They say the journey is more important than the destination. It was a good thought to hold on to, when my friends and I trekked to Lohagad (Iron Fort), one rainy weekend in July, and returned without having seen most of it.
It had been pouring continuously that past week. The day of our trek was no different. We started out from Pune Station on the 8.05am Pune-Lonavala local train and got off at Malavali station at around 9.15am. We weren’t too sure about the route to the fort, but looking at the sheer numbers that seemed to have chosen that same day for trekking, we knew all we’d have to do was, follow the crowd.
From Malavali station, we crossed the bridge across the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and walked to Bhaje village, around 2 km away, where we stopped for tea. If you have time, you could take a detour and visit the ancient Buddhist Caves at Bhaje too, a half-hour climb up a hill from here. Been there before to know that it’s definitely worth it!
We had set our sights on Lohagad, so we walked on, past a few waterfalls, past a zillion people, and finally uphill. The incline wasn’t really steep, but the path was strewn with rocks and it was raining – so I’ll be blaming that for our slow progress to the fort. Of course, the view was stupendous, the company of friends, amazing, and the frequent snack-breaks, an absolute delight!
There were plenty of short cuts along the route that enhanced our feeling of adventure and made the trek way more interesting. They were narrow, muddy, mucky and slippery, but we made it through them in true Indiana Jones style, with a few cuts and bruises and mud splatters to show for it.
The road, quite out of the blue, stopped its ascent and leveled out on a flat stretch. We came upon Visapur Fort here. It loomed, ghostly and large, to our left, and we thought we’d reached the base of Lohagad, until other trekkers told us differently.
Further on from here, the road bifurcates, one headed west towards the Visapur fort, and the other headed up north, towards Lohagad.
We reached Lohagadwadi, the base village, at around 1pm. It is roughly 5-7km from Bhaje village. We stopped for lunch here, at a little shack named Hotel Sai. Lunch consisted of some unappetizing-looking zunka-bhakri (jowar bread), a traditional Maharashtrian dish, and a ‘rice-plate’ – a little serving of steamed rice and jowar bread served with a very spicy chicken curry. We were quite famished, so we finished at least half of what we’d ordered. Lunch and a hot cup of tea later, we walked on to the base of the fort.
Lohagad, a hill fort, stands at an elevation of 3,450 ft. on the Sahyadris. Its history is tied to that of various dynasties including the Satavahanas, Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Yadavas, Bahamanis, Nizamshahis, Mughals and the Marathas, before it passed into the hands of the British. It is most famous for being captured, and later recaptured by the great Maratha warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji in the 17th century.
Massive stone steps mark the beginning of the fort. By the time we began climbing, it was raining heavily and water was flowing down these steps, making them slippery, and giving us the distinct impression that we were walking up a waterfall.
The fort walls are massive and the 4 doorways we passed to reach the top, impressive. If the rain hadn’t prevented me from using my camera, the climb might have taken double the time, considering the sheer beauty of the fort. The view from the fort is supposed to be breathtaking too, although when we looked over the walls, all we saw was a sea of white clouds. We passed a few caves in the fort too, on our way up.
We had a map with us that gave us an idea of what to look for, once we’d climbed the fort, but I guess we hadn’t thought things through. All we could make out through the pouring rain and heavy mist were shadowy outlines of skeletal trees, and a floating crowd.
We identified the small masjid and an eight-sided step well from the map, but decided against walking on towards the famous ‘vinchukata’ fortification, the scorpion tail-like projection of the fort, thinking we’d return to see it another day, in more accommodating weather.
We made it to the base of the fort in half the time. Back at the village, we stopped for another round of hot tea, had with sandwiches and chips we’d carried with us. A hot cup of tea can do wonders when you’re cold and wet and shivering like a leaf in the wind. We retraced our steps briskly to Malavali station, not overwhelmed by the rain anymore. The strong winds had already destroyed our umbrellas and our bags weren’t waterproof as we’d imagined.
As fate would have it, our 5.30pm train to Pune got cancelled, which meant we had to spend another hour shivering in our sodden shoes. The train finally showed at 6.30pm, but in the brief 10 seconds that it stops at the station, only 3 of us managed to fight the crowds and hop in, while 2 of our group got left behind and had to take the next train out. If we’d been looking for fun, drama and adventure on this trek, we definitely got everything we came for – along with wrinkled fingertips and bleached feet in soggy socks.
We reached Pune a little past 8pm, while the rest of our group got back a little later. It was raining in Pune too. Of course it was.
After a full day of trekking in the rain – and pretty awesome it was, too – I swore I wouldn’t let it rain on me, literally, for the rest of the season. This sound decision made, I promptly proceeded to take a nice, long shower.