Google Hangouts session on Indian History with Vision India Foundation , IIT D , IIT R students

Some days ago, I was invited for a Google Hangout session by a group of IIT Delhi and IIT Roorkee students, some of them associated with a group named Vision India foundation. It was indeed a privilege and honour for me to interact with them. A big thank you to Shubham Kumar for organizing the whole thing.  A wide variety of topics were discussed, right from what inspired me to write Brahmaputra to why is the general outlook towards Indian history the way it is etc. It was a sort of question answer session. Unfortunately we could not do a video recording, but Ishan Batta very helpfully noted down the questions that were asked during the interaction, so now I can present it in this format. Hope you enjoy reading it.  More like a transcript.
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Well so there we are , technology being put to good use here – me sitting in Australia and some of them are  in India, rest of them in the United States. We had to decide not just an appropriate time but appropriate time zone too. Pleasantries get exchanged. A brief intro round follows, participants in the interaction are students, working professionals, students pursuing a PhD etc. After which we try recording the whole thing, but doesn’t work out. Anyways, it is to be a discussion where I answer questions. There are nine – ten of us.  It’s something I am really looking forward too

Q : How did you go about researching for Brahmaputra – The Story of Lachit Barphukan ? 

A : Researching was not very easy, if I have to compare with research for my earlier book, Sahyadris to Hindukush. Reference books are not easy to come by when it comes to Assamese history. But my trip to Guwahati was really helpful, they have this area there called Pan Bazaar which has lots of old well established bookshops. So that’s where I found the best reference books. Also, there is Dept of Historical and Antiquarian Studies near the Guwahati High Court, where I found this awesome book called Tarikh e Ashaam – greatly helped me painting an accurate picture of the times. This was the reading and reference part. I also went to various places in and around Guwahati associated with Lachit Barphukan. So that really helped me in creating an atmosphere in the book that could immerse a person in seventeenth century Assam. And last but not the least, I spoke to Assamese people, both when in Assam and from home. That gave me a good overview of the Tai Ahom customs, culture and most importantly what the name Lachit Barphukan means for the average Assamese person.

Q: We have a narrative for Freedom Struggle . Is there a similar narrative about the counter to Islamic invasions ?

A : Yes, as far back as 736 AD, a grand alliance of Indian kings defeated an Arab invasion which threatened everything from Kashmir to Gujarat. Alliance which included Bappa Rawal , Nagabhatta , Chalukyas of Badami etc. I have written about it in some detail in this DNA Article  . Then we have Raja Suheldev and Battle of Baraich, the efforts of Hemchandra and further in the south we had Vijayanagar Empire , Chhatrapati Shivaji and Maratha empire. Talking of the east we have the Eastern Ganga and Gajapati dynasties of Odisha and ofcourse the Ahoms of Assam. But unfortunately all this is rather ignored.

Q: Why do you think that is the case ?

A : Well , I would say because we have had one particular ideology dominating the discourse for the past sixty – seventy years. The formal study course with regards to history is still centered around Delhi Sultanates etc . I have given talks in schools and colleges, and students are totally ignorant of other facets of  India’s history, even those which affected the whole subcontinent. But fortunately with help of social media , books etc an alternate narrative is slowly forming and becoming popular.

Q: And having a favourable government at centre will definitely help in this.

A : Well let us hope so. So far not much has been done. Anyways, I would concentrate on how can I contribute to building this alternate narrative.

Q: List of books you would suggest for someone wanting to know more about medieval India ? 

A : I have written on Maratha history and Assamese history, so I will limit myself to that.
I found GS Sardesai’s books extremely informative and useful when writing my first book. Also books such as Seir Mutaqherin, and those by Kincaid and Parasnis. On Assamese history , Prof H K Barpujari’s books are quite detailed and extensive. Tarikh e Ashaam, like I mentioned earlier, is also a good contemporary source. S K Bhuyan another name which comes to mind. British authors have also written extensively, on every region in the country and their books are readily accessible today. But, one must be wary of the pro – British slant as also some errors in their work.

Q: Mughal – Assam struggle had nothing to do with Hindu – Muslim. Will that be correct way to put it ? 
A : Actually Ram Singh was leading Mughal armies of essentially Aurangzeb. In the years preceding and following this struggle, he had issued many edicts which were solely aimed at Hindus – such as Jaziya. So Lachit Barphukan, in achieving what he did, definitely protected the Indic way of life and Assamese culture from the depradations of the Mughal empire. He laid the foundations on which kings like Rudra Singha and Rajeshwar Singha could build. So I would say it was a struggle between Assam and Mughals to protect and preserve the age old Indic culture of the North East.

Q : When you started writing , was there an interest in historical fiction which inspired you ?

A : My interest in history, Maratha history, was sparked in large part due to my trekking hobby. I started off wanting to write a story that was entirely fiction, but then as I read more and more on the topic, I realised that a dramatisation of actual events, without playing around with historical facts will appeal more. And thats how I went about writing my first book – Sahyadris to Hindukush.

Q : How do you keep all those facts and references you read together ; and manage to weave it into a book ? 

A : Well, I would say my second book – Brahmaputra – I managed to plan it way I wanted to. Essentially you should be clear about the time period you want the book to fit in, so automatically anything beyond that is not required to be read in detail. Some people follow a set time everyday to write – might work for them, does not work for me . I prefer writing for six – eight hours on one day and then nothing at all for next few days. Helps to note relevant reference books when working on certain chapter. If I felt some part of the story needed more exploring to do reference wise, I would make a note there that more referencing needs to be done and move on. Even my chapters are not written in one order from start  to finish, it all depended on how best my ideas were formed.

Q : Writing as a part time career ? 

A : Well , can’t really say, since I would call mine a “hobby” . But definitely if it is being looked at as a full or part earning source than the question of how much are you capable of earning via your writing and books comes in. It is not easy, since writing a book is just the first step towards earning anything out of it.

Q : Coming back to history, Aneesh do you think Aurangzeb’s motives were religious or purely political ? 

A: I would call it religio – political. Aurangzeb was a pious and devout person. His religious worldview definitely impacted his politics. At a time when people were in general much more religious, it would be hard to separate the two. He passed many religious edicts, which had nothing to do with politics. And he heavily depended on the clergy for his political hold on the far flung empire, passing many laws compliant with the Sharia, but shorn of administrative or political logic.

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Many thanks Aneesh, it was a great session interacting with you. Hope we can look forward to more sessions like these and also meeting in person if possible.

Been my pleasure. Thank you.

Aneesh Gokhale’s two books can be purchased at Amazon India

Khushal Khan Khattak v/s Aurangzeb – North West Frontier , 1670s

A : Hasan Abdal . B: Peshawar C : Jamrud  D: Ali Masjid . E : KabulA : Hasan Abdal . B: Peshawar C : Jamrud D: Ali Masjid . E : Kabul

 May I tell you the secrets of my heart?

Khushal Khan likes that grave where the dust of Mughal’s horse’s boots could not fall.

Khushal Khan KhattakKhushal Khan Khattak

Khushal Khan Khattak was born around 1613 at a place called Akoray near today’s Attock , Pakistan . His family had already been serving the Mughals for two whole generations when he was born . In fact , for the first half of his life , he too stuck to the family tradition . His father , Shehbaz Khan Khattak was a Mughal mansabdar under Shah Jahan , given a jagir in the Nowshera region and was responsible for the Attock – Peshawar portion of the Grand Trunk Road . Shehbaz Khan Khattak was loyal to Delhi , to the point of waging war against his fellow Pathans ,  Yusufzai renegades ,  in the region  . Shehbaz Khan Khattak fell fighting the Yusufzai in 1645 , a battle in which Khushal Khan Khattak himself participated and was wounded . In view of the yoeman services rendered by two generations of Khattaks , Shah Jahan confirmed Khushal as mansabdar in place of his father and affairs were to continue as before .

