9 Member trekking group to Rajmachi.

9 Member trekking group to Rajmachi.
Photographed by Veteran trekker Sunil.Bidadar.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Trek to Rajmachi.

My hectic and strenuous European and solo-backpackers tour of London in May 2010 kept me totally engrossed in blogging and updating of my tour memoirs and experiences.In July , i contracted malaria and the recovery took some time,hence i couldn't attend any of the week-end day trekking trips conducted by "B.N.H.S(Bombay Natural history society)" during the monsoon season, my normal "Outdoor activities In Mumbai.I finally decided to attend the two day trekking trip to Rajmachi on 28/29th August, registering myself by paying the trekking tour fee of Rs 1300 which was later canceled due to lack of participants. The trek was finally confirmed for 18/19th September with the trek group leader being zoologist Mr Vandhan.Jhaveri of "B.N.H.S".For students of history,myself included, i managed to acquire brief historical facts on the origins of "Rajmachi" from Dajiworld.com news ,since, history being facts requires no "Copyright Laws". The historical Rajmachi fort complex was originally constructed by the Satavahanas. In 1657, Shivaji Maharaj captured this fort along with other neighbouring forts from the Adilshahi ruler of Bijapur. In 1704, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb captured the fort from the Marathas. However, the Marathas regained its control in 1705. In 1713, Shahu Maharaj handed over Rajmachi fort to Kanhoji Angre. Eventually in 1818 with the downfall of the Marathas, the British acquired the control of the Maratha territories including the forts such as Rajmachi.From the brief historical background, its obvious that Rajmachi was an important hill fort in the 17th and 18th century.

"B.N.H.S."Minibus :- Our tour bus to Rajmachi and back to Mumbai.

                                                            On Saturday(18-9-2010) packed up my backpack and left my residence at Prabhadevi, catching the local bus to "Dadar T.T" and being at the reporting spot at 0600hrs.I was the only trekker upto 0620 hrs and was hoping that the trip wasn't canceled for the second time due to lack of participants.Finally spotted a group of three collegian youngsters with backpacks and on inquiry was pleased to note that they were also waiting for the "B.N.H.S Bus".Later met the most familiar trekker of my trekking trips with "B.N.H.S", the veteran trekker Mr Sunil.Bidadar, senior in age and a gentleman who has trekked all the major Peaks and Forts in Maharashtra.Mr Bidadar had previously visited Rajmachi in 2009 along with "B.N.H.S" group and hence familiar with the route. The "B.N.H.S" minibus arrived a bit late at 0645 hrs along with "B.N.H.S: trek leader Mr Vandhan.Jhaveri, a newcomer amongst the "B.N.H.S Trekking staff" conducted by "B.N.H.S" that accompanies every trekking or day trip excursions .The entire trekking group was a total of 9 members which included 2 young women, very less,compared to the normal trekking groups of 20 or more members. Reasons for lack of trekkers could be the festival season of "Ganesh Chaturthi" that was in progress as well as the overnight stay and difficult trek route. On the way to Panvel, we collected the other trekkers and finally stopped for breakfast at 0900hrs at the famous fast-food stall, "Snack Corner" in Panvel. Mr Nikhil.Bhopale, the veteran "B.N.H.S Trek leader" and veteran "Bird-Spotter", who accompanied us on previous treks met us at Panvel. He was supposed to conduct the original tour that was cancelled and hence arrived to give instructions to Mr Jhaveri, regarding the conduction of the "Rajmachi trek" as he was a novice to this profession, having recently joined the "B.N.H.S" trekking staff.After breakfast we proceeded towards Karjat, asking for directions enroute as the bus driver was also a novice to this particular route.We reached Khopoli at 0940 hrs and proceeded towards Lonavala on the "Old Mumbai-Pune Route" passing the beautiful "Tata Power Housing colony" in Lonavala. We realised our mistake and returned back to Khopoli and finally were put in the right direction towards Kondivade village of Karjat after numerous inquiries with passing commuters.It was drizzling and cloudy, the weather excellent and we took the route parallel to the Ullhas river, passing the "Piccadilly Park" and "Anglo-Eastern marine academy" , familiar names in my personal vocabulary,finally reaching Kondivade Village at approx 1100hrs. A small Hindu temple was the landmark of Kondivade village and we were met at the village by our local trekker guide Ganesh and after a brief rest began our grueling trek to 3000 feet.    
