We reached Srinagar at about 930 in the morning on 23 June 2022. We were sore from the overnight journey in the innova. With no comfortable ...

We reached Srinagar at about 930 in the morning on 23 June 2022. We were sore from the overnight journey in the innova. With no comfortable sleep and continuous travelling for more than 10 days, I was tired. We took a quick shikara ride and checked into Asif's Houseboat at Nigeen Lake.

Nigeen lake is another big lake in Srinagar city and yet is less explored destination thus is pretty much slow and peaceful. Asif's Houseboat had three bedrooms, one dining room and one drawing room with veranda or balcony. They served us breakfast, confirmed about lunch and I went to sleep immediately. Then with a brief break for lunch, I slept throughout the daytime. In the evening we spent some time in veranda, I clicked some pictures of birds like pied kingfisher and then the dinner and done.

Apparently, Gunjan hadn't slept like me and had already managed to hire a moped for next day.

Hari Parvat as seen from Nigeen Lake

 24 June 2022

 We had breakfast and took the moped and rode off. The helmet was stinky yet was necessary. The moped was a Honda Navi, vehicle with funny looks of a motorcycle and features of a moped. Well, at least it let us commute the city and performance was fabulous. The owner, wanted my Aadhaar card as security to which we negotiated considering the places we were planning to travel and handed over my PAN card.

Our first stop was Shrimad Shankaracharya Temple. I have been visiting here since 2009. Until 2022, the tourists were not allowed to click pictures. In fact, I remember the times when we were forced to leave our mobile phones in the lockers. This time, I went for pictures. One of those that I flaunt very proudly at home. This place has different vibes, something that cannot be described in words. Shrimad Shankaracharya, the first acharya who has unparallel status of being first guru of Hinduism. He's the one who restored the studies of Vedas and came out with philosophy of Advait Siddhanta. I have always revered him, for reasons strange to me too. The moment I see his picture, I have always found myself bowing my head with eyes closed and my hands performing a namaskar. 

Well, so here we were riding to the Shankaracharya hill. There were armed army personnel at every few meters. (Mind it, just meters!) The first was passing a check post at the foot of the hill, bang opposite to Dal Lake. The ghat has a scenic, thick forest with good roads. The other drivers seemed disciplined and we were at second check post in about 10 minutes. We were stopped asked for identifications and when they realised, we were just two ladies riding on our own, they let us pass quickly. One of them said, it's good to see that two women have made it this far by themselves, we hope to see more in future. Later, we were allowed to park the vehicle near last security post as well. 


Then, final hike of 240 steps and we were at the base of Temple. People sitting and chitchatting, many of them clicking pictures and making videos and reels and Facebook live and all. It was a welcome change. I have this memory from childhood when the terrorists had threatened to destroy the temple along with pilgrims of Amarnath, well, gone are those days. 


The temple has a Shivalinga known as Jyeshteshwara, and then the small cave where Shri Adi Shankaracharya performed asceticism - Tapascharya. I was fortunate to have the entire cave by myself for more than 10 minutes and I obviously utilised the solitude to meditate. After which, I realised Gunjan was missing. Then I went and sat on one of the benches in hope of finding her in the passers and she was right behind me.

We merrily climbed down the steps, clicked few pictures and started with our long ride towards Shree Kheer Bhawani Durga Temple. The temple is located in Ganderbal, we could have avoided riding along Dal Lake but unbeknownst to me Gunjan chose this route which was about 4 kms long. Anyway!

Shree Kheer Bhawani Durga Temple, is an important temple for Kashmiri Hindus. This temple was also out of bounds for civilians and as I have heard even the defence personnel had to take permission from ministry of Defence before visiting here. We reached here at about 1330 and again the formalities of entry and the curiosity of two women riding by themselves. The SSB was deputed here and it was like entering a fortress. Here I presented my Aadhar Card for entry. Also, at the time of entry, we were told very authoritatively that there will be lunch inside and we should have it and not depend on anything else outside.

The happenings inside the temple bring goosebumps even today after 6 months. There are few moments in life when you remain spellbound and your mind never understands what happened.

We went for darshan of legendary Khir Bhavani. At the time of entry, the security personnel of Seema Suraksha Bal told us authoritatively not to eat anything anywhere outside, there will be lunch - prasad available inside. We nodded and moved in. The temple was pretty peaceful and there weren't many people. We offered puja and I sheepishly asked where we would get lunch. We were directed to Yagnashala close to the temple.

We were received and welcomed by a family of Kashmiri Pandits. They offered us lunch which consisted of bottle gourd subji - Al Yakhni, Dam Aloo, rice, moong dal, some green vegetable and khir of Rice somewhat like Payasam. It was absolute Authentic Kashmiri Cuisine. The taste was heavenly and we probably overate. We thanked them for food and left. Later on, our way out, we met one of the men who had served food to us we had a little chat. He told us he was a teacher who had repatriated to Kashmir recently and also that he is a relative of the family. The family head is a high-ranking officer of Jammu Kashmir police.


Later I realized that he was right in front of us all the time when we were having lunch and had made sure that we were served properly. There was not a single moment when his high rank had peeped in his behaviour and we were almost looked upon as "Devi". A true sense of Hindu culture: Atithi Devo Bhav| 

I am not going to put any efforts in making my mind understand any part of this entire incidence and rather just hold it close to my heart and pray Ma Kheer Bhavani to bless me memory strong enough to cherish this incidence for entire life. (This was written on that day in a Facebook post)

Upon arriving at the gate, I noticed that the lever of left side brake, the one for rear wheel was broken and it was going to be a difficult task to reach Srinagar. Also, it was Friday, so I was thinking that the shops would be closed, but the soldiers assured that we would find someone on the way to repair it. So instead wasting our time, we chose to ride slowly back to Srinagar in the hope of finding some garage on our way. About 8 kms from the temple, we found a garage. We had big tikka on heads so they guessed it right that we were returning from the temple. To avoid overindulgence from these guys, we ended up telling them about the puja we had attended and that were acquaintances of the aforesaid gentleman from Jammu Kashmir police. They quickly replaced the lever and charged mere 75. We left immediately.

From here we intended to go to Lal Chowk where Modiji had flared the Tiranga few years ago and until recently which had flaunted Pakistan's flag. Also, after the abrogation of article 370 in Aug 2019, this was my first visit to the valley. I was eager to see the changes that were brought in due to this historic decision. We reached Lal Chowk and then of course the photography. 

Now we headed back to the houseboat for yet another strange experience. We tried calling the owner of the moped but he wouldn't pick up the call. The attendant at the houseboat said not to worry and leave the moped at the spot from where we had picked up, unlocked and with the key. I didn't find it to be a good idea and brought the moped where the houseboat was anchored. In the evening we called Asif as I wanted my PAN Card back. He said there was some feud in the owner's family probably over the hired moped. He also mentioned that the guy whom we were thinking to be the owner was in fact the grandson of the actual owner of the moped and he had hired out the moped with knowledge of his grandpa and obviously grandpa was upset over the matter. It was about 10 in night when I handed over the keys and got my PAN Card which was severed. I just wanted it back and didn't want to live it in the valley.

 


Finally, the day in Srinagar ended and we were back in seclusion of our room. I packed hastily and carelessly and had plans of checking in 2 of my bags and travel with just one small carry on. 

  25 June 2022

 The cab came right on time and we left. Srinagar airport although now is an international airport has always been the one with highest security amongst all the airports that I have ever seen. The security screening happens almost a kilo meter before the airport and not the just luggage but even the vehicles going in are screened.

 For Ladakh trip, before Srinagar I had carried a big duffle bag and due to experience, I knew it was weighing in permissible limits. Upon screening, it was sealed. One yellow coloured backpack would have been additional luggage and I was willing to pay for it. I had saved time by not washing clothes including inners which I had packed somewhere and didn't recollect which bag it was. And I didn't realise that this yellow backpack was not sealed at security check. The smaller blue backpack was packed in accordance with standard carry-on norms like no sharp objects etc.

When we arrived for baggage drop off, the officer told me to take both backpacks as carry on and absent minded I agreed, Afterall it saved me a couple of thousand bucks.

From here, we bid bye to each other and went on to our terminals. At the terminal, the security officer screened and held back the yellow backpack! He said sharp objects, my worry was soiled stinky inners which could have been in this backpack. I was already filled with embarrassment when he opened the yellow backpack. He was taking out things one by one, first was my yellow top the one in pictures above, then were the olive-green pants and Thennnn... There it was... an orange-coloured pouch which had all the cutlery. I almost on top of my voice said, this is it. He gave me a funny stern look and said, that’s my job to determine. He then opened the pouch, took out a knife, a peeler and a pair of scissors and threw it in the bin behind him. scanned the backpack again and let me off. What a relief!!!

