Monday, 11 May 2015

Harishchandragad Revisited - Apr2015

It was not the first time I was travelling to Harishchandragad. Earlier I visited the place in Feb 1997, Nov 1998, and in May 2001.Still the adventure spirit to trek was no less.In the course of time I had developed a longing for  Harishchandragad. I was about to travel to the place after a gap of almost fourteen years.My companions were Mukul Sharma and Rajratan Dupare. The three of us set for the journey on the morning of 12 April 2015 , from Kalyan. We took the 5.35 am first local-train from Kalyan to Kasara. The train had a mild rush till Titwala and afterwards it was a almost an empty train.As the train moved towards Kasara, we could feel the departure of hot April-humidity of  the Konkan and the arrival of the cool climate of the Sahyadri mountain ranges.
5.35 am Local train from Kalyan to Kasara

By 7.15 am , we were at the taxi-stand adjacent to  Kasara railway station.As the local-train reaches the Kasara station there is a curious crowd at the adjacent taxi-stand.The share taxi-drivers make a bee-line , soliciting for customers going to Nasik,Ghoti,Igatpuri, Akole etc.To add to the music, the MSRTC bus-conductors also solicit loudly for the customers so does the numerous vada-pav,bhajia and tea-stall vendors.Jostling our way through the crowd,we headed to the MSRTC bus to Akole. But alas ! the bus was full to the extent that we could not even step in.So we dropped the idea of travelling by bus and started enquiring for the share-taxis to Akole. There was a separate taxi-stand area for Akole share-taxis and we learnt that the current summer season  share-taxi rate to Rajur(on Akole route) was Rs.120/- per person,as against the normal rate of Rs.100/- per person.The taxi driver does not start till he has at least sixteen passengers in his princely SUV.Finally at about 8 am we left Kasara for Rajur(Taluka-Akole,Dist-Ahmednagar).The route was through NH-3 via Igatpuri,Ghoti and then leaving NH-3 at Ghoti and taking a right turn towards Bhandardara dam.Passing through the Kalsubai hill-ranges we finally reached Rajur at around 10.15 am. Rajur is a small village in the Akole tehsil of Ahmednagar district.As the taxi dropped us at Rajur, we hurried to the bus-stand to ensure  the availability of 10.30am Rajur-Pachnai bus.
Rajur bus stand

We were glad to learn that the bus was available.Soon we were on the Rajur-Pachnai country road and the bus was a typical worn-out tin-box bumping on the dusty roads.The road wounded through the hills leaving behind small villages dispersed in farmlands and forests.We glued our eyes to the distant panoramic hills and valleys and my companions were busy taking snaps of the beautiful country side.
Village deities at Lavali, on the way from Rajur to Pachnai

Till the village of Lavali it was a good motorable road,but after that the last 6 km road patch from Lavali to Pachnai was unpaved , yielding a highly bumpy ride.Interestingly this last 6km ride was the most scenic one , with lofty mountains, thick untouched forests and clean rivers.At one or two places the forest department had made watch towers and railings on the hill cliffs.For a nature-lover, exploring the Pachnai forest-area can be an interesting 3-days activity.Finally we reached Pachnai village at around 11.30am. It was our last destination to be reached by a vehicle.After this place we had to walk the ascending jungle-trails of the Sahyadris.We decided to have lunch at Pachnai village and then move on.Also I was thinking of meeting my old friend Walu Kisan Bharmal of Pachnai village. Pachnai is a small hamlet consisting of hutments of the tribal people.Recently the forest department has established a office at Pachnai, to collect entry-fees from visiting tourists.Also one hotel by the name Adinath Restaurant has been started at Pachnai by Bhagwanta Bharmal. 
Hotel Adinath - village Pachnai

Hotel Adinath, village Pachnai

Far from the typical city-hotel look, it is simply operated from one of the few pucca-houses built in Pachnai. Alighting from the bus, we headed for my friend Walu Kisan Bharmal's house but found it locked and so went to the one and only one Adinath restaurant of Pachnai. On the menu was homely Maharashtrian food of chapati,rice,dal and baingan-subji. We ordered a lunch for three and refreshed ourselves.As the lunch was being cooked,  we waited in the verandah. After some time my friend Walu Kisan Bharmal came to the restaurant to see me.We then visited his house for a cup of tea.
House of Walu Kisan Bharmal at village Pachnai

Walu Kisan Bharmal of village Pachnai

During my first visit to Harishchandragad in Feb 1997, Walu was our guide and after that during each trip, I made a point to pay him a short visit.As the herbal tea boiled on the hearth, we sat in his hut, talking and enquiring about each other. After the tea, Walu packed some rice for me ,harvested from his fields .I was only obliged to accept it.After that, the three of us along with Walu had a lunch at Adinath restaurant and soon we were packing for the onward journey.

