On one fine day email conversation started amongst us like this.
Shrikant: What is the plan of abhijit,Shankar & aNNa. Any idea pl.
Abhijit: Anna is working on it. :-) 23-24 weekEnd. Hint: be prepared for Satara trip...
Shrikant : Gr 8!
Mandar: See what anna said..“We might go for 5-6 forts within 2 days in Satara region.” Now ur “Gr 8!” shud bcome very Gr8! ?
Abhijit: say Gre 6. or should we add 2 more forts in list
Mandar: What an idea! Anna, plan it ‘8’ to make it Gr8!!
That's it and we were all ready for something which we have not done before. And nobody in our cognizance. 8 forts in 2 days. Target was demanding and we were determined. Rain was distant dream even in month of August and sun was just blazing earth. But it was not enough to prevent us from doing what we thought of. We decided to hoist pride of Maratha’s, the saffron flag, on each fort we complete.
After thinking over the choice of forts, we decided to take on the twin forts Chandan Vandan, Vairatgad, Pandavgad, Sadashivgad, Vasantgad, Sajjangad and Ajinkyatara. We were very eager to go for Nandgiri i.e. Kalyangad but due to farther distance from Pune-Bangalore NH4 highway we had to settle for Sadashivgad which is in Karad.
We were ready with all maps and books to help us in finding route and base villages. On Friday night at 10 we 6 friends (Rohit is the only name missing in above conversation) left from Pune in a car and with a bike. Shekhar aka Anna was with his Maruti 800 and Shankar with Discover. The name of his bike itself suggests our motto. We reached Kikli near Bhuinj in Satara approximately at midnight. The base village of Chandan-Vandan, Belmachi is not very far from here. It was a clean and neat village with concrete roads, so had a walk in the midnight. Rather than waiting for sleep we were anxiously waiting for dawn to arrive to launch our mission.
Early morning we started for Belmachi. All the dogs we barking like hell at us. We started our climb at five O’clock in the morning. Sun was yet to get up. We lost our way in dark. The forts were visible in moonlight and we kept climbing upwards. Finally we reached at the junction between two forts. First we decided to go for Chandan on left. Though we had covered most of the climb, the entry to fort was on the other side. We had to traverse all the way to other end of the fort. There we raised the first flag of our mission on Shiva temple. The nature around came to live with the resonating sound of slogan “Shivaji Maharaj ki Jay”.
We felt like we will run out of time it we take lot of time in finding the right place and tying the flagpole firmly to that support. But then we can not just hurry up the things we respect. After Chandan we immediately walked back towards Vandan. The door was almost intact. A dargah and one temple were there on the fort. After starting back to Belmachi, we realized that we had quite an easier route to Chandan and Vandan than we tried while climbing up. By 10 am we were in Belmachi. Villagers appreciated our efforts of completing both forts so quickly and putting flag over the temple.
We were not in mood to rest. We drove back to Pachwad city on NH4 highway. Vairatgad was visible and it was 11 O’clock in the watch. We had sumptuous breakfast Pachwad and reached Kapsewadi village near Vairatgad via another village Sartale. We started for Vairatgad at 11.30 and reached the top in 1 hour. It was a tiring 80-85 degrees up climb. Scorching heat was taking toll. We had big GluconD packet with us to rely on. After hoisting flag on Vairatgad, we got our water bottles filled with ice cold water from water tank in the rock of the fort.
It was just 2 when we were back to Kapsewadi and we thought of changing our plan a bit. Instead of going for Ajinkyatara we decided to trek Pandavgad which was quite bigger and time consuming. We had 5 hours of daylight with us. Instead of wasting time at some hotel for lunch we had dry snacks and headed for Wai, 12 km from Pachwad. From Menawali, a road on left goes towards base of Pandavgad. There is another route from Mandhardev but it goes through dense jungle.
We started our trek for Pandavgad at 3.15 pm. Not sure of the route, we kept asking every villager we came across. One uncle told us that it will take 6 pm just to reach the fort. ShekharAnna promised him that we will be back by 6 pm. And we have never dumped Anna. After a moderate climb for an hour we reach a hamlet of koli people. Pandavgad was straight up there but there were many false roads diverging in forests. A shepherd helped us in finding the right way towards the top. An old flag was fighting with wind on the bastion. After reaching the top we went to the same place and placed new flag on the poll. A spectacular view of Dhom dam, Matheran table land was holding us back from getting down. Sun was setting down fast and light was getting worsen due to clouds. At 5 in the evening we started our journey back to Menawali. In no time, i.e. in one hour we reached the place where we met the uncle first. In menawali we visited Krishna ghat. It was the most beautiful ghat I have visited ever. It is the same place where some shots from movie ‘Swades’ were filmed.
We left for Karad, my hometown, at 7.30 pm. We all were hungry but quite pleased with our performance. All four forts we trekked, none of us had visited earlier, at least by the routes we hiked. On the way to Karad, we had dinner at Assal Satari hotel. Though it was not all that great, it was certainly good for crying stomach. We reached my home in Karad city at 11 in night. All things were set for us. In no time we went to sleep.
Next day morning, we wanted not to spend time on breakfast. So carried the breakfast with us and left for Sadashivgad. Sadashivgad is nearly 7 km away from Karad city. The steps to the fort are built from collective contribution from the donors and villagers. The Shiva temple and a well on the top are the only structures on the fort. Spellbinding view of Karad situated on banks of Krishna and Koyna can be seen from the fort. It definitely took more time than we anticipated on this fort. We were back to base at 8.00 am.
Vasantgad is close to Talbid village. Talbid has immense importance in Maratha Empire. It is birthplace of Senapati HambirRao Mohite, who was behind Shivaji maharaj and Sambhaji Maharaj like Rock of Gibraltar in tough times. With target of coming back by 11 we started for Vasantgad at 9.30 am. It was a simple climb and we managed to reach the top quickly. We found a bastion to place the flag. We spent almost an hour there, thanks to Anna’s heroics of climbing the 25 ft high bastion.
We visited memorial of Senapati Mohite in Talbid and started our journey to next fort in the line, Sajjangad. Sajjangad, known as spiritual capital of Maharashtra by then, is blessed with intact walls, doors and beautiful temples. The whole atmosphere is serene and enlivened with spiritual chants. We spend for some peaceful time in retrospection. We were on seventh fort and only Ajinkyatara was left.
At Satara, we bought special Kandi Pedhe and we started for Ajinkyatara. We were relaxed as we had enough time in our hand and we were at the base of Ajinkyatara. But things were not going to be that easy. Our car started giving some sound on steeper slopes. So we decided to take it to doctor first. Maruti service station was available at 200 m. And doctor diagnosed that one of the cylinder is not firing at all. That was heartbreak for us. But it could not throw sand in our gears. Thankfully he said that car will go to Pune but we will not be able to raise the speed beyond 60 km/hr. All of us were stunned. Shadows of evening were in plain sight on Ajinkyatara. We decided to complete the campaign whatever it takes. We hoisted the eighth flag at the main door of Ajinkyatara and roared the famous slogan for the last time on our trek. We shot a brief concluding video about our mission.
After having lunch and dinner at 6.30 at a dhaba we started our return journey to Pune. The slower car came as blessings for our tired body. Shankar and Shrikant were riding the wind. We felt like victorious warriors returning home. Things will come and go but we will cherish this achievement for our lifetime.
An article by one of our trekmate Shekhar is published in E-Sakal marathi daily. Here is the link to it.