This Sunday I decided to avoid the cycle ride and do a trek instead. This was because Bawa - the actual owner of the cycle, from whom I have ‘borrowed’ it (wink wink)- requested me to go for a trek with him. As both of us could not fit on one cycle, we decided to drop the cycle and do only the trek.
‘But where shall we go?’ he asked.
‘Don’t worry re.’ I replied ‘I shall consider and decide on the day’ and spent Saturday evening watching ‘Deadpool’ and drinking a lot of Single malt whisky.
On Sunday morning we met up at Vashi, and had an excellent breakfast at a roadside idli wada stall along the highway. After reading ‘Trek the Sahyadris’ and consulting with SHE-WHO-MUST-BE-OBEYED I decided on Visapur fort.
Visapur fort had many things going for it – it was easily approachable by the expressway and NH4, we could bypass Lonavla city and avoid the crowds, I knew the way as it was close to Lohagad where I had been several times, it was a fort I had been wanting to visit for a long time, it would be much less crowded than the nearby Lohagad, and we could visit Sheetal da dhaba for an excellent lunch after the trek!
The easily findable part of it was crucial – as we were two navigation challenged people, who had managed to get lost and take the wrong turn on a single lane highway in Ladakh, and had reached all the way to Tanglangla pass before we realised that we were going the wrong way.
And sure enough, here also I managed to miss the turn to Malavali station inspite of having been there umpteen times, and had to take a U turn to get back on the right track. We drove past Bhaje caves and up the ghat and found the turnoff to Visapur. We parked the car there, and started walking.
Visapur and Lohagad are twin forts which guard the Mandavi river and the approach to Pune. Out of the two, Lohagad is much older, being in existence since the time of the Satavhanas – which would make it about 2000 years old.
Visapur was built much later – in 1713 – in the reign of Balaji Vishwanath, the first Peshwa. Unfortunately, the Maratha empire did not last very long after that, and the British conquered the fort in 1818, using 380 european and 800 native soldiers and a battering train summoned from konkan, artillery from Chakan and 2 british battalions. On 4th march 1818 Visapur was occupied, and the British bombarded Lohagad fort from there and took over that as well.
After that, they blew up the whole fort with artillery and dynamited the entrances so that it would be unusable to the Marathas ever again. So there is nothing remaining in the fort but some walls and few ruined buildings.
Now, two and a half centuries after that day, the fort is so forgotten that even finding a path to the fort is difficult. If not for directions by the villagers and the arrows painted by trekking groups, you cannot even find the way up. We walked right past the turn and went on for quite some time before the villagers turned us back.
The stairway to the fort has been completely destroyed, and it becomes a waterfall in the rains. It was great fun to climb up that.
We reached the top and we were the only people there. It was an amazing feeling to wander around the deserted and desolate top of the fort. It was green and rainy and foggy – an absolute paradise.
After exploring the top for some time, we made our way down the waterfall again, and due to the rains the water flow was much more. It was great fun to make our way down that way.
We were completely soaked when we got down, and it was great to change out of wet clothes and get into the car. And ho – now for Sheetal dhaba and amazing food!
Bawa was so tired that he fell asleep in the car immediately in the return journey and snored all the way back to Vashi.
It’s a Sunday – Let’s ride! Its the monsoon – Lets trek!
Lets do both- Bike and hike!
I tried to get She-who-must-be-obeyed to come for a trek, but she was still traumatised by the huge crowds at Tikona last Sunday and refused to come.
‘It’s a Sunday, and I am going to sleep!’ she announced. ‘I have to get up everyday at 6 to send your kid to school, and I need a break once a week!’
‘My kid?’ I said ‘I thought it was your kid...’ I broke off as a dangerous light came into her eyes.
‘If your stupid alarm goes off at 5.30 in the morning and wakes me up...I will find you...and I will kill you...after I finish cutting you!’
So I decided to go for a ride instead, and went through Ashutosh Bijoor’s blog for places to go to. I saw this post about his ride to Uran fort, and I was fascinated. I knew nothing about Uran except that it houses the new (well, not so new now) dockyard of Mumbai – the Jawaharlal Nehru Port trust – and is the place where millions and millions of trucks go to.
