Harishchandragadh is not a place that you can forget easily. It continues to haunt your memories just as I am as much thrilled in writing about it even two years after the trip.
Harishchandragadh is located more or less equidistance from Mumbai, Pune and Ahmednagar, three important cities in Maharashtra. It is an old fort, of which only a temple exists to recount its glorious past. Situated on the foothills of the sahyadri range of mountains, the people of these cities find it a good way to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Still because of the tough terrain, it has continued to maintain its rustic charm. It is untouched from the materialistic influences, and that adds to its beauty. Unfortunately we weren’t able to shoot any pictures of this grand place. However, i found the pictures by Mr. Amit Kulkarni really good. Have a look at these.
Our plan to Harishchandragadh was made in haste. Saurabh, the inventor of the idea, told that a whole group of friends was planning to go. But finally I learnt that there were just Saurabh, Neeraj (his roommate whom I didn’t even know well then) and me. But I knew I couldn’t back off the idea now; Saurabh wouldn’t let me. So we packed a few necessaries and started for Harishchandragadh.
It was again Saurabh’s idea to start late at night so that we will have the whole day to enjoy. Believe me I was anticipating something like a horror film sequence to happen. Never been out at this time of the night.
Thankfully nothing of such a kind happened. We boarded a Maharashtra State Bus at 1.30 in the night. It was all dark outside except for the bus depots that we passed. I knew nothing but that we were moving. The other two were as unaware of it as they soon passed off into deep slumber. I kept awake, wide awake since I cannot sleep in a moving bus. I kept looking out in the dark to ascertain whether we were in the plains or were heading for the hills. I didn’t know when my eyes too closed, although I can bet it was just for some half hour.
It was around four when the conductor jostled Saurabh from his deep slumber. He exclaimed that Harishchandragadh has come. He had been bribed with cigarettes to do this small favour. Oh finally, I thought. I tried to see out from the window for any hint of what Harishchandragadh actually is. Nothing was visible except for the vast expanses. Not a light was visible. Where has the bus dropped us at this time of the night? It wasn’t night actually, but daylight was still too far. Was it a forest that we have been dropped into? My body shuddered with the thought of wild animals. No, I don’t want to be killed so early. The vast expanse gave hints of mountain close by. There also was a faint gurgling sound of water that came from nearby.
But none of us was actually ready to go examine the place. All were afraid to venture out in the dark. This from people like Saurabh and Neeraj who proclaim them as big time goons. So we decided to wait until twilight.
And then at around 4.30 in the morning, as the first rays of light dawned the earth, we saw the most beautiful scene of our lives. Behind a large mountain block, the sky turned into deep orange. The sun slowly came out of its confines and enlightened the entire sky.
Things finally became clearer with daylight. There were mountains all over. And there was a small river with a stone bridge built over it. Harishchandragadh was still out of sight. Moreover, there was still no sight of people whom we can ask for way. We even doubted if any civilization did exist at this place.
After getting fresh (that was little problem with water available in sufficient) we decided to move. The journey through the bridge seemed endless. Finally a small hut was visible. It all looked like in movies. Large mountains, a smoothly flowing river, small hut. The owner here made money by offering snacks to tourists who came here. It was here that we learnt that Harishchandragadh is a hot spot among Mumbaiites and Puneites. Having a full breakfast of pohe we got up for our journey.
We were joined by another group of marathi boys. Soon we learnt that this group plans to trek easy. We decided to part ways so that we can reach the place early and return by the evening.
Returning by evening was not possible however. We had expected that crossing this one or two hills, we would reach the spot. But we were wrong. There were several small and big hills to cross. And I cursed the time when I had agreed to come to the place. It would be easy for the pros amongst us. But for me, a first time trekker, this was a real tough adventure.
The first hill was smaller but steeper. And then there was the most dangerous one. I can still feel goose pimples thinking of it. The hill had no vegetation. It is easier to trek through a mountain with vegetation than with none. If you are losing balance, you can catch hold of some tree branches. But none here. At one point, there was just as much place to keep a foot. And don’t dare to see down. The deep gullies down may freeze you with fear. When you are in the Western Ghats you can view many such gullies.
Finally we crossed. And this was the last hurdle. We made it fast. And Neeraj gets the entire credit for it. He wouldn’t allow you to rest. Sit down for more than a minute and instantly came his comment- keep moving or your legs will get jammed. He was right, but our legs were denying to move even now.
We reached Harishchandragadh at around 2.30 in the noon. The trek took us around 3 hours. Harishchandragadh was no fort, at least not now. All that remains of the fort is this temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is built in black stone and has beautiful carvings on its walls and pillars. We prostrated before the lord from outside the temple (we hadn’t taken bath yet).
We decided to stay for the night. People there told us that picnickers stay here and enjoy campfires in the night. Teams from several reputable companies had come. Besides, we had still not sight seen the place.
Water tasted sweet here. The ground water was sweet, but it was chilling as well. Too cold for us to take bath. We didn’t even dare to go down in a water tank (kund) downstairs, which had a HUGE Shivalinga (around half the size of a regular room). It was said of this kund that if a person goes around this shivalinga in the cold water, all his wishes get fulfilled. We missed the opportunity or may be we willingly missed the opportunity.
But we didn’t stay here for long. Saurabh was restless to visit the other sights closeby. Harishchandragadh is located at the foothills of the second largest peak of Maharashtra, i.e. Taramati. Saurabh came to know that people go up to Taramati and from there they can see sunset on Kokangarha. So I was herded for the next trek.
Thankfully, Taramati was an easy ascent. There were enough trees to balance you. At the exact top however I did lose balance on a few stones, not well founded. Neeraj gave me his hand. Neeraj hardly looked tired. Saurabh, who like to appear undaunted, wouldn’t show his fear either. But I was all tired and wasn’t able to move an inch now. Reaching the top surely gives you a feeling of satisfaction, of elation at having conquered the second largest peak in Maharashtra. The mountains nearby looked timid from the top. At noon, it was really very hot there. We decided to rest for a while on the yellowish grass at the small natural platform at the peak of Taramati.
But rest was not for long. We had to visit the sunset point and Saurabh wouldn’t rest until he reached there. To make things worse, we lost our way here. One wrong turn and we were lost, seemed like in a jungle. With creepers all around, you could hardly walk. Finally it struck our mind to go up on a tree to check what was ahead. Saurabh soon got up a tree and claimed that either there was way ahead or it was a deep gully. We decided to move ahead and check for ourselves. Fortunately it was a way; not to Kokangarha however, but back to Harishchandragadh. It was getting dark so we decided to postpone the sunset plan.
By the time we got down, it was already dark. The priest of the temple suggested that we order food to a women who lives nearby. Seemed she was the only family living there and made a good money by feeding people like us. It was getting chilled here, even though we were on the peak of summer. She provided us with a carpet and a blanket. We were to sleep in caves; these caves may have been used by priests during the ancient times as abode. It was built by cutting into the large blocks of the Taramati. And we were not alone here. People here were having a good time with campfires. After having a sumptuous lunch of thick chapattis laced with pure butter, curd, and potato curry, I was really feeling sleepy. Rarely had I walked as much in my life. And I slept like I had never before, though I remember fighting for my share of the small blanket at night.
The next day we were ready to make our journey back. So much did I wish that I stayed here for long. But I also dreaded the tedious journey up and down the hills. Wish some helicopter took me straight from this place. But wishes are seldom fulfilled. I couldn’t have stayed there for long since my classes were to start the next day. And I had to follow the same route. However this time it appeared less daunty, may be because of the experience I had gained of trekking.