After exploring sea forts in last two tours it was time to explore hill forts in Konkan. Some of the members in our group, were talking about this trek since last two years but we were not getting any opportunity to execute it. As this range requires a good three days to explore, we weren't able to find convenient three dates back to back as most of our group members work with reputed companies and getting holiday is a task. Finally, we zeroed down on dates of 23-24-25 Jan 2016, as 23-24 Jan were Saturday and Sunday, 26th Jan is a public holiday, everybody decided to take a casual leave on Monday 25th Jan, so they can rest the next day after trek and resume office from 27th Jan. After some friction in the number of members joining this trek, 8 people were finalised and for travel purpose Two Wagon R's were finalised. We collected some primary information from the blogs written by trekkers who had previously visited this trio, spoke to them on phone, gathered all details from books like "Sangati Sahyadri" and Gazeteer website. We came to know that Sumargad has a 50 feet rock patch, which is a bit tricky at certain stages and there is a need of safety rope for same, although villagers have fixed a wire on the patch. Just not to take any chances, we arranged a rope from one of our member's friend. Finally the plan was ready and all were eager to execute it.Some of the group members had questions about doing this trek by vehicle, as lot of trekkers do this exhausting trek by walking around 30-35 kms. The original route for trekkers start from Dahivali, this village is parallel to Kashedi Ghat towards Mahabaleshwar, it can be reached from Khed by ST or by hiring private vehicle. Then the route goes from Dahivali - WadiBeldar(3 hours) - Mahipatgad(1 and 1/2 hour) - Sumargad (1 and half hour) - Rasalgad (6 hours), all this route by walking. The whole route tests the stamina and willpower of trekker. But as we studied and gathered details, we came to know that State Tourism dept has been working hard to convert these forts into famous tourist spots like Raigad and Pratapgad. A road till Rasalgad base has been completed and your vehicle can reach the base, from where it is only 30 mins climb to top. Likewise, road is being constructed till Wadi-Jaitpur, from which you can reach Wadi Beldar 3 hours by walking, which is base village for both Mahipatgad and Sumargad. Hoping for the best we started from Panvel on Saturday 23rd Jan morning and reached Khed around 3 PM. Just before you reach Bharana Naka, Khed on Mum-Goa Highway, you can see sign boards indicating Left Arrow to Mahipatgad and Rasalgad. Taking left from Bharana Naka, in just 17 kms you reach base of Rasalgad. The final 2-3 kms of the route is still being constructed and passes through a long traverse, left hand side of which is a deep valley, please beware while driving. We reached Rasalgad as sun was going down. It was being said by previous visitors that sunset at Rasalgad is one of the best you will be seeing in your life. Rasalgad gives an awesome 360 degree view of ranges in Konkan and Mahabaleshwar.
Hurriedly we gathered our bags, left vehicles at the base and reached top in 30 mins, to see the sunset and click pictures. Enroute we came to know from a villager that there was a function at the Zolai Devi Mandir on the fort, called 'Gondhal'. All of the group members were happy that they will be getting a good hearty meal without paying anything because of function in the temple. There are two most prime qualities of trekkers, first they are no.1 bhukkads and second they are no. 1 jugaadus. After reaching top, we left our bags in the temple which was our abode for first night, temple is spacious and 20-25 people can easily accomodate inside it. We decided to explore the whole fort in morning and without wasting time we reached the western point of the fort from which the sunset was looking beautiful. For around half hour camera clicks were not stopping and we did lot of photography before sun finally went down.
At night, we participated in the function and ofcourse had a good lunch after that. One more group of middle aged men were partying in the same premises, they shared a local cuisine called 'Popti' with us, which is cooked in a pot having layers of chicken, eggs, beans and locally available leaves called 'bhamburda'. Before going to sleep, we went for a walk on fort, as it was a day next to Pournima, whole sky was glittering due to moonlight. Back to the temple, we had a chat with villager and gathered details about the further journey.
We woke up at 6:30 AM, completed morning chores and we started to explore the fort as sun was coming up. You can find two water tank just near Zolai Devi Temple, one of them is potable and there is a beautiful deepmaal in front of the temple. Just near the temple there is Balekilla, which has lot of remnants, well maintained by the villagers with help of local politicians. There are lot of canons on the fort, in the gazetteer it is said that fort has total 23 canons at different spots. Other than this there is a grain storage, lots of water tanks and idols of various dieties. But the cynosure of all is 'Khamb Taaka' which means pillared water tank, to reach it you shall walk straight from door of the temple in east direction and come to a narrow end where you will find a Stone wall of about 5 feet, just on right side of the wall there is a steep path going down. Take care while going down as the path is full of loose soil and slippery grass, villagers advised us not to go that side but we wanted to anyhow see that water tank. At the end we found that if we descend with care, that patch is not much difficult, but still one needs to get down with care. Atlast, our effort was fruitful as we discovered 'Khamb Taaka', pillars of which had beautiful carvings. Happy with our exploration, we came back to temple, collected our bags and got down the fort.
