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Sinhagad Fort

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Frankly speaking, I had gathered very little information about Sinhagad fort from the internet. I had liked the pictures I saw online. And that was enough for me.

Sinhagad is a Marathi word which means Lion’s Fort. This fort is around 30 km away from Pune. It is around 1350 meters above sea level. Not much is known about who built this fort. But it has been in the control of both the Marathas and the British.

On this trip, I was accompanied by Nimish, who had joined me on earlier treks, and Nelson, a first-timer.

We had to board a train to Pune station and from there take the State Transport bus to Sinhagad base village and then trek up the fort. Most sites online had told us that it would take around an hour to see this fort.

Children Exercising
We boarded the Pandharpur Fast Passenger train at Karjat at . As we had not made any reservations, we boarded the unreserved compartment. Pune can also be reached by road, but we decided to take the train as I love traveling by trains.

Most of the passengers were already fast asleep when we entered the coach. We made ourselves comfortable near the door of the compartment. We took turns, sitting at the door, to see the countryside sleeping in the dead of the night. As it was dark we could not see how deep the valleys were but we could see the countryside lit up in the distance.

As people alighted at their destinations, we took over their seats. Now we had ample space to sit and so we made ourselves comfortable. I was about to drop off to sleep when I heard a sound that made me wish  I was somewhere far away and not on this train.

Sinhagad from a distance

A group of eunuchs were working their way down the coach, harassing the passengers and demanding money. The menace of the eunuchs is something that only those who have been harassed by them will understand. They demand money, rather than beg, and if you refuse to give it, they will try to touch you just to annoy you into giving them
money to get rid of them.

They approached us and we quickly gave them money. But one of them wanted some more money and he began his dirty routine to extort money from us. It was an embarrassment hard to get over. There were five eunuchs in all and we were just three of us. Nimish was fine but Nelson and I had a tough time with one of the eunuchs. 
Donkeys atop the fort
Finally they alighted just before Pune. We thanked God for our escape. Our co-passengers had made no move to help us. They had just watched while the eunuchs harassed us. Later we learned that these eunuchs regularly travel up and down this train everyday and harass passengers into giving them money.

At we arrived at Pune station. At the bus depot, we asked people for directions to Sinhagad fort. We were flooded with mixed suggestions which made it difficult for us to reach a conclusion.

Things did not get any better when we asked the ST bus drivers and conductors for help. No two people gave us the same answers. We had been advised by the passengers not to take the rickshaws as they charged exorbitant rates at night. We wasted 3 hours at the bus stop.

View from the Darwaza
Then we met a bus driver, who advised us to board a bus to Swargate bus stop, and from there, board another bus to Sinhagad. God alone knows why I believed in him and did
as he said. But his suggestions saved the trip. At the Swargate bus stop, the
friendly bus stop manager gave us a lot of information about how we
should proceed on reaching Sinhagad.

We had our breakfast at the village. There was a small school near the eatery where we were having our breakfast. A group of children were performing morning warm up exercises. It was a nice sight to see.

Structure atop the Fort
We had poha (traditional Maharashtrian breakfast made of beaten rice flakes along with omelettes and tea). We then headed for the fort.

The climb from the base village was very steep and tiring. We managed to get up the main entrance of the fort in 2 hours time, having taken multiple breaks along the way.

The view from the top was beautiful. The valleys were deep and the hill ranges were covered with trees. A few horses and donkeys were grazing. Some village houses stood far away in the distance.

Horse stable filled with water atop the fort
The villagers had put up shacks on the way to serve refreshments. These included water, lemonade and buttermilk, fruits like Indian gooseberry (amla), guavas and raw mangoes sliced and seasoned with chilli powder and salt. It gave the fruits a very tangy and spicy taste, a real treat for the taste buds. We were on an eating and drinking spree up here, drinking lemon water at every other shack. Very soon, we lost count of how many glasses we had. Along the way, we also had amla, guavas and raw mangoes.

