Monday, February 23, 2009

6 to 8-Feb-2009 Ramsej, Dhodap, Kachana Forts

On a long weekend, I joined this trek without realizing the difficulty. In the end, I was rewarded appropriately.

The trek consisted of three forts in the Nashik region of Maharashtra. These forts are in the Chandor (or Satmala) range. Dhodap is the highest hill in this range. Vani, the temple of Saptashrungi is also in the same range.

How to reach
For all the forts in this region, one has to travel to Nashik from Mumbai or Pune.

Ramshej lies about 11 kms north of Nashik. Buses must be available from Nashik. However, having one's own vehicle is the most convenient mode of transport.

Dhodap is about 20-25 kms north west of Chandor. It is the highest hill in the Chandor (or Satmala) range. It is clearly idendified by its deep cleft at the top and a dome shaped peak. It can be reached by two approaches.
a) From Dhodambe village from South
From Nashik, take NH3 towards Malegaon. After going for about 15-20 kms, leave NH3 and take a left to reach Dhodambe village. From Dhodambe village, take a route to Hatti village. This village is at the base of the fort. From this village, one has to walk for nearly 2 kms to reach the base of the fort. After climbing for nearly an hour or so, the first level is reached.

b) From Otur or Kalvan village from North
This route is easier but very long. Leaving Otur to the west, the path winds up a long and gentle slope. After a short distance the first scarp is reached. Continuing the path along the north slope of the hill, the bed of a small torrent is reached, across which there seems once to have been thrown a rough outwork, the first trace of fortifications. At the top of the scarp, which is ill-defined towards the north and north-east, is a large level space of rocky ground covered with a thin coating of soil, the result of the, disintegration of the trap above. Following the path southwards for about half a mile, the outer gate of the lower fortified portion is reached, a strong building flanked by walls running on each side to the upper and lower scarp respectively. Inside the wall is a fine pipal tree and one or two small wells, containing remarkably offensive water. From this point the upper scarp presents the appearance of a smooth wall of basalt, the south-eastern corner alone being somewhat jagged and broken. The path follows the line of the hill southwards, and after about three quarters of a mile or rather more, the second gate of the outer line of defence is reached, of more solid construction than the first.

From Nashik, one has to take some private vehicle to roam this area. The public transport may not be the best option. These places lie 30 t0-35 kms from Nashik.

11:00 PM Departure from Pune
7 of us departed in a vehicle from Pune. After realizing that I was also part of the group, the group leader kept some rope and other equipment in the vehicle just in case it was needed.

Sports Utility Vehicle is not the best to travel overnight.

3:30 AM Reached Ashewadi village at the base of Ramsej fort
The driver took only 4 and a half hours to reach the destination. This provided us with 3 hours of sleep before we could begin the day.

We slept in the Hanuman temple in the village.

6:30 AM Wakeup before villagers come to the temple
We had to wake up before the villagers arrive at the temple. After getting ready, we put the bags back in the vehicle. The fort looked very small and narrow from the base village.

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

7:30 AM Start climbing Ramsej fort
We started to climb the fort. However, we realized that the fort is quite big, area wise. From the village, we could see only a small edge of the fort.

8:00 AM Reached Ramshej fort
Within half an hour, we reached the top of the fort. There is nothing left on the fort except a tank which was empty.

The name means Ram's bed. It is believed that Lord Rama was in Panchavati, Nashik during his exile. He is believed to have stayed on this hill during this time.

The only reference to Ramshej fort is a notice from Aurangzeb to Shahabuddin Khan in 1664 to reduce the forts in Nashik and Khandesh. At Ramshej, Shahabuddin laid a seige and raised a platform of wood high enough to hold 500 men and high enough to see inside the fort. During the siege, Sambhaji's army arrived to relieve the garrison. Khan Jahan advanced from Nashik to help Shahabuddin. After two unsuccessful attempts, the siege was raised. The huge wooden platform was burnt.

Ramshej was one of the 17 forts surrendered by the Marathas to the British in 1818 after the fall of Trimbak.

