Friday, December 6, 2019

Fort 1: One day trek to Torna (Prachandagad)

Maharashtra is known as the Land of Forts and rightly so. You find numerous and all kinds of forts here - be it a hill fort, sea fort, land fort or watch towers  - you find them all in this one state.

'Fort' in English translates to ' Durg' in Sanskrit, which is derived from the word 'Durgamam' which means difficult to access. The Sahyadris' terrain, characterised by flat tops, precipitous inclines and surrounded by dense forests, are certainly difficult to access and hence were naturally suited for building forts.

Maharashtra has close to 350 forts nestled in the rugged Sahyadris. Almost every peak in this region of the Western ghats seems to have a fort! Many of these forts are still in good shape and almost all of them have a story to tell - A story of valour, sacrifice and undying love for one's motherland. These forts were the founding pillars of Shivaji's Hindavi Swaraj and are now a mute testimony to the glorious history of Marathas. The same forts, unfortunately, are a witness as well to the many battles and defeats inflicted by the British army that led to the downfall of the Maratha empire.

Now that I am in Pune, the hub of most fort treks in the Sahyadris, I am going to try and capture all my trekking experiences to these forts, on my blog.  The trekking season has begun and I hope to visit as many forts as possible before the season ends. I hope you enjoy reading my trekking experiences and get a peek as well into the glorious history of Maharashtra. 


I will begin my series from Torna, the firt fort to  be conquered by Shivaji to come under the fold of Hindavi Swaraj. Go on, read about it and enjoy.


Name: Torna (Also known as Prachandagad)
Height: 4603 feet/1403 metres above sea level
Trek Category: Medium-Difficult trek
Equipment required:  None but wear appropriate trekking shoes for this trek
Base Village: Velhe, 75 kms from Pune
Time to trek uphill: 2-3 hours
Where to stay: Staying overnight is possible at the Menghai devi temple on the fort or in self-pitched tents
Where to eat: Carry your own food & water
Best time to visit: November-February
Guide services on the trek - Not required as the trekking path is quite straightforward and evident




Brief History of Torna:

Torna, the highest hill-fort in Pune district is situated at a height of 1403 metres above sea level. It is supposed to  be built by the Shaivaites somewhere around the 13th century and was earlier known as Prachandagad (Prachanda = Massive; Gad = Fort) due to its massive area.

It is also the first ever fort to be captured by Shivaji Maharaj in his quest of Swarajya. In 1646, Shivaji captured this fort at a tender age of 16 and renamed it as Torna after the Tornajai devi temple near the main entrance of the fort. He is said to have found a hidden treasure near the Kothi darwaza of this fort during an excavation and he used this wealth  for the restoration of this fort and also to build the majestic Rajgad nearby.


The majestic hill fort of Torna


Getting to Torna from Pune:

Torna is situated just 75 kms southwest of  Pune along the Mumbai-Bangalore Highway (NH 48). After an approximate 45 kms of ride towards Bangalore , one will come across Narsapur phata where one has to turn right and reach Velhe village, which is the base of the fort. Please be on the lookout for this phata as it can be easily overlooked.

The road conditions are good in most parts and manageable in a few patches :) Public /State Transport buses also ply between Pune to Velhe. Local jeeps/taxis are also available between Velhe and Narsapur phata.


Parking: 

Parking is available in plenty at the base of the fort. Vehicles can be parked either:
1) near the local police station in Velhe, or
2) a little further along the road to the fort uphill (which saves 1-1.5 hours of uphill walk in the trek)

Food & Toilet Facilities:

Food options are limited at Velhe and more so on the route towards the fort. There are a few shacks selling buttermilk and nimbu paani (lemon juice) along the way uphill but absolutely no food. On the top of the fort, there was a man selling bhel to the trekkers but that too is not guaranteed on an every time basis. Such food vendors, as I gathered, are discouraged as they tend to generate litter on the fort. There is also no reliable source of potable water on the top of the fort. There are a few carved water tanks/cisterns on the fort but it is better to carry your own drinking water.

The nimbu-paani shack along the route


Please remember to carry some nutritious food and at least 2 litres of water per person before you embark on this trek.


There are obviously no toilets on the way to the fort and even on the fort. One has to answer the call of nature amidst nature itself :)


The Trek:

The trek is slightly arduous and comes under the "Medium Difficult" Category. It takes around 2.5-3 hours from Velhe and 1.5-2 hours from the 2nd parking lot to the fort. The road continuously takes one uphill along a mud path strewn with loose stones and some seriously steep, rocky patches.

It is recommended to wear appropriate trekking shoes with a good grip to climb this particular fort. This path get too slippery during the monsoons and this trek is best avoided during the monsoons, especially, if you are trekking with young children.