Those who don’t feel comfortable climbing can always hire a vehicle which can take you up in less than 30 minutes. But then you will forego the joy of trekking up a fort.  
The roadway ends at the entrance of the fort. There are many hotels here which cater to food and beverage requirements. This fort has two doors or darwazas. The one we entered from was the Pune Darwaza and the other at the rear end of the fort was Kalyan

At the entrance of the fort they are many villagers who gear up as guides to show you the important places on this fort. Some of them are dressed as Maratha soldiers of that era.

We decided to explore the fort ourselves. 
The Red Bush
As we were about to enter the fort from Pune Darwaza a herd of donkeys came rushing down the Darwaza in hurry. So we had to move aside or else we would have been knocked down by them. The donkeys were laden with gallons on their backs.

Some of the walls of the fort were still unbroken. It was hard to believe that they still stood strong after all these years. They were made of stone and kept together with cement.

There are two towers of Prasar Bharti on this fort. These towers intercept Doordarshan signals (Doordarshan is the national TV channel of India) and send it to all viewers on their home television antenna.
Entry to the Fort

The donkeys we encountered on the way up supply diesel to the operating rooms of these towers.

The fort houses two caves named “Ghodayachi Pama” meaning horse’s stables. There is a narrow entrance which takes you inside them. The pillars of the caves have been steadily getting eroded due to water seepage over the years. I think they could still hold on for the next 200 years. The caves could have housed around 40 horses. Unfortunately, the place was filled with water, in which floated plastic water bottles and plastic packaging of snacks.

When will people stop destroying our heritage with waste? Ideally they should carry all their waste back home and dispose it off in a garbage bin rather than leaving it behind on hills and forts, leading to land pollution and destroying the natural habitat.

Thats me in the yellow T-shirt, Flying Fox

There are many small temples here. I saw a tree with red leaves. It looked more like a big bush.

There were many water tanks or cisterns at a place called “Ganesh Taki.” Four of them of various sizes had been cut out in the rock. They were all polluted but there was one small one with plenty of guppy Fish.

The Kalyan Darwaza was also big and its bastions were in very good condition, This entrance is often used by trekkers. The Darwaza had carvings on the walls; one had the face of an elephant carved on it. Having seen all this, we walked on the walls to get a better view of the low-lying valleys below.

There was Flying Fox. Flying Fox means a cable fixed at two ends, one high and the other low, Goods and People can be transported via this, But on Sinhagad we transported ourselves from one end of the fort to another. We took our turns to enjoy this ride at just Rs 100 per head. It took us around 20 minutes to reach the start point but hardly 5 minutes to go down the ropeway. Oh, how I wish I could stop midway and enjoy the view with no earth beneath my feet. It was like flying without wings. I loved the feel and the thrill.

State of my shoes

After that we decided to head back home. It had taken us around 5 hours to see the fort. So much for those websites.

All the walking had badly affected our shoes. The soles were almost worn out. It took us around an hour to reach the base village. From there we headed to Swargate to board a Mumbai-bound bus.

In the bus, I recollected all the adventures we had had on this unplanned trip. It had all been very exciting and one of the high points had been the flying fox. Of course, the climb had been rather steep but we had managed thanks to the strong winds which kept us from perspiring.

It had been a great trip and we had the worn out shoes to prove it.

Shivneri Fort

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shivneri is the birth place of Shivaji, the great Maratha warrior king.

It is located in Pune district, near Junnar on the outskirts of Pune city. It is located at a distance of around 125 km from Pune.

Shivneri fort from a distance
A large part of our school history had to do with Shivaji. So it seemed like a good idea to get an update on our history lessons. Nimish, one of my trek buddies, agreed and we made plans to see the fort.

I boarded the Indrani Express at Dadar at and Nimish joined me at Thane 15 minutes later. We bought a local ticket to Pune, boarded the unreserved compartment and made ourselves comfortable on the footboard near the door.

