Challenges and Rewards of the Harishchandragad Trek

This guest post was written for the IndiaPalette by Pavan Kulkarni, the man behind the TREK FREAK website. He is an engineer during the day and blogger in the night. An explorer by passion, he believes that many places in Maharashtra are untapped and are waiting to be revealed. He aims to capture those destinations in his blogs and giving it to you.

Famous Spot on Harishchandragad – Konkan Kada

One of the best treks to do in Maharashtra is the Harishchandragad trek. The Harishchandragad fort marks one of the highest peaks in the Western Ghats and is located in Harishchandragad Kalsubai Wildlife Sanctuary.

Although this sanctuary houses some amazing treks like Ratangad, Kaladgad and Sandhan Valley, the Harishchandragad trek offers a truly unforgettable experience and is a must for every trek lover.

Located in the Malshej ghat region in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, the Harishchandragad fort rises 4671 feet above sea level. Although the Harishchandragad  trek is known as fairly difficult one, I think there is nothing one can’t handle on the two most popular routes to this fort. The Nalichi vaat route, however, is very tough as it includes rock climbing. So, if you are planning to trek via this route it is advisable to have an experienced trekker with you.

Many of the trekking groups from Pune and Mumbai organize treks to Harishchandragad that include various adventure activities like rappelling, rock climbing and valley crossing. So, here I’ve given some more reasons for you, the adventure enthusiasts, to go for the Harishchandragad trek.

Directions

Harishchandragad can be trekked by three routes: via Pachnai village, Khireshwar village and Nalichi vaat (in order of increasing difficulty).

When it comes to how to reach the following base villages, I personally like to go on my bike. If you are lucky enough and live in Pune, Nashik or Mumbai, I strongly recommend you take your bike so that you can experience the scenic nature while you drive.

For ones using public transport, here is how you can reach Harishchandragad:

  1. To reach Pachnai: From Pune, the route goes like this: Pune – Nashik Phata – Narayangaon – Junnar – Otur – Kotul – Vihir – Pachnai. The buses from Nashik Phata to Alephata are very frequent. You will have to change the bus from Alephata to Rajur and then hire a private vehicle to reach Pachnai. For people who  come  from Mumbai, the route looks something like this: Mumbai – Igatpuri – Ghoti – Bari – Rajur – Pachnai.
  2. To reach Khireshwar: From Mumbai, reach Kalyan, head on towards Malshej Ghat on NH222. After the ghat ends, you’ll find a road  leading to Khireshwar village. If you are coming from Pune, your route will look like this: Pune – Alephata – Khubi Phata – Khireshwar.
  3. To reach Nalichi vaat: From Mumbai, the route goes like this: Mumbai – Kalyan – Savarne – Belpada. You will get buses from Alephata – just ask the conductor to let you know where to get off. It comes just before Malshej Ghat. The route from Pune looks like this: Pune – Alephata – Savarne – Belpada. You will have to walk for an hour from Savarne to reach Belpada.

 The Harishchandragad trek – my travelogue 

Deciding on the route to Harishchandragad

When I was doing research regarding the difficulty of this trek, the toughest route to reach the top is Nalichi vaat, then Khireshwar and Pachnai route is the easiest. I was not up to any adventure, and my aim for doing the Harishchandragad trek was crystal clear – to see the Kedareshwar cave with its mythical columns. So I chose the Pachnai route.

I will tell you the myth of the cave in further part of this trek. Because reading is fun when you have some surprise at the end, right?

So, me and my friends Vishwajeet and Anil decided to do this trek in winter, in the month of December. Since all of us love a good ride, we decided to ride till Pachnai on our bikes. Although it took us about five hours to reach our destination while driving almost continuously over 160 km, we were extremely excited about this two days plan.

The route we followed was Pune – Alephata – Otur – Kotul – Pachnai. We left in the evening of December 27th at around five in the evening. Boy oh boy, only if we knew the adventure that was waiting for us on the way.

It was very easy to drive till Alephata  – after all, it is a national highway. After that, the road starts getting worse and worse. We had no idea that the road would get so bad. We were simply driving the endless road navigating in Google Maps and hoping to reach the village as early as possible.

Reaching Pachnai

We took our first break at Otur after driving for three and a half hours. The navigator was showing still two and a half hour drive. After having a cup of tea, we started again towards our next milestone, which was Kotul.

The route encompasses lots of ghats, which can be rather risky to drive through, so please, if you decide t travel by bikes, go in a group of at least five. We had a dinner on the way in a dhaba which was in between a ghat.

We drove and drove, and the size of the villages we passed grew smaller and smaller. Finally, we reached the entrance of the Harishchandragad wildlife sanctuary. We gave a sigh of relief and went through the gate.

After driving inside, we realized that the road had become even more threatening than before. There was no sign of any human life, no village, no street lights. All we had was a road in a poor condition that passed through a very deep and dark forest with wild animals roaming freely inside. If at all our luck was bad that day and any one of our bikes would have broken down, we would surely be dead meat.

Stumbling upon our Hero

We were driving continuously in dark with no sign board or mobile network service hoping to reach a village and learn exactly where we are. The climate grew colder with every kilometer we passed. Finally, after driving for two hours in the forest, we reached Pachnai at two in mid-night.

The next question for us was, how do we find Bhaskar, the guide we were supposed to meet? Everyone in the village was asleep and we couldn’t just knock any random door guessing that it would be of Bhaskar’s house. So we decided to sleep inside a ST bus standing nearby till sunrise. Just then, like gods, two men drove on a bike near us, and what were the odds, one of them was Bhaskar!