In 1819, Captain Briggs described Ramshej fort. There were two gateways, one within the other, large but not so formidable as those of Hatgad. There was less uncovered ground on the way up to the gates than in any other Nasik fort. The works connected with the gates were able to give a good flanking fire at a short distance from them. There was a way down by a trap-door kept covered with dirt and rubbish, called the secret road or chor-rasta affording passage for one at a time. All round the fort ran a wall tolerable in some places but mostly indifferent. Within the fort were two or three bombproof and ammunition chambers built of stone. The water-supply was ample.
Captain Briggs left two companies of militia in the fort, one on the top of the hill, the other in the village below. This large party was left at Ramsej that the garrison might always spare ninety or a hundred men to march after Bhils and other marauders. In the fort besides about a ton of grain and a small quantity of salt there were eight guns, nine small cannon called jamburas, twenty-one jingals, thirty copper pots, forty-one brass pots, 256 pounds of gunpowder, forty pounds of brimstone, forty-five pounds of lead, and 240 of hemp. There were also elephant trappings, tents, carpets, and iron ware, which once had been Shivaji's.

A cave temple on the fort has idols of Lord Rama and Hanuman.

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

9:00 AM Started descending the fort
We started descending the fort.

9:20 AM Back to Ashewadi
Within 20 minutes, we were back to Ashewadi. By now, the entire village had gathered near temple to fill the water.

Children were playing in front of the temple. Experiencing early morning in a village is an altogether different feeling.

Within minutes, we left for Dhodap fort.

12:00 PM Lunch
En route, we had lunch on highway. Once we left highway, we would not expect any decent place to eat. Compared to most other treks, this was early lunch.
After having lunch, we started for village Hatti.

1:00 PM Reached Hatti village
Within an hour, we reached village Hatti. We rearranged our sacks and readied ourselves for the climb.

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

1:30 PM Start from Hatti village
Within half an hour, we left village Hatti. The sun was unbearable. Our task was not made easy by the lack of trees in the entire region. Most of the time, sun would be directly on our back. By this logic, the best way to climb the fort would be in the morning.

The earliest known mention of Dhodap is the somewhat doubtful notice of a fort named Dharab which surrendered to the Moghal general Allah-vardi Khan in 1635. From the Muslims it passed to the Peshwa who made it the chief of the Nasik forts. In 1768 Raghunathrav was defeated at Dhodap by his nephew Madhavrao Peshwa. Under the Peshwas two subhedars Appaji Hari and Bajirav Appaji are said to have once hold the fort with 1600 men. At that time Ajabsing and Sujkum, two Kshatriyas in Holkar's employ, attacked and took it, and plundered and burnt the village, which never afterwards recovered its prosperity. It seems to have passed back to the Peshwa as it was the Peshwa's officers who, in 1818, ceded the fort without a struggle. In 1818, immediately after its cession, Dhodap was visited by Captain Briggs. He described it as a large hill of the same basaltic nature as others in the Chandor range, with very strong artificial fortifications. The town, which was tolerably large, stood some hundred feet up the hill and at the bottom of the perpendicular rock where there was much tableland. A road into Khandesh ran under the town and fort wall. There was a very strong gate to the town, and a gate to the pass on each side leading up from Khandesh and Gangthadi. Resides these in the fort there were several guns in the town find on other, parts of the tableland, pointing to the plain below. The roads to the town and over the pass were rough and steep on both sides, but not difficult for horses. The only way to the fort was through the town. The fort had many rock-cut storehouses and a large water-supply. There were thirty-seven militiamen or sibandis in the fort, and of military stores 1590 matchlock balls, two pieces of lead, and a large quantity of gunpowder.

2:45 PM First halt near water source
We took the first halt is on a plateau. This plateau has a water source. It had some interesting structures. There is a very beautiful well constructed. The well is two tiers.

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

There is an entrance which has a stone inscription.

There are 3 temples on this level.

4:25 PM Started ascending again for the fort
After some rest, we started ascending the fort again.

During this period, there are two rock patches. I was helped by others on both of them. While returning, I realized that the first patch was very easy!

At last the real entrance to the fort is reached. This is a completely hidden passage cut in the living rock with two towers in it, and concealed by an outer wall of solid rock and, in its upper portion, by passing through a tunnel. Two inscriptions in Persian are cut on the rock near the doorway. One has been defaced by weather, and the letters are very indistinct. The other is much clearer, and in addition to the Musalman creed records the name of the builder of the fort. On emerging, from the passage, the first sight that presents itself is the peak, still towering perpendicularly at a height of three to four hundred feet above the gateway.

