Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Few friends, some cash and high spirits!

It's vacation time. You are in a situation Garfield usually finds himself in -
"Too much time and too little to do!"

The whole week has been practically boring, with nothing interesting happening. It's Friday evening, you are almost dead from boredom and you have a weekend looming around the corner. You need something to bring you back to life! For me, a trek seemed just the right thing to do. First, I love trekking. And second, there's very little overhead in planning a trek.

Just a few friends, some cash and high spirits
(pun totally unintended) are all you need for a ensuring a day spent well. So late that evening, I sent messages to a few friends asking if any one is interested in going for a small, one-day trek. 3 replied in the positive. All set to go!

Our destination: Fort Koraigad near Lonavala

Following is my account of the activities that followed, but first, some info about the fort itself:

Fort Koraigad (the proper name) / Korigad / Koregad is situated around 20kms from Lonavala. From lonavala, you can get there by bikes, cars, or ST buses. It is known among trekkers for its view of the Lonavala valley which is quite beautiful, even breathtaking, especially in monsoons. It's situated right besides Aamby Valley (Not misspelt, they spell it that way). In fact the Aamby Valley management has installed big halogen lamps on all sides of the fort, directed towards it; it must be a grand sight after dark!

The journey begins:
Since this was our first time to the fort and we were unaware of the road and its condition, we chose public transport. We left for Lonavala by the 6:30 AM local from Shivajinagar station. By 8:00 AM we were in Lonavala. At the base of the fort is a small town called Peth Shahpur. One can catch an ST bus from Lonavala to Peth Shahpur. The last stop on the bus is Sahara Aamby Valley and Peth Shahpur I think is the one before that. The ST leaves the bus station around 9:15 AM. We enquired at the station enquiry counter, and were directed to the area where the bus would be standing on its arrival. Since we had about an hour before the scheduled departure time we decided to have breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Hotel Ramakrishna on the highway was a good place for breakfast. They even let me charge my camera battery! After breakfast, we headed back to the bus station by 9:10 and found the bus already standing. We got into the bus, and soon were on our way to Peth Shahpur.

The bus journey was quite scenic. It was very foggy for most part of the route, but at places where the fog had lifted we could see the valleys on both sides of the roads. We were below clouds, in clouds and above clouds, all at once. After about 30 minutes journey the conductor signalled to us that we had reached Peth Shahpur. We got off the bus, looked around for signs of the village. It turned out, Peth Shahpur consists of about 4 houses in all. The funny thing that I observed was that there was no sign of a hotel / tea stall, but there were 3 boards that seemed recently painted with "Chilled Wine and Beer" and "Hooka available" written across in big letters with arrows pointing in one direction and 5kms and 10kms marked on two of them, the third one already mounted right opposite the shop.

We could see the fort from there, and it seemed a not-difficult-at-all kind of a climb. We started off in the directions of the fort after asking the locals for basic directions. In a bout 10 minutes time, we had reached the base of the fort. The fort has stone steps all the way. One thing that I saw and in particular didn't like one bit, was that large construction work was going on right at the base of the fort, possibly for some posh Hotel or Club or other recreational centre. In a few months time, it will be a common sight to see Toyotas, Hondas, Mercs among many others parked right under the fort, and litter all over the place. (I hope not)

The steps are small ones, very easy to climb. In all there are around 550-600 steps. They seem many, but for a person who has climbed Parvati hill in Pune, this is way simpler! Halfway through is a small, empty cave with a tiny (Ganesha?) temple with a stone idol inside. We reached the top in around 45 minutes. That was easy!

The fort is quite flat and wide at the top. I suggested this could be turned into a golf course if not anything else! There's a big pond in the centre of the fort (which was almost dried up as rains hadn't begun by then). On one side is a temple of Koraidevi while on the other, we could see remains of what once must've been few houses and store rooms.

We walked to one extreme end of the fort, climbed onto the fortifications, and could see the valley on 3 sides. You get a bird's eye view of whole Aamby valley from here. We decided to rest there and had our lunch.
After that we spent quite some time there looking around and enjoying the breeze, saw the entire fort being covered with clouds rising from below us. That feeling was simple awesome! After what seemed an hour or so, we got up from there and walked to the other side of the fort, which seemed quite a distance.
The view from this side was pretty much the same, only mountain faces were different. We spotted the twin forts of Rajmachi from there, but couldn't spot other forts mostly because the clouds obscured most of the mountain tops. We started climbing down, and in about 30 minutes or so, were back at Peth Shahpur. This trek was quite simple. In fact, it didn't feel like a trek at all!

While we waited for an ST or a Sumo in the village, we met up with a least expected but most welcome friend -The King of good times! We sat there chatting, talking about other treks when the ST arrived at 3:15 PM. Realising that we were unaware of this, a local villager stopped the bus for us, and told us this is the bus back to Lonavala. We decided to get down at Bhushi dam and spend some time there. It rained eventually while we were at Bhushi, the one thing we had not experienced in the journey so far! After spending some time there we decided to walk back to Lonavala. After about 1:45 hours walk, we reached Lonavala, and the 6:20 PM local was already at the railway station, waiting for us (not really, it was 6:25 and luckily for us, the local was running late!). The journey back to Pune was an adventure in itself, but nevermind that! All in all, it was a day spent well!

All it took was a few friends, some cash and high spirits! Again, Pun totally unintended!