Jan 9, 2008


(Special thanks to Rohit for the valuable insights and information and for the spell-check :)! )
Nestled in the midst of nature are many treasures that man has long forgotten in his quest for materialistic life. The daily routines and hustle-bustle has left thought being strictly limited to the concrete jungle that surrounds the vision and the luxuries within that pretend to rescue the man from it.

But it is only when the actual hidden escapades are discovered that the True meaning of life and living truly dawns. Ever wondered why being among greenery casts a strange calmness in your mind or why it soothes your senses and makes you smile without reason? Even your subconscious feels the presence of the original, the pure and the serene and it reacts pleasantly. And what better way to welcome a New Year than by spending it in the lap of nature!

Rajmachi is very famous fort near the twin hill stations in Maharashtra - Lonavala and Khanadala. Rajmachi fort is about 16/19 Kms from Lonavala, One of the ways to reach the fort is from Tungarli Lake, which is the route we took. Rajmachi consists of two beautiful peaks namely 'Shrivardhan' and 'Manaranjan' and is a fun, easy trek for beginners.

THE ASCEND - 30th December:

Preparation included packing bags last moment, and realizing I don’t have a small enough bag. Horrendous consequences emerged, as I had to lug an extra-large, sumo-wrestler sized bad along!! (Ouch!) I journeyed to the initial destination – VT station, where Lakshi awaited my arrival. We would catch the 2.30 Sinhagad Express from VT.

Meeting the others and after basic introductions, we moved into the train compartment. The architectural make of the compartment was not feasible for mingling and opening up and so the train journey was more of listening and observing for me.

Getting off at Lonavla station and after a small halt we started our walk at around 6 pm. We walked from Lonavla station to Gurukul High School for about 10 minutes, where Mango and Rajashree (or Mangee as we call her) joined the group. We walked ahead from there to Tungarli Village (Upper Deck) wherein began the trip towards ‘heaven’. Climb climb it was then towards the dam first and then on a mud track that got a little rocky at times. We walked from Tungarli(Patel Properties) to Thakurwadi in about 30 minutes, and as we got down from Thakurwadi, right there before our vision were the magnificent peaks that beckoned us। It seemed like they were awaiting our arrival, whiling away time talking to breeze till we arrived and tickled their senses.

(Note please: Map courtesy Rohit Nayak and his Paintbrush skills)

At Thakurwadi village the darkness settled heavily and we paused plunging our bags on the ground. Torches became our swords as we battled the night to reach our destination. We jumped down a curvy mud road till we reached a quarry. Wandering in the dark seemed to take away the tediousness of the really really long walk along the winding path. Otherwise, we were told, this route is quite long, but relatively very simple. In fact, as Rohit puts it and I quote, “Only a fool could get lost here”. But then we did sort of almost get lost along the way as Hemant Da led us the wrong way near the quarry! Again to give them credit, as we were later told, not many of them had traversed this path and it was a new route that was being experimented. Moving left from the quarry after Rohit came to our rescue, we stumbled down the path for some time in the dark.

Though the night trek limited our view, it seemed to heighten the other senses as I could actually ‘feel’ nature and touch it. If someone had seen me then they would have been puzzled to see me grinning stupidly all along the way. Being the person that I am, I like to look at the stars, take in some cool air, smile at the wind that goes whispering past my ear and grin at the crickets that are attempting to strike conversations in the twilight. This, along with my stupid bag made me the one lugging behind as everyone rushed off ahead. Still, I did not want to just finish the climb without even feeling it and ending up all exhausted and cribbing, so I chose not to pace up. SK walked alongside me with umpteen patience, not shoving me ahead like a bunch of herds. What struck me was that he was walking without a torch in the pitch dark! In contrast, when my torch batteries dimmed, I actually tripped over for lack of proper sight of the path ahead.

Moving ahead and taking a further left at a fork, we reached a ‘C’, where we were told was a waterfall that flourished in the rains. It has a strong water flow and during the rains, extreme caution must be exercised while crossing it. It is even recommended that if the water crosses the boundary line, the place should be crossed only with help from the villagers. The scene can be quite a visual treat then as the monsoons rush to cover the area with a green blanket and pearly water drops shine from nooks. It seems like a game nature is playing and amuses us in all its playfulness.

After this is a simple straight walk and we just had to follow the mud path… ‘Follow the yellow brick road, ta da. Follow the follow the follow the follow the follow the yellow brick road!”