Flight was on time and I reached Delhi, spent some good 3 hours at the boarding gate and to arrive in Pune by evening.


  When we reached Jhansi it was well past 9PM. We took an auto and he agreed to drop us to Orchha. We were kind of worried about our safety;...

 

When we reached Jhansi it was well past 9PM. We took an auto and he agreed to drop us to Orchha. We were kind of worried about our safety; I shared my live location with a friend back home. But the auto driver seemed to be good guy and he dropped us near our homestay. The homestay owner - uncle checked us in and we requested if we could get some Aloo Paratha They obliged us with freshly made just for us.

The room was too good for the charge we paid. It had been a long day and thankfully everything had gone well. We slept off fast.

 

 Day Three

Gunjan had woken up early and been for Yoga on the rooftop. I chose to sleep in for some more time. We started off a bit late in morning. First on the list was Ram Raja Sarkar Palace – Temple. The mobile phones were to be switched off and no photography was allowed. The Ram Raja Sarkar is believed to be the governing authority of this locality.


After the Darshan we went to Chaturbhuj Temple, Jehangir Mahal and Raja Mahal. The Raja mahal has some good frescos which are being conserved. The paintings are depicting scenes from mythology and Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

The day was getting hot and now we were also very hungry. Gunjan recommended a place “Café Nomads” for lunch. We went there and food was delicious. I am somewhat skeptical about online recommendations, but they proved me wrong.

Now we were close to the famous Orchha Chhatris - the cenotaphs. There are 9 Chhatris, out of which six are being maintained and visitors are allowed. Three chhatris were closed out of which one is biggest of all: Raja Veer Singh Dev’s chhatri.

It was around 3PM and we desperately needed a break now. So, we went to the homestay and rested  for some time. Now last one on list was Lakshmi Temple which was less than a kilometer away from 

our homestay. So at 415 PM we again started our odyssey. The Lakshmi Temple is somewhat on a hillock. It is huge structure with outer wall and sanctum sanctorum inside. The idol of Lakshmiji is not big but the temple is functional yet i.e. Puja is performed daily.

The walls from inner side have been painted with several mythological stories along with some of those from certain battles of Indian upsurge of 1857AD against British rule. We spent quiet some quite time here and then the security guard told us it was about closing time, hence we left.

There is a huge Baobab tree which is named as  “Kalpavriksha”  and is also being marketed as  by MPTDC and I have no clue why… We went there just out of curiosity and I couldn’t find any reason to call it a Kalpavriksha – a tree that grants every wish.

We wanted to see the lights of Chhatris from opposite side of the river, however the way was sealed with barbed wire, so we returned to main town of Orccha and went to attend the Aarati at Ram Raja Sarkar Temple at 7 PM.

It was really enchanting to see the faith of so many people in one place. As I mentioned earlier The Ram Raja Sarakar is believed to be the governing authority of this locality, hence every evening before Aarati, a guard of honor is performed by local police.

After Aarati, we did little shopping of glass bangles with some bits and bobs. Then the very delicious gujia found their way in our tummies and in the bags along with few other delicacies.


We returned to the room and requested uncle to oblige us with dinner. Meantime, we packed considering that both of us were to take our separate trains next day to our respective destinations. (Bedding!) Uncle also arranged for an auto to pick us up next day early morning. There was an elderly couple who was staying at same homestay asked if they could join us, we were happy to have them.

For a change, we slept pretty early that night. 

 

Day Four

We woke up well in time, got ready and auto driver arrived on time. It was pleasantly cold when we drove to Jhansi. We wanted to keep our luggage in the cloak room at the station but they won’t accept because it was not locked. They sent us to some toilet facility at the entrance of the railway station who accepted our big backpacks with some charge. We took an auto to Jhansi fort which is like 3 kms away from the station.


The fort is a small structure on a hill top. The fortification is strong yet and the monument is managed by ASI. We took a walk along with the fortification. The Indian Tricolour was flurrying high on the fort which obviously reminded me why the queen sacrificed herself in the battle.  (Not exactly in the battle but while being chased!) Looking at time, we cut short our trip on the fort and returned to the railway station. Soon after Gunjan left for her next destination and thankfully my train arrived on time.

 

 

 

 

Few highlights of the trip were:

1) Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are really developing good in all senses.

2) Toilets were really clean no matter where we went. Be it monuments, railway stations or roadside restaurants, anywhere everywhere.

3) All the cell phone services had good coverage again anywhere everywhere. Whilst on our auto ride from Jhansi to Orchha, I shared my live location for about 45 minutes and it did not drop even for 10 seconds.

4) I wore somewhat fancy touristy clothes like shorts and tunics and did not have to face eve teasing even once.

5) No cheating, no extra charge, no unnecessary hi hellos, no pictures without our knowledge, no uncomfortable advances…perfectly safe for ladies!!!

This trip was like meant for some peace of mind to by bringing pieces of mind together! Gunjan love you loads for this trip and beyond!

Fact File:

Pune to Thane: Shivneri 450 Rs.

Thane to CSMT: Ameya dropped us

CSMT to Gwalior:  Rajdhani Express departure 1600 and arrival at Gwalior at 0615.

Gwalior Stay:

Seth Vidhichand Dharamshala 1500 for one night

Room was ok ok types but expensive for charge we paid.

Gwalior intra- city transit:

Hired a bike for 2 days at Rs 500 per day.

Vendor: rent my UFO. Contact: Bunny Bhaiyya: 9669229053

Contact info:

Gwalior to Jhansi

MP State Transport bus: Rs. 150 each

Jhansi to Orchha and back:

Private auto rickshaw: Rs. 300 one way.

Orchha: we went around on foot as everything is well within city limits.

 Lunch at Café Nomads: Aloo Paratha and Curd Rice

Orchha Stay: Rs. 600 per night (two nights) Hotel Sunset 

 




 

 It was a cold morning of January when Gunjan messaged and asked if I wanted to join her on a short trip to some parts of Madhya Pradesh. I ...


 It was a cold morning of January when Gunjan messaged and asked if I wanted to join her on a short trip to some parts of Madhya Pradesh. I had just returned from a winter trek in the Himalayas so I took couple of days and then said yes.

We discussed several options and she was also planning to attend a family function at one of the cities. So the rough plan was to one day each at Gwalior, Orchha and Jhansi. We also listed few monuments and made train reservations. It was obvious that I would be returning to Pune, and she would be staying back so we decided to travel together from Mumbai to Gwalior. Thanks to CoViD19, It had been more than a year since we had met last. A lot of catching up was pending.

Couple of days before departure she informed that IRCTC is not providing any bedding and food would be available at extra cost. I was taken aback as we would have to carry the bedding throughout the trip and that was going to add weight to the backpack. 

As decided earlier, I left from Pune on 14 Feb and reached Thane. The Shivneri reached Thane just in time to start for CSMT. So Ameya obliged by driving us all the way to CSMT. We had booked Second AC berths, so comparatively there was less rush in the bogey. We occupied our seats and started chatting which stopped only when somebody came or when we ate. Around 9 PM, we realized that we were the only ones who were blabbering. It was time to sleep. The only worry was getting up in time to get down at Gwalior where we would be reaching at 6 AM. Hence, with couple of alarms in place for 5 AM and 530 AM we slept.  I woke up couple of times in the night only to realize that the train was running ahead of schedule.

Around 615 we alighted at Gwalior. Like a typical Indian railway station, there were autowalas available ready to take us anywhere in the city. We weren’t so keen in travelling anywhere away from station so chose to share a plate of Poha and tea before going to the hotel which we had chosen. 


We had booked at Seth Vidhichand Dharamshala as our abode which is right outside Gwalior Station and is a 2 minute walk. When we reached the reception area, the man at reception was missing for about good 40 minutes. He arrived and we were allotted a tiny room. Tired we took ourselves to the room and slept for couple of hours.

During planning Gunjan had found a bike rental service in Gwalior which we had booked beforehand. Around 9 AM both of us were ready to explore Gwalior. Right outside the gate we found a small hotel which offered us yet another plate of Poha and samosa and eventually we got some coffee. By then the guy at bike rental service had already called us about bike pick up. So we immediately went to pick up the bike.

It was Honda Activa5G. The fuel was about half filled. The formalities were complete under 10 minutes and we were on our way. The first item on our list was Mitaoli - Chausath Yogini Temple which was 35 kms North of Gwalior. We topped the fuel to full tank and rode off. The highways were in good condition. Some 12 kms away I realized that we were in Uttar Pradesh, between Morena and Bhind District.

While growing up, the stories of Late Phoolan Devi and other dacoit filled columns of several newspapers from time to time. Somewhere back of the mind, the tension about getting into any unpleasant situation was present and I did my best to keep it under control. 


