Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vikatgad or Peb fort - Romancing the clouds

26th July, just a date on the calendar? Not for many Mumbaikers a few years back in 2005, when the torrential rains created havoc in the city and the metropolis was flooded causing deaths to many, disrupting lives, destroying infrastructure and bringing the city to a standstill. To all the lives lost, may their souls rest in peace!

26th July 2015, a Sunday, another day on the calendar, an unforgettable one for a batch of 30 trekkers on their way to Vikatgadh or Peb killa. The monsoons are a trekker’s delight and the skies promised us of a nice wet day. A few first timers, a few experienced ones, we were an odd lot but the enthusiasm was just as much as needed. Vikatgad is so named as it is claimed that it’s shaped like Lord Ganesha. It’s also called Peb killa, deriving its name from the Goddess Pebi.

Vikatgadh is one of the many forts lining the Karjat range of mountains in district Raigad, standing tall at a height of 2100 feet. From Neral station, one needs to take a share auto to a village called Fanaswadi, about 3-4 kms from Neral. On a weekend, Neral station is flooded by the multitude of trekkers and tourists on a trip to the hill station of Matheran. Outside the station is a vegetarian restaurant ‘Sai Shraddha’ which is where most of the trekkers halt for a quick bite before they embark on their trek, hot wadas and missal paav being the all time favourites. There are also other stalls outside Neral station and it is advisable to get something packed before you start your trek if you are not carrying a packed lunch.

The trek starts from Fanaswadi and at the base, surrounded by the village and farms; one can see the ‘V’ shape in the mountain ahead which happens to be where one is heading. The peak of Vikatgadh is marked by the temple of Swami Samarth. This is an arduous trek and tests your endurance. Completely uphill and through the jungle, it took us almost 3 hrs to reach the summit. We were guided by a local villager. Treading over rocks of various shapes and sizes, one needs to be extra careful in the rains. Walking the ridges, there are places where all there is space for is a single step and a slip could have you tumbling, bouncing and landing in the valley below. And after about an hour and half of trekking, one comes across a rock patch which is a difficult one. These are actually two patches bundled into one, the latter almost impossible to be done without a helping hand or a rope unless you are an experienced rock climber. I and many others were literally pulled up by our guide and the trek leaders. I, for sure couldn’t have done it alone since its right in your face, almost 10 feet tall and there is hardly any foothold to stick your foot into and heave yourself upward. There are a couple of other rock patches which are not as difficult as the one mentioned.

Once the first rock patch is crossed, the scenery opens up to a visual delight. What we saw is near inexplicable; rather words are a futile medium for expressing the ravishing beauty. The canvas of tall green mountains, the vast landscape, the lashing rains, tricking waterfalls, the dark clouds and the strong wind calms not only your soul but eases the mind off the pain in your legs. The highlight of the scenery was the scattering and playful clouds. Hiding the landscape, and magically making them appear the next moment, the clouds were romancing the mountains like never before. Enchanting, enthralled!

Another 30 minutes of climb and one comes across a big cave at the edge of the mountain with an idol of Shivaji Maharaj and a Shivling. The cave is maintained by disciples of Swami Samarth. This is a good place to have lunch if you want to but take care not to litter. Walking against the line of the cave, about 200 meters ahead comes the first ‘shidi’ or ladder. An iron ladder which sways midway, how adventurous and the weak hearted dare not see below. Once the ladder is crossed, there are a few other rock patches but not as difficult as the first one and then you come to an open space from where you can see the other side of the valley below and the temple above you. This is where we had lunch, saving ourselves from the wrath of the chasing monkeys. Beware of the monkeys; they won’t stop short of slapping you at the cost of grabbing your food. A climb of another few minutes and you reach the temple. Oh, what a sight, a temple almost suspended in air, at the peak, at the edge and wherever your eyes roam, the sight is a joy to celebrate. Experiencing the magic is what needs to be done; this blog is too small to portray what you actually see and feel there. Into the distance, one can see the Chanderi pinnacle and Doodhani dam.

Spending some time there, we moved ahead. We didn’t go back the way we came, thankfully for many of us. We crossed two more shaky ladders, one person at a time, and took the path which leads to the toy train tracks of Matheran. Walking to Dasturi Naka along the tracks, from where we were to catch a shared cab to get down the Matheran Ghat to reach Neral station, you come across a huge beautiful idol of Lord Ganesha partly carved out of rock. Zigzagging and zooming down the ghat, we reached Neral in no time and were on our way back home.

