That said, I usually try to plan some kind of trek around new years eve to places where no one else is likely to visit. P.S. when you are visiting forts in the first place, this isn't too hard to do considering the numerous options available !
This year we decided to head over to the Nashik region, which is what we usually do when we have enough time on our hands ,since this region has a very high density of forts within easy reach but you need to have atleast 2 days to get there from Pune. The target was Saptashrungi, Markandya, Rawlya & Jawlya forts. Of these Saptashrungi is not really a fort.. but a cave temple set in a huge & beautiful pinnacle.
Elaborate route planning for the trek was done in fultu corporate style by Dnyanesh, while Himangi handled the provisions planning & finally by the evening of 31st December 2010, we were all ready to set of for the Trek. The team was of just 5 people. Dnyanesh, Ashish, Himangi, Pranav & myself. We set off from the Shivajinagar ST stand where Dnyanesh had done the reservation for us for the 11 PM Asiad.
View Saptashrungi, Markandya Rawlya Jawlya trek in a larger map
Day 1 - Arrival at Nashik - by Bus to Saptasrungi - Trek on to Markandya fort- Stay at Ashram
We arrived at Nashik at around 4 AM on the 1st of January 2011. Since the bus from Pune comes to the New ST stand, we had to walk to the old one. This is where we got the 5 15 bus to Saptashrungi. The bus arrived at the Saptasrungi ST stand around 7 15. After finishing our morning activities & having a breakfast of 'Pohe' with Chai & 'Paw' which the hotel attendant was not at all keen on giving us & kept insisting that it had gone bad ! ; we went & took in the sights. The highlights here being the cave temple, the 2 Old Shiva temples & a Ganesh temple. Of these we only visited the two old Shiva temples one of which definitely seems to be of Hemadpanthi origins & looks very similar to the temple at Harishchandragad. This temple is near a very nice 'kund' (water tank).
The route to Markandya fort , (so called mostly because of the temple of Markandya Rishi set at the very top of this fort) goes from near the second Shiva temple. From here a path leads to the ridge. The path descends downwards just before the railing starts & there are some withering rock cut steps on the way. The path initially descends gradually, parallel to the ridge . The walk to the col between Saptashrungi & Markandya has a few simple rock patches which one has to cover.
From the col, the path moves steeply upwards for while & again some small rock patches need to be scaled. from there the path moves to the left of the Markandya ridge & its a parallel walk till it moves steeply up a stream till we reach the base of the main fort. From here the path enters the forest & from near a small "kuttia" of a local hermit, moves up to the col between Markandya & a smaller hilltop . The view from atop this top is amazing & you can see our entire trek route right upto Rawlya, Jawlya as well as the fort of Dhodap from here.On our way up from the stream we were held up for almost an hour, as almost a hundred villagers from the village Dewargav were going from Markandya to Saptashrungi. They told us that they do this 'Yatra' every year. They had started walking from their village at 5 AM the previous day, stayed over at the Ashram below Markandya & were on their way to Saptashrungi, from where they would take a bus back. So here were some people who had been doing this "New Years Trek" for years together before this term was even coined !
We had lunch on the plateau below the main fort at around 1 30 pm & were on Markandya top by around 3 30 pm. There is temple on the very top of the fort with a idol of the sage Makandya praying & facing exactly in the direction of the Saptashrungi temple which is exactly ahead. A little lower down there are a few water tanks one of them being underground. The books mention a storehouse for ammunition or "Barud Khana" that was used by the Peshwas but that is no where in sight. There is a large plinth & a structure, that seems to have been converted into living quarters by some people .. mostly hermits living here.. This might have been the building mentioned. Once we had finished looking at the sights, we started back.
The original plan had been to reach "Tiwari Wasti" ( Tiwari's dont live here any more & some Cow herds by the Surname Thakare now live here) which is on the plateau between Rawlya Jawlya & stay there.. But it was getting late, so we decided to descend the col mentioned earlier on the other side & stay at the ashram on the machi for the night.
On the way down this col, we discovered a couple of amazing tunnels, square in shape & cut in the rock. The one on the left split into two & both ends went in a bit & stopped, while the one on the right went in for quite some way & the end there was a depression in which there was water which might be an underground stream. There were flowers offered in this so it seemed to be some place of worship.
This ashram had originally been setup by another hermit ( Ranganath Maharaj) who has taken a Samadhi here & the shrine for the same exists here.The Ashram was very clean & well maintained & the disciples & the sage were kind enough to let us stay there & even gave us Food & bedding for the night. Once there, we had lots of time to spare so we went ahead & prepared tea on Dnyanesh's solid fuel stove & supplemented it with Bhel that we prepared. This followed by a nice cozy campfire fueled by dry Eucalyptus leaves among other wood (Which we thought, very healthy) & cleared up our noses throats nicely !
After attending the arti at the ashram, an amazing hot dinner from the Ashram kitchens was served & we went to sleep at around 10 pm.
Day 2 - Markandya Machi to col between Markandya & Rawlya Jawlya - to Thakare wasti - Rawlya fort - Jawlya fort - Stayed at Thakare wasti
We woke up at around 6 45.. but the sun did not come up till almost 7 15am. After a quick tea we were on our way by 8. From the Ashram, we headed straight towards the ridge that snakes steeply down to the col between the two hills or rather mountains. A road from Wani to Kalwan runs in this col & you can also do the trek from here. Nashik - Kalwan STs run from the old ST stand. Alternatively you can also get here pretty easily from Wani, that's well connected & is just 11 kms from here & Jeeps usually ply from there.
