Extreme escapades: 900 kilometers, 10 forts, 2 days

I love excel sheets. I use them all the time on my job, but I also use them to plan. Plan for what you ask? Everything. Plan my holidays, create checklists, itineraries. Every pocket of free time on a weekday is spent pressing ‘Alt+Tab’ to my weekend.

One Wednesday afternoon, my phone vibrated. It was Khushal, one of the people I trek with regularly. “Are you free this weekend?” he asked. I immediately responded, “Yes! Where do you want to go?” He shared a list of forts, all in Satara district, Maharashtra. The region of Satara is rich in history, having history that goes back to 200 BC. In fact, legend has it that the Pandavas stayed in Wai, which is near the famous hill station of Mahabaleshwar. Satara was also home to the Maratha Kingdom, and naturally, is filled with many hill forts. From the long list, we chose to do 9 forts. It seemed like a daunting task – most of these forts were over 350 kilometers away from Mumbai. We planned our route, checking to optimize for time and distance. By Thursday, the plan was set and all that was left was to actually get out and see some forts!

It was 10 p.m. when we left the city, riding on Khushal’s bike. The plan was to get to Pune by 1 a.m., stay at our friend’s house for a few hours, and then leave early morning for Satara. At 5.30 a.m., we reluctantly got out of bed, quickly freshened up, and left. Although it was March, it was super windy. My fingers were numb in a matter of minutes. In an hour, we made a pit stop to get some piping hot masala chai and Parle G in us. Pretty much felt like I was transported to heaven! It was a great morning, and we were riding on some very smooth roads. Soon, crossed Satara, Karad, and at long last we were at Morgiri village, the base to our first fort of the day – Gunvantgad.The way was very straightforward, and we were on the fort within 20 minutes.

I was very excited for the next fort on the agenda! Dategad, also known as Sundargad, is a small fort, but filled with many architectural marvels. A dirt road leads very close to the fort, leaving only a 10 minute walk to reach atop. Once atop, we quickly got about exploring everything!

The underground water reservoir was a cool and inviting place to sit and rest for a bit. So we unpacked some of our snacks, and ate them happily in the shade.

As we stepped out from Dategad, the sun had started shining quite brightly. We made a pitstop to drink some delicious, fresh sugarcane juice. The region of Satara and Karad are laden with sugarcane farms, and they are quite a sight to behold! Next up, we reached the village of Talbeed, and after parking the bike under a tree, made our way up in the heat to Vasantgad.

The climb to reach Vasantgad was very direct, open and steep. We took a couple of breaks, worn out by the sun, but finally reached in 30 minutes. Vasantgad is a huge fort, and exploring every corner of it took us a while. I even spotted a snake amidst some ruins!

After a pretty quick descent, we decided to visit an ancient stepwell in the main town of Karad, called ‘Naktya Ravlaychi Vihir’. We found the well after riding through the narrow lanes of Karad, only to see that the gates to enter it were shut. We had to make do with seeing it through the gate.

Before reaching our last stop for the day, we needed more hydration. And as you may have guessed it, the choice of drink was sugarcane juice yet again. Trust me when I say it, the region has pretty much the best sugarcane juice I have ever had.

Once we were refreshed, it was on the bike and off to the village named Macchindragad, which was at the base of the fort of Macchindragad! This fort has a route laid out with cemented stairs, and a railing all through. The climb was very easy and quick. In fact, we saw some policemen in training using the trail for running practice! As we reached the top, dusk had started to set in.

The weather became extremely pleasant, and a gentle breeze was blowing through the surroundings. We visited the temple of Lord Macchindranath, which housed some old cannons. The temple also had a tap with potable water, and we thankfully refilled our now empty bottles. We then sat and watched the sun set from a beautiful vantage point.

