Harishchandra – via Khireshvar : June 2009

I had heard and read reams upon reams about this place . The famed Konkan kada , the long hike , the temple at the top had all contributed in creating a huge aura about the place . And believe me , Harischandragad did not disappoint one bit . This is one place you would feel like visiting time and again . I used to think initially , that people who have done that trek some thirty – forty times got to have a screw loose , but I have changed my opinion now . Anyways , let me start from the beginning itself , try and describe something in words which even photos and videos will fall woefully short of ! . Here goes …

I started from my house on the evening of the 11th of June , all set for the trek to Harishchandragad . As usual , I was the lone guy from Navi Mumbai , and ended up travelling all the way to Thane all alone . No issues , just that it gets a bit boring ! From Thane , another train to Kalyan . This was the first time I was travelling in one of the new purple rakes of the railways , and I was impressed ! . Chrome plated handle bars for standing passengers , more space , cleaner, and with a digital board which displayed the next station . Cool ! Plus a voiceover which read it out , incase you cant / dont read . ( the voice keeps repeating the name so many times , it bugs you in the end ! ) It was a pleasant uneventful journey . I also met Nilesh Patil , our trek leader , couple of stations before Kalyan , and we spent some time chatting about past treks , which is what most trekkers do when they meet on a trek !
Alighting at Kalyan , I made my way to the common meeting point , the display board on platform one . Mohit and Mudit and another guy , Bhandari I think , were already there . After the usual hi hellos and getting introduced to each other , we waited for the others to arrive . They all did one by one , or some times in twos or threes , till there were about 20 of us on the platform . One girl , some Khushi Punjabi , hadnt reached there yet . The ST for Khubi Phata was about to leave , and as every moment passed , it made us even more anxious . Finally , Nilesh asked Vikram and Bittu to at least get evryone into the bus . One party could go on its way .
As usual , it was utter chaos outside the station . We proceeded to the bus stand , located right next to it , after dodging the dozen or so rickshaws and the dozens of pededstrians who came in our way . Good thing we had reserved seats in the bus , so everyone got a place to sit . Nilesh , Vikram and Khushi had to unfortunately take another bus , which left half an hour later .
The long drive to Khubi phata in Malshej Ghat was spent in total darkness . No one spoke much and for long the only sound I could hear was the bus’ engine . We wound our way up the ghat near Junnar . When we returned two days later , in the daytime , I would realise what a pristine valley we were driving over ( with enough thrills provided by the bus driver ! ) In the black of the night though , it was just another drab ghat ! . We finally reached Khubi phata at around 1 am . The driver had conviently dropped us off a stop earlier , so we ended up walking a further two kilometres !!
We finally began the long walk from Khubi phata to Khireshwar under cloud covered skies . Every now and then the moon would peep through a gap in the clouds , creating an eerie effect as the thin wisps of clouds around it gave off a dull glow . Most of us were new to each other , so there was plenty to talk about ! Made some really good friends on that five kilometre nocturnal hike !
We reached the village of khireshwar in about an hour , and made ourselves comfortable in the small open area in front of a house . I had postponed buying proper bedding yet again , and so found myself tossing and turning on the thin satranji I had brought along ! . Anyways , sleep did come finally , for about half an hour . Some bloody cock had started crowing . I checked my watch .. 3 30 am !!! . Worst part , that bird was on snooze .. it kept crowing every half hour !! I slept fitfully after that . Between the hard ground and the crowing cock , I couldnt expect much !
The next day dawned bright and clear . I had my first look at Harishchandragad . The top of the huge mountain was covered in thick white clouds . As the clouds moved , I recognised a nedha or natural orifice in the rock on the extreme left side . We freshened up , had our breakfast and soon began the climb up Harishcndrgad . ( henceforth Harish ) From Khireshwar , a dirt track led all the way to Tolar khind , the pass between Harish and an adjoining mountain . The hike was pretty simple , with a well worn track winding its way up the jungle . Our group of about twenty five , soon got split into two , with the seven – eight of us some distance ahead of the rest .
In a way that was good though , it afforded us some rest as we waited for the others to catch up .
The track wound its way through the jungle , some times rising , some times staying flat . The sun beat down on our backs as we made our way to the rock of Tolar Khind . I had forgotten to bring my cap along and soon had beads of sweat forming on my forehead ! . After trekking for about an hour and half , we came to a bifurcation in the track . A stone bearing a sculpture of a lion was placed at this spot , near a tree . Like with most other such artefacts , it too had been converted into a quasi temple , with saffron paint (shendur) and associated things near it .
