Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Gorakhgad Trek.

Gorakhgad and Macchindragad, two forts named after a disciple and his guru (both saints) respectively,  lie in the extended Bhimashankar  range of the Sahyadris,  within the Murbad Taluka of Thane District.

These forts were of strategic importance during the reign of Shahaji Raje (father of Shivaji Maharaj), and later during Shivaji's reign were actually used as a stopover point / activity tracking place  during journeys to Junnar via Naneghat. 

We travelled to Kalyan on the Central Railway Suburban network , and then by local public road transport.  The base village is a place called Dehri. There is a Gorakshnath temple on the Murbad Dehri  route , which is the starting point of the trek.

You can see the two peaks , and strangely, the bigger one, is Gorakhgad, while the one named after the guru, Macchindragad,  is the smaller peak .

  Gorakhgad , at an elevation of 2125 feet,  is approached by a path that starts just behind the Gorakshnath temple. The path winds around through an extremely dense jungle , and one is advised to come here only with those who have trekked here before, else it is easy to get lost.

We trekked through an extremely dense jungle, with narrow paths, sort of mildly uphill till we reached on a  clearing.  After this, the gradient got steeper,  the monsoon vegetation, and the sudden rain, also made climbing a bit messy and difficult.  The thick jungle blocked most of the natural light.  About 20 minutes of steep trekking and we came to a plateau of sorts.

We could see at times, the caves of Gorakhgad, and also saw a Vana Vibhag banner announcing features of the Fort.

The jungle slowly thinned out to a grassy area as we climbed further and up, and the last part was all about climbing through some rock cut staircases. After climbing Kalavantin Durg, and Harihar Fort, I felt these were the hardest steps to handle, as they were steep, the fall on the sides was steep, and many of these steps were broken.  Something I didnt mention was the sudden onset of rain and heavy winds.

Like in previous treks where we had to climb rock cut steps, the descent was much more difficult, and at one point I descended sitting on the steps.

At one point there was also a metal detatchable ladder provided to aid the trekkers.

I found this trek harder than the earlier ones , but extremely wonderful.

Some photographs in this collection have been taken by my friend fellow trekker  Ranchodas Das.  Included in here to make the narrative more complete.

Traveling to the base village Dehri  by a local rickshaw transport. The Mumbai suburban railways get you used to hanging and leaning out.

We took the road to the right which led to the Gorakshnath Temple. Our first view of the Gorakhgad and Macchindragad  peaks.

The winding path through the jungle were preceded by local fields, and cattle.

So many different varieties of green in the jungle as we trudged through .

Dense vegetation all around us, and this was one of the more well defined paths.

We proceed amidst the jungle in single file as the path winds slowly uphill. The gradient here was not steep at all, and the climb was not strenuous at all .

I clicked someone else doing its own climb amidst the leaves, and like us, it must have been amazed at the jungle cover.

Paths with huge rocks , often provided a place to anchor a hold , in the soil which was slushy due to rain.

A view of the surrounding plains, as captured when we reached the first clearing in the mountains.  Notice the variety of the trees.

Onward we climb, as it gets steeper as well as the jungle gets even more dense.

Another view  of the plains, from a bit higher and from another side of the mountain as our trek path winds around it..

No, I am not trying to push it.  But this is just what lay in our path as we proceeded upwards.

You can tell we have reached the plateau of sorts , much higher than before. It also threatens to rain and the clouds are closing in.

This was almost like a place made for me.  The ancient Shiva temple we were about to see  must have inspired me, but I apologize for doing this still wearing my trekking shoes.

It is almost as if this barren branch leaned back is surprise on sighting the Gorakhgad peak so close, and said "Aiyyo!"....

The Forest department provides information about the Gorakhgad and Macchindragad at this point.  We have come roughly one kilometre up, and will now see ancient Satvahan dynasty ruins , carvings,  caves, and must now face rock cut steps in out final approach to the peak.

The ancient Shiva Temple precincts.

More of the same temple.

The padukas  still preserved at the temple. 

The dense jungle now gives way to grassy land as we approach the peak

 This is how tall the grass was. (The tallest among us was sitting there) ...

 A clear sky and it inspires this click .

Machhindragad , clicked through a gap as we climb. 