 We took a turn on internal road from Malanpur and the condition of road deteriorated with every kilo meter. Best thing was the cell phone coverage was very good throughout the journey. Soon we reached Mitaoli village and a quick hike of 5 minutes we were on the top of the hill which has a small plateau. The Chausath Yogini temple is dedicated to 64 yoginis and the goddess Devi. There is a shrine in the center which houses a big Shivlinga. The temple was constructed in 11th century to provide education of Astrology and mathematics based on sun transitions. It is believed that the current structure of Indian Parliament House is based on this temple. There are 65 chambers which probably housed images of different “Yoginis” however now there are just some with Shivling and few are empty. We spent some good one hour here.

The second stop was Gadhi Padhavli which was about 5 kms from Mitaoli. I hadn’t heard much about it and it looked very intriguing from the parking lot. We entered and were just walking through the walkway; there were idols on both sides. I noticed some Gajalakshmi, Ganesha and few erotic ones.

The Nandi Mandapa is at a height and is accessible through a staircase. There were two lions on each side of the staircase. I didn’t know what was to unfold. We climbed the staircase in no time and the complete picture unfolded… I was spellbound, stunned. I have been to many archaeological sites but the Nandi Mandapa here is something way beyond. Absolutely beautiful! There are 5 sections to the ceiling and each one of them has numerous mythological figures. I am unsure and grateful for that most of them are intact while the entire Shiva Temple is destroyed.  There are few erotic ones as well and then the Yaksha. Different panels telling stories from Puranas and other ancient literature like Bhagawat et all. There was a fellow who showed us the intricacies from the carvings. We paid him 100 rs and went to the fortification on the side. 

The Nandi Mandapa looks beautiful while the empty space of Shiva temple will ache your heart. We came down clicked few beautiful pictures and moved to the third item on our list: Bateshwar group of Temple.

We all should thank ASI Bhopal region's Superintend Archaeologist K.K. Muhammed who restored the site with help of Dacoit Nirbhar Singh Gujjar and his gang.  

Bateshwar will make your brain freeze with its grandeur. There are about 100 temples restored by ASI from mounts of ruins just like a jigsaw puzzle. In one of the interviews that I had watched Shri K. K. Muhammed had mentioned the temples were based on principles of architecture in Sanskrit architectural texts.  I don’t remember the names of the texts.

Bateshwar still has a long way to go when it comes to restoration and I am glad that ASI is relentlessly working on it since 2005. Can’t thank them enough! Please visit Kevin Standage’s blog for photos pre and post restoration.  

We clicked and clicked. Thankfully it was Monday so there were almost no tourists.  We had hardly spoken to each other since we arrived here. Most of the words said were,”get out of my frame.” No number of photos is going to bring any justice to this site.

When I checked the time, we had already spent over an hour here and it had felt like a split second. We were now hungry hence took a quick snacks break in the seating area bang opposite The Vishnu Temple which we chose to skip since we also had to return to Gwalior in day light because first the road conditions and secondly being in a remote area in dark didn’t sound like a safe idea.  Hence we started our returning ride to Gwalior around 330.

On our way back Gunjan was continuously checking the closing times various other destinations in the city. The Surya Mandir – Sun temple aka Birla Temple was closing down at 5, the Tansen Maqbara too at same time, Rani Lakshmibai Samadhi as well. Also that Google wasn’t helpful much because it kept showing temporarily closed on map and different times for closing when we searched. All because of CoViD19!

We took a chance and went to Gwalior Fort. The parking lot was yet filled with many bikes and cars.  Gunjan checked that there was a sound and light show in Hindi at 630. While buying tickets for the show we had a word with the elderly man at the ticket counter. He guided us about the fort and other tickets and also about other destinations on our list. He was curious about where we had come from etc. It was a good chat. 

We hurriedly made our way to Sas Bahu (Sahasrabahu) Temple but the security guard literally shooed us away since we didn’t have ticket. So we had to return to galleria to wait until it was time for Sound and Light Show. The entire city of Gwalior was getting lit by lights and looked very beautiful.

Soon it was time for Sound and Light Show and we were engrossed in the history of Gwalior fort and City. It was not so pleasant but the bike rental guy called us and asked when we were returning the bike and I didn’t know when. I requested him for some more time to call back. We had booked for only one day thinking we would be done. It was clear that Gwalior needed more time. We were to check out of the hotel next day morning as well. This called for a long discussion over permutation and combinations of possibilities.

After leaving from the fort, we made our way back to the hotel. Dumped our backpack in the room and freshened up.

The receptionist told us we could leave our luggage in the cloak room and go around the town and not have to pay for entire room. The autorikshaw drivers seemed uninterested in taking us on a fixed rate to explore other parts of the city for most part of the day. Apart from that main attractions at Gwalior fort still remained unvisited. After accounting for many things, we called the bike rental guy and requested if we could use the bike for another day. He agreed readily just that asked for payment upright which worked perfectly for us.


All set for next day, we went for dinner. The dinner was Masala dosa followed by a good cup of coffee at Indian Coffee House opposite to our hotel. It is a typical south Indian restaurant. Gunjan decided she didn’t want coffee but the masala milk. And the same restaurant where we had breakfast was serving it in the Kulhad. Happy with day one we retired to our room around 930.

As expected Gunjan and I chattered some more and finally slept off around 130.

 

 

 

 

Day Two:

The day began pretty early for us at 530. Both of us were ready to leave at 715. The restaurant where we had breakfast on the day prior hadn’t opened yet, so we went back to the station entrance and had Poha and coffee. It had started drizzling for no reason. I was worried because of the cold that it brings and additionally riding in rain on an unfamiliar vehicle seemed rather gruesome.

We started our ride to Gwalior fort again. The city roads were all wet and obviously it reduced the speed. After reaching Gwalior fort and we took our first stop at the Jain caves near Urwai gate.

Then at Hathi Pol took our entry ticket for Man Mandir palace which also was valid at Sas Bahu Temple and Teli Ka Mandir. We made our way first to Sas Bahu Temple, because I wanted good pictures in perfect day light. We spent some half an hour here and then headed back to Man Mandir palace.

I guess most part of the Palace is closed for visitors, we didn’t take guide here. The staircases and the hallways and the rooms were absolute maze. It is a three storied structure and if you’re bad with navigation and signs you should take a guide.  After another half an hour we came out of the Maze.

Some part of Gwalior fort is under Madhya Pradesh State Archaeology and there is separate ticket for that. We were not sure if we wanted to go. After reading the list of monuments, we thought we should explore it. There is Jauhar Kund, Bhimsen Rana ki Chhatri, Vikram Mahal and Karna Mahal. We didn’t spent much time here and came out quickly.

It was time for brunch, so we went to MPTDC restaurant. One last and important one on list was Teli Ka Mandir before we would leave the fort. Thankfully we could ride to the Teli ka Mandir. The temple is a tall structure and dates back 8th or 9th century. There are no exact records as to who built it. The carvings are yet again fascinating. We walked around the temple, clicked pictures and left.

We checked Google and Jai Vilas Palace was close by. The palace was built in 1874, a part of which is now a museum. Apart from enormous range of artifacts, The Durbar hall is a glamorous royal place which tells us about the aristocratic lives of Scindias of Gwalior. The crystal fountain and the chandeliers made the visit worth the ticket. 

Our next destination was Rani Lakshmibai Samadhi. I would have never forgiven myself if we would have skipped it. Having grown up listening to valor stories of this queen this was a must visit place. However, upon visit I felt sad because I saw many couples seating and publicly displaying affection and courtship. Elderly people seating there because they had nowhere to go probably. It had become just another place of pastime activities for people.

We rode to the Sun Temple which is a replica of Konark Sun temple and is funded by Birla Family. It was almost 3PM now and Jhansi and Orchha looked far away! Somehow made a tour of Sun Temple and rushed off to hand over the bike back to the guy. Then took an auto to the Station and took our luggage. The bus station is another five minute walk from the Hotel.

The first bus we got in was a private bus which was going somewhere else and they were planning to make us change the bus at Datia. We were not convinced with the idea. Then Gunjan searched for more buses and then we found a government serviced bus which would drop us at Jhansi Bus Station. It was leaving at 6PM, which meant we would be reaching Jhansi around 9 PM and then Orchha looked far away from there. I felt I hadn’t dressed appropriately with a sleeveless one piece or tunic. Then we also realized that throughout the day there hadn’t been a single incident of eve teasing and I wasn’t made to feel uncomfortable in spite of wearing a sleeveless tunic.



I have been adventurous all my life and from the time Toby has arrived, my adventure quotient has risen. He and I did several trek...



I have been adventurous all my life and from the time Toby has arrived, my adventure quotient has risen. He and I did several treks which involved technical stuff like rock climbing & rappelling. After Nalichi Wat at Harishchandragad, I searched a lot and we purchased a good rock climbing harness for him online. We did a good abseil at Sandhan Valley in May 2019.  Having him on treks has been a treat. Many a times patrons on treks of Zenith Odysseys also inquire whether he would be joining or not. He is a well behaved dog whilst on trek which is not really expected from an Indian dog.  So taking him to a climb, putting his harness to good use and pending items my bucket list were pointing to Lingana.

