Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Varugad - A Picturesque Hike

After visiting Santoshgad during first half of the day, Varugad was our next destination. We returned back to Phaltan and took the Mograle-Dahivadi route to reach Varugad. There was not an iota of rain, sky was clear, sun was out and a laborious hike was in store for us.

As per the information I had, there is a direct road connecting to base of Varugad and we were quite sure of reaching there without any trouble. But there was a twist in the tale and to our dismay, we were greeted by a non-existent road with big boulders strewn across. Condition of the road was horrendous and we did not know for how much distance, we needed to ply on the road. I was driving at the snail’s pace mostly on the first gear and I was absolutely sure that tyres would not survive this treacherous terrain and we would have a punctured car. Even thought of abandoning the hiking plan brushed my mind.

Fortunately, we came across few villagers plying on the road, some on bike, some on feet who assured us good road was just around the corner and we should not return back. Heeding to their advice, we kept on going and heaved a sigh of relief when this treacherous road intersected a good conditioned road going towards Varugad. Definitely this ride would rank among the worst rides I ever had. Even worse than driving towards Ghangad or Chavand!

Stretch of bad road (it was worse even than this at some stretches)

It was a smooth and scenic ride afterwards. Varugad is really located in the remote area and we hardly came across any vehicle during the drive. First glimpse of Varugad made an indelible impression on the mind and we were quite overjoyed and clicked few photos of it from a distance. Whole fortification of the fort was clearly visible and a saffron flag furling proudly at the top added to the excitement.

Soon, we reached very close to  Varugad Machi. It was 1.30 in the afternoon and everybody started having the hunger pangs. As we were deciding where to lunch, we came across a villager.

We: "Please tell us the route to go to top of the fort."
Villager: "Why do you need route? Just look at the top and start ascending from anywhere."

Villager seemed whimsical and his advice seemed unpractical to us. Hence, instead of continuing further discussion with him, we decided to wait bit longer at the base and finish our lunch.

As we were carrying packed lunch, we decided to wait no longer and settled under the shade of a big banyan tree for lunch. Lunching under the tree with cool breeze caressing our faces was invigorating. As we were eating, we were approached by an elderly man, limping on his legs, stammering while speaking and he applied some tilak on our foreheads and offered us some sacrament (prasad). He lingered around us for a while and we offered him some food which he readily accepted. Soon, we finished our lunch and rested for a while. Still old man was lingering around us and as we decided to start our hike, he began asking some money. We were quite sure that he would get drunk (probably he was already drunk), we emphatically said no and started our hike.

Lunch under the shade of a big banyan tree:

We took the traverse from the left side and soon reached to the base of western side of the fort. Whole western region was looking very enticing and inviting. A large expanse with streak of white clouds trailing across the azure sky made us glue to the picturesque setting and we lingered there for a while soaking in the views and again resumed our hike.

Fortification on the western side of the fort:

Gushing wind made the trees sway from side to side and I seized the opportunity to click a photo which is one of my favorites from this hike.

We soon came across a water cisterns named “Pandav Cisterns”; legend is that it is built by Pandavas.

A wall like structure runs vertically from base to top of the fort. We started climbing parallel to it but as we started slipping,we ascended via this vertical wall.

Chinmay and Swapnil while climbing:

Soon, we reached to remnants of the first entrance gate tucked in between the bastions. Columns of the entrance gate are still intact.

There is nothing much to explore on the fort except few remnants and structures as this fort was being used as the watchtower.

Remnants of Sadar (office):

A temple is being restored or built on the fort. We could not make out of which deity as there was no idol present in the temple.

Dry Water Cistern on the fort:

Remnants of Chunyacha Ghana (Lime Mill):

View seen from the top of the Sadar:

View of Varugad Machi and surrounding mountain range:

While descending, we decided to try the Eastern Route. At first it looked simple and as we started descending, we began to slip. Rishi and Sameer were quite confident and reached to the base very quickly. Chinmay, Swapnil and me were finding it difficult and we gave up the idea of descending from this route and finally decided to descend from the same western side from where we had ascended. Once we reached to the base, we decided to traverse the whole perimeter of the fort and it was quite a good decision as we got to see the fort from quite different angles and also came across few structures on the Machi.

Fort as seen from the northern side:

Chand Khan Kabar:

Soon, we reached to a beautiful and well-maintained temple of Bhairavnath.

Vir Gal in front of the temple:

Bastions on the Machi:

Gate to enter Varugad Machi:

Finally hike was culminated and we decided to perch on the Eastern Side reveling in the sights of rugged ravines .

After spending few blissful moments, it was time to return and we trudged back to the car. While returning back, we again had to worry about the treacherous road but there was no surprise element in it and we were well prepared for it. This time, I asked my trek mates to get down from the car to reduce the burden on the wheels and slowly, negotiated the rocky terrain. Trek mates did not seem bother to walk for some distance and seemed to enjoy themselves.

Soon, we were back in Phaltan and halted for some refreshments. We had tea accompanied by Fruit Cakes brought by Swapnil. Tea was so sumptuous that we ordered it twice.

Soon, we started our journey back to Pune. We wished to return with the same route but we were misled by a person from Phaltan and we almost traveled for 5 kms one way and after realizing that the route was different and with a lot of potholes, we took the decision to return back to Phaltan. Soon, we were on the correct route. Gradually it turned dark and I had to drive till Pune under the glaring lights and blaring horns. We reached safely to Pune around 10 pm.

Travelling for more than 350kms in a day and hiking on two offbeat forts was indeed an achievement and satisfaction was palpable on everyone’s face when we returned back to Pune.

Tips for the hikers:
  • Grade: Easy
  • Stay can be made in Bhairavnath Temple on Varugad Machi.
  • This hike can be combined with Santoshgad, Vardhangad or Mahimangad.
  • Advisable to carry your own food.
  • You can get water on Varugad Machi.
Thank you for reading the blog!

Do visit my home page to easily navigate to my other blogs.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ghangad - A Majestic Guardian of Ghat routes

"If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go.... This is the story of our past and it will be the story of our future." -- Terry Tempest Williams

Last weekend of year 2013 came knocking on the door and it was again time to escape into the wilderness world and this time destination was Ghangad fort -  a small watch tower built to guard ghat routes in the past, tucked away into the interiors of the magnificent Lonavala region.

My earlier two attempts to set foot onto Ghangad fort were foiled because of one or the other reason and I had started to believe it as some kind of jinx. My first attempt to visit it was somewhere in February 2013 last year with a well-known trekking group when I was just a novice in the trekking field. Unfortunately the trekking group had to cancel the trek because of insufficient participation. In the second attempt, I planned it at the start of December 2013 on my own; everything was set and to my dismay, three of my trek-mates backed out one after another on the previous day of the trek and I had to abandon the plan. But as per saying "When one door closes, another opens", I seized other opportunities and overcame the disappointment of missing out on Ghangad first time by conquering "Kalsubai" – highest peak of Maharashtra and second time by scaling “Kalavantin” pinnacle/fort.  

Considering the first two failed attempts to have a go at Ghangad, I was extremely determined to make the third attempt successful and planned it in advance with the trek-mates who were most likely not to ditch at the last moment.  

"Sandeepak Phadke" joined me after a gap of more than two to three months. There seems to be some connection among three of us – me, Sandeepak and Lonavala. Whenever we trek together, we land up in passing through Lonavala though each time we discuss to change the location next time. Sandeepak brought along his friend, "Ajay Deshpande" who is also an advocate by profession like Sandeepak.

"Paresh Amrutkar", my nephew, who is a student of Economics in Symbiosis, instantly agreed to join even though he had done Ghangad before on his cycling expedition. It feels amazing to be with such fitness freak young guys. Their energy and enthusiasm rub on you and you also start feeling a lot younger in their presence.

I also invited "Sameer Kadam" to whom I had met first time on the earlier trek to Visapur almost six months back. Sameer in turn invited his friend "Swapnil Kamthe" who readily accepted the invite. 

Our original plan was to visit both Ghangad and Telbaila. As Sandeepak and Ajay had some work in evening, they planned to skip Telbaila and return before 6 in the evening. So we settled for two cars - one for Sandeepak and Ajay and other for rest four of us. Meeting point was at my place on Sus Road, Pashan, Pune. We picked up Sameer and Swapnil at Wakad and drove through the old highway and not expressway. One reason to use old highway is to avoid exorbitant toll on expressway and making the trek economical for all the members. I see no sense in paying this extra toll if there is really no urgency.

We experienced heavy traffic mainly because of the large containers and we moved at snail’s place at certain stretches. Finally, we reached to Lonavala. We were quite peckish and halted at Ram-Krishna restaurant for the breakfast. After having a sumptuous breakfast and a hot tea, we took the left turn and proceeded towards Ambi valley. In about 30 minutes, we reached to Peth-Shahapur, base village of Korigad. We asked the direction of Bhamburde and soon proceeded towards it.

Road till intersection to Bhamburde village was smooth and once we turned right to proceed towards Bhamburde, we were welcomed by a horrible, almost non-existent road full of potholes. This was the worst road I had ever driven. Only few weeks ago, I had driven to Chavand fort which was the worst road till that day. I was feeling like a poor soul who had dire misfortune of driving on two of the worst roads on consecutive two occasions.Only good part of the drive was that we were able to soak in real beauty around as I was driving mostly on first or second gear at a painstakingly slower pace. For many miles, no vehicle passed by and there was hardly any soul in sight. I had not imagined the road could be so bad. After a while, we came to an intersection where the road seemed to have been repaired. I was not sure which road to take and we halted with the uncertainty. Our other car was just behind us and we all came out of the car and stretched to check whether every bone was in order. We waited for few minutes and spotted a few shepherds coming towards us. We confirmed the direction and to our dismay, we had to continue on the same pathetic road.

We continued slowly on the same road, passed the intersection which was going to Telbaila. As we were about to reach to Bhamburde village, we were alarmed to see large boulders placed perfectly on the road for a long stretch and road-repairing was in full swing. It was impossible to ply your vehicle on the boulders and we decided to park our vehicle on the side of the same road. Our earlier plan to go to directly Ekole village was ruined and we had to begin our hike from the same location, many miles before the base village.

Ghangad appeared on the right side and now as we were walking, we decided to take the shortcut from the fields instead of walking along the road. We were helped by few villages by confirming that we could reach the Ekole village after walking through the fields.

Soon, we reached to Ekole village. It appeared to be a very small village.

A small trail starts from the village which takes you to top of Ghangad.

The route goes through a thicket. 

After ascending for half an hour, you reach to a small temple of Garjai.

Small idol inside the temple:

After resting for few minutes, we started our hike towards the top of the fort and reached to the first entrance of the fort.

After crossing the entrance, you need to negotiate a small rock patch to reach to the top of fort. This rock patch is made easier by Shivaji Trail Group who have installed a sturdy ladder over this rock patch.

On right side, there is a small carving of some deity. I did not observe it closely; So not sure which deity it was.

There is a large opening created between the two giant rock faces.One huge rock seemed to have separated from the main cliff and inclined on the wall of the fort. This triangle shaped opening is so breathtakingly beautiful that you just can't take your eyes off. Once you stand in front of it, you just submit yourself to nature's splendor and your existence seems minuscule in the presence of nature's grandeur.

There is a small water tank as you proceed further. But to visit this water tank, you need to walk over the edge with the deep valley on the right side. There is a small metal rope attached to the bolts and you need to take help of this rope to walk over a very narrow route to reach to the water tank. Your heart skips a beat if you look down as you walk over this edge. Definitely not for the people with acrophobia!

Water tank after you negotiate a tricky traverse:

After visiting the water tank, we climbed the ladder one by one. After climbing the ladder, there is a single step of cast iron; just enough to place your few toes and you feel vulnerable while crossing this step.

Water tank on the fort:

After climbing the ladder, there is a steep ascent of about 5-10 minutes which will lead you to another entrance of the fort.

Another Entrance on the fort:

Bastion on the fort:

Another water tank on the fort:

After spending few minutes, we went towards the western side of the fort. We were stunned by the sights of deep valleys; valleys so deep that your eyes cannot locate the bottom of it. We were transfixed to see the real rugged sight of Sahyadri mountains.

"Chilkhati Buruj (Bastion)":

Soon, we started descending. Before descending, we visited a col between Ghangad and other mountain.

View from this col was equally breathtaking with many miles of wilderness in sight.

There is a small cave located on the backside of Ghangad. From the col, you need to climb a small rock patch with the help of small grooves carved in the rock and walk along the edge to reach to this cave. Sitting in the cave was a divine experience and we witnessed few moments of absolute serenity, calmness and pure bliss. These are the moments that fill your life with absolute joy.

We reached to the base and instead of trying the same short cut through fields, we continued on the tar road starting from Ekole Village and going towards Bhamburde village.

Sun was absolutely pounding and road seemed to take us further away from our destination. Still, we continued on the same road and after 45 minutes reached to Bhamburde village. "Navara-Navari" pinnacles were looking absolutely stunning from the village. I felt irresistible temptation to go till the base of these pinnacles; even asked a villager regarding the direction to visit it; but as we still had to take our lunch and this was never in the original plan, I decided to curb the temptation and instead walked further in the direction of our cars.

Along the way, I spotted a nice house with a colorful bullock cart parked in front of the house.

The road indeed was a very long cut. It circled all the fields and made us walk a large, unanticipated distance. Finally, we reached near our cars where road construction work was halted because of the lunch break for all the labors.

It was almost 1.30 in the afternoon and we were famished. We had had our packed lunch and started our journey back. We skipped the option of visiting Telbaila as we were running behind the schedule and we didn’t want to ply further on treacherous route. Fortunately, tires of both of our cars did not desert us and our cars came out of the treacherous road unscathed. We had an option of visiting Korigad along the way but it had become exceedingly hot and we already had walked a lot more than anticipated; so we settled on a clicking a picture of magnificent Korigad.

I reached home before 5 in the evening and was welcomed with a nice dish of freshly cooked Gajar-Halwa by my wife. It was really a great pleasure to get such a grand welcome back home and ending a hike on a sweet note!

Overall,  driving on the treacherous road, unexpected challenge of starting a hike from altogether a different location, pleasure of plodding through fields, unusual route of ladder to reach on top of fort, witnessing massive valleys and spending few divine moments in the cave made this hike really a sweet memoir.

Tips for the hikers
  • You can combine Ghangad with either Telbaila (base without rock climbing) or Korigad. This can be done in a day.
  • Recently as part of cleaning and restoration, water tanks have been cleaned to make water potable.
  • Carry your own lunch in case you want to have it on the fort. As this is an offbeat fort, there is no eating facility on the fort.
  • You can drive to Ekole village or you can alight at Bhamburde village and walk till Ekole village from where you can start the hike.
  • Don’t miss visiting the col and cave at the backside of Ghangad.

Thank you for reading the blog!

Do visit my home page to easily navigate to my other blogs.

Happy hiking!

Appeal: No litter; no plastic; no wrappers; keep the mother nature clean!