The Kondana Caves :- A popular educational tour for school children.

                                                                                                                                                    Enroute reached the Buddhist caves of Kondana at approx 1200 hrs. The Kondana Caves are ancient Buddhist rock cut caves with stupas and viharas created in 200BC-100BC.An earthquake in 1900 destroyed a major part of these caves, yet many sculptors and figurines of dancing women and men are intact. After a brief stop at the caves we began our steep climb towards Rajmachi, the weather being cool and cloudy.It was very strenuous trek through monsoon bush pathways along rubble rockstones and as usual my liquid intake increased rapidly, rationing my quota.We finally trudged along to the table plateau mid-way to Rajmachi at 1430 hrs, our resting spot for a brief lunch. I had totally consumed my 1 litre of "Maaza juice" during the trekking journey and refreshed the bottle from natural fresh water found in a natural reservoir on this plateau. The beauty of trekking is the experience of natural living in the wilderness as it is only on treks that we get an opportunity to taste natural rain water springs, something impossible in modern city living. I had had a sleepless night the day before the trek and this must have been one of the reasons for my excessive fatigue during the trek, worse than a marathon run.We began the next leg of our trek after lunch at approx 1545 hrs , another long meandering walk through the steep forested pathways.Finally reached the main plateau of Rajmachi at approx 1615 hrs and after a brief rest made our way towards Udhewadi village of Rajmachi. Arrived at Udhewadi village at approx 1650hrs and were guided to our village lodge, a simple cottage with a vast compound.The cottage reminded me of my youth holidays at my maternal and paternal ancestral homes in Mabukala and Barkur of Mangalore districts of Karnataka in the early 1970's, before the introduction of electricity in these villages. The interior of our cottage had a huge poster of Emperor Shivaji with a local politicians name below, a electioneering slogan. Village living conditions in most remote parts of India are identical, only difference being the change in local topography ,regional languages and culture besides the normal federal form of governance.Thanks to my shipping career, have visited most major and minor ports of India, hence have a "multi-cultural Indian" identity and accustomed to travel. The Rajmachi lodge-cottage resembled the "Tenented houses" that my grandparents leased to their farm employees, small and without electricity, using "Petromax Lamps", total flashback to Manglorean villages of the 1960's and 1970's, before the arrival of electrification of villages. Udhewadi Village of Rajmachi is a reflection of the tremendous difference in standards of living between village tribals and city life in India.Basic living facilities that city dwellers of Mumbai take for granted is a total luxury in Udhewadi,just 5 hours away from Mumbai, most prominent being fresh water and electricity. Our cottage was small, just a single hall, akin to a single room in city's, with a large compound having manny nursery plants.A row of plastic drums stored with fresh water were kept behind the house and i really felt at peace with nature in these natural surroundings. The cottage was small but the surrounding estate was beautiful and large. The Cell-phone signals of my "vodafone rental" was weak, yet i managed to make a phone-call to my residence in Mumbai informing my house-keeper Sabina.dias about my safe arrival, also inquiring about my cats and parakeet. Strange but true, its very difficult to get a cell-phone connection in most of the surrounding remote hill villages just a few 100 Kms from Mumbai. To city dwellers , Rajmachi is one of the best holiday resorts during the monsoon season, a forested region within motorable distance from the megalopolis city's of Mumbai and Pune with the ultimate foot trekking to the hill forts, a pure stress reliever from hectic city living. We refreshed ourselves at the cottege ,tea along with 'powa' was served to us from the local village family lunch house, a short walking distance away. Udhewadi , the small village of Rajmachi, is a "One horse village", beautifully situated with the twin forts of Shreevardhan and Manaranjan towering over it. After tea we went for a walk around the village and after years i walked bare feet, something i only did during my holidays in the ancestral villages of Mangalore.The smell of the fresh rain soaked earth was really intoxicating to a city dweller used to polluted city smog and vehicular traffic.There were numerous other tourists in the tiny village, the only source of income besides