Parag Dada, Tapan and Sameer stayed back to wait for Leena who would arrive later. Rahul came on his bike with Nikhil. On the way Nikhil was made to get off as Leena got on the bike, and the four others walked up. They covered the route in 2.5 hours flat, while we took 4 hrs for the same!! Rahul and Leena met us on the way and then it was her turn to be dethroned from her seat of glory as the chillars - Aishu and Nupur were placed there.

Tired yet grinning we reached the village called Udhewadi, or more popularly known as Rajmachi, and the cottage where we would dock ourselves at around 10 pm, earlier than expected. Geeta Maushi, the lady of the house, lovingly prepared scrumptious dinner for all of us that we gorged on. Then was the laying of the mats or sheets for sleeping arrangements of the mob that had landed at the small abode. Thinking that everyone is going off to sleep when the arrangements were made, Lakshi and me went off to sleep inside. Sadly, little did we know about the late night sessions, debates and ghost stories that ensued outside later!


Early next morning we rubbed off some sleep from our eyes as Sam woke us gently, which I am not quite used to! Then was the scramble up to the Shrivardhan fort. Rajmachi is a set of two forts – Shrivardhan and Manaranjan, strategically positioned on two adjacent peaks. They were constructed to overlook the routes of two important regions of the Konkan area – Lonavla and Karjat. They are constructed in a manner than one can view all the routes leading up to the fort and the chosen regions and thereby ensure proper security. It is even told that if someone calls out from the bottom of the mountain, the voice traverses all the way to the top, which is a useful device for alerting.

We scaled the initial path and reached a small Bhairavnath temple. Simple yet serene, the temple exuded a positive energy and calmness. Its lack of gaudiness and no ornamentation created an air of warmth that made it a peaceful retreat in the midst of creation. We then moved up to the fort. Looking back we could see the village below and on one side we could trace the route we had come from the previous night. It was a spectacular sight to actually gauge the way you had traveled and your reach.

Along with marveling at nature, it was also a marvel to reach a point from where it was possible to envelope this vastness in your mind. I just wanted to stand tall and grin at nature, speaking to it in an unspoken language. I wanted to hold it in my palms as I gaped at it, and let the experience ripple through my soul.

The bastions that stood proud on the fort’s exteriors and the small ‘chor darwazas’ that edged their way into the fort from unexpected channels; everything left a simple question in my mind: how did they build all this at THAT time? A technological lack withstanding, they managed to erect a stone monument that stands as a tribute to their undaunting effort and mind-blowing skills.

As for some piece of history, the word 'Machi' in Marathi means 'Plateau', this plateau is at a height of almost 2500-2700 feet. Shrivardhan and Manaranjan can also be considered as two separate forts. Shrivardhan is 'Bale killa' of Rajmachi. It is almost 3000 feet high. But it was mainly built to keep watch on Konkan area. It overlooks the Lonavala region and was built to keep a watch on trade route passing through the Bhor Ghats.

The other - Manaranjan is 2700 feet high. Manaranjan consists of strong walls, 3 doors and many water tanks. One can see the Ulhas river, Dukes Nose (Nagphani), Karnala, Matheran, Mahuli and Bhimashankar, etc. The old caves of 'Kondhavi' on Rajmachi fort are worth a dekho. One can see the entire railway route from Karjat to Lonavala from this fort.
And an added note, the place looks amazing in the rains as lush greenery seems to envelope you in its arms as if beckoning you to rejoice the game nature is playing.

Though we did not get the chance to witness the glory of Manaranjan, the view from its other half was worthwhile. Mindful of my steps, I simply could not keep my eyes off the region around, and as far as my vision could reach, all I could comprehend was beauty at its best. Reaching the top of the fort there was a flagpole with remnants of a flag that seemed to be fluttering in nostalgia and memories of its old glory. Something caught me (as usual) and I felt the urge to climb the pole. No, it was not the spirit of a languor, though the region definitely is known for a hoard of them (we even spotted one!). Anyway, after relevant permissions (or maybe tantrums) with the organizers, I climbed up, gazing at the sky and earth and all that was in between.

It was an experience that nothing can describe. Feeling the breeze on my face, I felt like on top of the world. It is strange how nature also ends up uplifting spirits, just like little children do. Maybe it’s the raw innocence, the purity and the simple purposelessness that makes their existence so joyful and the air infectious. They exist for the sake of existing, and not for money, or love, or luxuries, or career. They just live, bloom, laugh and share it all – that’s what I believe life is – living!

Following me were the other ‘ladies’ of the group while the kind gentlemen clicked away merrily. I cannot state how they felt, but they sure had smiles all the way!

We sipped water from a tank at the fort that had amazingly chilled and sweet water. The fishes swam in full abandon, but the water was pure as ever. Nature has its way of replenishing needs, without any harm to anything else, quietly paving a path for everything.