5:30 PM Reached caves
We reached the caves where we were supposed to stay. There are several caves on top. But only one cave has a tank and a temple. This is the cave where most trekkers stay.

En route to the caves, all of us picked up some dry wood for cooking.

All of us were exhausted by the time we were in cave.

6:00 PM Climbed a cave
Immediately, we rushed to a cave which is high above in a rock. The climb was difficult. Here again I was helped by others. Within minutes, we climbed down and ran towards a place from where we could see the sun setting.

6:20 PM Sunset
This is the place which can be easily seen from a distance. It has a cut cliff. This is the farthest place one can reach without any equipment. There is a constructed bastion.

We saw the beautiful sunset. We talked for a long time on various topics. Dr Ravi Shilotri explained us about night sky.

8:30 PM Tea time
We came back to the cave. Prepared tea.

9:30 PM Dinner
Once tea was ready, every one started to prepare dinner. Vikas prepared Khichadi. This was the first time he was preparing something other than tea.

There were lot of mouses in the cave. I had taken 2-3 onions with me just in case to respite from the heat. We thought of using the onions in the dinner. But despite searching a lot in the torch light, I could not find any in the bag.

Finally, the dinner had to be prepared without onions. Later someone discovered one mouse eating the onions! The food had to be protected. The khichadi was not fully cooked. Most of us did not have patience to cook it fully. We ate it as it was. At that time, we felt this was the best meal one could get in these situations.

11:00 PM Bed time with mouses
The night was made interesting with mouses running all over. If one has to stay on top of Dhodap, be prepared to sleep with mouses.

7:12 AM Sunrise
We woke up early in the morning. We wanted to see the sunrise on Dhodap and then start descending the fort.

We saw sunrise. We also saw some broken structures near the entrance of the fort. One structure was very beautiful with designs.

To the right of the gateway facing east, is the sadar,or masonry apartment for the captain or killedar from the top of which a fine view of the Chandor range is obtained. Behind this is a pool of filthy water in a small quarry. To the south is a bastion on which was mounted a ten-pound gun, now lying on the ground, with its muzzle pointing over the plain it once commanded. Behind it is a high flagstaff with a small white rag tied to its top. It belongs to the temple of Devi on a higher part of the fort, which receives from the state a small cash allowance which is spent at the Dasara (October-November) in decorations, and amongst others in anointing the ten-pound gun with yellow ochre. Between the court and the foot of the peak lies a grassy slope after crossing which are found chambers formerly used by the residents of the fort for various purposes. These are cut in the living rock of the highest part of the hill. First is the powder magazine, a spacious chamber every crack in which has been carefully built up, leaving only a single entrance. At the side of this is the small cave from which the powder guardian had to keep watch. Beyond, to the west, are the provision chambers, including a huge one for grain and a smaller one at the sides with two rock-hewn sarcophagi, one of which contained clarified butter, and the other molasses. Between these and the next cave, that of Devi, are a few small recesses, walled in with rough stone work, apparently modern, which now serve as rest-houses for mendicants and pilgrims. Immediately to the west of the Devi's cave is a rock-cut reservoir said to be unfathomable, containing excellent water, probably filtering through cracks in the rock from above, as there is no appearance of any spring. It is a peculiarity of this south face of the rocky peak that the base of the scarp inclines outwards a little from the point where it springs from the grassy slope, a formation which has been taken advantage of in building up these chambers. On the north side of the peak the strip of grass-covered and slippery ground between the base and the vertical scarp is much narrower than on the south, and the cave chambers on the former side appear to have been for the gunners and soldiers. The path can be followed right round to the court again, and up the peak itself, though the climb is somewhat dangerous except to hard and naked feet. The summit which consists of a huge mass of rock nearly precipitous for half its height and then conical, rises about 400 feet above the level plateau on which the main portion of the fort was situated, and is all but inaccessible. At the very summit of the peak is a Musalman shrine said to have been miraculously built in connection with a tomb below, known by the name of Belpir, and adventurous Muhammadans make occasional excursions to visit it. Leaving the peak, the western side is perhaps the most extraordinary feature of the fort. A wall of basalt, thinly covered with soil and coarse grass, juts for some 300 or 400 yards from the base of the peak. Its top is fairly level, and its sides, some 200 to 300 feet high, appear to be sheer precipices presenting scarcely a crack or inequality. The wall is in no place more than perhaps thirty feet wide and is inaccessible from every side except the fort. As the western abutment was less steep than the rest of the wall, it was apparently thought advisable to cut off communication from that quarter by making a breach in the wall about 100 feet deep and some ninety feet wide, from the sides of which the extreme thinness of the basaltic slab can be well seen. Perhaps, on the other hand, the indenture was no more than a freak of some of the Padshahs who resorted to the fort, who, finding so peculiar a natural feature, considered it a profitable task to show the power of man over it in this very unmistakable manner. This view is in some degree supported by the fact that at the very brink of the gap on the fort or eastern side, there is a small rectangular mosque, a building intended for worship, over the door of which is a stone carved with an Arabic text from the Kuran. To the left-hand corner of the door, there is, curiously enough, a smaller stone with an inscription in what seem to be Devanagari characters. Wherever the precipice below the peak is a little less perpendicular than usual, or presents irregularities which might be taken advantage of by an escalading force, there are built walls with loopholes and bastions, which extend along a considerable portion of the east, north-east, and north sides of the fort. The height of the peak is 4741 feet above the sea level, whilst the caves and main portions of the fort are 4317 feet high. There is a trigonometrical base-mark just at the starting point of the basaltic wall, from which observations were taken a few years ago connecting this hill with the fort of Ankai-Tankai to the south-east, Ramsej and Anjaneri to the south and southwest, and the huge mass of Saler to the north.