seasonal agriculture in a few fields on the plateau, a livelihood of some local villagers.We made our way towards the village water reservoir,known as the Udaysagar lake, a large pool of water resmbling a football field swimming pool.We spent the evening at the water reservoir, also getting to know our fellow trekkers.There were a group of three young collegian men,Ex-"Jamnabai Narsee School" of Mumbai, aristocratic newcomers to trekking and absolutely active within themselves. The two young ladies Elizabeth.Devasia and Bakul.Gadia were I.T professionals enjoying a week-end away from the grueling 10 to 12 hours office work load in the city.Mr Sunil.Bidadar was the only familiar person i knew, having been together on a few treks together in 2009 along with Mr Jayesh.Shah, whom i occasionally met at the Mahalaxmi race-course during jogging, but was absent for this trek.Besides Sunil, the other gentleman from my generation was Mr Sanjay.Bhatnagar, a businessman and hence we three were on the same wave-length, a totally small group of just 9 trekkers, akin to a private tour rather than a "group tour".During my treks with "B.N.H.S" i have come across numerous acquaintances from different professions and one really gets to exchange information on wild-life and nature.From the water reservoir we went back to our cottage, finding our way through the dark forest, something difficult for city dwellers accustomed to bright street lights. Came back to our cottage, refreshed ourselves and went for dinner to the private residence of the local village tourist food house. This house had electricity , the source being "Solar Electricity" generated during the day and stored, later sparingly distributed to various electrical appliances in the house.We arrived at the local food-house approx 2015 hrs and were accommodated in the main house living room. This house was a normal village bungalow, with separate rooms, akin to the village homes of Mangalore. We sat on the floor in a single queue and were each given a "Thali" of vegetarian food which consisted of a vegetable dish, "Bhakr(Rice chappatis)", dal, pickles and rice.Dinner was excellent and although i am a hardcore "Non-vegetarian" , relished the local specialty dishes, simple and well prepared.After a sumptuous dinner we went back to our "Shack cottage".Later in the night, the three senior most trekkers , Sanjay, Sunil and myself went for a walk in the forests along with B.N.H.S Zoologist Vandhan.Jhaveri to spot any signs of wild-life,snakes or insects.After a long meandering walk through various pathways we returned back to the cottage, not spotting any wild-life, although another trekker group warned us of scorpions in the vicinity, besides, i was walking bare feet. As mentioned earlier, the shack didn't have any partition rooms, just a common lining room with a temporary partition on an extreme end. The ladies were allotted a corner of the partitioned hall while the rest of us gents slept on the floor with matting.I spent a partial sleepless night , although there were no mosquito's.At approx 0500 hrs heard the ladies talking and since i was awake decided to go out into the open countryside , exploring the wilderness in the dark night. The house was in pitch darkness and my cell-phone torch was in the bag, hence i had no access to light, totally handicapped in total darkness. The ladies got up and went out while i tried to grope my way towards the bag in pitch darkness, ultimately finding the same, thanks to years of work experience in ships engine-rooms.In the darkness i couldn't see my cell-phone keyboard in order to switch onn the cell-phone torch, hence had to wait for the return of the ladies to open the door.finally, one of the young ladies Bakul arrived back and i requested her to shine her torch on my cell-phone, finally getting access to the precious electrical light. I went out into the night, absolutely at peace with nature, the rest of the male group totally asleep and some snoring to musical tones! The two ladies Elizabeth and Bakul were also exploring the countryside, amazing that a dense forested region existed just a few hours from Mumbai.After a self-exploration at approx 0530 hrs i decided to brush my teeth and after doing the same relieved myself in the open countryside in the bushes, decades since i last had a shit in the open-air, only instances being in my ancestral villages during the 1970's.The entire group was awake by about 0600 hrs and we were given "bed-tea" by the "lodge-house" owners, a typical "restaurant cottage Industry" where the house owners lived, cooked and also served tourist food from the same house, with members of the family contributing to the family business. We later dressed and went for breakfast to the "food-house' at approx 0745 hrs and served "Upma" with tea.

