.. then I climbed the mountain in full moon night, to lose my mind and find my soul..!!
That was an end of the Monsoon, which poured life into the sturdy rocks of western ghats. Like a magic wand, mountains started thriving with the lush green forests and magnificent waterfalls. The cold breeze marked the beginning of the Winter.
It was Kojagiri Purnima, a full moon night of the Hindu Lunar Month of Ashwin.
The legend says that, on this auspicious night, goddess Laxmi takes rounds of the earth to watch the actions of human beings. In that case, how can I sleep in my cosy bed?
So, I planned a night trek to – Raigad – an impregnable fort where Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj was crowned as the King of Maratha Empire.
I wanted to touch the soil on which the Janata Raja had walked upon. I wanted to breathe an air which had carried the words spoken by the Great Maratha. Just the thought of visiting Raigad filled my chest with pride.
Towards the Gibraltar of the East
15 October 2016
Unlike my other solo explorations, this was an exceptional one. For the first time, I was doing a road trip and a night trek with my cousins. When you travel alone, you don’t have to worry about anybody. But in this scenario, where we have to ride more than 100 kilometres and then climb the mountain at night, I was a little worried about my little sisters.
As it was going to be an overnight trek, we were equipped with the required things like tents, sleeping bags and camping lights. Total six people and three bikes left Pune in the evening towards the Tamhini Ghat. Although the road condition was so bad, we all were excited enough to ignore that fact.
The hot cup of tea en route was an essential part of any road trip. Also, an occasional stop for a photo shoot, which we did along the Mulshi dam, just before the dusk. We crossed the Tamhini Ghat in the dark, singing out loud the old songs. Only two things were slowing us down was the potholes and a Scooty in our convoy.
Everything seemed fine until a moment when something unexpected happened. Suddenly, it started raining heavily. Although we got a shelter easily inside a small bus stop, everyone was thinking about the difficulties it can cause while trekking and camping. Few minutes later the clouds were empty and we were again back on the track. There were no traces of human civilization around. Just the engine’s noise and our singing voice. After so much twists and turns finally, we made it to the foothills of the Raigad fort.
Ride can be analogous to Life, because in both, we should know when to take a break and when to move on.
The deep silence had taken over the valley, except the noises of Crickets and Katydids. The bright moon was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. Our vehicles were parked, backpacks loaded on the shoulders and climbing had begun with eyes wide open.
It was midnight when the moon had reached its zenith. Even though the clouds had covered the moon, we had enough light to see our path. Few of the stretches had stairs, which I feel more hectic to climb. The narrow route passes along the ridge with a deep gorge on one side. The girls didn’t have any idea from where they were passing by.
Eventually, we came across a spring. The freezing cold water was bliss. The tiredness had been forgotten and we regained our strength. Soon, we entered the huge door, known as Maha Darwaja, which is the only pathway to get into the Fort. Two huge bastions on both sides of the door could be ideal site for camping, but still, the top of the fort is 600 feet high.
Again, there were well-built stairs which slowed down our pace. We knew we’re getting closer with each step. The occasional singing, stupid jokes and few stories eased our journey a bit. Finally, we got a flat surface which meant, we made it to the top.
All were too much exhausted to erect the tents, but there was no choice. Soon, tents were set up, but we stayed a little longer under the open sky before going into the comfort of sleeping bags.
The pleasant moonlight in a cold night with bunch of wanderers – perfect combination.
The Heartsome Dawn
It was still dark but the noises were getting more louder. I came out of my tent to see that we were not alone. There were activities organised on the night of Kojagiri, which was attended by many enthusiasts. I can sense the feeling of pride in every person moving around. That’s the power of One Great man who still inspires us and will inspire many generations to come.
Unexpectedly, we got a cup of hot tea while enjoying the cheerful warmth of the red sun, coming out of the blanket of white clouds in the valley below. The walls of the fort were shining in the bright orange sunlight. That was the most refreshing thing I can think of.
Tents and sleeping bags were packed, everyone got refreshed and ready to explore the bits of history scattered around the fort. The location where we erected our tents was exactly the highest point on the mountain from where everything else was visible. The Gangasagar Lake was reflecting the blue sky contrasted over the green carpet. The neatly arranged stone blocks marked the market area just in front of us. We needed to move to get closer to these places.
Everyone was ready, except for my DSLR camera. I was not sure what happened to him but he refused to turn on. That was the worst thing to happen, especially when you have a lot of beautiful things to capture.
The first light reminded me of the rise of Chhatrapati Shivaji, who illuminated the feeling of Swarajya in every single person around.
Wagh Darwaja – The Hidden Door
Raigad was not new for me. I have been there already and explored almost all the places except one – Wagh Darwaja. We all knew that this majestic fort is accessible only from one side through the Maha Darwaja as all other sides are surrounded by deep valleys. But that was not true.
How Rajaram Maharaj, the grandchild of Shivaji Maharaj escaped when the fort was given away to the Aurangzeb?
That means there has to be a hidden door somewhere and we were just going to find out the same. But before moving down the path, we have to fill the empty stomach and remove the heavy load from our shoulders. There was a small hamlet on the Raigad fort, where we had delicious Pithale Bhakri in one of those houses and kept our luggage.