Temple, from where the road to Shiveri starts
For our pains, we were rewarded with scenic village views all the way to Pune. Wow! There is nothing like watching the rising sun from a train. The sight is to be seen to be believed.
View from Darwaja
 At around , we reached Pune station and trundled off to have some breakfast. A small hotel seemed to promise satisfaction. We had vada pav (potato patty mixed with chillies and masala served within a loaf of bread). Not content, we polished off some onion bhajjis and hot tea. Wow, what a way to start a day. With our stomachs full, we said, Junnar, here we come. We waited at the bus depot for about 30 minutes. But there was no sign of the bus. Finally a bus heading towards Junnar arrived. We ran to catch it, only to discover that it was just the two of us going to Junnar. We could take any seat we wanted.
View from the top
ST buses, also called Lal Dabbas (or red containers), are usually packed to capacity, with seats and the bus groaning under excess weight. Very often enterprising people will slip in their belongings from the windows in order to stake claim to a seat if there happens to be a big crowd. Of course, this leads to disagreements and hearty quarrels. Luckily none of this happened on our bus.

After inquiring with the bus conductor we boarded the bus. The distance from the depot to Junnar depot was roughly around 125 km. When he heard this, Nimish began to have second thoughts about the trip. I convinced him to go along, even though it would take us 2 hours to reach Junnar.

Ganesh Darwaja with the emblem of lion
The bus suddenly halted just fifteen minutes after we left the depot. The conductor collected Rs 120 per head as the ticket cost to Junnar and went shopping with the booty. The driver and conductor wanted to buy some soft toys from a local vendor who had his moveable outlet near the road. Leaving us to guard the bus.
 After around 15 minutes, they arrived and we set out once again. We reached Junnar at . Again Nimish was confused about whether to go ahead and see Shivneri or whether it was better to go home. I somehow influenced his decision and Shivneri Fort became our destination.
We boarded another ST bus which would take us to the entrance of Shivneri fort; it took us around 20 minutes to reach the base of the fort. The bus was packed with people. We were standing on our toes and we thanked God for the little space we had.
Reaching Junnar, we alighted at the Ganesh temple constructed near the road and then walked on to the fort. It was when we started our march up the fort. With rucksacks on our backs and the hot sun shining on us, we started. The road to the fort is made of tar, but it takes you only halfway up. From there, you need to climb a flight of stairs.

Very soon we reached the fort. The view from up here was amazing. We could see hill ranges and waterbeds in the distance, besides villages and square shaped farms in shades of green and brown, and the fortification of the fort on top.

Rooms atop the fort
We entered via the Ganesh Gate or Ganesh Darwaja atop which we saw carved emblems of lions. Atop the fort there was a small garden, a temple and a few caves. One of the caves had a stupa in it.

There were a few water tanks on the fort, but they were dirty. Of course, that didn’t stop the frogs from breeding in there.

birth place of Shivaji
From here I could see the entire way up, even the road we had taken to come up to Shivneri after we had alighted from the bus. We then entered the fort via Mena Gate and Kulup Gate.
structure atop the fort
Finally we reached Amberkhana. Here we visited a few structures which could have been palaces or store houses at one time. It was hard to tell. Later we reached the place where Shivaji was born. It was a one-storey square shaped structure with a protruding balcony at the top. The balcony had five windows, three front facing and the other two on the sides. The balcony was very neatly carved. It was all very marvellous.

Badami tank

A stairway takes one up to the first storey. The ground floor is locked but the doors still offer a glimpse of a statue of Shivaji and the cradle in which he used to sleep. The doors of this structure have been treated with a coat of varnish, giving them a very new appearance and taking away their charm. They should have been left the way they were.

There was a Badami Tank close by, but it was empty.
Kadelot point
Kamani Tank and Ganga Jamuna Tank are waterbeds carved out in the rocks. There are pillars in the tanks. The water has turned green over the years, and is obviously unfit for drinking.

There are a few structures on the fort. One of these houses the bronze statues of Shivaji and Jijabai. It also contains a painting showing Shivaji sitting on a throne, while holding court.

Shivaji's cradle
From Kadelot Point one can see the entire city below. It is truly beautiful.