Trekking through elephant grass to "Shreevardhan Fort".

                                                                                                                                   After breakfast we began our trek to "Shreevardhan fort",at 3000 feet, the tallest of the twin forts of Rajmachi. Besides the small village situated in the plateau region along with a few cultivated fields and a large water reservoir, entire Rajmachi is wild grassland with the two twin fort peaks of "Shreevardhan" and "Manaranjan" overlooking it from above.Nestled between the two twin forts is an ancient Hindu temple called Kalabhairav temple. There are statues of Kalabhairav and Jogeshwari in this temple supposed to have been donated by Shivaji and Peshwa Bajirao 1. The temple is a landmark starting point for ascending both the fort peaks and its open meadow plateau a useful camping site for outdoor trekkers intent on experiencing nature in its purest form.. We first began our climb to the taller of the two peaks, "Shreevardhan Fort". It was a steep trek with mid-waist length "elephant grass" towards the peak, the ground not being visible while walking. We had to tread carefully for fear of tripping over a boulder stone, perilous with an increase in age. the three collegian youngsters literally ran up the peak, proving the fact that age affects every human and i was reminded of the boxer Muhammed Ali's famous quote on retiring from boxing, quote, "I am at a stage in life where the mind says yes but the body says no".Trekking is no "Picnic" and shouldn't be confused with aimless walking on flat land as walking on inclined, uneven rugged terrain requires stamina, skill and mental toughness besides the advantage of youth vitality which diminishes with age. Normally ,all "B.N.H.S" day excursion trips in near proximity to Mumbai city are "Sell-outs" as the treks are less difficult, besides ,are conducted by reputed zoologists and botanists of "B.N.H.S" and helpfull to students and serious wild-life enthusiasts. I realized the reasons for only 9 people including the "B.N.H.S Trek guide" zoologist Mr Vandan.Jhaveri attempting the "Rajmachi Trek" .Simple logic being the extremely difficult terrain, definitely not a outdoors picnic or educative nature walk.We finally reached the peak of "Shreevardhan Fort" at approx 0900hrs. The boundary walls of the fort were intact as also a middle compartmental chamber with a Ganesha carving on its entrance wall. Rest of the interior of the fort was barren grassland with a broken water tank, the ravages of age. We posed for a group photograph at the peak of the fort near a flag hoisting pole. We spotted one of the largest dead centipede on the fort wall, burnt to death by some previous trekkers. In our entire trek to Rajmachi we didn't come across any wild-life barring a few Macque monkeys. From the fort we spotted a few raptors,Vandhan, Sunil and Sanjay being experienced "Bird-Watchers", honestly, my bird knowledge is negligible, barring the common birds seen in zoo's and city's.I go on treks just to experience the rugged wild forests and to interact with nature rather than for exotic bird-spotting and identification as most of the veteran trekkers like Sunil and Sanjay belong to. I feel guilty for having shot numerous birds in the 1970's with my air-gun during holidays in Mangalore's villages and hence from a hunter have become a trekker and blogger for forest conservation. After a brief rest at Shreevardhan fort we began our descent, treacherous due to the tall elephant grass and slippery gravel paths.We finally reached the base of the plateau near the temple and crossed to the other side to climb "Manaranjan Fort". Climbing the twin fort peaks of "Shreevardhan" and "Manaranjan" is akin to walking the stairs of a skyscraper building twice with the temple of Kalabhairav on the plateau being the focal point.Just at the base of Manaranjan Fort is a ancient Buddhist cave with self contained water tanks. We visited the caves and later trekked our way to the top of Manaranjan Fort. The Manaranjan Fort trek was less strenuous and difficult, a normal steep climb with a clear pathway, unlike the tall elephant grass cover on Shreevardhan trek pathways.We reached the peak of Manaranjan fort at approximately 1100 hrs and the view of Khandala/Lonavala and the entire Sahyadri valley was excellent from this fort. Lonavala is just 15 Kms from Rajmachi and the famous "Dukes Nose(Nagphani)" can be prominently seen from Manaranjan Fort. I took a beautiful photograph of Udhewadi village from the fort, resembling a typical "Google Earth map", with