Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lohagad Fort - How to go, places to visit, things to do

Feb' 27 2010: This time the excursion was with a group known as Breakfree journeys. It was a new group run by a young college bloke by the name, Rushikesh Kulkarni. Quite an enterprising bloke must say. (For more details on the group and its activities - click here) He had published the event on the 'Mumbai Hikers' blog. Mumbai hikers, obviously is the central blog portal where most of Mumbai trekking groups post their upcoming events.Quite a good initiative.It was calling for trekking enthusiasts to join them for a trek to Lohagad fort for a one-day event, with the return journey planned for the evening.Some of my friends had been to the Lohagad fort before. They had suggested it was an easy trek.'Easy' that's what attracted me to this trek.This was going to be my first "real" trek.And after a few calls with Rushikesh on Friday night confirmed my presence for the next day.Lohagad, here we come..!!! :)

The Journey : Pickups were planned at Kandivali, Dadar, Chembur,Kalamboli, Panvel.There started our journey.After picking up enthusiasts along the way, our numbers rose to 17 with a couple of office collegues joining in.All towards our destination - Lohagad.The way to Lohagad was to through a place Malawli - Base Village.

How to reach Lohagad : There are different ways by which one can reach Lohagad. As discussed earlier, you have to reach the base village called as "Malawli".
By Public Transport : If you are planning to travel by public transport, you need to catch a train to Pune.(from Mumbai).On the way, Malawli is the next station after Lonavala.Make sure the train you catch stops at Malawli.Once you get down at Malawli Station,walk towards the end of the station, i.e. towards the Pune side.Once you reach the end, turn right.And keep walking, till you come across a patch of land - we shall call it 'Junction'.That's because you would find  shops, hotels and some houses too.You would also find an open space - courtyard on the left side.Its used as a  parking space.This is the Bhaje gaon.
By Road : We came here by road - the route is even simpler take the Mumbai-Pune express highway, soon after passing through Lonavala, we started looking at signs for Malawli and also asking people at every turn, just to be sure.Soon, we made a turn to the right, i.e. after asking for directions to local people.We then crossed over the railway lines,near the Malawli station and reached the "Junction" - Bhaje gaon.

After parking our vehicle there,We had a nice sumptuous breakfast of Pohe served with freshly cut lemons to go along with it.Not more than 20 Rs.After a few group snaps, we were all set to start our trek.Some of us, me included, bought some water from the nearby shops. Make sure you buy water here, you will surely need them, as there are no other shops on the way to Lohagad.From the junction, you can see some stairs in the distant background,on the left hand side.Those are the stairs to the "Bhaje caves" - our next destination.

Bhaje Caves: They are 2nd century BC Buddhist caves.They are a set of 18 caves, cut straight out of rocks.Amazing bit of ancient architecture. The pictures and links would help you more.For more details click here 
Journey: The journey began with the climbing the steps to the caves. These are unique steps, each step being low in height, and high in terms on length and width.So actually, when you climbing them, its almost as if you and walking instead of really climbing.Still, after a few levels, it starts tiring you out.It took us not more than 20-30 minutes to reach the top.Again, that depends on how fit you are.On the way, we found a few local vendors selling chaas,cucumbers,lime juice.Once we reached the caves, we had to pay some entrance fees to It was Rs. 10 for an adult and Rs. 5 for a child.Finally, after some struggle, we reached the caves.
What is there to see : As soon as you enter the caves vicinity,you see a huge cave in the center.This is called as chaithya, This was used by the Buddhist monks for praying.It is a prayer hall.You can see pillars on the sides, all made of rock.The ceiling of this hall is made of wood.It appeared to be made out of wood,wonder how it lasted for over 2000 years.And then, at the distant end of the cave, you find an inverted cup shaped structure, almost like a bell.This is called the "stupa".It was said that, Buddha's relics were kept in the stupa.You can imagine Buddhist monks meditating near the stupa.Infact, we did try making some sounds in that temple, and it gave a mild echo to our sounds.As we came out of this huge-center cave,on the right hand side, there are broken steps leading to the other smaller caves.Its quite easy to climb.Within those little small caves, you would find small bed-like structures, all cut out rock.Must be the Buddhist monks retired to these smaller caves.After exploring little, we then returned down the broken steps, for first-timers like me, even that is challenging, however, there is always support.So, carefully, we got down from those caves.Unfortunately, the tight schedule wasn't allowing us to explore the "Bhaje caves" more. So, after a few pictures, we turned our heads to Lohagad.