 We have reached the caves , approaching from the left. The greyish rock in the centre of this photo hides the steps which we climb to enter the caves.
 We had come in from the steps on the left . Above us lies the steepest climb to the peak. I still wonder how devotees climbed these places in the old days, and did penance in the caves.

 Another view of the caves, highlighting the steep gradient to the peak, and the sheer drop below the caves. 

An inside view  of the caves, with art work and inscriptions.  This place was amazingly free of the typicall graffiti one sees normally. Possibly because hordes of people do not come to visit Gorakhgad.  

 Some views of what surrounded us as we climbed on.

Steep falls and tough rocks. And when you climb , it is a treasure of history.

We finally make it to the top, climbing carefully through some very old rock cut steps, which don't just go straight but take assorted turns .

And yes, it is a sheer drop from where I sit.  The Sahyadris in their majesty, dense jungles and all,  surrounding it all.

Macchindragad , standing close by, in its own majestic glory.

Our trekking group, enjoying a well deserved rest . It was like watching a movie of Mother Nature all around us, but I wouldn't want to be sitting in the front seat....

Another view of Macchindragad

I make an effort to stand on Gorakhgad , right alongside Macchindragad. 

A Shiva temple at the Gorakhgad peak 

Yes. We begin the descent, and as always, with all these steps, this is more difficult than the ascent. You can see some other group people being very careful, clutching the rocks for support and slowly descending.

At one point, i decided that the only way to descend was by sitting down. And it seemed to work.

A twenty foot rope has been installed at this point to help trekkers hold on and descend the difficult parts.  Some didn't need to use it, but it was helpful.

 This is the detachable ladder provided on Gorakhgad. It fixes into knotches in the rock, and you stand on it and climb down. Here is one of our group doing the needful as i prepare to come down. And another member keeps watch from after me.

 The descent continues in a careful manner. It had rained and the steps were extremely slippery.

  A much needed break below the peak structure, leaning against the rock. What you do not see is the steep drop down on the left.

 The rain , the clouds, and the camera all conspired . Perhaps the Gorakhgad thought another new Fort had suddenly come up on the left.  :-)

 I had to capture these grasses just for the color.

Bidding goodbye to the mountains.

 And here , bidding goodbye to you....

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Another Independence Day ....

Independence Day , always a holiday,  this year, was different.

Thanks to my new trekking hobby, I learned about  an activity undertaken every year, by the Passion Group, headed by Ranchoddas Das , my trekking friend.  Every Independence Day,  this group visited the Sant Gadage Maharaj Adivasi Ashram Shala, at Bhatsai, Vashind , and carried food and gifts for the children, both residing at the school, as well as in 20 surrounding Adivasi hamlets, or Padaas.

Sant Gadge Maharaj (1876-1956) was a saintly social reformer of Maharashtra , who travelled through the viilages . He would wear his food pan upturned on his head, carry his trademark broom, and immediately start cleaning the gutters and roads of whichever village he entered. He would sing kirtans, and preach the virtues of  simple living, compassion, service to the poor. He preached against animal sacrifice in religious rituals, consumption of alcohol. He accepted nothing from the villagers till his work was done, and whatever he did accept went towards creating Educational Institues, Dharmsalas, Hospitals  and Animal Shelters.

 The Government of Maharashtra has started a 'Sant Gadgebaba Swachata Abhiyan' in 2000-01 in his honour. The Government of India has announced National Award for Sanitation and water in his honour.

Four friends from work joined me on this trip.  We were a total of about 25 folks.  We reached Vashind by the Mumbai Suburban Network by 10 am. Transport was provided  for our trip to the Ashram Shala, where the Adivasi Children study. Some of these children live there too. The school is run by some dedicated teachers, and a bunch of dedicated ladies cook hot meals for the children twice a day.

We then visited  12  Padaas or small Adivasi hamlets in the Shahapur region, in the shadow of the Mahuli Fort, where we gifted food packets to the children. The Padaas we visited were   Bershingi pada , Jambhul pada , Avale pada , Boricha pada , Vadu pada , Ambe dor , Sale pada , Tokre pada , Sutar pada , Kharepada pada, Kate koi and  Mukund pada.

A photo essay of sorts..

