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.

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