A long time pending dream fulfilled!
It all started when I got a week long vacation before the second term of my MBA course could start. I had been planning the awesome Rajgad – Torna 3 day trek for a quiet a long time and yet again my plans were foiled, mainly due to last minute problems popping up! Then I settled for a 2 day trek to Torna fort but even that managed to get cancelled due to some more problems landing up uninvited on my doorstep!
So it was decided that we would visit Bahiri Caves which are carved inside the steep and treacherous cliff of the Dhak fort. Not many people visit Dhak fort because they do not know about it and also because the Bahiri Caves are more famous due to the challenging climb it offers! But we had decided to climb to the top of the fort as well as visit the cave temple of Lord Bhairoba.
The twin peaks of Rajmachi!
Well, we started out, Jay, Salil and I, and of us Jay had done this trek and that too in the rainy season. Our plan was to set out from the base village of Sandshi and reach reasonable heights before we could be bombarded by the burning sunlight.
The Kalakrai Pinnacle & the Dhak fort adjacent to it A beautiful water body near Sandshi village
We met two very good dogs with whom we played for a while. One dog was particularly very untrusting and nervous while the other was very playful. When we offered the dog food to eat the bold on ate quickly while the nervous dog did this…
But never did he touch the food!!
We started out before time and made haste to find the route up the mountain.
But fate had different plans for us.
We took a wrong path initially when we came out of the village and lost our way in the jungle at the base of the fort. We kept coming on the same path after roaming about in the jungle. Thoroughly frustrated we made our way back to village to find some help. Luckily we found a villager who was hurrying after his cattle. He pointed out the way and we soon came back on track. But the sun had risen up and was smugly grinning at us. What we had tried to avoid had happened! Now we would have to climb up in the sun. But still, undeterred and more determined than before we started climbing.
Progress was rapid as the air around us was still cool and we reached a considerable height before we stopped for a drink and an orange. We set out after 10 mins and set the pace for the next half an hour till we reached a plateau and it was here that we broke the golden rule of trekking!
You never stop more than 15 mins when you take a break and take a break if only necessary!!
Bewitched and mesmerized by the cool breeze and the greenery on the plateau we stopped. We wasted 1 hour of our time on this beautiful plateau and had long discussions on topics that ranged from women to marijuana to gadgets to women…. At the end of 1 hour when we finally got up I felt that rather than wasting our time we invested the time! (Right, Salil? )
All this time while we were climbing, the pinnacle and the Dhak fort was hidden from us by the plateau. But once we started out again after our ‘rest’, we soon came to a plateau with butterflies and that is when we saw how far the fort was really!
The Striped Tiger Butterfly The Blue Tiger Butterfly
The view of Dhak fort & Kalakrai Pinnacle from the plateau
The way to the ‘valley’ or ‘Ghal’ between the Kalakrai Pinnacle and Dhak fort involved traversing the mountain and approaching the pinnacle from the side opposite to where we were standing right now. Realising the importance of reaching the pinnacle as far as possible we set out fast and covered a lot of ground. A lot of arrows which marked the way helped us find the way.
Soon we came to this signpost.
Very close to this signpost is a ‘Shrine’.
The arrow on the shrine shows the way!
The villagers believe that offering leaves here and praying ensures a safe passage to the Lord Bahiri cave and back! We obliged and offered a few leaves and prayed before finally climbing till the base of the pinnacle.
From here two ways branch out. One leads the way in the form of a rocky cliff which leads to the Dhak fort top. And the other descends between the pinnacle and the mountain which leads to the famous Bahiri caves!
The V shaped gully between Kalakrai Pinnacle and Dhak Fort!
We made a mental note to come back this way so that we could also visit Dhak fort on the same day and set out for Bahiri Caves. But before I could start my descent into the ‘Ghal’, as I tried to get a grip on the rock but moved my hand backwards as if I had burnt it! Why? Just look what I was going to catch for a hold on the rock!
A stitch in time saves a life of mine!
As we proceeded to descend the gully, the drop straight down stared us in eyes! It was really thrilling!
Kalakrai Pinnacle and the gully that we descended! The parapet that leads to the cliff
We reached the plateau (if you could call it that, it was more of a parapet actually!) that led to the cilff that needed to be negotiated and then the carved out steps that formed the best part of this trek!
I asked Jay, “Abbe Yaar, ye kya hai? straight flat road to hai, why are people in such an awe about this place?”.
“Just wait and watch”, was his reply!
And I waited and, oh boy, did I watch!
As one proceeds along the parapet, you come to a cliff….along which you have to walk…facing or literally leaning against the cliff and carefully finding your foot and hand holds. At times you can use the odd pit-ons that have been hammered into the rock by some ‘visionary’ climbers, but most of the times its just lean-against-the-rock and walk.
