Shivtharghal – A cave of wisdom

Come long weekends and everyone in Pune starts making plans of Mahabaleshwar trips or at least Pune’s favorite picnic spot – Sinhgad.

We too had something similar planned, but did not want to visit the same run of the mill spots.

We had planned a drive to Shivtharghal ourselves. It had been on our minds to visit this awesome place to experience the true rawness of the Sahyadri mountains and the dense forests that are said to be a characteristics of this place.

After spending a few weeks just toying around with the plan, we confirmed the trip; however we decided to take a hired car as friends advised that the ghat to reach there is a difficult one. I usually prefer my own car on family trips, however this time I agreed and it was in a way good. I was able to savor the scenery on the way and even click photos that I usually miss, since I am driving.

Enroute_To_Shivtharghal

En route to Shivtharghal

I had also read interesting things about this place – there is no network coverage and most mobile signals are lost among the high mountains around this cave. I had even read that the most sophisticated GPS trackers also lose their satellite connections, such is the geographical arrangement of this place. No wonder Ramdas Swami chose this place to write the holy scriptures of Dasbodh. He must have realized the geographical and cosmic significance of this place via his divine powers and chose to be completely disconnected from the outside world so as to concentrate on the task at hand. Such was his dedication and he teaches the same in the great scripts.

Valley in the ghat

Valley in Varandha Ghat

We started our journey from Pune and took the NH4 towards Satara and continued till the Bhor bypass. From here we took a right turn to the internal state highway is a single lane road and the condition is not very good in a few patches. However, all these minor peeves are washed away by the mere view of the Veer and the Bhatgar dam back waters. As we traveled the winding road, I was amazed to see various shades of green colour in the dam back waters in the valley below. It was a breathtaking sight to see 3 different shades of emerald green in the same water body. One of the patches of water was so still and calm, I wondered if it was the deepest part of the lake or if it had some other rock formation below it that resulted in zero ripples on the surface – truly a mesmerizing sight.

The green shades in the water

The green shades in the water

 

At a small pit stop to have chai and kanda bhaji just before the varandha ghat started, we confirmed the directions to Shivtharghal and were advised to finish the entire ghat and reach Varandh village and then take a right turn to reach the ghal or cave. At around 6 KM for this spot where we asked for the directions, there is a road which goes through dense forest and it does not allow more than one car at a time and is also very risky. Don’t take this road, go ahead for about 10 more KM and them you will see a board with directions to go to the ghal. Take this one.

We, being the non adventurous types when it comes to driving cars through the jungle; especially with kids on board decided to go the safe route.

Through the gorge

Through the gorge

Even the internal road was a narrow one and our driver, obviously enjoying the winding turns and traffic free road, decided to ignore our requests to drive slowly, and took us to the ghal in no time without any incident at all. The blind turns must have given the race driver in him the high.

The road however was very picturesque and we were also expecting some wild animals to show themselves. (more on this later). The road ran parallel to a stream and we could hear the water gurgling and flowing even in a very dry summer and almost no rains in this season.

The road and the vehicle

The road and the vehicle

The actual ghal, presented itself suddenly on one of the turns and we were glad to get down and finally start exploring this place – the one which we had heard and read about for a while now. Parking for cars is available in an open space under a few trees. Paying the driver to have his food while we went around and to wait for us to return, we began our walk.

On the left side just at the base of the temple structure are small hotels that serve everything from cold drinks to a proper lunch of pithla and bhakri. (Yes, everything is vegetarian here). It is suggested that you place your food order first and go to the temple so that by the time you return, a hot tasty meal is ready for you. We missed this and went straight to the temple.

The first thing that greets you is the sound of a perennial waterfall and a stream flowing on the right side of the approach road. Even in the dry monsoon, it was flowing with a force enough to make you hear it from a distance.

The entrance with the waterfall

The entrance with the waterfall

Climbing up a few stone steps we saw a Ganpati temple. We went further ahead and were greeted by some friendly gentlemen who manage the facility and also the small book store cum information desk cum memorabilia shop. Surprisingly there were hardly any visitors and in the daily visitor register, I saw my name as the 10th visitor on that day.

