Saturday, July 31, 2010

25-Jul-2010 : Katraj to Sinhagad

All those who are active in trekking around Pune are fascinated by the idea to reach Sinhagad from Katraj side. It is said that this trek should be done at night time during the summer. The moon light guides us. It takes entire night to complete the trek. Once we start the trek, we come out from either Katraj or Sinhagad. No escape in between.

Location and Getting there:
Take a PMT bus to Kondhanapoor from Swargate depot on Satara Road. This bus climbs the Katraj pass by old route. There is only one tunnel on the route. As soon as the tunnel is passed, we can request the driver to stop and get down. There is a small bungalow/quarter just outside the tunnel. A path climbs from the left side of the tunnel. Soon it reaches one very old Banyan tree. There is a temple beneath the beneath the tree. This is where the trek starts from.

The trek is nearly 15-16 kilometers. We have to climb 10-12 hills on the way. The hills nearly one third of the height of Sinhagad maybe. So it is a heavy trek. Alternatively, we can circumnavigate each hill. This way, we do not have to climb much. But we will have to walk a lot. And there is always a danger of loosing the way.

7:00 AM Started the trek
The leader had asked us to reach the Swargate bus stand by 6:00 AM. Finally nearly 20 of us had reached. It was drizzling. The bus started around 6:30 AM in the morning. I wondered what kind of rains would we encounter on the way to Sinhagad. Within half an hour, the bus dropped us outside the tunnel of the Katraj Ghaat.

Quickly we climbed from the left side of the road and reached the temple and the tree. We had the breakfast of patties. After a quick round of introduction, the leader gave guidance and set expectations for the trek. Some of us were coming for the trek for the first time. I was amazed by one elderly woman - a practicing doctor. She had done lot of treks earlier. For the last 5 years, she had stopped. And throughout the trek, she never lagged behind. She was always with the leading pack. On the treks, these kind of people inspire. Amazing stamina and amazing fitness.

Around 7:00 AM the trek started. Along the route, we met one group. They were preparing for a competition from Katraj to Sinhagad. All of them were collage girls with one teacher.

All hills at a distance wore green. On one side, we can see Pune city. On the other side, there are several hills. Soon we pass above the new tunnel. The wind was blowing strong. The constant wind made the grass incline on one side. It was drizzling intermittently. There were no birds, flowers, insects. Only green grass at a distance. All along the route, we could not see Sinhagad. Finally, we did not see it even when we were very near to it. It was immersed in the clouds.

After walking for nearly 6 hours now, we were hungry. It was raining heavily. We took out lunch in heavy rains. After resting for some time, we started. Now the speed was reduced.

In the next one and half hours, we reached the tarred road. The ascent on the right side takes to Sinhagad top. The descent on the left takes us to Kondhanapoor village.

It was half past 3 PM. Some of us started to have pain in their legs. A couple of them pulled all the way somehow despite knee pains, cramps. They did finish the trek. Hats off to their spirit. What else they could do?

It took us nearly another hour to reach Kondhanapoor village. The road was very scenic. It had rained heavily. All the fields were filled with rainwater. Rice was being planted.

Finally we got the bus to Swargate. It dropped us at Swargate by 5:00 PM. Thus ended one of the most rigorous treks.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

4-Jul-2010: Trek to Purandar and Vajragad forts

Purandar and Vajragad forts are twin forts near Sasawad, Pune. Both these forts are historically significant. They are very much accessible from Pune. Purandar and Vajragad are two of the forts in the basin of river Karha. Purandar is the place of Lord Indra. Indra's weapon is Vajra. Vajragad is very much important for Purandar.

Location and getting there

From Swargate, take a ST bus going via Saaswad. Alternatively, a PMT bus can be taken just outside the Swargate station. It takes nearly 1.5 hours to reach Saaswad from Swaargate, depending upon traffic in Pune city.

Just outside Saaswad station, there are six seater rickshaws which can drop us at the base of Purandar fort. The return journey also needs to be agreed with the same rickshaws. Otherwise it becomes difficult to get any conveyance back to Saaswad. These rickshaws take nearly half an hour to reach from Saaswad to the base of the Purandar fort.

Having a vehicle at your own disposal eases a lot of troubles.


Purandar fort has very significant history.