Further on , we took the road to the left , and soon found ourself at the rock patch . It had plenty of holds carved into it , big enough to fit atleast one foot , if not both ! A rusted railing provided some more security . An easy climb up this part brought us to the second part of the rock patch . Perhaps , if I had done Harish earlier on , before Gorakh , Haji Malang , Alang etc .. that patch might have seemed a tad ‘ thrilling ‘ ! . Anyways , I soon began to climb the second part . Here too , holds , almost like steps had been carved out at nice comfortable heights . Apart from a couple of places , where I had to be careful about the narrow path , this too was an easy climb . Some great photo opportunities in this patch . Of the patch itself , the surrounding mountains , people climbing up etc . The track then traversed the mountain for some distance , again with steel bars stuck on its periphery for support ! . Some more scrambling up the scree and we were done with Tolar Khind ! . And almost as if to welcome us , one dude had set up a stall right there on that small plateau , with ready to serve Nimbu sarbat and buttermilk ( taak ) ! Since we had again pulled ahead , our small group decided to take a small break here . And with nothing else to do , we treated ourselves to some refreshing nimbu sarbat !!! .
A trail led to the left of the stall , then turned right towards the jungle . Here it again bifurcated , one muddy track descending on the left , another track going flat to the right . We took the one on the left . ( take this route if u want to skip hiking over seven small hills . The muddy track looks misleading at first , but takes you to the balle killa . The one on the right IS misleading )
After hiking some more , which involved skidding over scree a couple of times , we found ourselves at the base of the bale killa . Its strong walls could be made out from here , situated atop the small hillock . I could see many cows grazing on the little grass left on the hill . The hike continued for about half an hour more before the ___ of the temple became visible .It must have been about 12 by then .The intricately carved structure looked beautiful , especially with its golden ‘ shikhar ‘ shining brilliantly in the afternoon sun . I stopped to click photos as the rest of the group proceeded to the caves located some distance away . The temple was old , at least 1400 years , from what I had read about the place . Nearby was a pond , with steps leading down to it . Many small temples lay strewn all around the bigger temple . The unmistakable signs of a huge temple complex were there to see!
Must have been one heck of a place at its zenith ! I said to myself .
Proceeding to the cave , I plonked my sack amongst the others and sat down for lunch with my friends . The cave itself was quite cool , protected as it was by the hillside on three sides . It was one of 3 -4 caves carved out in the hillside by our Satvahan ancestors . We trekkers surely owe them a lot for making trekking a pleasure in the 21st century ! . Without the steps , caves , water tanks etc carved out by them a couple of millenia ago , trekking would be a pain ! . So , sitting in a cave , which was once the abode of monks seeking solitude from noisy crowds , we chatted and joked as we had our lunch . Basically that meant everyone eating everyone’s lunch ! .
My stomach full , I went for a stroll outside . In the distance I could see the top of the temple . The huge mountains of the Malshej ghat / Kasara region could also be seen quite clearly . Far far away in the distance , the top of Kalsubai stood out between the ‘ V ‘ formed by two lesser peaks.
Back in the cave , with nothing else to do , I took a small nap ! हो ! मस्त पाय ताणून ज्होपलो तीन तास !.
Finally , I was woken up at around four by Vikram . ” Time for Konkan Kada ! ” . I sprang to my feet . The crowning glory was right around the corner . We all trooped out of the cave , in a single file . The path climbed to the left , onto a small plateau . then it descended into a thicket further on . A small fifteen minute hike later , we came to a huge plateau . I started walking to its edge , to Kokan kada . Fact is , you cannot get even a hint of the sight until you are almost upon it . About ten feet from the edge , the huge gorge came into view . I gaped in amazement ( I also said something , but I cant write that here ! ) . I was completely unprepared for this amazing natural phenomenon . Millions of years of weathering had carved out a bowl from the mountain . If you could imagine a bowl 1700 feet wide , turned on its side , you might start to get an idea of Kokan Kada .
The wind blew strongly into my face as I stood near the edge , the latest among perhaps thousands of people to have stood there and admired the view , down the ages . The same wind , blowing across the Konkan had , over millions of years , carved out the Kokan kada from the side of the cliff . Layers of basalt which made up the mountain stood exposed , each carrying a tale of its own . I tossed a coin into the valley , only to see the wind pick it up and toss it back over my head ! .