We went ahead and proceeded towards the main cave (ghal). The friendly uncle gave us information about the daily routine and reminded us to take darshan and come back to the main hall for a ‘prasad’ which is a free meal for every visitor. I noticed a big hall which led to the path way to the cave. In the hall, information and boards showcasing the great teachings of Swami Ramdas are depicted in the form of big display banners and boards.

History goes that Swami Ramdas was a great supporter of Shivaji Maharaj and being a sadhu (sage) having many followers, he was able to collect and report important and critical information about enemy troop movements to Shivaji from time to time. When Afzal khan decided to attack Shivaji, Samartha Ramdas Swami used secret messages hidden in small sholks or letters. Shivaji, who knew the code, could decipher the message in the letter and was ready for the famous meeting between Afzal Khan and Shivaji Maharaj.

The coded message

Vijapurcha Sardar Nighala Aahe

The actual cave is a big one and you can enter it easily without bending down or crouching. There are statues of Ramdas Swami and his disciple, Kalyan Swami who actually wrote the scripts as Samartha Ramdas dictated it to him in that cave.

The cave where the script was written

The cave where the script was written

Interestingly, the statues are also shown doing the same thing. Right next to this cave, is the waterfall that we could hear from the entrance. We had been warned of being careful of wild animals, especially snakes and we did see one big one encircled right on the entrance grill door. I managed to quickly go through, though I am totally terrified of these reptilessssss.

The Snake

The Snake at the Gate

Entering the cave, gave me an instant feeling of calm and quietness, felt like I was more connected to my inner self. I wonder if it was really the significance of the place or just a psychological thing that I was experiencing, however it was a refreshing experience.

 

Memories of a long time back school picnic to this place also came up and I spent some time reflecting on those thoughts and the deep wisdom that these great people wrote for us so many years ago.

 

On coming back from the darshan, we headed for a dining hall where we were asked to pick our own plate, spoon and water vessel and were served two servings each of the ‘prasad’ – (moong dal khichadi) and there was also some pickle (kairi aachar) for added taste. A very good thing about this ‘prasad’ meal is that after you finish, you have to carry your plate to the washing area and clean it yourself.

Another thing that we had heard about this place involved the people who discovered this place and actually built the current temple and accommodation structure. Being related to one of them had generated a good amount of interest in this place. When we saw his name engraved in one of the stones there, it felt good.

The foundation stone

We also discussed about this with the management folks there and were understanding from them about the very harsh conditions in which Ramdas Swami lived here, and how wild animals roamed freely but never did any harm to Samarth Ramdas Swami or his disciples. While we were speaking, we heard a sudden noise and rustling of branches and a big thump on the metal sheet ceiling and realized that our friends had decided to drop by to see if they could get any food from the visitors.

The Simian friend

The Simian friend

Clicking a few pics, and visiting the Ganpati temple again we decided to descend the steps to see what was being served at the small hotels at the base. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch of pithla bhakri and butter milk and commenced our return journey to Pune.

The greenery around the temple

The greenery around the temple

On our way back, before we reached the main road, we saw something silver flash past on the road and excitedly watched the tail of a long snake disappear to our left. It was a black one with a silver white belly. This was the first time I saw such a big snake and that too in the wild.

Our return journey through the Varandha ghat was a very picturesque one and we stopped at the top of the ghat where many other cars had also stopped. We were just awestruck to see the beauty of the Sahyadri mountains and its deep and green valleys. One tip – there are lots of monkeys here, and they have become bold enough to take food items from your hand if you lean out and offer it from the cars. I gave out cucumbers and apples which were whisked away in less than 3 seconds. We even saw around 4 -5 monkeys perched on the top of a parked car trying to get hold of what they saw inside. If by mistake the window would have been left open, the monkeys would have had a ball.

Monkey business

Monkey business

Enjoying this for a while, we began our return journey and reached home with memories and the satisfaction of a good darshan and blessings of Ramdas Swami.

On the way back

Return Journey

 

Quick facts:

Distance from Pune: 115 KM

Parking space: available near the temple

Road conditions: Okay types

Must do things on the way: Visit Bhor Rajwada and Borehwar temple(Mahadev Temple)

Enjoy the picturesque back waters of the two dams.

