Scrambling up hills, past moss-covered rocks and slippery slopes, braving the rain and misty clouds, monsoon trekking is not for the faint of heart; but this adrenaline-pumping activity offers indelible memories to last a lifetime.
The state of Maharashtra is blessed with numerous forts that sit perched precariously over hill-tops. A state with a rich history of rulers and armies, impending battle and the great dynasties, a number of fortifications were built over the years to not just provide a vantage point over their territory, but to protect their kingdom. Due to the presence of the Western Ghats, Pune is a focal point for many trekkers, and popular trekking points are at an easy distance from this city.
Lohagad Fort, that lies north west of the city, is a choice location for trekkers this season. The ‘iron fort’ rises up to almost 3,450 ft above sea level, and has been occupied by a number of dynasties like the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Mughals and the Marathas. Chhatrapati Shivaji had annexed the fort in the 17th century, but the Mughals took over in 1665 CE. Five years later, Shivaji recaptured the fort and converted it into his treasury.
Bhaja Caves: Although there are two ways to reach the fort, the best way is via the Bhaja caves. A ticketed monument and a site for the Archaeological Survey of India, there are 22 rock cut caves that date back to 2nd century BCE, making it an important Buddhist centre of Hinayana faith.
From the caves there are carved steps that lead onwards to the fort, making it easy for travellers. Those seeking more adventure can opt for the rugged path that also counts as a shortcut. A languid serpentine road that is on a constant ascent leads to the base of the fort. A tiny shack on the way up offers much-needed refreshments to travellers.
There are four doors to Lohagad – Ganesh Darwaja, Narayan Darwaja, Hanuman Darwaja and Maha Darwaja. Rusted remains of canons, ruins of sculptures on the arched doors, and a troop of monkeys will be present to welcome you. The view from the top of the fort is remarkable, an undeterred landscape consisting of verdant hills, rain clouds and the Pawana dam.
When you take time out to catch your breath, breathe in the crisp fresh air, absorb the landscape and scenery, look at the birds, bees and butterflies with a new perspective.
A hot favourite for every Puneite, Sinhagad Fort is the closest spot for trekking. It was earlier known as Kondana. Located over
33 km south west of the city, the fort was later named after the Battle of Sinhagad that took place in 1671 between the Marathas and Mughals. Tanaji Malusare, a military general in Shivaji’s army, recaptured the fort by scaling a steep cliff with the help of a monitor lizard.
There are two ways to reach the fort. Travellers can opt to trek all the way up or drive right up to the fort’s parking area. Those choosing to trek can do so via Atekar Vasti. The route is not very difficult and takes approximately 2 hours to reach the top. This spot has a number of regulars trekking here, sometimes every Sunday. It’s also a good way to build stamina and train oneself before attempting other difficult treks. The way to the top of the fort has quite a number of shortcuts, however, these are off-road and can be slippery.
At the fort, there are two gates for entry – the Kalyan Darwaza and Pune Darwaza. Visitors are also treated to the expansive scenery of the Khadakwasla Dam. With the National Defence Academy nearby, cadets are often seen training here.
- Start as early in the morning as possible. In case the sun comes out, it can get extremely hot.
- Local buses ply from the base of the hill to Shaniwarwada and Swargate in Pune.
One Tree Hill, Matheran
A hill station tucked away 120 km from Pune in Rajgad district, Matheran is a perfect weekend getaway, replete with a trekking route from Matheran up to a small hill with just one tree. Termed as the smallest hill station in India, it rises to an elevation of over 2,500 ft above sea level.
Ambewadi is the base village from where the route starts. On reaching the freshwater well at the village, the road to the left leads one towards One Tree Hill, while the one towards the right leads to the village. The route starts with a gradual slope followed by a bit of a rocky patch. The winds may be strong, but keep an eye out for the monkeys and langurs. Do not try to attract their attention, and feeding them is out of the question.
Villages can be spotted below and often, villagers can be seen making their way to Matheran. The walk through the forest is divine. From the calls of birds to rustle of the leaves, the smell of wet earth and scant sunlight, Matheran is a must-visit during monsoon, although the last climb to reach the top of the cliff with the tree can be tricky.
Being an automobile-free zone, walking is the best way to soak in the environ. Horse rides are also available. Many adventure groups opt for night treks as well.
GoAir operates direct flights to Pune from Ahmedabad, Nagpur, Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi, and easy connections from Leh, Bagdogra, Jammu, Kolkata, Patna, Port Blair, Guwahati, Ranchi, etc.
Written by Mia Gandhi