Monday, December 28, 2009

5 to 6-Dec-2009 Kalawantin Durg (Bastion)

Kalawantin Durg (Bastion) is a small pinnacle adjoining the fort of Prabalgad.

Location and how to get there
This place is very accessible from both Mumbai and Pune. On Mumbai Pune expressway, take Shendung exit. This is nearly 30 kms from Khopoli towards Mumbai. From Shendung, take a left turn towards Thakurwadi. It takes nearly half an hour to reach the base from the expressway. There are state transport buses plying right upto Thakurwadi from Khopoli or Panvel. However, this place is very much accessible and hence it makes more sense to take a private transport.

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 Kalawantin and Prabalgad - It is impossible to accommodate in one frame

Kalawantin Durg is not a fort. It is a pinnacle right next to Prabalgad, almost equal in height. This pinnacle is very steep. It would have been very difficult to climb but for the steps carved out of the rock. This place is not a watch tower. Prabalgad itself blocks a large portion of the view. And Prabalgad is slightly higher than this pinnacle. This could have posed a challenge for Prabalgad's safety. It is just that since it exists so close to Prabalgad, it had to be fortified so that it does not fall to the enemy.

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 Entrance of Kalawantin Prabalgad

This pinnacle has rock cut steps in the base. And scree on the upper portion. The last 15-20 feet is a steep rock face. It is better to climb this patch with some rope and expert supervision. The steps are also not very easy. In some places they are steep, narrow and turn sharply.

The top does not contain any construction. But there must be provision for the guards to stay on the fort for some duration.

9:45 PM Started from Pune
We started from Pune at 9:45 PM by a private vehicle. We were at the base of the fort by 11:30 PM. It was pitch dark as there was fog all around. Visibility was limited. Had it been a clear sky, moonlight or starlight would have made the night trek pleasant.

After rearranging the sacks and taking out the torches, we started the trek. We had no clue about where we were heading in the dark.

The base is about 85 meters from the sea level.

After trekking for nearly two and half hours, we reached the machi of the fort. This is nearly 500 meters from the sea level. All through, it was hot and humid even during the winter. We slept on the ground in the open air. That was refreshing.

6:00 AM Wakeup
Before the daybreak, we got up. After our daily chores, we went inside Thakurwadi. This village is untouched by any commercialization. Here, we had our breakfast. The leader distributed packets for lunch. We filled water from one well. There is no water source till the top. Due to hot and humid conditions, one could be thirsty very soon.

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 Village hut

8:00 AM Started the ascent
We set out of the village leaving our sacks behind in one of the houses. Soon we started on the slopes with a lot of scree and small bushes. Some of these bushes are thorny and hence of no use during climbing. We reached the col in another half an hour. This place is 635 meters from the sea level.

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 Prabal maachi from Col

The rock cut steps start immediately after the col. All of us rested in the col for some time. The entire team was arranged in a line and we started the further ascent. It must have taken a lot of effort to cut these steps. In places, the steps are narrow and steep. There are no holds.

After the steps, there is another patch with scree. It is difficult to get a foothold. We navigated this patch with the help of one another. Finally we reached a small plain ground. Now only a 15 foot rock patch separates us from the summit. For the experienced climbers, there is no need for ropes. But inexperienced climbers should use ropes under expert supervision.

Finally we reached the summit. This place is 700 meters from the sea level. There is no construction on the top. Due to fog, the visibility was low. Karnala fort and the bird sanctuary are nearby. But due to fog, we could not spot them. Prabalgad dominates a large section of the view.

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 Prabalgad from Kalawantin

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 Prabalgad from Kalawantin

12:30 PM started the descent
After spending some time and exhausting the water we carried, we started the descent. As always, the descent is more tricky than the ascent. A small mistake can make you fall down till the col. We carefully reached the col. Our leaders drilled some bolts so that people can use ropes to climb the pinnacle even during the rains.

From Trips - Kalawantin Durg Dec 09 A view of Prabal Maachi

By now we were very thirsty. We took a slightly different path to the village. This was covered with trees. Hence it was better. But the scree was very tricky. We almost sat and slid for the most part.

As soon we we reached the village we straight way went to the well. Drank a lot of water. And then sat for lunch.

After having lunch, we rested for some time. By 4:00 PM, we started our descent from machi to the base. We reached the base just after the sunset. By 8:30 PM, we were back in Pune.

This could have been made a two day outing including the Prabalgad fort. Very near yet very far.

Friday, December 4, 2009

28 to 29-Nov-2009 Harishchandra Gad

Harishchandragad is one of the massive forts. It has minimal ramparts constructed. Nothing much of any significance has happened on the fort. The fort and the surrounding area was inhabited for more than a thousand years.

The fort has a lot of greenery. So much that one feels that it drizzled very recently.