The idea of it being a historical place, with an ancient fort, fascinated me. I had to see this.
On Sunday I woke up bright and early (with a silent vibrating alarm, to save my life) and set out for Uran – about 45 KM away, via Vashi and Palm beach road.
I had attempted to go to Vashi earlier once, but I had been really scared by the very fast heavy traffic. It had been early in the year, so it was quite dark in the morning so visibility was an issue. But now I learnt that the trick is to avoid using the flyover, so that you can stick safely to the side of the road and out of harm’s way.
I crossed Vashi bridge for the first time on cycle, and was very amused to see the many people fishing from the bridge. They were very poor people and it was really basic fishing – they didn’t have a fancy pole or anything – just a plastic string and a hook. And there were so many of them! I wondered if they actually caught anything or this was just a way to get out of the house and away from the wife.
I turned on to Palm beach road, and really enjoyed that part of the ride. Nice wide roads, green and scenic, not much traffic – it was fun to ride on. I passed the huge Seawoods lake, and was amused to see a replica of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ out there. I had passed by this place a million times, but had never noticed it before.
I turned off the Palm beach road on to the Uran Panvel road, and the road quality went down sharply. The heavy truck traffic and dirty potholed road made riding a bit of a challenge, and I had to be extra careful on waterlogged roads. You never knew how deep the hole would be, and going into a deep hole at high speed was just asking for a toss.
But it was not unbearably bad, and I got through it and entered Uran. I asked a policeman where Dronagiri fort was, and he gave me a contemptuous look.
‘There is no fort here – there is only a hill called Dronagiri’
I shrugged it off – I knew from experience that people didn’t know about the riches in their backyard.
I followed the cop’s and Google maps directions and made my way to the hill, and found myself looking at quite a big hill. Hoo boy – trekking was going to happen here!
I had forgotten my bike lock at home, and so I asked a local if I could park my bike at his house, and he graciously agreed. He asked me where I had come from, and was flabbergasted when I told him that I had come from Mumbai.
How long did it take me?
Three hours – I replied, and he was even more shocked.
It takes 2 hours by ST bus!
That’s because ST bus makes many stops – I tried to soothe him by my explanation – I came non stop.
How long would it take me to climb to the fort? I asked. 45 min to an hour, he replied.
Hmm. That’s a proper trek.
I set up through the village and they pointed me on to the right path. It was small and nondescript, and certainly did not look like it was heading anywhere. I would have missed it if not for their help.
As soon as I cleared the village settlements, I entered into the magical world of the mountain. It was green, and verdant and calm and quiet and simply amazing.
And in sharp contra-distinction to last week’s crowd fest, I was the only person on this mountain.
The voluntary trekkers groups do a lot of good work in the hills, and a group had posted a sign board on the trail giving information about this fort.
It explained that this area and port – now called Uran – was known in ancient times as Dronagiri. In those days the village of Uran was enclosed in fort walls for protection, and some of these walls are still visible today. The name ‘Mora’ is mentioned in the records of the Satvahana kings, and there are records that the Chalukyan king, Pulakeshin had annexed this village and its capital of Gharapuri. Its possible that this fort was built around that time – which would make it about 2000 years old!
The Portuguese conquered this fort in 1530 (500 years ago!) and a padre called Antonio de Porto built a church here in 1565. It was conquered by Adilshahi forces in the 16th century and then later by the British as it was strategically important for them to have this fort and dock so close to Bombay. The Marathas under Manaji Angre conquered the fort in 1739.
Because this hill oversees strategic locations like the ONGC terminal and JNPT, this hill is technically a restricted area and there is a nice yellow sign for you.
I started the climb, and followed the arrows put there by the trekker groups. Good thing they were there, as there were a lot of confusing little paths everywhere. Combine that with my world famous sense of direction and I would probably be there still if not for those arrows.
It was a beautiful route, punctuated by streams and and hill turmeric flowers, and soon I was at the entrance of the fort – the rear entrance presumably – as it was a small stone archway rather than imposing battlements.