AurangzebAurangzeb

The advent of Aurangzeb and the Pathan revolt :
At the time Aurangzeb ascended the Mughal throne , by murdering his brothers and throwing the incumbent , Shah Jahan , into prison , the empire spread from the mountains beyond Kabul to the northern edge of the Sahyadris . And from the Indus to Bengal . Much of it had been static since the times of Jalaluddin Akbar  and had more or less stayed the same during the Jehangir and Shah Jahan’s reigns . If at all , it had expanded – for eg Shah Jahan’s conquest and annexation of the Nizam Shahi in the Deccan . This was what Aurangzeb obtained by sheer dint of being born at the famed Lal Qila . But the 6th Mughals politics was of a different brand . His approach was heavy handed , and he treated even his highest ranking officers with great suspicion . Anyone appearing to get to big for his shoes for quickly cut to size . At this point in time , Kabul subah was very much in Mughal hands . The Mughal subhedar at Kabul was responsible for the whole region spanning upto Attock on the river Indus . This included the cities of Peshawar , Jalalabad and the Khyber Pass proper . Amin Khan Shahdar , the governor in 1658 , managed to spread canards against Khushal Khan at Delhi , making Aurangzeb suspicious . It led him to believe that Khushal Khan was getting too powerful in the region , and soon issued orders for his arrest . So , around 1658 , Khushal Khan Khattak , whose family had served the Mughals for nearly a century , found himself in a prison at Ranthambore . Almost a decade of incarceration and torture followed , during which time he developed a life long hatred of the Mughals ; which amply showed in his poetry composed at the time . And ofcourse , he maintained that he was entirely innocent . As a couplet of him says :           ” I am in Aurangzeb’s prison undeservedly . Allah alone knows about these allegations and slander . ”   Finally , in 1668 , he was released and asked to accompany Mohammed Amin Khan on an expedition to the frontier to quell trouble being caused by the Yusufzais . While two decades earlier he had fallen upon them without a care for his life , his loyalty to the Mughal banner had now taken a severe beating. He stayed largely  aloof , and soon detached himself from the Mughals . His next few years were spent in penning poetry which aimed to rouse a sense of patriotism amongst the Pashtuns and encourage them to fight for their independence from Aurangzeb , having been insulted by him .

An example is given below : ( I guess it rhymes in the Pashto version )  

Cup Bearer, fill the flagon, fill it high,

Khushal shall sing of war in revelry,

Now blood has stained the hands of the pashtun youth, 

The talons of the hawke that knows no ruth,

 For full 5 years the tribal sword has flashed, keen edged and bright,

Since first the battle clashed, Upon tatara’s peak,

where at one blow, Twice twenty thousand of the moghul foe, Perished, wives, sisters, all that they held dear, 

Fell captive to the all conquering afghan spear, 

A slaughter in the Khyber Pass :
The Yusufzais were soon brutally crushed and Mohd. Amin Khan assumed subhedari of Kabul . In 1672 , he had moved to Peshawar to oversee some official work . Around this point of time , Aurangzeb had abolished ‘rahdari ‘  or toll – tax , across the empire ; causing much heartburn especially in regions like the Khyber Pass , where there were few other sources of income .  This coupled with allegations that Mohammed Amin Khan’s soldiers had molested women of the Safi tribe in what is now Kunar in Pakistan ( East of Peshawar ) caused widespread resentment . When fellow tribesmen killed the offenders , Mohammed Amin Khan responded by coming down heavily on the tribals themselves , aggravating the situation . Owing to the above two reasons , the Afridis of the Khyber Pass rose in revolt and quietly closed the pass , not allowing a caravan to pass to Kabul . Akmal Khan Afridi ( referred to in some places as Darya Khan Afridi ) declared himself independent and went to the extent of minting coins in his name . Considering that both Peshawar and Kabul were in Mughal hands , it was a brave if not audacious thing to do . He then proclaimed jihad , or holy war , against Aurangzeb ; who in Agra was busy painting himself as a model of piety  .     Mohammed Amin Khan responded in the usual ham handed manner , pouring men and money into the pass . A 15,000 strong Mughal army entered the Khyber , alongwith the usual entourage of camp followers . The Afridi and other tribes let them pass unmolested upto Ali Masjid , located at the narrowest point in the Khyber Pass . A point so narrow , it was tough work for even two caravans to pass each other . At Ali Masjid , arrows , stones , bullets and boulders rained down on the hapless Mughal army . The armed tribes swooped down on them from all sides and slaughtered the entire army . At the end of the mayhem , just four of the original 15,000 remained alive . 20,000 of the non combatants were imprisoned and sent off to Central Asia . Amin Khan had to bribe his own family out of captivity ! The resounding success of the Afridis brough many Pashtun tribes together . Khushal Khan’s poetry inspired them to unite against a common enemy . Many minor scuffles followed , in which alongwith Darya Khan Afridi and Aimal Khan Mohmand , Khushal Khan Khattak showed that he was as proficient with the sword as with the pen .The Afridis , Shinwaris , Mohmands , Safi and many tribes participated .

More troubles for Aurangzeb :
Recognising the gravity of the problem ,  Aurangzeb sent Mahabat Khan and the Rajput Maharaja Jaswant Singh to the region . Marathi readers will readily recognise the latter name . He stationed himself at Jamrud at the mouth of the Khyber , but was unable to make much headway . Irritated , Aurangzeb sent the relatively inexperienced Shujat Khan –  much to the chagrin of the two sent in advance .    Shujat , eager to make a good impression , recklessly charged the Mohmands and other tribes at the Karapa pass in Feb 1674 –  the usual story of slaughter and mayhem followed . Shujat himself got killed and it was solely due to 500 Rajputs sent by Jaswant Singh that some were able to return back alive . Khushal Khan Khattak’s poetry continued to inspire and the Mughals got another drubbing at Gandamak .

Aurangzeb at Hasan Abdal :

Now the padishah himself decided to move closer to the action , in the same month that Shivaji crowned himself Chhatrapati . In June 1674 , Aurangzeb arrived at Hasan Abdal , located between Rawalpindi and Peshawar and promptly took matters into his own hands .  He bribed tribe after tribe with tons of gold from the overflowing Mughal treasury . Then he dug into age old rivalries to set them against one another . He employed every trick in the book – sam ,daam , dand , bhed . Rajputs were poured into the conflict , and the best of Aurangzeb’s Pathan warriors – Aga Khan and Diler Khan deployed to crush the rebellion . Although there were a few reverses , the tide began to turn by 1675 . Aimal Khan and Darya Khan were both killed battling the Mughals , and Khushal Khan Khattak was unable to keep up the anti Mughal front .  Worst of all , his sons were not a patch on him , with at least one – Behram Khan – openly defecting to Aurangzeb . In 1676 , Aurangzeb returned to Agra . A settlement was reached with the tribes , which involved an annual payment of 12 lakhs . Fortunately the governor at Kabul did not try any new tricks and an uneasy peace was maintained . A dejected Khushal Khan retired to the  heart of Afridi dominated lands of the frontier . He continued to write poems about his love for his nation , unity , sacrifice etc etc .

Aftermath and effect :

Although the Mughals managed to re establish themselves , things were never the same again . The Pathan backbone of the Mughals had been broken . And because the Rajputs had been pitted against them , the Pathans could not be relied upon for countering the Rajput rebellion which followed . The days of Diler Khan and Mirza Raje Jai Singh would never be repeated again in Mughal history . Aurangzeb had to delay his invasion of the Deccan until much later – a crucial window  which allowed  more time for the Marathas to build a base which to launch the 27 year War of Independence . Although the frontier had always been a not so easy area , Jehangir and Shah Jahan had managed to keep the peace with various maliks ( tribal chiefs ) . Aurangzeb failed on this count .

Khushal Khan’s legacy :

He invoked a sense of nationalism amongst the Pashtuns . Inspired them to think as one nation and together face Mughal imperialism . Although he was not completely successful , the seeds he planted did not go completely waste .His ideals make him an inspirational figure , not just  the fact that he opposed the Mughals . For even Nadir Shah has that to his credit .   Mughal control of the frontier was forever  lost soon after Aurangzeb died .

 

Khushal Khan's grave at Akkora Khattak .Khushal Khan’s grave at Akkora Khattak .

Khushal Khan’s grave on which is written : “Da Afghan Pa nang mai watarala toora, nangyalai da zamanai Khushal Khattak Yam” (translation: “I have taken up the sword to defend the pride of the Afghan, I am Khushal Khattak, the honorable man of the age.”)