The most depressing sight at the fort (yes there was something depressing) was the sight around the fort. A lot of greenery had been burnt and destroyed by what seemed like a forest fire. Black soot was all around. We were later told that this was the misdoing of some ‘trekkers’ from Pune who disposed a lit cigarette that triggered a huge fire. Their carelessness is astounding, as they did not even claim responsibility and the very villagers who rescued them from the fire had to bestow the blame!


It was then time to return to the cottage for breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised to see Rohan and Aarty already there and rubbing sleepy eyes when we reached. They had reached before expected! Maushi had made some yummy sheera that was gobbled down the moment it appeared. Next we were rounded off to a grazing ground (which no longer had any grass!) for the ‘events of the day’. The theme, well-selected, was ‘Going back to childhood’. It started off with us being tied up, literally, so that we don’t run away. I mean the three-legged race. We thought we might be able to choose our pairs (evil grin). But alas, Hemant broke all our illusions and paired me with Girish, and Lakshi with Shirish. I, for one, was trying hard to keep my leg in place because everytime he moved his leg, mine inevitably flew into the air! I almost thought I would either end up flying to the finish line or just fall flat and break my nose. But, yaay, that did not happen.

Unfair mention: Others were NOT randomly paired after this!! Grrrrrrrr!

The race went great with some ‘nadas’ breaking off (Sameer and Rahul), some surprising sprints (SK and Vijay running off like their asses were on fire), and people wearing 3/4ths or shorts complaining of the nada cutting into their skin rendering them unable to run faster!

And to top it all, we had CHEERLEADERS! Yes, of course. We had the audience enthusiastically standing at the sides, with dry cowdung in their hands, hurling it at the ones lagging behind. Obviously this was to encourage them to run faster! J

Next came the chamcha nimbu. And even before the race began we had a string of spoons breaking off as people assumed it to be candy-sticks. Plastic I say! There were attempts to scrutinize and select nimbus (by a certain Miss Lakshika), but ha!, hail Hemant as justice prevailed. He actually checked every participant to see that no one was cheating.

It started with the boys as they walked with noses in the air, minding their nimbus (no pun intended). Cowdung of course was the highlight. The girls next, chose to pose for pictures first. Not surprising. Then the funny walks happened, as half the nimbus decided they did not like their owners and chose to ‘drop’ out.

The best part was the winners – Mango and Rajashree! What a sporty couple! Out the sudden sporty mood erupted an impromptu race. And surprise surprise, the winners were - Mango and Jayashree!!


My favourite part came now as the sweaty lot headed to the lake for a dip and more. Fatafat changing and then was the relaxing swim in the heavenly waters. Did I tell you how much I love the water and how eagerly I await these ‘swimming in a natural pool’ sessions? It reminded me of Rural Camp where we swam under twilight, with only the stars providing necessary illumination. We could hardly see who was next to us, and so much the better, as any torches switched on at the ‘girls side of the stream’ then would be met with shouts as everyone preferred bathing semi-clad. Talking of rural camp, a lot of things here made me nostalgic about it, and I longed to experience it again!

But since its not that we are talking about, I come back to the swimming. The ones who unfortunately had learnt only to drown stood at the shallow part, carefully trying not to slip. The two kids – Aishu and Nupur could be seen making merry with the water splashing all about. Some preferred to just sit on the side stone and let their feet do the bathing. While some of us had a diving session in progress as we went on the scan the lengths of the lake. It was fun to have a diving sequence with everyone, as I dived for the 1st time ever since I learnt swimming eons ago.

Everyone’s favourite part was Parag dada washing clothes religiously – the Kodak moment! Rohit was conspicuously missing and Anu kept flitting away. We later realised what they were busy with as we puzzled at the ‘cryptic clues’ and dug around the village!

Time for delicious lunch that hardly took any time since everyone was so famished. And lunch means sleep… and people fell flat on the verandah for a nap. Some enjoyed their 40 winks while the rest of us playing a game of bluff. The game had to be finally abandoned when Rohit, Rajashree and Aishwarya just could stay off the cards and wanted all of them!


Treasure hunt then, as the teams were divided under the ‘able guidance’ of very intelligent leaders – Sameer and SK. Competition spirit became evident from the start itself as everyone strove (or fought) to get the points. The game was explained to one and all, and the point system described to ‘Math-allergic’ people like me. Then came the 1st ceremony – a reading of the 1st cryptic clue. Nicely worded and even rhyming, the clues were a surprise fun to even hear. The 1st clue led us to the solar panels, as everyone scrambled to find the hidden card.

