a few degrees and out comes all the Kaan Topi, monkey caps, gloves and jackets. Supreme efforts have gone into the setting up of the camp at Prachit, thanks to the camp members, who have put in days of hard labour cutting the Karvi and flattening the place out so that tents can be pitched. Having received no help from the village Nairi below, they had to transport the luggage themselves, all 430 kgs of it, in two days, upto to Prachitgad, which is a 6 hour climb from Nairi. Hats off to them for all their effort. These incidences, albeit not publicized, reveal the back breaking toil that Chakram puts into every Sahyankan to make it a success. It just takes the participants to comment on the “shortcomings” but none appreciate the efforts that go into the programme. The dinner at Prachit, as very characteristic of any camp headed by Lamba, starts with a Sweet Corn Soup and continues with Jeera Fried Rice, Dal Fry, Loncha, Lasoon Chutney and Papad; the thought of it still makes my mouth water ! The fervour with which camp fire used to be held in the previous camps has gone down further and I could observe only a few of them grouping around and singing old songs. The usual gang was myself, Amita, Shruti, Venu and the two Virs - Kalpana and Madhuri. I also had the additional responsibility of handing over medicines to the needy and remove the sprain from Rupal leg and put a pressure bandage on. Rajshri complained of severe pains in the knees and a little knowledge of accupressure and stress relieving exercises helped her a lot. A private orchestra was going on in the girls’ tent with old melodious songs reaching our ears in the tent nearby and a joke session in the men’s tent interspersed with laughs and guffaws pierced the silence of the night. The night was clear and we could see stars that are usually not visible from a city like Mumbai due to the background lights interfering with the starlight. We can see the strip of stars, called the Milky Way, flowing across the sky.

Getting up early in the morning; we had a longer distance to cover that day; and finishing off a breakfast of Upma and Loncha, we set off for a short sightseeing trip of Prachitgad interspersed with comments and commentaries about the various views around by Lamba, after which we were handed over a pack lunch of Theplas, artfully packed to look like Hot Dogs, and bottles of jam and packs of loncha and shown off. Proceeding from Prachit, we take a short route (around 9 hours) skipping Rundhiv (now abandoned and relocated) to reach Chandel which too is in the process of being relocated. There is a good road all the way from Rundhiv to Chandel, built for the purpose of relocating the villages, these areas being declared as Abhayaranya or reserved forests for wild bison. On the way, after about 4 hrs walk, we come across Kalavati Ranichi Vihir, a pond carved out into the rock and filled with crystal clear and very cool water. Filling our water bags, we proceed ahead. We reach Ram Nadi, a further hour away, where we stopped to have our lunch and also refresh ourselves by taking a bath / wash. A further 1 hour walk down reaches us to Chandel. Taking a brether, we proceed to Kundi, the village at the base of the Sahyadri range, the route of which is completely downhill and takes approximately 2-2 1/2 hours to cover. The sun beats on us mercilessly and thrist parches our throats. As is usual with large groups, it splits up into sub-groups with some proceeding ahead and others at the fag end, usually accompanied by me and Ajay to push them along. We reached Kundi at around 6.00 pm and dropped our sacks from our aching backs and streteched our tired legs. The hot tea was very welcome and some even proceeded to the river, around 15 minutes from the village, to take a dip. The dinner is even better received and relished. The camp being located in a School, we proceed to spread our carry mats on the verandah outside and make ourselves comfortable. The electricity playing truant that day, water was scarce and had to fill up the water bottles from the nearby well, the depth of the water being around 70 feet, it took much effort to pull the filled plastic Postman Can attached to the rope. After dinner, as usual we assemble for camp fire and a fire is lighted in the ground opposite the school and we gather around to tell jokes, sing songs and recount our experiences.

The next day dawns and we are ready to conquer Mahimatgad. The route to Mahimatgad is tricky and winds it way along a circuitous route to reach the top of the hill to the fort after a 1 1/2-2 hour climb. It looks over the entire Konkan and gives a panoramic view of the entire region. Remnants of the fort drawaza, fortificatons, a few cannons, flagpoles and temples remain on the top. It takes around an hour to look around and appreciate it. The water tank at the right of the fort entrance is the only water source and the water is lapped up by the thirsty crowd. Two of the Machi’s are unapproachable due to growth of Karvi which has not been cleared. The path, especially upto the flag pole is very steep and full of scree and getting down is a real adventure in itself. After a look around, we proceed on our way back; we had a deadline of reaching base before 12.30 pm and had to hurry back. Returning back we are welcomed by the delicious aroma of chapatis and Kheer. We sit down eagerly to finish our lunch and wrap up our things; the trek was coming to a close.

Mr. Toro who was in charge of the Devrukh ST Stand was the chief guest accompanied by Krishnabhau Naphade - Lamba’s cousin. Speeches were made and the participants were given a copy of the Souvenir and the certificate for successful completion of the trek. The participants were cheered by applauses and Hip Hip Hurrah and Ninad Kewle got the most. He was just 10 years old, trekked the whole distance without a murmur and on the top of it had blisters in his toes which burst in the middle of the trek causing excruciating pain and making it difficult to walk. He made it through sheer will power and Band Aid helped lessen his pain. Totally exhaused at the end of the days, he would quietly have his dinner and go to sleep while the others would be complaining and cursing their painful bodies. He was a source of inspiration to all and sundry. The others who were applauded the most were Poonam and Kranti who had finished their first treks and were enriched by a new experience which they had never had before. Their confidence and morale had gone up considerably and, if given a chance, I am sure would participate in the treks to come with more gusto. Will also remember Rajshri Mehta, who, in spite of her weight, had the sheer guts and will power to pull herself through the 5 days of the trek. Hope to see some of the experiences she gained in these days to appear in black and white. The Dapoli gang of Dr Kale, Dr Sardeshpande and Dr Gaikwad would be remembered for their unique behaviour of stopping in the middle of the trek, collecting dry twigs and making their own tea in the roadside, even though they were not supposed to do so. This made them lag behind and reach every camp late, thus missing the hot tea offered. The other person who would, I bet, remembered by all is Kunal Patil who exercised his tongue more than his feet and being a kid would be chided and warned by everyone not to put his foot in his mouth and get scolded. He would never heed the advice, and he nearly got a sound beating from his elder colleagues at least a couple of times due to his comments but escaped due to others’ intervention. Chetan Dabhade, the youngest in the group, was the quietest and the quickest of us all. He would always be in the forefront, flitting over rocks like a lamb and was one of the first to reach our destinations each day. He would carry his rucksack and not a single complaint was heard from him in all these 5 days.

The feedback forms which were distributed the earlier day were filled up and collected. We had just enough time to group ourselves for some group photographs and rush to the bus waiting to take us to Devrukh. Killing our time in Devrukh by going around the town, exchanging addresses and after having dinner, we climb up the steps of the ST to take us back to Mumbai.

Thus ended one of the most memorable treks, a trek which I would remember for what all it taught me and what I had to learn from others as well as mother Nature. It also was a lesson in leadership, what a leader should and should not do.