On our way to the ridge we met a group of experienced trekkers from Nashik who clarified the route for us to go on to Rawlya & Jawlya. It took us about an hour to reach the col from the Ashram. The route from Markandya initially has some brick steps & then a 'paywat' takes you down to the col.
From the col you need to climb on to the ridge & climb keeping the ridge on your right till you are on top of it . Continuing to the top, you will See Rawlya first. In our case we took the path on the left of Rawlya ( but discovered later that there is another route on the right & its much shorter) & skirted around the fort till we came on top the flat area between the two forts. Just before the settlement of the cowheards starts, there is an Old water tank with a live stream of flowing water. However this seems to be used by cows now for drinking.. but since its flowing, the water isnt too bad. Just ahead there is another stream of flowing water that has been protected from the cattle by a wall of stones roughly built around it..
Here we decided to stop & have something to eat. It was almost 12 00 noon when we got here & hadnt had much to eat, except for a few butter chaklis & Biscuits. Since we didnt have time to do any cooking, we decided to eat Bhel Again! By around 1 pm we were done & ready to move on. We went to the wasti & discovered that the Tiwaris had moved out & now some cow heards by the surname Thakare lived there. They were very accommodating & allowed us to keep our sacks in their hut while we went to the forts.
First off we started on to Rawlya. While getting to this path we lost the way almost at the base & ended up going a long way on the other route that goes to Saptashrungi from the other side of the fort.. We lost almost 20 mins in that till we got back on the right track.
The route to this starts from roughly the middle of the face exposed to us & moves gradually to the left till you are on the face that cant be seen from the village. The route initially is on good ground but on most of the higher part it gets very steep & has really bad scree on a very narrow path. So you have to be very careful.
This route continues till you reach the rock wall. There is another tunnel here similar to the ones mentioned earlier. From here you have to shift to the left till you come to a small & steep chimney like col. Though not vertical, the climb is made a bit tiresome by scree & lose rock. Once you get to the top , you need to go a bit to the left where you will be faced with a rock wall, that one has to scale to get on the top of the fort.
We got till this part with some effort.. but discovered that though the patch could be scaled, it would be difficult & risky to get down without a rope that we had not got with us. So we decided to turn back from here since it was getting late & we still had Jawlya to do.
We got down by around 3 & the locals at the settlement told us that the route to Jawlya starts from the right side of the foothill, moves up till you reach the rock wall & then moves left parallel to the rock wall, till you come to the extreme left side of the fort & here there are steps to go up.
So again we started on our way. The way till the rock face is similar to Rawlya if not steeper in some places & with as much scree. Once at the face, the route was much easier. As we neared the left side of the fort, we saw some half finished rock cut caves & at the extreme left a underground water tank. We started looking for the steps.. and bless us all try as we did.. we could not find any ! So thinking that the route might be further ahead we went all the way around to the other sides ( the fort has a roughly triangular base) but no luck. Very disappointed, we started on our way back...
When we reached the water tank, we decided to give it another shot & climbing a little higher near the extreme left end, I spotted the steps .. mind you they are pretty small & easy to miss unless you are right on the top of them.. Cursing ourselves for our foolishness in not finding them sooner, we started up. At this time we had lost almost an hour in the search & it was around 5 pm. It would start getting dark in an hour..
After a few steps, there was a part where the steps had broken away & we had to shift over a very narrow rock ledge onto the remaining steps. This was the main risky part in this route. Once that was scaled, the steps went right up. There is very high exposure throughout on this route & the view is simply amazing. The steps, climb on right till the doorway or rather whats left of it. Here the route like at Kothaligad goes through a rock cut cavern & opens up in a broken doorway. Right in the front, here is a small Bastian. From this point in about a minute, you are on the top of the fort.
There isn't much to see except for a lot of tanks & a few broken buildings. Since the sun had already started setting behind the mountains, we decided to start back without wasting more time. We were back at the settlement in about 40 mins & it was about 6 30. At that point it was still light & we decided to make a move on & take the path on the left which was a shortcut compared to one from which we had come. But it grew pitch dark in less than 15 mins & we decided to stay back at the cow herds place. We made our dinner of Biryani Pulao on their chullah & shared it with them. This was followed by Dnyanesh's freshly made Pedhas from khawa bought from our hosts ! They gave us some space in the lean to their house where they milked their cows. It was a pretty cold night & the quarters were cramped but it definitely was a lot less colder than it was outside since the wind was chilling.
We got up at around 6 30 in the morning but it was almost 8 when we left. We got some fresh Khawa ( Khoya) from the cow herds for taking home with us ( This was later converted to delicious Gulab Jamuns by Himangi ). After a nice cup of coffee made from freshly milked milk from the cows, we set off. It was about 9 30 by the time we reached the col . From here we took a jeep back to Wani & went back to Pune..
Whew long blog.. Wonder who'll read it ! This was one of the most killing treks i have done in some time !
Photo Credits : Himangi, Dnyanesh, Ashish
|On the Way back, on top of a Jeep !|