Two tombs are situated atop the fort but there is no mention of whose they are.

After exploring the fort for around two hours, we decided to head back home.

At we had reached the bus stop. Getting a vehicle to take us to Junnar was quite a task. With no buses in sight, we decided to board a tum tum to Junnar.

Even the tum tums were packed with people, with people shooting out from all the exit points. Luckily we got one and reached Junnar. From there, we boarded a bus to Bangar Phata. It took us 30 minutes to reach there.

Door to Shivaji birthplace

By now, I was exhausted. I had no energy to do anything. So I sat there eating a few bananas, while Nimish tried hard to get us a ride to Kalyan. All this while ST buses, transport vehicles and dumper trucks, all packed, whizzed by.

Finally after 45 minutes, we finally got an air-conditioned ride to Kalyan in a Mahindra Xylo for just Rs 100 per head. Now that is a steal! At , we were at Kalyan station from where we boarded a train to Andheri.

Painting of Shivaji in his Darbar
One lesson learned from this trip was that it is better to carry food and water, as there are no hotels around the fort.

Finally we got home tired and exhausted, but still raring to go on the next trip.

Alibag water trip (Khanderi Fort and Undheri Fort included)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A visit to the forts at Alibag had been on my agenda for a long time. But somehow, something or the other kept coming in the way, and my visit to this sleepy beach town kept getting put off.

So then I finally sat down to do some research on the Internet and, armed with whatever information I could gather, made plans to go to Alibag. Nimish and Darshan, who had accompanied me on my visit to Lohagad Fort and Bhaje Caves earlier, and Niket and Piyush, both first-time trekkers, agreed to accompany me on my visit to these forts.
Boat to Undheri and Khanderi fort from Thal
We boarded the first ferry of the day, the ferry from The Gateway of India to Mandwa. These ferries ply at regular intervals during the day.

Alibag can be reached both by road and water. Travelling by sea is faster and cheaper. The price of a one-way ticket is Rs 65 (inclusive of the ferry service from Gateway to Mandwa and the bus service from Mandwa to Alibag). By road Alibag is 35 km away from Mumbai and with the rising price of fuel, it’s an expensive way to travel.

It took us around 1½ hrs to reach Mandwa jetty. From there we boarded a bus to Alibag. After around 30 minutes, we reached Alibag where we had a few refreshments. Our plan was to visit Khanderi and Undheri forts which are located in Thal, 7 km away from Alibag.

Khanderi Fort
Alibag is home to many beautiful beaches and forts; the town was developed by Kanhoji Angre, a Maratha warrior, in the 17th century.

We boarded a tum tum. The best part about the tum tum is that you need to pay Rs 10 per seat regardless of the distance. Readers, please do not go for a private tum tum because they are very expensive. When we approached a private tum tum, he quoted a fare of Rs 500. Instead of going for a private tum tum, it is better to share a tum tum. 

We decided to carry with us beer bottles from a local wine shop. Surely it would be a good idea to have chilled beer at one of the sea forts.  

Fortification of Khanderi Fort
We got in touch with a person named Ashwin who had made arrangements for a boat to take us around as Khanderi and Undheri are sea forts. Ashwin's contact details are easily available online on a few sites providing information on Alibag. Please make sure that you negotiate the rates well in advance with him because the rates rise as the day of the trek nears. We had negotiated for Rs 1100 to take us to Khanderi and Undheri Forts.

It is also advisable to go as a group to see these forts as the cost of the boat trip is more than Rs 1000 plus. The more is indeed the merrier in this case as you can divide the cost of the trip.  
Cannons on the fort
By the time we reached the boat, our beer bottles had grown warm. We should have known chilled beer wouldn’t stay chilled. But there was nothing to do but have warm beer.

We didn’t come across any hotels here. So do carry food and water. We carried ours.

We boarded the boat at Thal. This is a quiet fishing village with a very silent life.
Thal does not look like a fort today. Maybe at some point in the past it must have looked like one. The fishing village is based here and the fisherfolk lay out their fish to dry on the small walls of the fort. No boundaries can be located on this fort as it is inhabited by the local people. There is not much to see here.

