Thursday, 27 June 2013

Trek to Asherigad (Complete guide)

Difficulty Rating: 3.5/5
Height- 1800 ft.
Per head cost- 150 ₹

This unknown fort of Asherigad (अशेरिगड) caught my attention on the internet, where it read "..... Asherigad is a tough trek and should be done in presence of an expert....."  "....... Take a villager from Khodkona to to show the path as the route is tricky......"  and other bombastic text related to the trek. So I decided to visit this less known location with my college buddies to check the reality. So, I started searching the information about this fort on the internet and was surprised to find that the information provided was not to the mark and it would surely misguide a neophyte trekker.

Hence, this post is specially dedicated to those trekkers who want to reach the top of this fort without anybody's help and without getting lost in the Forest.

This time also we were total 5 (Abhash Kumar, Tarun Kaushik, Pratik Soni, Jigar and me) with Abhash's 3rd trek and Tarun's first. The journey starts from Palghar Railway station. In the morning there are two trains that ply to Dahanu Road, namely 5.15AM slow local (from Dadar) and 5.40AM fast local (from Dadar). We caught the first fast train to Dahanu Road (DN) that starts from Churchgate station at 5.24AM.

Churchgate: 5.24AM
Mumbai Central: 5.34AM
Dadar: 5.40AM
Bandra: 5.46AM
Andheri: 5.55AM
Borivali: 6.09AM
Bhayander: 6.23AM
Vasai Road: 6.34AM
Virar: 6.46AM
Vaiterna: 6.55AM
Saphale Road: 7.04AM
Kelva Road: 7.11AM
Palghar: 7.27AM

We reached Palghar station on time and had a cup of tea, before beginning our transit. From Palghar (पालघर) we can either take a ST bus or a 6 seater auto, known as Tumtum (टमटम) to reach Mastan Naka (मस्तान नाका). ST bus was scheduled at 8.30AM. Instead of wasting our time for half an hour, we hopped in a Tumtum. The Tumtum rates are were 25 ₹ per seat till Mastan Naka. On the way we crossed two ghats, namely Manor Ghat (मनोर चा घाट) and Vaghoba Ghat (वघोबा घाट). The road also passes through a small dam built over Surya River (सूर्या नदी). After 25 minutes of tumtum ride we reached Mastan Naka. A TATA Magic (छोटा हत्ती) usually ply on the NH8 (Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway) which took us another 30 minutes to reach the Village Khodkona (खोडकोना)

Khodkona is a small happy village. When we arrived the school children came running to welcome us (It was a weekday). Cheerful lot, they were. All had a sweet, naive smiles when posing before our camera.

We followed the main byway right upto the outskirts of the village. We need not jump any fences or compound walls. The trail follows right beside these fences. But we had to cross the water streams at several occasion.

A tip for Novices: There are no diversions on the route at the starting. Follow the main route. It will take you right into the Forest. The climb to the fort doesn't start immediately after we come out of village, but after a gradual walk for about 15-20 minutes. The trail will gradually turn upwards and turn progressively towards right side. This is where actual climb starts. And if you think you are lost, then search for the white arrow marked on stones and tree trunks. The full trail to the top is marked. All we need to find the proper route is to find the arrow marks.

At a spot, the stream is so close by that we decided to spend some time in it. We set off again. Soon the forest cover grew very thick along the route. It was 9.30 AM in the morning, still the darkness resembled 7.00 PM and no sooner a light shower of rain started. The trail here was full of huge boulders and rocks and navigating became a bit tough here. Tarun and me were searching all over for the arrow marks in order to find the way. The rest followed us. Abhash was fully exhausted; so were Pratik and Jigar. They were slowly following us. At a point we thought we were lost when a huge boulder stood before us. But the arrow mark was right behind it and we knew we were on correct track. We had to search small stones, boulders and even tree trunks for finding these arrow markings. There were instances when the trail was blocked by fallen trees. After maneuvering these difficulties we finally reached the col. At this point Pratik and Jigar decided to stay at the col as the trek was too much for them. .So now we were just three of us who were going to make it to the top. Although Abhash was tired, he never complained about the difficulty of the trek. He always makes it to the top no matter what. He always says reaching the top is equivalent to the feeling of an achievement which nobody can miss.

The route after col is pretty straight forward but steep. There is a small open temple of Vaghoba hidden in the trees. We continued the climb. There were rock cut steps carved on the rock. The route was pretty steep then.

At the main entrance we found this ladder placed over the route. This was the best part of the trek. There was valley on one side and steep climb on other. The presence of the ladder is inconsistent. Sometimes it is present. sometimes missing. But it was there for us this time.

We were not alone that day. There were fellow villagers from Barhanpur (बऱ्हाणपूर), the village on opposite of Asherigad. There is a direct route from Barhanpur that leads to the col. Which means there are two routes to reach the top. One via Khodkona and other via Barhanpur village. The villagers told that the route was not manageable. I guess the difficulty of both the routes were similar.

We found this rock sculpture and a water tank here. The water from the tank was thirst quenching.

