This was one amazing experience in the recent times and this story is surely going to take you for a walk in the Sahayadris…
It has been two months, that I have been in Pune and by now everyone desperately wants to relish the comforts of the place called home. The schedule of this week is not very hectic and it is a great opportunity to rejuvenate oneself. There is a different excitement on campus as everyone is thinking and talking about home, but strangely somehow I have not been able to be a part of it. My mind and my heart are distracted by the green and evergreen Sahayadris. As per the concept of opportunity cost, it is not at all a bad idea to stay back and explore the Western Ghats.
A two days trek to Sarasgarh and Sudhagarh was organized by a veteran trekking organization in Pune, TrekDi; for me it was a good opportunity to explore the state of Maharashtra.
Sarasgarh & Sudhagarh are twin forts located in the Raigarh district of Maharashtra. It lies along the Lonavala-Khopoli road, 110 kilometers away from Pune. The beautiful Mumbai Pune expressway leads you to the Pali village, which is the base village for Sarasgarh Fort.
The group was given some pre-instructions by the leader, stating the desired code of conduct during the trek. It is important because the natural aura of the place should not be damaged due to the human presence and its leftovers.
Sarasgarh was built by Shivaji Maharaj & was basically used as a watch tower by the soldiers. There are four pinnacles of the fort, out of which, we climbed only one. The journey started at 11 in the morning. The feet were very enthusiastic to move ahead. From the houses in the base village, we moved into more empty spaces, the human habitation was left behind to enter into natural habitation. Slowly and gradually each one of us was moving, talking to each other, singing songs and looking around.
There were only two colors visible. No matter where I turned around, it was only green and blue that I would see. Looking around only meant to catch the glimpses of the sky and the land , which were shining brightly in their natural colors under the sun. This emptiness of space, filled the emptiness of heart with content. While I moved further, gradually, the slope got steeper and there were rocky patches all along . The route started to become challenging at every step and suddenly there was big huge staircase to climb, a natural one. On the left side of these stairs was a wall, which was slippery because mosses had grown on it and on the right side there was an empty space. So more than the grip of the hands or feet, it was the concentration of the mind which was required to prevent any mistake to happen.
What makes you take such a risk? What drives you to take this crazy step?
I believe it’s the power of those empty spaces which you get to see once you are there. On climbing up, when I moved my head up from the stairs, to have a good look at the view, it was all the empty spaces that I ever wanted to see. The paddy fields were spread all across the land. The curves of the road were bending beautifully. The houses and the cars appeared to be tiny creatures. And it is for these views only that one takes all the crazy risks in life. The clouds were floating above us, indicating that it is going to rain very soon.
There was a natural spring under a huge rock, where everyone wanted to sit back and relax. The way was continuously getting steeper as we were approaching towards the fort. Long wild grasses were making it difficult for us to carve the way.
Finally we reached the top of the hill from where we could see the other three pinnacles. To my utter shock there was no fort there but a rather smaller temple to indicate the end of ascend. History puts that there wasn’t any fortification at this spot as it was only used as a watch tower.
The feeling of accomplishment was celebrated by reciting the “Ghoshna” loudly; ‘
“ Jai Bhawani, Jai Shivani”. ‘Theplas’ made life beautiful and the place and moment was just right to enjoy them. In some time, we started descending and somehow it always takes more time than the ascend. Careful gripping of foot and the strength of shoes, everything is essential to successfully descend down.
Although they say that one should try not to use hands for extra support, but I always like to come down half sitting. True, that we learn the most by falling and tripping and the success lies in rising after that, but then, sometimes it becomes more important to enjoy rather than learning. I can’t enjoy it, if I don’t discover my own ways to do it. It is fun to roll down sliding and then suddenly stand up to make balance by opening both hands left and right and putting all the body pressure on thighs and knees.
The way never seemed to end while coming down but it did end and we were back to Pali village, which we were able to see from the top of the hill sometime ago.
A hot cup of coffee was all that I aspired. After a short and crisp relaxation break, it was time to visit the most popular temple in the town. One of the eight Ashtavinayak temples of Lord Ganesha is located at Pali. Ballaleshwar temple, a tiny temple with a long queue of devotees in the evening, spoke a lot about the significance of the temple.
It becomes clearly evident from time to time that tourism in India is incomplete without religion. A small temple located in a small town in the interior of the state, where life looks decorated with simplicity, is what makes the place beautiful in its very essence.
After a beautiful evening, we started moving towards the Sudhagarh fort, which is only 15 kilometers away from Sarasgarh fort. The way is a metal road which passes from exactly the middle of the forests. The next base village is called Thakurvadi.
