A land of rich culture, heritage and vast history, Maharashtra has a wide array of things to offer to anyone and everyone. Be it the bustling cities, the quaint coastline, the lush countryside or the dense forests – every inch of it has a special place in making what Maharashtra is today. It goes without saying that every interest finds a place to be in the state which is aptly called The Great Country.
Speaking of a varied geographic landscape, Maharashtra is guarded by a rugged terrain of mountain ranges most of them adorned by forts at their peaks. Each fort has a story to it and each mountain claims a special place in the political history of the state.
It is only in this state that a culture exists where people say “I went to so-n-so fort” and people know you had gone trekking. The list of mountain peaks worth trekking is enormous and it would take ages to jot them down, but for those who really wish to get a taste of Maharashtra’s tough terrain, following are the three ‘must-scale’ peaks –
Standing over 5000 feet tall, Kalsubai, is the highest peak in Deccan region. Often called the Everest of Maharashtra, Kalsubai’s trekking route has always lured many a trekker to her peak.
Unlike most peaks in the state, this one does not have a fort on the summit. Instead, a temple built in the honour of the local deity ‘Kalsubai’ decorates the place.
Legend goes that a ‘koli’ girl called Kalsu once came to work at a local household at the foothills of the mountain. Things were going good till one day she finished her regular chores and went to the peak. She is believed to have lived there till her death. The place where she last washed her pots is now called Thale Mel and the place where she last cleared the litter is now called Kaldara.
The mountain was renamed after her and a shrine was built in her honour. To this day, the locals flock the temple each Tuesday to pay their respects.
It’s located in Ahmednagar District and the closest railway station is Igatpuri. Igatpuri lies between Mumbai and Pune and once you are there, you can take a bus or a local rickshaw to its base village named Bari.
The whole trek inclusive of the travel can be completed in 1 day if one is traveling from Mumbai or Pune. The route is not a tough route and the climb lasts from about two and a half hours to 3 hours, depending on the pace of the trekker. One cannot camp at the summit at night as there is no cave or fort or much space to do so. There is a water cistern up there, but unfortunately the water is not potable so it would be advisable to carry enough water.
Once up there, the view from the top is breathtaking. It feels a whole lot different being at the highest point in the state. The summit offers a brilliant panorama and can be a photographer’s delight. The famous Bhandardara Lake is visible from the peak and standing tall by the lake, one can also see Ratangad and Harishchandragad that happen to be the tallest peaks after Kalsubai.
Ratangad, which translates to Jewel Fort in Marathi, stands over 4000 feet tall and is among the highest peaks in Maharashtra after Kalsubai. It overlooks the Bhandardara Lake and along with Kalsubai and Harihareshwar peaks, forms a natural fortress guarding the lake.
Located in Ratanwadi, the mountain peak houses a four hundred year old fort and a natural orifice at the top. A thousand year old Amruteshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva is one of the main attractions in the vicinity. It has been built in the Hemadpanti style, an architectural style dating back to times that of almost a thousand years ago.
The freshwater tank built outside the temple happens to be among the oldest artificial rainwater harvesting tanks built in India.
It goes without saying that a trip to Ratangad can be enriching in many ways. Be it for the adrenalin rush or the archaeological importance or the historical importance or the geological importance, Ratangad can have you awestruck in almost every way!
Ratangad, like Kalsubai is located in Ahmednagar District and the closest railhead is Igatpuri Junction. One has to get down at Igatpuri Junction n go to Shendi Village. There are local share-jeeps available till about 5 in the evening, after which transportation is very scarce.
From Shendi Village one has to head to Ratanwadi, which happens to be the base village of Ratangad. It is not a difficult terrain to the top, but there are areas where the route gets a little tricky. There are two routes to the peak and it takes about 3 hours for a regular trekker to reach the summit. Unlike Kalsubai, this peak has a fort of historical importance at the top. One can stay the night at the fort or in the manmade cave. The cave can house about fifty people so even big groups can camp the night up there.
Apart from the majestically constructed cave, if one walks further ahead, they can see the ‘Nedhe’ which translates to the eye of the needle in Marathi. It’s a natural orifice made due to the consistent wind erosion and is a good subject to study.
Water cisterns are available at the top, but it would be preferable to carry water for safety purposes.
From the peak, one can have a clear aerial view of Bhandardara Lake, Kalsubai Peak and Harishchandragad along with the other peaks that look really small in comparison to what one will be standing on. The uninterrupted view, beautiful landscape and a great deal of historic elements together makes you want to take up trekking as a regular activity. But one can stop worrying about that, for Maharashtra has a zillion mountain peaks and each comes with its own history.
Harishchandragad is among the highest peaks in Maharashtra and is located in the same range as Kalsubai and Ratangad. It holds a high historic value owing to its mention in the Puranas, and most recently, due to the discovery of the remains of the microlithic man. The caves were cut out in the 11th century and the walls are lush with carvings of Lord Vishnu. A fascinating fact is that carvings of Lord Vishnu are from the 11thcentury and those of Lord Shiva in Kedareshwar temple are from the 14th century.
An archaeologist’s delight, there is many a spot around this peak that is worth a visit.
The architecture of Harishchandreshwar Temple, Kedareshwar Temple and many more are breathtaking to say the least. It is almost unbelievable that construction was carried out on a peak so high with minimal technology. What is more thought worthy is the fact that the reward for constructing the temple up there wouldn’t have been very huge. Thousands of people do not flock the temple daily; so it was just sheer urge to leave some remnant up there that steered the construction workers to work so hard on it.
Harishchandragad like the other two highest peaks in the league is located in Ahmednagar district too.
It’s situated near Malshej Ghat and the nearest railhead is Igatpuri Junction. One will have to take local transportation from the train station to Khireshwar which happens to be the base village. Once in Khireshwar, it takes about three and a half hours for a regular trekker to reach the summit. This trek tests the trekker physically, but also provides relief in the form of a view of a great landscape and a sense of achievement once on the top.
There are water cisterns at the top and the water used to be potable till few years ago. Unfortunately in the recent years, with more inflow of trekkers, littering has led to the water not being potable. It would hence be safer to carry water. Once on the summit, there are a lot of things to explore. One will feel like Indiana Jones on a quest for there are many caves, ancient temples, a shrine built inside the water cistern and much more.
There were four pillars supporting the shrine and three of them have perished over the years. Legend goes that when the fourth pillar supporting the shrine crumbles, the world will come to an end.
For trekkers who would want to stay the night on the summit, they can do so, for the caves can be occupied for shelter.
With amazing mythology and an intriguing history associated with it, one surely cannot risk missing out on an experience of this scale.