10-11th Sept 2005
Friday the 10th of September was looking like a distant cousin of July the 26th. Mumbai was drenched and going under water. Doubts had creeped in some minds about the feasiblity of the Ratangad trek arranged by Bhramanti. But keeping in theme with the spirit of trekking, it was heartening to see all the 16 had turned up at the Thane ST stand. We took the 11.15 ST bus to Sangamner. The bus was comparitively full and some of us had to sit near the driver, some on the steps and some unlucky ones like me had to travel standing for some time.
We reached Igatpuri highway bypass at around 2:30 am in the morning. There was fog all around and the visibility was very low. Vehicles were plying with their fog lights on. We had to search for the route to the ST stand, since we could not make out much in the fog. However we managed to reach by 3:00 am. We were told the bus is at 5:00 am. We decided to rest for some time and wait till the bus started.
At around 5:15 we boarded the Igatpuri - Bhandardara bus. And this journey gave us the glimse of beautiful things to come. Very soon in about 45 mins we reached the Shendi village. This is where the Bhandardara dam is situated. It was around 6:30 am and we went down to the dam to have a look at it. We were told that the first boat to Ratanwadi is at 9:30 am. Since we would have to wait for a long time, we decided to take a jeep to Ratawadi. Since there were 16 of us, couple of us decided to sit over the top of the jeep. And boy that was a fun ride.
Anyways we reached the Ratanwadi village at around 9:30 am. Right at the start of the village is the Amruteshwar temple. A very famous temple because of its age. Its said to be about 1000 years old. Its one of the rare temples with carvings normally found in temples of South India. There was a Shiv Ling but the inner sanctrum was filled with water.
After taking snaps all around the temple, we had a formal introduction of members. We hired a guide who offered to stay with us and it turned out to be a good decision. How come? Read on..
We started walking from a path that just goes near the temple. We crossed the stream number of times. Very soon we reached a plateau. We couldnot see the fort on the top because of the clouds covering it. Turning to the right we soon entered the jungle. Everyone was trying their best to keep pace with the guide and soon we reached the ladders. We had been warned by our seniors that trekkers are supposed to be very careful on the second ladder and that after the ladded there is a small chimney climb sort of. So myself and Rishi went ahead and then we helped the guys cross the chimney. Since it was raining heavily the guide was of the opinon that it was risky but i believe because of rains the steps werent slippery. Anyways we soon crossed the Ganesh Darwaza. After there there is a route that goes right and one that climbs to the left to the Hanuman Darwaza. We took the right route that took us to two caves. The smaller cave is a temple which can accomodate 3-4 ppl and the second one where we decided to camp could accomodate about 20 - 25.
It was raining heavily and it was all clouds. We could not see any scenery below us because of the clouds. The fort is at a height of 4500 feet. In clear weather you should be able to see the Alang, Kulang and wall of Ajoba.
We had our lunch and then we were comtemplating whether we should go for the tour of the fort or take a rest. The guide advised us that it was cloudy all around and that it would be better if we took rest and then on the way back we could see the sights on rest of the fort.
So we decided to take the suggestion and sat down talking. We were all the time watching the clouds. We could not make out where the horizon started, the sky ended or the ground lay. According to couple of us, it seemed as if we were watching the IMAX dome screen. Nothing but a white screen. Ajay volunteered to make tea and he made a slightly different tea. ;) Wasnt bad but it had a generous helping of 'adrak' and so some called it adrak medicine. :)
After tea people got talking and gossiping and soon after resting it was time to cook dinner. Which also meant it was time for the singers to flaunt their talent. And singing and cooking , hand in hand, Ajay decided to stick to something orthodox and this time he came up with vegetable pulav. It smelled great and tasted the same. Soon we had our full and everybody went to sleep.
Everybody was asked to get up real early in the morning. And one of the few treks where people did wake up early. Dot 5:30 am people were up and awake. Its was chilly and still cloudy. Everybody packed their carry mats and couple of us started working on breakfast.
Poha done and packed everybody started moving. Nobody had any idea of what beauty was in store for us. None of the articles that I had read had mentioned about the Kalyan Darwaza. Ok.. first things first. The guide took us through the Hanuman Darwaza into the higher part of the fort. The wind here was awesome. Believe it or not, people here were being thrown off the path. Thankfully the wind was towards the mountain and so it was safe. Rainwater was being blown right into our ears. :)
First to view, was the Chor Darwaza. The door was almost covered by rubble. It seems there is still a route upto the door but since this door is now buried no one can enter from there. It looked intruiging but more was to come.
Next was the 'Bara Tank' i.e Twelve tanks. Ratangad has ample drinking water in these tanks and all were overflowing. Next we came to somthing that i thought was a tank. But I could see that on one side of the tank there was a door sort of. The guide informed me that there were rooms inside the rock and steps going down. It was eerie. Somehow it looked scary. At the other end of the tank ie. right below where we were standing, a passage could be seen. The guide said that this passage was linked to the Chor Darwaza. But even that passage I could see was now buried under rocks.
Things were getting exciting and the rains was doing a great job of creating the ambience. Very soon we reached the Kalyan Darwaza. Now the guide asked us to be very careful at the steps. Slowly each one of us procedded over the steps. And once the steps were done, started a ver 'edgy' journey. All the while we were going across the edge of a deep valley. Thankfully the clouds had covered the valley or we would have been scared seeing the depth of the valley. Visiblity was only about 3-4 feet and still the guys were moving at a brisk pace.
In and out of jungles, fighting the strong winds, enjoying the rains we reached the plateaus. To add to the fun we had just seen, a snake lay in the way to meet us. Slow moving and surprising moving right along the path instead of going across. So each one of us went past it carefully.
There are actually three different routes
a) Start from Shendi and reach the fort as we did
b) Start from Asangaon and cross the Karoli ghat and from Samrat plateau reach the fort
c) Go to Shendi but from here go to Samrat plateau and to the fort.
The second route is good for experienced trekkers since its long but very beautiful.
As we reached the village, we saw the river and we decided it was time for some fun. Rishi and myself went to play in the strong current and luckily or not, the current pulled us and we went with the river for about 10-12 feet. And soon it was game time for all of them. Everybody would go into the current as if it was a water slide. And at the other end Subendu, Ajay volunteered to catch them. Literally like wicket keepers.
It was getting late so we made our way back to the Amruteshwar temple where it had all started. The jeep was waiting for us. We tied our bags on the jeep and back we went to Shendi. On the way there were countless number of waterfalls to be seen. And the most exciting was a reverse waterfall. One waterfall because of the windcurrent had the water going right up into the sky and the current had the shape of an elephant trunk. It was beautiful. All along the roads there were waterfalls and couple of times the drivers friend had to get down and check if it was safe to cross the strong water current.
Going ahead we found a Maruti going towards Ratanwadi and the driver was sure that the car would have to turn back cause it couldn't cross the stream. Reaching Bhandardara we saw another beautiful sight. The water was overflowing the dam walls and onto the roads.
We realised it was raining real had for two days and now we started getting worried about the transport back to Mumbai. At Shendi we had our fill of Bhajia and wada pavs and then made our way to the ST stop. We took the bus to Igatpuri. From Igatpuri after a gap of about an hour or so, we got the bus to Kasara.
8:05 local from Kasara and a fitting end to a fun filled trek.
Written By: Kirshnadas W.