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

7:30 AM Start descending Dhodap
We started descending Dhodap. The entrance of the fort has two stone carvings in Urdu or Farsi script. The descent was fast. We faced the sun even in the morning.

8:45 AM Back to Hatti
Within one hour and 15 minutes, we were back in Hatti village. After drinking water and changing clothes, we started for the next place.

9:30 AM Breakfast at Dhodambe
We had our breakfast in Dhodambe village.

10:00 AM Ancient Shankar temple
Immediately in front of the hotel, we saw an ancient temple. We saw the temple. It is a Shiva temple a few centuries old. This was a gem we unexpectedly stumbled upon.

11:00 AM Base of Kachna fort
We were at the base of fort Kachna. Somehow, we started climbing from difficult side. The road to it lay from the north, and from that road a bad pass to Gangthadi led to the fort. A wall of loose stones, with a small opening in the middle which could be filled in no time, ran across nearly the whole breadth of the pass, and could enable a handful of men to defend the pass. The only fortification on the hill-top was an indifferent wall and two small old doors. There was plenty of water and very good granaries and other rooms cut in the rock. There were seven of the Peshwa's militia in the fort. Kachna was one of the seventeen strong places that surrendered to the British after the fall of Trimbak in 1818.

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

From Trips - Ramsej Dhodap Kanchana Feb 09

12:30 AM Reached summit of Kachna fort
There were two rock patches. A rope was tied to me. Vikas and Avinav, Siddharth halped me climb both these patches. One of the patch was extremely difficult. However, Vikas's presence helped me climb it without much difficulty.

Any slip on this side would directly lead to death.

At the summit of the fort, there is a rock with some slope. We prepared lime juice and ate sweet lime to energize ourselves.

There are two tombs of unknown persons. Apart from these, there are some water tanks. Entrance is the only constructed entity on the fort. It is also in ruins.

1:00 PM Cave with multiple water tanks
There is a cave with multiple water tanks.

1:15 PM Started descending the fort
We started to descend the fort from the other side. All along, we followed one dry stream.

2:30 PM Reached the vehicle waiting for us
The descent was quick. Within one hour we were at the base of the fort. We had to walk to reach our vehicle.

5:00 PM Lunch at Sinnar near Nasik
We had our lunch near Sinnar near Nashik. The hotel was nice and very economical.

10:00 PM Reached Pune
At last, we were in Pune by 10:00 PM.

Forts in Nashik region do not have any green cover. Avoid to climb them during daytime. They can be climbed during daytime only during winter.

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