Most of the people, I asked, didn’t know much about the Wagh Darwaja. So, I decided to go down the path and figure out myself. The way started from the well-laid marketplace, then passed through the ruins. Few patches were slippery and were covered by the shrubs. I spotted few signs on tree trunks indicating the way down towards Wagh Darwaja. After crossing a small stream, we entered into a flat grassland shining with yellow flowers.
And a few steps ahead, we found the Wagh Darwaja. But we were not done yet !!
I saw a narrow pathway leading to the small water stream ahead with the huge cliff alongside. That was like a challenge I was looking for. After a small discussion, few stayed back & I moved ahead along with my brother and a sister. We were very careful because we couldn’t afford a single mistake. It took time but slowly we descended down these slippery slopes successfully.
And in the end, we made it to the Ledge!!
“Adventure begins at the end of the roads we know.”
Where the Chhatrapati rests
The small adventure was over. We came up to the ruins of the main market where the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj has been erected. Few children were selling water bottles there. We bought some water to rehydrate our bodies.
The market avenue was built on a high plinth and was separated by 40 feet wide road leading to Jagadishwar temple. It was built in such a way that it can be accessed while sitting on the horses. We walked over the paved pathway to the end.
Knowing that the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj used to visit the Jagadishwar temple daily, this timeless thought made me feel the presence of the Great King around. I spent a few moments inside the temple in that trance.
The temple structure is surrounded by the walled compound. Notably, the temple dome has an influence of Mughal architecture of that time. Just ahead of the temple, there is a Samadhi of Shiv Chhatrapati, the final resting place of the King of Maratha Empire. I bowed to this great warrior who is still the reason for my existence.
The Samadhi Sthal is still intact and well maintained and is a pilgrimage site for the Marathas. Just behind the Shivaji Maharaj Samadhi, there is another samadhi of his loyal dog Waghya. The legend says that, in 1680, after the death of Shivaji Maharaj, when his body was being cremated, the loyal Waghya jumped into the pyre to be with his beloved master.
What Shivaji Maharaj had left behind was a huge empire built from the scratch by the common people along with a great visionary leader based on the Dharma.
Takmak Tok – Gateway of Death
Among the breathtaking cliffs of Raigad fort, Takmak Tok was being used as an execution point, from where the prisoners were thrown out to their death. Now, the area has been fenced off. But we can see the magnificent views of adjoining mountains of Sahyadri ranges, the tiny villages and snake-like rivers and roads.
The point, where I was standing, was the exact location from where the traitors were thrown off the 1200 feet cliff. Their screams must have been reverberated throughout the valley before being silenced permanently.
Even the imagination was so scary, I can see the collateral beauty of it.
The peaceful moment came to an end. It was time to get back to the house, where we kept our luggage and say goodbye to the family for serving us delicious food.
Death is unavoidable, no matter what you do, so we should keep doing the best to get rest in peace in true sense.
Getting down by Ropeway
Standing in front of the Sinhasan, where the famous historical Rajyabhishek was performed, was one of the proudest moments of my life. Behind me was the whole durbar enclosed by the walls acoustically designed to aid hearing from the doorway to the throne. The Nagarkhana Darwaja, who witnessed the Vedic ceremony silently, is still standing intact.
Most of the royal palace structures were in ruins. The Queen’s quarters were reduced to the collapsed walls. The queens used to enter here through the private entrance, known as the Mena Darwaja. Another entrance, known as Palkhi Darwaja was being used by the convoy of King and the King himself. I can see only the outline of the features described in history.
Ropeway was turned out to be a great relief because everyone was so much exhausted. Not only by the trek, but also by the heavy luggage of camping equipment we were carrying. Going down by the same route could turn out to be a nightmare. Thanks to the ropeway for taking us down in just 10 minutes.
Time can ruin everything, but it can not even touch such great souls who lived beyond its boundaries.
The Legend of Hirkani
While descending down in the comfort of ropeway, I saw the breathtaking view of the ridge. It was the same cliff from where the Hirkani climbed down in the dark few hundred years back. As per the historical accounts, Hirkani was a lady from the base village who used to sell the milk on the fort. But one day, she got stuck inside the fort walls after sunset when the doors got closed.
She couldn’t wait till dawn for the gates to open again. Her infant child was alone in her house. Then what happened was history.
The anxious mother climbed down the steep cliff in the pitch dark for the love of her child. Only Love can make the impossible possible. When her extraordinary story reached to the ears of Shivaji Maharaj, he rewarded her bravery and constructed a Buruj on the same cliff. The naked rock face is still as scary as hell.
Ropeway dropped us at the village named after Hirkani as Hirakan Wadi. We walked for a mile or two to reach the bike parking. Everyone was smiling now because the trek was over. But still we needed to ride for few hours to reach Pune & I didn’t want to ride back by Tamhini Ghat due to worst road conditions. So, we decided to venture through the Varandha Ghat.
Mahad was not so far from Raigad where we had a full lunch. Then we started ascending the Varandha Ghat in the twilight. The road was not so great but it was enjoyable. Our ride continued in the dark until we crossed the Bhor and aligned ourselves to the National Highway for Pune.
After facing the worst for a while, then only we can appreciate the best in our lives.