 

Ahmed Shah Abdali – Afghanistan’s Father of the nation

abdalikabar

Many will be surprised to know that Ahmed Shah Abdali is regarded as the ‘ Father of the nation ‘ by all of Afghanistan . This post will try to examine as to how did Abdali come to acquire this exalted status amongst his country men . If merely imperialism was the key , then Mohammad Ghori , Ghaznavi can lay a better claim . Although he too indulged in loot , plunder , killing kafirs and razing temples ; that alone would not help him built an empire and win Panipat III against the formidable Marathas . I shall try to examine Abdali purely from a political and military POV , shorn of any religious or emotional bent .

1) Tutelage under Nadir Shah : 

Most Indians come across Abdali only with reference to 1761 . Before that he is regarded a non entity ! But the fact is , that Abdali earned his spurs under Nadir Shah himself ! He was present as a 17 yr old in the Persian’s king’s army as early as 1739 , when Nadir Shah carried away the Peacock throne and koh i noor . Undoubtedly , the campaign must have helped Abdali gain vital experience and a ‘feel’ of the politics in India . Infact , his tribe was part of the personal bodyguard of Nadir Shah .

2) Campaigns to Khorasan 

Abdali undertook campaigns to Herat , Nishapur , Mashad on the boundary of today’s Afghanistan in 1750 and 1751 . Apart from learning to fight in the bitter cold against well entrenched enemies , Abdali also learned a thing or two about politics and treachery during those few years .
On the first campaign of the region  , Saiffudin Khan , a Nishapur noble kept Abdali outside the gates . He promised to settle Nishapur’s internal feuds and join Abdali . But the promise never materialised ! After weeks of waiting , Abdali found that he was losing his soldiers to frostbite . He lost more when crossing the Heri Rood .. a frozen river which cracked under the weight of the artillery . The whole episode , throughout which Abdali stayed with his army , must have taught many things to Abdali . Ahmed Shah returned the next year , and conquered these places . This habit of ‘travelling with the camp’ is another reason why Abdali is held in high regard by the Afghans . Military leaders who have been part of the military camp , Attila the Hun , Napolean , Bajirao and others have always commanded respect .

3) Indian campaigns 

Abdali started off with a vow to unite all Pakhtuns , we could say he had a nascent notion of ‘nation’ . His first attack on India though , ended in defeat at Sirhind . But Abdali had the brains to retreat and return to fight another day . What he could not achieve in 1748 , he achieved in 1751 . Panipat was his 5th invasion , showing that he must have had some sort of working knowledge of the region , experience gained through 4 previous invasions .

4) Influence on Pakhtuns of India : 

The Pathans in India , at the time of Abdali , dominated the Rohilkhand region of today’s western UP . The areas around Rae Bareilly . They formed a curious mixture of religious zealots and Pashtun ‘nationalists’ forever allied to their ruler in Kandahar . The fact that people like Najib ud Daulah and Sadullah Khan regarded Ahmed Shah Abdali of far away Kandahar as their ‘leader ‘ shows a couple of things . One , that Abdali’s leadership over the warring tribes must have been worth noting , so much so that disparate Pakhtuns even in Rohilkhand looked up to him . Secondly , the ‘nationalist’ nature of Pakhtun politics should not be overlooked here . Najib wanted to maintain Pathan control over Ganga – Jamuna doab , and for this , he even opposed Muslims sometimes .

5) Nusir Khan Baloch 

Abdali had a blow hot , blow cold relation with the Baloch . Nusir Khan resented his crowning , but was present on all those raids on Herat etc . He was with Abdali during the invasion of 1756 . But the issue of the zikri sect and Nusir Khan Baloch refusal to pay tribute to Abdali  is where Abdali’s diplomacy shines through . Although Abdali laid seige to Kalat and clashed with the Baloch near Mustang over the shelter given to the zikris , the issue was settled quickly . Inspite of suffering a 5 month long seige , Abdali was able to once again win Nusir Khan Baloch over to his side , and convince him to join him for India’s fifth invasion .

Ofcourse , Panipat was given a religious colour by Shah Wali Ullah and Najib ud Daulah , but that alone did not help Abdali win or become Afghan ‘ rashtrapita ‘ .His empire stretched from today’s Mashad – Herat to Baltistan in PoK and from the Uzbekistan – Tajikistan region to the precints of Indus .  I believe above post has cast sufficient light on the topic .

In my book , a historical novel   ‘ Sahyadris to Hindukush ‘ I have tried to touch upon some of these aspects and the events surrounding them in a dramatized manner .

© Aneesh Gokhale 

Interview in DNA Newspaper

Sahyadris to Hindukush brings alive the life and times of the Indian subcontinent at the height of Maratha rule. Yogesh Pawar caught up with author Aneesh Gokhale to find out what made him take on this theme

Sahyadris to Hindukush (Flipkart & Amazon India)

Sahyadris to Hindukush – The Maratha Conquest of Lahore and Attock
stoh-new1

Second edition !!!

Pgs : 187

Price : Rs 200

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Interview in DNA viz Sahyadris to Hindukush

A historical novel describing the rise and spread of the Maratha empire , culminating in the conquest of Attock , situated on the banks of the holy river Indus ( Sindhu ) .’

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The year is 1740 and the budding Maratha empire has already spread across much of western and central Hindustan .Their commander Bajirao has died an unexpected and untimely death . The onus is now on Balaji Bajirao , Shahu , Holkar , Scindia , Bhosale and others to keep their flag flying high .
At the same time , across the Hindukush mountains far to the northwest , the Pakhtuns are coalescing under their new leader – Ahmed Shah Abdali .
This novel attempts to bring alive the life and times of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century , complete with it’s grimy politics and stories of defeat , betrayal , inspiration and victory .

PRAISE FOR THE BOOK –

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“With these tales of courage, Aneesh Gokhale helps rebuild our pride in our land and its people”—  Mr Yogesh Pawar ( Asst Editor , DNA)

” A lot of pains have been taken by the author to research and write this book. To have done so at such a young age is indeed commendable” — Prof Bhalchandra Kolhatkar, ( Kesri, Pune)

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Read sample pages here !

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The Idea of India !

The Evolving Idea of India – Revisiting History

The following write up of mine was published in a publication by IPPAI ­ a Delhi based organisation / think tank . Was also invited to speak at their Goa seminar (IPPAI’s Regulator’s and Policymakers Retreat , Marriot Hotel , Goa) but couldn’t make it unfortunately. Extremely greatful to Pathikrit Payne for having my  write up published.

 I was invited as Chief Guest for the Independence Day function at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Pune) on 15th Aug 2015. I gave a speech there along similar lines. 