Lingana is also looked upon as a Mecca for the rock climbing community of Western Ghats of India, however, many commercial trek operators organize rock climbing events here and the mountain has lost its sanctity.
The urge to visit this place was getting stronger day by day and I started looking for team. I am usually look for a team with certain qualities like stable mind, ability to perform under pressure, respect towards the nature, physical capacity and stamina, team spirit and of course technical knowledge. Apart from playing team, I usually have couple of non playing captains who in case of emergency can handle rescue if required. 

I messaged “The BMC bud” & “The BMC Kid”, another lady friend and few other regular patrons of Zenith Odyssey. “The BMC Kid” said yes unconditionally and “The BMC bud” put up a condition of choosing weekends. I strongly wanted “The BMC bud” to join as He, “The BMC Kid” and I would have made an awesome team. We three are batch mates of Basic Mountaineering Course and have been glued to each other since then. Initial plan involved just 5 people and then there were few additions. However, the rains lasted much beyond expected and some withdrew and some were on wait and watch mode. One fine day, “The BOY” messaged he wished to take The DOG, a breed dog to Lingana and I thought of taking two dogs to summit. So the plan was shaping up nicely and we forgot about it in few days.

Then again “A FRIEND” asked about status and we all came back to life. As “the climbing season” for commercial trek operators had already begun, we decided to climb on weekdays. With this decision few others along with “The BMC bud” dropped out. I chalked out a rough itinerary and we decided to leave on 18 December early morning and return by early evening of 19 December.
Two days prior I started preparing. I borrowed few stuff like branded harnesses and a Jumar etc. from a friend and also bought some stuff for Toby. “A FRIEND” chose to look after food. It seemed like “The BOY” and I had all the required gear. By the nightfall on 17 December, Toby and I were ready to move out next day. “The BOY” and I had been planning on introducing Toby and The DOG before the trek however due to other commitments I couldn’t do that.

I was up by 345 on 18 December and we all were already exchanging messages on WhatsApp. By 5 AM “A FRIEND” and “The BMC Kid” had arrived and few moments later “The BOY” arrived along with his friend “The GIRL”. I was surprised to see her since it was never discussed that she would be joining. “A FRIEND” mentioned he was carrying food for only four people; I assured him it would be alright.  In the morning we tried very hard to make Toby and The DOG friends, however both kept growling at each other and then I decided to give up after around 20 minutes. It was a noisy start of the day for the entire neighborhood. I removed Toby’s stuff from my backpack along with his backpack. My baby looked confusedly at me. I could not even hide my disappointment in my fate and left. By the time we finally left from my place, it was 0605.

We reached Velhe and hungrily searched for a place to eat. Torana Vihar hadn’t opened yet so we decided to eat at the only place available.

The road after Kelad khind (pass) seemed ok until a point and after that practically just because it looked like something which looked like a road because handful of heavy duty vehicles could pass. We reached Mohari Village at 915 and prepared for the hike. I removed some more stuff and left it in the car. Time was 940 and we were delayed by almost one and half hour already. At that time it just meant less rest between lunch and final climb and it didn’t matter much technically.
We walked nonstop till the starting point of Borata Naal – the Gorge that goes down closest towards Lingana.  At the entrance of the gorge we took a small break and “The GIRL” already looked tired. I was worried but pretended otherwise and carried on. Time was 1030 AM.

The hike down was pretty easy but slow. I didn’t want to push anyone to stress themselves and make things difficult for themselves and others. The rock was heating up and Sun was teasing us with every minute lost. By the time we reached the traverse, it was 1130 AM. This is where I started calculating daylight hours left and making equations as to how much time would be required to reach cave.
During the planning, “The BOY” and I had discussed a possibility of climbing the summit before sunset and rappelling in dark to the cave. At that point of that time, it looked very much possible, but every time I looked at “The GIRL”, I could feel that this possibility was now diminishing. We reached the col below Lingana at about 1330 and I declared that we would be just pushing to the cave before the nightfall and would attempt the summit next day at sunrise.

“The BOY” was our lead climber, his rope management and climbing skills are top notch. He fixed the rope and helped us climb. Looking at the losing daylight, I suggested two people climbing at same time. And then I realized that we were so smart that we were carrying only one static rope and other one was left in the car. I literally wanted to abandon the climb and return home right from that spot.

Working upon my suggestion, “The BOY” anchored the rope with a clove hitch and now two ends were available.  I suggested that “The BMC Kid” to be last man so that he could assist “A FRIEND” and “The GIRL” to get on the rope and climb. I postponed my dream to climb Lingana and used the other end to jumar up loads of backpacks and the dog. I kept telling the climbers to self anchor whenever they would reach the station and also kept anchoring the backpacks and the dog during my load ferries. Every time I started Jumaring with the dog on my harness, a chill would go down my spine. I was the only one the local made, uncertified harness. (We did have 4 branded and UIAA certified and I had picked up this one last moment after I saw “The GIRL”)   
As per the original plan we should have been in the cave by 1400 having lunch. And here we were just beginning to climb with hungry stomachs.

During this climb, I also realized that “The GIRL” knew close to nothing of climbing and also that the rope had severe abrasions near the midpoint. The entire climbing activity looked like a grave mistake and it would have been wiser to return home immediately. However, hiking back would have taken far more time since “The GIRL” was almost exhausted and also we were short of water at that point. The water source and shelter was available some hundred meters above us. It was a catch 22 situation. I made certain notes in the mind.

We put great efforts and the team finally reached the cave near the water source. First thing we did was that we had the sandwiches “A FRIEND” had brought for us. Time was 1700. I declared that now we rest and do the rest of the climb next day morning. Everyone agreed, I didn’t want to let “The GIRL” climb but didn’t know how to put it forward. Thankfully, she herself came up with the suggestion.

“The BOY” and “The GIRL” helped refilling the water. We “A FRIEND” had also brought ready to heat dinner for us all, Which we had by 2130 and slept off in no time. Although, the night was pretty much uneventful, I didn’t get good sleep. Perhaps the thoughts of next day kept me disturbed all night long. We woke up by 700 and it was already late to start the climb. The breakfast preparations and packing the stuff after that took almost an hour after that.

We all had kept only climbing gear outside and had packed everything else inside. I had also left a Swiss army knife with long cord. We had a set of walkie talkie to facilitate communication across stations. I handed over one set to “The GIRL” who was going to stay back in the cave, One to “The BOY”, One to “A FRIEND” and one was to be shared between “The BMC Kid” and me. I had specifically requested everyone to be careful with the sets and keep them in the zipped pockets of the clothing. “The BOY” took out cord of my Swiss army knife and attached it to his set of walkie talkie without my knowledge.

At about 815, “The BOY” started climbing and even before he had reached first station he shouted watch out. We glued ourselves to the rockwall and saw some small object falling. He then informed me that it was his set of walkie talkie. I was terribly frustrated already. We who were at base station tried to look for it however realized it was way too dangerous to move even an inch towards the valley without proper safety. We gave up the idea and I decided to climb with the dog on my local uncertified harness. It just felt way too risky because I kept feeling that the sewing of the harness might just rip off. Also due to load and incorrect placement of the Jumar, it kept locking up. Seeing me struggle that “A FRIEND” said he didn’t want to go to the top. I didn’t push him and suggested we all give up the idea of summit and start our journey back home, which “The BMC Kid”and “A FRIEND” agreed with no questions asked. Same time, “The BOY” tried to give similar suggestion from the first station. And due to wind and “The GIRL”s over enthusiasm to reach “The BOY” with her voice was causing hindrance. Somehow “The BOY” got the message and we wound up the climbing plan. In few minutes, he was back to the base station near water source.

“The BMC Kid”said the walkie talkie set had fallen in the grass nearby and we could perhaps retrieve it. “The BOY” took the responsibility on himself and anchored himself and went downwards on the face of the mountain. Thankfully he retrieved the walkie talkie set which was undamaged except for missing back cover.

We went back to the cave. Did little bit of rearrangement of all the backpacks to share the loads as to reduce the weight from “The GIRL”’s backpack and help her walk a bit freely.

We set up the ropes for abseil and I suggested “The BMC Kid”to go first and then “A FRIEND”, “The GIRL”, myself and “The BOY” to be last. Before we started, I reiterated importance of being self anchored and made sure that everyone including the dog had a tapesling with a carabineer. It was almost 1030 when “The BMC Kid”started abseiling.  “A FRIEND” was just reaching first station and “The GIRL” told me to go before her with the dog. I was just not ready to take the dog on my harness again. But then I realized that I had no option as “The BOY” might have to do tandem – abseil or simul-rappelling with “The GIRL” because it was probably first time that she was abseiling. My anger had already reached sky and with great difficulty I controlled it and quietly took the dog and abseiled. Here “A FRIEND”, “The BMC Kid”and I sat for about 45 minutes before the couple arrived. Somewhere back of the mind I was cursing myself for this misadventure.

