Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Amazing Harihar Trek ...

The Harihar fort is situated in the Trimbakeshwar range of the Sahyadris, which covers areas north of Igatpuri and west of Nashik.  The Vaitarna Dam is in this area. There are several forts here, roughly split in two areas, with Basgad, Utvad,  Fani Hill, Harihar and Trimbakgad in one part , and  Anjaneri and Hargad in another.

In the olden days, this fort was with the Ahmednagar Sultans,  and this was an important area where rulers could keep watch on trade and defence routes  that connected Maharashtra and Gujarat.

At an elevation of 3676 feet above sea level,  the fort has an amazing construction plan. From the village at its base , it looks as if it is rectangular in shape, but is built on triangular prism of rock. Two edges of this are absolutely vertical, and one edge is at a rough 80 degrees angle.  On initial approach, the land  ascends with a somewhat mild slope for about 200 feet, and the next 200 feet is a very steep , almost 80 degrees ascent, through 117 steps cut into the stone.

History indicates that the British had a policy of destroying all forts that were not under their jurisdiction.  Sometimes, these forts were used to store grains , and so were spared. Some held political adversaries of earlier rulers, who were released. Captain Briggs attempted a  Harihar Fort climb in 1818, and commented on the difficult , almost vertical, last 200 feet, with a steep 500 foot drop on the side.  He was so smitten with the climb and the Fort, that he decided not to recommend its destruction. (He is supposed to have stated that,  the Fort was so formidable that just 5 people could defend it against any attackers).

200 years later, no one attacks, but today, young and old trekkers crowd the difficult paths, more so in the monsoon.  With great respect for the place.

Captain Briggs might have been pleased. 

One of the vertical drops from fort faces the Nirgudpada Village and is called "Scottish Kada"  (kada = cliff)  , in honor of the legendary Himalayan mountaineer Doug Scott, who climbed this in 1986.  He successfully climbed the vertical cliff of 170 metres, over 2 days.  

Nirgudpada is the base village when one approaches Harihar Fort.  About 35 kms from Kasara, which we reached early in the morning by the Mumbai suburban railway network and then took local transport to the viilage.

One moves away from the Nirgudpada village towards the mountain, and crosses a largish stream. The monsoon has been generous, and several sheep are apparently interested in joining the trekkers.

The farmlands of the village and the traditional agriculture of rice. We cross these fields on our way to the base of the mountain.

Wooded landscape with slushy paths  as we make our way. You can almost feel the boots sinking into wet mud.

Rice transplanting in progress in one of the rice fields.  From a small patch , where the soil has been treated  to a "raab" (covering land with diverse botanical and biological waste and then burning it ) treatment, to improve its quality after a previously taken crop.  The small saplings of rice grown on this patch are now transplanted to  the larger ploughed fields. Full family at work early in the morning. The work is hard, the rains uncertain. But one ploughs on.

  Another view , and a farmer posing for me. 

Two local heroes.

The sheep of Nirgudpada,  out on their daily trek for food.  So much more beautiful than our daily  trek for food in Mumbai.

The girls, assigned their daily work.  Hopefully discussing their dreams of making it to school one day.  On the other hand, may be they attend school in addition to this work.  In our villages, it is always the girls and women who work the hardest.

The first sight of the majestic Harihar Fort as we get closer to the base.  Amazing green landscape, making it a pleasure to trek in the monsoons.

The sheep are determined to trek. They are familiar with the paths, and nimble on their feet. Must be fun for them , as they can take off for a bite on the side , anytime they want, at the natural Food Malls ...   :-)

Local stars posing with the trekkers. And the sheep know how to photobomb.

A typical view as we climb higher. Monsoon clouds descending.

We get closer through fairly wooded paths , the slope increases and we sight the majestic face of the Fort.

A view  of the valley , somewhere half way up the Fort.  These are the easier parts of the climb.

The view in another direction. All mountains of the Trimbak range of the Sahyadris, who must have been witness to all the history over centuries.

