Trek # 23
When: December ‘16
Where: Harihar fort
District: Nashik, Maharashtra
Nearest railway station: Igatpuri (43 km via Ghoti Vaitarna road), Kasara 51 km (via Khodala-Take Harsha road), Nashik Road railway station 55 km (Via NH 848)
Base Village: Nirgudpada
Height: 1016 m (approx. 3350 ft) as per GPS.
Total Distance: 7 km
Time: 6-8 hours
Approx. expenses: Travelling: Aprrox 400 rs overall
Best Time: All year round
Risk Factor: Medium (What do these gradings indicate? Find out here!)
Description: Alight at Nirgudpada Bus stop, walk towards a village in the southeast and take the most prominent trail in the fort’s direction. Confirm the route with the villagers if in doubt. The trail passes through a kilometre of paddy fields before gaining elevation steadily. Climb onto the ridge near the col between Fani Dongar and Harihar and again turn South-East towards the fort and cross a couple of small hills to arrive at the famed staircase. Head towards the eastern end to visit Kothi or ascend the peak after climbing an easy rock patch. Return via the same path. Exercise CAUTION during monsoons. Check out my wikiloc page for GPS trails of this and other treks.
05:00 AM KASARA TRAIN FROM CST
07:45 AM REACHED KASARA
08:00 AM STARTED FOR NIRGUDPADA
10:10 AM REACHED NIRGUDPADA
10:30 AM STARTED TREK
01:15 PM ENTERED FORT & HAD LUNCH
02:10 PM REACHED PEAK
02:35 PM STARTED DESCENT FROM PEAK
05:20 PM BACK AT NIRGUDPADA
05:45 PM LEFT FOR KASARA
07:45 PM REACHED KASARA
08:17 PM BOARDED TRAIN FOR CST
- From Harshewadi (Difficulty: Easy, Endurance: Low)
Two Day Range trek: Harihar- Basgad- Utwad- Trimbakgad (Brahmagiri) forts can be clubbed as a part of an exhausting but exhilarating range trek in the Trimbak range.
Video: Below is a video of the Harihar fort trek (from Harshewadi) by Youtube vlogger Delton Dsouza. Check it out for the amazing drone shots of the beautiful fort:
Account of the trek:
We were racking our brains thinking about our next rendezvous when Mansi suggested doing Harihar amongst other forts. I was hooked the moment I found out it is possible to do it in a day from Mumbai! Harihar, being a popular trekking destination, attracts a large crowd on weekends. People visit Harihar under the impression of it being an easy trek and freeze after looking at the sheer exposure, leading to a jam on the narrow stairs. Hence, we decided to avoid the weekend crowd by going on a weekday, i.e, Tuesday.
The Gang: Abhishek, Anupama, Krunal, Manish, Mansi, Shardul & Me
If you plan on going to Harihar by a private vehicle, it is pretty easy to reach the base: Google the route and you are done! BUT if you are relying on public transport like us, you are in for a rough ride. First of all, there’s a lot of misinformation on the internet regarding this. And therefore, people from Mumbai reach Kasara or Igatpuri the previous night and take the early morning bus to the base. An overnight trek wasn’t an option for us, so after a lot of research (read: Googling) we figured out that our best bet to squeeze the trek in a day was to catch the 5 AM Kasara train and proceed via shared jeeps to Nirgudpada via Khodala. If you have followed my previous posts, you pretty much know what to expect 😉
NOTE: The page may take a few moments to load due to the numerous pictures. All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by me or my friends, unless stated otherwise.
As already mentioned, this is a hectic trek if attempted in a day from Mumbai by public transport and hence, we had to keep the group small to ensure good speed and cohesion. Initially planned for 9 people, it came down to seven cos Tejas and Darshana had to back out due to some work.
Even the ones who made it to the trek had to do a fair bit of juggling to take a weekday off. Krunal and Manish had to sleep over at Abhi’s place due to the early start. Anupama had an almost sleepless night cooking lunch for us gluttons. Mansi, like Manish stayed at her aunt’s place to cut down on commute. Shardul, though, took the cake here!