What exactly do we understand by the words, ‘the idea of India?’. Although the Republic of India has existed for nearly seventy years, when we speak of India, we always refer to its five­ thousand­ year­ old history and not just its existence as an independent country for the past sixty­ eight years. This is unique, although it has become so routine for us, that we fail to realise this. Ask anyone as to what is the first image that springs to their mind when someone says ‘India’, and it could be anything: Yoga, Ramayan, Ashoka, Chandragupta or perhaps the Taj Mahal, Mahatma Gandhi or even the modern IT revolution. For me the idea of India is the continual thread that joins the hoary past to the 21st century. If this link is broken, the concept of India, as we know, dies with it. As an example, let us apply the same logic to America. What comes to mind when we say USA? Along with the strides in the modern age, perhaps Abraham Lincoln, or may be Christopher Columbus. Nothing further. Although people have lived in America too for over five­thousand years, the prevalent image of USA does not take us much beyond 1492, the year it was ‘discovered’. Thus, the thread which takes us to the age of the Rig Ved is something to be cherished and preserved, because, as we see, the idea of India immediately encapsulates everything, from ancient Ayurved to modern day pharmacy giants, to cite an example. The idea of India can now be expounded into various spheres – cultural, religious, political, historical, etc. I will try and tackle the question from the history point of view and later, delve into how this idea of India also connects with the geography of the country. Our perspective of history should reflect this evolving idea of India. The narrative that is taught or imbued by the lay person is very important in this case. This narrative should reflect positivity and connect people to their past. Unless we feel we are directly connected to our remote and ancient times, we cannot feel proud of it. And the moment our history seems distant and remote, we feel a disconnect with it and the thread taking us there starts to strain. This present shape of India we see is something unique. For we have overcome centuries of domination to build this country by choice and run it with values based entirely on this land. This can be seen in the Ashok Stambh emblem of India and the many Sanskrit slogans of various government departments, to give an example. The last time something similar happened, Chandra Gupta Maurya was around. From the golden age of the Guptas and Mauryas, came a series of events which eventually brought us where we are today. All the  people and events in between are about how our ancestors preserved the idea of India. And about how they did not allow the link to the remote past to break. The sacrifices they made, the defeats they faced and most importantly, their victories. One can draw a loose line from the distant past to the Kingdom of Harshvardhan to the north and to the Rashtrakutas to the south. A line that joins the Gurjara Pratiharas and the Battle of Rajasthan and also weaves through the Delhi Sultanates and the Mughal Empire and the struggles and victories of Shivaji, the Marathas and our freedom fighters to culminate in today’s India. But to feel proud of this history and remember it, we must take a positive view of our land’s past. It is a human tendency to move on and forget the negatives and imbue the positives out of anything. If we regard our history as a series of failures, a sequence of defeats, then obviously at some point we will lose all connect with it. Who wants to associate with failures any way? When this happens, the idea of India which we have built and cherished will begin to suffer. Unfortunately, the way we look at history has for a long time taken very negative overtones. One is hard­ pressed to associate himself with or feel proud of this kind of writing of history. True, it is important to write about mistakes and defeats, but it is equally important that we know about the victories achieved, for these victories in the past are the stepping stones to today’s India. Each victory achieved in politics and on the battlefield by various Indian powers has contributed to the idea of India. In many ways our rendition of history is a reflection of the times. Through the 1970s and 1980s, this defeatist view of history, which went against the idea of India, prevailed. The country also reflected this rather sombre mood with its protectionism and inward looking policies. But as India has opened to the world, we find that people are willing to look afresh at the past, and derive and draw inspiration and positives from it. The evolution of the idea of India is a continuous process, and each age contributes to it in its own way. Thus if the remote past gave us the Vedas, the modern day has given us information technology, all building into the idea of India. So to understand why we are extremely lucky to be born in the India of today, knowledge of the past is essential. Only then can we appreciate that all the ethos that many of our ancestors fought and died for have been upheld by the Indian Republic. Since we are on the topic of history, I will also delve into geography a bit. Or to put in better words: it is history from a geographical perspective. Since the idea of India is not merely a thread that joins us to the remote past but also a line that joins the four corners of the country, it is important that we appreciate and understand this aspect too. Unfortunately, we have a very regional outlook towards studying history. How many of us have heard about the Cholas? Or the fact that they reached South­east Asia? How many of us have heard about the Gajapati Dynasty of Orissa or the Ahoms of Assam? These histories are not merely the histories of Tamil Nadu, Orissa or Assam but should be regarded as the history of India. We must recognise that these men fought for and upheld the idea of India in their own way in these corners of the country. They have helped preserve, expound and continue the thread that leads us to today. The idea of India has evolved in unique ways in all its regions and provinces, and thus the whole is more than the sum of its parts. So I would like to conclude by saying that the idea of India has evolved over a period of time and will continue to evolve. Although changing and adapting to the circumstances, it has a kernel which leads back to the ancient days. Various parts of the country have preserved and defended this ideal, and all of us should be aware of such events and personalities. Only when we realise the enormity of the political achievement that is the Republic of India, from a historical and geographical point of view, can we truly  appreciate the meaning of our Independence Day and Republic Day.

The views expressed are of author and do not necessarily represent the views of IPPAI.

© Aneesh Gokhale

Astansari – Dhaundasari (Konkan to Ghat)- Crazy trek !

I had been on one ‘offbeat ‘ trek with the trekking group  ‘ Offbeat Sahyadris ‘ before . It is something I like about this group , of doing treks other than well trodden routes . Its certainly their USP . So when Priti asked whether I could come for a trek from Valvan to Kandat , across two mountains , I readily agreed . In any case there had been a very long hiatus since I had trekked last , what with my job keeping me away from the country for half a year 😀 .   We , eight of us in all , started from Mumbai late on the 15th in a shiny red Tavera . We were to reach Khed first , a town deep in the Konkan before travelling on rural roads to a village called Valvan . From here , we were to trek to a village called Kandat in the ghat region and in Satara region proper . Konkan to Desh trek in short .      We reached Valvan early in the morning , after about seven hours on the road . Our guide for the trek was one guy from the village named Jangam . ( Janguman according to Yadnesh Bharne . Which gave us all a good laugh 😀 ) . So this Janguman , sorry Jangam ,  served us hot tea at his house while we took in breathtaking views of the massive Sahyadris all around us . The near vertical walls of basalt seemed to surround the village , with the dense jungles at their base contrasting beautifully . Meanwhile Priti and Jangam had got into a discussion regarding how much payment he was to receive .  [ Going off track here a bit . I believe trekkers should get together and decide who is to be paid how much and for what on such excursions . This dude was asking 200 per head ] . So after some haggling we settled for paying him 700 bucks for trekking all the way to Kandat , and after dropping our sleeping bags back into the Tavera ( high on misplaced confidence . We were dead sure of getting to Kandat  by evening , and had told our driver to be there !)  we began our trek . Our route took us up the extreme end of a nearby mountain called Parvatgad .  The route initially climbed gently along a well worn track , and became steeper as the we went higher . The last part was really steep , with plenty of dried grass and loose soil . It would have been quite a handful getting down by the same route ! . Finally , the route traversed the hill , with a valley on one side and passing by a huge boulder which seemed so much like a naturally formed Ganesha , we reached the top . An awesome panorama unfolded in front of us . Towards our right , we could see the famous forts of the Satara region , with Pratapgad amongst them . A sharp ridge rose up to the left and layer after layer of hills and mountains of the Sahyadris unfolded in front of us .    All this sight seeing was fine , but we had to now get down from this hill and to the village of Astan . ” Me davto ki . Hya hithe ”  ( I know the way . This way ) , our guide led us to the edge of the mountain . I had one look and said to myself “You gotta be kidding me ! ”  . I bet for some time everyone else felt the same way too . Our guy was asking us to descend a near vertical patch of about fifteen feet , which merged into a steep slope full of dried grass and scree . Very conviniently , this slope also stopped abruptly above a dense cluster of trees ! .  So we gingerly made our way down . Hats off to Yadnesh n Adi’s trekking skills here . Little  handholds and footholds got us past the first patch . Then a very narrow path traversed the hill , with plenty of scree on it , and descended towards the forest . After about half an hour of rather ‘exciting ‘  trekking , we managed to reach the floor of the forest . Phew ! . Worst part , there was a nice well worn path reaching that reaching from a much lower height . So all this effort was not required actually ! .  The photos below will tell part of the story 😀 .

The steep descent of Parvatgad . Totally unnecessary .The steep descent of Parvatgad . Totally unnecessary .

We reached the bottom of the rock patch , and a well worn path led away to the left and into the forest .   From here , the trek was one long walk through the forest , all along a massive and widge ridge which wound its way down to the village . The thick layer of dried golden brown and red leaves scrunched under our feet as we made our way to Astan . The dense forest formed a canopy over our heads , shielding us from the harsh noonday sun . A stream joined our path after about an hour of trekking and someone had thoughtfully put a pipe to channel the water . We continued along this path , till the pipe emptied into a small well . Plenty of water here for hunters , gatherers and other people from the village who must be frequenting that forest . It was around one in the afternoon by now , and we settled down to have lunch next to the well . Puran poli , bhakri , gajar , chutney , theple . Routine trekker fare ! . After spending sometime eating , we continued on the trail , which steadily descended till finally we exited the forest and the houses in the village with their typical brown roofs and mud walls became visible . Right in front of us loomed a huge mountain , and beyond it was our destination – Kandat .  We flopped down near a tree , couple of us going off to sleep .  The sun had got really harsh by now , and beads of sweat had begin trickling down by face . So while we were deciding what to do next .. our Janguman decided to ditch us 😐 . Very clearly the guy had been told to take us to Kandat , and here he was , saying that this would be it as far as the trek was concerned . “But this is just Astansari . What about Kandat ? “, said Priti, referring to the village we had just reached.

