I was in Pune for two weeks. There was a 3 day weekend coming up, and I had nothing to do. I started searching online to find out places worth visiting nearby, places that are not frequented by tourists, something historical, something worth my time. I came across a fort, called Lohagad (Iron Fort), which was pretty nearby and from what I read online, it was only a beginner’s trek. I had not trekked for a long time and my friend, who was to join me, had never trekked before. “Perfect”, I thought.
I found out from Google Maps that it lies on the Mumbai Pune Express Way. So boarding a bus from Wakad, the nearest stop from my hotel, sounded logical. We just had to get off at Malavli, the nearest point on the Express Way.
On the eve of May 1, my friend ditched me. Devastated I lay on bed that night, unsure of what to do. Slowly it dawned on me, that this is what I plan to do, to travel alone for the next one year. The world was giving me a trial run before I actually started. I decided to grab the opportunity, for if not this, I would never have the courage to carry out my other plans.
And so, on the first of May 2015, after a slow breakfast, alone, I left my hotel, in search of Lohagad, a fort that I had only read online.
From Bus to Train
My trip started failing even before it started. After standing at the Wakad bus stop for nearly an hour, asking various buses, I realised that there is no bus stop at Malavli! “Was I going to have to drop my plan”, I stood there, thinking under the blazing sun. I had to choose an alternate means, the Indian Railways.
I pulled out my phone, searched for the route to the nearest station. It was almost noon. I bought half a kilogram of bananas and gulped a glass of sugarcane juice before I boarded a local passenger train, crowded as expected, but I couldn’t care less. Stopping at every other station, the train slowly moved into Malavli, and I got off.
Resting before the Show
I walked out of the station. I asked around for the route to the fort. I found a shed on my way, and decided to rest there before I started the long 6 or 7 kilometre walk. I ate few of my bananas, watching the village women wash their clothes. I lay on the bench, for an hour and then started walking.
Far away was my destination, a fort at the top of a mountain. The more I looked at the distance, the more uncertain I became. The scorching sun drank all my juices. With each step I took, the weaker and frightened I became. I kept my head low staring at my legs. I told them, “Think not of the distance, think only of the next step”, step after step and I keep moving forward.
Chaityagruha, Bhaja Caves
A short detour took me to these rock cut caves, called Bhaja Caves. It is a indeed something to behold, when you learn that these were built in the second century BC!
These caves were used by Buddhists monks. The roof above the stupa is wood, lined under the rock. The room vibrated with an echo. Long ago there used to be monks praying, their voices resonating off the walls.
Looking out from Chaityagruha
The huge curved arches gave a beautiful border as you looked out.
Besides the arched Chaityagruha are these small caves. These were the resting places for the monks. There are two beds inside each cave, carved out of rocks. Some had only one bed. Some even had windows carved.
From the Monk’s Veranda
I took a minute to sit in the monk’s veranda, carved out from the rock. Once upon a time there were monks sitting and looking out into the open.
There were even more stupas and caves as one walks over to the side. There is even a waterfall, though only the path remains during summer.
The Walk Continues
As beautiful as they were, it was not my destination. I descended from my detour and returned on my journey. The sun was killing me and I had another 6 KM or more to walk. I tried hitchhiking, but without luck. An old man explained to me that the fort will close by the time I reach there, and something else in Marati, which I did not understand. I smiled at him, thanked for the advice and kept walking.
Tired, I Stopped
Tired, I stopped.
I sat under a tree, waiting for a vehicle passing by to ask for a lift down the road that I painfully came up. Behind me, still far away, was the fort that I set out to reach. I could not look behind. My failure hurting me.
Three kids walked by. I asked them how far the fort was. Their answer provided no soothing either. But I could not give up. I had come this far. I had smiled at all the obstacles, the buses, crowded trains, the old man, travellers in Air Conditioned cars. I could not give up. I watched as the three kids walked into the distance. As they went below the horizon, another head came up. A lone biker. I waved both my hands like a mad man. He stopped! I got a lift. Thank god!
I slowly walked in through one of the gigantic gates. These windows were once used by the defending army to launch their cannons at approaching armies. The village below looked beautiful.
And I reached the top! Step after step. I couldn’t believe myself. I did it. The obstacles I crossed, the fears I faced. “The journey is not about the destination, but the journey itself”, turned out to be true after all.
The hours of pain, my fatigue, everything vaporised there. No longer was I aware of my aching legs, or of the straps of my bag burying into my shoulders. I was being lifted by the wind. I felt the adrenaline rush through my blood and I forgot everything else.
The Girl and The Fort
Atop the fort lay another surprise. Here was this old rusted fort, with grass and moss growing all over. A place that I worked hard to reach. And there sat this beautiful girl, radiating in her bright beautiful colours, disinterested in all that was around her. It was so contrasting an image that I had to capture it.
To that day, I had never asked a stranger, if I could take their photo, and the least, a young pretty girl. Knowingly and unknowingly, that day was a day of facing my fears. I summoned up my courage. I asked her. For me, it turned out to be one of my best captures :)
Over the years many armies have marched through these doors. This was my day.
I started my descent, caring not for my return journey. For I knew just as I found a way up, I will find a way down.
As the sun slowly went down, taking with it its harsh heat, I leisurely walked down the road that I went up, smiling heartily.
The World Beckons!
Moon Rise over the Fort
Back in my room, laying in my bed typing this out, giving my body its hard earned rest, I look back. My expenses for the day amounted to Rs 300/- everything included. But the experience I had, priceless!
I write this to remind you, that the aim of life is to live. Live your life! Face your fears. The feeling is amazing.