He had to attend a wedding in his hometown (near Kankavli) in Konkan on Monday and like a true Trekomaniac, he joined the gang straight after a commute of 10 plus hours! But it wasn’t that straightforward. The only way for him to make it in time was to board Konkan Kanya (KK) express (departs Kankavli @ 8.43pm), which reaches Thane at 5 AM and the Kasara local we were going to take, arrives there at 5.50am! Knowing IR’s reputation for delayed trains, it was a gamble but we had a backup plan ready 😉
Scene 1: Konkan Kanya (KK) vs Rajya Rani (RR)
MONDAY: Shardul had reached Kankavli station at 7.30 pm but KK express was running 45 mins behind schedule according to the railway website. And to compound the matter, RR express chugged into the station (departs Kankavli @7.44pm, scheduled arrival at Thane @05:43am) running on time! Me & Abhi checked the previous running instances of both the trains and found out RR is routinely delayed by half an hour in the passage between Panvel and Thane to let other trains pass. We conveyed this to Shardul and he decided to bank on KK. All three of us were anxiously tracking the KK’s location updates on the Railway website. It finally reached Kankavli at 9.20pm, about 40 mins behind schedule. Abhishek and I decided to stay up and follow the KK’s running status through the night so that we would be ready with our alternate travel plan in case Shardul failed to make it to Thane on time.
TUESDAY (trek day): Thankfully, Konkan Kanya passed Rajya Rani somewhere between Mangaon and Panvel & reached Thane ‘only’ 15 mins behind schedule. For a change, everything was going according to the plan! 😉
Scene 2: The local journey
I was the last one to board the train as it made its way through the foggy morning. Ruskin Bond’s tales have resonated with me as far back as I can remember and that is partly down to our common love for the trains and mountains 🙂 As anyone who has travelled the Ghats in a train can attest, soaking in the early morning sun while the train glides over the varied landscape of alluring plains, towering hills and deep gorges is a singular feeling that can’t be put in words!
Mansi’s tiffin, packed with Chocolate and Chutney sandwiches was finished in no time enroute to Kasara!
Scene 3: Hiring the cab
We crossed over to Kasara East and no sooner had we came out that cabbies started hounding us, asking if we wanted to head to Nashik. But that wasn’t our destination. We started looking around for a sharing cab to Khodala when Milind Bhau came forward. When we told him that we would head to Nirgudpada (AKA Take Harsha) from Khodala, he offered to ferry us to and fro Nirgudpada for 2000 Rs. We knew that few, if any, cabs head to Kasara/Khodala from Nirgudpada in the evening (Take a look at this blogger’s post who narrated his ordeal at Nirgudpada). 2K for a group of 7 meant 285 Rs/head, which wasn’t a bad deal considering the fact that we would have an assured ride back to Kasara waiting for us.
We started from Kasara at 8am & Shardul occupied the lone seat beside the driver while the rest of us sat on the peculiar facing back seats of the Omni.
Scene 4: The dilapidated structure
About 15 minutes into the ride, the Omni turned left onto a kuchcha road beside a Dhaba. We had asked him about any place on the way where we could have breakfast, and so I thought that maybe he’s taking us to the Dhaba. But he continued driving past the Dhaba!
Before I could ask him what was happening, he stopped the car just behind a dilapidated single story structure some 50 metres behind the Dhaba and ran off saying I ‘ll be back in two minutes!
There was a hill on the other side with nary a soul in sight. Every negative thought that one can possibly think of, crossed my mind in a split second! I thought of what we could use for self-defence and took out my Kada (a solid steel bracelet) and handed over another steel hook (used to hang backpacks to the local train luggage racks) to Manish. And what did he do with it?
He hooked it to the hand rest on the inside of the Omni’s sliding door and hung his bag on it!!
You can take a Mumbaikar out of Mumbai but can’t take the train out of him! 😛
I told him to use it for self-defence, just in case and went out of the car with Abhi to find out what was the matter.
