The watchtowers of Rajmachi - Manoranjan and Shrivardhan (11th and 12th Jan 2014)
Fellow trekkers : Soumen, Nagesh, Yashwant, Vineet, Rohit, Girish, Siddesh
Let me start by saying that this definitely happens to be one of the best treks I have ventured on so far. There are two ways to reach Rajmachi (Udhewadi), the first being through the motorable road via Lonavala (16 kms) or the difficult trek from Kondiwade village in Karjat – we took the latter. Everyone was on time and caught the right Karjat local. When I caught the train at Thane, Yashwant was sitting in a corner all wrapped up as if just out of the freezer. Dombivali brought the rest of the gang with huge heavy bags carrying cooking utensils, a cylinder, rice, daal, potatoes and what not. After having a quick cup of tea at Karjat, we walked to the highway to catch a tumtum to Kondivade village. The tumtum driver charged us INR 200 and for a hundred extra, he was ready to drop us to the Kondana village but we decided to walk the extra 25 minutes.
Till the time we reached Kondana village and started the trek, Nagesh reminded us every now and then that there used to be an Emu farm here and how frightened he was to see the huge birds when he had come here earlier. It would have been a privilege to drop him in the middle of the the strong legged and gawking birds but alas, there was no Emu farm now. And who knows whether he had actually seen Emus’ or Ostriches or peacocks or crows – you can never believe this guy - ‘Topya lavto’!
It was a lovely morning and as we made our way through the Kondiwade village, we saw kids playing Kabaddi in school. As you cross the school, some local homes and farm houses, you come across a river to the right with infrequent glimpses of the local ladies washing clothes, egrets in search for food, ducks wading and quacking gleefully and the occasional cormorant perched on a stick or a beautiful blue kingfisher seemingly out of place perched on an overhead wire. Yashwant asked a young chap roosting on a bridge for directions and when the poor guy seemed lost in his thoughts, confused and unable to comprehend, Yo mocked “Jaaon de, paanyat kaay aahe te bagh”. Ahead as the river ends, you see the roof of a temple. Walking ahead, you come across some splendidly built bungalows and farmhouses. Keep going straight till you cross all the houses and at the next fork in the road, take the left towards Kondana village. The actual trek starts from here.
The trek to Rajmachi is a jungle trek and we crossed at least 3 huge waterfalls, which were dry and barren now, but would definitely have water gushing down in full force in the monsoons. This made us realize that this would be a relatively difficult trek in the rains as crossing the torrential waters would be quite a task. The entire path to the trek was lined by silver and white arrows marked by a helpful trekking group, so getting lost on this trek was difficult. About an hour of walking and we were at the steps leading to the Kondana caves. We didn't go to the caves since it was on our next day’s itinerary. We did rest here for some schezwan chaklis and khakras. Ahead we could hear the hooting shrill whistle of a train and we strained our eyes to see a tunnel on the mountain ahead with a train making an appearance, probably going to Lonavala. Though there are no rock patches on this trek, it is completely uphill and it will get your heart pumping wildly with each climbing step. Some stretch of the trek is filled with scree which makes you lose your footing and slip. Girish and I took the lead (what a transformation for me – I generally tend to trail on all the treks, often left out of breath). With sweat dripping profusely, the climb seemed unending and we had to frequently fool ourselves by saying that we were almost there. Walking through the jungle gives a pleasing feeling of being in the wilderness no matter how tired you are. Since we couldn't see the top of the mountain, we assumed that we were on top of it but our folly was shattered by a clearing in the thicket every now and then and the mountain peeping to life. The last part of the trek is the most strenuous and while we kept climbing thinking we were almost there, finally a small narrow passage was crossed and we were on the Rajmachi plateau with the Manoranjan fort straight ahead in our face. Phew! Were we really happy to finally reach! We waited for the others for another 15 minutes or so before their weary faces appeared. A little bit of rest and we tread ahead to the Rajmachi village which is another 20 minutes of walking – at the fork in the road, take the right path to reach to the village. From the village, the two forts can be clearly seen facing each other as if two people in love.
We decided initially to pitch our tents in the barren farm below a shady tree but thought otherwise when we heard that we could do the same on the forts as well. Vineet got down to his culinary skills and in no time we had a sumptuous meal of daal khichdi with a stray dog acting as the eight member. My thought of resting, rather sleeping and snoring away to glory for a while was turned down and off we went with our houses on our backs and reached the first and probably the only Darwaza of the Manoranjan fort in flat 30 minutes, an easy trek. From the
We had the entire fort to ourselves barring a few guys who left after the sun set. Watching the sun set for the city folks is more emotional than astronomical since there are very few times when they get to see this false miracle at such lengths and with so much of lavish time on their hands and with an equal amount of peace. The romantic union of myriad shades, the reddening of the orange and its smooth penetration into a shade of violet seems so effortless. The burning and angry halo of the sun embossed in the mingling and dissolving hues renders a sexual crescendo in the skies and the ecstasy of the orgy fades away after a moment as the setting sun tries to elope into oblivion. We sat there mesmerized.