Last stop for the day was the village of Oglewadi. But before we reached the village, we wanted to eat something! So we stopped at a nice roadside dhaba, and ordered some plain old dal-chawal. We now were starting to feel sleepy, but the day was not over for us as yet. Riding through the village roads in the dark, we finally reached Oglewadi by 7.30 p.m.

We quickly found the starting point of our last fort for the day – Sadashivgad. The bike was parked, bags hoisted on our back, and as we started climbing up the steps to the fort, a group of villagers stopped us. They had rarely seen trekkers come there to stay at night, and warned us that we would be alone on the top. That did not deter us, as the fort was not perched very high, and the entire place was well-lit. So we took their contact number, and began our hike at night. Climbing up the innumerable steps of the fort in the dark, I started wondering when we would reach the top. I even proposed that we sleep midway, as I was too sleepy to carry on. But, we kept moving along, and finally, reached the top! Our only company was a cow, and a couple of sleeping dogs. The fort temple was very swanky, clean, and even had a digital clock. To top it all, there were concrete toilets about 200 meters from the temple. We had a very comfortable night’s sleep at the temple.

We were woken up early in the morning with the tolling of the temple bells. The villagers had a Sunday tradition of meeting at the temple, and making a huge batch of tea, and having it together with biscuits. We quickly freshened up, and joined them. Sipping tea, while watching the sun rise with the friendly villagers was a great start to the day!

Having completed Sadashivgad, we completed the forts near Karad. Now we had to move towards Satara, and cover the forts around there. First stop was the fort of Bhushangad. We made our way through beautiful, lush green fields and small ponds and lakes.

We were at the top of Bhushangad in a short while. The fort was small, but beautiful. We spoke to the priest in the temple for a bit, and quickly made out way down.

After a rather long ride, we were at the base of the fort next on our agenda - Mahimangad. After being shown the start of the trail by a helpful villager, we set off to hike up the top. Mahimangad took my breath away. It was vast, with spectacular views of the mountains around. Mahimangad had a temple as well as a dargah on top.

We were quite hungry after coming back on the road from Mahimangad, so we took a quick break for some snacks, and continued. The next fort was a quite far away, and we had to ride through narrow village roads. It had started getting hot, but we plowed on, excited about the next stop – Varugad.

There is a longer trail to reach Varugad from the town of Phaltan, but because of the newly constructed roads, you could drive up to the base of the fort. The base has a village, which was part of the fort historically, a beautiful stepwell, and a large, ancient temple. The top of the fort was a hop, skip and jump away. We sat under a tree on the top of the fort, and ate some more snacks to keep us going.

We were now headed to Phaltan, and then ride beyond it to head to a fort named Santoshgad. The fort was located near a village named Tathawade. The ride from Phaltan to Tathawade was through the winding mountain roads, and once we were off those serpentine turns, we stopped to have some sugarcane juice. The vendor gave us a glass of juice on the house, because we enjoyed it so much!

We quickly reached Tathawade from here, and began out hike to Santoshgad. Santoshgad is filled with a lot of remains, and also has an ashram. We explored the entire fort, and found some interesting remnants like a water reservoir with a small temple beside it.

We were now running out of time, as it was already early evening. We quickly rode to the final trek of the day – the beautiful fort of Vardhangad. When we reached the village of Vardhangad, it was bustling with activity. Youngsters were decorating the village with vermilion streamers. It was the birth anniversary of Shivaji Maharaj the next day, so the enthusiasm was high.

Vardhangad, like most of the forts in the area also has a straightforward trail with steps. But the fort is quite special – it is one of the few forts on which Shivaji Maharaj actually stayed. The fort has a vast top, with most of the fortification walls still intact, and a beautiful temple of Goddess Vardhani. We quickly saw the fort, and nearly ran back down to start for Mumbai before sunset.

The ride back home was mostly in darkness, under the streetlights. We made a pitstop directly at Lonavla for some tea and light food, and were back in the city by midnight!

What a rollercoaster of a weekend it was!

Note: All photos were taken by Khushal Sathawane and myself.


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