Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Torna - Scaling Highest Fort in Pune district

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Explorer inside me was anxiously waiting in the wings for the difficult period to pass. My fractured wrist bone forcefully kept me away from the full-fledged hiking for more than 2 months. Though I did simple hikes during this period, I was itching to resume strenuous hikes soon.
If breaking wrist was painful, healing period was even more painful. I was very happy when my plaster was taken off and was hoping for the fully functional left hand soon. But alas, I was wrong! Putting the plaster on the hand for 6 weeks had made muscles stiff and even a slight movement of the fingers, rotating the wrist was causing a lot of pain. I was advised physiotherapy for the coming 2 months to gradually gain back the strength.Climbing the difficult terrain was out of question and wait to begin full-fledged hiking was agonizing.

Gradually pain in the hand subsided and I decided to resume my hiking with Sinhagad. I hiked with the wrist band to protect the injured hand from further injury. Hike to Sinhagad went uneventful which boosted my confidence to join TrekDi group for the night hike to Torna, the highest fort in Pune district. Though I hardly had any strength to climb using my left hand (even lifting a water bottle was painful), I took the calculated risk to go for this hike.

Amol More, the certified mountaineering expert was the assigned trek leader to lead a group of total 8 trekkers. We all assembled in front of Fergusson College around 11 p.m. and started our journey towards Torna in a comfortable mini bus around 11.30 p.m. Umesh Sharma was the trekker sitting next to me and Amol and we struck up a conversation to get to know each other and our trekking and mountaineering experiences. Ice was broken and we instantly formed a nice rapport. We didn't realize when Velhe, the base village of Torna arrived.

It was pitch dark when we landed in Velhe, There was absolutely no sign of moon. I was under the impression that we would be trekking under the moonlight but it turned out to be the night of no-moon. We were submerged in the utter darkness after switching off the lights of our bus, . We even could not see the silhouettes of Torna fort . Fortunately, all of us were carrying torches. There were two routes going from the place where we had parked our vehicle and we were slightly confused which route to take. Depending on the consensus, we chose the route falling on the right side and started our march towards the fort.

As few of the trek-mates were hiking for the first time or after a considerable gap, we took frequent breaks to make sure that nobody was left behind. After a hike of 1 hour or so, we reached to a ridge with the steep slope on both the sides. A cool breeze was blowing caressing our faces and we decided to rest for some time and experience the tranquility by switching off our torches.Sight of millions of star in the sky and experiencing  utter peacefulness rejuvenated our mind, soul and body and after a while, we started our final march towards the fort. There were few rock patches in between where both the hands were needed to haul yourself up. As I was just recovering from the broken wrist, I was finding it difficult to negotiate few patches. I somehow managed to negotiate these patches with one hand. Finally, we reached to the first entrance of the fort where we again waited for few other members to join us.

Finally after hiking for more than two hours, we reached to our halting point - temple of goddess Mengai around 4 am. We were drenched in the sweat and were unsure whether to sleep inside or outside the temple. There was already a group sleeping inside the temple and we decided to spend the remaining few hours before the dawn outside the temple. We were quite hungry and wolfed on the snacks we had with us. Soon I tucked myself inside the sleeping bag at the backside of the temple. Some of the trek mates were reluctant to sleep and lit a small campfire and started chatting around it. Many of the trek mates shared some weird and interesting experiences – inclining towards the horror stories and it was a good fun. Though my eyes were closed, I heard each and every amusing story that was being shared.

I didn't want to miss the sunrise and came out of my sleeping bag just before the sunrise. As there was still some time for the sunrise, I went around the temple to click few pictures. This temple of Goddess Mengai is very spacious and beautiful and a good halting place for the trekkers.

Exploring fort with our group was planned after breakfast. During the free time, we decided to catch the sunrise and explore some parts of the fort on our own. Watching the sun rise from the far away mountain was an exhilarating experience and we just marveled at its sight. These are the moments when you feel so connected to the almighty and you feel blessed with the beautiful life God has given to you.

After the sunrise, I and Umesh decided to visit Zunjar Machi. You need to go down by the ladder installed and take a traverse along the narrow dirt route to reach to a point from where you need to negotiate a rock patch to reach to Zunjar Machi.

As I was unsure of negotiating the tricky rock patch with one hand, I decided to wait till Umesh’s return. Watching the marvelous architecture of Zunjar machi was a stunning experience and one can’t help wondering how on earth these kind of structures were built without the modern tools and technology.

After a while we returned to the plateau from the Zunjar Machi. Trekking route from the Velhe village was clearly visible from the top of plateau and we luxuriated in the panoramic views of the river and mountains around.