The route to the top


The trek offers some spectacular views as we ramble along the path. The backwaters of the Chapet Dam and the beauty of the undulating Western ghats give us several excuses to slow down and heave in our puffing breaths. Once we complete around half the trek, the rocky patches begin. Railings are provided in these patches for support where we literally have to propel our bodies upward using all our 4 limbs and get a strong foothold at every step lest we slip down. The railings are really needed to cross these rocky patches. A big 'thank you' to whoever thought of installing them...


Backwaters of the Chapet Dam




Exploring the fort:

Once we get through these rocky patches, we leave the railings behind and enter the fort through the Bini Darwaza. Just further ahead, lies the main entrance, also known as the Kothi Darwaza. The Tornajai devi temple is situated just behind this main darwaza.



Kothi Darwaza




As we further enter the fort premises, we are welcomed by the strong fortification walls (tatabandi in marathi) all still intact around the fort. There is a bhagwa (saffron) flag fluttering across one of the water tanks in front of the Zunjar machi. These flags are hoisted across most forts in Maharashtra to honour the legendary king Shivaji.

Look at the expanse of the walls inside the fort


There are two main machis on this fort, namely the Zunzar and the Budhala Machi. Zunzar means courageous and Budhala stands for aA machi is a fortified plateau which was used for settlement or patrolling. To get to the Zunzar machi, one has to climb down a ladder to get to the plateau and trek to the machi.

Zunjar machi


Budhala machi is on the way to the Mengai devi temple on the west side of the fort. It stretches between Torna and the neighbouring Rajgad. The Konkan darwaza is near this machi. There is another Shiva temple, the Mahadev temple of Torneshwar, in ruins near the Mengai devi temple. The remains of a Nandi and the base of a shivalinga is all that remains of the temple now.

Menghai devi temple




One can leisurely explore the fort by walking along its ramparts and descending down to get to the machis. It takes around 2-3 hours to explore the entire fort. The neighbouring Rajgad and even the distant Sinhagad can be seen from this fort on a clear day.

One has to be careful while descending the fort as even though it might seem easy for an amateur trekker, but in fact one has to be more careful to avoid slipping on the inclines.


Towards Binicha Darwaza


Staying overnight on the fort:

The Mengai devi temple is the best place to stay overnight. With proper doors and windows, it can be locked from inside for a good night's sleep. Alternatively, one can carry our own tents and pitch it on the fort there.

The entire trek including the ascent, exploration and descent, can be completed in 6-7 hours and is usually done in a day. There is no need to stay overnight unless you are doing a circuitous trek from Rajgad to Torna and further along.

Happy trekking!


Request: Please keep the trekking route, fort and its premises clean. Please do not litter or play loud music. Kindly let us all contribute to keep these heritage sites clean and in good condition. 










Raw Papaya Subzi (Peeth Perun Papaya Bhaaji)

Raw Papaya Subzi





I cooked an amazing subzi which I had tasted almost a decade ago at one of our aunt's house in California. She had asked me to guess the vegetable and I couldn't - for I had never eaten it as a subzi before then. She had made RAW PAPAYA ki subzi in a Maharashtrian/Gujarati style.
One of the prime reasons for making this subzi today is that I had a couple of raw papayas hanging in my garden that stubbornly refused to ripe. So brought one of them under my knife today ;)
I tried to remember our aunt's recipe and tweaked the recipe a bit as well while cooking. Luckily, it has turned out quite nice. Lately, raw papaya has been in the news for all its nutritional benefits. But to be honest, I don't bother about the specifics. Just knowing that it is a healthy and a tasty vegetable prompted me to go ahead with the preparation. Here is the recipe:


Ingredients:

Raw Papaya - 250 gms,  Peeled and chopped into small pieces
Besan - 3 to 4 tbsp
Oil - 2 tbsp or little more as required
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Jeera - 0.5 tsp
Hing - a pinch
Turmeric powder - 0.5 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Green chilly - 1, finely chopped (Optional)
Curry leaves - 8to 10
Dhaniya powder - 1 tbsp
Jeera powder - 1 tsp
Water - 1to 2 tbsp (Optional)
Salt - to taste

Method:

Heat the oil in a kadai and temper it with mustard seeds, jeera and hing. Once the tempering starts spluttering, add the curry leaves followed by the chopped papaya. Mix it well and allow it to cook partially by covering the kadai with a lid.

In some 5 minutes, add the remaining spices of chilli powder, turmeric powder, dhaniya powder and jeera powder along with some salt and give it a stir. Again, cover it and cook it till the papaya cubes are almost done.

Now, add the besan to the kadai and mix it well. Add salt as per taste and cook for another 3-4 minutes till the besan gets cooked. The subzi might turn out to be a bit dry. So if you wish, you can add little water at this stage to make it a bit mushy/wet so that it goes well with chapatis.

That's it! The papaya is ready to be devoured :)