September 17, 2013
Since college days, I had been participating in hikes every year to one or the other fort in Maharashtra. The only gap was for the year when I got married. While in college, we used to go on annual trekking and hiking with Mrs Phal, Statistics lecturer who imbibed the spirit of adventure and a love for trekking and hiking among the students.
After completing my college studies, some of the like-minded youths form the Infant Jesus Parish, Dombivli in Thane District used to organize hikes for the youth group. Over the years we have had hikes organized during the monsoon season to some of the exciting fort destinations in the Shahyadris including Peth, Peb, Raigad and Lohagad.
In recent years, since I am no longer a part of the youth group, me and some of my friends used to go for trekking to different places. However, this year, unfortunately no one was willing to venture for hiking putting forward various excuses such as too much work, age factor and family responsibilities. As I was determined to go for a hike this year, I contacted my friend Christopher (Chris) from the youth group of yesteryears who is also married and settled down in Pune and asked him whether he would be interested in the hike to Visapur Fort and join me as I was all alone. Christopher readily agreed to join me and we fixed Monday, 9 September 2013 for the hike as it happened to be holiday on account of the Ganesh festival.
I had been to Lohagad twice earlier and had noticed its neighboring fort Visapur, which is more like a neglected stepsister since the structure of Lohagad is still impressive even after hundreds of years whereas Vispaur has just a few visible ramparts.
On early Monday morning I called up Chris to check the status only to find that his cell phone was switched off. The first thought that came to my mind was that Chris might have ‘ditched’ me as he had switched off his cell phone. However, as I was quite determined to go for this hike and thinking that I might have to go alone, I boarded the Indrayani Express from Kalyan station at 06:35 am. It took about one and a half hour to reach Lonavla. Throughout the train journey, I was apprehensive that for the first time I had to go on this hike all alone.
Meanwhile, I got a call from Chris saying that he did not know how his cell got turned off and that he was on his way to Malavali station from Pune . I was quite excited to hear the voice of Chris and was reassured that Chris would be with me and felt sorry for having thought that he might have ‘ditched’ me as I did not get response from his cell phone before boarding the train in the morning. I boarded the Lonavla-Pune local train at 8.15 pm to get down and meet Chris at Malavali station, the starting point for the hike to Visapur Fort.
After 10 minutes I was on Malavali station platform and waited for Chris who arrived after around 40 minutes. After having had ‘vadapav’ at the stalls besides the station, both of us started off on the hike to explore the Visapur Fort.
Since I had been to Lohagad earlier, I knew the way at least up to the foothills of the fort. On the way from Malavali station, we first went across a flyover over the Mumbai -Pune Expressway. Thereafter we walked across the village following the tar Road. Fifteen minutes later, we came across a waterfall where the villagers were washing clothes besides which were flight of steps to go on towards the Bhaje caves. We continued on the dirt track and came across a waterfall. We planned on having a dip here on the way back.
From this point onwards the gradient of road increased. The road was made of stones and since we were wearing canvas shoes, it was quite difficult and painful to negotiate the road. Then I realized the need to have proper hiking shoes during such hikes.
We had to take many breaks on the way since we were clearly out of shape. Corporate job with no physical activity had taken a toll on our stamina. I had carried Glucon D which we had many times.
After an hour of strenuous hiking, to our surprise, the rough road had turned into a well paved tar road. We were sitting at one of the many shacks on the way when a villager came on his bike. He told us that he owned the shack and they cater to hikers on Saturday and Sundays and they do a brisk business selling lunch, lime juice, tea, coffee, etc. During our conversation, he said that there are more hikers for Logahad than Visapur as Lohagad is more famous than Visapur. According to him, the tar road would be continued till the Village so that people can drive right up to the Lohagad Fort.
Having sought directions from the shack owner we continued on our way. From this place we could see the twin forts of Lohagad and Visapur.
We followed the tar road till we came to a farm house of the Pradhan of the village with an old Doberman. From there the road branched out to Lohagad, the tar road all the way to that fort and we had to trek the mud and gravel road to Visapur.
We followed the mud road for some time till we reached another shack with a place to sit. We could see the towering Visapur in front of us. This was to be the start of the grueling climb to Visapur Fort. We rested for quite some time to revive our stamina. We could see from the shack that some other people were also on their way climbing up the hill.