Location and getting there

From Shivaji Nagar bus stand in Pune, there are several buses that go via Ale Phata. The journey is about two hours. From Ale Phata, one has to take another bus that goes to Kokan side or take a private vehicle. This section is nearly 35 kms or approximately one hour. If one takes a bus, then some walk might be inevitable from the road till Khireshwar. A distance of about 5 kms. It is advisable to take a private vehicle as it will save some time.

There are nearly six approaches to the fort.
a) Pachnei - This is the easiest approach. A lot of tourists take this route. It takes about an hour to reach the top without much efforts.
b) Khireshwar - Nedhe
c) Khireshwar - Tolar pass
This approach involves passing through thick vegetation. The climb is moderate. From Tolar pass, it involves climbing two rock patches. During rainy season, one definitely needs holds to clear the patches. There were protective railings installed. But the villegers have removed them time and again. The rock patches might be difficult to clear during summer due to excessive heat.
d) Nalichi wat - This is one of the strenuous approaches. It involves 4-5 rock patches. The Sun is directly on the head mist of the times. And there is not much cover. This route is for the ones with lot of guts.
e) Kokan Cliff - This is one of the most difficult routes. It involves climbing a concave cliff of nearly 2000 feet in vertical height. Technical rock climbing is involved. This is not attempted frequently.

6:30 AM Bus to Ale Phata
From Shivaji Nagar bus stand in Pune, we took a bus to Ale Phata. The bus reached Ale Phata in nearly two hours. We had snacks on the bus stand by the time, a conveyance was arranged for the further journey. The jeeps can be a headache here as they know the travelers have limited options. The journey from Ale Phata to Khireshwar can take nearly one hour.

11:00 AM Khireshwar
Khireshwar village is situated nearly 5 kms off the road. The road towards Khireshwar is made up of a wall constructed for a dam. After reaching Khireshwar, we ordered our lunch for the next day. The leader decided that it will be better to have lunch once we climb up as the trek was very heavy. We immediately set out for the trek after rearranging the sacks. The initial path is straight, without any tree cover. Then we suddenly hit the tree cover. From this place till Tolar pass, the tree cover is thick. During daytime, sunlight does not touch the ground. And nearby we always have massive rock faces of the hills.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09 Tolar Pass as seen from Khireshwar

2:00 PM On the top
After navigating the rock patches, we were on the top by 2 PM. But alas this was not place where we would halt for the night. Now we had to walk for nearly one hour to reach where we wanted to be. There was green grass on the ground. Several wild flowers made the scene very beautiful. Thick forest cover was all around.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09 The Fortress

There are two approaches from this place to the temple and the caves. One goes via the base of the Balekilla and the other goes through seven hills. There is lot of climb and descend involved in the second approach. Since most of us were tired and were to get tired even more, the leaders took us through the first approach.

The Balekilla is inaccessible today because of stiff approaches from all sides. One can approach it only using rock climbing techniques. We silently walked through the thick tree cover and several flowers and crossing several channels.

3:00 PM Reached the caves (1210 meters)
At last, we reached the caves. The ancient temple complex is seen right in front of the caves. The first sight of the temple is amazing. Why would one build such a temple here? For the time being we must attack the food. After walking for nearly four hours we were to rest for some time. We quickly ate the food we had brought from home. This was a good decision to have food after walking so much. There was not much time left to rest as all of us had to rush to the Kokan cliff before the sunset.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

4:45 PM Kokan cliff
From the caves, we rushed towards the Kokan cliff. This is the Western Most part of the fort. And one has to walk for another half an hour to reach there. Now our stomachs were heavy and feet were dragged with so much of walking.

The cliff is concave. It has a vertical height of nearly 2000 feet. To appreciate the beauty of the cliff, one has to go a little ahead towards Nalichi wat. Immediately after the sunset, we returned to the caved.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09 Kokan Cliff

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

In the night we had the dinner prepared by the restaurant there. We had a camp fire. Finally we slept early.

6:30 AM Started for Taramati peak
In the morning, we had to wake early so that we could climb the Taramati peak. This peak is directly above the caves. It is the highest point on the fort. And it is also amongst the highest peaks in the Sahyadri.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09 Taramati Peak

The upper portion has two approaches. One is straight. It has exposure. The other approach traverses the length of the peak and climbs from the other side. This is easier and safe approach. The top has a flag pole and one Shiva linga carved in a stone. One can see Jeevdhan and Naneghat. After spending some time on the top, we descended back to the caves.