I have never lost my temper in the mountains but this time and I shouted at “The GIRL” and used all sort of offensive words for throwing up tantrums during the abseil. Although it was just abseiling, it took us almost 5 hours to reach the col. I was on the verge of break down when we reached there. I sent texts to  We took a quick break of about 15 minutes to re-hydrate and relieve ourselves and started immediately.
all the three backups – non playing captains that we had finally abseiled safely. It was a great relief that everyone had reached safely to the base.

Now the second part was the upward hike towards Railing Plateau and later the easy walk to Mohri Village. We did have food and hydration yet I wasn’t really convinced that we would make it to Railing before sunset.

I was literally coercing “The BMC Kid”to exchange his backpack with “The GIRL” (his backpack was lightest; I knew it since I had packed most of it). Nonetheless, “The BMC Kid”and “A FRIEND” volunteered and we shuffled some more stuff). The climb went through far better than I had anticipated and we were out of Boratyachi Naal (the gully) by 1720. I have never been that grateful to the almighty as I was at that moment.

I wanted to go near the cliff of the Railing Plateau and thus suggested “The GIRL” to rest and “The BOY” to accompany her. “A FRIEND”, “The BMC Kid”and I went on the small hike without our heavy backpacks. So it was a quick walk of about 10 minutes and we could see the entire vertex of Lingana in single glance.

During the return hike, “A FRIEND” had said that he felt bad that we gave up our summit attempt because of him. I had tried to convey that it was not at all about him but various other reasons. And with experience I knew that a complete picture would tell him the exact story.
So when three of us were standing on the edge, I pointed towards the cave and elaborated the climb that we had abandoned. He seemed relieved. “The BMC Kid”had a funny reaction,” Did we go there just for camping? We could have simply pitched our tent right here and looked at the mountain.” I sincerely felt sorry for the kid. We didn’t wait for the sunset and rushed back to the point where “The BOY” and “The GIRL” were resting. We picked up our bags and walked back to the village. We just dumped our backpacks in the boot and drove off. We took a stop at Velha again for dinner. It was almost 2230 when I reached home.

Although this climb was not successful, I did learn certain lessons that I am sharing below: 
  •  Strictly no strangers on the technical climbing activity. Ideally I should have declined to venture out in the outdoors especially on a climb like Lingana with a girl who was a complete stranger. But because of my inability to say NO, we did. I now feel “The BOY” was also a stranger to me when it came to outdoors. His outdoor ethics seemed far different than mine and it did make me uncomfortable throughout the climb.
  •  Strictly no last minute additions on the climbing. Apart from reasons mentioned in the blog, it also affects the logistics like food, water and equipment.
  •  My ideology of small group in outdoors again proved to be correct! This time we were 5, I would add just one more person who would be capable of climbing. 
  • The equipment should be sufficient. We left second rope in the car. We had only one Jumar, carabineers were just numbered. One lost or broken would have put us in unwanted - unpleasant situations.  There were no Prussik cords available. We didn’t have enough gloves / mittens.  
  •  All equipment should always be branded and certified by UIAA. Period. (More about this in next blog)
  • Gather all the equipment at least two days prior to the activity in one place. 
  • Check all the equipment prior to the activity. There were abrasions on the rope.
  • No dogs on multi pitch climbing. No questions asked!
  • Adhering to timelines. I think this is enough said!
  • This is a personal learning: I should develop the skill/ tact to be able to say no or stop when things don’t seem right. This climb could have turned into a grave fatal accident. I will be guilty all my life for having jeopardizing lives of my friends and myself and the dog. Mountains are never forgiving. They’ve spared us this time, but that may not be the case every time.
  • I am usually look for a team with certain qualities like stable mind, ability to perform under pressure, respect towards the nature, physical capacity and stamina, team spirit and of course technical knowledge. But going forward I should be following this strictly! 
I look forward to work hard and complete the dream in the year 2020...
Lingana waits... 

अवघ्या भटक्यांची पंढरी असलेल्या हरिशचंद्रगडला वर्षातुन एकदा तरी जाणे मस्ट... मग ते पाचनई मार्गे असो वा नळीच्या वाटेने. जुन २०१४ मध्ये ...


अवघ्या भटक्यांची पंढरी असलेल्या हरिशचंद्रगडला वर्षातुन एकदा तरी जाणे मस्ट... मग ते पाचनई मार्गे असो वा नळीच्या वाटेने.

जुन २०१४ मध्ये झेनिथ ओडिसीज ची सुरुवात केल्या पासुन मी एक गोष्ट पाळते ते म्हणजे जर एखादा ट्रेक ना नफा ना तोटा असा करायची वेळ आली तरी तो करायचाच. क्वचित काही ट्रेक ला खिशाला चाट पण पडते पण सह्याद्री मध्ये फिरण्यासाठी सब कुछ करेंगे.

तर असा हा हरिश्चंद्रगडचा बेत ठरला. मी माझ्यापरीने जाहिरात केली पण नेहमीचे ३ आणि नवीन २ असे ५ जण ट्रेक तयार झाले. गाडीकाकानी नेहमी प्रमाणे पैश्याची खळखळ करत येतो म्हणून सांगितले. १० ला झेनिथ च्या ऑफिस मधुन उर्फ माझ्या घरून निघू याला नेहमी प्रमाणे टांग मारून ते त्यांच्या सोयींनी १०३० ला आले. मग सामान टाकुन संकल्पिता आणि मी टोब्याला घेऊन निघालो. गिरिशसर नळस्टॉपला वाट पाहतच होते. मग नाशिक फाट्यावर फिलिप, हर्षल आणि शुभम आले आणि आम्ही एकदाचे निघालो.

एके काळी राष्ट्रीय महामार्ग आहे अशी अफवा असलेला NH50 आज NH60 म्हणुन दिमाखदार झालाय. एके काळी म्हणजे फार पूर्वी नव्हे अगदी ३ वर्षापुर्वी इथून जाणे म्हणजे शिक्षा वाटत असे. तेव्हा हा रस्ता अतिशय अरुंद आणि खड्ड्यानी भरलेला होता मग याचा कायापालट झाला. आता चौपदरी आणि मुलायम अश्या या रस्त्यावरून प्रवास अतिशय सुखकर झालाय.

साधारण सव्वा वाजता आळेफाट्याला पोचलो. एक चहाचा राऊंड झाला आणि आम्ही खुबी फाट्याकडे वळलो. तिथून पुढे मी वल्हीवले - बेलपाडा साठी GPS लावला होता. रात्रीची वेळ असल्यामुळे माळशेज घाटात वाहतूक फारशी नव्हती. साधारण ३ ला आम्ही बेलपाड्यात पोचलो. पुरुष मंडळींनी झाडाच्या पारावर पथाऱ्या पसरल्या तर मी आणि संकल्पिता गाडीच्या सीटांवर पसरलो.

सकाळी ५३० चा गजर लावला होता खरा पण दिवसभर झालेली धावपळ आणि रात्रभर रस्ता दाखवण्यामुळे झालेले जागरण या मुळे तो बंद करून झोपण्याचा मोह आवरला नाही. ६ ला आम्ही दोघी उठलो. नाश्त्यासाठी उपमा आणि चहा घेऊन बाकी आवरून निघे पर्यंत ८ वाजलेच. तरी नळीच्या वाटेने चढणार म्हणजे पश्चिमेकडून चढाई अर्थात उन्हाचा फारसा त्रास होणार नाही याची खात्री आणि म्हणुनच एक प्रकारचा मानसिक आधार वाटत होता.

ट्रेकला निघण्या आधीपासूनच मी गावात संपर्क करायचा प्रयत्न करत होते पण प्रस्थापित वाटाडे दाद लागू देत नव्हते. असो. सकाळी नाश्ता बनवत असताना, गावातील एक दोघेजण आले, मी त्यांच्याशी संवाद साधण्याचा प्रयत्न केला. पण बहुदा पिकनिक type पब्लिक मुळे सवय लागली असेल वा काहीही कारणांनी त्यांनी अवाढव्य रक्कम सांगितली, जी मला परवडणार नव्हती. मग आम्ही तसेच चालु पडलो. मग त्यांनी तिकडे "वाहाघ" आहे, तुमच्यासोबत कुत्रा आहे वगैरे भिती घालायचा प्रयत्न केला. मी पण आगाव... त्यांना म्हणाले बिबटे माळशेज घाटाच्या आसपास नसतील तर काय पुण्यात सदाशिवात असतील काय? एवढे उत्तर पुरेसे होते आणि त्यांनी काढता पाय घेतला.

