I reached S's mama's house in Poona late on friday night (after hitching a ride with a man who turned out to be a newspaper editor fighting for superstition !) only to find that M and N had not reached yet and that nothing had been decided for the weekend ! After assorted arrivals (everyone seemed to be surprised that nothing had been decided) a plan for the next two days was sketched out (hatched ?) with the help of an excellent book called "The Sayhadri Companion". We (four of us) slept at 1.30 and woke up at 5.30 saturday morning and left immediately for a village called Korle in Poona district in the Bhor region. The plan for the day was this - we climb up from Korle to a place called Raireshwar, traverse the ridge to Kenjalgad, climb to the top of that, climb down to Korle from there via a different route and then drive to Mahabaleshwar for the night.
We parked the car in Korle and after a bit of haggling with a local who was to show us the way, we sent him off and were on our way up at 9.15. The weather was cloudy and pleasant at this time and the path was more of a jeep track, so we were all a bit disappointed, having hoped for something rather more adventurous. We reached the top of the ridge at about 10.30. At this point the path went to the left towards Kenjalgad and one to the right to Raireshwar. By now the wind was quite strong and clouds were billowing all around. We walked along the top of the ridge for some time (and took a few photographs and videos - my last for a long time on this trek) and reached a sudden steep ascent upon which cement stairs had been built. Along the razors edge of the mountain, the wind was quite scary and the steps were a comfort. Soon, the steps gave way to 2 flights of rickety steel steps/ladders in a very steep and exposed rock outcropping. The mist around us was very dense now and we could not see much at all. The last part of the ascent was a steep but well marked rock patch with a thick rope fixed to the side. Once on top, we walked along a misty, windy and rainy plateau ( picture below) for quite some time beside lakes, through paddy fields (rice seems to be the main crop of the entire region) before stumbling upon the village temple of Rireshwar. It was a temple and location with a very unique atmosphere which I would dearly have liked to have captured on film, but the weather was foul and it was all we could do to find some shelter and have something to eat. In fact, there are no pictures in Raireshwar and no pictures till we were almost down from Kenjalgad. The most exciting parts of the trek I was unable to photograph because of the rain, I did not want to risk my camera. The temple, (which was a bit like the temples one sees in the villages of Konkan but made of black stone and looked more rugged and weather beaten and less refined - a frontier temple perhaps) as well as all the buildings around it were open and empty. Rows of houses, another temple of similar size, all seemed abandoned. We shared the shelter of one of these with a few dogs (who N felt very sorry for and she wanted to shower them with food but was prevented from doing so by vehement protests from S and me) and had a bit to eat.
The boards written in marathi in the area near the temple (which was dotted with remains of old buildings here and there) informed us that it was at this unlikely but beautiful place in this strange old temple that Shivaji with a few of his companions first declared on 22nd October (I think) 1645 that he would fight for Swaraj. I wondered what the people felt then, what did swaraj mean to them ? Did Shivaji ever return to tell the simple village folk of the swaraj he had fought and earned ? Did he really give more freedom to the common people of the Deccan ? The Cambridge University history of the Marathas rejects the notion of Shivaji as a 'Hindu King' saying that he was a maratha nobleman who did what he had to do to come to power and whose armies were a mixture of religions, locals and pathans and villagers from all over which was common to all powers on the Deccan at the time. The author says that all references to him being a 'hindu king' are later additions by hindu revivalist historians and stories of him being influnced by Ramdas Swami and Dadoji Kondev (who were both brahmins) are later brahminical additions made in order to capitalize on the popularity of Shivaji. Possible and fair enough. But then one begins to wonder if Swaraj could have actually meant anything to the village folk of the Deccan. Shivaji was a fort based king, his armies harried his enemies from high inaccessible forts and he did not have a large standing army which could protect the territorial integrity of his dominions. Invaders would regularly sweep through his lands without being able to take all his forts, and be beaten back after periods of harassment by small skilled troops riding down from his mountain strongholds. So he never really provided the majority of villages on the Deccan - the ones which did not lie in the immediate vicinity of one of his more powerful forts, any degree of security but did levy heavy taxes. So what Swaraj did he provide if not a vague religious one ? The notion that one is oppressed by someone of ones own religion and not another although it made little or no difference on the ground. It is a question that the author of the Cambridge University Press History of the Marathas needs to answer.
