Ratangad Trek – August 2009

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 .

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.

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