Another monsoon Sunday! ITS TREKKING TIME! AND CYCLING TIME!
Delzad was out of town so this time I convinced Adi to join me for a trek. He was excited and scared at the same time.
‘My back is paining bro’ he complained, but I convinced him to come along – we will do a simple trek. I also wanted to do some good cycling, and after some research, decided on Kondana caves. I saw it in Harish Kapadia, and then read Ashutosh Bijoor’s amazing blog on his cycling trip there. As soon as I saw the photos I was hooked...what an amazing carved cave temple! I want to see this.
This would be the longest one way cycling trip yet – about 70 KM! Kondana was near Karjat.
I started at daybreak – about 6 AM - and set out on the Bombay Pune road. I had done Karnala earlier, and it was the same route till Panvel, where the highway split into the Bombay Goa road, and the Bombay Pune road.
It took me about 5 hours, but luckily it was cloudy and slightly rainy, and that kept the temperature cool. Adi slept off in the morning, and set out late – but that turned out to be a good thing, as it took him only an hour to reach karjat and he caught up with me as I was having some wada pav for breakfast.
I loaded the cycle in the Scorpio and we went off to kondivade village. This is also the starting point of the trek to Rajmachi fort.
I was a bit taken aback by the crowds on the trail – it was packed! As this is a pretty simple trek, and easily accessible by road – you get a lot of first level trekkers, and also since packaged treks by companies are becoming a big thing, you get a lot of organised groups as well. There was a group of children and another couple of groups of adults there, and also a lot of family groups and local people as well, and Indian crowds being what they are, there was a lot of noise and the inevitable litter and garbage.
But on the other hand, it is a good thing that these people are stepping out of home and malls and seeing the hills and valleys and ancient culture of our country. Maybe they will develop a love of trekking and become mountain and history lovers. So good for them.
We found a villager who volunteered to show us the way to the caves, and that was lucky for us as he showed us a fairly unused and virgin way to the caves and avoided most of the crowds. It was doubly lucky for me, as I dropped my cap on the way and it was still there when we came back down.
The kondane caves are amazing! What carvings! What artwork! What a location!
They are 2000 years old, and still look regal and outstanding. The main Chaitya hall has a intricately carved entrance, and the wall carvings are superb.
Kondhane caves were first discovered by Vishnu Shastri in 1850. Kondhane, Bhaja and Karla are caves that are located around Lonavale. In fact, Dr. D. J Wilson in his writings mentions that the name Lonavala may be corruption of Lenavali – or the grove of caves
The stupa is in a damaged condition, and one can see large rock pieces on the floor that could have been part of the roof. A large part of this damage is presumably due to severe earthquakes in the Pune region that occurred between 1752 to 1812
The whole portico-area is carved to imitate a multi storeyed building with balconies and windows and sculptured men and women who observed the scene below. This created the appearance of an ancient Indian mansion. The carvings are truly exquisite, with clearly visible features such as the garments, weapons and ornaments they wore, as well as peaceful happy expressions on their faces.
Its simply amazing – I was very impressed.
We soaked in the place for a while, and then made our way down. It would be really nice to come here on a weekday, when there would be less crowds.
It was a pretty small trek, but then it was a longer ride so it was a Sunday well spent.
After the trek to Visapur, Delzad was very enthu about doing more trekking. I was also enthu about doing some long cycling, and so I thought of Karnala fort. Its close to the highway, so easily accessible on cycle – and it was quite a nice trek – not too easy, not too difficult.
We decided to go on a Friday, so as to avoid the crowds. I would leave early on cycle, and Delzad would follow later in the Scorpio and we would meet at Karnala.
Home to Karnala was about 45 KM, which was not too bad but definitely not a pushover either. It would be important to focus on proper nutrition to prevent cramping. I carbed up in dinner, and carried some electrolytes and a couple of chapattis.
It took about 3 hours, and the only unpleasant part was the disgusting state of the Bombay Goa road – more holes than road. It was a nice climb up the Karnala ghat at the end of the ride and the Police guy at the gate was very impressed when he learnt that I had cycled all the way from Mumbai.
Delzad timed the driver perfectly and rolled up a few minutes after me, and we loaded the cycle into the Scorpio and locked it.
Other people also seemed to have had the same idea as we did, of coming on a Friday to beat the crowd, and they created a crowd of their own.
There was a corporate group which was assembling there, so we decided to leave fast and go ahead of them. But after a bit of a climb, we ran into a group of school children.
‘How many children are there?’ I asked an organiser
‘120 children...and 45 parents too’ he answered glumly.
Shit! No way I am going to get stuck being 165 chattering children! I engaged turbo mode and climbed like a demon and zoomed up the trail – and overtook all 165 of them! Simply left them behind in my dust!
And once I was ahead of all of them, it was so incredibly quiet and pleasant. It was like being in heaven!
The Karnala fort has the most incredible setting – it sits right on top of the spire of the hill and looks like a fairy fort. Its an ancient fort – built about 1200- 1400 AD, and commanded the hill passes of Raigad district. It was built probably by the Devagiri Yadavas in the 1200s and further fortified by tughlaq rulers in the 1300s – which makes it really old – pre mughal. As the area was ruled by various dynasties, it was controlled by Gujarat sultans, then Nizam shah of Ahmednagar, then the Portuguese (who were really powerful back in the day), then the Marathas under Shivaji, then Mughals under Aurangzeb, then back to the Peshwas, until the British borg assimilated everyone.
Now the time of forts has passed, and the remains sleep. The hill has been declared a bird sanctuary, and there is only peace and quiet. The fort commands an awesome view all over the surrounding area, and you can see all the way to the sea. In fact you can see the forts of Prabalgad, Manikgad, Haji Malang, Chanderi fort, Matheran, Sankshi fort,Dronagiri fort, and Rajmachi from the top – which is pretty awesome.
There is a magnificent stone pillar right at the top – a natural basalt formation, its the remains of the lava flow from when it was a volcano. And magically, there are huge natural water tanks right at the base of the basalt pillar. Brave people do rock climbing on it, I believe – but obviously that is not possible in the rains.
The fort was incredible, and I climbed right to the top to avoid the crowds which would follow, and enjoyed almost half an hour of peace before the sweaty and reproachful face of Delzad appeared at the base of the fort. He had tried to engage turbo mode as well, but ran out of gas and was forced to march right in the middle of the gang of children. Poor fellow, he was completely fagged out and went to sleep at the top for a bit.
We decided to climb down before the kids did, and enjoyed a quiet and peaceful walk down and had an excellent lunch in a nearby hotel and then drove back home in the Scorpio. This ‘bike up, trek and drive back’ is an excellent idea.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!