There was a CISF hut there and I went there and tapped on the window, startling the two guards who were relaxing in their banyans. I explained that I was checking out the fort and just wanted to keep them informed of my presence. They invited me in and offered me a seat and some water, and we had a pleasant chat where they presumably checked me out and were assured that I was harmless. Seeing a trekker in cycling shorts and helmet is pretty weird, so I explained to them that I had biked from Mumbai and hiked up the hill and they were suitably impressed. Though of course, they were army people, so this would be probably just a light warm up for them.
And like most people, they were curious why I would come so far and spend so much energy to see ruined buildings.
Just beyond the watchpost were the ruins of the Portuguese church - the Chapel of Our Lady of Penha of Karanja. It was a very evocative ruin, and enjoyed soaking in the poignancy of the place, standing there in the light rain, all alone – looking at the ruins of the faith of foreign people from far away lands. I wonder if there is any memory in Portugal at all about these lands which their forefathers fought so hard for, and made so much money from, and affected so deeply in their quest to spread their faith.
There was a group of dogs chilling out at the guard post, and they decided that I was their new best best friend and they decided to join me for the walk.
I saw some ancient fort walls, and a little way away saw the ruins of the main doorway. Not much was left of it, but someone had rescued the Ganesha from the arch and covered it with the holy ochre ‘shendoor’.
I followed the arrows up the hill and found a Vetal temple – I love these temples, they are protoplasmic faith points. There is no idol, no carving, no temple – just a rock which has power because it is covered in ochre. Awesome!
Followed more arrows, and found myself at an ancient water tank.
The arrows ended out here, but I followed a small path and came out at the top of the hill. There would have been an awesome sea view from here, but ONGC people planted trees out here and they have blocked out all the view.
I met a farmer family up there, who were rather startled to see me, but immediately relaxed when I waved at them, and spoke to them in Marathi. They shared their chakli and coconut with me, and told me that they had come to leave their bulls here.
‘Leave bulls?’ I asked
Yes – the ploughing was done, and now there was no need for the bulls. The bulls can have a nice holiday up here as there was plenty of grass and water, and the farmer also has no hassle of taking care of them. They would come down on their own in a couple of months.
This looks like a Bear's paw print!!!
I chilled out on the top for a few minutes, and then turned back. I crossed the vetal temple, main door and church and said goodbye to the CISF people. Bye bye – they said – be careful going down – it’s raining.
And by Jove it was – I loved it! It had apparently been raining dogs and cats in Mumbai, and now the cloud front had reached Uran. It poured down, and it felt amazing! Sahyadri rains are the best.
As I neared the village, I met some people coming up – there were four of them and a goat. We looked at each other in puzzlement. ‘Anybody else up there?’ they asked, and I said no.
I was wondering why people would take goats up here, when I saw another 3 people – slightly older. They suddenly sat down and said ‘Man, I need a drink!’ and pulled out a bottle of whisky and opened it.
Then I saw a whole line of villagers trudging up the path. Some were carrying large cooking vessels, some were carrying live chickens, some were carrying sacks of cooking material.
‘Whats this?’ I asked. ‘A party for Gatari?’ We were about to enter the chaturmaas – the holy four months where Hindus don’t eat non-veg or drink alcohol – particularly in the month of Shravan. So, on the day before shravan, people have a massive blowout party where they freak out on booze and flesh.
‘Its our village tradition’ he replied ‘We have a goddess temple up the hill, and we will have a celebration there.’
Oh wow. Sounds like fun. Party!
I came down and collected my bike, which was still safe (!) and decided to check if the ferry was operational. After 45 KM ride and hike up the mountain, I was not in the mood to cycle 45 km back.
I cycled down to Mora jetty and YES!! The ferry was working! I was worried that it might be closed due to the rain.
They charged me Rs 66 for the ticket and Rs 10 for the cycle and in an hour we were at Bhaucha dhakka, and it was the home stretch. They are smartening up Bhaucha dhakka now, with new tiles and glass and a new touch. Lets hope that they develop the coastal ferry network a lot more. Ideally whole of Bombay and surrounding areas should be connected by ferry.
