The Sahyadris carry with them a unique charisma – a charm that separates these acclivities from the rest of India’s mountain ranges. Usually quite arid in the summer, these hills wrap themselves in a lush green thicket as soon as the first rains hit the mountain tops – changing their face in a rather drastic fashion! And as the monsoon gradually retreats, paving way for the frosty winters, these ranges open up for a whole new experience – quite invigorating indeed: greenery all over, but with blue skies above, bright sunshine prevails, but never do you feel uncomfortably hot! This was the time when I trekked to Harishchandragad, one of the toughest, longest and perhaps, the most ‘intimidating’ trek in the Sahyadris. However, while the whole experience was quite taxing, it was indeed one of the most surreal treks I have ever done!
We started our journey from Pune, my hometown, at around 2am, with an intention to start the trek by early morning. After almost three hours, our bus was parked aside in a remote village, near the foot of Harishchandragad. I was travelling with a couple friends of mine, and we had stopped for a nap before we started our trek – waiting for the Sun to just peep over the horizon. As it turned out, we were besides a water body, surrounded by humongous peaks on the other side, with equally breathtaking hills right in the front. Trying to take in the view that confronted us – a bevy of majestic peaks of the Sahyadris stretching out until the eye could see, next to the steady waters of Pimpalgaon Joge Dam, all I could think of was ‘Why can’t every morning be like this?!’
Soon after, we went to Khireshwar village, near the point where we were to initiate the trek – we halted for a cup of tea and some quick bite at the foot of the behemoth mountain we were about to scale. It was right then when for the first time, I had a comprehensive look at the monumental Harishchandragad that we were to scale, the second highest peak in the Sahyadris.
‘This should be exciting!’, I said to myself. And my judgement couldn’t have been better!
Walking down a gravel rural pavement from Khireshwar village for about a mile led us to the bottom of the trail. It was a typical back-country trail – happy to be lost in the greenery surrounding it. Thankfully, we had crisp blue skies above and our group of 30 aimed to summit in about four hours. Weakly drawn white arrows on rocks and tree stems guided us down the path. Miss one of those and you could be lost for long, heading towards nowhere (Or so were the tales I had read about from other fellow travellers)!
This trek was a perfect blend of everything – ups and downs, grassy and rocky terrains, challenging and amusing, all at the same time.
The climb was moderately steep in the beginning, and we set our pace. Bushes brushing the skin as we walked by, beneath the shadow of full grown trees, besides the rock wall that stood up at least a couple hundred feet until it could touch the sky – it was surreal, spectacular and scenic, and this was just the beginning! We trekked some gradual ascents, some beautiful plain tracks surrounded by a multitude of coloured flowers, some rocky patches, which even an amateur could guess: those were full flowing waterfalls three months a year when the Rain Gods graced them. This time of the year, those were simply a pile of rocks, with nothing to show but some obscure potholes here and there. About two hours later, with a couple of breaks in the mean while, we were starring right at ‘Tolar Khind’, the very well known rocky patch of the trek, that we had to cross before we could summit.
There are three renowned ways to get to the summit of Harishchandragad Fort. The one we undertook, via Khireshwar Village, is perhaps the toughest one, and the easiest one passes through Pachnai Village. However, majority of the trekkers choose the route via Khireshwar village as that is the one that offers a lot of scenic beauty.
Indeed, the Tolar Khind pass isn’t for the weak hearted. Miss one step, and you could very well bid adieu to being in one-piece. It was challenging, it was meant for the ‘real trekker’ in you, as some may put it. It reminded me of the several treks I had done in the Himalayas and the some I did in isolated islands of Hong Kong. But this one, I suppose, was a bit distinctive. It was a perfect blend of everything – ups and downs, grassy and rocky, challenging and amusing, all at the same time. There is a reason why trekkers all round the world, lusting the summits of the mighty Kanchanjunga and Everest often do the Harishchandragad trek followed by the Kalsubai trek to begin their rigorous series of ‘Treks to Prepare’.
The Harishchandragad trek is intimidating, and certainly not the easiest one; but the experience is perhaps one of the most surreal one!
We gradually climbed up the rocks, some team members headed swiftly, others being much cautious. It was testing, perhaps the thought of ‘descending down is going to be a bigger challenge’ crossed everyone’s mind, but first, as it turned out, everyone chose the task at hand. And nearly after three and a half hours since we started the trek, we were there, starring at the Pimpalgaon Joge Dam waters, only for this time, we could actually see it’s other end. We were four thousand, six hundred and seventy one feet above the sea level, and were breathing probably the most lush and verdant air we could.
Harishchandragad Fort is quite ancient, considered to be from the medieval period. It is said that the great sage ‘Changdev’ used to meditate at Harishchandragad in 14th century. The caves at Harishchandragad are also from the same period. Harishchandragad was captured by the Marathas in 1747 from the Moguls.
The trail leading towards the Temple of Harishchandreshwar took about an hour, though the views we embraced made an impression forever! The breeze of cool air, mild yet noticeable sunlight, the boundless assemblage of wee flowers, the green shade spread across interrupted by the rubble, the trail made its way through them. For an hour to come, the trail was pretty straight forward, no real defiance, and one could really enjoy the walk without any significant effort. The byway was picturesque, and as it turned out, what we were heading for was even better!
About an hour later, we could spot some rural settlement in the distance. The trail led to some descent (thankfully!). Walk a few hundreds of meters ahead, and the famous stone temple grabs your attention. The Temple of Harishchandreshwar is a scintillating example of the fine art of carving sculptures out of stones that prevailed in ancient India. The attention to detail is immense, and one tends to get lost in evaluating the fine carvings made on the rocks. The cool stone beneath the feet seems to rejuvenate them, and walking down the aisle observing the caves besides is an experience in itself. There is a small pond just outside the temple, and a splash of water on my face was the most refreshing innervation I had after the trek!
We sat there for a while, had some food and water, our next stop was about twenty minutes from there, the famous ‘Konkan Kada’. I had no idea what to expect there, and my mind was racing ahead. But first comes first, I was starving and the seals on the snack packets everyone had brought were gradually opening. There you go!
A similar ‘not-so-much-of-an-effort’ trail led us to the acclaimed ‘Konkan Kada’. As I approached the cliff, I was awestruck at what lied be-front. It was stunning! Perhaps, one of the best panoramic view I’ve had! One could see the entire valley, while being at nearly two thousand feet atop the rock wall! I sat down near the edge, still trying to digest what I was seeing. It was all colossal, eerie, and yet intimidating! I knew I was going to remember these few minutes for the rest of my life, and that I would proudly cherish them.
There is a reason why trekkers all round the world, lusting the summits of the mighty Kanchanjunga and Mount Everest often do the Harishchandragad trek followed by the Kalsubai trek to begin their rigorous series of ‘Treks to Prepare’!
We chose to trek down the very same day, however, there are plenty arrangements for a rather scintillating overnight stay on the fort. One can easily find small rooms or even tents (for the adventurous verdant trekkers) to spend the night. A multitude of ‘Dhabas’ and small hotels provide enough options for sumptuous meals up on the top.
This trek is intimidating, and certainly not the easiest one; but the experience is indeed stupefying, to say the least! They say our whole life is made of small moments that we often hold dear, moments that we tend to cling to, moments that we cosset. Scaling a multitude of mountains, trekking in a variety of mountain ranges, right from the Himalayas, to the Sahyadris, has often given me many of those. I have repeated chosen mountains over the seas, and this being the proof yet again, they have never discontented me! Harishchandragad is indeed the acme in the paraphernalia presented by the Sahyadris.