गावाबाहेर गणेश म्हणुन एक मुलगा येऊन मिळाला. त्याला विचारले येतोस का तर येतो म्हणाला. सोबत चालु लागला. आम्ही त्याची चौकशी केली तर नववी मध्ये आहे म्हणाला. मग आजची शाळा? असे विचारल्यावर बुडवली असे म्हणाला. गावापासुन पुढे येऊन २० मिनिटे झाली तसे म्हणायला लागला उशीर होतोय मी जातो. माझी बिदागी आणि बहिणीसाठी खाऊ द्या... मी थक्क झाले... नळीचे तोंड सुद्धा आले नव्हते. काय बोलणार आता. त्याला १०० रुपये आणि बहिणीसाठी खाऊचा पुडा दिला. फोटो वगैरे चमत्कार करून त्याला निरोप दिला.

गावाबाहेर आल्यावर टोबी ला मोकळा सोडला, तसेही त्याला धरून चालणे मला अवघड जात होते. कार्टा उधळला होता. त्याच्या उजव्या पायाची जखम पुर्ण बरी नव्हती झाली त्यामुळे मला जरा काळजीचं वाटत होती. पण मोकळे मिळाल्यावर तो खुष झाला होता.

मग आम्ही पुढे निघालो. काही ठिकाणी दगड (केर्न्स - cairns) रचले होते. आता टोबीनी पण मस्ती आवरती घेतली होती आणि फक्त पुढे मागे करणे चालु ठेवले होते. He was just acting like a good shepherd dog, trying to herd entire team together.

आता आम्ही मुख्य नळीत होतो, कोकणकडा समोर उभा ठाकला होता. त्याचे रौद्र रुप खुपच मनोहर होते. त्याला पाहताना काही दिवस आधी झालेला प्रसंग आठवून अंगावर शहारे आले. असो. आम्ही एक छोटा पाणी ब्रेक घेतला आणि पुढे निघालो. आता मुख्य नाळ आणि त्याच्या उजव्या डाव्या बाजुने २ उपनळी... आणि आम्ही confused! मी हा ट्रेक २ वर्षापुर्वी केला होता, मला बऱ्यापैकी आठवत होते पण नळीची वाट म्हणजे पावसाळ्यात धबधब्याची वाट अर्थात दर वर्षी बदलणारी... इथेही केर्न्स होते त्यावरून अंदाज बांधून आम्ही डावीकडची नाळ घेतली. साधारण २० मिनिटे वर
गेल्यावर कळाले कि पुढची वाट बंद आहे. आली का पंचाईत... बाकीच्यांना तसेच बसवून मी आणि शुभम परत
केर्न्स पर्यंत खाली आलो. मुख्य नाळी मधुनच चढायचे असे ठरवले. शुभम ला त्या नळीतून वर पाठवले आणि मी बाकीच्यांना आणायला परत गेले. दोन्ही नळी मध्ये एक safe पण गचपणानी भरलेला ट्रॅव्हर्स सापडला तो घेऊन आम्ही सगळे शुभम ला येऊन भेटलो. एक छोटा ब्रेक घेऊन आम्ही पुढे निघालो.

हवामान अगदी छान होते ११ वाजले तरी उन्हाचा तडाखा नव्हता कि हवा आणि खडक गरम झाले नव्हते. आम्ही केर्न्स शोधत होतो. पण एकही दिसेना. तसेच परत वर गेलो. आता कोकणकडा अगदीच जवळ होता. आम्ही अगदी कोकणकड्याच्या पोटात पोचलो होतो... आता परत वाट चुकली होती. तेवढ्यात माझा फोन vibrate झाला. अर्रे range आली तर... मग मी एवढा वेळ आत ठेवलेला फोन काढला. व्हाट्सऍप आणि फेसबुक ला रॉयल इग्नोर मारत मी आधी गुगल मॅप्स चालु केले. (फोन नवीन आहे, बॅटरी टिकते वगैरे वगैरे, आणि एक सोलर चार्जेर आणि एक पॉवर बँक पाठीवर वागवली होती).


मग हा निळा ठिपका आहे ना तो आपण आहोत, हि पांढरी रेष आहेना ती नळीची वाट आहे. आपल्याला तिकडे जायचे आहे. तर एकूण आम्ही नालीच्या वाटेपासुन साधारणपणे १०० मीटर दक्षिणेकडे होतो. मग फिलिप आणि हर्षल थोडे पुढे जाऊन वाट शोधुन आले पण ती काही मिळाली नाही. मग आम्ही परत थोडे उतरलो. आधी वर चढताना फिलिपनी एक वाट पाहिली होती, जी मी नापास केली होती तीच घेतली आणि मग आम्ही पोचलो परफेक्टली नळीच्या वाटेवर.

आता सुरु झाला खरा थरार... मोठ्ठाल्ले दगड ज्यांना boulders म्हणता येईल असे पार करत, कुठे निसरडी माती कुठे छोटे रॉक patches. टोबीशेट मी कसा natural climber आहे ते दाखवुन देत होते. सकाळच्या उत्साहाची जागा आता सेफ्टी फर्स्ट नी घेतली होती. २ मुले आमची मदत करायला थांबली होती. तेवढ्यात एक गावकरी उतरताना दिसला. त्याला गिरीश सरानी विचारले किती वेळ लागेल. त्यांनी सांगितले जाताल वर ५ - ६ वाजेपर्यंत. तेव्हा माझ्या घड्याळात झाले होते २. अर्रे ३ तास फक्त... सगळ्यांच्या जीवात जरा जीव आला. मग सगळ्यांनी जरा झपाझप चालायला सुरुवात केली पण कसचं काय. नुसती दगडे आणि निसरडी माती. नाही म्हटले तरी वेग मंदावला होता. मग आला पहिला रॉक पॅच. टोबी काही बाजुनी सुट्या झालेल्या दगडांवरून जायला तयार नव्हता मग रोप लावुन त्याला वर चढवला, सोबतच सगळ्यांच्या सॅक दिल्या. आम्ही एक दोघे बाजुनी सुट्या झालेल्या दगडांवरून गेलो काही रोपची मदत घेऊन चढले. पहिला अवघड टप्पा पार पडला वेळ होती ३१५.
इथे एके ठिकाणी डोंगराच्या अगदी पोटातुन उजवीकडून जायचे होते. टोबी इथं अडकला... मी थोडी रागावले पण माझ्या लक्षात आले कि त्याचा डावा डोळा निकामी आहे, उजवा डोळा त्याला डोंगराला लावून पुढे येताच येणार नव्हते. मग मी पुढे झाले. सॅक उतरवली आणि फिलिप दिसत होता त्याला परत बोलावले. तो आल्यावर आम्ही टोबीला leash up केले आधी मी पुढे झाले फिलिपनी त्याला उचलून माझ्याकडे दिले, आणि टोबी पार झाल्यावर तो आला.

तसेच पुढे गेलो आणि १५ मिनिटात दुसऱ्या रॉक पॅच ला पोचलो, हा आधीच्या रॉक पॅचच्या तुलनेत उंच होता. साधारण ८ मीटर खडा आणि नंतर २ मीटर सोपा. शुभम आधी वर गेला. मग मी रोप घेऊन चढले, तिकडे नशीबाने एक झाड होते त्याला clove hitch मारून anchor केला. तेवढ्यात गडावरून माणिकराव आले, ते मला म्हणाले मॅडम तुम्ही मागे राहा मी पुढचे बघतो. सगळ्यात आधी टोब्याला haul केला. शेट आधी खाली उतरायला बघत होते मग अरे आपल्याला पण क्लाइंबिंग येते हे आठवल्यावर रॉक वर जोर देऊन चढायला लागले. मला खुप अनपेक्षित असा सुखद धक्का देऊन तो अलगद वर आला.
मग २ सॅक haul केल्या. मग रोपच्या एका टोकाला bowline on bight मारली, दुसरे टोक तसच सपोर्ट म्हणुन सोडले. सगळ्यात आधी संकल्पिता आली. तिला पाहुन मला धक्का बसला. पोरगी सॅक पाठीवर घेऊनच चढली होती. धन्य!
मग फिलिप आला, तो हि सॅक पाठीवर घेऊन चढला. मग गिरिशसर आले, त्यांची सॅक आधीच आली होती पण ते पण अतिशय सराईतासारखे पटापट चढून आले. बाकी सगळ्यांना पुढे पाठवून दिले आणि खाली हर्षल शिट्टी वाजवत होता. गिरिशसर त्याला विचारत होते, खुष दिसतोयस, तिथेच राहतोस का? बिचारा शेवटी एकटा राहिला होता खाली, आम्ही त्याला विसरून जाऊ नये म्हणुन शिट्टी वाजवत होता बहुतेक. रोप टाकल्यावर तो हि पटापट आला.

