Magnolious range trek from Royal Rajgad to the mighty Torna

After an interlude from the trekking plans, I thought I could chase my light in those Andharban forests of Sahyadris but my fate chose to shut off the light at the end of the tunnel as badminton gave a muscle shock. Thanks to the fact that forts are an integral part of Maharashtra history, I finally could materialize one before 2017 reaches its denouement. Rajgad is almost an easy trek and Torna is better than Rajgad in difficulty but the itinerary for a range trek from HTC made me cogitate about my plans for the Christmas long weekend.

To brief about these two forts, I should start with the fact that Chatrapathi Shivaji conquered the Rajgad when he was 16. The Torna fort, known as Prachandagad is a massive fort. One can see the other from one fort. These forts date back to 15 century AD and have quite a value historically. One could say these forts are timeless. The range trek from Rajgad to Torna involves crossing ridges formed by the peaks of about 20 hills in between. The whole trail is a package of adventure, adrenaline rush and a showcase of beautiful views. The range trek is not advisable for first-time trekkers however it is do-able. This is a medium-difficulty trek and needs a total of two nights and three days (2N 3D) for completing the range trek.

Itinerary :
Day 1 : Reach Pune
            Start to Gunjanve Base village ( This is a short path but is a tad bit tricky as it leads to Chor Dharwaja)
            Start from the village after the Sun has passed his Zenith
            With few breaks in between reach Rajwada through Chor Dharwaja before the golden hour and enjoy Blue hour (takes                     about 4-5 hours)
            Roam around the fort
            Camp under the Gazillion stars or sleep in Padmavathi temple.

Day 2 : Start early by the first light and get on to the trail to Torna by taking exit towards Sanjeevani machi
             Be prepared for the thirst and hunger
             Be prepared for few rock patches with almost 80-degree steep climbs
             Be prepared for the views that are filled with grandeur and beauty
             Be prepared for the worst conditions of not finding food/water on Torna
             Be prepared for bone-biting cold weather
             Reach Torna before the golden hour and enjoy blue hour
             Camp under stars or sleep in the temple

Day 3 : Roam in the fort and watch sunrise from Zunjar machi
             Get down the fort (an easy trail of 2-3 hours)
             Reach Velhe and start back to Pune

Rajgad is referred to as the king of the forts and so the name. This is touted to be one of the best fort-treks in Sahyadris. But I would say this could be one of the best treks when you go in the immediate post monsoons time for the greenery. Once winter is in the rage and the spring starts, the greenery slowly disappears. I doubt if there are people who go there in summers. I would nominate them for a noble award if I could.

After Filling my bag with enough water bottles, I started my trek around 3.30 PM. The trail was simple and marked clearly. For almost an hour, it’s mostly steep walk. Then comes few boulders in between and the steep walk continues. Until you reach Chor Dharwaja, it’s just an easy-medium trek. Then comes a very steep rock patch which you need to climb with the help of a holding rail. Here comes the exemplar of the saying ‘less luggage more comfort’. More the weight on your shoulders, more the weight that’s exerted on your knees while climbing. You go through a small opening known as Chor Dharwaja and you enter Rajwada of the Rajgad. Padmavathi temple has doors and can be used as a place to stay. But it was filled up thanks to the woes of the long weekend crowd. But the tent came in handy with a place to pitch.

I met this amazing bunch of people in my trek. We tried lighting up a bonfire but it didn’t stay long because of the moist firewood. I heard one can buy some firewood from the locals staying near the temple. The sleep was much needed and the Quechua sleeping bag was very comfy. Early in the morning, before the first light turned on for the world, I got up and roamed around with mouthwash in the mouth. The villagers brought warm poha for the crowd and I had a plate. That small plate of warm poha is like a luxury fare, trust me. Hitting the trail by the Sunrise, left the Rajgad from Sanjeevani machi through Alu Dharwaja.

