We woke up at sunrise. I had a good night’s sleep and felt fresh, unlike everyone else. Normally, early winter nights in the Sahyadris are fairly cold; however, this time, the night had been quite pleasant and comfortable. I think it was because the rocks that absorb heat during the day time radiate heat at night, and we had slept on those very rocks and were surrounded by them.
One of the bottles that Shailesh had left to be filled overnight was full! We all had a sip of the mineral water. It was excellent.
Sachin and Atul were looking around for the trail but had no success. We had lost the trail and back tracking was not an option. So we decided to climb straight up. The rocky terrain was steep and exposed.
After a few minutes, we reached a patch of dense Karvi shrubs and we proceeded to make a way through it; Shailesh led the way. It was a struggle to make way through the shrubs, but still it was better than what we went through the previous night.
We finally came across an eight to ten feet vertical wall but the problem was how do we get on top? We found a tree whose branches were extending all the way to the top. We took turns climbing the tree and it was certainly not easy with our backpacks, but somehow we all managed to get on top.
Once we were on top, we felt like we were on top the world! Why? Because we were on flat ground. We figured the most difficult parts of the climb were behind us and what remained now was just a straightforward walk to the famous Shiva temple on Harishchandragad. We thought we were through with rock climbing and tree climbing! We immediately put our backpacks down and had some guava juice while we rested.
After taking some photographs of the beautiful rugged scenery around us, we set off once again for what we thought would be the “easy leg” of the journey. There still was no visible trail, but there was only one way to go. We came across a wooded area and made our way through it. After the woods, we were on a narrow grassy area that ended in a steep rock wall, which seemed like a dead-end. The imposing Konkan Kada was on the right side, still above us. It seemed we had celebrated a bit too early.
We had crossed the point-of-no-return a long time back, and therefore turning back was definitely not an option.
The rock wall directly in front of us did not have good holds so we thought it would be safer to make a traverse from the left and then attempt to climb the rock patch. This was easier said than done because the traverse was very narrow (no more than one foot wide) and highly exposed. To make matters worse, the rock wall that was to our right on the traverse was not exactly vertical, but convex (i.e. bulging out) and was netted with creeper plants. We joked that if someone fell in the valley while traversing it would take us an entire day to retrieve the “body”.
Krish, Shailesh and Atul went first and made it to the other side. Within a short time they confirmed that it was the correct route. Sachin somehow managed to climb the rock wall that was in front of us and avoided doing the traverse. I tried to see if I could climb the rock wall like Sachin did, but there really were no holds that I could use to climb up. Besides, with my backpack, I really didn’t want to risk it. So I resigned to do the traverse.
Only Deva and I were left. Deva went first and I was only a few steps behind him. Usually on any trek, I hate to be the last one. It does not give me a good feeling and it’s purely a psychological thing.
In the middle of the traverse, the rock wall that is to our right bulges out a little bit; this makes negotiating the traverse even more dangerous. Deva stopped in the middle of the traverse and Shailesh was helping/instructing him from the other side. In trekking I’ve learned that the trick to negotiating a difficult patch is to keep moving slowly and not lose momentum. Fear builds up the moment you stop moving.
I had no choice but to wait for Deva to start moving again. I was standing with my right hand on the creeper plants that were everywhere. Obviously they did not offer any protection in case if I lost my balance. I was beginning to get foreboding thoughts. I was thinking about my family; I wanted to see them again. I managed to snap out of it and forced myself to remain composed.
Slowly, with words of encouragement from Shailesh, Deva started moving forward. Before the traverse ends, there is a three feet gap that one has to jump over. Deva stopped again in front of the gap, took off his backpack, gave it to Shailesh, and then jumped over to the other side. I was watching that and it was quite scary. Now only I was left.
I had some trouble overcoming the three foot gap. My backpack was also too big to remove. So I had no option but to cross the gap with it. With Shailesh’s help, I made it to the other side. I’m not sure what I would have done if he wasn’t there. Sometimes all you need are a few words of encouragement or a helping hand. All I can say is that Shailesh is a great team player and a very dependable friend.
Our adventure was not yet over. After the traverse, we had to rock climb a highly exposed twenty foot or so patch. Although it was exposed, it was not very difficult compared to the previous parts and combined with the fact that I was still high on adrenalin, it felt like a piece of cake!
We had finally, after over 24 hours, made it on top of Konkan Kada via nali-chi-vaat!