आता होता आला शेवटचा रॉक पॅच. तसा बराच सोपा होता. पण तरीही रोप लावुन चढलो. वेळ होती ५१५. म्हणजे काळोख होण्याआधी नळीमधून बाहेर आलो होतो. माणिकरावांनी सुमधुर असे लिंबु सरबत दिले आणि आमच्यासोबत भास्कर कडे निघाले. अपुरी झोप, आदल्या दिवशीची दगदग आणि आजचा ट्रेक यांनी खूप दमले होते आणि थोडी चिडचिड होत होती पण माणिकरावानी आम्हाला व्यवस्थित भास्करकडे पोचवले आणि सुपुर्त केले.
टीम ला टेन्ट्स लावायच्या आधी जेवायला सांगितले आणि मी टोबीची खाण्याची व्यवस्था करायला गेले.
टोबी जाम दमला होता पण काळा आणि डोळा दिसल्यावर त्याला त्यांच्याशी खेळायचे होते. मग मी त्याला पलीकडे भाकऱ्यांच्या चुलीजवळ बांधले आणि दुध पोळी दिली. ती खाऊन झाल्यावर त्याला झोपायचे होते पण माझे जेवण बाकी होते.

मी जेवायला बसले, तेव्हा आठवले मी दुपारी काहीच खाल्ले नव्हते. संत्र्याच्या २/३ फोडी, अमुल ताकाचा एक carton आणि २ ग्लास लिंबु सरबत यावर मी ट्रेक पुर्ण केला होता. तेवढ्यात भास्कर आला, माझ्या ताटाकडे बघुन हसायला लागला, असे कसे खातेयस... मग भाकरीचा कुस्करा, त्यावर कढी आणि ठेचा... अहाहा काय चव होती... बसच...

मग टेन्ट्स लावले... पण अफाट बेभान वारा... सॅक टाकल्या आणि सगळे झोपायच्या मुड मध्ये आले. पण हर्षल ला कढी प्यायची होती आणि गिरीश सरांना चहा. कढी मिळाली पण गर्दी बघुन मी भीतभीतच भास्कर ला विचारले चहा मिळेल का?अगं बाई तुला काय हवेय तू फक्त सांग... पुरवायची जबाबदारी माझी...

मग आई जवळ थोडं बसावे म्हणुन गेले तर तीनी आधी कान धरला, इतका वेळ कसा लागला म्हणून. मग सगळे सांगितल्यावर म्हणाली नशीब पोचलीस व्यवस्थित ते. रात्री ९ वाजले तरी लोक येत होते. भाकरी करण्याऱ्या मुलीला विचारले तर म्हणाली सकाळपासुन २०० भाकऱ्या मी एकटीनेच केल्या असतील. आई आणि दुसऱ्या मुलीच्या वेगळ्या...

सगळे आटोपून आम्ही रात्री ९३० ला एकदाचे अंथरुणात पडलो. रात्रभर वाऱ्यांनी टेन्ट फडफडत होता. शांत अशी झोप झाली नाही.

सकाळी चिवचिवाटापेक्षा गलक्यानी जाग आली. मला वाटले असेल एखादा ग्रुप पण टेन्ट बाहेर आल्यावर
माझी नजर जिथे जाईल तिथे टेन्ट लावलेले दिसत होते आणि कोकणकडा एखाद्या रेल्वे स्टेशन इतका गजबजला होता. अर्थात तक्रार करून उपयोग नाही. असो.

मी उठायच्या आधीच भास्कर पाचनईला गेला होता, चहा मग नाश्ता करून, हिशोब करून आई बाबांचा निरोप घेतला आणि आम्ही हरिश्चंद्रेश्वरच्या मंदिराकडे आलो. मी टोब्याला घेऊन थांबले आणि सगळे गुहा बघून आले. मंदिरात मी पाणी भरायला गेले तेव्हा मंदिरामागच्या गुहेत दोन साधु पोथी मोठ्यांदा वाचत होते. सकाळच्या त्या वातावरणांत ते उच्चार मंगल वाटत होते. तिथेच ते ऐकत बसायची इच्छा होती पण वेळे अभावी शक्य नव्हते. बाहेर परत आल्यावर कोणी blue tooth वर तम्मा तम्मा ऐकत होते तर कोणी रामरक्षा लावली होती. मा पामराला या गोष्टी नाही कळत त्यामुळे त्या यात्रेकरूंची मी मनोमन माफी मागितली आणि आणि आम्ही बरोबर १० ला खिरेश्वर च्या रस्त्याला लागलो.

हा रस्ता तसा जरा सोपाच आहे फक्त थोडा वेळ जास्त लागतो. वाटेत ३/४ ठिकाणी ब्रेक घेत, लिंबू सरबत घेऊन तरतरीत होत आम्ही टोलार खिंडीतून खिरेश्वर गाठले आणि पुण्याच्या रस्त्याला लागलो.

या पुर्ण ट्रेक मध्ये फिलिप ची टोबीसाठी खुपच मदत झाली. पण एकंदरीत पहाता टोबीला रॉक क्लाइंबिंग च्या ट्रैनिंग ची नितांत गरज आहे तसेच त्याच्या दिव्यांगांमुळे त्याच्या हालचालींना काही बंधने येणार आहेत त्यानुसार प्लांनिंग करून त्याला नेणे योग्य होईल. अन्यथा अपघाताला आमंत्रण दिल्यासारखेच आहे.

वाटेत जेवण आणि चहा करुन पुण्यात मी घरी पोचले तेव्हा रात्रीचे ८ चे टोले पडत होते.



इति हरिश्चंद्रगड यात्रा अविघ्नम संपुर्णम! 




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थोडक्यात काय तर घर कि मुर्गी दाल बराबर... पण आहे ना बाबा... बघायला अनुभवायला हि खूप आहे... चविष्ट खेकडा कांदाभजी आणि दही ताक तर आहेच पण दूरवर दिसणारे राजगड तोरणा... हवामान अगदी चांगले असेल तर अगदी तुंग तिकोना, पुरंदर रुद्रमाळ... बाहू स्फुरण पावतील अश्या मावळ्यांच्या शौर्यगाथा... आणि आधुनिक मानवांनी केलेला कचरा, त्यातल्याच काहींची तो साफ करण्यासाठी चाललेली धडपड. हिमालयात निघालेल्यांची फिटनेस साठी चाललेले प्रयत्न. रोज (हल्ली वीकेंडला) गडावर दही ताक विकणाऱ्या मावश्या आणि अजुन खूप काही...               

संध्याकाळी दिसणारे राजगड तोरणा
कालानुरूप बदलत गेलेली ओळख घेऊन अजूनही ताठ मानेने, दिलदार मनाने सगळ्यांचे स्वागत करतोय हा किल्ला. पुणे शहरापासुन फक्त २५ किलोमीटर वर नैऋत्य दिशेला भुलेश्वर रांगेमधला हा किल्ला किती पुरातन आहे त्याचा अंदाज काही नुसता जाऊन येत नाही. कौंडिण्य ऋषींच्या तप करण्याचे ठिकाण असावे म्हणून कोंढाणा नाव पडले असा कयास. इतिहासातील नोंदी १४व्या शतकापासुनच्या आहेत. इसवी सन १८१८ पर्यंत अनेक हस्तान्तरे पाहिली याने.

श्री शिव छत्रपतींनी आधी श्री शहाजी राजांच्या सुटके साठी व नंतर इसवी सन १६६५ मध्ये पुरंदरच्या  तहामध्ये हा महत्वाचा किल्ला गमावला. आणि इसवी सन १६७० मध्ये  श्री तानाजी मालुसऱ्यानी बलिदान देऊन हा किल्ला स्वराज्यात आणला. मधल्या काळात किल्ला औरंगजेब आणि मराठे यांच्यात हस्तांतरीत होत राहिला आणि इसवी सन १७७० मध्ये  श्री राजाराम छत्रपतींनी येथेच देह ठेवला. १७०३ मध्ये औरंगजेबाने किल्ला जिंकून नाव ठेवले बक्षींदाबक्ष! पुढे मराठे, मुघल आणि निजाम यांच्या या किल्ल्यावर लढाया होत राहिल्या. १८१८ मध्ये जनरल प्रिझलर ने मराठ्यांकडून हा किल्ला जिंकुन घेतला. ब्रिटिश राज काळात लोकमान्य टिळक व अन्य प्रभृतींनी येथे वास्तव्य केल्याच्या नोंदी आहेत.   

