It was a cold and misty morning. One could hear the sound of water falling from the Wilson dam. Diesel engine of the boat was pumping in rhythm and throwing puffs of smoke. It seemed to be a dream, with mountains all around moving in a boat in a lake with a fog layer over it. The boat started slowly advancing towards Ratanwadi from the Shendi village at the banks of Bhandardara lake. This was indeed a beautiful start to our Ratangad to Harishchandragad trek!We had started the earlier night from Thane taking a bus to Igatpuri and early morning bus from there to Bhandardara. It would have been a long trek, so had to start early. After a hour in boat ride we land at the base of Ratangad fort near Ratanwadi village. I had brief memories of this place, list time I had visited couple of years ago. It didn�t seem a long time for me, with memories of the solo trek still fresh.
Ancient temple at Ratangad is worth watching. It is unique example of the sculpture in this region. Some of sculptures showed stories of Ramayan and other deities. We didn�t waste much time as we had long way to go. We marched our way along the route to Ratangad. At one time, route branches. One takes us to ladders on the rock face of Ratangad, while other takes us towards Harishchandragad. Taking our brunch here, we started hunting for way in the forest towards Katrabai pass. Crossing the pass lead us to a small hamlet surrounded by Ajoba, Katrabai and Ghanchakkar peaks. It had been a long day, we reached Kumshet just before sunset and took shelter in the village school. Cooking our dinner, we rested for a long day ahead!
A good nights sleep had refreshed and charged us for the day ahead. We made Egg Bhurji for our breakfast and started towards Harishchandragad. The route passes through couple of hamlets along Mula river and then to Pachnai village from where the climb for Harishchandragad starts. This was again a 6-7 hours of trek. The climb to Harishchandragad via Pachnai is special during the rains, as route intersects a number of waterfalls. Pachnai would have been a paradise during rains!
This had been my fourth visit to Harishchandragad and things have been changing here. Number of people visiting this place had made this place filthy and less attractive for stay. Finding shelter in caves was difficult, however we managed that. Enjoyed making food at Harishchandragad, Baingan Bharta and Rice combination was excellent!
We had a very lazy start on next day. We had planned to get down by the difficult Junnar Darwaja route, however starting at 11 in afternoon, we moved from Taramati peak to Balekilla and decidied to get down by regular Tolar Khind route to be in time. It still took us 6 hours to reach the highway. After sunset we had to wait a long for bus, thanks to the truck driver who took us to Murbad. A bus from Murbad to Kalyan was end of our long trek!
Trekking after a long time was so refreshing and with all new friends. I knew only Nitin More who happened to be from Bhramanti trek group. My camera was also happy having been clicked after long 6 months !!
How to reach Bhandardara:
1. Buses are available for Bhandardara from Igatpuri and Ghoti. One can take overnight bus to Igatpuri and catch the first bus (0515 hrs) to Pune via Bhandardara.
2. Alternately, one can take local train from Mumbai to Kasara. Jeeps or buses going towards Akole or Rajur would drop you at Bhandardara phata / Waranghushe, from here one can take local jeep or vehicle to Bhandardara or Shendi.
How to reach Ratanwadi:
1. Boats are available from Shendi (not frequent) to Ratanwadi. It takes an hour from Shendi to reach Ratanwadi.
2. Alternately, one can walk 4 kms from Shendi to place called Morshood. From here, small boats can take you across the lake to nearest bank of Ratanwadi.
How to reach Kumshet from Ratangad via Katrabai pass:
On the way from Ratanwadi to Ratangad, we reach a junction from where, left would lead to the ladders of ratangad, while straight path would take you towards Katrabai pass. From the junction, one walk ahead. The route passes below the Agni baan Pinnacle and then one has to take first right in the woods. One can see sign H in between. Little ahead one route goes back in left, but one takes the route going right with mountain on right side. The route will climb up to the Katarbai pass. At the pass, route straight down would lead to Kumshet. Path right takes you to small temple of Katrabai, while route left traverse along the ridge to Ghanchakkar.
How to reach Kumshet to Pachnai:
One can take the broad path ahead of the school in Kumshet and follow the path towards left little ahead. After walking ahead, there are trails going on left towards Rajur. One needs to walk towards the right towards the Mula river. There is a plateau where you can see Mula river down on right. One gets down to the place where 3 streams meet. We walk along the river banks with river on right. The river takes a left turn, we follow the river till a small village. On the top of hillock across the bank is the Patechi Vadi. A broad path from this village would take you straight to Pachnai. A well defined route from Pachnai can take you straight to Harishchandragad.
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!