There were a couple of other boards, one of which told us that in 1642 a poojari named Shiva Jangam was brought to the village to perform ceremonies at the temple and was present when Shivaji made his declaration and that the family still performs the poojas at the temple, while the other board was a reproduction of an edict by Shivaji for the villagers telling them to use the resources of the forest carefully and never to rape it (literal translation). It was still raining heavily and the fog was thick when we started on our way back. We roamed the plateau of Raireshwar for 40 minutes, dashing hither and thither looking for the path by which we had come, wet, muddy and in good spirits. The photo below is a burnt hut (with the bed and everything still in place) we saw while wandering around on the plateau. After we had finally located the right path we ran into a man tending his buffaloes (with the typical protection of a sack/plactic looking like a pointy hood thrown over his head and back) who asked us if we had had food and if we wanted to stay. He had a large house near the temple apparently (which we did not see) and could accommodate 15-20 people. His name was Shankar Jangam from the family of the temple priests. I began to wonder if - in the three fifty years since Shiva Jangam - the family had only progressed as far as Shankar. Shiv, Shankar, Shivshankar etc etc.
We got down from Raireshwar fairly rapidly to the spot where the road led towards Kanjalgad. For sometime the road let through dense insect infested jungle but we reached the village through which the path leads up towards the top of the gad. It was immediately obvious that this was going to be a stiff climb. A lady in the village told us that it was a clearly marked path and that we must not leave it and go into the jungle. "Payakhalchi vaat sodu naka" she said. Bur the path bifurcated into equal halves every 10 steps and we were quickly on a very steep, muddy, slippery patch struggling to pull ourselves up, and it was very obvious that we were lost. After some exploring and scrambling around we spotted the right path which led us fairly smoothly to the top of the shoulder of the mountain from where we could see both sides of the 500 foot cliffs that protected the top of the gad. This is a formation very common in this part of the range, a forested hill with a sheer vertical outcropping of rock protecting a large plateau above. There are generally only one or two possible routes to the top and so these are ideal locations for forts. I wonder if these are entirely natural (they seem quite unlikely) but then, for someone to have hewn them out at that hight seems incredible. We went along the path towards the cliffs facing the side we had climbed from and after a small rocky patch the stunning sight of rock steps hewn into the cliffs, 2-3 m broad, and very slippery. All this while the weather had been merciless and we were all tired and hungry. We reached the top along those steps and found some shelter in a old structure whose roof had partially caved in and had the excellent excellent theplas M (who is Gujju/Kutcchi) had so thoughtfully brought. After a moment of panic in the dense impeneterable fog, we found the steps leading down again and were quickly to the village. The path leading back down into the valley was found after much exasperated shouting from a large troupe of ladies and girls who had gathered to watch us leave (I guess we were quite a sight, muddy and shabby with M and N being highly incongruous in the surroundings) and among them was the lady who had told us the path when we set off to the top. "Ranat gele na tumhi. Sangiltla hota na, ti vaat hitun an hitun ashi ashi jaate te !" We said yes, we had made a mistake and thanked her. The photo above is of Kenjalgad taken on the descent, it looked quite imposing. We climbed down to a village called Yeli and then walked across the pretty pretty valley to Korle. S carried N on his back for some time much to M's (and my) surprise. We reached the car and borrowed a news paper to spread on the seats to protect them against us.
A scenic drive to Wai (which has some old and pretty riverside temples) and then to Mahabaleshwar (we gave a couple of garrulous villagers a ride to Bhor too). Some excellent sandwiches and pizza at Mapro and some very average rooms in the MTDC resort. The next day started comparitively late with a brilliant breakfast of Makai patties and frankies at Hirkani dhaba and then a walk to Arthur seat (3 hrs, and for much of the time we were convinced we were lost). It was raining heavily throughout and we waded through calf/ankle deep water at regular intervals. The jungle was dense on all sides and the mist added a lot to the atmosphere. (In the photos where its misty, nothing at all can be seen ! so none of those are put up here) Mahabaleshwar was very misty overall, making driving tricky. After much walking we reached the parking lot for Arthur seat, and found that we had been walking along "The Lady Willingdon Gallop". We started walking down the main road back to where we had parked car and were given a lift by a chap playing Himmesh songs very loud. We reached the car and started back, and had excellent Pithla Bhakri at a place near Poona. Then we dropped the girls to their transport back to Mumbai, while I went to S's mama's house, freshened up and then S and me went out for dinner like old times after which I took the 11.00 Asiad back to Aurangabad and was home at 4.30 today morning.