The Sun started foreplay with kisses and caressing in the beginning but by the time we were out of Rajgad, we knew we were going to get effed up. After a narrow trail on the golden grass getting far from Rajgad one step at a time, after about 3 hours we chanced upon a road after a downward trail. I was super hungry at that time and took out the chapathi rolls and finished them in a jiffy. Gulping down one whole water bottle, tightening the clamps on the rucksack, I got ready for the long trek before me. The distance between Rajgad and Torna was more than about 16 KMs and the trail is actually a ridge formed by about 20 hills between the two points. Not more than an hour, a rock patch threw a challenge. To say the least, the total duration was about 10-11 hrs for a group. It could easily be done in 7-8 hours with few breaks in between if you have good gear and a little experience in trekking. There were about 4 rock patches which need more care to climb and the rest is a matter of time and patience. And behold! The picturesque views of the trek are what you could treasure later. So keep your phone/cam ready to capture some beautiful views.

By Sunset, I reached Budhla Machi, which marks the start of the Torna fort and by the end of the blue hour, a place was found for pitching the tents. The group I got to know was absolute fun and shared few food conversations during the dinner (read theplas and bread). A good night sleep was in the pipeline because I so wanted to take a long exposure shot of the stars. I woke up at 4.30 AM and set up few rocks to act as a tripod for stabilization. I didn’t anticipate a quality milky way picture but what I got was something I could get happy for, considering its the first long exposure image of mine. Thanks to Srikanth who helped me with the set-up.

Any trek is difficult not just for the terrain and steep angle but also for the availability of the basic needs and comforts. This was difficult because there was no water. I treasured one water bottle during the trek but by the time I reached Torna, it was almost empty. Now what? Then we found a small pit where we can fetch water and people there swore that it’s drinkable. Left hygiene for another day and jumped in to fetch some water. The water, however, was sweet but the sediments and color made it hard to drink to satisfaction.

Early in the morning as the Sun made its appearance, we set out for the Zunjar machi, one of the fortified ends of the Torna. It was about an hour hike and the views you get to see there are splendiferous. And again the poha saved my hunger pangs. These people are obsessed with poha :/ . Anyway, the downward hike for reaching Velhe village started soon. Filling up those water bottles one more time, I started descending down the fort on well-built steps. One good thing about the entire trek is that the holding rails are put up wherever needed. Kudos to the authorities for that.

The downward trek from Torna is more or less a cake walk considering the previous day trails. It took about 2-2.5 hours of our time to reach the village. And the trek is successfully done, now what? I ate energy bars, theplas and poha for 3 days. It was a situation where the foodie in me could get starved if I didn’t binge on some local dishes. Then comes this dhaba on the Pune highway which satiated my real hunger. Being close to the coast and the influence of Konkan cuisine is evident.

My order was a Gavran thali with an extra side of butter alni chicken fry. The thali contained Tupatlee chicken fry (basically ghee roast of Konkani), rassa, Aalni soup and bhakri. The Gavran chicken is translated into country chicken. The tupatlee fry was rich in flavors. The amalgam of spices went into the dish made it very flavourful while the generous amount of ghee made it rich in each bite. alani literally translates to bland yet this was not entirely bland. The alani soup has chicken cooked in water with paste of ginger, garlic and turmeric. They say the soup is a great remedy for cold and sorethroat. The salts in the juices from the meat are what make the soup has some taste. The alani chicken fry is a tawa chicken fry with this soup meat and a lot of ginger, garlic went into it. An absolute delight for someone having a bad cold. The rassa was the pinnacle of the meal. The ghee laden khichidi with the tambda rassa was the glorious combination that right away gave me multiple foodgasms. The tambda rassa (red gravy) was made with mutton and plethora of exotic spices gave it an intriguing flavor profile. Ahh! Writing about it is making me crave for it now.

To conclude my experience, I definitely am going to Rajgad in monsoons to savor the full elegance that it has to offer.

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