Back in our vehicles, our next target were the mighty Mahipat and Sumar Gad. As per our plan, we had to reach Wadi Jaitapur and then walk towards Wadi Beldar. From Rasalwadi, you need to come back to Rasalphata, turn right and after almost 7-8 kms you need to take right again, on every turns there are proper sign boards erected by Tourism board. As per the villager whom we met on Rasalgad, there is a construction of road going on till mahipatgad, only 2 KM is remaining, but the road after Wadi Jaitapur is 'kuccha'. He advised us to proceed ahead of Wadi Jaitapur, till you find road not suitable to go ahead. A kilometre ahead of Wadi Jaitapur we came across an Engineer who was on bike and was working on the road going upto Mahipatgad. He told us that you can go 2 more kms ahead, keep the cars and then proceed to Wadi Beldar by walking. As per his instructions, negotiating steep and not so good road we reached a cliff where road was turning U and ahead of that construction was going on. We parked our vehicles on the cliff, packed our bag and got ready for the climb ahead to Wadi Beldar. We were fortunate enough, as our climb was reduced by almost 1 hour due to the newly constructed road. There are electric poles going from wadi jaitpur to wadi beldar, you have to follow those poles throughout the route.
After almost 1 and half hour walk under hot sun, we reached Wadi Beldar at Mr. Sitaram Jadhav's(+91 7038923580) house around 12:00 PM, who was going to be our host and guide for next one and half day. We had our lunch at a house nearby made by a nice and warm lady Jijabai, food was awesome and had a motherly touch.Tummies filled with homemade food, we decided to execute our further plan with a small change. Our original plan was to go to Mahipatgad and stay there for night, but as we had reached Wadi Beldar before expected time, we decided to do the thrilling Sumargad first. At 1:30 PM, leaving our bags behind, we started moving towards Sumargad behind our guide Sitaram Jadhav. If we keep our back towards Wadi Beldar, you need to move left towards south. First 15 mins of the walk towards Sumargad is steep, rest of the 45 mins walk is on ridge and most of the times straight walk. In 15-20 mins, you reach a small house called "Raya Dhangarachi Zhaap", which is small hut of a shepherd called Raya, who has all detailed information about the surrounding areas. We were fortunate to meet Raya and told him that we had read about him in all books and articles, which has mention about these trio forts. You have to walk around 3 hills to get a clear view of Sumargad, enroute we could see our car far away parked on the cliff. By continuously walking, without taking any break you reach 'Gur Khind', from where straight path goes to Rasalgad and left goes to Sumargad. Here you need to take care that, don't take any heavy baggage on sumargad, as the path is very tricky, just take a small bag with you having water, that too we left on a tree near 'Gur Khind'.
We started ascending the steep path going towards left with all the loose soil you can imagine, while going up we were wondering how we will come down from here while returning. After initial 10 mins climb, you come on the long arm of sumargad and then traverse from the left hand side of Sumargad base takes you to the famous 50 feet rock patch of Sumargad. Just before the rock patch, there is a very tricky traverse which you need to negotiate patiently while keeping utmost balance. While doing this traverse, you need to touch your back completely on the rock and moving inch by inch sideways, maintaining balance you can complete this small but tricky patch.
Further you come across the 50 feet rock patch, which is standing almost 90 degree, but there are proper holds at all places. There are two iron ladder (4-5 feet) placed by villagers at 1st and 3rd stage of the patch, also a thick wire runs along the length of patch which acts as a mental support in case you lose balance. If you are new to sahyadris, this patch can be very scary but if you been well acquainted with challenges of sahyadris then this patch is not much to worry about. Our guide Sitaram Jadhav told us to climb the patch without footwear, which will give good grip on flat patches. 1st and 3rd stage of the climb are not much to worry about, but the 2nd stage has some loose rocks, it's better to find a reliable rock to push yourself up or use the wire for support. Ladders placed by villagers are not anchored to the rocks, so everytime someone is climbing on it, other person has to hold it so there is no chance of slipping. Finally at 3 PM we were on the top of fort. There are three huge water tanks in front of the cave which houses a Shiv Temple. Just above the big water tanks there is a small potable water tank, from which you can drink water till heart content, guess it remains throughout the summer season. Top of the fort is a small area, on the southern end you can find a 'Khamb Taaka' (pillared water tank), which is same as Rasalgad but without carvings. Other than this there are few remnants which resemble a storage structure. After half n hour we decided to descend the rock patch, and this time it was more scary than going up as we can see the whole valley just below our feet. By keeping patience and maintaining balance with the help of wire, we successfully descended the rock patch and in 20 mins reached Gur Khind, where we collected our bag and water bottles.