8:00 AM Temple
Since the breakfast was not ready, we decided to visit the temple first. The temple is very old and constructed out of stones. It is situated in the bed of a stream. There are exquisite carvings on the temple. It has different shirines. Just outside the temple, there is a tank. On one side of the tank, there are 9 temples. Just below the temple in the stream bed, there is one cave with a massive Shiva ling.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09 Entire temple complex

After having our breakfast, we started our return journey through Seven Hills. On this route, one has to climb and descend the hills. Again we descended through the rock patches and the Tolar pass. This time, we could appreciate the jungle more.

12:30 PM Back to Khireshwar
We attacked the lunch in batches. Some of us went to see a very old Shiva temple just outside Khireshwar village. Currently the temple lies in ruins. It has very beautiful panels carved on the roof. One modern house is constructed just in front of the temple.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

Just near the temples, there is one cave. The facade of the caves is broken. The huge boulders lie in front of the cave. The cave s filled with mud and dust over the years. The cave has one room carved. Probably this was a place for pilgrims to stay.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

Above the ground, there are some rock pillars with some carvings.

From Trips - Harishchandragad Nov 09

After seeing this beautiful but neglicted heritage, we returned to Khireshwar to catch the vehicle to take us back to Ale Phata.

8:00 PM Back in Pune
On any Sunday evening, it is very dificult to get a public transport towards Pune fro Nashik side. We struggled for some time. Finally we jumped in some bus somehow. Most of our journey was standing. By 8:00 PM we were back in Shivaji Nagar.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

14-Nov-2009 Karla, Bhaje, and Bedse caves

Maharashtra has a large number of caves. Out of nearly 1500 caves identified in India, nearly 1200 are in Maharashtra. The basalt rock is conducive for excavating the caves.

The earliest known rock cut caves are excavated near Gaya in Bihar. Four in Barabar and three in Nagarjuni hills. Some of these caves were donated by Emperor Ashoka (272-232 BC) to the ascetics of Ajvika sect.

In Maharashtra, the excavation of caves started from second century BC. The three phases of cave excavation can be broadly classified as Buddhist from 200 BC to 600 AD; Hindu from 600 AD to 1000 AD; and Jain from 800 AD to 1200 AD.

Out of the 1500 rock cut caves in India, nearly 1000 are Buddhist; 300 are Hindu; and 200 are Jain.

Chaitya and Vihara
Buddhist caves are of two types: Chaitya and Vihara. Chaitya contains a shrine. Usually a Stupa will be present in a Chaitya. There is one prayer hall. At the back side of the hall, one Stupa is carved into the stone. There are two rows of columns on both sides till the entrance. This divides a Chaitya into three sections. Two narrow passage on each side and a central hall. The roof of a Chaitya is circular. Stone or wooden beams will be supported on the roof. The main hall has an entrance.

Vihara used to house the monks. There are usually several isolated rooms on the three sides opening into a common area. Each room used to house one monk. There is a provision for one bed for a monk and some space for his belongings.

Hinayana and Mahayana
In Buddhism, there are two sects: Hinayana and Mahayana. Buddha preached non existance of God. He forbade worship of God in any form. Soon after the death of Buddha, his disciples felt the need to worhip him in some form or the other. Hence they started worshipping him in some indirect form. e.g. Bodhi tree, foot imprint, tooth, Dhamma Chakra, etc. In the later stage, some of the disciples felt the need to worship him directly in the form of an idol. This bifurcated the religion. The earlier sect worshipping Buddha indirectly were labelled as Hinayans and the later sect worshipping Buddha directly were labelled as Mahayans.

In Maharashtra, the caves of Bhaje, Karla, Bedse, Kondhane, Junnar (Shivaneri), Mahad, Karad, Wai, Kanheri are all Hinayan caves.

Stupa means the samadhi of a revered person. In the ancient times, after the cremation of a person, a small mound of soil or stones used to be erected on the place. This custom gave rise to the specific shape of stupa. Jains erected stupas. Later Buddhists started erecting stupas. In the earlier times, the main purpose of erecting a stupa was to remeber the message of Buddha. Some relic of Buddha or his revered disciple used to be at the base of the stupa. A circular or an eliptical base used to be constructed on the relic. This is called Medhi or Dand. A semi circular dome is constructed on the Medhi/Dand. This is called Anda. The top of Anda has one square Mandap. This is called Harmika. There are one or three umbrellas on top of Harmika. They are called Chatravali or Triratna. A pathway used to be constructed to circumambulation. The pathway is called Vedika. Four pathways are erected on all four sides to enter the Vedika. These pathways are called Toranas.

Later a lot of stupas were needed as the Buddhism expanded. At that time, a relic was not needed to erect a stupa. All the stupas in caves fall under this category.

Location and getting there
Bhaje and Karle are very accessable from Pune and Mumbai. Bedse caves are remote and getting there can be challenging.

On Mumbai Pune railway or old highway, there is a station called Malawali next to Lonavala. Karle caves are nearly 5 kilometers from this station on the north side. Bhaje caves are nearly 2 kilometers from this station on the Southern side.