It was the haunted abode next, looking for the clue card. I think Rahul was even spotted chatting up the ghosts asking them for hints!

The treasure hunt took us from there to the Shiv Temple near the lake as this clue was solved:

“Spirituality is like Underwear….have it but don't flaunt it
I m one of the ways to get to the pearly gates
My Monolithic structure stands the test of time
Find my Lord and thee shall shine”

Discovering the card from amidst the rocks, the two teams moved on to a certain ‘mango tree’. Here we were out of breath even before we reached the tree, as the ‘adarniya nyayadheesh’, Sri Sri Hemant ji, decided to keep us miles away from the tree before we started the search so that there would be no unfairness. Sigh! Pinak’s height brought him glory here as he reached the clue perched high on the tree before we even stepped in the tree shade.

(What I wonder is who the hell put it there and how? Rohit can climb trees???)

Panting we trudged to the next spot – the minaret near the temple. A rectangle of dug ground and so many directionless people inside. Chotu wonder, Aishwarya found the clue but a controversy emerged. Now it seems like reality TV finally! Debates about who spotted the clue first and who has claim over the points had the two teams at loggerheads. Oh my, I think I spotted Pinak sporting horns and ready to strike! Ok ok, the issue was calmly settled thanks to our ‘team leaders’ (didn’t I mention they were able and intelligent) who emerged generous, humble and the perfect exemplars of sportsmanship!

Next was digging the mud around the nearby well, as the clue puzzled more than half the junta.

“Depth is something that cannot be fathomed
I know ur pissed with the word game so keep aside the sarcasm!
A circle of stones amongst the brown
Why do I see a lot of brows frown?
Take another swig minus the twig
U will have to search for me cos I aint big
A swig I don't promise but a visual treat
Near to me lies a ruined piece
A Symbol of hope and belief
Run to me and cleanse ur soul
Near to me in the finger bowl
Lies the card that will lead u to a goal”

Stupid me, so used to wordplays and hidden meanings tried to find an interpretation of the ‘fingerbowl’, whereas it turned out to be an actual fingerbowl! Meanwhile, footage was being recorded of Aishu digging the mud, or people running helter-skelter like there’s been an earthquake or me trying to find a hairpin in the sand!

Card found, it was the cowshed next. With nightmares of trying to uncover the card from within a dung-pile, we moved to the spot. Thankfully, our ever so gracious leaders took over the mantle of the job and for security and protection of the cattle, the rest of the monster-herd was not allowed into the shed.

Finally it was the water tap and the flow of points ending with a rush of picture-taking. The ‘treasure’ was yummy roshogullas, chocolates and chocolates and chocolates. Slurp! Yaay, the ‘winning team’ (which was not us, even after efforts and a catapulted race forward) shared the delicacy. Cheers to all!

Treasure hunt over, tea break. And did you see Lakshika holding 4 of those kismis biscuits and gulping 2 cups of tea. Hah! This is entry is also for secret-revealing!


We then tried a hand at a game suggested by Hemant – three islands. Brilliant game as some of us agreed, since it required a lot of mental exercise. Me loves such games. But the rules weren’t clearly understood and that created a lot of confusion. Also, the day long activities had drained everyone leaving behind an air of exhaustion. Thus the game was abandoned as everyone committed ‘suicide’ by ‘jumping into the sea’.

We had a small session then with Vare kaka – Geeta Maushi’s husband, who told us about the fort, the village and everything. He told us of the villager’s efforts and the use of solar energy for producing electricity. The villagers had worked hard and achieved the resources. And their dedication to the environment along with looking after their own needs was commending. No harmful substance or method had ever been used.

Dinner was next. It was a welcome treat for the non-veggies with chicken. Delicious potato bhaji compensated it all for the veggies too. Oh and since I finished by gulping in the 1st round and was helping with serving, I also made some papads in Maushi’s chulha J Yaaay!


The girls moved to the middle room with 2 watch-guards at the door, so that changing could take place. Sudden transformation occurred, as it seemed like the Fairy Godmother had done her bit with the Cinderellas. The theme was traditional and all the girls strutted prettily in dresses, earrings et al.

We then moved with our torches to the temple to prepare for the diva lighting. It was New Year’s Eve and the night was chilly. The calm and the softness was unseen of otherwise at this time of the year. The ripples in the lake could be heard till the temple and it spread a certain feeling of belonging, of being someplace divine.

We arranged stuff and started lighting the divas as the other came along and everyone joined it. It felt grand and extraordinary to begin the New Year in such a glorious way.


The temple was lit with 84 mud lamps. It spilled the light all around and everyone’s faces seemed to be throwing out the light too. In moments the dark area was transformed, as we looked how it stood majestic and proud.