The first view of Vasind Station where we disembarked.  This was clicked on my phone. Vasind is a station on the Central Railway branch that goes towards Nashik, via Kasara . My trekking had often taken me as far as Kasara, so it was now interesting to see Vasind.

We reached the Ashram Shala by local transport arranged for us. The kids are normally provided  meals at noon. Today, in honor of visitors (us) on Independence Day, the lunch was a bit early, and you can see the kids in uniform sitting down for the meal, supervised by some senior girls and teachers.

Everyone in their Independence-Day best, with flowers in their hair and red ribbons in bows. The children are served on traditional eco friendly plates made of leaves.

As is customary, the children congregated in an assembly, and the program began with a welcome song rendered by the senior girls.

The audience of younger kids . Girls and boys sitting separately.  Which is very common in rural areas.  But notice the discipline.

Finally, someone acknowledged me .  These two guys gave  some real winning smiles, though the girls seem to wonder why I am there at all  :-)

A closer view, and except for the girl in red wearing the latest fashion , no one wants to look at me.

This young boy followed after the welcome song and was raptly listened to. I wonder how much they practiced.  The staff and some teachers watch from the sidelines.

One of the teachers addressing the assembly and perhaps giving an introduction to the visitors who have come.

Finally !  This delightful little girl and her brother know what I am up to, and oblige...

The kids line up to receive sweets and stuff which we carried. Here are two of my friends helping with the distribution. Notice the girl in navy blue, checking out what her friend got.

It is now the turn of the boys, and they line up under the teachers eye. No rushing, no crowding.

Some of the staff and teachers of the school who were present on the occasion.

The ladies who actually cook two fresh meals a day for the residential kids. These are local ladies, and they too were recipients of some sweets and stuff.

One of the rooms on the school premises, and my friends from work and some others posing with the girls from the school.

Gathering together for the mandatory group photo with us at the school porch. The girl walking in front is either some kind of monitor or late comer.

                 Our group joins them  and everyone raises hands as patriotic slogans fill the air.  .......and I click.             

Children from the various Padaas attend this day school too.  We now proceed from the school in the direction of the Padaas. A typical monsoon landscape in the Shahpur region. 

The transport provided for us. We often got down and walked to the Padaas.

This one time we actually reached a Padaa with the transport; a good idea given the imminent rain. Clicked in natural light.

Padaa architecture. A typical house .

Another house , another architectural style. Self designed. The clouds appear to be lifting , and we were hoping to sight the Mahuli Fort peaks in the distance.

This must be the house of a influential Adivasi .  A nice  house with an ever spreading expanse,  a solar panel on the roof,  a DishTV antenna , and several official banners of the government and maybe even political parties, possibly laminated, being nicely made use of for house protection.   It must be emphasized that this guy appears to be an exception, and possibly destined to go into politics later.

I don't know what trees they are. But it was unusual to see a pair of them growing so close to each other in the middle of a field.


And then there were such houses too.  Bearing the brunt of heavy showers, and old construction, not to mention uneven ground leading to slushy land in the monsoons.

A typical landscape with the traditional planting of rice. I think the clouds were about to clear the mountaintop in the distance.

The lady of the land walking along the edge of her small field. Immense hard work at her home, in her fields, nurturing many children, and you admire her strength and her posture. 

Leaves of the teak tree, collected and organized into piles containing specific number of leaves.  These are used in making products with flowers , and one often sees  women in the suburban trains  carrying baskets full of these leaves to the big flower markets of Mumbai. 

One of my friends and the adivasi lady who probably collected these leaves.

Two junior citizens of the Padaa with the food packets (puri bhaji) that were distributed.  . 

Another junior citizen, posing in his doorway for me, puri bhaji in hand.

We distributed the extra school gifts to the children in the padaas, and there was never a rowdy crowd . They always lined up .  (I think Mumbai teaches us indiscipline. ).

Amidst all the signs of progress, these continue to bloom, year after year, unchanged.

         The clouds lift off the mountain, displaying the awesome peaks of Mahuli, as we make our way back from the padaas to our vehicles. It is now evening and we must now return to a civilization of trains, cars, autos, noise and concrete. 

We leave carrying much of this green with us, on Independence Day .