Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
Most of the events in life happen most unexpectedly. I was planning to go to Ratangad with my friends at “nakya” , most of the things went fine and something happened that I decided to call off the trek. My friends left for the trek catching the first train to Kasara. I woke up 7.30 in the morning and realized it was too late. But I needed a break, to regroup the shattered myself. And then I decided to trek alone and catch the 8 o’clock train to Kasara and join my friends.
Ratangad, as its name suggest is the jewel of forts. It lies in the Ajoba mountain range surrounded by great mountains of Kulang, Alang, Kalsubai, Katarabai, Ajoba and Ghanchakkar. Geographically Ratangad is at the banks of Bhandardara lake of Ahmednagar district. Having reached Kasara by 9.30 I got bus from Kasara going towards Akole/Rajur. About an hours journey reached the Bhandardara phata at Waranghuse. Had to wait here for some time till I got a local jeep to Shendi. Wilson dam is situated at Shendi. From here about an hour long walk lead to village Morshood on the banks of Bhandardara from where boat is available to cross the lake. Whole route was open but not so hot due to the cold winds blowing from the Bhandardara lake. In summer the lake was quite dried up, hence had to travel another hour to reach Ratanwadi at the base of the fort Ratangad.
Reached Ratangad at about 1 pm. I hadn’t eaten anything since I had left home. Kept drinking water and some glucose, to avoid dehydration. And some cucumbers was all for the lunch. The route to Ratangad is along the stream on the bank of which Ratanwadi is situated. The climb is not so steep, and most of it was under the forest cover. So summer heat didn’t bother much. It was the first time I was trekking alone. Quite a different feeling, lost in oneself, no motive but to reach the top. Just before the final climb, there are 2 steel ladders to climb the rocky patch and finally some rock-cut steps when we reach the door of the fort. From here the route left leads to the Rani mahal and the water tanks and the route right leads to the cave.
Having reached the fort I met my friends, who were excited and surprised to see me. Swapnil, my school friend was the one whom I knew quite well. Others were Nikhil Deshpande (aka Preity Zinta), of my Junior college friend, Roopesh, Abhay (aka Gandhi, Sunil Joshi), Murudkar (M*d Murudkar in short mamu), Milind. All belonged to a small trekking group which they called Bharari; (The Flight!) Now we were a group of seven. First thing I asked them to do was to give something to eat! Bread jam and biscuits served the purpose. It was now I realized that I had got two big blisters on my foot, which I didn’t bother to look while climbing. Did some photography, cleaning and took rest.
About an hour later we left our belongings at the fort and went to have a look at the different corners of the fort. Eastern side of the fort has some fortification left. One can see some construction still left. (Rani Mahal). Little ahead are some tanks which still had plenty of water. From the southern side on can see Katrabai and Ajoba fort very close. This side has also some fortification left, but most of it is damaged. Later we climbed up to the Nedhe at the top. This is a natural hole in the mountain, also known as orifice, mostly made by wind. This nedhe was not so big, but could be seen from the base village and can accommodate 6-7 people at a time. Strong winds can be experienced at this nedhe. Climbing down the nedhe we made our way to the western end of the fort, this route leads closest to the Khuta pinnacle. Finally completed a Parikrama of the fort by reaching the cave from the route on the edge of the northern cliff.
Sun was setting the time we reached the cave. Filled water from the tanks to make coffee and dinner. Wind was still blowing quite strongly, and as the sun set the temperature dropped. Now the wind was so chilling and strong that we were not able to make fire for cooking. It took about an hour for a cup of water to warm up. Later made fire inside the cave. Coffee, Pulav and Potato bhaji tasted delicious after so much efforts. The climb of Ratangad turned quite hectic for me, was feeling a bit of headache and nausea. So decided to rest.
Night was really cold, and we regretted having not brought enough warm clothes. Next morning when I awoke I could see smoke entering our cave. When looked carefully found that it was dense fog which had covered the fort, nothing could be seen at a distance. We were covered by a cloud! Cold wind was still blowing and dew had covered the grasses. Such a weather was unexpected in month of may. There must have been some thundering at night as we could find some rocks fallen near the cave. We must have been in deep sleep, not able to hear that.
It was becoming clearer as the sun rose higher. We did some cleaning, washing utensils and took our breakfast. It was 10 when we decided to leave for the descent. We had planned to descent into the Konkan via the Karoli ghat route. For this we had to get down from the south western end of the fort. A steep descent leads us to rock cut steps in the cliff and a small route along the cliff to the base of khuta pinnacle. There are two routes from here on going towards the ratanwadi side and other towards the side of Ajoba. We took the other one. This route was all the way along a steep nala, with rock debris. Carefully we climbed down, traversed on the other side of khuta pinnacle till we reach a plateau from where the village Samrad can be seen. From here we can also see the entire Kulang-Kalsubai range. Took about 2.5 hours to reach Samrad village. We decided to make lunch in the village. Asked some villager to allow him use his cuhla to make maggi. Having finished our lunch we left for Sandan, a natural george near Samrad. From here we had to traverse towards the west to reach Karoli ghat. We lost the way in between. But some village boys helped us out to show the descent route.
Karoli ghat is along a stream which flows down to Ajoba. At the beginning there is an easy 15-20 feet rock-patch. We helped ourselves to get down the rock-patch. Now the steep descent started. The whole route was full of scree and rock debris and covered by forest. It took about 2 hours to complete the descent. However Dene village was still about an hours walk along the stream. It was about 7 when we reached Dene village. We refreshed ourselves with water here. By the time we had reached Dene everyone was exhausted and tired. There are only two jeeps available which ply between Dene to Dolkhamb. By the time we had reached Dene both jeeps had just left. We waited for almost and hour and half for the jeep, before we started walking towards village Sakurdi which is about 6 kms from Dene. We were lucky when we got a jeep in the way which would drop us till Dolkhamb.
It was about 9 when we reached Dolkhamb, and there were no vehicles available for Shahpur. We were also hungry, only thing we got to eat from the village was some omlet, bhurji from a bar! Finally a jeep driver was ready to take us to Shahpur at thrice the cost, but we had no other way. We reached Asangaon by 10.15 and were again lucky enough to find 10 o’clock train to Mumbai. It was 11.30 by the time we reached home at Dombivli.
In the end, great, cool and tiring trek. First time did the trek alone, was a nice experience. Karoli ghat was wonderful and steep. Saw nature in quite different apparel and mood. Ratangad is really one of the jewels of sahaydri.
At the end of the day, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!