It was about a 20 KM ride back, and home sweet home.
That was a good day – Bike and Hike!
She-who-must-be-obeyed stood up and struck a dramatic pose, waggling her finger at me.
‘Today we shall go for a trek!’
I raised my eyebrows, and she immediately took that as an insult and scowled at me, and I rapidly lowered them.
‘I WANT COFF COFF...’ I waited for her to complete the sentence, but she only made a sound like a truck grinding its gears. After a second she continued. ‘I W ANT COFF COFF’ and again stopped.
‘Coffee?’ You want coffee?’
She just glared at me. ‘I WANT to go on a trek...coff coff. Cough cough’ Oh, she was coughing, and that frightening sound was her clearing her clogged throat.
‘Dude...you are not well...you are sounding like Ajit instead of Mona darling, and coughing away like a machine gun.’
‘Er...I mean...do you think that its a good idea to go for trek in the rain when you are down with a cold?’
‘tchah.’ She said. ‘Watch this.’ And she took a big breath, and growled ‘OK, all you germs...GET OUT!!!!’
And I swear, I could almost see all the germs, viruses and microbes rushing out of her body in sheer terror.
‘OK, let’s go.’
‘!@$#%@%%#(@ You STUPID SON OF A BLIND BAT! STAY IN YOUR LANE!!! @$$%&& GET OUT OF MY LANE YOU SLOWCOACH!!! #%$%*@#@ BLOODY ROAD HOG...WHO GAVE YOU A LICENSE??? #&*#!#^@@ TURN OFF YOUR BLINKERS YOU FOOL....’
This was me cursing at the traffic on the Expressway, because all the other drivers seemed to have taken an advanced degree in moronry with an additional elective of idiocy.
‘Dude...dont get so upset.’ SHE said to me. ‘You should be calm like me.’
‘Eh? Calm like who?’
‘Like me. Unflappable. Ice cold. In control of your self.’
‘Eh? Yesterday when the birds came and chirped at the window you cursed and threw things at them. One bird had a heart attack and died of fear when you glared at it. The dhobi still quivers and pees in his pants because you shouted at him for bringing the clothes late...and...’
‘Oh shut up. Be calm like me. See, once we get on the trek how calm and energised I will be. Everyone should trek in the Sahyadris in the rains. Everyone.’
‘@##@*@$T#@# THESE STUPID MORONS. #@$#@&~ HOW DID THEY DARE TO COME ON THE SAME MOUNTAINSIDE AS ME?’
Unfortunately for She-who-must-be-obeyed, it seemed that the whole of Mumbai and Pune had listened to her and decided to go trekking. SHE had chosen Tikona fort as our first trek destination this year because it was easy to reach and an easy climb, but it seemed that so had everyone else. There were vehicles lined up all over that narrow road, and huge crowds of first time trekkers caused traffic jams up the fort, and were making noise and generally disturbing the peace. It was like being at Dadar station in the rain. I was astounded, I had not seen crowds like this here ever.
‘@$^7#@ STUPID MANNERLESS BUMPKINS...MORONS...JAYWALKERS...HAYSEEDS....’ she was mumbling away.
‘Hey ...what about being unflappable and ice cold?’ I reminded her, but she only glared at me.
The weather was nice, it rained and soaked us, the mountain was green and the Pawna lake below looked wonderful. Tikona is a lovely little fort, with a lot of nice little sites – the entry gateway, the maruti bas relief, the water tanks, the Vitandeshwar temple on top, etc. It is part of the chain of fort in the Maval area – Tung, Lohgad, Visapur, etc. Its a very ancient fort – with traces before 07 AD – which makes it more than 2000 years old. It has changed hands many times over the centuries – the Nizamshah, Shivaji, mughals, Marathas, and then British. But by the end, warfare itself had changed, and Pax Brittanica made warfare obsolete and so all the forts became relegated to relic level. During the rains, it is a lovely place.
