Rajmachi Fort – Trekker’s Paradise
You get amazed by the butterflies – as tiny as your finger nail, to as large as your palm. From gorgeous saffrons, sunny yellows to peacock blues, these butterflies will escort you to the hilltop. This is Rajmachi – trekkers’ paradise and a weekend getaway for the locals of Mumbai and Pune.
Rajmachi Fort consists of two forts – Shrivardhan Fort and Manoranjan Fort. Situated in the Sahyadri Mountains at a height of 2750 feet, the forts overlook Bhor Ghat a popular trade route in the past. Rajmachi Fort can be reached from Karjat or Lonavla – both on Mumbai-Pune route. The Karjat route with base-camp at Kondiwale village is a steep uphill hike. But, Lonavla route with base-camp at Udhewadi is a flat trail. It is well-marked as well and one can leave without a guide.This makes it a popular trek for both Mumbai and Pune locals especially in monsoon and winter season.
How to reach Rajmachi Fort from Lonavla
The only way to reach Udhewadi village where Rajmachi fort is located was to hike or trek. One can trek to Rajmachi from Lonavla which is about 15 kms flat terrain hike to the fort with last few kilometers of uphill climb. While hiking to Rajmachi, trekkers can take a halt at Udhewadi village at the foothills of the fort. Today it is possible to drive till Udhewadi, park the car in the village and head towards the fort. That’s exactly what we did. We drove from Mumbai to Lonavla and as we took the sharp hair pin bend to reach Udhewadi, we all shifted to the edge of our seats — the bumpy ride, extremely narrow road, steeps and slopes and maneuvering your car to give way to the vehicle right on your face heading in the opposite direction – only an SUV and a skilled driver can withstand this adventurous ride.
For us, the drive became a bit creepy as well, because it was 7.00 p.m., sun had already set and it was pitch dark. There was chill in the air, as winter was setting in. In the company of the sounds of cicadas, we reached Udhewadi. Each house had only two solar powered lights, as there is no electricity in this village. On the dim lit pathway, we reached our shelter home for the night.
Our stay at Udhewadi Village
An elderly couple welcomed us. It was a mud house with entire flooring leveled with cow dung. We got fresh and basked ourselves in the front yard on a bench. Beneath the moonlight, in the quite, chilled night, we forgot the buzz of our lives in the cities. Every house around us was host to a group of trekkers – that’s the trend of Udhewadi. Some of them had completed the trek and were resting for the night, while others would start their trek in the morning.
Our dinner was delicious – chicken curry and bhakri (rice handbread), rice and raw onion…all cooked on chool in Marathi, which means mud stove with wood fire. We slept – no fans or air conditioners or foamy mattresses, but cold breeze and a mat with a thin bed sheet to cover you. It was comfortable; we had no complaints.
Since 4 a.m. we started getting uneasy – thanks to the rooster alarms. We finally got up at 6.30 a.m. and as I reached the door step, I just froze. I couldn’t believe the view outside. Against the blue sky, on the silhouette of a huge mountain range, stood the tall, proud fort. While the sky was breaking the hues of pink and gold, the sight of cattle, hens and chickens, chubby cats…entertained us.
Trekkers were getting ready and so were we. We had scrumptious breakfast of kanda poha, egg bhurji and tea. We started our 10 km trek to Rajmachi!
Trekking to Rajmachi
For about a kilometer, the Maharashtra Tourism has cemented the walkway till you reach Bhairavnath Mandir. This also happens to be a relaxing spot where a villager sells refreshing lemonade to the tired trekkers. It is also a place where you can spot common monkeys and gray langurs. Atop the mountain behind the temple is the Shrivardhan fort and on the opposite mountain is Manoranjan fort. We chose to hike Shrivardhan.
Here began the tough part – from small rocky climbs to large ones, from very narrow lanes amidst the golden dried grass, we gradually got closer to the fort. We were accompanied by the flora and the butterflies. As we hiked further ahead, the colorful big dragon flies were a sight to see. I have always seen green and grey dragon flies, but never a plum, aqua or dark blue ones!!
Buddhist Caves – no clue what happened in those days inside these deep nicely cut massive holes in the mountain. Some said, the soldiers stayed here, some mentioned it used to be a granary or arrest house. Ponds – big and small, with steps inside, still has water in it and are home to fishes and crabs.
And, we reached the top of the fort! We all were elated by our achievement. The view around us was splendid. We absorbed it – the green, serene Sahyadri ranges, famous for its biodiversity. Saffron flags fluttered on a pole on both the forts indicating victory for the trekkers!
Our downward journey was dangerous, as the walk is very steep at some spots. We reached the temple to enjoy the lemonade. At the foothill of the Udhewadi village is Godhaneshwar Mandir, its architecture is dated to Satvahan Era – explicit mortar less stone construction. Natural spring water continuously flows from Gomukh (Cow’s mouth), which gathers in the lake nearby.
We came back to our shelter home to feast on delicious lunch! On our journey back home the gorgeous butterflies accompanied us till we reached Lonavla…Ruins of forts, waterfalls, temples and the ancient Buddhist caves inspired the trekking spirit amongs us all.
One last thing – my 5-year-old son enjoyed every bit of this trip including the trek!