Harishchandragad, a hill fort in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, is one of the most challenging treks in the Western Ghats. Situated in the Malshej region of the ghats, it is at a distance of approximately 90 km from Kalyan. This hill fort can be approached from multiple routes. One such route via Nalichi Vaat (which translates to ‘passage through a gorge’) is a channel that lies to the extreme right of the mountain. It is the most difficult path to the top. Popular among climbers and experienced trekkers, Nalichi Vaat involves a near 80 degree climb, involving steep rock patches. The trail begins on a stream bed filled with large man-sized rocks and eventually leads to the foot of the gorge.
In spite of carved-out niches and chiseled slits in the rock, certain sections are very challenging and it is advisable to carry climbing gear. Although one can make a halt at the base village and choose to start early at the dawn, the uphill climb is exhausting and takes away the best part of the day’s light, making it essentially a two-day trek. The overnight camp can be made in the form of pitched-tents on the grassy plains or a shelter in the ancient caves situated all over the fort.
The main attraction of this hill fort remains the Konkan Kada (Konkan cliff), an almost 1,423 m concave fall. It is a vertical overhang, like a cobra’s hood, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding hills and an enchanting sunset. A little further away on the mountain is the Taramti peak, the third highest peak in Maharashtra, providing a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountain ranges and an ideal setting to bask in the golden canopy of the rising sun. The cave of Kedareshwar and the temple of Harishchandreshwar are other places around of tourist interest.
Harishchandragad fort is quiet ancient, with its origin dating back to the sixth century. There are caves situated all over the fort, believed to be carved out in the eleventh century. The various temples and carvings in the caves indicate that the fort belongs to the medieval period, since it is related to Shaiva, Shakta or Naath. Later, the fort was under the control of the Moguls. And by 1747, the Marathas captured it.
The cave of Kedareshwar hosts a big Shivlingam, which is surrounded by water. The lingam is surrounded by four pillars that essentially represent the four yugas of life on earth. The general belief is that the current phase is the Kali Yuga. The day the fourth pillar breaks down will be considered the end of this era.
Day 1: Belpada Village to Harishchandragad (Konkan Kada)
- Altitude: 1,423 m
- Time taken: 9 hours
The trek from the base village to the top of Harishchandragad takes nearly nine hours. Start as early as possible. It’s advisable to camp the previous night at Belpada village, which is the base camp, after arriving from Kalyan.
In the morning, a five minute walk will lead you to a nearby stream lying alongside the village. You can freshen up here. You can arrange breakfast, maybe poha and black tea, from one of the local houses.
The main trail starts from behind the base village, leading to the base of the mountain. Take a narrow track that leads to the back of the village and extends into a wide grassy plain that forms the foot of the mountain. Keep proceeding on the same path and 15 minutes later, the track narrows down beneath a sparse forest cover. A short walk of 10 more minutes will lead to the main stream bed.
Take the rocky trail that winds through the stream bed, upstream, leading towards the mountain. The stream bed is full of large rocks and you have to be careful not to set foot on loose rocks and risk serious injury.
Walk along this trail for 30 minutes and you will reach the last visible water source of the trek. The stream bed here is in the form of cascaded rock platforms and forms a tiny waterfall. You can rest here for a few minutes before moving on. The trail from here is essentially uphill and continues to remain rocky. The gradient does not change; there are no landmarks and you will have to keep following the steep track uphill for the next 90 minutes. Look out for a Nali (gorge) as you make your way. The Nali is basically a gorge that lies to the extreme right of the mountain. Once you reach the mouth of the gorge, you will be able to see a narrow channel that extends to the top of the mountain. A further 30 minute uphill hike will get you to the start of the gorge.
The route from Nali is a steep uphill climb involving multiple rock patches. Here, you will have to climb slippery, and at times loose, rock faces. A 20 minute climb will bring you to a rock patch that extends up to 25 ft high. Experienced climbers can cover this and set up the climbing gear for the rest of the group. This grueling channel has a couple of more such rock patches that lack proper niches and slits and have to be mastered using climbing gear. Overall, it takes nearly two hours to cover this treacherous section.
On successfully climbing and getting over the gorge, you will come across a vast grassy plain that forms the base of the final push to the top. The track winds through some thick knee-length vegetation and 15 minutes later, leads to the edge of the main mountain top (Konkan Kada).
From here, you get your first glimpse of the magnificent Konkan Kada. One final 20 ft climb presents to you the vast plain that forms the Harishchandragad.
Set up a camp in the grassy plains. Dinner can be arranged from a nearby settlement that runs an eatery. If you do not have proper camping gear, you can choose to rest the night in one of the caves situated all over the fort.
Day 2: Tolar Khind to base village Khireshwar
- Time taken: 5-6 hours
Start early today. For an august view of the sun rise, you will have to get up at least two hours before and make your way to the top of Taramati peak that lies further along the mountain. Freshen up with water from a nearby stream; get breakfast from the local porter settlement.