You walk till the horizontal movement stops and suddenly you get carved out stairs in the cliff.These stairs lead you to another horizontal narrow parapet which leads you to a ladder.
One slip and you get a free ticket – all expenses paid trip- to heaven or hell, wherever you belong!
Here are some pictures that will show you how one has to tackle the cliff.
This is the initial climb. You can see steps which lead to a shortcut descent into Sandshi village. The next photo shows the vertical climb which you take to reach the horizontal parapet with the rope that leads to a unique ladder (Bichki) which has been fixed in the rock. This ladder leads you finally into the cave! Special thanks to Mr. Suniel Patil for the last picture. It was taken at a later date and he had gone with another group. But I liked the pic and the drop that can be seen!
I was not able to get more detailed pictures as there were a lot of people climbing and creating a traffic jam in such a place is not advisable
About the bichki. The Bichki is not a ladder per se. It is but the trunk of mid-sized tree with its branches chopped off. Only the stumps of the branches are kept and these form the rungs of the ladder. And they never break! Never! There are 2 bichkis in the crack which one has to climb to reach the climb and they have been there for the past several years. Apart from that ropes are hanging which can be used to pull your body upwards and at times to just hang on!
Now, about the incident that I have been waiting to write. Amongst us three, I was taking photographs and was left behind while the other two were climbing up. When the others were climbing there was one villager in the cave who was giving instructions and also the occasional helping hand to pull a person into the cave.
But when my chance came , suddenly I was alone. The man went inside the cave.
But still I started climbing. At one point when I tried to pull myself up using the ladder, the ladder literally came out of the crack. My heart was in my mouth! Just imagine.
A drop of 2500ft + behind your back with no support and all you can hang on to is a ladder which too is coming out of the crack that it has been fit into!
In that brief, micro-second my brain had worked out all possible events that could unfold had the ladder had come loose completely. And it also had worked out how I could prevent that from happening. Just imagine the amazing speed that the Human brain works at! Truly a natural wonder!
I just applied my weight towards the cliff face and the ladder fit into the crack again and I climbed up and into the cave.
The cave was dirty. No comments about that.
We clicked some photographs from the cave and admired the sheer drop to death from the cave’s edge.
The sky and the cloud streaks! From L2R; Manjar Sumba and the Twin peaks of Rajmachi
Nagphani (a.k.a Duke’s Nose) seen at 12x zoom The Kalakrai Pinnacle and the rocket
The base village: Sandshi
While climbing we had noticed some rock cut steps which led down the cliff. A localite informed us that this was a short cut to Sandshi and proceeded down that way. We watched his progress from the cave and noted the path.
When we started our descent we followed these steps and soon made our way through the trash at that littered the cliff base. We Indians know how to pray to our gods but we do not know how to keep our land clean!
The steps led to a very steep descent littered with litter and loose rocks. But soon (within 20 mins) we reached a temple which the villager had told us.
The temple, The view of the Cliff from where we descended and the skull like wooden formation in the tree trunk fallen behind the temple in the first picture
The three rocks that mark the road to be followed from the temple
It is now that our real adventure would start. We followed the road seen in the picture above. It was a nice road and our progress was fast. However, we came to a clearing where there were to roads leading to different directions and surprisingly both had arrows as markers!
So after much debate we took the one straight ahead and moved fast.
But we got lost.
We searched and searched and searched some more.But we kept moving on paths that came under our feet.
We also tried to descend using the flow of water but the rock there was slippery and the fall was legendary.
At last we followed a path and once again met with a dead end. We just sat there for a moment. It was nearly 1630 hrs. We were in the forest. We had little water. We had one or two oranges to eat. We did not have any sleeping material. Nor any tent to provide shelter. We just rested, ate an orange,drank some water with Electral.
We knew if we could not find the way within the hour we would have to stay in the forest. Torches we had, but would not help in finding the way through the dense forest.
So we got up, and for one final try followed a path which ended at a tree stump. I just went beyond that tree stump and there was still no sign of the path. But I went a few steps ahead and lo and behold, there was a nice regularly used path that descended!
We felt so happy that all our tiredness disappeared and with renewed energy we set out. Soon we came to our normal path. Within 20 mins we were on the plateau we had seen in the morning and saw some buffalos heading home! We felt so happy.
We took a last break where I took some snaps of the setting sun before we went to the village. In the village we drank an awesome imitation of Mirinda called Gina.
Friendship! The setting sun!
Maybe it tasted awesome because we were so damn thirsty but I wanted to buy one more bottle! But the ST bus came (which was the last bus of the day!) and we caught it and left for Karjat!
From Karjat we caught the train and reached home!
So that was the end of one more fruitful and enriching trek in my beloved Sahyadris!
The Dhak fort with Bahiri Caves in its cliff-side and the Kalakrai pinnacle!
This work by Pranjal A. Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License