Get thrilled by the natural waterfalls at many places along the ghat road

Check the mobile for range – mine did not have any signal for 2 km around the cave

Take lots of photos and enjoy this one day picnic to the fullest

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Fort Sinhgad: Soul of Jijabai and Shivaji Maharaj

Sahyadri.JPG

Sahyadri Mountains

Some places are synonymous to a city just like when we think of Paris, it is Eiffel Tower, for Agra it is the Taj Mahal, for New Delhi the Red fort and the Kutubminar, for Kolkata it is the Hawada bridge. Similarly for Pune it is Shaniwarwada and Sinhgad. Shaniwarwada was the pride of Punekars and a prominent part of Peshwa era, while the tale of Shivaji Maharaj would be incomplete without the mention of Kondhana i.e. Sinhgad and the great sacrifice of Tanaji Malusare, a lion heart soldier in Shivaji’s army.

En route to Sinhgad

Situated at about 33 km from Pune city, Sinhgad fort stands tall telling the great war stories of Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and his brave soldiers (mavalas). From Donje, Sinhgad is located at about 10Km.

Sinhgad view.JPG

Located at 4,300 feet from sea-level Sinhgad is situated on Bhuleshwar mountain ranges of the Sahyadri.

Sinhgad Ghat Road.jpg

We have visited Sinhgad during Summer, Winter and late rainy season. Each trip was awesome with the beauty of that particular season. Each season has its own charm which captivates your mind. It could be a soft drizzle which envelopes sahyadri in green carpet, or the chilly winters during which the fog wraps the hills with a white jacket of clouds, or it could be the blossomed spring on the Sinhgad fort top which will give you a feel of paradise.

Tree on Sinhgad top.jpg
There are two ways to reach Sinhgad. You can go trekking (By the way Sinhgad is much sought after by every trekker that every trekker going on a trek outside Pune first does a rehearsal here.) Through trekking it would take about 45 minutes to reach the top.

By car you can reach the parking lot at the top via a road through mountains (ghat) in about 20 minutes. They charge Rs.50 per vehicle as a toll.

When the parking is full people park their cars near the parking area on the road. Please avoid doing that since the ghat road is very narrow and can cause heavy congestion.

People climbing the fort

People climbing the Sinhgad Fort

When you start your journey from parking area you see several food stalls to satisfy your taste buds. While trekking your way to the top many people take a break from the trek and enjoy the buttermilk, yogurt, boiled peanuts, raw mango etc. that is sold by vendors along the path. These vendors are usually villagers from around the fort and they bring their goods to sell to the trekkers.

You enter the fort through Pune Darwaja. A big and detailed map of Sinhgad fort is installed by the Maharashtra Government there. Do take a snap of this map as it helps us a lot for going around in the fort.

MAP Sinhgad Fort

Map of Sinhgad fort

 

After entering through Pune Darwaja you get to see a board pointing in the right direction saying Tofkhana/ Daru kothar. It is a strongly built stone structure with ample open space. It was used to store the ammunition for cannons.

 

Ammunition Centre at Sinhgad.jpg

Going ahead on the left hand side a huge rock formation is seen. It was used to keep horses of the soldiers.

Stable or Ghodyanchi Paga.jpg

There is also a Shivsrushti exhibition on Shivaji Maharaj. It has pictures depicting important scenes of Shivaji Maharaj’s life crafted on copper plates. If you have good amount of time do visit it as it would deserve  sufficient time to understand it thoroughly.

 

Lokamanya Tilak Niwas

Lokamanya Tilak Niwas

Just ahead on few footsteps Lokamanya Tilak Niwas is there. It is believed that Mahatma Gandhi has also visited this place.

Tilak Niwas.jpg

Information at Lokamanya Tilak Niwas

We headed up straight to Rajaram Maharaj Samadhi located at about half a km from here. He was the son of Shivaji Maharaj and Soyarabai.