When we started on our journey again, we walked for a few minutes in a particular direction and found that we were not following the normal route to the top of the fort. Just then, few other hikers who were on their way up, saw that we were lost an yelled us the directions. We had to retrace our steps and walk back to quite a distance before we could take the right path to the top of the fort.
Following the path of the waterfall, we climbed up the rocks. It was slow but we kept up and took many breaks in between as the hill was quite steep and slippery. As we climbed up we came across a skeleton of a cow or a bull. Finally after about 30 minutes we were on the fort.
The area at the top of the fort is massive. First we rested and had the ‘parathas’ that my mother had packed for us. Having had our lunch and some sort of rest, we began to explore the remnants of once quite important fort in the history of the Marathas. From the top of the hill, one could see the vast expanse of land spread below for many miles across.
Visapur Fort was built during 1713-1720 by Balaji Vishwanath, the first Peshwa of Maratha kingdom. Though built much later than Lohagad Fort the histories of these forts are closely linked.
In 1818, during the Third Anglo-Maratha War, with a view to capture the Lohagad Fort, the British first captured the Visapur Fort and making use of its higher elevation and proximity to Lohagad,, the British troops set up their cannons on Visapur and bombarded Lohagad, forcing the Marathas to flee. Thus, in 1818, Lohagad-Visapur was taken over by the British and placed under the command of a Colonel Prother. Considering, the strategic importance of Visapur, both the north (Konkan) and the south (Deccan) gateways were blown up, and except a few huts, nothing was left standing. In contrast, most of Lohagad fort is still intact.
Visapur Fort is larger and at a higher elevation than its twin fort- Lohagad. Within the fort are caves, cisterns of water, a decorated arch and old houses. These two roofless buildings surrounded by outer or veranda walls said to have once been Government offices. The ruins of a large stone-built house are known as the Peshwa's palace. In addition to a huge carving of Hanuman, there are also several temple dedicated to him scattered all over the place. Hanuman (Maruti) was likely the patron deity of the Visapur Fort.
There is a well which local legend says was built by the Pandavas. In 1885, near the north wall there was an iron gun ten feet long and of four-inch bore, marked with the Tudor Rose and Crown, flanked by the letters E. R. This is probably a gun of Queen Elizabeth's reign probably taken as bounty from an English ship and presented to the Peshwa by Kanhoji Angre or some other commander of the Maratha navy. Close to it are the remains of an old Mahadev shrine.
Unlike the inner structure, majority of its wall is still intact. We saw some of the fort walls were still standing. We wondered how much time and efforts might have gone into the construction of the fort during an era when modern technology was unknown.
We walked across to the other side of the fort where we saw well preserved ramparts. We also came across a huge circle of stone but failed to understand the use of the same. There were many manmade water tanks but the water was not fit for consumption.
The wind was cool and refreshing. We just sat and let the calmness soak in. As we walked further, we met three young boys from the village below. They said that they would usually come up to graze their cattle. They informed us that there was another way to go down from the fort. The boys offered to guide us on our way down. As we moved down, we across saffron flag fluttering. There was a doorway from where the boys said that Shivaji Maharaj had escaped. The boys informed that the way they had suggested was a short cut and we would reach the base of the hill within 20 minutes. Though the way was quite short, it was quite narrow and winded through the edges of the hill. Any wrong step or slip might send one down to the deep valley below.
After half an hour’s careful descent we were on the firm ground and were on our way to Malavali station. The boys showed us the way forward and we gave them some money and biscuits. Though once again we lost our way, we came back and were on the right path and by 6.30 pm we were back at the Malavali station to take trains in opposite directions-Chris to Pune and myself to Kalyan.
On the way back, alone in the Mumbai bound train, though tired and exhausted, I had the supreme satisfaction that I could realize my dream of being close to nature in the wilderness of mountain that was once the part of the Maratha history. The greenery, small waterfalls, wild creatures, gentle breeze, calmness of ruins and vast expanse of the land below momentarily made me to forget about the weekly routine of office work, rumbling of the local trains and crowded streets of Mumbai and be with the nature, the luxury that does not require much money but only some time and stamina.