While I was doing research about the Harishchandragad trek, I learned that lot of people suggested to have a trek guide. Bhaskar is one of residents of Pachnai village, initially I did not trust the man, but I ensure you, he is a very kind and humble man. He took us to his home and gave us a place to sleep. He also gave us good sheets and made some hot tea for us to survive the cold. After the trek, I took his number and if I ever go to Harishchandragad, I will be hiring Bhaskar only as my guide.

We decided to start ascending the peak early morning at six and dozed off in no time. With no surprise, we woke up at seven in morning and I was the first one to wake. I soon woke up the other two sleepy heads and we got ready in a few minutes. We started the trek at eight in the morning.

Harishchandragad trek - a trek to remember

Morning in Pachnai

There is a sign board at the start of the trek saying “Harishchandragad paivaat” which means route towards Harishchandragad. The route is quite clear wide and not too tricky to follow. There are hand railings on the way near the boulders and steps to climb.

on teh Harishchandragad trek

Beginning of the Trek

After walking for thirty minutes, you will come across a path carved in the mountain at its edge. So when you pass this 15 minutes path, there is a valley on one side and carved mountain on the other side.

Spots to visit on Harishchandragad

Basically, there are four main points to visit on Harishchandragad:

Konkan Kada (Konkan Cliff)

Harishchandreshwar Temple

Kedareshwar Cave

Sapthatirtha Pushkarni

Konkan Kada

Generally speaking, before visiting Konkan Kada people prefer to tick off other sights on this route. But our friend Bhaskar suggested us to visit Konkan Kada first as in  the early morning the from the cliff is simply breathtaking. So we took his suggestions and started walking towards the cliff.

Harishchandragad trek - breathtaking view

Konkan Kada

Konkan Kada

We reached Konkan Kada at 9:30 and were amazed to see this astounding creation of nature. It’s named Konkan Kada because it faces towards the west and looks towards Konkan. While we were gazing down the cliff (although there were only clouds), we noticed that we saw a circular rainbow amongst those clouds.

Bhaskar told us about one more interesting phenomenon concerning this spot – when the sky is overcast, the overhanging shape of the cliff suck in the clouds and throw them up. I wish we could see that in reality, but unfortunately, we were short of clouds!

We rested at the end of the cliff for almost an hour; we clicked many pictures and had some snacks. Finally, we realized that the sun was getting over our head, so we decided to move to the top of the peak.

Reaching the top of Harishchandragad

The top of the peak is again about an hour trek from Konkan Kada. We reached the top at 11:15 because we walked continuously without taking any break.

Harishchandragad trek - stunning view

Overview of the Top

At the top of the peak, you’ll find Sapthagiri Pushkarni, Harishchandreshwar temple and Kedareshwar cave. We first visited the Pushkarni, located on the eastern side of the temple. On the banks of the pond, there were 14 small temple-like constructions with idols of Lord Vishnu inside. After the government took control over the area, these idols have been moved inside the Harishchandreshwar temple. The water is in a very bad condition as it’s getting even more contaminated with the increase of visitors.

Then we visited the temple which is a stunning example of ancient architecture. The temple rises much higher than most temples found in forts and has got entrances from all four sides. A river called Mangal Ganga is said to originate from one of the water tanks inside the temple. Another interesting structure is the Kashitirtha temple, which is said to be carved from a single piece of rock.

Harishchandreshwar Temple

Harishchandreshwar Temple

The Mythical Cave

After that I finally got my wish come true by making way to the Kedareshwar cave. I promised to share the myth about this cave, so here it is. Inside this cave, there is a huge Shivalinga, about 5 feet tall and completely surrounded by water all year round.

Harishchandragad trek

Kedareshwar Cave (image source)

You see, the entire cave is supported solely by a single standing pillar. 3 pillars are broken! Legends say that the four pillars of the cave represent the four Yugas of Hindu mythology, namely Satya Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dwapara Yuga and Kali Yuga. Currently, we are living in Kali Yuga, and when the last pillar breaks, it will signify the end of the final Yuga. So, what do you think? Interesting, right?

Bidding Adieu to Harishchandragad

We could not spend much time on the peak as we had to return back home. As we already knew, it was extremely important to get out of the sanctuary before the dark. So, we started descending at 12 and reached the foot at around 2 in the afternoon.

We exchanged numbers with Bhaskar, bid him goodbye and departed at 2:30. We made lots of stops on the way as it was the day and we had a chance to see the views that were hidden from us at night when we were coming to Pachnai. We also visited Ozhar Ganpati, which is one of the famous Aashthavinayak.

We reached Pune around 8:30 and I just crashed on the bed as soon as I reached my home. And just like that, we completed one of the most memorable treks.

Conclusion

Harishchandragad is not the highest fort in Maharashtra, but still it is considered to be one of the most interesting treks. So if you are an adventure enthusiast, go for the Harishchandragad  trek as soon as possible.

As for me, the trek route through Pachnai is very easy and can be done by anyone. The place is simply amazing, apart from breathtaking views, it offers some architectural gems like the Harishchandreshwar temple and some amazing spots like The Konkan Kada and some mythical wonders like Kedareshwar cave. There are lot of spots on the top where you can camp and set up your tents. Overall, the Harishchandragad trek is the trek you must do at least once in your life-time.

There are no problems with food, as the villagers of Pachnai have hotels both in the village and on top of the peak. They also provide tents for camping and guide you on the Harishchandragad trek.

So, have I managed to spark your interest with my story of the Harishchandragad trek? If your answer is yes, when are you planning to hit the road?

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