One the way back, you will come across the various tourist spots the fort has to offer. The main attractions here are the temple of Harishchandreshwar and the cave of Kedareshwar.
There is a small lake adjoining the temple and a further hike of 15 minutes will lead you to one of the two biggest caves on the hill fort.
The path downhill starts from the Tolar Khind way. For this, you will have to walk for nearly 30 minutes to the edge of the main mountain.
From here, you will see a steep downhill descent on the face of the rock in a zig-zag fashion. It will take 45-50 minutes to negotiate this sharp downward trail. Ensure you always lean against the face of the rock. The trail will finally become less steep and lead to a smaller clearing, opening out on a small plateau.
There are a couple of local refreshment outposts, where you can get lemon juice and other edibles. The track ahead is under thick forest cover. The track does fork out at regular intervals of 15-20 minutes and it is advisable to keep left. Head on this downward trail for nearly an hour and keep moving till the trail flattens out on a rough motorable track. As you descend and finally reach the base of the mountain, you will notice the small base village of Khireshwar. The descent takes approximately five hours and is fairly simple.
A hearty meal can be ordered from one of the local village houses. There is a backwater holding near the village and you can take a dip and relax. You deserve it after the toil of the past two days. You can arrange a jeep to take you back to the Mumbai-Ahmednagar highway, approximately 4 km away. From there, you can hitch a bus back to Kalyan.
Get trek fit!
The secret to ascending any trail lies in building your cardiovascular endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Ideally, you should be able to jog 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Start slow and increase your pace everyday. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too. Strength This is another area you should work on. You will need to build strength in your muscles and in your core body. You can do some squats to strengthen your leg muscles. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Apart from this, you can add planks and crunches to your work out.
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek. Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
What to pack?
No, stuffing it all in isn’t the right way to do it Packing a backpack correctly saves precious time that you might waste trying to find your things later. It is wise to spend some time on learning what really goes into packing a backpack.
What should I pack? On a trek, you only get what you take. Something as simple as a forgotten matchbox can cripple your cooking plans throughout the trek. So, it’s essential to prepare early and prepare well. To begin with, make a checklist. While shopping, remember this thumb rule – keep it light. “Every item needs to be light. This ensures that your backpack, on the whole, stays light,” says Sandhya UC, co-founder of Indiahikes. Balancing out heavy items with light ones isn’t going to have the same effect as having all light items. “Always opt for good quality, light items,” says Sandhya.
How much should my bag weigh?
“Your backpack for a weekend trek should weigh between 8 and 10 kg,” explains Arjun Majumdar, co-founder of Indiahikes, “To break it down, your tent should weigh around 2.5 kg, your sleeping bag, around 1.5 kg, and the ration, stove and clothes should constitute the other 5 kg.” The best way to plan is by concentrating on the basic necessities – food, shelter and clothes. Gather only those things that you’ll need to survive. Do not pack for ‘if’ situations. “That’s one of the common mistakes that people make – packing for ‘if situations’. It only adds to the baggage that you can do without on a trek,” says Sandhya.
One good way to go about it is to prepare a list of absolute essentials. Start with the most essential and end with the least essential. That way, when you feel you are overshooting the limit, you can start eliminating from the bottom. Another tip is to be smart while packing clothes. Invest in light. wash and wear fabrics. “Replace a sweater with two t-shirts,” adds Sandhya. Layering is the mantra when it comes to trekking. Refer to Sandhya’s clothes list to pack smart.
How to pack The thumb rule for this one is to eliminate air spaces. Make sure that everything is packed tightly, especially clothes and jackets, as they tend to take up maximum air space. Put in all the large items first. Then squeeze in the smaller ones in the gaps. This ensures minimum air space. A good way to pack clothes is by using the Ranger Roll method.
Where to pack Bottom Sleeping bag: Make this your base layer. Sleeping bags tend to be voluminous, but do not weigh much. They’re perfect for the bottom of the bag. Tent: Just like the sleeping bag, even tents are voluminous and light. Keep the tent poles separately and place the fabric at the bottom of the backpack. Middle Heavy jacket: Roll up the jacket in a tight ball and place it in the middle of the backpack, close to your back. The middle region of the backpack should always have the heaviest items. You can store other things like ration or mini stoves in the middle. Other clothes: Roll other clothes and place them in the remaining space, to fill air gaps.
Top Water: Water, although heavy, needs to be easily accessible. So put it in the top most region of your backpack. Medicine box: This is another component that you wouldn’t want to be scavenging for when in need. Poncho: It could rain at any time in the mountains. So, ponchos should be accessible easily. Also, having a waterproof poncho at the top of the backpack provides additional waterproofing to items in the bag.