पुण्यात राहणाऱ्यांकडे कोणी पाहुणे आले कि त्यांना ऑथेंटिक मटका दही आणि खेकडा भजी खाऊ घालायला गाडी पुणे खडकवासला गोळेवाडी मार्गे येते सिंहगडावर. गोळेवाडी ते सिंहगड वाहनतळ असा सुमारे ९ किमी चा घाट पार करून आपण वर पोचतो ते खांदकड्याच्या खाली नवीनच बांधलेल्या वाहनतळावर. आजुबाजुला गडकऱ्यांनी बांधलेली झोपडी कम हॉटेल्स आहेत. या घाटात एक वाट खेड शिवापूरच्या जवळ कोंढणपुर ला उतरते.    

पुणे दरवाजा क्रमांक २
पाहुणे थोडे उत्साही असतील तर आतकरवाडीतून किल्ला चढत येतात. या वाटेने येताना मध्ये एका मेटावर काळूबाईचे स्थान आहे. हि वाट पोचते पुणे दरवाज्याजवळ असलेल्या पायऱ्यांजवळ. उजवीकडे पायऱ्या आणि पुणे दरवाजा कि डावीकडे वाहनतळ अश्या चक्रात ना पडता आपण आपले ३ दरवाजे ओलांडून वर जायचे. उजवीकडे दिसते ते दारुगोळ्याचे कोठार कि ब्रिटिश कालीन चर्च... आणि डावीकडे खांब असलेली खोदीव गुहा जी कदाचित पागा म्हणुन वापरली गेली असावी. आपण आपले पदपथावरून चालत राहायचे मग एक वाट डावीकडे वळते तिकडे जायचे. मग चालू होते गडाच्या कड्यावरून जी वाट - पूर्वी अत्यंत बिकट असावी असा मनात विचार सुद्धा येणार नाही अशी बांधलेली आणि कोणी खाली पडू नये म्हणून कठड्यानी सजवलेली. या कड्यावरून खाली कल्याण, कोंढणपूर गावे आणि उजवीकडे गडाच्या पोटात असलेला कल्याण दरवाजा. मान ताठ केली तर समोर राजगड आणि तशीच उजवीकडे नजर वळवली कि तोरणा... तसा हे किल्ले ओळखायला फार अभ्यास करावा लागत नाही. असच डावी कडे पाहिले कि दूरदर्शन चा मनोरा. आता उजवी वळायचे आणि चालू पडायचे. थोडे अंतर गेल्यावर एक वाट डावीकडे खाली उतरते आणि जाते कल्याण दरवाजाकडे. एकापाठोपाठ एक अशी रचना आहे. वाट पुढे कोंढणपुरला  जाते हे लक्षात ठेवायचे आणि आणि गुमान मागे फिरायचे. दरवाज्यावर एक कोरीव हत्ती दिसतो, एक देवनागरी शिलालेख आहे. 

थोडे वर येऊन, आलो त्याच्या विरुद्ध दिशेला म्हणजे मावळतीला चालु पडायचे.  इथे दिसतो तो झुंजार बुरुज. आणि खाली असलेले कळकी मेट. इथे देखील एक दिंडी आहे. करायची थोडी शोधाशोध, सापडते लगेच.

खेकडा भजी
इथून पुढे चालु लागलो कि तटबंदी वरून जाणारी उंच सखल वाट घेऊन जाते विंडपॉइंट उर्फ तानाजी कडा उर्फ डोणागिरीच्या कड्यावर. तानाजीराव इथुनच रात्रीच्या अंधारात चढुन आले होते स्वतःचा जीव पणाला लाऊन एक वेडे स्वप्न पुरे करायला. आपल्याला काय त्याचे! आपण आपली पिकनिक चालु ठेवायची आणि विंडपॉइंट चा वारा खाऊन आणि सरबत पियुन पुढे निघायचे. कलावंतिणीच्या बुरुजाजवळ म. रा. प. वि. मं. ने एक प्रेक्षागृह आणि काहीबाही बांधले आहे. त्या कडे फार लक्ष ना देता पुढे बंगले दिसतात तिकडे जायचे. अचानक एक रस्ता डावीकडे उंचावर जायला लागतो, जायचे ना मग तिकडेच. श्री कोंढाणेश्वराचे मंदिर, किल्ल्यावरील सर्वात उंच पॉईंट - किल्लेदाराचा वाडा आणि पुढे तानाजीरावांचे स्मारक वगैरे बघुन आपण पोचतो ते एका पठारावर. इथे बरीच हॉटेल्स आहेत, आपण आपली पिठले भाकरी ओरपायची आणि पाणी कुठून आले असेल याचा विचार न करता हल्ली ऊन खूपच आहे असे म्हणत पडी घ्यायची. फारच उत्सुकता वाटली तर १२ महिने २४ तास अविरत पाणी पुरवणारे देवटाके बघुन घ्यायचे.
 
तानाजी मालुसरे स्मारक
 तानाजी स्मारक समितीने काही काळापूर्वी या स्मारकाची निर्मिती केली. हरसाल माघ वद्य नवमी ला येथे स्मृती समारंभ केला जातो. याच्या जवळच तानाजीच्या विरुद्ध लढणाऱ्या मुगल अधिकारी उदेभानु चे देखील स्मारक आहे.   

आलो त्याच चढणीवरून परत फिरलो कि डाव्या हाताला खाली श्री राजाराम छत्रपतींची समाधी बघायची. तिथल्या  टाक्यांमधली घाण कुणी तरी मुर्खाने केली म्हणून त्याला नाव ठेवायची, आपल्या हातातली संपलेली पाण्याची बाटली पण तिथेच टाकायची आणि आणि पुढे चालू पडायचे.

पुढे अचानक काही जुन्या प्रकारचे बैठे बंगले दिसतात. यातील एक आहे लोकमान्य टिळकांचा. अरेच्या! असेल काही तरी असं म्हणायचे आणि पुढे निघायचे.    

इथून एक वाट पुढे जाऊन पुणे दरवाजा क्रमांक ३ जवळ पोचते, त्या आधी तिथे डावीकडे शौचालये आहेत. फार अपेक्षा ना ठेवता जर गरज असेल तर लाभार्थींनी लाभ घ्यायचा. डावीकडे अफाट पसरलेलं पुणे शहर दिसते.


पिठले भाकरी
पूर्वापार चालत आलेल्या पद्धती नुसार आसपासचे गावकरी अजूनही दूध दही घेऊन विकायला येतात. जागोजागी विक्रय चालू असतो. संक्रांतीची सुगडी असतात तश्या मातीच्या छोट्या मडक्यांमध्ये हे दही लावलेले असते. गडावर बरेच जण पिठले भाकरी वगैरे बनवून देतात. बड्या हॉटेल्स मध्ये वाद न घालता असेल त्या किमतीत छटाक भर भाजी घेणारे इथे मात्र एक भाकरी आणि पिठले याचे ५० रुपये जास्त आहेत असा वाद घालताना नक्की दिसतील.  

मटका दही
तर इतिहासातील एक जीर्ण झालेले सोनेरी पान वगैरे काही विचार ना करता, स्वातंत्र्य, स्वराज्य वगैरे गोष्टींचा फार लोड ना घेता आपण आपले घरी परत निघायचे.

चढून आणि गडफेरी करून थकला असाल आणि गाडी नाही तरी फिकर नॉट. वाहनतळावर खाली जाणाऱ्या जीप / वडाप मिळून जातील फक्त योग्य तो मोबदला द्यावा हि त्यांची अपेक्षा.

गडावर एक तोफ आहे, पण हा उल्लेख सोडून इतर माहिती टाळली आहे कारण बरेच जण फोटोशूट साठी प्रॉप म्हणुन त्याचा वापर करतात. आणि बघायची असेल तर शोधा कि जरा स्वतःची स्वतः! 

आतकरवाडी मधुन एक वाट डोंगराच्या पोटात जाते, तिथे बरेच पक्षी दिसतात, त्यामुळे बरीच "पुण्य"वान मंडळी तेथे पक्षी निरीक्षणासाठी जातात.

खुप जण फिटनेस साठी, हिमालय मोहिमांच्या पुर्वतयारी साठी नियमित येत असतात. कात्रज ते सिंहगड (K2S)  हा एक लोकप्रिय ट्रेक आहे  तसेच सिंहगड पुण्याजवळ असल्यामुळे व कमी कष्टात गडमाथ्यापर्यंत पोहोचण्याच्या सोयीमुळे खूप वर्दळ असते त्यामुळे अतिशय कचरा होतो. कुठल्याही दुर्गम ठिकाणी पाळण्याचे नियम पाळले तर सहल / गिरिभ्रमण / गिर्यारोहण उर्फ ट्रेक सगळ्यांसाठीच सुखावह होऊ शकतो. निम्नोक्त काही नियम आहेत ते पाळणे गरजेचे आहे जेणे करून आपला हा जैवविविध्याचा आणि ऐतिहासिक वारसा पुढील पिढयांना सुद्धा अनुभवता येईल.