This by no means is an easy trek, rather a wee bit more than ‘medium’ grade but one of the best and most enjoyable treks I have ventured on till now!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Vishramgadh - where the body can rest but the eyes can't!

12th July 2015

Vishramgadh. Resting fort! The fort is so called because Shivaji Maharaj rested on the fort for more than a month due to some illness. This is the only fort apart from Raigad and Rajgad where Shivaji Maharaj stayed for such a long time. You can find more about the history of the fort on

Vishramgadh is at a 1 ½ hrs drive from Kasara en route to Bhandardara and one can find private jeeps filling up travellers on a seat basis going up to Nasik or Bhandardara, costing approximately INR100 per seat. 19 kms before Bhandardara, you need to take a left to reach Pattewadi, the base village of the fort. Pattewadi is a small hamlet of a few huts housing around 200 people. The drive to Pattewadi is scenic as you come across the mammoth blades of windmills swirling to the wind, the huge mountains in the backdrop, cattle grazing lazily and goats being herded by the shepherd who gives you a confused look as you pass him. The forts like Alang, Madan, Kulang, Trimbakgad and Kalsubai are in the vicinity of Vishramgadh.

I had joined a group called Tattva for this trek and we were around 21 people of various shapes, sizes and ages taking this trek. This is a relatively easy trek and one can reach the top in about 1 – ½ hrs at leisure after paying a nominal entry fee at the entrance gate. We, of course took more time as the cameras went click click click after every 15 minutes or so. The expanse of the surroundings is really breathtaking and one would only want to take it all in, in sumptuous gulps. This is one of the forts that the Government has tried to preserve and take under its wings and as you start the trek you come across boards with maps, descriptions and history of the fort. A small toilet is also available for the trekkers and travellers though not very clean. A model elephant, a beautiful one with two small ornamented baby elephants probably symbolizes the hugeness of the fort. There is a canon right behind the elephant and into the distance the eyes feast on a dome shaped structure on one of the cliffs at the far end.

A little ahead is a ‘Laxman Swami Maharaj’ cave and further ahead, a temple of ‘Shri Pattai Ashtabhuja Devi’. Railings have been put across at some of the edges around the temple and they actually spoil the beauty of the mountain, but they are there for a reason. Our villager guide Mr.Gulab informed us that there is a huge crowd visiting the temple and the fort during Shiv Jayanti. People from neighbouring villages throng the place and, the local politician; it seems flies in a helicopter to reach there. We trek and they fly, with the tax payers’ money of course! Words of caution here; there are many monkeys around the temple and they would not think twice to grab your cameras or the bar of chocolate you planned to eat.

Another hour of a bit of huffing and puffing and you are at the top of the plateau and come across a temple or ‘sabhagruh’ dedicated to the great king Shivaji. The interiors are still under construction. To cover the entire fort would probably take around 4 hrs and one needs to decide which part he wants to cover. The fort is spread far and wide; in fact it is more of a plateau than a fort as there are hardly any walls or ‘tattbandi’ barring a few which usually defines a fort, but no one’s complaining; the scenery covers for it all. There are a few doors or ‘darwazas’ and a couple of spacious caves on the fort which can easily accommodate 20 people each. Also, there are many water cisterns on the top and probably these cisterns along with a well are the water source for the village below.

From the temple, we took a right to reach to the zenith of the mountain and what a time we had. Though it was cloudy, the rain evaded us, but the wind was blowing like crazy and it almost swept us off our feet, literally! We had to consciously make some effort to keep grounded and a rock perched at the best location had us pose like supermen and superwomen for many pictures. There are scenes and places that are inexplicable and this was one of them; one has to be there to experience it. The vastness of the fort, the serenity except for the swooshing of the wind, the humble swaying of the grass, a few colourful flowers which had sprouted in the rains, the various shades of intoxicating green, the enticing paddy fields below, the command and strength you feel being at such a height, the puny snaking roads below, all of these and more mesmerizes you beyond words and a thankful feeling rises in your heart for mother Nature and its beauty.

We had lunch at the top with the wind singing to us. Post lunch, we embarked again to another plateau right in front of us, towards the windmills. As I said, every edge of the mountain gives you a different view and from here we could see a couple of lakes or reservoirs. Getting closer to the windmills was another high and we sat there for some time gazing at the lazily rotating blades against the lovely backdrop.

This place definitely is a camper’s delight. After a few games and fun and laughter, we dejectedly decided to get back to the hullabaloo of the city. We walked around the periphery of the mountain and were back in almost an hour for the drive back to Kasara station. A Sunday well spent on a date with nature!
At Pattewadi, the base village


Intro time

Grazing to delight

Soldier at the gates