We were not so hungry so decided to have a late dinner. The tents were pitched in the vicinity of the storage structure. While a few of us settled cozily in the tents and preferred to play cards, Nagesh, Yashwant and I ventured in the faint moonlight and walked to one end of the fort. As we set our legs dangling over the walls, the city lights glistened in the darkness and gave an impression of a fallen sky with their twinkling stars. There was no horizon now. The perfect setting to drink and savor the music and lyrics of Udaan!
Azaadiyan, azaadiyan, ye naa kabhi mile mile mile,
Azaadiyan, azaadiyan, jo chhine wohi jeele jeele jeele
In the distance, the whistling of the train and its appearance out of nowhere in the darkness like a crawling glowworm stole our attention periodically. The sound of bhajans being sung from one of the temples in Karjat was so crystal clear that it felt like listening to a live performance sitting in the first row. It’s only when you experience such peace and tranquility, do you realize that there is a certain kind of beauty in darkness too!
As we walked back, Yashwant decided to rest while Nagesh and I roamed the entire upper section of the fort in the night – this was the closest I have come to night trekking and believe me, it’s an amazing experience altogether. The guys had lit up a small bonfire with Siddhesh in the lead and we let the fire heat up a few potatoes which were relished instantly the moment they were ready. Then pappads were toasted as we gossiped into the night. It was starting to get really cold and while Vineet took up the task of cooking dinner, a few of us dozed off. We finally had hot and piping masala bhaat which helped drive away some of the jittery cold. Post lunch, nobody needed an invitation to doze off so that’s what we did. In the middle of the night and early morning, the wind blew so hard, like a hungry animal that it felt like our tents would be carried away with us and like parachutes we would be deposited a long distance away. Thankfully nothing of that sort happened due to the sturdiness and commendable flexibility of the tents.
The wind was still blowing with a rage as we brushed our teeth. As Vineet got down to make tea, he realized there was no sugar – this was the starting point of his verbal abuse for the rest of the day till we reached home and afterwards too! So tea was made with ParleG biscuits replacing sugar and accompanied by Maggi. We wound up our nomadic tidbits and ventured to the other fort of Shrivardhan. Shrivardhan is the larger fort amongst the two. Although the trek to the Rajmachi plateau is very arduous and strenuous, the trek to the 2 forts is relatively easy. So we were at the peak of Shreevardhan in about less than an hour. Behind us, the fort of Manoranjan lay like a giant lazing tortoise with its extended head. We could see where we had perched the night before. The views from the fort are truly mesmerizing. Sitting by the waving orange flag of victory, we had our photo session for a while. The outer walls of both the forts are intact and give a sturdy look to these watch towers. Both the forts having enough water cisterns and these are the source of potable water for the village of Rajmachi below. There are a few caves which act as accommodation centers for fellow travelers. In the valley between the two forts, is a shed like house which also can house quite a few trekkers. From the top of the Shrivardhan fort, the nearby mountain seems a Naneghat lookalike. It projects like one of those fighter plane runaway on a naval flight carrier. It would be fun to trek this place too! At the right end of the fort, at the buruj, is a cleverly built Chor Darwaza. After roaming the fort for some more time, we decided to head back. Had some refreshing tea at the house in the village before embarking on our return journey. There is no dearth of accommodation in the village and there are ample camping options as well. Food is also available at the local houses but you need to inform in advance. Vineet and 3 others (cook and his entourage) went ahead as they were to ready the afternoon meal at Kondana. The remaining three of us had another cup of tea as we chatted with the owner of the house. Descending gave a pleasurable feeling and a sense of achievement that we had accomplished such an uphill trek. Yashwant slithered rather than walked and fell a couple of times. Nothing new for him!
While alighting, we came across some couples who thought this was a picnic spot and had started the uphill task in the heat of the afternoon. The makeup on the girls’ faces had started to melt and they were cursing each other for having come. It took us roughly 2 hrs to reach Kondana caves where we had lunch and the rest of the journey took an hour more.
Amazing trek, amazing views, amazing experience! Would like to come again during the rains! Getting back to the humdrum of the city, couldn’t resist humming these lines from Udaan
Aankhon Ke Pardon Pe Pyaara Sa Jo Tha Woh Nazara
Dhua Sa Ban Kar Udh Gaya Ab Na Raha
Baithe The Hum Toh Khwabon Ke Chaon Ke Tale
Chod Ke Unko Jaane Kahan Ko Chale
|Hu tu tu|
|The river on the way|
|Posing at a potential waterfall|
|No matter how tired, but posing for the camera is compulsory|
|Finally at the Rajmachi plateau|
|Appearing out of nowhere|
|The twin forts of Manoranjan and Shrivardhan|
|Our kitchen below the tree|
|Chef Vineet and our khichdi|
|Getting to Maoranjan|
|At the Darwaza of Manoranjan|
|Looking ahead at Shrivardhan from its twin brother|
|The invisible way to Shrivardhan|
|A glowing fruit|
|On the way to Shrivardhan|
|Leaving Manoranjan behind|
|Almost identical to Naneghat|