The place seems to be inhibited for several centuries. At the North East lies a twin peak. At the base of this hill, there is a two storied cave. There were some idols in this cave. Now, there are only traces of the idols. Hence the antiquity of this place cannot be ascertained. However it indicates that this place was inhabited since ages.

The earliest record of Purandar fort is the conquest of Purandar by Hasan Gangu, the first Bahamani king in 1350 AD. He fortified Purandar.

In 1596, Pune and Supe were granted to Maloji Bhosale, Shivaji Maharaj's grandfather. Purandar fort was included in this grant.

In 1646, Shivaji established his control on the fort. This was one of the first conquests by Shivaji Maharaj.

Sambhaji, Shivaji Maharaj's son was born here on 14-Mar-1657.

In 1665, Mughals besieged the fort under the command of Jai Singh I. A fierce battle ensured and Murarbaaji Deshpande laid his life in the battle. The fort went into the hands of Mughals. Treaty of Purandar was concluded at the base of this fort on 11-Jun-1665. Under the treaty, Shivaji Maharaj conceded control of 22 forts to Mughals. However, in 1670, Shivaji Maharaj won back the fort.

Under the Peshwas, the fort was a stronghold. Peshwas retreated to Purandar whenever Pune was under attack directly. In 1774, Swaai Madhavrao Peshwa was born on this fort. In 1776, second Treaty of Purandar was concluded between the Marathas and the British.

On 14-Mar-1818, General Pritzler marched into Vajragad. On 16-Mar-2010, Purandar was surrendered to the British without any fight as Vajragad commands Purandar fort.

During the British rule, the fort was used as a prison and sanatorium for the British soldiers. Quite a few buildings were constructed on the fort during this time.

After independence, the fort is in the command of NCC. One needs to take permission of the officer at the entrance to see the fort.

During these changes, we do not recognize the historical monuments. The birth place of Sambhaji Maharaj could not be ascertained. The existing residence of the Commanding Officer is built on the basement of the residence of the Peshwas. Probably this is where Swaai Madhavrao was born. Laxmi Naaraayan temple was beside the school. Cemetery was right next to the temple of Purandereshwar. Sakharam Bokil's residence was near the store of the Engineering Department.

7:00 AM Started from Swaargate

We had gathered at Swaargate station at around 6:30 AM. Going by public transport for any trek is a tough proposition. Waiting on a Bus Stand is even more difficult. The bus stands are not very clean and hygienic. In this case, we had to wait for just about half an hour. We boarded a bus going to Wai via Saasawad. In another 1 hour 30 minutes, we reached Saasawad. The bus stand looked much cleaner surprisingly. Probably because less number of commuters using the stand.

The breakfast was served in the bus stand itself. The leaders arranged for six seater, while we were seated in the station. Saasawad is the headquarter of Purandar taluka in Pune district. There are quite a few places we can visit in this taluka. This area is not developed for tourism. There is a scarcity of information due to apathy. The journey took us through Old Saasawad. We saw that the place has a rich history. There are several palaces and temples. One must visit the place just to explore the rich legacy.

The countryside was pleasant. It could have rained anytime. The landscape was green. And we were going at a slower pace in the six seater. (There were 10 of us in the six seater.) We could not locate the fort until we reached at the base of the fort. All the mountains were hidden in the clouds.

9:30 AM Started climbing the fort

The road passed the village Naaraayanpoor and took us at the base of the fort. The visibility was low. The clouds had descended. We could hardly see the base of the hill. There are two ways to reach the fort. One by the new motorized road. This road directly takes to the maachi. We need to take permission of NCC Commanding officer. The second route is the old one which takes us to Sir entrance. The third route through Kedaar entrance is closed. We started climbing by the second route. Soon we reached the part covered by the clouds.
Due to the recent rains, everything was green. Shrubs and trees had grown. Summer will show a completely different picture.

11:00 AM Reached maachi of the fort

In nearly one and half hour, we reached the main entrance (Sir entrance) of the fort. These days, there is no fortification connecting to the entrance. It is said that earlier, there were 5 entrances on the route. Now only one remains. A road passes right behind the entrance. The entrance has steps leading to its top. There is an idol of Ganapati in the entrance. This entrance is well preserved except for the wooden door that must have been present long back.
The first thing we saw on the maachi was an abandoned Church. The bell is missing from this Church. There is no plaque to provide information about the Church. Probably this was built for the British staying on the fort. The maachi of the fort has several buildings built by the British and abandoned by now.
There is a statue of Murarabaaji Deshpande. He fought the invading Mughals and perished to defend the fort in 1665.