The structure was deserted with walls missing at the other end from where the driver had vanished. Perplexed, we went around it and just as we were wondering what on earth had he parked the car there for, saw the driver running in from the Dhaba, clutching a few notes in his fist. He must have read the question marks writ large on our faces, for he answered them himself: ‘Gas bharaychi aahe’ (I have to refuel the car).
He went into a corner of the structure and brought out a cylinder neatly hidden underneath a pile of empty sacks, dragged it to a refilling machine kept by the door, which had somehow escaped our eyes!
The rising incidents of theft, etc happening with trekkers in the past couple of years has kind of made us cynical and we tend to jump to negative conclusions. Experiences like these though, allay those fears to some extent 🙂
As he went about refilling the car’s LPG cylinder, we went to the Dhaba to have a quick breakfast. There was a basket full of chicks eager to come out and explore their new surroundings and we were more than happy to ferry them around while their owner sipped tea.
Scene 5: Middle Vaitarna Dam
We left the Dhaba at 8.30 am and our car soon reached a bridge over the newly constructed Middle Vaitarna Dam. We must have been salivating at the sight of the beautiful place cos the driver himself offered to park the car there for a small photo session 😛
Middle Vaitarna Dam is one of the tallest in the state at 102 m and central to the adminitration’s plan of tackling the city’s water woes. A lone dead tree stands in the middle of the reservoir as if signifying the cost at which we are fulfilling our needs 😦
We wrapped up our little break in 15 mins and crossed Khodala at 9.30 am to reach Nirgudpada at 10 minutes past 10.
Scene 6: The Trek starts
NOTE: There is no network at Nirgudpada except for IDEA subscribers, so it’s better to decide a meeting time beforehand. We knew it ‘ll take us about 7 hours to come back so we paid Milind Bhau 700 out of 2k and agreed that he ‘ll be back at Nirgudpada by 5.30 to pick us up even if we couldn’t get through to him.
We could now see the near-vertical south-western face of Harihar (called ‘Scottish Kada’ after the famous mountaineer, Douglas Scott, who climbed it in 1986) in front of us and even though everyone had had a rough night with little sleep, we shook off the lethargy to proceed towards a small bridge in the east. A small hamlet bordered on all sides by paddy fields is sitauated to the north of the bridge and we took one of the numerous the trails beside it after confirming the route with a woman working in the fields.
The trail cuts through a kilometre of paddy fields before entering a sparsely forested stretch at the end of which lies a huge tree that marks the start of the steeper stretch.
Scene 7: The steep climb
Arrows have been painted at periodic intervals on the rocks lining the trail, so keep an eye out for them to make sure you aren’t veering off the path.
NOTE: Preferably wear shoes with a thick, hard sole on this trek to save yourself from the super strong thorns found in this area which can be up to an inch in length. Abhishek & I learnt this the hard way 😛
The trail climbs up in the general direction of the col between Fani dongar and Harihar till 3/4th of the ridge’s vertical height and then gradually takes a U-turn towards the fort all the while gaining elevation steadily.
You ‘ll come across two shacks at the start of the ridge from where you can buy snacks & packaged water/lemonade! A narrow trail joins the ridge from the North, which we came to know later, is the easier of the two routes to Harihar and originates from Harshewadi (Takes one hour to reach the ridge from there as against two hours from Nirgudpada). A saffron flag (symbol of the erstwhile Maratha empire of the 18th century) flies high over a 5 metre pole erected in the middle of the ridge as the trail passes it to zig-zag over a small mound to take one to the base of the final rocky stretch of the trail before the start of the vertical stairs.
Another shack greeted us midway between the mound and the rock formation and I struck up a conversation with its owner while the rest of the gang took refuge in its shade. He told us that a group had arrived in the morning with 50 kids and the weekend crowd typically swells to 150 or even more during peak monsoon!