Lohagad : Lohagad fort, one of prominent forts built by Shivaj Maharaj stands tall at 3,450 feet (1,052 m) near Lonavala.Known as the Iron fort (Loha=Iron). It is said to have been used by many dynasties that ruled the Marathi kingdom.There are many structures built on the fort by the people who ruled it which includes a water tank, temple etc. A favorite among the modern day marathas - the trekkers.The fort has always attracted hordes of tourists across Mumbai and Pune.Usually seen as a beginners trek.For more details on Lohagad click here.

Journey: Descent from Bhaje caves: The normal route would have meant getting down by the steps, which we had used earlier to climb. And then turning to the left and travel by the straight ascending road to Lohagad.But things were'nt as simple.As you head out of Bhaje caves, there is a small trail near the entrance.No, I am not talking about man-made steps but, its actually a narrow trail to the side of the hill.Suddenly there was a buzz of trying get down through this trail.After agreement from all, we decided to get down by the trail.I was hesitant, still agreed. This was not the usual way to Lohagad. Initial few strides were easy. Its actually quite helpful to be following someone, as your going on a path travelled.But, soon it became steeper.There are definitely some skills to be learnt for a trekker, especially while descending.Making use of every tree, branch, rope even the person ahead's bag :) Its all a matter of grip. Being in the best of sport shoes, I slipped a couple of times.That's when I learnt the feet need to placed sideways instead of placing them straight.Anything that gets you a good grip.Some of the experienced trekkers were making way for others to follow.Being a novice, I followed it well.Soon we were at the base of the hill.We just turned around and looked back at the Bhaje caves. It was an awesome feeling, looking back how far, how high we were and the manner in which we got down from the trail.

 Trek to Lohagad: The trail to Lohgad is quite an easy one.You just need to follow the straight road ahead.Its not a motor-able road by any means.It might have been motor-able many years back, but, not any more.The route goes spirally upwards.Almost like a zig zag.Some people were climbing up by the small ravines.I was'nt one among them.I travelled by the normal route.All this climbing was tiring me out.Little travel, little water breaks, little sitting breaks in shade was the order.As you climb up, you would find two peaks - the one straight ahead and the other to the right.The one straight ahead is Visapur fort and the one to the right is Lohagad.There are places during the ascent you may not be sure which side to turn.Take the right.There were two such occasions.Also, the local villagers would be very helpful. (if you find any).Usually local villagers travel up to sell water, lime juices etc.Make sure you take help from them.When we were almost there, we found a small juice-vendor to the right, with a nice tent put up, selling freshly made kokam juice.We took a break of 15-20 minutes. After quenching our thirsts, we were back on our way to Lohagad. It was half an hour of journey from here. The journey so far was a good one.It was not a trek which you need to take with any experienced trekker as such. Since, most of the route was a rather straight one, it was quite easy even for first timers like me. The tough part was the tiredness from all the travel., but regular breaks made it quite easy.And soon, after almost 2 hrs  we were at Lohgadwadi ,base village of our destination.You can reach here by a proper motor-able route as well., I guess from Malawli.There were a lot of people there.It was almost like a trek mela there.People turning up from everywhere.It was a festive atmosphere.Young, old, local,city folks - all kinds of people here.There were a lot of trekking groups like ours everywhere in shops, resting,climbing up.We took a shelter at a place called Sai hotel.Our organizer had given an order for our lunch, which we were going to have after visiting Lohagad fort.After leaving all our bags at the place, we were on our way to Lohagad fort.Wondering - again the climb? Yes, we were at the footsteps of the fort.We just needed to climb those.