Light House on the Fort
At Thal, we could see Undheri Fort and Khanderi Fort in the distance. So we set out to see these forts in the motor boat provided by Ashwin.

It took us around 30 minutes to reach Khanderi fort. On the way we passed Undheri Fort but we could not land there as there was no jetty on the fort. It was literally a sea view of a different kind for us. Undheri Fort is small as compared to Khanderi Fort. Though in ruins, the walls of the fort are in very good condition.

Khanderi Fort has a jetty where we landed. The walls of this fort have been defaced by the kind of losers who should be locked up and never allowed within 100 metres of any heritage site. Some people don’t have sense. They just know how to dirty nature around them.

Helipad on the fort

There are a lot of interesting things to see on this fort. For instance, there is a temple with a huge white heart shaped stone; this temple was built sometime in the 17th century. Till date prayers are offered at this temple. We saw a lamp burning inside its premises.

The best way to see the fort is by walking along the walls. There are two water tanks on this fort and a lighthouse. One of the water tanks is very close to the sea at a distance of hardly 20 feet, and yet it supplies fresh drinking water to the caretakers of the lighthouse. I pondered over how the water could be so sweet despite being surrounded by salt water.
The cannons on this fort had my attention. This was the first time in my trekking history that I had seen a complete cannon mounted on wheels.

Stone which makes a bell sound
What a sight it presented! Even though it was quite rusted, it still commanded awe. I shot a few pictures there.

We then decided to go see the lighthouse situated on the topmost part of the island.

Although this fort was built by Shivaji in the 17th century, the lighthouse was built by the British in 1852 after they conquered the fort. It was thrown open to the sea in 1853. I had a small chat with the caretaker of the lighthouse. His name was Nitin Pawar and he gave me a lot of valuable information.

Undheri Fort
The lighthouse, he said, stands 48 feet tall and provides signals to the distant ships in the sea. The entire mechanism of the lighthouse was imported from Germany. The old mechanism was later replaced by the modern mechanism around two years ago.

The lighthouse functions at a speed of 3 RPM (revolutions per minute) and the light is thrown all around at a radius of 40 km. If you are on a ship 40 km away, you will see the light blinking.

We began a slow tour of the lighthouse. The caretaker told us that if we were to walk down a little, we would find a huge stone with metallic properties. We decided to go and see this amazing stone.

Entrance to Undheri Fort
The caretaker also pointed out a small pad on one of the bastions of the fort. It was a landing point for helicopters, he said. The Navy, Army and Airforce personnel often paid them a visit and when they did, they parked their helicopters there.

We all took turns throwing small pebbles at the huge stone that the caretaker had told us about. It gave us a childish thrill to hear it ring out loud like a bell. What a great way to intimate the inmates of the fort about the approach of an enemy! Truly amazing.

After that, we decided to head back to Thal. This time we were able to see Undheri Fort a little closer.

Fortification of Undheri Fort
By the time we reached Thal, it was already 2.30 in the afternoon. We figured that it was better to head home. We boarded a ferry to Mumbai.
Khanderi and Undheri Fort in a distance from Thal

On the ferry Darshan, Nimish and Niket started feeding the seagulls that were following us. Believe me, these birds can do anything for food. After having their full, they stopped following us. I don’t know if that was because they had had their fill or if it was because they did not want to step into unknown territory.

Finally onshore at The Gateway of India, we clicked a few pictures and called it a day.

Other sea forts I have visited are Murud Janjira, Arnala Fort and Sindhudurg in Malvan

Lohgad Fort

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Lohagad, literally Iron Fort, is situated in Malavali, near Lonavala, on the Mumbai Pune rail line. It is 3,450 feet above sea level. In its glory days, Lohagad was ruled by various dynasties. The last ruler was Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Two of my office colleagues, Nimish and Darshan, accompanied me on my trek to Lohagad, Visapur Fort and Bhaje Caves.