Konkan Kada of Harishchandragad is a huge semi-circular cliff and is well-known in the local trekking community. The view of the Konkan region from the top of Konkan Kada will take your breath away. In the monsoon season, the wind currents blow up from under the cliff and if you throw flowers down, the wind blows them back up. It’s a fascinating experience, which I had experienced when I had climbed Harishchandragad (from Khireshwar via Tolar Khind) for the first time in July 2006.
Having taken pictures of the Konkan Kada to our heart’s content, we started walking towards the plateau on which are the Harishchandreshwar temple, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and many caves. The temple is believed to have been built by the Pandavas while they were in exile, and is over a thousand years old.
Within the temple complex is an underground chamber, where Sant Changdev had meditated. To preserve it, local villagers have covered the entrance to the chamber. The temple also has a gupt (hidden) Linga somewhere near the temple ‘kalas’ (apex). There is a room in the temple complex that houses several dozen stone idols; these were recovered by the villagers after some miscreants tried to steal them.
Upon reaching the temple, we put our bags down and drank lots of water. The temple has a perennial water source. Almost all hill-forts in Maharashtra have at least one water tank that has drinking water year-round. Unlike today’s modern urban planners in India (which is an oxymoron), the planners in ancient India were intelligent and foresighted.
Next, we walked to the nearby Kedareshwar cave, which has a huge five-foot Shiv Linga that is surrounded by water year-round. It is believed that the four pillars supporting the Shiv Linga indicate the four Yugas. We are currently in the fourth and final Yuga (i.e. Kali Yug) and that is indicated by the only pillar that is left standing today. After Kali Yug, the world will end…
In Hindu religion, Yuga is a measurement of time. There are four Yugas: Sat Yug, Tretaa Yug, Dwaapar Yug and Kali Yug. All have different number of years. Kali Yug is the shortest one. Dwaapar Yug has two times the number of years in Kali Yug. Tretaa Yug has two times the number of years in Dwaapar Yug. And finally, Sat Yug has two times the number of years in Tretaa Yug.
I didn’t go in the water as it was ice cold but some chose to bathe in it. After freshening up, Shailesh, Atul and I went to explore the fort, while Krish, our “bhaat man” (rice man) prepared vegetable biryani and noodles for us.
We walked to the famous Ganesh cave that has a huge stone statue of the elephant-God, Ganesh, who is the Lord of Wisdom. Interestingly, Ganesh is shown to be naked. Apparently, people who practice black magic pray to the nude form of Lord Ganesh.
We were hoping to climb Taramati peak, which is the highest point of Harishchandragad. But sadly, due to time constraints, we had to drop that idea. Even on my previous visit in 2006, I was not able to go to Taramati. Apparently, it’s quite an adventure to go there. Perhaps next time!
We walked back to the temple and had a very delicious lunch prepared by Krish. It was our first meal in twenty four hours. After lunch, we packed up and planned to descend to Khireshwar village, via Tolar Khind. This route is the most popular way to climb Harishchandragad and takes 3-4 hours. Nali-chi-vaat is often used by local villagers who live under the shadow of the Konkan Kada. They use this route to visit Harishchandreshwar temple during important festivals.
End of an Adventure
The descent was fairly uneventful save for Atul and Krish’s sprained ankles. It’s interesting how this happened when we least expected it. En route, Shailesh entertained us with his funny and interesting stories. It was 5pm by the time we reached Khireshwar village. Although everyone was eager to go home, I insisted on having tea at a local hotel. The tea was excellent – after all, it’s the small things such as having “cutting chai” that make a trip memorable.
There was a jeep outside the hotel. We asked the guy to drop us to Khubi Phata, which he agreed to do for 10-rupees per person. From Khireshwar, Khubi Phata is 5-kilometers on a dirt road that runs along the reservoir of Pimpalwadi dam. We were glad to not have to walk this part. Our next task was to look for transport to take us to Khubi Phata from where we could get public transport back to Pune or Mumbai.
While we waited for some transport to pick us up, I called my mom and told her that everything is okay; she knew how dangerous this trek was. Meanwhile, Shailesh and Deva flagged a lorry going the Kalyan way, while Krish, Sachin and Atul flagged a tempo going to Ale Phata. Sitting in the tempo, we discussed the latest controversies surrounding Shivaji’s life (such as, his date of birth). We reached Ale Phata in an hour and fifteen minutes, and boarded a Pune-bound S.T. bus. Unfortunately, the bus was packed and we had to stand. It was 11:30pm by the time I reached home. I showered and slept thinking about the adventures I had in the last 48 hours…
We could have made the trek much safer by better time management and hiring a local guide until we reached the top.
Fortunately, we all lived … perhaps to die another day!