Author of two books – "Brahmaputra – Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji " and "Sahyadris to Hindukush" – Maratha conquest of Lahore and Attock . Available on Amazon India . Writes history related articles for DNA , Swarajya Mag , Indiafacts etc.
The Kasara – Igatpuri region offers some of the best treks in Maharashtra . The tall imposing peaks , on an average taller than the rest of the Sahyadris , command the region . A beautiful panorama unfolds in front of us as we climb into Kasara ghat . Ratangad , Kalsubai , Katrabai , Alang , Madan , Kulang are some of the famous forts / peaks around here . On the flipside though , its not that close to Mumbai , and the connectivity to the various forts from the two road/rail heads viz Kasara and Igatpuri is horrible . So when Trek Mates organaised a one day trek to Ratangad , I jumped at the opportunity ! I had heard a lot about it . The beautiful temple at the base , fortifications , the ladders and chimney etc . I was really excited about going to that place . Starting from Dadar , by mini bus on the night of the 1st we made our way towards the Mumbai – Agra highway . We spent the time chatting , getting to know each other , singing songs ( not too many co operated in this dept 😡 ) and generally having fun all the way to Igatpuri . Everything went fine till we turned off the highway … and the signboards dissapeared like magic.
Our first target was Bhandardara or rather a village called Shendi near it . We drove for miles on the narrow potholed roads , keeping our eyes peeled for any board with Bhandardara written on it ! . We as in the driver , me , Pritam , Priti and Pranjal . Everyone else was fast asleep , oblivious to the confusion we had got into . We nearly missed a crucial turn towards Bhandardara , but avoided going off on a tangent thanks to Priti ! . Some fifty odd yards into the turn , some wise guy had put up a board with Bhandardara written on it . How were people supposed to spot it from the other road ? Anyways , at least we were on the right path ! . Another hour of driving along pitch dark roads , with not a vehicle passing us . Finally we came a Y junction , one road leading down to a village , other leading up to god knows where . I and Pranjal spotted a couple of boards in the darkness , at a position where they were of little help . But at least a board was there , before the junction ! Pritam and the driver got down , with torches , to read them . Not much help from those boards , most of them were pointing in the other direction . Infact , eka var lihila hota .. ‘ Vachnara murkha ahe ‘ !!! . With boards like those , we werent getting anywhere any quick ! . So deciding to take a chance , we took the road leading down . Luckily for us , a group of people in a jeep passed us in the opposite direction , and found we out that it was indeed the road leading to the village of Shendi after asking them . We passed a couple of resorts , but no sign of wherethe road was headed . Our mini bus entered some village and finally in the main chowk of the darned place .. a board … SHENDI !!!! . I heaved a sigh of relief . After nearly 2 hrs of roaming around , we had got to our first target . ” Ab bas 12 km . We should be there in half an hour ” said somebody . ” Yeah , I can catch up on some sleep . Mast paye pasroon zhopu ” . I reckoned we would be at Ratanwadi by 2 30 – 3 am . The place and its maze of roads had other plans though . Driving on after the village , some distance ahead , we saw a lane merge into ours . Not seeing any board around , we presumed we had to go straight ahead and continued on . and on . Nearly half an hour of driving , and Ratanwadi was still nowhere in sight . ” Perhaps we should ask somebody .” said Priti . ” Ask ? Its past 3 am !! ” ” We dont have a choice do we ? ” . She was right , we had to ask somebody , but whom . Me and Pritam scanned the sides of the road , and finally spotted a house . A single hut overlooking the tiny road . I was apprehensive wether we would find anyone there ! . ” Mama Mama ” shouted Priti ” आम्हाला Ratanwadi चा रास्तासपादत नाहीये .” No response . We knocked on the door . Still nothing . Some more shouting . Finally some sound from the cowshed adjoining the house . Now why would the guy be sleeping in the cowshed ?? His personal problem I guess , not our concern . Anyways he did tell us the way to the Ratanwadi . We retraced our road , back over the small bridge , to the Y intersection . Another half an hour of driving spent in doing that . Now where to I wondered . By this time , the group from Pune had made it past Shendi . So we asked them to drive down to the intersection . Priti , me , Pritam and Pranjal then made our way to another house located nearby . ‘ Last time we got lucky . Yeh toh pakka danda lekar bahar aane wala hain !! ‘ I said to myself . Luckily for us , he only had a torch in his hand . Apparently , one has to take a U turn at that intersection , back over the merging lane . Well , if they arent going to put up a sign board here , I wondered where they would !! . Our journey continued , the Innova from Pune racing ahead of us . Finally , a gate and a board saying ‘ Ratanwadi 15 km ‘ !! . I caught up on some sleep and awoke at day break . It was drizzling slightly when I woke up . The verdant green hills surrounding the village were looking very beautiful . That and the overcast light grey skies above , were a sight to see . We finally made it to the Amruteshwar temple by 6 am ! . We freshened up . ( Meaning I gargled my mouth , I had forgotten my toothpaste ! ) After a quick tea and breakfast of upma , which would have been quicker if the lady had been quicker , our trek started along the banks of the river Pravra . After going along its banks for some time , the track stopped at the river . This would be the first of four crossings . People waded through one by one . One guy did try some stunt of jumping from a stone in the river to the banks , and slipped badly . But luckily for him , not much damage was done . The trail led to a flat area , covered in a fresh green carpet of grass . It looked all the more better with tiny droplets of rain on it ! . We walked on and crossed the stream a second time and then almost immediately a third time . The green fields , with the river gushing through them , all surrounded by tall mountains , their tops kissed by white clouds created a beautiful sight . We could even see a twin waterfall on the mountain opposite us . After taking some snaps , we moved on . The trail then led into the forest and started rising upwards . After climbing for about half an hour , we came to another plateau , and our first proper view of Ratangad . The mountain was huge , covered in dense green forest with its top enshrouded in clouds . After another round of photography , the trek continued . We soon passed a bifurcation in the route , the road on the left leading to Pachnai ( Harishchandragad ) and the other one towards Ratangad . The trail then climbed into the jungle , and got steeper . We were by now surrounded by clouds , creating an eerie effect on the jungle around us . After about an hour of climbing , we came to the first ladder . The red ladder looked surreal as its final few steps disappeared into the clouds . The ladder itself seemed to be supported by stilts , which anchored it into the rocks below . Apart from a terribly shaky bannister , there wasn’t anything else to arrest a fall ! The last few rungs did not have any supports at all ! . It did look scary from below , but when I started climbing it , I realised it was actually pretty simple and quite safe ! . Then came another ladder . A bigger one , and a slightly tricky entry and exit to and from it . But no major hassles . I had a few snaps of myself taken here , and moved on to the chimney . The chimney is basically a very narrow rock patch leading to the Ganesh darwaja . Rocks on both sides had enclosed a gully barely wide enough for a person to fit ! . With help from the good holds carved into the sides I began ascending . The rope was becoming a liability here , hindering my movement ! The last hold was some distance away , and leg was getting entangled in the rope everytime I tried to reach for it . Finally , I managed somehow . The Ganesh darwaja gets its name from a small carving of Ganesh on one of its sides . It is the first door we encounter on the fort . The steps leading up to it have been blown up , hence the ladders and chimney . Further on , some steps leading to another door . This was Hanuman Darwaja , named after the carving of Hanuman on it . The door is , strangley , small in size , just about six feet I would say . The sides of the door were made of black basalt , arranged into a cylindrical shape . Walking on , we came to the Rani Mahal . The big cylindrical structure , barely visible through the transluscent clouds made for a beautiful sight . The ruined structure had a solitary bush growing out of it from one side . Completely devoid of any foliage , it seemed to almost compliment the black ruins it was now a part of . We returned back to the Hanuman darwaja . A few metres ahead was situated a small temple , the temple of Ratandevi herself ! Beyond it , a cave spacious enough for at least twenty people . We had our lunch here . Generous quantities of theplas among other things !!! . Now it was time to explore the fort . So we trooped off , towards the Rani Mahal and beyond it . After walking for a few minutes , we came to a small pond with a tiny temple next to it . The temple had a broken idol of Nandi and the base of a shiv ling in it . The pond itself was the source of the Pravra river , which later formed