Far in the distance , I could see Bhairavgad , Naneghat , Jivdhan and Khada parsi . Closer , the peaks of Sindola and Nakta stood out from the stunning landscape . We spent a lot of time here , clicking photos , enjoying the view ! Some of my friends from school had also , co incidentally , planned a Harish trek that same day ! I half expected to bump into them near the kada . But two hours passed , and no sign of anyone . By this time , the sun had begun to set . Peaks which stood out in great detail just minutes before , now turned into eerie purple – brown silhouettes . Clouds had gathered on the horizon , casting a grey shadow over the valley . Slowly but surely , the twilight gave way to the dark night as we made our way back to the caves . By the time we reached the smaller plateau , night had well and truly set in . With the dark jungle just a few metres away , and the lonely and dark mountain stretching out before us , it was the perfect time and place for some ‘ghost stories ‘ . Well , I learnt that not only Torna , but even Rajgad and rajmachi harbour spirits . So now , nocturnal treks to these places have become high priority ! . The talk meandered on , from one story to another , each one of them told as seriously as possible ! . From a shapeless ghost on a trade route to people appearing and dissapearing with no reason , the stories had everything .” I think I saw something move over there ” Ravi announced suddenly . ” Where ? ” someone asked him . I chuckled a bit . ‘ Ise kehte hain behti ganga mein haath dho lena !! ‘ Some of the guys then actually got up to check out if there was anything in the jungle . ” Dikha toh nahin … lekin tha waha par kuch toh . ! ” ” Yeah something big ” . It was all a prank of course , and they all settled down once more . One guy was a bit more than disturbed ” chalo chaltein hain . ” , he declared , his voice quivering slightly . I could hardly stop laughing . We wanted to stay , but he insisted , and we finally trooped off to the caves .
Very soon , we had a roaring bon fire going with the firewood we had collected . Dinner consisted of pithla bhaat , bhakri . Authentic Maharashtrian cuisine . We got it readymade , cooked by the villager on his chulah . I hadnt sat around a bon fire since a very long time , and it was really special , having dinner in shared plates with so many great friends . Hungry as I was , I quickly polished off most of the ‘ shared plate ‘ !! .
Dinner done , I sat around here and there , chatting with people . All of a sudden , I saw a couple of torch lights on the plateau next to us . They finally emerged out of the thicket , not one or two but 9 of them ! I was pleasantly surprised to see all my friends , though I must stay I expected to meet them much earlier , and was a tad worried . Even as we were busy shaking hands and wasting time in general his and hellos , somebody emerged from the jungle . He was bare , save for the large number of leaves around his waist . Smears of yellow paint on his bare torso and face and necklaces of beads and rudraksha adorned his neck . In either hand , he carried a blazing ‘torch’ or mashaal . Even I was startled for a moment ! . But Bhandare had done an absolutely fantastic job with the get up and make up . He seemed even more authentic when he did a bit of mono acting around the bon fire ! . My friends though , seemed to be startled out of their wits . Some welcome to Harishchandragad . !
Soon , long sessions of anectodes , songs , and other timepass followed . As the night wore on , a thick fog engulfed us . Very soon , it was impossible to see beyond a few feet and also a bit chilly. We continued our timepass for a some more time , then retired to the cave for a good night’s sleep .
Early next morning , a beautiful sight greeted me as I stepped out of the cave . A mist covered everything for as far as I could see . The outline of the temple stood out from behind the thin veil. I settled down with a cup of tea to soak in the pleasant atmosphere . Slowly , as the sun rose the mist dissapeared , and the temple came into view once again ! . Everyone else had by now woken up . But ideally , they should have been awake at least an hour earlier .
Next on the itenary was Taramati , the summit of Harishchandragad . The 3rd ( or is it 2nd ? ) highest point in the whole state ! . Almost directly opposite to the temple , a path led into the jungle , and upwards . Dry leaves and roots typical of deciduous forests covered our route to the top . We also spent some time at a huge tree , climbing onto it (all twenty seven of us ) , and clicking photos . Before long , the summit came into view . My school friends had started much earlier , and were now descending from it . The route to the top was windy , and steep in a couple of places . A steep rocky patch and we were nearly done . Taramati rose high and above over everything else in the vicinity . A huge carpet of clouds stretched out before our eyes . In fact , the summit seemed to lead into the clouds themselves . A pole , with torn saffron standards marked the peak . The strong winds had torn at the flags , but they still fluttered proudly , whatever was left of them . To the right , down below , I could see the huge ‘C’ shape of the Kokankada , as also the temple and to my left the village . Apart from that , the peaks of Malshej ghat presented an unparalleled panaroma .
I started descending at about 11 30 , and was done by 2 . One of my school friend’s bike had got punctured while travelling from khubi phata the previous night , so they had another adventure to complete ! . We pushed off by 4 30 – 5 . By bus to Kalyan . Then by local to Thane and finally to Sanpada .
A great and unforgettable trek had come to an end .

Published by Aneesh Gokhale

Author - "Brahmaputra - The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji" , "Sahyadris to Hindukush" and " Battles of the Maratha Empire". Written over thirty five articles for a history column in DNA Newspaper. Published on many occasions in online publications such as IndiaFacts , Swarajya , TFI , Creative India , Indic Today and others. Given talks on Maratha and Assamese history at Pune Intl Lit Fest , INTACH (Delhi), Wadia College (Pune), Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership (Mumbai), Thakur College's TCET Talk (Mumbai), Pondy Lit Fest (Pondicherry), various Rotary Clubs and educational institutions in Pune and Mumbai. Also, qualified to navigate a ship.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: