Monday, July 29, 2013

Rajgad via Pali Darwaja

I recently completed watching the first season of Orange is the New Black. I enjoyed the myriad personalities and anecdotes that the good show had to offer. One of them, surprisingly, was an insight into Robert Frost's poem "The Road Less Travelled."  Yes, Orange is the New Black is a prison drama (Or comedrama as some say!).

The poem's last two lines, if taken literately, might eulogize the free-spirited individual and the one who "outstands." However, the poem in it's entirety actually conveys an opposite thought. How? Find out by reading it.

So, coming back to the trek. Of the routes that are popular for Rajgad, the one via Gunjavne village is more popular. Maybe because it's more well known, and promises more thrills. The one less travelled (there you go!) is via Pali Budruk (ahead of Vajeghar village). This is apparently also known as Rajmarg. We reached Pali at around 8:15-8:30 am and started our climb by 9:15 am.

The route via Pali starts alongside a semi-motorable road till another village settlement and from then on a slight elevation through the usual Sahyadri vegetation.

After about an hour's trek start proper steps. These steps are not as easy as they might seem, but they set a nice rhthym, and along with the surroundings (which was extremely cloudy, rainy, and windy) make you feel like you are climbing THE stairway.

At first you come across a small door that might be mistaken for the famed Pali Darwaja, but after crossing it, you can see the actual Pali Darwaja cleverly hidden from immediate access. And now, you can see why it is called Rajmarg.

You can compare the picture taken in summer (from Wikipedia):

With the one we took in monsoon:

Total time - 1.5-2 hours depending on the number of breaks you take.

The fort is beautiful. We went to Padmavati Mandir, where you can stay if you are doing an overnight trek, had some nice hot tea and bhaji and went up Balekilla.

The trek up to Balekilla is a bit tricky. Akin to the rocky part on top of Torna, this one stretches a bit higher. Rocks, moss, flowing water, and the deceiving remnants of railings is a very heady combination. As always you start worrying about the decent all along while you climb. Yet, without appearing to be complacent, the decent is not as tough as is thought initially.

On top of the Balekilla (another post-monsoon trek without the cloud cover is planned right away) it was extremely windy, and whatever little extension of the fort we could see seemed ethereal.

From Balekilla, we climbed down to the main fort and then to Pali. We saw a lot of people climbing up when we were going down. Guess they were up for a night trek. Some of those people also seemed to remark at my Poncho (by calling it a plastic bag), but you have to know the feeling of a T-Shirt and inner-clothes that are still mostly dry after a splendid trek!

At Pali, we ate the usual Pithla Bhakri and by 4:30-5 pm started our return journey.

Rajgad will be climbed again. The next time by the road usually travelled.

One annoying thing about trekking in the monsoon is the flies that are encountered at times. Specially if there is thick vegetation that rises above you. These flies don't bite but they fly around you in large numbers and sometimes enter your eyes and mouth, committing harakiri. They eventually get stuck on your face or whereever they hit you. I am seriously considering getting a mosquito net or mesh for the face. :S

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

If you look closely, "I" is almost there in the word "TEAM." A part of it is just hidden or masked to make it appear as a "T."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Torna AKA Prachandagad

As the monsoons continued, so did the obsession for another trek. This time (Saturday, July 06 2013), Torna was targeted. Also known as Prachandagad, we had heard that it is of moderate difficulty. Gearing up for that, we reached the village of Velhe really early. At 7:15 AM, when we asked a local restaurant owner for breakfast, he claimed that we arrived really early! After waiting for a while and eating the freshly prepared Poha, we started the climb by 8-8:15 AM.

(Note that there is not enough parking available near the base. Most of the cars are parked near the Police Station in Velhe. If you reach early, you'll get a good parking spot.)

Torna, as the stories had suggested was indeed tougher than the ones we climbed so far. The continuous elevation for about 50-60% of the route adds to the challenge. You can always stop in between and look around at the scenery if the wind clears the fog and take a breather. Otherwise, keep on climbing and drinking water.

Lovely waterfalls around the fort
In the last quarter of the climb, there are some rocky patches. This was the tricky part of the trek. There are railings for support, but they are not in a good shape. If you depend on them completely, it would be really risky! The slow and steady philosophy works well here.

The beginning of the tricky last quarter of the climb
Yeah, and as soon as you climb up, don't start thinking about the journey down the same patch. Give it some time to sink in. On the way down, it might not even be so difficult. :)

On the top, there are some places to see but due to the dense fog we couldn't roam much. Just went across Mengai Devi to the right most end of the fort and came back. The wind was really harsh at this point and being drenched didn't help.

It took about 2-2.5 hours for us to reach on the top. As always, it was quite tough but exhilarating.

We decided to return immediately so as to reach Pune around lunch time. The thoughts of hot butter Naan and Chicken Tikka Masala took hold of our thoughts and rendered us helpless. We climbed down with that food in mind.

Gunjavane Dam backwaters on the left. You can see the trail down the mountain.
The climb down was really fun and scenic and then we looked back at the steep climb and thought, "Did we really climb all that?"

Oh, and then we drove to Mirch Masala and had that food that had put us on a voodoo spell. :)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Imagine the solace

Imagine that you are holding a book. A thick book. Now imagine that the white/yellow part of the pages and the cover disappear. Leaving the printed words hanging in space. On top of each other. In millions.