After another series of rock cut steps, we came to the top of the fort. Top of the fort is also covered with dense forest. There are bountiful of water tanks at the top. One pond is filled with violet Lotus. We couldn't capture much snaps on the top as rain had started pouring and restricted the visibility. We managed to find the cannons at the top near to a cave (temple). The rock structure at the top has developed a huge crack (facing the Ahmedabad highway). The structure looked strong though, and we had our lunch there. Pitla (पिठलं) & chapati was new to Abhash and Tarun & they loved its taste.

After exploring the top we started the descend. The rain was still pouring lightly and we still managed to cross the slippery route upto the col. The trail after col was time consuming as the rocks and boulders were slippery and the leaves on the ground added the risk of slipping. The arrow marks were helping throughout the trek. 

We hit the base at exactly 3.30 PM, after 2 hours of descend. Now the return trip was going to be a pain in the ass, as the probability of ST bus or the tumtums is very less. We were randomly waving our hand to any vehicle that showed up on the Highway. After 15 minutes of perseverance, a kind truck driver stopped for us and promised to drop us at Virar phata (विरार फाटा). We reached virar phata at 4.45 PM and had refreshment of Masala tea and samosa. There is a bus service from Virar phata to virar station, and the buses ply every 15 minutes. The rates are 14 ₹ per head. 

Well, in conclusion the route to the top is not that tough and with proper care, easily navigable. Also, we don't need a guide or any instructions from any villager. The overall experience was thrilling and the day was well spent. It was Traun's first trek which he enjoyed it to the fullest, keeping a promise to accompany us to the next trek. And Abhash was eagerly waiting for me to declare the location of the next trek. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Trek to Peth Fort (Kothaligad), Ambivali (Via Peth Village)

Difficulty Rating: 2/5
Height: 1500 ft
Best Time to visit: Throughout the year
Per head cost- 190 ₹ (Including lunch, breakfast & snacks)
Water (potable) available only during Monsoon inspite of bountiful water cisterns on top

Trek to Kothaligad (Peth Fort) was specially organised to mark the end of my tenure at ISTE SAKEC as a General Secretary (To celebrate the free Saturdays!!). So, we decided a fine Tuesday and set off. First train to Karjat, that leaves CST at 4.44 AM (Dadar at 5.02 AM), was decided as meeting place for us five trekkers. The train reached Karjat (कर्जत) at 7.10 AM. This time we were Anurag Muley, Darshak Sanghvi, Manoj Patil, Devang and me.

Karjat ST stand is just a 5 minute walk along the road parallel to the railway station to the east side exit. We had to catch the 8.30 AM Jamrukh (जामरुख) bus. Ambivali (आम्बिवली) is village before Jamrukh, which is also the base village for Kothaligad (कोथळीगड). The bus dropped us at Ambivali at 9.35 AM, almost an hour of a journey. Per head cost of ST bus journey till Ambivali was 32 ₹.

Started the actual trek at 10.00 AM from Ambivali. On the way we met this fellow villager, with his bullock cart, carrying his food stock to Peth (पेठ) village. After maneuvering the twisting and winding bywalk, we reached Peth village in 45 minutes. 

We managed to find a few approachable waterfalls and a few streams on the way to Peth village. But since they were not in our time-table, we decided to visit them while returning.

The final climb advents from Peth village. The forest cover continues till the top of the fort. Throughout the climb, Rain happily poured and we too enjoyed its happiness. And sooner, we were on the top of the Fort.

This was the biggest of the cave that could easily accommodate a crowd of 40-50. We preferred to eat our snacks outside, though, as the cave was filled with the stink of the bats.

Extreme Engineering: To reach the top of pinnacle, rock cut steps are carved from inside the pinnacle, known as (कोथळी) in Marathi language. This route originates from inside a small cave. Each step is 1.5 to 2 ft. high. The whole structure is carved out of a single rock structure. Intention for making this Fort was to keep a vigil on the activities happening in and around Mawal region. It can be considered as a Medieval watch tower.

Reached the top at 12.00 PM, exactly after 2 hours of intense exploration at the base of the pinnacle. The route circumscribing the pinnacle was a bit risky, not fully but a few spots were. We still followed the route and found lots of water tanks, huge caves with small openings that could accommodate about 100 people at a time. The fort has lots to be explored.

There was a temporary shelter at the top and behind this shelter was this small water tank. Water from this tank was not worth drinking.

Came back to Peth village and halted at Bahiravnath Bhojanalay, a mini Restaurant run by Mr. Kiran Sawant. Rice plate (unlimited) for 90 ₹ was enough to overcome the tiredness of a day. In his courtyard we spotted a back portion of a cannon. As a story goes, some people from Agri community (आग्री) were attempting to steal this cannon when the villagers came to know about it and stopped them immediately. Thanks to the ancestors of Peth village we were able to behold the beauty of this cannon.

It was my second visit to Kothaligad, first was during my school days, when I was in 2nd Grade.
This visit has surely helped me refresh the memories of my previous visit.

For more photos, click here.