As we were returning back, I looked back and clicked a zoomed photo of Rajgad with monkeys in the forefront.

There is a water cistern named "Mengai Tank" near the temple. This water can be used for drinking purpose.

After a while, we returned back to the temple. The guy who was going to prepare breakfast had not arrived yet. This guy was supposed to come from the base village but there was no sign of him. We were becoming hungry and decided to have a breakfast of Tea-biscuits rather than waiting for the guy. 

As tea was getting prepared, I struck a conversation with a group of elders; all looking above 60. They were brimming with a lot of energy and I was so eager to know more about them.

Me: Uncle, from where?
Uncle: Pune
Me: What’s your age?
Uncle: Guess?
Me: 65 yrs
Uncle: No, 55 yrs. ….After a smile, it’s 71 actually
Me: Wow, uncle! What a fitness! What’s the secret?
Uncle: Climbing Sinhagad on Thursday and Sunday for last 14 yrs.

Well, fitness doesn't come easily. It requires discipline over the years but the fruits are worth of it! I couldn't have witnessed a better example than this coterie of senior citizens – so fit, so energetic, so radiant and so happy! It was a choice that they made many years ago and they were reaping the benefits of that choice years later on. From the look of uncle’s fitness, I wouldn't be surprised if he scales the mountains for another 10 years.

Soon, tea was ready and we gorged on biscuits with the tea. Once we had stuffed ourselves, we all went to see Budhala Machi. 

Konkan Darwaja with Budhala Machi in the background:

As we didn't have much time and it was becoming hotter, we just had the glimpse of Budhala Machi from the distance. 

I couldn't resist the temptation of getting myself clicked on the backdrop of the stunning Budhala Machi.

After spending few minutes and having a group photo and bit of photography, we decided to return to the base.Along the way, we came across a small snacks joint and there was a guy finally arrived. He apologized for coming late and offered to prepare the breakfast for us. But as it was almost 10.30 a.m. and sun had started to beat down, instead of waiting for the breakfast, we decided to gulp down few glasses of Lemon Juice and started descending.

Kothi Darwaja: This is the second entrance while climbing.

Bini Darwaja: This is the first entrance of the fort while climbing.

As we were descending, we came across a lady who was distraught and seemed to be in a lot of pain. She seemed to be amateur in the trekking field and was utterly exhausted after climbing Rajgad earlier night, walking to Torna for more than 6 hours on the ridge and now descending not so easy Torna. She already had slipped 3-4 times bruising herself and was almost in tears. “I quit, I quit. I can't take it anymore”  and she was sitting helplessly right in the middle of the rock patch obstructing the path for other trekkers. We tried to motivate and encourage her but she was in no mood to listen. Gradually, her group leaders who had gone ahead again trudged back to assist her.Well, trekking is definitely not a picnic and you need to know your limits before venturing into the inhospitable terrain.

While descending down:

A group of trekkers came from behind and overtook us  They were literally running under relentless sun. Probably they were preparing themselves for some kind of endurance competition.

At last, after trudging for almost two hours, we reached to the base.

We soon reached to the place where we had parked our vehicle. We gulped on the water before proceeding for the lunch in Torna Vihar restaurant which is known for its great food as well as great hospitality. Hotel owner personally attended to us and served us sumptuous food till we got fully satiated. During the lunch, I met Snehal Dongre, an adventure freak and the core member of "Man Vs Miles" group and we chatted for a while on different adventure related topics.

Torna Vihar Restaurant:

Soon, it was time to bid adieu to Velhe. Umesh Sharma requested to return back from the shortcut via Pabe ghat as he intended to visit it as part of his cycling expedition later on and we all unanimously agreed. It was indeed very scenic and we saved a lot of distance and reached Pune earlier than expected.

All in all, a memorable night hike in the pitch darkness, witnessing the spectacular sunrise, wondering at the marvelous architecture of the Zunjar and Budhla machis made this hike a treasured one. I would love to visit Torna in the monsoon season to experience the lush greenery and soak under the waterfalls.

Torna, pride of Maharashtra is an important part of the history and every proud Maharashtrian should visit it at least once in lifetime.

Tips for the hikers
  • Grade of hike (Medium for seasoned trekkers; tough for beginners)
  • Time of hike: 2 to 3 hrs from the base depending on your stamina
  • Stay can be made in the temple of goddess Mengai
  • Long hikers can combine Rajgad-Torna which can truly test your stamina
  • More information on the fort can be found here.

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Happy hiking!

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