” I have to reach the temple at Chakdeo by evening . ”

” But you agreed in the morning ”

” It is Holi .. so I have to leave ”

Some conversation like that . Gist of the matter being , we were half way into the trek with no guide to take us further ! So we began  asking the villagers at Astan if there was anybody who could take us there . But most of them seemed to be absent from there for the festival . A few of the villagers told us about the temple of Nirabji , which we should aim for if we were to reach Kandat . At least we came to know that some sort of a route did exist to the other side of the mountain . We looked up the mountain . At least from where we were standing , there didn’t seem to be much of a route , but that was hard to tell .   About a quarter of the way up the hill was another cluster of houses . An easy and broad track led from Astansari to that cluster . Since we had not any luck in Astansari , we decided to try our luck here ! .  A lot of villagers were wondering why did we want to trek the whole distance when the goverment had built a road connecting Valvan to Kandat ! . But then there is no answer for that question ! Only a trekker will know why he walks over the mountains when he can drive ! Anyways , we reached that cluster around two in the afternoon . Parvatgad loomed in the distance now , the sharp edge of the descent we had successfuly tackled in the morning standing out against the sky . The col and its dense forest could also be seen , cascading down to the village . I was surprised actually , at how far we had travelled from Valvan ! . Our group took a short break here – nobody wanted to go plodding on a bare hill at that time of the afternoon ! A curious kid from the village kept us in her gaze all the time , like some sentry 😀 . We did give her a packet of biscuits afterwards . An old lady over there managed to give us some clear cut instructions regarding our further route .

“There is a singular house situated slightly higher up . The route begins from right behind the abode , and climbs steeply to the left most edge . Then a  walk on the ridge till we reach a saffron flag . Fifteen minutes from the flag , on the left , you cannot miss seeing the village ! ” — that was her advice .

All of us were now charged up .  It would take us around 3 hours we surmised . So by evening we thought we would be in Kandat . So all gung ho , rested and well stocked , we started the steep climb . Through the scree and boulders we made our way up the mountain . The massive block of basalt that was Parvatgad was looking even more beautiful now . The sun shone off it’s sheer walls and created a breathtaking site . Trekking our way up the mountain , we came to a small plateau and the deadly traverse loomed in front of us . I swear my heart skipped a beat on seeing that route . We continued on and gingerly entered the traverse . The traverse of Alang and Madan is a cakewalk compared to this . A very narrow path which hugged the mountain and traversed it to the ridge beyond stretched out in front of us . The path fell away sharply to the valley on our right , and mountain loomed ominiously on our left . Loads of scree all along the path made it even more ‘exciting ‘ . There were no handholds along the wall to our left , so just trusting our feet to hold onto the scree , we slowly made our way ahead .

A pic by Priti of the traverse ( red line )  :

Scary traverseScary traverse

After the traverse , the route again climbed very steeply . Since hardly anyone used this path , grass had grown plentiful on the slope , creating a rather slippery ascent . Again , there was little to hold us in case anyone fell , which fortunately didn’t happen . The slippery slope gave way to a ridge , from where we could see the entire panaroma all around us . At one end of our horizon was Parvatgad etc . At the other was Pratapgad and other forts . Everywhere we looked , there were layers upon layers of hills . The sun had begun to set by now , and we decided to hurry to our destination .  From the ridge , the path continued on to a hillock , where the grass had been burnt off , created a bald and exposed path . The loose soil scrunched under our feet , and every now and then a few bits were sent tumbling into the valley as we continued to ascend . The ridge narrowed even further , till it was only a few feet across . Then it abruptly ended in a rock face about fifteen feet high . Vishal and Sagar climbed up the patch and secured our rope to a tree . The rest of us climbed up , using the rope for support . From here , the route climbed through some more burnt patches , criss crossing the hill  . After about half an hour of walking we reached the flag , a saffron swallow tailed standard . The sun had well and truly set by now and the dark of the night had begun to envelope us . But we had reached the flag , so now we would see the village at any moment ( after all the lady had told us so . )    Then we got the shock of our lives . To the left , for miles at  a stretch , there was not a single light to be seen , leave alone a whole village ! . Vishal had in the meanwhile found another path. Slightly below the flag and to its right , was another well worn  though exposed path traversing the mountain and leading away to a plateau .On its own this traverse would be scary , but after what we had seen in the afternoon , this one seemed mild . So we made our way to the plateau . Still no luck . We could see the lights of Astan in the valley to our right , but nothing at all to the left . We were in a real quandary now . Had we really followed the correct route ? Going back the same way was out of the question . But why hadn’t we seen the village yet ? The full moon was shining brightly now and we decided to spend the night there on top of the mountain , in the scarce patch of open space we found . It was not the smoothest , poking into our backs like a thousand needles . We likened ourselves to Bheeshma of Mahabharat . ( sarcastic jokes come easily when you are in a soup ! ) . Then there was some futile hunting for a route on google maps – a total waste of time . Since we had so confidently tossed our sleeping mats n bags into the car , we had to sleep on the bare ground , with little cover . A small campfire kept us warm , as well as kept any wild animals which may have been lurking around away .   So that is how the first day of our trek came to an end .. on top of an unknown mountain , with us not knowing whether to go left , right or straight .

We travelled a long way

Walked a long wayWalked a long way

Day  2

 

 We woke up early , so as to not get tired walking under the hot sun later in the day . Sagar pointed out a few old bear tracks near where we were sleeping . So it had been a good idea to keep that fire alive all night ! . We followed a path created by bears most probably through the forest , reaching  a vantage point from where we hoped we could spot the village .  Disappointment awaited us . All around were only mountains upon layer of mountain . Now we were truly stuck . Straight down from where we had been sleeping , there was a dense clump of trees and bushes . We did not expect the route to lead that way . ( We later realised it did ) . We peered along the left edge of the mountain , and decided to make our way down the hill by way of a col we could see amongst the folds of basalt .    But reaching there was the real challenge .  There was obviously no path leading to it . So we cut and scraped and pushed our way through the dense ‘karvi ‘ bushes towards the col . Every few steps my sack was getting stuck in some or the other thorny bush or branch , much to my own chagrin . Crawling our way through the forest , we reached the forest , and were happy to see that it housed a stream , which gently cascaded downwards from there . There was a good chance it would take us all the way to the base of the hill . After all there were other hills – like Gorakhgad and Chanderi , where the whole trek consisted of a gently descending stream of water , which we had to just follow properly . Maybe this was one of them . Maybe it wasn’t  . There was only one way to find out !  So we continued . The path had broadened now , and there was little trouble from the trees and bushes . Large rounded boulders typical of streams made up our path now , and we could quickly descend . About two hours into the hike , we reached a small pond .. with clear and cold water in it . That really made us happy , since we had begun to run short of the vital element . Each of us had upto then just a litre or so with him . Not a very comforting thought when you have no idea whether you are to walk five kilometre further or twenty !! . Finding that pond , a remnant of what must be a mighty stream in the monsoons , was truly a godsend . Our legs had begun to tire from hours of walking by now and we decided to halt here for lunch . Quite a spot that was . We spotted birds like the Paradise Flycatcher and butterfly enthusiasts amongst us got to see lot of rare kinds of the winged and beautiful insects ! A ‘machaan ‘ set up at the spot by some hunter  gave us even more relief  . The first sign of civilisation !! Infact , a small but well worn path led into the forest just before this little pond of water .    After an hour of resting , we continued . The path considerably broadened now , and we had to make our way past huge boulders . It was looking more and more like the Chanderi trek . All of a sudden , the gentle decline came to an abrupt end . A twenty foot vertical fall stared back at us . There was always a chance of that happening when following a stream , and so there we were , staring at twenty feet of solid stone .    Fortunately we had brought ropes , carabiners , descenders – the works , alongwith us . With Sagar and Yadnesh on top , Aditya , Vishal and Priti managed to descend / rappel down the steep patch . Priti and Aditya proceeded to check the route further ahead , while the rest of us readied to descend  . In less than ten minutes , her voice crackled over the walkie talkie ( Offbeat Sahyadris carries these things , which I think is great from communication and safety point of view ) “Stop whatever you are doing . There is a thousand foot fall here . The place looks like Grand Canyon ! ”

pic of what Priti saw ahead :

Grand Canyon . And a thousand feet deep dead end .Grand Canyon . And a thousand feet deep dead end .

