The moment I saw Facebook event invite, I instantly registered for an Overnight Trek to Rajmachi. Having done 3 one day treks with Treks and Trails trek group in Mumbai, I was extremely excited about it obviously because it was my first overnight trek near Mumbai. I was over planning and over packing. But not everyone shared my excitement because many people who have never trekked couldn’t fathom what the excitement was all about.
Rajmachi is a plateau with fortification about 2200 ft high above sea level located in Sahyadris between Lonavala and Khandala. It boasts of two big forts, Shrivardhan at 2710 feet and Manoranjan at 2350 feet facing each other with a deep valley in between. There is not much construction in the fort which shows that they were built to keep an eye and control Borghat on the busy Mumbai – Pune route which was a major trade route in 17th century. There is also an old Hemadpant temple of Lord Shiva as well as Bhairoba temple which are worth visiting. Manoranjan fort consists of 3 doors and many water tanks. There are also Kondana caves which you can see when you take the Kondahavne village route. An awesome place to trek around Mumbai.
There are two ways to get up there. One is simple road like ascend which is about 16 km long from Lonavala railway station. And other is a steep ascend from Kondahavne village. Our trip was scheduled to ascend from Lonavala and descend from other side ending up in Kondahavne village. We (16 of us) were all to meet at Lonavala station at 6pm and from there we were to start our 16 km ascend to the Rajmachi trek. I instantly made friends with few of them. Our trek leaders were Rajesh Mahadalkar & Yahya Virani. While I was anxious & excited about the trek on a rocky path under pitch dark forest, I was also scared if I can make it with all the weight that I was carrying (remember over packing?). The fact that there were many first timers instilled some confidence in me and made me feel like a seasoned trekker, which I am definitely not.
As we started the trek, the sun was already setting and we could see the peak far away in evening Orange hue. It looked spectacular. The view was mesmerizing as it was equally intimidating to me and first timers alike. The dense forest before us which we were to cross was beckoning us and probably challenging us. As the sky started getting darker, we even enjoyed extremely mild twilight as we could still sight the path clearly.
I could not find any dictionary word that can aptly express the feeling when you trek in pitch dark forest. But we were not alone. To welcome us, the forest was lively with millions of fireflies glowing like those wedding lights on trees. On each tree, thousands of fire flies glowed simultaneously in set intervals. I wondered how could they communicate and coordinate? It was something I had never seen and experienced before. Making it top 5 treks near Mumbai in my list. The air was cool and dry which relieved us from high perspiration. When you trek in the dark, a good torch with bright light is a must. You got to pay a great deal of attention on the road which is full of rocks, stones, and broken tree branches.
Initially, I had the company of my newly made friends and we indulged ourselves into funny conversations. But slowly as it got darker, I slowly drifted away from them and immersed myself into complete silence. It was like meditating. I was walking, I was also paying attention on the road, I was also feeling pain of swollen shoulders with all the weight & swollen feet but in spite I was not physically present there. I was drowning into the tranquility of the black sky above and the blinding forest surrounding me from all sides. I instantly made up my mind that it won’t be too long before I will be trekking / backpacking ALONE.
It took us over 4 hours of walking & stumbling many times to finish the Rajmachi trek and reach the base village by 10.00 pm. The last one hour was extremely challenging for all of us and all the while we were hoping that it would finish anytime. Rajesh always kept saying “don’t worry in 10 mins we should be there”. This was like a booster that gave us hope, comfort and energy to walk further 300 meters and he would keep repeating this.
We finally reached the base village and settled down at local Tai’s house. In Marathi, any elderly lady is respectfully called Tai. We were treated with a delicious proper Maharashtrian dinner full of Rice, Bhakris, beans, dal, raw onions and pickle. We re-fueled ourselves and garnered more energy to go and explore a nearby 800 years Lord Shiva Temple built by famous Hemad Pandit, who innovated method of building stone temples without making use of cement or any other binding material.
After a very short and sound sleep, we began ascending on the Shrivardhan Fort. This was the highest peak shown in Pic1 on the right side. The views from here were majestic. On our extreme right on the opposite hill was Manoranjan Fort while far away on left side you could see the entire Khandala town. After exploring some what remains of the fort, we started us descend back to base village just to ascend again to the Manoranjan fort. We took a more challenging steep descend than where we came up from. When you are on trek, the adventure hunger just doesn’t die. Neither does your spirit though your bones & muscles are screaming for help.
We clicked some group snaps on the tip of Manoranjan Fort and returned back to base village. A delicious lunch was awaiting us. Rajesh was not only feeding us with all the adventure but also graciously serving us all the food as we were seated on the floor in a big circle.
I filled myself to the neck and felt so much recharged that I thought I can now go back up to the peak again. We were completely unaware of what was coming up and naturally so. We thought now its descend from here and so it should be like cutting-a-cake job. Rajesh and Yahya advised us to carry as much water as we can in our 3-liter bottles. But we, being inherently smart, didn’t want to carry a lot of weight and so filled only half of the bottles.
We heartily thanked Tai and Treks and Trails for her hospitality, bid her goodbye and started our descent at 14:00 pm. The sun was overhead. We didn’t feel much heat initially. We took the other alternative route which was more difficult and steeper decline and will take us to the Kondhavne village. Rajesh gave us some useful tips on how to tread on very narrow edge of mountain and thereafter began our never-heard-never-felt-before part of my entire trekking history. The terrain was difficult & challenging as each step down was steep with difficult and different angles to rest your foot on. My entire body weight was concentrating on my toes which were paining badly.
The Sun was our second enemy. The heat was excruciating. All our energy, water & will power were drained in initial 3 hours of descend. There was another 1.50 hour to go and I almost felt I am not going to make it. I felt so light that I thought I am losing weight by the minutes. But it was actually my body fluids evaporating away in an attempt to keep this 80kg mammal cool. I then realized humans hardly have any biological advantage to survive in slightly harsher conditions. We would have been long extinct if not for our brains.
After literally dragging ourselves, we miraculously reached the base village of Kondhavne at about 5.30 pm by when Sun became softer. The village is about 12 kms from Karjat. We went to a local villager’s house where a chilled lime juice was served. At that time if the villager had asked for 1000 dollars a glass, we would have happily spared with it. We could fill every drop of that juice sliding down our throat. We took an auto from here and boarded train from Karjat to return to Dadar which was a 2 hours’ journey. I kept mentally hopping from group conversations to my own introspection of the trip to a short nap and back to those conversations. These were three different worlds.
In retrospect, I realized that we did not just peak Rajmachi. We also peaked exhaustion that will last few days, heat that was unbearable & unbeatable, excitement that was unprecedented and pushing ourselves way beyond our own limits that we thought were unsurpassable. As I return to civilization, I am walking with this huge sense of pride that makes me feel far superior to people around me. I now recall it was sense of re-discovering my hidden will power, to have my body under total control of my mind.
Trust me it happens with me on every trek. In fact, this is exactly what makes me strive for next one to continue trekking in Maharashtra again and again…
Text Author: Alpesh Adodra