The only problem was the hordes of people. As the poet Heber puts it
‘Though every prospect pleases/ and only man is vile’
Oh well – what are you gonna do? We finished the trek in record time and came down off the mountain and sat in the mighty muscular Scorpio and roared confidently for about a minute when we were flagged down by a biker.
No go, he said – a bus has managed to get itself bogged in the mud and is completely blocking the road. Nobody is going anywhere until that bus moves.
I went to see, and sure enough – this idiot of a buswala had managed to get completely stuck and block the road so totally and even a two wheeler couldnt pass. The whole population of the bus had got behind it and was pushing and the bus engine was making groaning noises as it tried to climb out.
Oh well, they will get it out, I thought and we went off to have a bhutta till then. We got the bhutta, and went back to the car to eat it. We chatted and finished the bhutta and chatted some more. And then I suddenly noticed the silence. No shouts, no screams, no groaning of the engine, no car horns or engine noises.
What was going on?
I got out of the car and went to the bus, and it was just sitting there glumly. No driver, no pushers, no gawking crowds. What happened? Everyone seemed to have lost their mojo. I noticed a tractor stuck in the mud next to the bus.
‘Oh we couldn’t push the bus out.’
‘So we called a tractor to pull the bus’
‘Then the tractor also got stuck in the mud.’
‘Eh? What kind of tractor gets stuck in mud? Who’s this incompetent tractor operator?’
That guy got a bit stung. ‘I am the tractor operator. I can’t get the tractor out because there is a car blocking my path.’
‘So push the car away’
‘No...it’s locked, put in reverse gear and locked with hand brake.’
‘Oh...’ We all looked at the car. One another guy got all agitated. ‘Let’s pick up the car and move it!’ he said. He was a bit drunk.
‘Pick it up? How?’
‘Arre...there are so many people here...just pick it up.’ He went to the car and pushed with all his might. He went purple, but the c ar obviously wouldn’t move.
‘Dude...you can’t pick up a car. If you try it, the bumpers will break off.’
‘Who cares man...it’s not our car! Who told that stupid prick to park it like that?’ and soon there was an animated discussion on whether it was possible or not. Finally it was decided that it was not possible.
‘Then let us break the windows!’ the fellow said in frustration. ‘Someone give me a stone!’ he held out his hand dramatically. No one gave him anything. He just stood there with his hand out for a bit and then put it down embarrassed.
Everyone was just milling around doing nothing. I looked at the sky – luckily it wasn’t raining, and it was still daylight. I wouldn’t want to be here and in this situation in pouring rain and in darkness. Both could happen soon. And definitely not with such a huge crowd of kids and girls – asking for trouble.
I caught hold of the tractor man. ‘Let’s pull out your tractor by hand.’
‘But how...’ he said
‘You have a cable attached. We will pull that, and some guys will push from behind. Your engine is very powerful, and just needs a little bit of help.’
We got a group of people together who pushed and pulled, and the tractor guy revved away and revved away and BOOM – he back on the road! Everyone cheered! YAYYYYYYYY
Then he attached a steel rope to the bus and revved and revved. The rope promptly broke! Shit !
But the bus had moved a bit, and we were all heartened. The bus driver got in and started the bus engine, the tractor guy re-tied the rope, a couple of friends came to help him, and the drunk guy got a bunch of people to help push the bus.
VROOOOM VROOOM.....DUM LAGAAKE HAISHAAAAA.....VROOOOOM VROOOOM......DUM LAGAKE HAAAAAISHAAAAAA.......VROOOOOOOOOOOM VROOOOOOOM
The smell of exhaust, and burnt clutch plates filled the air and PAAACHHAAAAAK the bus moved and surged and broke free of its muddy prison!!! YAYYYYYYYYY. Every one screamed in joy and excitement and high fived.
Quickly the bus moved out of the way and we moved out of there and didn’t stop till we hit the expressway!
‘So aren’t you happy?’ I asked She-who-must-be-obeyed. ‘the trek was a bummer, but at least you got a bit of excitement at the end.’
‘Oh shut up and drive.’
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!