So now what ? We had been trekking for close to four hours now . Going back the way we came was going to be very tiring . Even so , doing the exposed traverses of the previous day was out of the question . We had reached a second dead end in as many days . Maybe try and descend the thousand foot cliff . Crazy idea , there were no takers for it . What about the path we had seen leading into the forest ? Plus there was a  ‘machaan ‘ , so obviously people can reach this place from somewhere ! .    We retraced our steps to the well worn track . This was about ten minutes walk from our ‘pond’ .  The well worn track wound its way into the forest , gently climbing and dipping as it wound its way around the mountain . For the first time we were seeing something ‘normal ‘ .  We hurried along , our strides quickly covering the ground beneath our feet . After two days of scree and exposed traverses , this seemed like a highway .   After about an hour of walking , we saw the village ! I was happy for one , I guess all of us were . Our pace quickened and descended rapidly to our destination.Until a few hours prior , we did not know even the direction in which it existed !  The village of Kandat was well and truly in sight now . It was only a matter of time before we reached it , hopped into our Tavera and headed home .

Or so we thought .

Kandat at last !Kandat at last !

Reach the village we did . And were immediately served cold taak ( buttermilk ) by a kind old woman . After two long hard days of trekking , the cold buttermilk in her simple mud house felt like heaven . We thanked her and went looking for our vehicle . It had been there that morning . Then the driver left with it . So now we had a new problem – after two days of finding the correct route , we got involved in finding our car and the driver. Grrrr .  Two guys went to the temple near the village , Rajas went to another village close by ( 5 km ) to try and phone the driver . When he returned an hour later, he had news for us ! Our hero had driven back to Valvan – the village where we had started – 25 km away .

Now what to do, since it would take him two hours to drive back. We decided to rent a vehicle to Valvan – from that village five km away.

A five kilometre walk along a tar road followed . After climbing up and down mountains all the time , these bonus five km bugged me no end . Cursing our luck we plodded to the village  . From there , we managed to get a rickety old jeep to Valvan . I am just glad it didn’t break down on the way ! . Janguman , pardon me , Jangam was there . I feel he was rather relieved to see us ! . We had missed Holi – quite  a big event in the Konkan , but were happy to have done the rather difficult trek  . And then we all hopped into our Tavera and headed home . And thats how a great trek came to an end .

Wish I could sign off on that note .

But our Tavera had other plans 😐 . As if two days of excitement had not been enough , there was another twist in the tale .  Somewhere near Panvel we turned off the highway  and onto some non descript internal road, to err.. save time ! Around fifteen minutes later we got a flat tyre . This was around twelve in the night ! . So there we were .. off  the highway , on a dim lit nondescript two lane road , with little sign of humans anywhere and a flat tyre . Some of us got down to remove the flat wheel . Others tried to get the stepny ready . Vehicles whizzed past , at the rate of perhaps one every ten minutes . Soon we found that our stepny was also flat !  Some pointless arguing over the phone with the Tavera’s owner about his punctured stepny  followed . But still , it was us who was suffering ! . Yadnesh and Aditya then managed to flag down a sumo and hitchhiked their way to a mechanic with the stepny in tow . They managed to return a good two hours later .. around 3 am . Now there was another surprise . The flat tyre just refused to budge from the axle ! . No amount of pushing , hammering , pulling could move it ! . In the end , we just drove to the mechanic with one tyre flat ; which nearly tore away to the rim ! Around 4 in the morning our vehicle was fixed and we could finally be on our way . It was around 5 in the morning that I finally reached home . A most memorable trek had drawn to a close . By far the most difficult one I had been on . This thing was Alang – Madan and Nalichi Vaat combined . And then some more . Many thanks to  Rajas , Yadnesh , Sagar , Vishal , Aditya , Priti and Blaise sir for the great company and all the help .

Raireshwar – Nakhind – Aswalkhind : Jan 2011

DAY 1 : Raireshwar – Nakhind – Kudali

It had been 5 months since my last trek , what with me being away in Delhi . For someone accustomed to trekking once every 20 odd days , 5 months was quite a sabbatical ! . So when Priti asked whether I was interested in a trek to Raireshwar , and further to Nakhind and Aswalkhind , I jumped at the chance ! More so , because this would be a raw , hardcore trek , right from finding the correct route . Organized trekking , though hassle free , does take away this element of exploration and watching the trek unfold before you through its various ups and downs .

The place we were to go to , Raireshwar , is a hill situated about 200 km away from Mumbai , in Satara . It is famous as the place where Chhatrapati Shivaji took his oath of swarajya , to free the Sahyadris from foreign rulers . Thus , for us it is a very important historical place , almost a pilgrimage . From Raireshwar , we were to proceed to Nakhind , a nearby hill , then descend down to a pass called Aswalkhind . At least that was the initial plan . Aswalkhind would put us close to Poladpur on the Mumbai – Goa highway. Thus, we were to trek and descend from the Mumbai – Bangalore highway (NH – 4) onto the Mumbai – Goa highway (NH -17)

We started from Mumbai for Bhor on Friday night , me joining from Vashi . Priti , Rajas , Ameya and Saurabh had boarded the bus much earlier in Parel itself . Manoj Kalwar would join us later , as he had been caught up in some work .The rickety state transport bus prattled down the highway to Pune , stopping at Panvel , Khopoli and Lonavla en route . I tried catching up on some sleep , which was quite a challenge considering the roller coaster rides that state transport buses offer !! . From Pune , the bus continued for an hour till Bhor , the driver all the while driving like a wannabe Schumacher . I reckon we reached our destination at around 4 in the morning . After that , there was nothing much to do apart from shivering in the cold and having a cup of hot piping tea from a roadside stall till Manoj arrived .  He did come finally , almost an hour later . We then busied ourselves in looking for someone to take us to Raireshwar , in one of those Sumos or Trax they have . One guy finally agreed for a total of 1000 . Which was quite good .

It was almost day break by the time we alighted from the jeep . I believe we got a good bargain considering all the driving he had to do through the narrow ghat. The sun rose from behind Kenjalgad , a nearby hill – fort , as we began trekking along a well worn path leading to the temple of Raireshwar . The flat saucer – like top of Kenjal could be seen beautifully silhouetted against the rising sun , as we plodded on . A couple of iron ladders had been put in place to make our job easier , as well as a wide well made staircase . Reaching the temple was thus a cakewalk . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh went ahead to a small village on the mountain , to arrange for some food while me , Manoj and Ameya decided to visit the temple .

The temple itself was rather small and simple , with a brown tin roof . In front of it a bust of Shivaji had been installed . Inside , especially inside the sanctum sanctorum , it was pitch dark and I had to make use of my torch to ensure I didnt stumble somewhere . The famous pindi , where Shivaji took his oath , was in this part , and we dutifully paid obeisance to it . A glorious painting , showing a young Shivaji taking his famous oath adorned one wall , while a pair of swords and a shield adorned the other . From the temple , we proceeded to the small village , where we had our breakfast . We also took care to pack bhakri and mirchi cha thecha from a kind villager , before we left . Now began our real trek ! . No one knew the route for sure , not even the guide we had taken with us . All we had to rely on were photographs clicked by some other trekker and maps from Google Earth ! So we began , at around ten in the morning , across the plateau of Raireshwar , which I reckon was around 15 km long . The sun was by now nearly overhead , beating down on us . Thankfully , it being the month of Jan , we did not get scorched ! The path was a well worn one , which alternated between flat patches of grass and dense undergrowth . The weed called ‘karvi ‘ in local parlance was in abundance here , and it would keep us company for a long time ! .There was nothing much we did , apart from trudging from one end of the plateau to the other . En route we got beautiful views of ___ dam as also Pratapgad , Chandragad etc . Our first aim was to have a good view of the nedha ( hole in the rock ) of Nakhind  . perhaps try and reach there if possible . Every nedha is unique in itself and a sight to see . After a couple of hours of walking , some of it through head high shrubs and a small traverse , we managed to get a clear view . But it soon became evident that getting there was next to impossible . The path ended over there , and beyond were simply tufts of dried grass overlooking a dangerous drop . So we trekked back to a fork in the road which had brought us there . This time , instead of going left , we turned right , and headed straight into some very thick and thorny shrubs . My hands , legs and ofcourse my sleeping mat were continually getting pricked by thorns m twigs and branches left right and centre . There was no route to speak of really , we were making one ! . Half the time I spent in avoiding tripping over some branch or weed at my feet , and the other half in stopping something from hitting my face . After trekking like this for some time , I reckon an hour , the shrubs opened up to a more regular forest . The trees were taller now , and the ground much better . A couple of them had even an arrow mark on them ! . Our guide then led us to a path , that , to me on first glance seemed to head into thin air . A closer look told us that it was a narrow and very exposed descent , possibly towards Aswalkhind . We asked our guide to take us there . ” It is a very difficult route . See if you can manage , we won’t be coming with you ” came the reply ! . Ameya and Saurabh then decided to check out the route for themselves , but came back after some time . ” It is difficult with our bulky bags . Plus , once we start , there is no turning back ” . Now we were in a quandary . Which way to go next ? But since it was already nearly 2 , we decided to have lunch , which also gave us time to think over our next step .