What is there to see : As you climb up, you find the majestic Pawna lake behind i.e to the right, the village Lohagadwadi in the center and the Visapur fort to the left.The steps were quite high in terms of height.Making it even tougher to climb.But soon in 20 minutes or so, we were at the Ganesh Darwaja - the main entrance to the fort. Lohagad fort has 4 doors called "darwajas" - Ganesh Darwaja, Nayaran Darwaja, Hanuman Darwaja and Maha Darwaja.The Ganesh Darwaja seems to have either painted or built again.Having full of sharp structures protruding out,these are tall doors atleast 10 feet in height.Each darwaja comes up as you climb up the stairs introducing you to a new section of the fort.This section or open space gives a panaromic view.You can see there are small openings in the walls of the fort.You can imagine these openings to be used for cannons on other waring provinces  and Mughals.We found a small cannon or two, we even tried to lift, but it was way too heavy for any of us to lift.The final Maha Darwaja opens up to a vast open courtyard.Its more like a peak of the mountain rather than a fort.Its wide and huge and houses a temple, a few ponds, a dargah and the famous vinchukatta.Most of the time spent up was exploring the different parts, taking pictures.Here is picture showing the layout of the fort.
As we were exploring the fort, we came across quite a nice pond - called "16 koni talav" With shade on one side, all of got down near the pond, took off our shoes and just spent some time cooling off our feet in the pond.The water was quite clear, although there were some frogs and fishes in the talav. Its almost like a hidden spot.Its next to the famous "Vinchukata" - Scorpion’s Sting, a long and narrow fortified structure. This is a finger styled projection of fissure of Lava and the name scorpion’s sting due to its natural shape. The attractive beauty of the pinnacle of this hilly terrain is worth visiting.Since, many of us were hungry, we started our trip downwards. Only few proceeded to the "Vichukata", rest moves towards the base.

Where to eat : We had a nice meal of zunka bhakar at the "Hotel Sai".It cost us 35 Rs. per plate. Also, they added a nice chutney made of mirchi(Chillis).It is the most spiciest thing you can eat.It was just yummy!!!We started munching one zunka after the other.Some had rice plate which included rice, dal and few chapatis and bhajis.All that to gulp it down with a nice lemon juice.After having our fill, we started our journey back.The journey back was a quick one.We clocked a mere 40 minutes on the way down.i.e to Bhaje village.We were the first group to reach the base.Soon, group by group started arriving at the base.All of us had tea at the stall.And then we started our journey back to Mumbai with a small detour planned along the way - Pawna lake.

Pawna Lake: It is an artificial lake formed by the Pawna Dam built across the Pawna River nearby Lonavala. The lake attracts many tourists due to its imposing natural ambience and cool climate.Beautiful, serene, usually used by corporates for holding team building events.

Journey : As you reach the Pune-Mumbai highway,by road, coming from Lohagad, take a left at Lonavala.You need to cross over the train lines and go by the parallel road on the other side tback owards Pune.Make sure to ask local people the route, as you need to take a right.It takes around 30 minutes to reach Pawna lake from Lonawala.After a few turns we were again in the country side (Lonavala is almost a city nowadays).Soon we could see the lake in the distant background, but reaching there seemed like forever.We were getting down to lower plains and the roads were spirally taking us down.Although they are one-way roads, if any big vehicle say a truck or a big car came towards  you, it meant slowing down and going on the side to allow the oncoming vehicle to pass by.Slowly, steadily we manage to reach the lake.There was a big parking place nearby, that's where we parked our 18-seater.We could hear noise of the boats from there..

What is there to see: Pawna lake offers natural beauty. Not only is the water clear, the time being dusk, it offered a spectacular view of the evening sun.Its the kind of place, you would lie down and do nothing, just gaze at the beautiful spectacle.But there is more to Pawna lake.It has a restaurant which offers all kinds of food.Its quite normal to find corporates organizing their team building events at Pawna.Infact we saw a huge delegation of officials holding their annual day there.Now for the boating - It offers two boating facilities - the group boating costing 30 Rs per seat. It took 8 of us at one time.Usually the boat ride lasts for 5-10 minutes which includes a circle around the little island which is seen from shore.The other boat ride is one for the more adventurous -  a speed boat ride. Costing at Rs. 80 per seat - its a 2 seater ride. and the ride lasts for 3-4 unforgettable minutes.Well, I won't go into more details here, its there for you to experience it.Just hold on when the boat operator turns side ways..!!!!

Return :We spent over an hour at Pawna lake, before moving on for our return jorney.Someone had informed our organizer that you do not have to get to Lonavala to get on the highway. There was an alternative route to Mumbai.After asking a few locals we were soon on our way back to Mumbai on the expressway.Overall it was well organized trip by Breakfree journeys -  there was a bit of history, hard work, great food, some adventure, serene breath taking scenes, lots of pictures.Hope this blog helps you on your trip to Lohagad..!!