The temple is very very ancient, about 600-1000 years old, as Rohit pointed out. In telling us the glorious history of the temple, we could see his enthusiasm and interest showing up on his face.

The existence of the temple was hidden until a few years back. All that could be seen was the top as the rest of it was buried in the mud. The temple was then excavated very recently and the rectangular pit around the minaret stands proof to it. The temple dates back to the Hemadipant era when all the structures were created out of stone. The pillars in this temple too were all carved from a single block of stone. The pillars had flat spaces at points, which were for placing the ‘pantis’ or mud lamps.

The other unique characteristic of the temple is the Gow Mukh or ‘Nandi’ from whose mouth the water flows, placed at the entrance. A constant stream of water flows there even during summer, which is also the source of the lake. This is the reason it is called a ‘live lake’, and the water is extremely useful. The water from the underground stream always keeps it full, and a few other such underground streams and reservoirs feed the people and resources of Rajmachi.

Vare kaka
, during his session told us of the plans by the villagers in association with the local authorities to clean up the lake and turn it into a drinking-water reservoir. The lake would be fenced and no one will be allowed. This will also solve a lot of problems since the villagers have to walk carrying water pots on their heads in order to get drinking water from far away places.

In the midst came along Hemant with his ‘bride-to-be’. Unmistakably it was Rohit, decked up in a skirt and scarf and grinning all along. This was the finale to a prank that was being played all along with the entire group. In fact, in curiosity, the boys had even carried Hemant on their shoulders the previous night and walked around parading so that he would reveal her name!

After the lighting of the temple, we exchanged New Year greetings. And everyone sat around the tank as fishpond was played. Fun chits and messages had everyone in a burst of laughter, till we could no longer play as the cold was getting to us! We headed back to the cottage for some sweet sleep.


Next morning was supposed to be a trip to Manaranjan, but sleep did not leave anybody as everyone overslept. Leena, Mango and Rajashree left the night before. We got up and readied ourselves so that we could leave after tea.

The downhill journey was via the Karjat route. This path was shorter and a little more rough as it was not ‘prepared’. For those not used to trekking, it may have been easy to get lost. Thankfully, as Raj showed me, there were arrows on many of the stone that previous trekkers had made for directions.

I was slow, and my stupid shoes did not help. And to avoid further delay or a mishap, Parag Dada caringly assigned Raj to help me descend. And I was grateful, as he walked ahead helping me at any tough patch, and teaching me some tricks along the way. He told me how walking cross-legged helps and how keeping the balance towards the mountain side helps in case you fall as you don’t drop into the valley. I did trip quite a few times in the mud and was laughing at my own constant clumsiness that did not leave me even here!

Everyone moved ahead in groups and the organizers had walkie-talkies to communicate. This route is a steep path down the mountain, interjected by 3 plateaus along the way. Just before the last plateau I sprained my feet and couldn’t walk straight any longer. It was really nice to have the organizers concerned and worrying as I tried to gather myself and be normal.

The route ends at the village of Kharaundi, from where is a straight walk along an isolated road. It can get monotonous but the scenic view of the whole mountain on either side is quite exhilarating. Also, for me, it was a different experience as Sameer pointed out the fort for me where we were, and I comprehended the distance. From here we walked to Kondivade and were treated to Pepsi-colas by Sam again. We then took tempos to Karjat station and the way we fit into one was a sight to be seen. It seemed like anyone would just fall out any moment!


Karjat station and ticket-buying, and Lakshi and me ran for the 12.15 train, but missed it. Fortunate for us as the entire group then traveled together. Train had its own share of fun with the hoax palmistry session by Baba Lakshikachandra. On the other side were Tapan, Girish, Raj and me involved in profundities and theories about life and a lot more.

One by one everyone got off at their respective stations and bid adieu to the group. Tapan, Sameer, Parag dada and me traveled together in the train to Borivli.

I returned home, with hurting feet, aching back, frizzy hair and a huge smile that was filled with memorable moments and a great time. It was the joy of having spent a New Year in a unique way, of feeling nature and of letting myself go loose in the wild. I made new friends, and though there may have been intimidations on this trek, a bond was formed that cleared the way for communication and a stronger friendship. We all were united in our passion for nature, for madness, for exploration, and yet we are different in how we experience it. Our experience is ours, yet it’s incomplete without the others. And this network of independence due to dependence was what gave me great moments.
(Nature pics courtesy Rohit Nayak and Sameer Patel. Other pics 'lifted' from albums of Tapan, Sujay, Hemant and Rahul. Thanks guys!)