It was then decided that Priti and Saurabh would go towards the nedha , to find a route via one of the channels made by waterfalls . Ameya and Manoj proceeded , with the guide , to the far end of the hill , to find a route to Kudali village . Me and Rajas were left guarding the bags . Rajas promptly went off to sleep , while me , after stretching out on the bare ground for some time , busied myself with photography ! . After about half hour both search parties returned , one with good news and the other not so good . Priti and Saurabh , for want of a sickle , had been unable to get to the point of finding any route . The other two had been luckier ” Yes there is a route . A rarely used one , but a route for sure ” Ameya reassured us .The guide had left us by now , after taking his pay . From this point , we were entirely on our own .  Once again , we trekked , plodding through grass and karvy , till the path abruptly finished as the plateau ended . I could see a well worn path going across a ridge in the distance , but how would we get there ? I could make out a narrow path , the kind made by cattle , descending from Raireshwar towards the ridge . Dusk was almost upon aus as we began our descent . The path was narrow and exposed , with plenty of loose soil and dry grass . Using bottom theory was a good idea here ! . Slowly but surely , we got to the ridge as the sun set behind the mountains . We were glad we had managed the descent well before nightfall , and now had the luxury of watching a beautiful sunset . What’s more , we found ourselves on a well beaten track . Snacks and jokes and wise cracks followed in a relaxed atmosphere with sliced cake and biscuits and such stuff being passed around .

It soon started getting dark , and we had to take a call , whether to spend the night there itself on that ridge , or continue further . And there was no second opinion about it ! Out came our little electric torches and the night trek to Kudali began in right earnest . We followed the mud path which had guided us on the ridge . It snaked along , sometimes svwerving to the right , though our destination was to the left of the ridge . This did cause some doubt in our minds initially , but those were quickly put to rest . As we sped along , the stars came out one by one , making the sky a very beautiful and enchanting sight . Under the company of the stars , we finally reached the village called Kudali .

For dinner , Priti prepared her exquisite bhel . It did not last long among 6 very hungry and tired trekkers , though I think quite a quantity had been prepared ! . Quite expensive too .. we had put onions in it !! . After this , we proceeded to fill water from a nearby pond . Nothing refreshing like cool water after a day of hard trekking . We decided to put up in the verandah of the local school for the night . It had been a hard day of trekking .. more than 13 hrs of walking in total ,and I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately after lying down ! .

DAY 2  : ASWALKHIND

Next day dawned bright and clear , with a rooster waking us from our slumber . Mountains loomed over the small village , a pleasing sight first thing in the morning . The fresh morning sunlight falling on the sloping clay rooftops of huts  , nestled among the hills , made for a quaint picture . We busied ourselves in collecting firewood for preparing the morning tea . Thankfully , there was plenty in the village , and the villagers as usual helpful . We soon sat down on the bare ground for having breakfast by the newly made campfire / temporary stove ! . We finished off whatever was left of the bread , cheese , biscuits and sauce with us . We even roasted a few potatoes , which tasted quite incredible . And of course tea ! .

We finally hit the road at around 9 30 , towards Aswalkhind . We intended to cross the entire pass and end our trek in Kamthe , a village in the Konkan . The route began on a well made tar road , before branching out into a more rugged path . As always , there were kind people around who helped us with the road we had to take . The path rose slightly after leaving the road , along a riverbed , although at a height . At one point , it descended rapidly and we found ourselves walking across the dry stream . From here , we could have a clear view of the pass , nestled between two tall , thickly forested mountains .

Hereon , the path climbed steeply into the jungle , though it was still wide and quite safe . Sunlight filtered in to the ground , obstructed by tall trees . This created strange mosaics on the ground , the kind of thing only a walk in the wilderness can give . We continued on , without stopping . Adrenalin had kicked in fully by now I guess . I say that , because after 16 hrs of trekking in total , my knees ought to have been aching ! The path rose in fits and starts . A steep climb for some time , then a flat walk , then the process would repeat itself . And all along we had the shade of tall deciduous trees for company . In fact , at one point , we even spotted dry feaces by the wayside , which Priti identified as those of a tiger . We even proceeded to crush it with a stone , only to find pieces of bone inside . Quite a find actually , considering how rare anything related to a tiger is , especially in these parts .

After walking through the jungle like this for three three and a half hour , we came upon a queer rock formation . A few massive boulders had been clustered together , almost as if a giant had marked the place ! . We decided to take a small break here , the highest point in the pass . We were now actually parallel to Nakhind , albeit at a much lower level . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh clambered up a small hillock to have a look at the route we had abandoned the previous day . Their hunch was right ! The path did lead to where we were ! . But I reckon it would have been too much of a risk to try the route the previous day . We spent some time here , busying ourselves with the usual photo ops and stuff .

The path descended ferociously from there on . Again the same pattern of steep descents and flat walks . Some of these patches were quite exposed and full of scree , making trekking tedious . And of course we had the company of the jungle . But this steep descent – flat walk pattern did help us maintain a very good speed throughout . By around lunchtime , we had arrived at a small clearing , where we had our lunch . This place had an awesome view of Nakhind and few other mountains , the vertical basalt walls making for quite a sight . We could also see our destination , Kamthe in the distance . Lunch consisted of bhakri and mirchi cha thecha , which we had packed the previous day . Rustic food in a rustic setting . We descended quite quickly from here on . The path was a lot more rocky now , making the descent easier . In another hour or so , we were at the village .

Thankfully for us , we didnt have to wait to much for a transport , since a jeep bound for Poladpur was already in the village . After a bit of haggling , he finally agreed to take us all to Poladpur . Poladpur was the closest town from where we could hope to get a ST or similar transport bound for Mumbai . Thus after nearly 18 hrs of walking , and 2 very memorable days of trekking , our trek had finally come to an end .I believe we covered more than 40 km in total .   We clambered into the jeep bound for Poladpur . From there , we hired a Sumo bound for Mumbai . And by dinner time that night , I was home . Quite something that trek , which we started on the Mumbai – Bangalore road and ended on the Mumbai – Goa road !

As a closing comment , would like to thank Priti , Rajas , Saurabh , Ameya and Manoj for a great time ; and will cherish this trek for a long time to come .

Harishchandra via Nalichi Vaat – Dec 2009


I had been to Harishchandragad once before , via the Tolar Khind route and since then , had always wanted to try the tougher , more thrilling ‘ Nali chi vaat ‘ . Trek Mates had organised one for the 12th , 13th of december , which suited me just fine . ( exam getting over on the ninth and a trek on the 12th ! what else could I ask for ! )
I reached Kalyan station on the night of the 11th , alone as usual from Navi Mumbai ! . I met Vishal , Meenu , Parikshit , Dilesh among others over there and we were soon joined by the others. Well , this is the last time I am reaching a TM trek on time , because there is always a one hour cushion which I intend to make full use of ! . We clambered into the bus at around 11 30 i guess , only to find it full . So obviously we had to stand , and with that went my plan of taking a good nap before we got to the base village . I managed to sit down in the alleyway between seats , with my bag as a backrest .Not very comfortable , but whos looking for that on a trek ! . The ST bus dropped us off near Tokawade , a village by the side of Malshej Ghat .
So , there we were in pitch darkness , waiting for our next transport to arrive ! . The beautiful winter sky was in full bloom now , and I reminisced about all those nights I had spent star gazing . We travelled by lorry to Belpada , the base village for our trek . It was great sitting in the lorry , at the edge of the cargo compartment . A sudden brake , and all four of us would be on the road !!. But it was fun sitting there , watching the narrow and dark highway recede into the distance . The canopy of tall , dark trees made it look even more eerie .
We reached Belpada by about 2 in the morning . I was feeling damn sleepy by then . Without even bothering to remove my shoes or jacket , I rolled out my sleeping mat on a suitable peice of land and was soon fast asleep on it . Sleeping bag and all could wait for later .
We freshend up in the morning , had tea and after a quick introduction round ( in which just about everyone faked his or her trekking experience ) started off towards Harishchandragad .
As soon as we left Belpada , we could see the huge concave wall of the Kokan kada looming over us . Well , if you could imagine a bowl with a dia of 1800 metres , you could get a slight idea of what I am talking about ! . Keeping the huge mountain to our right , we passed through well trodden paths and fields and finally joined an empty river bed . Round , smooth stones of all sizes made up our path as we made our way ahead . Constant wear by the elements , especially water had coloured the stones various hues of white and grey . With the hot morning sun beating down on our backs , the river bed looked all the more brighter . The path meandered on , the stones and pebbles getting progressively larger as we moved ahead . After an hour of trekking , we came to the ‘giant steps ‘ – two huge rocks lying right across our path , each roughly rectangular in shape and a good ten – twelve feet high ! A staircase for giants , no doubt ! This was also our last watering point , and a great place for photo ops . From here on , the route really began to climb . Each step we took was at least as high as our thighs , and the continous plod made it a tiring proposition . We were now close to the ‘ nali ‘ and decided to halt for lunch . Lunch , well basically consisted of eating evrything that everyone else had brought ! So by the time half an hour was up , I had eaten cakes , theplas , pomegranates , chips , biscuits , puran poli and few other assorted foodstuffs . It was noon by now , and the hot afternoon sun beat down on us . In the far distance , I could see the peculiar ‘human ‘ shaped pinnacle , on the far side of Kokan kada. Closer by , a few trees and of course the long path we had come by . Above us , a cloudless sky and a gentle breeze . Add to that a full stomach and I reallly wanted to lie down and go off to sleep then and there .
But there was a trek to do , so I picked myself up , put my bag on my shoulders and started off once more . In any case , the trek to follow put to rest any plans to doze off !! .
The path moved ahead , and up into two huge enclosing walls . The right hand side was off course the near end of the Kokan kada and the one on the left a separate mountain . We were following the path of a waterfall which cascades in between the two in the monsoons . Wether the waterfall caused the split or the split caused the waterfall , I do not know . Anyways , such intelligent thoughts were furthest from my mind then , as the large stones of the river bed gave to small rocks and scree . The whole place looked like a blasting site , like someone was using dynamite or something to build a tunnel throught that place . The route moved to the right , traversing the wall , then further on to what looked like steps ! I am really amazed actually , as to how are the rocks in that place cut into such sharp geometrical shapes . I could see a lot of straight edges wherever the waterfall had flowed .
We soon came to the first rock patch , which i reckon was about 15 – 20 feet high . I remembered climbing barefoot on Madangad , and managing pretty well . So I decided to climb this one barefoot too ( maaz actually . I had seen 3 -4 guys manage quite well even with their shoes on ! ) But this was not Madangad , and the rock face was soon poking into the soles of feet . Apart from that , there wasnt any hassle and I soon managed to get to the top . Even got a sarcastic applause for that !!
The route to the next rock patch was just scree and nothing else . The path climbed steeply and getting ahead was a case of two steps ahead and one step back ! . Brittle slate rock covered our entire path . Rocks as large as our foot crumbled beneath our feet , and every now and then someone further up sent a generous helping of stones and pebbles downhill ! The route had also got narrower now , and the two huge walls on either side of us seemed to have an overbearing presence . A slip and fall on this patch , and well , one would have to do the whole patch again .
On the top of this scree filled patch , was our second rock climb . A 10 – 15 feet high rock , which at first would seem like a dead end ! . Nilesh did the free climbing part . There were twenty of us , and one by one all of us managed to scramble up the rock face ( ofcourse with a rope aound our waist ! ) .
Further on , an exposed traverse which brought us closer to Kokan kada . A tree was growing here , of all places , to add to the thrill . Keeping myself as close to the mountain as possible , I made my way to a third rock patch . Since the traverse had taken me around the earlier rock , my field of view now changed completely ! Instead of the ‘man ‘ shaped pinnacle , now Rohidas came into view . That short traverse in the evening light , with the huge mountain of Rohidas in the background was another memorable part of the trek .
Tiny foot holds made the climb over the rock patch easy . We were now nearing the end of our trek . Bushes and shrubs near the top of the mountain came into view at last . Two more relatively simpler rock patches , and we were on familiar terrain . Yellow grass scrunched under our feet and each step threw up tiny puffs of soil . The huge sweep of the Kokan kada was now in view . We had reached a plateau by now , on the far left of the massive cliff . The sun was almost beginning to set now , and had acquired a fiery orange hue . We still had a long way to go though , especially over a small hill covered in dense forest . I personally found that part of the trek very irritating . A steep gradient , loose soil and roots and branches all over the place . My sleeping mat got caught , torn at least half a dozen times on that little hill . After a hard day of trekking , that is the last thing you want .
We all finally managed to reach the plateau . Some of us had already got there sometime before , as usually happens with a big group on a long trek . Some of them had collected firewood for the night , and after resting for some time , all of us started off for the caves . All of us trooped of in one file , torches in hand away from Kokan kada . After trekking for about half an hour , we came to a small plateau which directly overlooked the temple to the left and the caves to the right . We soon lit a campfire , which we fed with lots of firewood to ensure it glowed brightly . We had collected enough for a funeral , so that was thankfully , never an issue . All that firewood would come in handy later on , when it got really cold . For the present though , all of us assembled around the campfire for antakshari and other such timepass . We also had our dinner over there and then each one retired to sleep .I was glad I had brought my jacket along , alongwith the sleeping bag . Lying down , I could see the winter sky in all its splendour . I could spot the beautiful cluster of stars known as ‘ Pleadies ‘ alongwith Taurus the Bull . I moved my head to spot Orion and Gemini , with their host of bright stars . I had spent hours as a child looking at thoseand other constellations , and with that thought in mind , I drifted off to sleep . I awoke at about 5 , and spent the next hour discussing with other such early risers wether we should go to Taramati to see the sun rise . Well , sun rose while we were still at it , so obviously the Taramati plan was off . We instead decided to pay another visit to Kokan kada . Another trek along familiar trek and we were at the cliff . Looking down from there , I could see a river path meandering and then disappearing into the rightmost edge of Harishchandragad . That was the path we had come by yesterday . A long photo sessions followed , which is understandable at a place like the Kokan kada ! We returned to the caves , had our breakfast and went ahead to the temple and Kedareshwar . The temple was ancient , 6th century or something like that ! Kedareshwar was basically a Shiv Ling covered on all sides by water . The eight foot tall structure is a sight to see !
After this we started descending the mountain . Descent was well , quite uneventful . And I am also getting bored of writing this now , so I wont describe our descent in detail . Well , basically , the ten of us formed the back lead , and we stopped at evry opportunity we could . My right knee had quite inexplicably begun to pain by now , so I was limping along , although I must say the relis spray helped . We had limbu sharbat twice on the way down , sat down and chatted a couple of other times , aani umbryachya zhadachi fala khanya sarkhya faltu goshti karat hoto ( credit Vishal with that ) . And took our own sweet time in getting to Khireshwar .
At the base village , a great lunch , a visit to a marvellous temple and we were off to Mumbai , or rather to Khubi phata , where we spent a great deal of time flagging down tempos , trucks and buses . Finally , just after sunset we managed to get one lorry going to Kalyan . All of us clambered in and lorry driver drove off towards Mumbai . Harischandragad receded into the back ground in the fading evening light as a fantastic trek came to an end .

Closing comments , well , another great trek by TM . Had a whale of a time . Kudos to evryone for attending and completing the trek ! Thanks to Priti , Nilesh , Vishal , Miron for managing the rock climbing patches . Without rope bahutekanchi hava tight zhali asti !! . I hope to meet all twenty of the trekking group on further treks too .

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 .