Lunch at village Pachnai

Lunch at village Pachnai-Homely food

Lunch at village Pachnai - Hotel Adinath

Village well, Pachnai

We made about 2 liters of lemonade and added 1 full packet of Glucon-D to it.This would prevent us from de-hydration all along the onward journey.
Preparing the lemonade for the long trek journey

I requested Walu to accompany us till the summit and he readily agreed.Once more, Walu was my guide to Harishchandragad. So finally at around 2 pm we started our trek from Pachnai to Harishchandragad. As we walked in the lazy afternoon, after each step, we left Pachnai one-step below. As we ascended the hill, the Pachnai village below and the surrounding panorama was a picture perfect frame for our camera's.
Ready for the ascending trek journey

The beginning of the jungle trail for Harishchandragad

Information board by forest department.

Village Pachnai below

First stop at the partial cave

After ascending the steep climb, the first stop was in the partial caves.Here we had a small fruit break and lemonade, and continued our trek along a narrow trail with high mountain wall on the left side and a steep valley on the right.The atmosphere become cooler and humidity reduced drastically.Even a soft mountain breeze touching our sweaty fore-heads , would create an ample cooling effect.From here onwards, the sky became cloudy and light showers of rain were evident. The narrow trail finally ended in the dry basin of a jungle stream.The dry basin of the jungle stream was made up of  black porous lava rocks.Standing mid-way of the basin, one can have a grand view of the lofty mountains and the green valley below.
Dry basin of  a jungle stream

Basin of the jungle stream, made up of black porous lava rocks

Interesting rock patterns
Designs of natural vegetation on the lava rocks
the trail led through a thick jungle, where even the sun- light could hardly find an entry

Ascending further through the stream basin, the trail led through a thick jungle, where even the sun- light could hardly find an entry.My friend Walu, shared my sack load (10-12 Kg) from this point onwards. Walking through this thick vegetation for about 30-40 min, we finally reached the first plateau of the summit , from where the shrine of Harishchandragad was visible.It was a moment of joy for all four of us.
Walking through the thick vegetation for about 30-40 min, we finally reached the first plateau of the summit 

The shrine of Harishchandragad and the surrounding caves, visible from the first plateau

The journey from here was of 20-25 min and we happily covered the same.On the way we collected a little fire-wood for the night.
Moving from the first plateau towards the final summit.

There were about five temporary hotels at the destination.All hotels were of the type of make-shift jungle huts serving homely food items like chapati,dal,subji, rice, tea,butter-milk, kande-pohe etc.
A make shift hotel near Harishchandragad temple.

The big pool near the temple

The temple of Harishchandreshwar and the nearby ruins

One cattle-rearer with around 12 cows, was camping nearby.One of the hotel owners was Walu's friend and he had withdrawn his catering services due to lack of sufficient number of tourists.His shop(hut) was totally empty, and so we stacked our bags in his shop.We had a short tea-break and Walu took our leave to return to Pachnai. We then headed to see the Konkan kada, the panoramic view point and the main attraction of Harishchandragad. At Harishchandragad, normally tourists stay in the caves adjacent to the temple.
On the way from Harishchandragad to Konkan kada

The Shiva temple (Harishchandreshwar) is the focal point of the place.The Konkan-kada is to the west of this temple and  about 35 min walk from this place.The jungle path passes through numerous scenic points and ends at Konkan-kada, the majestic cliff offering a commanding view of the Konkan region below.One can admire the long Sahyadri mountain ranges on both sides and the deep misty valleys in between them.
The valley below , as seen from Konkan kada

The valley below , as seen from Konkan kada

The valley below , as seen from Konkan kada

The valley below , as seen from Konkan kada

The Konkan kada view point

Another view from Konkan kada

There were two hotels at Konkan-kada, one was closed and the other was marginally available.This hotel also provided tenting and camping facilities for tourists.We explored the Konkan-kada views from various locations and had a tea-break at the hotel.We reached the caves by dusk.We decided to camp for the night in one of the larger caves , called the Ganapati cave.
The Ganesh cave, our shelter for the night