our lodge cottage prominently identifiable with its row of water storage drums as also its unique isolation from the rest of the cluster of village houses. We relaxed at the fort for a few minutes, savoring the beautiful views and fresh mountain air before beginning our descent to the cottage lodge. The descent was from another route, a casual walk down a forested pathway which led directly near our cottage lodge.When we arrived at our cottage i observed a small dead scorpion near my bedding on the floor, providence saved me from being bitten by this poisonous insect while asleep, must have been crushed by my body whilst sleeping.Scorpion an d snake bites are common occurrences in the Konkan and Western Ghat forests of Maharashtra. We refreshed, washed ourselves and changed attire, ready for the descent to Kondivade village in Karjat after lunch. I suddenly realized that my cell-phone network was dead, the indication showing an error in Sim card.The phone just refused to respond, all my stored data in the memory card was wiped off and i realized the value of old-fashioned written diary address books as a back-up storage in case of failure of electronic gadgets.Trekking and hiking teaches a person about living harmoniously with the environment besides understanding the cultures of the people living in forested village environments entirely different from city living and culture. Lunch was at the same lodge/lunch home in the village, a family run cottage industry during the peak monsoon tourist season.We had our lunch at 1145 hrs which consisted of vegetables, Rice chappatis, pickles, pappad and rice, extremely delicious and i indulged in my gastronomic hobby of eating, something i developed from years of exotic World travel. After lunch we went back to our cottage, picked our bags and began our descent at approx 1245 hrs. A young local boy guided us on our descent,as tough or worse than the ascent! Both my feet's big toes had become sore due to excessive friction between the "Trekker shoes" that i was wearing and my feet while negotiating steep climbs and descents, hence i was in extreme pain. As we senior trekkers were tired as also the two young ladies , the descent proving much tougher although the three collegian youngsters as also the young guide literally were running down the steep forested hillside.Getting lost in these forests is a genuine concern and hence we kept in touch with the faster younger trekker group through voice contact and brief rests for the slower groups to catch up with the "Trekking team". "Trekking" is a team sport and the motto of a "Trek Group" is to ascend or descend a hill, mountain or hill-fort together, the faster trekkers helping and guiding the laggards. We slowly managed to descend, taking frequent rests and recharged our water bottles at the natural water tank on the plateau. While descending we took a different route and bypassed "Kondana Caves". I was totally exhausted due to lack of sleep as well as the pain in my feet. We finally reached the base of Kondivade village at approx 1600 hrs, utterly thirsty and with my feet hurting.Purchased a cool drink at the local store and boarded our mini-bus. The journey back home to Mumbai was a tedious drive in heavily congested traffic with a stoppage for tea at the popular "Snack Corner" in Panvel.The two ladies were the first to leave, getting down at Chembur. Our bus finally reached Dadar T.T at approx 1945 hrs and after bidding adieu to my fellow trekkers , got down and luckily managed to catch a connecting local bus to Pabhadevi. Reached home at approx 2015 hrs, again caught in a local traffic jam due to Ganapati immersion processions.On arrival home i realized that my right foot big toenail was damaged and hurt badly.These are some of the hazards of "Outdoor Trekking" and also a part of the adventure of this tough sport that keeps a person fit and active.After a few days , on realizing that my toe was not self-healing got myself examined and treated by our Family General practitioner Dr Ganesh.Bhagwat. The toe is gradually healing and i feel totally rejuvenated from the intense trekking experience of Rajmachi Fort.Besides testing one's physical fitness and endurance the trek was also an eye-opener to us city dwellers of the normal living conditions of some of the remote villages of Maharashtra.I will forever remember the "Rajmachi Trek" among my numerous treks and nature hikes for the simple reason of nearly missed being bitten by a scorpion and after a few weeks losing both my thumbnails and a left leg finger nail as results of the trek foot injuries.