Approaching the almost vertical climb of 200 feet, we cross a ridge . The gradual slopes are over and now comes the hard part. You can see the stone cut step pathway on the face of the rock. Strangely, the ascent is easier than the descent, more so amidst heavy blowing monsoon winds, rain and slippery steps . And so we will post more photos of the descent across the same steps, later. 

In the meanwhile....

(this photo below by Ganesh Naik)

A sheer vertical drop on 500 feet on the left (first photo) , and one must pass, through this rocky overhang as one ascends the final  difficult feet.  The second photo shows the sharp drop into the valley. (That's me behind my friend.)  Not easy, but one learns.  The first set of rock cut stairs lead you to this gallery path, after which you ascend through some more curved difficult steps,  fairly narrow (allowing only a single person ), through a cave like enclosure to reach the peak.

Another one of those vertigo inducing locations, and the trekker keeps his eyes focused on the top.

Wonderful landscapes with the Upper Vaitarna river waters in  the distance. The dark of the mountain clearly due to monsoon clouds.

But the shifting monsoon laden dark clouds do sometimes allow a sudden morning sun to light up the greens and the rocks.

Another view .

We reach the top, and are greeted with this amazing view of a natural pond (there are several), and an Hanuman temple.  Closer to the pond is a Shivling with a saffron painted Trishul. There are several such water sources on the top. 

A closeup. Notice the several worship areas on the banks of the pond. 

One of the trekkers celebrating  having reached the top. All Forts will traditionally have this flag flying at the peak.

Another pond, another bank. One of the ponds has potable water.

There are some other folks also enjoying the ponds at the top at an elevation of 3676 feet. A Water snake out to see what the excitement is all about....

There is this old thatched stone ruin on the eastern banks of the pond-with-potable-water.  It can hold about 20 people comfortably. and the monsoon waters actually trickle and leak inside.   Shouldn't be anything different for  those from Mumbai, who live in houses of concrete (but in worse surroundings), actually behaving the same way.

Yes. I needed to pose at the entrance to the structure.

The sky above, the wet grass below, and the mountain by my side. Some poetic folks need wine, but I was so hungry, I badly needed a vada pao....  :-)

The last set of rock cut steps, are filled with sharp turns , and this is the narrow cave like structure through which we emerge on the very massive are at the top.

As promised, the pictures of the descent.  Much more difficult that the ascent.
We leave through the narrow structure.

Trekkers lined up , slowly descending, careful across the wet and slippery steps, in single file.

Something to remind you of the sharp vertical 500 foot drop all around you as you manoeuvre down the steps, many of which are broken and worn out. But there are cuts in the rock , where you can anchor a hold with your hands. Whoever did this was a very very thoughtful person.

Another view of the sheer vertical rock. And yes, smiling through it all certainly helps.

The interesting mode of descent.  The descent on the rock cut stairs is almost completely done backwards, as you can see. Notice the turn of the stairs, the places hewn in the rocks to hold on by hand, and you slowly carefully go, one step at a time, looking out for those above and below you. It wouldn't be advisable to slip.

And yes, I wouldn't look at the steep drop on the right, if I were you.

(PC above  pic: Ganesh Naik)
The sheer size of the mountain face

Emerging from the narrow cave like structure, a view of the trekkers

A backwards descent....continued

A view of those descending after us. Notice that everyone descend backwards, and there is much co-operative effort to ensure safety .  What you don't see on either side is the sheer vertical drop.

Another view.

A much needed rest after a thrilling but traumatic descent

It's stop and go. Looks like there is some traffic , but one looks back and follows the person descending.

It gets easier....

And another fort alongside, which must have been witness to Captain Briggs, history , and everything,  sits and wonders about the endless line of folks continuously going up and down those stairs , in the middle of the monsoon, and feeling thrilled about it all.....


  1. I am very much thankful to captain Briggs and nature for the memorable day and also thankful to a beautiful lady ms Pankaja date for recollecting those memories again. Keep writing, so that we can keep recollecting.😊

  2. Such soothing green! ... I havent done much trekking in MH ... this is too tempting to start travelling that side :)

  3. Nice post, things explained in details. Thank You.

  4. Cool pics, Nice blog