Lord Ganesha, inside the cave

There are about 10-12 caves surrounding the temple.Being a off-season, there were no tourists residing at Harishchandragad that night.We could easily get accommodation in the Ganapati cave.We unpacked our luggage and started preparations for our supper.The first mission was to fetch drinking and cooking water and we brought the same from the water cisterns in the temple area.We lighted the traditional three-stone hearth and our place became warm and with golden illumination.The sitting mats were arranged near the hearth and the menu for the supper was Maggi. 
Lighting the fire for dinner

Controlling the cooking fire was a tough task

Finally our dinner was ready

After a tiring day, it was the most tasty food on earth
Controlling the firing of the hearth was a tedious task and the 2-minute Maggi took 1 hour to boil.After a hard-tiring day, it was the most tasty meal on the earth.We had a sumptuous dinner followed by a utensil cleaning session.We arranged our bedding's, deep inside the cave and lit a bonfire at the cave entrance, to keep away the wild animals (if any) in the night.As we laid on the cave floor bedding, we were fast asleep.
Bedding for the night
Being a new place, I could not sleep for long, and occasionally woke in between.It was a mysterious night with all kinds of sounds of the nocturnal animals and birds.However , in between the sounds, there was a remarkable silence of the forest and the stars of the night sky were extra ordinarily clear.I was amazed to see so much stars in the sky.The occasional fire-fly with a fascinating luminosity, only added charm to the dark.
Good morning !
Morning breakfast - fresh hot milk and cookies
Morning breakfast
At dawn, we purchased fresh cow milk from a nearby cattle grazing camp and our morning breakfast was a full glass of hot milk and cookies.After the morning activities, we spent some time in exploring the adjacent caves.The caves were of all sizes, and some even had elementary sculptures inside them.Some caves had water cisterns attached to them.But alas ! the visiting tourists had littered the caves and the water cisterns were too much polluted.This was a new finding for me, during this re-visit after fourteen years.We then , once again headed to Konkan kada for having a morning view of the valley.We spent some time at Konkan kada, admiring the morning mist in the valley and the vast expanse of the long Sahyadri mountain ranges.

Cooking soaked grams for the lunch

Exploring the adjacent caves
A morning view of the valley from Konkan kada

One can admire the long Sahyadri mountain ranges and the deep misty valleys in between them.

We then decided to ascend the Taramati point which was adjacent to the Konkan Kada and the highest peak in that region.A general thumb rule of the trekkers is that Harishchandragad trek is incomplete without visiting the Taramati point.So we started our hike to Taramati. Again the jungle trail passed through scrubs and sometimes through thick vegetation.The route from Konkan kada to Taramati point being less frequented by trekkers, the jungle trail becomes obscure at one or two places and one has to find the way using common-sense.A recent observation is that , on the Konkan kada-Taramati route, on exposed rock-patches at two places , the forest department has installed  iron-ladders.However the iron-ladders are not safe and trekkers need to be careful on the same.
On way from Konkan kada to Taramati point

A momento from the forest

On the way to Taramati point

A naturally formed window in the rocks, on the way to Taramati point
It took us around 1.5 hour to reach Taramati summit.From the Taramati point one can have a grand view of the region.The NH222 (Kalyan - Ahmednagar - Nanded - Nirmal) highway looked like a slender serpent sneaking through the scenic Malshej ghat.Mountain ranges upto Nane-ghat,Ajoba,Ghanchakkar and Ghodishep could be easily viewed from here.One could clearly observe the low-lying Konkan below and the flat Deccan plateau situated at a height.
Taramati point, the highest point of the region

Taramati point
Harishchandragad viewed from Taramati point
We had a quick snack of biscuits and lemonade, and then started the descend.We ascended from the western side (Konkankada side) of Taramati point, but we decided to return to our caves from the eastern-side of Taramati.For us, this was a exploration of a new forest route.A jungle trail was visible in that direction and we felt confident of the route.After descending for about 45 min. we reached our cave at around 11.45 am.The sun was  blazing furiously. On reaching the caves we found that, our Ganapati cave was occupied by a group of about 40-50 school picnickers from some nearby town.In one corner of the cave , we had a lunch of boiled soaked-chana with a variety of salad and masala. 
Afternoon lunch - Boiled chana with salad

Relishing the afternoon lunch

After a hearty meal, we spent about two hours resting and exploring the temple and the Saptatirtha cave.The Saptatirtha cave is a special attraction because the cave is full of waist-deep water with a Shiva-linga in the centre. Again the plastic pollution in and around the Saptatirtha cave was a cause of concern. 