Further we descended to a small water stream near Wadi Beldar, where we had a good bath and spent a great time. Some of our group members were murmuring that we can now leave for Mahipatgad, which is 1 hour from Wadi Beldar and stay there for night. But atlast we decided to stay in Wadi Beldar and explore Mahipat next morning. After having dinner at Jijabai's house, we retired for the day in Sitaram Jadhav's house. You can find mobile range in whole region of this trio forts, which is very surprising because it was a remote area and to just go for shopping you have to walk for 3 hours to Wadi Jaitpur. Well, I guess the region is only 20 kms radius of Khed, so there is no problem of mobile network.
On 25th Jan morning, we woke up late than planned as everybody was exhausted from previous day's hike. Nonethless, we started for Mahipatgad at 8:30 AM, our guide Sitaram Jadhav was suppose to take a different group to Sumar and Rasal, so he showed us the path and asked us to follow the electric poles right upto the Pareshwar Mandir, right in the centre of Mahipatgad. Mahipatgad is all covered with forest and villagers say that wild animals like Leopard, Wild cats, Wolves roam around the fort in broad daylight. Every year Mahipat gets a government grand of 5 lakh rupees, which is very less as compared to the rich heritage it carries which needs to be conserved. In one hour you can reach Pareshwar mandir from Wadi Beldar, enroute we came across a fort wall towards left, one stone dam after that and a big well on right side. Just before the stone dam, we met the Pujaari (priest) of Pareshwar Temple, he was hurriedly descending the fort as he wanted to leave for Mumbai. He gave us some information about the fort and what all you can find on it. Priest told us there are lot of things to see on the fort, there are 360 small temples and idols scattered all over the fort, also there are remnants and fortifications, but most of them are covered in dense forest and difficult to find. He also warned of us getting lost in the dense forest, as a suggestion he told that at every diversion you leave a mark as you go ahead, so it will help when you turn back.
The area around Pareshwar Mandir is one of the beautiful places I have seen. Just in front of the temple, there is a huge well, which has the most sweetest and coolest water you can ever imagine. There are lot of different butterflies and birds you can spot on the fort roaming freely in the wild. After seeing the temple, we wished we could have hiked the fort last evening and stayed in the temple. Temple is very spacious and accommodate around 30 people comfortably.
After few minutes, we decided to explore the fort on our own, but as Mahipatgad is spread over 120 acres that too in thick jungle, exploring the fort was a real challenge. Not to get lost in the forest, we decided to stick together and move in one direction, till we find a dead end or a valley or a fort wall. We decided to move in northern direction, enroute we saw some structures, idols and broken fort wall. After around 20 mins of walking and making marks on every diversion, we reached a cliff which was northernmost end of the fort. View from that place was mesmerizing and till today whenever I think of Mahipatgad, the view comes in front of my eyes. On the left hand side of the cliff, you can see two fort towers indicating the fort boundary. The fort is so huge that you cannot accommodate its expanse in just one view. On the cliff we had lot of photography. Far ahead on the right, we could see Mahabaleshwar table land and somewhere towards left of that you can see the entire range of Rajgad, Torana and Raigad. If we turn back, we can see Vasota fort, which is near Chiplun. You should be fortunate enough to get a clear sky like we had that day to spot all those forts from Mahipatgad. After spending half n hour on the cliff, we made our way back from the forest and came back to Pareshwar Mandir. Enroute we saw some excreta of Leopard and thus our return journey was far more quick.
As you make way back to the stone dam, just after the temple there is a good path going towards right, some of our group members decided to give a try in pursuit of finding something new and some were skeptical because of getting lost in the jungle. Atlast, we went ahead on that path, which actually moves parallel to the normal path going towards the stone dam. After 5-10 mins, the path started descending and we met a villager who confirmed that same was going to Wadi Beldar but different than one we climbed up. This path led us to the fort tower which we could see on the left hand side while climbing up. Enroute we saw small idols and to our surprise canon balls were kept there, it was a pleasant discovery as it was not mentioned anywhere in the information we studied. After spending few minutes at tower, we started descending and further that path met the path by which we had climbed the fort just below the stone dam.
In half n hour around 1 PM we were at Wadi Beldar, packed our bags and bid a good bye to Jijabai. Walking in hot conditions, we descended to the place where our vehicles were parked. Seeing back Sumargad was still watching us, asking to come back and take the challenge again. No wonder, this area will be commercialised after few days, due to efforts of state tourism board. Vehicles will start running, shops will come up, human movement will increase, heaps of garbage will fill the valley, all these things will ruin the beauty and serenity of this place. Hope the tourism board maintains certain amount of decorum while uplifting the area around Mahipat-Sumar-Rasal. We reached Mumbai around 9 PM and with happy memories of this adventurous trio. I would like to thank to my awesome group for this awesome trip, who are more than friends and have become one family now, Love you Guys !!