Feeling smug at our decision to come on a weekday, we took his leave and went ahead to the small rock patch awaiting us. An easy 5 metre climb later, we were standing at the base of the famous Harihar steps 😀
Trivia: Harihar is one of the few forts with its approach stairs left intact by the Britishers. According to reports, Capt. Briggs, an officer of the British Army assigned to destroy the stairs, was so awestruck by their beauty that he ordered his men to leave them intact!
Scene 8: The Staircase to Heaven (Errm.. not literally 😛 )
There are two flights of stairs separated by a Mahadarwaza and a passage carved out of rock. The first one is an almost vertical flight of stairs stretching all the way to the Mahadarwaza, a total ascend of 200 feet. Notches carved at either end of each step serve as hand-holds to assist in climbing and each of us completed it in 5-10 minutes. A look over your back at the final step and you realise that Capt. Briggs had no option but to fall in love with the beauty of the stairs!
The Mahadarwaza opens up into a tube-like passage carved out of rock with the only open side being the one exposed to the valley! The unique location of the passage makes sure that the Sun never hits its interiors and therefore it remains cool even in the afternoon. Even though the initial plan was to have lunch on the fort, the cool breeze of the passage was too much to resist and we decided to satiate our hunger in its shade 🙂
The Mahadarwaza , though broken on the sides, is sturdy and provides quite a few photo opportunities 😉
The passage is broad enough to let two people pass each other comfortably and opens up to the second, winding flight of stairs which is often thought to be the more difficult of the two. I personally found both of them challenging enough to enjoy the experience without fearing for my life- but this doesn’t mean the 500 feet near-vertical drop of the valley should be underestimated at any point of time.
Manish, while discussing the trek some days prior, had been mortally terrified by my description of the exposed sides of the passage but he negotiated it without the slightest bit of difficulty.
The stairs zig-zag twice before ending at the second Darwaza (partly reconstructed using bricks) and voila! You are on the Harihar plateau!
Scene 9: Exploring Harihar
A singular trail originates from the second door and heads east but if you look closely to your left, you ‘ll notice a groove not unlike the second staircase on the northern edge of the fort. This is the ‘Gupt’ (secret) Darwaza, which sadly is inaccessible due to landslides and rocks blocking the path to it. A magnificent sight nonetheless!
The trail traverses above the northern edge and passes a small cave (enough for 3-4 people) situated on the right of the path.
The trail took us to the Hanuman Mandir, to the right of which lies a small, open temple of Shiva with a Trishul, Shiva Lingam and a statue of the Nandi Bull.
A beautiful pond lies behind the Mandir, resembling the Saptatirtha Pushkarni of Harishchandragad. The sight of the pond, surrounded on all sides by green foliage and filled to the brim with crystal clear water, set against the blue sky interspersed with white clouds is alone enough to merit a visit to the fort in the monsoon!
From here, you can also view the flag flying high on the peak of the fort. There are two ways to it from the mandir, a shorter one from the south & the longer one goes to the eastern edge and then turns back to the peak. We chose to ascend by the latter route and descend via the former.
The longer trail is flanked by numerous water tanks and leads you to the only intact structure of the fort, the Kothi (Also referred to as Darukothar/Palace on some sites).
If you go through older blogs, you ‘ll get an idea about the perils of being an increasingly popular trekking destination. Ten years back, some water tanks had potable water, which was down to one by the end of 2013 and is now ZERO in 2016. There were plastic wrappers and other filth in the water tanks thrown by picnickers who have no respect for the very place they have come to enjoy. Sad indeed.
The Kothi has two rooms & 8-10 people can comfortably stay in it. While I was exploring its interiors, Krunal had climbed on top of it. Tempted, I tried to climb it too, but from the door side which had footholds at quite a distance. Jeans greatly restricted my movement and the thought of getting injured made me come down halfway. Shardul, the Animagus (Harry Potter readers will get the drift) of our group :-D, switched on his monkey-like traits and swiftly followed Krunal up on to the top of the Kothi! 😛
Another smaller pond lies behind the Kothi.