Lohgad Fort
This fort can be visited both by rail and road transport. It takes around 4 hours to reach the fort if you travelling by train from Mumbai. We boarded the Chennai Mail train from Karjat station. As ill luck would have it, it turned out that the train did not halt at Malavali. We had to get down at Lonavala. We were told that the Pandharpur Express would halt at Malavali. We raced to catch this train at Karjat station but missed it by a couple of seconds. We had plenty of time to regret this missed train as we ended up spending 3 hours at Lonavala station.

I began to feel so sleepy that I spent the night on Lonavala station sleeping on one of the benches made for commuters to sit. I have never done this on any of my treks. My colleagues stayed awake all night, guarding our bags.
Lohgad Fort from a distance
We boarded the first local to Pune at around and reached Malavali station in 15 minutes. All that wait for such a short journey! After that we decided to walk to the fort. It took us around 2½ hrs to reach Lohagaon, the base village of the fort. Lohagaon can also be reached by road from Lonavala.

At this hour in the morning, there were no other trekkers in sight, just the 3 of us. The roads were rather muddy. The fog was so thick and dense that we couldn't see even a few metres ahead of us. It was rather risky but we managed to go ahead.

On the way we met a few school children running hastly downhill, hoping that they would not be late for school. We made small talk with the children and they told us that there was no school in Lohagaon and that the nearest school was in Bhaje, a neighbouring village where the Bhaje Caves are located. It was sad that the children had to trek for 2 hours daily to go to school, but the good thing was that the children were going to school in spite of the difficulties.

Foggy way up to the base of Lohgad Fort
It was still foggy when we climbed the steps to the fort. It was beautiful to see the scenic view around as we were climbing up. To reach the top we had to enter through 4 doors called Darwajas in Marathi. Only one of the Darwajas had doors made of wood painted black with iron nails and chains bound on it.

We finally reached the top. The view was amazing. We could see Visapur Fort in the distance, a few hill ranges far away in the village below, the road which takes one to Lonavala station, Pawna Dam and a few lakes in the vicinity.

Stairway to Lohgad Fort
From the top just above the last Darwaja, we could see the path by which we had climbed. Atop the fort we saw a temple, a dargah (prayer house for Muslims), a few water tanks, caves and a burial site for Muslims.

There is an extension to this fort called the Vinchu Kata or Scorpions Tail in English. The name is derived from the shape of the place, which is like the tail of a scorpion. I had been to Lohagad twice before but had never visited Vinchu Kata. This time I had made up my mind that I would visit this place come what may. As the weather was foggy and the ground was wet, we encountered a fair bit of trouble in our attempt to reach Vinchu Kata.

Door (Darwaja) entrance to the Fort
It took us around an hour to reach the top. Thrilled with our achievement and tired with the exertion, we sat there for some time to enjoy the panoramic view and then decided to head down as we had Visapur Fort and Bhaje Caves on our agenda for the day. From here we could see the railway tracks going to Pune and the Mumbai Pune Expressway in the distance.

After viewing the entire fort, we finally decided to head for Lohagaon, where we had our lunch.

View from top
 The locals at Lohagaon have converted their homes into motels which provide both food and shelter to all the people who come to visit the fort. We had the local delicacy, zunka bhakar. Zunka is a gravy dish, green in colour, and bhakar is a roti made of jowar. It was very delicious. We had zunka bhakar and poha along with lime juice for lunch.
Vinchu Kata, extension to Lohgad Fort
Some of the locals advised us on the best way to reach Visapur fort. They told us that it was advisable to take someone from the village with us as we might get lost on the way. As it was already , we decided not to go to Visapur. It would take us at least 7 hours to ascend, view and descend from the fort. Visapur is much bigger than Lohagad fort.

We decided to head back to Bhaje Caves on the way to Malavali station. On the way we sat on the banks of a small stream with our feet in the water. We badly needed this rest and felt most relaxed as we had to head to Bhaje Caves and then home. From Malavali station or Lonavala there are many trains which take us to Mumbai.

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