Saptatirtha cave at Harishchandragad

Saptatirtha cave at Harishchandragad

Inside the Saptatirtha cave at Harishchandragad

Harishchandreshwar temple

Harishchandreshwar temple

Harishchandreshwar temple

Old sculptures - Harishchandreshwar temple

Vishnu mandir - Harishchandreshwar temple

Harishchandreshwar temple 

Harishchandreshwar temple

Harishchandreshwar temple

Harishchandreshwar temple

The ceiling - Harishchandreshwar temple

Ancient sculptures - Harishchandreshwar temple

Ancient sculptures - Harishchandreshwar temple

Entrance - Harishchandreshwar temple

Old ruins near the temple
Old ruins near the temple

Old ruins near the temple

Finally in the late afternoon, we started our return journey from Harishchandragad.Before leaving we purchased 1 litre curd from the local cattle-rearer and made about 2-litre of thick tasty butter-milk.This was our re-hydration drink on the way.Also we filled our water-bottles from the water cisterns in the temple.For the return journey, we took the Tolarkhind-Khireshwar-Khubi phata route.Already it was a cloudy sky and rains were evident.By the time we reached nearby Bale Killa, there was a heavy downpour accompanied with thunder and lightening.We took refuge below a few trees but in vain.We were all drenched in the heavy downpour.We then decided to continue our journey in the rains.Descending the Tolarkhind, in the presence of rains,thunder and lightening was a unique experience. Tolarkhind is a exposed rock-patch of about 200 ft and the path through it is a full vertical descend. Watching the deep valley before us,we only had the rock crevices for  clutching.It was a thrilling experience.

Fascinating wild flowers with a pleasant aroma - On the return journey via Tolarkhind-Khireshwar

Drenched in the rains - On the return journey via Tolarkhind-Khireshwar

A view of Tolar khind - Return journey

After descending the Tolarkhind, we had to cover the long forest path which was simply a dried up and rocky jungle stream.After walking for about two hours, we finally reached the village of Khireshwar at the mountain base.We were totally drenched and shivering with cold.Our bodies were aching and needed some rest.We halted at a small hotel in Khireshwar and had a snacks of tea and biscuits.The hot tea was very much needed for us.From here we had to cover a distance of 6 Km to reach NH222 at Khubi phata. Fortunately we got a local jeep (taxi) and we could easily move ahead to our next destination.
Snacks of tea and biscuits at Khireshwar village

A distant view of Tolar khind from Khireshwar village

Photo courtesy :
1.Sh.Mukul Sharma
2.Sh.Rajratan Dupare
3.Sh.Ashish Nimsarkar

Some little known facts about Harishchandragad

1.Rainbow: Especially in May the edge of the Konkan cliff often gives an excellent view of the curious phenomenon called the Circular Rainbow. In 1835 Colonel Sykes during periods of fogs and mists  observed several times the circular rainbow, which from its rareness is spoken of only as a possibility.

2.The caves were formerly used as health resorts in the hot season by the district officers. Mr. Harrison, a former Collector (1836-1843), built a bungalow near the caves  which was burnt down.

3.In the beginning of May 1818 during the last Maratha War, Harishchandragad was taken  by a detachment under Captain Sykes.

4.To the north the first drop is a cliff of 200 feet which runs for a great distance along the hill side. The grandest cliff, about 2,000 feet, faces west overlooking the Konkan. Ascent by this cliff was not uncommon. The sockets in which the standards for working the rope and pulley or some similar climbing apparatus were fixed are still seen at the top of the cliff. As they were destroyed by Captain Mackintosh in about 1820. Little but ruined traces are left of the fortifications of Harishchandragad.

5.The ruins of the gate appear at the top of the Lavali Kotul pathway and a few places where an escalade is possible. Lavali Kotul still shows the remains of the fortifications.

Reference :
The Ahmednagar District Gazetter

Some critical concerns of the present
1. Harishchandragad is now-a-days a hot destination for campers and hikers and as such frequented by many tourists.
2. The place is  gravely endangered by the alarming levels of plastic pollution everywhere.
3. The numerous water cisterns at the summit are very much polluted to the extent that they are no more usable.
4. Strict Pollution control and overall supervision of the place by district/state administration  is very much required.


ashish sharma said...

Blog is exceptionally well written. Extremely good and apt pics make the description lively one. Natural beauty has been well captured.

No doubt the place must have been a formidable paradise, still the vivid description with bright and lively pics of the serene landscape in your blog lets the reader spell bound. Last 3 points of the blog were unique ones, reminding trekkers & amateurs to maintain the beauty in an eco-friendly manner.

bdg said...

nice blog while reading blog I have vertually made this trip thanks for nice write up