12:00 PM Reached Kedaareshwar temple on the top

Soon, we started for the fortress. Even now, we could not see the fortress due to the clouds. There is a proper pathway to reach the fortress from the maachi. It starts just behind the Purandareshwar temple. This one is wider and one can easily walk into the fortress. The other way is to climb straight. This part has difficulty. One must be careful while trying this route.

Within half an hour, we reached the fortress. The entrance (Bini entranace) is in good condition. But there is one wooden frame probably added much later. As soon as we climb the entrance, another entrance and the adjoining bastion awaits us. It is perpendicular to the first entrance.
Notice the two openings in the fortification for guns. Upper opening is for longer range. The lower opening is for shorter range.
We entered the Bini entrance. Immediately we saw some building. The roof is collapsed. Part of the walls of this building are also collapsed. However, we can notice that there was provision for wooden pillars inside the walls. A similar arrangement is seen in the buildings near Takmak point on Raigad. Probably this arrangement was for storing the supplies. There are a couple of tanks and one hill. This hill is called Raajgaadi. It housed the palace. We could not explore the hill thinking that there is nothing on it or on the other side of the hill. Ammunition store was below the hill.
The area of the fortress towards Vajragad is a small hill. It is called Kandakada hill. It houses some bastions, one tank, and one small entrance. Vajragad can be seen from closer distance. This place is just 3-4 meters wide at places.

We saw the area near the entrance and proceeded towards Kedaareshwar temple. Along the route, we could see wells/tanks, crumbling buildings all immersed in mist. Soon we reached a water tank called Mhasoba tank. The plain road is narrow and there is a danger of falling in the tank. Hence we descend from the other side and climb. Kedaar entrance is very near from this place. After walking nearly 20-30 minutes, we reached a flight of stairs. The visibility was very poor.
And soon, we reached Kedaareshwar temple. It is a Shiva temple, very simple in style yet very beautiful. It is situated on the highest point of the fort. There is very small area surrounding the temple.
Outside the temple, there one Nandi. It is covered with a mandap. Beside the Nandi, there is very old light tower. The light tower should predate the Nandi.
There is one samaadhi. No information is present about this construction.
It is said that there is another entrance (Kedaar entrance) just near the temple. However, it is closed. Due to mist, we could not see the anything around. We returned back to the entrance of the fortress. Had our lunch there. Vajragad could be seen in the distance. Not many of us did see the other extreme of the fortress (Kandakadaa hill). From the top of the fortress, we can see several buildings on the maachi of the fort.
We descended back to the maachi. On the maachi, we saw another monument of antiquity - Purendareshwar temple. It is a Shiva temple. There is another Shiva temple just behind the Purandareshwar temple. Now some of us were tired and did not want to see Vajragad. They all sat at one place. The remaining of us started for Vajragad.

2:00 PM Started for Vajragad fort

On the way to Vajragad, we saw several abandoned buildings. If roof is repaired, then they can be used again. One of them has smarak of Sambhaji Maharaj. He was born on this fort.

Vajragad seems very steep with vertical cliffs. But we traverse and reach the entrance. The entrance is not visible until we reach it. The last portion of the path has some steep ascent.

Vajragad was a potential threat for Purandar fort. It is almost equal in hight. Purandar can be easy target for cannons from Vajragad. Hence the hill is fortified.

2:45 PM Reached Vajragad fort

The entrance of the fort is well concealed. Now it is broken.
But once we enter the fort, we come into a plain ground. There are huge rocks in the center of the fort. One can circumvent the entire rock face. There are traces of existence of some buildings.
At the other end of the rocks, there is one entrance in the fortification. From this place, we can see one the lower part of Vajragad. One can descend and reach two temples - one Shiva temple (Roodreshwar) and one Hanuman temple. There are 3 tanks right next to the temples.

The far end of the lower ground has some fortification. Probably used for watching the surroundings. From this place, we can see the other side of the Vajragad. We can realize that this fort complex is susceptible for attacks from the gradual slopes.
From this extreme of the fort, Purandar and Vajragad can be seen together.

4:00 PM Back to maachi

After spending nearly an hour on top of the fort, we started to descend back to the maachi. Now we explored some of the abandoned buildings. These buildings had fireplaces, big halls, verandas. If the roof is repaired, then these buildings can be functional again. These buildings indicate that the fort had been some camp for the British. Nowadays, NCC has a camp on the fort. But nothing is maintained.

Within half an hour, we returned to the maachi. We could not locate the place where Sambhaji Maharaj was born. Nor could we locate the place where Sawaai Madhavrao Peshwa was born.

Immediately, we started to descend to the base village. The six seater was waiting for us to take back to Saaswad. In nearly half an hour, we were back to the base of the fort.

5:00 PM Naarayanpoor

The six seater took us into Naarayanpoor village. The village is famous for Datta temple. However adjoining the Datta temple, there is ancient Shiva temple. It must be nearly 800-1000 years old. There are six pillars. Probably they constructed a hall in front of the temple. The top portion is constructed with bricks. Now it is painted taking out antiquity of the monument. It only indicates that this place must have been important during earlier times.

6:00 PM Saaswad

The six seater dropped us back at Saaswad bus stand. Now getting back to Pune on a Sunday evening is really difficult. We struggled a lot to get some space in any of the buses going to Pune but in vain. Finally after nearly an hour's wait, some of us boarded one bus. Others stood in the bus.

8:00 PM Pune

The bus dropped us at Swaargate bus stand by around 8 PM.

Thus ended another good trek. I was glad to see the ancient temple in Naarayanpoor. However we could not preserve the crumbling heritage. Our neglect, apathy comes in between.

On the Purandar maachi itself, what was the need to construct so many Shiv temples? Having only one and maintaining it would have been far better.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

27-Jun-2010: Trek to Sinhagad

Sinhagad (सिंहगड) is fort adjoining Pune city. It is host to many historical events. It was closely associated with Shivaji Maharaj. The fort is so accessible to Pune that every holiday, several people throng the place as a picnic spot. Just a few years ago, the fort was visible from most of the places in Pune. Due to recent increase in high rise buildings in and around Pune, the fort can be seen from fewer places.

Location and getting there:
a) From Shaniwar Waada, there are city buses plying to the fort. On Sunday, the frequency is very good. It takes more than one hour and thirty minutes to reach the base.
b) From Swargate, there are buses plying to Kondhanapoor village through Katraj Ghat (pass). As soon as the road climbs the Katraj Ghat, there is a village on the highway called Nasarapoor. Take a right turn from this place. Another 10 kms will take you to Kondhanapoor village. From the village, there is a tarred road which joins the tarred road from Aatkarwaadi. I am not sure if there is any trekking route from Kondhanapoor village.
c) The other option is to take your own vehicle and proceed on Sinhagad Road. The road winds through Khadakwaaslaa military academy, Khadakwaaslaa dam, Donaje village. Before it reaches the base of the fort, the road starts climbing on the left side. That takes it straight to parking lot above.
Aatkarwaadi is the base village of the fort. We enter the fort from Pune entrance. The other entrance of the fort is Kalyaan entrance.

The fort has a long history which predates Muslim rule in the area. It was originally named as Kondhana after sage Kaundinya. This name was prevalent during Shivaji Maharaj's times. The entrance of the Kaundinyeshwar (कौन्दिन्येश्वर ) temple indicates its antiquity. The caves and the carvings indicate that it was probably in use for nearly two thousand years.

The fort was captured from a Koli tribal chief, Naag Nayak by Muhammad Bin Tughlak in 1328 AD. A Persian poem Shahanaama-E-Hind written in 1350 AD refers this fort as Kondhaanaa.

Shivaji Maharaj conquered this fort in 1647 by convincing Siddhi Amber - the Adilshahi guardian of the fort. In 1649, it had to be handed over to Adilshah as a bargain to release Shahaji Maharaj. In 1656, the fort was again won by Shivaji Maharaj by winning over the guardian of the fort.