the Bhandardara lake !!! . The rain had started to fall by now . Torrential rain and gusty winds to go with it . I walked on , holding the cape of my raincoat close to my head . The clouds had well and truly come into their element by now , and anything beyond five metres was barely visible ! . The grey silhouttes of the trees and bushes as they came nearer created an eerie effect . After about twenty minutes of walking , we came to the Trayambak darwaja . The biggest darwaja on the entire fort . Interestingly , the whole door , the steps leading to it , as also the steps leading further to another , smaller door had been carved out from one big monolith ! . Hats off to whosoever has built that thing ! . Passing through this door , after descending a dozen or so very slippery steps , we came to another flight of stairs . These stairs were narrow ,slippery and very steep .Couple of places it was an exposed descent I heard .These were the steps that led to the khutta sulka !! . But considering the torrential rain , winds and horrible visibility , we decided to leave Khutta sulka for some other trek ! We turned back from the Trayambak darwaja and made our way to the top of the fort . The climb was slightly steep , the strong winds adding that extra bit of thrill ! . Slowly but surely we made our way to the nedhe or natural hole in the rock . The nedhe was pretty big , I would say about seven feet wide and equally high . The wind literally howled through , making the fall raindrops float horizontally across it . Who knows what the nedhe would look like thousands of years from now ? Through the nedhe , we emerged on the other side of the fort , a kind of short cut ! . Here comes the best part of the trek . ट्रकवर कीडे करावे तर अशे । !! Basically , there was a pretty steep and extremely slippery rock patch leading down from the nedhe . Most of the people , fourteen to be precise , had a look at it and decided against using that route . I decided to give it a try in any case . First mistake .. I didnt see how Kiran and Vish had got down from there , so I had no idea of the route to take ! . Anyways , I decided to cross the bridge when I cam to it . One step , two steps , three steps the going was good ! . Then .. nothing , not a hold in sight ! I couldnt move a step forward , and going back by that slippery route was out of the question . I sat there for a few seconds , enjoying the view . By now Zeenat had found another parallel , simpler route and was helping everyone else descend . I looked at the stone in front of me . The smooth wet rock had a tinge of green on it . I saw a proper hold some distance away . Vish had by now come up by the adjoining scree to help . I stretched my leg to get the hold .. stretch .. stretch .. suddenly I was hurtling down the rock patch .. six feet in three seconds .. and somehow managed to put a brake on myself by gripping the neighbouring soil tightly !! . Among other things , anyone else wanting to try that route was definitely put off . After that it was pretty simple .. a scramble down the scree and I was done . Further ahead , after some more walking , we came to some tanks , and some fortifications . This structure looked like a bastion (बुरुज) turned inside out . The four hundred year old structure still looked strong and sturdy . Continuing on , we arrived back at the base of the hillock , on which Rani Mahal was situated . The wind blew really hard here , especially because of the proximity of the patch to the cliff’s edge . We soon started our descent , in torrential rain . The first few steps of the ladder felt like climbing through a waterfall ! Even the chimney before that had been pretty slippery , but thankfully everybody managed without any hassles .!! . The descent route had now become a gushing stream , all the more wet and slippery , but it was fun climbing down . After about a couple of hours of walking through the jungle , we were almost at the base . Suddenly someone spotted a waterfall , some distance into the woods . The sparkling white waters cascading over the smooth black rock made for a beautiful sight . The water was very cold , but fun to sit in . After another round of photography and general timepass in the waterfall , we continued our journey . I was feeling pretty cold by now , but the brisk walk to the base village helped . After some tea and snacks we started our journey home . Another fantastic and memorable trek , managed very well by Priti n Zeenat had come to an end .
Author - "Sahyadris to Hindukush - Maratha conquest of Lahore and Attock" & "Brahmaputra - The Story of Lachit Barphukan , Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji" . Writes history columns for DNA , Swarajya , Indiafacts , Rightlog , MyInd. Public speaker. Sails the high seas for a living.
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