Suddenly all these words rush towards your head and start revolving around your head. Passing your eyes in the exact sequence as that of the book.

Imagine the solace.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Harishchandragad via Paachnai

"What's the difficulty level of Harishchandragad?"
"Hmmm, have you been to Rajgad?" "No." "Raigad?" "No." "Torna?" "No. I've done small ones like Purandar, Lohagad, and the one in the neighbourhood, Sinhagad. Oh yes, and Kalavantin." (I was pretty happy at this point  that there is at least one that that inspired an awe from this trekker friend with whom I had this conversation.)

The main discussion before the overnight trek to Harishchandragad was about the route to take. There are 3 main routes to the top (arranged in the ascending order of difficulty):
  • via Paachnai / Pachnai
  • via Khubi Phata - Khireshwar - Tolar Khind
  • via Nali chi vaat
We were a group of five, and there were two people amongst us who had done this trek a long time back. We were sure that we would take the Khireshwar route since it's the most popular route. When we had almost finalised it, suddenly messages started pouring in our phones that it's better to take the Paachnai route,  especially in the monsoons. Dilemma at the last minute. Paachnai would add another 2 hours to our journey from Pune. But then, it will also cut the trekking time to 3 hours.

Finally, on the morning of our trek, all of us reached a consensus and decided to take the Paachnai route. The route from Pune goes via Alephata > Otur > Kotul > Paachnai. Fortunately Google Maps proved to be very good to navigate us right to the base village Paachnai. Once the map loaded on the phone, even when there was no mobile signal, the GPS kept us on route. The road from Otur to Paachnai was much better than we expected. It was washed away at some parts, but most of the times it was very good. The combination of such a road and a 4x4 vehicle is a pleasure to drive (As was evident on our fellow traveller's face)!

We reached Paachnai in 4.5 hours. At the base, there is a small shop where you get the usual snacks, chai, and even food. There is parking available at Paachnai. We parked in the compound of the shop. The shopkeepers do take parking charges, but they are minimal and the car is under the shopkeepers watch. So a little bit of relief.
Paachnai Village
One of the best trekking experiences so far!
Before we started climbing, we had asked the shopkeeper to guide us till a certain point from where we can go on our own. He sent an old lady to guide us. Do I even need to mention who was the fastest climber when we started? Yes, the old lady who was climbing bare feet.

Beginning the trek
The initial part is through a nice forest and then a small rock patch. In the rains it's a bit moist and slippery, but otherwise not very difficult. As we started to climb up, suddenly we went beyond the point where clouds converged. The visibility dropped to about 50-100 m depending on the wind. We couldn't even see the valley which is supposed to be very scenic from this particular route. We walked in clouds. From then on, it was just the winds, clouds, and us, with the rain chipping in between.

From the rock patch, the route takes you along a huge rock escarpment. There are waterfalls on this escarpment and sometimes you walk through the waterfalls and sometimes from below them. Somehow it reminded me of Frodo and Sam's journey. The journey after the rock patch is very beautiful. Through a dense forest patch and across a small rivulet. (At this point of time, the last thing on your mind is worrying about getting your socks wet!) We reached a small temple that marked the end of our journey to the top of Harishchandragad. (The temple door faces the route and serves as a marking point for the descending route.)

From the top, we reached a temple and scouted for a cave inside the temple. Luckily, we found a cave of about 8 x 5 feet. Since there were 5 of us, it was good enough in size to accomodate all of us. (On a side note, these caves are carved in stone. Oh if you are scared of the arachnids and such, I empathize!)

We settled in for a night ahead!

Overall, the route wasn't as difficult as we had initially expected. Took us around 3 hours to reach the caves.

Caves and food:
View from the cave
Food was also a big decision for us. The experienced amongst us had told us about joy of eating warm, freshly prepared food after a trek, specially in the monsoon. Though we were convinced, we weren't sure of carrying a stove or gas and the raw materials along with us. Fortunately, the night before we got to know that food is available on the top. Problem solved! We confirmed this fact at the base village of Paachnai and were assured so.

As soon as we settled in, we were asked about food and we placed a generous order. The food, though nothing fancy, is the best you can get in that environment. It will give you the best of feeling in that windy, rainy set up!

Regarding the caves, well, there are a lot of caves on the top of Harishchandragad, some big, some small, and some water filled in the monsoons. Better to find the right one for your group!

There are stories to tell about our night spent in the cave, but the charm would be lost on the blog. :) It will always bring a smile on our collective faces whenever we will think about the caves and the night!

Return journey:
After an eventful night, we brushed and had warm Poha for breakfast and decided to visit Konkan Kada. After walking for about 30 minutes, we reached the point but the clouds were so dense that we saw nothing at all. A little disappointed, we returned back to where we had stayed and then saw the Kedareshwar temple. This temple is famed for its huge Shivling amidst 4 pillars out of which 3 are broken, and surrounded by ice-cold water.

From there, we started our return journey. Carrying our wet clothes and fresh memories. The descent took about 2-2.5 hours and it wasn't taxing.

Overall, a very pleasant and memorable (specially the cave night!) trek to Harishchandragad.