One can get down on Malavali railway station by a local train between Pune and Lonavala. From there, one can take and auto rickshaw to visit both Karle and Bhaje. Alternatively, one can take their own transport and on Old Mumbai Pune highway, reach Karle. The Karle caves are nearly 2 kilometers from the highway and 4-5 kilometers from the Malavali railway station. Bhaje caves are nearly 2 kilometers from the Malavali railway station and 4-5 kilometers from the highway.

Going to Bedse is very difficult. Having your own transport is advisable to visit this cave. One has to turn left from Kamshet of one is coming from Pune towards Lonavala. After travelling for nearly 15 kilometers on the narrow roads, one can reach Bedsa village. We need to ask directions frequently to make sure that we are heading in the right direction. The last couple of kilometers of road does not exist!

Karle Caves

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Karla cave complex

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Karla Cave Complex

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Entrance of Karla Chaitya

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Entrance of Karla Chaitya

Karle caves can be considered as the largest and the best of the Hinayan cave complexes. It contains one Chaitya. There were two large lion pillars in the entrance. Only of of them exists today. This pillar has four lions. There are some holes near the entrance. Probably some wooden structure must have existed near the entrance. In this section there are several sculptures carved out of the stone. Elephants, Buddha, couples. The couples depicted have worn distinct headgear. Their knees are slightly bent. There are two entrances on both sides of the main entrance. Probably each disciple would wash his feet in these entrance before entering the prayer hall.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Stone pillar with four lions

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Beautiful carvings at the entrance

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

The prayer hall has wooden roof. It contains 31 teak wood beams. The hall is 124 feet long and 46.5 feet wide. It has 30 pillars on both sides. Each pillar has square base, then semi spherical section, then octagonal pillar, then one lotus flower, and finally couples sitting on elephants or horses.

At the back of the hall, Chaitya is carved. The Chatrawali on the Harmika is still intact.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Harmika

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Carvings on the pillar inside Chaitya

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Carvings on the pillar inside Chaitya

There are several Viharas. Some of them are two stories.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Viharas

Ekveera temple is constructed right in the entrance. A lot of pilgrims visit the temple. Most of them oblivious to the fact that the caves are more ancient.

After exploring every corner of the cave complex, we proceeded to the Bhaje caves.

Bhaje Caves
Bhaje caves are the first caves excavated in Maharashtra probably in second century BCE. They are more ancient than any other cave. There are two Chaityas, 13 Viharas, and two Matapas (dining areas) in this complex.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Bhaje cave complex

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Chaitya of Bhaje caves

Cave number 12 was the main Chaitya. It had wooden facade which does not exist anymore. There are places for this wooden structure to be fixed in the cave. The Chaitya hall is 8.17 meters wide and 18 meters long. There are 27 simple octagonal pillars in the Chaitya. Their height is 5.9 meters. The pillars are one meter from the wall. The pillars are tilted 13 centimeters inside. Buddhist symbols are carved on these pillars. Chatravali is destroyed. Wood was used in abundance in this cave. Some of it was destroyed in due course of time.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Chaitravali is destroyed in due course of time

A little further, there are 14 stupas carved side by side in a single cave. They were in the memory of Acharyas. Their names are carved on these stupas.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Fourteen stupas

A little ahead, cave number 20 is very peculiar due to its carvings. The vihara is closed as the Archiological department has installed one iron grill and locked the entrance to this place. There are five carvings depicting the complete human figures. There are differences of opinion about whose figures are depicted here.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

Some of the Viharas are two storied. The Vihara on the extreme end remained unfinished.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09

Bedse Caves
Bedse caves are ignored. Not many people visit the place due to its inaccessibility. That can be one of the reasons on why these caves are better preserved. The nature in this area is better preserved.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Entrance of Bedsa caves

There are several octagonal columns on both sides of the Chaitya hall. The columns are simple, just like Bhaje caves. There are several Buddhist symbols carved on the pillars. There is no wooden roof in these caves. There are two pillars outside the entrance. Each pillar has men sitting on different animals. e.g. horse, bull, elephant. There are two smaller Stupas outside the Chaitya hall. These are not covered. Probably because of of wear and tear. There is one Vihara.

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Chaitya of Bedsa caves

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Carvings on the stone pillars inside Chaitya

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Stone pillar at the entrance of Chaitya

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Smaller stupa outside Chaitya

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Vihara in Bedsa caves

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Vihara complex of Bedsa caves

From Trips - Karle, Bhaje, Bedse Caves Nov 09 Vihara complex of Bedsa caves

Thus we completed visiting three caves. The feeling we were taking from this trip was of gratitude. Our ancestors have left such a rich heritage for us. We need to preserve it and appreciate it.