I took a panorama of the place while Anupama and Mansi shot their Bollywood style slo-mo vids of running in the grasslands 😉
We left for the peak soon after and a 10 minute walk took us to the base of the peak rock. It looks intimidating, but once you figure out the holds, it’s fairly easy. Another group descended the peak and this meant we seven were the only ones on the peak! 😀
The fort peak provides a very good view of the surrounding range.
We started our descent to the Shiva mandir after half an hour at the peak.
Retracing the path is always quick and we were standing at the second door in a few minutes looking at our worst nightmare: JAM ON THE STAIRS!
Scene 10: The considerate Veteran!
There was a group of 40 kids descending the stairs, VERY VERY slowly and this meant it took us a good 20 minutes to descend 10 steps
The head of the group, who was at the back-end of the group making sure no kid is left behind, told us that the group had come there as part of a winter camp organised by his organisation called ‘GETOUT’. They had ascended by the Harshewadi route and when I told him we had to commute back to Mumbai by train, he graciously asked his juniors at the front, who were helping the kids descend, to gather the kids in the passage so as to let us pass on to the first flight of stairs before them. 🙂
This gesture of his saved us at least half an hour, if not more. Manish, fighting his Acrophobia, took his time to descend the stairs, calming himself before taking the next step but did it all by himself!. To be fair, it isn’t easy to descend the second flight with the valley clearly visible as you look for the next step beneath your feet and it can create a mental block for some. You rock Manish! 😀 (well, he’s a rock literally as well 😛 )
Abhishek thanked the veteran (Any person who has led a trek to AMK- the holy trinity of Sahyadri is a qualified veteran 😉 ) for letting us pass and we were at the base of the stairs inside 5 mins.
Scene 11: The Descent
As the last of us came down the stairs, I looked up to spot one of GETOUT’s junior instructors laying a rope over the steep stairs to help the kids. Feels nice to see kids being a part of an adventurous activity with proper safety precautions 🙂
We negotiated the small rock patch and were at the first of the shacks by 3.45 pm. The descent is fairly easy, save for some sections of scree slopes (without exposure). Abhishek slipped on one of these and got a small but deep gash on his palm while trying the arrest the fall. Another first aid session followed and we were back on the path.
It ‘ll be better if you remember some sign of the spot where you joined the ridge, for many little paths descend from the ridge at regular intervals only to reach a deadend.
Once you are on the correct path down the ridge, it’s easy. We made swift progress and even though the continuous ascent and descent was taking a toll on some people’s knees, we needed to get back down to the base in time and everyone persevered through. We reached the paddy fields at 4.45 pm and then it was just a plain walk along the numerous trails made by the villagers.
Scene 12: The Sprint
We passed a well near the road and reached Nirgudpada at 5.20pm and called up Milind Bhau using Manish’s Idea sim card. He said he ‘ll be there in 20 minutes aur bas fir kya!
People slumped on the road and started the photo session! An ST bus heading to Igatpuri was the sole mode of public transport I came across while waiting for our Omni. Meanwhile, Krunal and Abhishek went for their customary post-trek 100m dash which Krunal won this time round 😉
We hadn’t had any canine companion on this trek until then and as if on cue, arrived one from the bridge and quietly sat beside us. So we gave it a few biscuits and just then our Omni turned up.
I caught a last glimpse of Harihar basking in the golden-yellow hue of the setting Sun.
We stopped at Khodala for a snack break and reached Kasara by 7.45 to find the train already at the platform. The recent demonetization had everyone scrambling for change but we managed to pay the remaining 1300 in 100 rs notes and thanked him. 🙂
Scene 13: The Conclusion
We boarded the fairly empty 8.17 pm local train and settled down to give our tired bodies some much-needed rest. If you are planning to visit the Harihar fort, by all means do so! It is a unique fort of the Sahyadri. But make sure you have great company too ‘cos even though the destination is good, it’s your friends who ‘ll make the journey great! 😀
“Happiness is as exclusive as a butterfly, and you must never pursue it. If you stay very still, it may come and settle on your hand. But only briefly. Savour those moments, for they will not come in your way very often”
Ruskin Bond, A Little Book of Happiness
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