Thakurvadi is a small village, located in the very interior of Maharashtra, serves as a base village for trek to Sudhagarh. A motor-able road leads to the interior of this paddy growing village. The homes in the village are still maintained in a very traditional style and are basically kucha houses or mud huts. During monsoons, it rains cats and dogs, but people of the village are well acquainted with this kind of lifestyle. Although many modern facilities have reached the village such as electricity, cable TV, but the basic facilities like toilets have not yet been constructed. The cellular networks have also not touched this place yet. But the beauty of the place is that there are many children in the village and they all go to school. There is a government primary school, Aanganwadi, which daily acts as a school but for that Saturday evening, it became the lodging for our trekking group. All fourteen of us, settled ourselves in the corridor of Aanganwadi. There was just enough place to spread a sheet and lie down. When it rains continuously. And after a long tiring day, a shelter like this, provides a great amount of satisfaction. All that you need is a roof on your head and rice in your plate. We were fortunate enough to get both.
The villagers provided us with food in the night and it was a good experience talking to them and sharing their life experiences, knowing that they valued work and education equally. In the night, we also got a chance to spend time in the hut that belonged to one of the families in the village. It was astonishing to see how a whole family comprising of at least five members accommodate themselves in a single room made of just wet soil and some wood. From Kitchen to bedroom, everything exists in a single confinement. Despite all the modern advancements that we see in our daily lives, there still exists a lifestyle, which is as basic in its simplicity as it could be. Food, clothing and shelter is all that they thrive for, probably the most content human beings, they serve to fellow human beings with complete innocence and honesty.
The reality of being human is still kept alive in places which are untouched in a lot of ways. Finally after spending a dark yet enlightening night in the village, the next day started as early as seven in the morning. The rains had still not ceased and so the monsoon trek was to happen the monsoon style.
After sipping the morning tea quickly, and packing the bags, all of us moved up the summit. It is almost 630 meters in height. The route was less rocky than the Sarasgarh fort, even though the distance was longer. Green all the way it is not very steep also. The views all around were very misty thanks to the incessant rains. From the very starting, spectacles went inside the pocket and the clothes were wet. In a very short time, even the shoes got drenched. The waterfalls were naturally replenished and attracted me to sit beneath them to feel the gush of water.
The monsoon walk only requires an initial convincing to get wet, but once the water percolates and touches the body, you feel like walking drenched and enjoy the serenity around you. In every few steps, the scenes around you change. Sometimes, it is so misty that nothing but the person walking right in front of you is visible. Sometimes it gets crystal clear after a heavy downpour from somewhere between the lush green mountains.
Although it is difficult to carry a camera on the monsoon trek, these views can leave a lifetime imprint on your mind, they are like those windows web shots, just that you are on the same side of the screen. You keep looking at them until you believe it to be true, until you let it sink in your brain that you are in your very own country. The kind of India you can witness on these monsoon treks, you would have never even imagined them to be existing. These are the landscapes that anyone would crave for. The joy of exploring our own country on our own feet is unmatched.
This breathtaking beautiful view gives us the energy to keep climbing up the hill because what comes next is totally unpredictable. It actually is unbelievable to see a lake on top of the summit. From the time we were walking in between the clouds till the time we were on top of the hill to reach that lake, it was all worth the walking and the effort that was put in.
Looking at the expanse of the plateau, no wonder that Shivaji Maharaj once wanted this place to be the capital of his empire. Finally we reached the temple Bhoraidevi, which is Lord Shiva temple. It is still preserved in its original form by some of the villagers who reside in the remains of the fort. After getting wet throughout the day, a cup of tea was served by the villagers on the top of the hill proved to be a bliss.
Now, came the time, when the endurance level comes into play. After a good amount of time spent in exploring the fort, it was finally time to descend. The rains still refused to stop and we had to continue being wet while walking down.
The challenge of the trek lies in the fact that the endurance has to be increased by some level to accomplish the task. No matter how much one likes the rains, there still comes a time, when they turn unpleasant. As the saying goes, ‘ Excess of everything is bad’ , but these are the testing times as to how to end the task with perseverance and finish it with the same enthusiasm as it was started, while accepting the challenges.
There is no stopping in between, at one go, in a silent mode, I bring myself back to the village where now I decide to fit myself into a pair of dry clothes and crave for some good food.
The leader of the group tells me that I did a great job and hence I deserved it, it will be coming my way very soon. And I respond to him by saying what better way to end this wonderful and memorable trip than a great grand meal. Everyone seconds my thought and say ‘Cheers!!’