Rajaram Maharaj Samadhi

Rajaram Maharaj Samadhi

There was also a small reservoir just behind the tomb. We were bit disturbed by seeing the condition of this reservoir as it was full of moss. These types of water tanks are found in all major forts and these need to be cleaned regularly and maintained properly as this might contain some important clues of history. There is a possibility of finding old coins, weapons and idols in these.

Sinhgad Fort.JPG

We went ahead till the Kalawantinicha buruj which gives us a great view of Tung, Tikona, Lohgad forts.

A view from Sinhgad

view from Sinhgad

Donagiricha kada (cliff) is the one from where Tanaji Malusare climbed on the fort to start the beginning of a fierce battle that ended in Shivaji’s army winning the fort.

Sahyadri Mountain ranges.jpg

About Tanaji Malusare: In the Purander fort treaty, Kondhana (Sinhgad fort) was lost to  the Mughals along with many other forts. Jijabai used to look at Kondhana from her Rajgad fort and it was causing tremendous pain to her that this fort was with the Mughals (enemies). She expressed her desire to take back this fort from the enemies hands. While she was discussing this with Shivaji Maharaj, Tanaji Malusare, Shivaji’s childhood friend visited them to give the  invitation of his son’s wedding. When he came to know about this plan he took the leadership of this campaign and on 4th Feb 1670 at night climbed this fort along with his soldiers from a very dangerous cliff.It is also said that Tanaji Malusare used a monitor lizard (a pet lizard called Yashwanti to climb this cliff, he tied a rope to the lizard’s tail which helped the climbing) Tanaji and his soldiers climbed the fort in total darkness(moonless night). A fierce battle took place and Tanaji Malusare was killed by Udyabhan just before capturing the fort.

Tanaji Malusare Samadhi at Sinhgad.jpg

All the soldiers got disturbed by the fall of their leader and started to retreat. Just then Tanaji’s brother Suryaji Malusare and Shelarmama((an old soldier in his mid seventies) took the charge of the campaign and asked the soldiers to come back, by reminding them about the oath of Swarajya. Shelarmama cut the ropes leaving no choice for them but to fight. In the battle that followed, Suryaji and Shelarmama killed Udyabhan (who was in charge of the fort) thus capturing the fort.’Gad ala pan Sinha gela’ (The fort is won but a lion is lost) a phrase uttered by Shivaji Maharaj in respect to the fallen warrior became popular after this great sacrifice of Tanaji as the Marathas lost a true and courageous lion from their army.

Tanaji Malusare memorial on Sinhgad.jpg

 

Food and refreshments on the Fort

One can enjoy the traditional marathi dish Zunka Bhakar with onion pakodas (which is a must with extremely spicy chutney, made from oil, onions and lots of red chilly powder). Do try butermilk, or curd given in earthen pot.There are fixed rates for food items and are displayed at the entrance.

Photographer's delight

Photographer’s delight Sinhgad

How to Reach:

PMPML buses run every hour from Shaniwarwada and Swargate up to the base of the fort. From the base you can get into a shared vehicle like a jeep, tempo etc. as well. If you have your own vehicle that would be the best option.

Trekking/ climbing during the rainy season should be done with proper precautions as the routes become slippery. Of late Govt. had closed access to Sinhgad due to heavy rain as there was a possibility of land slide. There was also an alternative way provided for some time which was extremely narrow and full of ditches and potholes. Better check with the latest news before visiting this place to avoid mood off.

 

The fort can also be reached from other side by Kalyan Darwaja. You can go by Pune Kondhanpur road and from Kondhanpur one can enter the fort through Kalyan Darwaja. It is facing towards Torna and Rajgad.

An evening at Sinhgad.jpg

To avoid overcrowding during holidays Government can start online registration and toll collection, thus limiting the number of tourists to this wonderful fort to a manageable level. That will make a one day picnic to Sinhgad more pleasurable and memorable.

 

Quick Notes:

Location: Near Donje village in Pune

Visiting hours : From 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM

Do taste the delicious Zunka bhakar on the top of the fort and do not throw empty water bottles and other garbage there ( It is a tragedy that this has to be told that too again and again) Use the dustbins instead which Government has kept at every half km.

Remember forts are our true national treasures.