In 1665, the fort was handed over to Mirza Raje Jaisingh as a part of the Purandar Treaty. In 1670, the fort was captured by Taanaaji Malusare. He laid his life to win the fort. He raided the fort on a dark night from an unimaginable side. The legend that he conquered the cliff with the help of a Monitor Lizard is not true. It remained under Maratha rule till 1689. The Mughals conquered the fort in 1689 after the death of Sambhaaji Maharaj. In 1693, Maratha sardaar Naavajee Balkawade captured the fort. Chatrapati Rajaraam took shelter of the fort during Mughal raids. He breathed his last on the fort on 3-Mar-1700.

Aurangzeb conquered the fort in 1703. The Marathas again took it over in 1706. It remained under Maratha control until 1818. The British conquered the fort in 1818.

Lokamanya Tilak purchased a house on the fort. He used to stay on the fort frequently. One of his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi took place on the fort.

Nowadays, the fort is used for training by National Defense Academy. The recruits are punished and sent to the fort with heavy loads on their back. Every Sunday, the students climb the fort it seems.

11:45 AM Started from the base village Aatkarwaadi
We reached the base village Aatkarwaadi by our vehicle. Along the Sinhagad Road, reach Khadakwaasala village. From there, proceed to Donjae village. At the crossroad, proceed straight. The road ends in Aatkarwaadi village. This village lies at the base of the Sinhagad fort. All along the route, there are several hotels, resorts, farms, farm houses. In the winter, raw jowar (hurada) is available. So near from Pune and yet so far from the crowded urban life. Alas, this is changing very fast due to overcrowding.

2:00 PM Reached the fort
We parked our two wheeler in front of one of the houses. The house owners charge 5 rupees for one two wheeler. Unfortunately, they do not give any snack or lunch. Probably because generally people bring food or they have it on the top of the fort.

The village road gradually converts into a pathway. The climb is gradual in the beginning. It is covered with trees. Suddenly, the tree cover vanishes. And we deal with gradual incline with no tree cover.

The Sun was shining bright near the base of the fort. The top of the fort was immersed in the clouds. The heat was unbearable at that moment. We persisted at our own pace. In an hour's time, we reached the temple on the way. The gradual incline gives way to steep slope now.
Climbing Sinhagad is a general pass time for Pune populace. Some do it for fitness, some just for the joy of it, some come because they are bored, some come for a picnic,... There is access right till the top of the fort. Hence anybody irrespective of the fitness level can visit the fort. It has become a picnic spot.

There are two ways one can climb Sinhagad on the same path. One is to go straight following an electric wire. This will have steep patches on the route. The other is to cross the straight path zigzag multiple times. That is very easy to follow.

Now the steep ascent began. We followed the zigzag path all through. Finally we reached the top. I cheered the children for climbing all through.

The youngsters trek recklessly. While descending, they just jump like Monkeys. It is fine as long as nothing happens. But if there is a sprain or fracture, it becomes a nightmare. It is always advisable to exercise caution.
By now, it started drizzling. Visibility reduced. The Television tower was invisible. We rested for a few minutes and the we went inside the fort to eat something. Now, the rain was pouring. We took out raincoats. There was rush all around. No shelter even to eat. We sat beneath one of the larger tree thinking there will be some shelter from the rain. We started eating whatever we had brought from the house. The rain increased. Now it was all drenched. As soon as we had lunch, the rain reduced.

Now we began exploring the fort. Recently the fort is improved to some extent. Pathways are paved. Some railings are installed. Alas, there is not much information about the fort. We saw the beauty of the nature. The clouds were every where. Visibility on the fort was very low.

We saw Kalyan Entrance from a distance. There is a large tank. There are guest houses of various organizations, individuals on the fort. There are communication towers.

Due to extremely low visibility, rains, and heavy crowd, we could not explore the fort much and decided to return back.

4:30 PM Started descending

After spending some time and rearranging the sac, we started to descend. Just to be sure that we reach the base much before sunset. We descended slowly at our own pace. Enjoying the beauty of the nature during monsoon. Still there were some people who were starting to climb. Not sure if they intended to reach the top before dusk.

6:15 PM Reached Aatkarwaadi
At our own pace, we reached Aatkarwaadi. Again rearranged the sac. Rested for some time. By now, many of the vehicles were already gone. The villagers have this one day to earn some extra income. They make sure that they earn most on that one day.

Content with the heavy workout, we headed home. Along the way, we enjoyed the beauty of the Khadakwaasalaa dam. There was heavy rush and traffic jam.