Harishchandragad Fort Trek, Maharashtra
Harishchandragad Fort is located about 200 kilometres away from both Mumbai and Pune cities of Maharashtra state, India. It is situated in the Junnar region near Malshej Ghat in Ahmednagar district. The area comes under Kalsubai-Harishchandragad Wildlife sanctuary. The fort is extremely popular amongst trekkers and nature lovers. Trek to Harishchandragad Fort is considered to be the best possible moderate level trek in Sahyadri Mountains of Maharashtra. Taramati (1424 metre), Rohidas (1412 metre) and Balekilla (1390 metre) are the three peaks in Harishchandragad. Taramati peak is, in fact, the fourth highest peak in Maharashtra state after Kalsubai peak (1646 metre), Salher (1567 metre) and Dhopad (1472 metre). On our visit to Purushwadi village to witness ‘The Fireflies Festival’ we came to know about Harishchandragad Fort from our guide. Knowing that we were so close to the fort (25 kilometres from Purushwadi village), we decided to visit it. This article highlights our visit to Harishchandragad Fort, places to see at the fort, history about the fort and the best season to visit it.
Read our other articles on Purushwadi village, the Fireflies Festival & Things to do in and around Purushwadi by clicking on the images below
How to reach Harishchandragad Fort:
The trek to Harishchandragad Fort can be started from one of the three base villages - namely Nalichi Wat (difficult), Khireshwar (moderate) and Paachnai (easy). The Khireshwar village route is the most popular route to trek to Harishchandragad Fort as it offers a lot of scenic beauty.
Harishchandragad Fort can be reached by road, rail or air as follows: Road – The base villages for Harishchandragad Fort trek can be easily reached by bus/ car/ motorbike from Mumbai or Pune.
The route from Mumbai to Harishchandragad Fort is as follows: Mumbai – Igatpuri – Ghoti – Bari – Rajur – Paachnai/ Nalichi Wat (approximately 5 hours’ drive) OR Mumbai – Kalyan – Khubi Phata – Khireshwar (approximately 4 hours’ drive)
The route from Pune to Harishchandragad Fort is as follows: Pune – Alephata – Otur – Paachnai/ Nalichi Wat/ Khireshwar (approximately 5 hours’ drive)
Parking facilities are available at each of these base villages for a small charge.
Rail – The nearest railway station to Harishchandragad Fort is Igatpuri (40 kilometres away). After reaching Igatpuri, you will have to travel by road (taxi/ bus/ motorbike) to reach the base village - Khireshwar, Paachnai or Nalichi Wat.
Air – The nearest airport to Harishchandragad Fort is Mumbai (200 kilometres away). From Mumbai airport, you will have to travel by road (taxi/ bus/ motorbike) to reach the base village - Khireshwar, Paachnai or Nalichi Wat. For beginners, trekking through the Paachnai village route is recommended. We reached Paachnai village on a motorbike from Purushwadi village. The route from Rajur to Paachnai is very bad in condition. The breath-taking views of Harishchandragad and the waterfalls captivate you as you reach near to Paachnai. From Paachnai, it takes around 2-3 hours to trek to Harishchandragad.
Best time to visit Harishchandragad Fort:
The best time to visit Harishchandragad is during monsoon because nature is at its best with light clouds, mist, fog, flowers, water streams and greenery all around.
History of Harishchandragad Fort:
Harishchandragad Fort is quite ancient. It has been referenced several times in ancient scriptures like Matsyapurana, Agnipurana and Skandapurana. The carvings on the Harishchandragad Fort and the various constructions in the surrounding region point to the existence of diverse cultures.
6th Century – Harishchandragad Fort was built by Kalachuri dynasty. 11th Century – The caves of Harishchandragad were carved out. All the caves had idols of Lord Vishnu. Harishchandragad temple was also built in the same era. The temple as dedicated to Harishchandreshwar and was built in the Hemadpanti style of architecture. 14th Century – Great sage Changdev who wrote the manuscript ‘Tatvasaar’ stayed at the fort and meditated in the temple for a while. 16th Century – Harishchandragad Fort was under the control of Mughals. 18th Century – Marathas captured the Harishchandragad Fort from the Mughals.
Our trek to Harishchandragad Fort:
We started our trek to Harishchandragad Fort from the base village named Paachnai. Right after parking our motorbike, we crossed a small bridge across a stream. Our trek started from here. We were able to see numerous waterfalls trickling down the steep rocky terrain in the distance. Huge hills and vast fields filled up the entire landscape. The initial trek was mostly flat with a few easy slopes. We saw white coloured arrows marked on the rocks to guide the correct way. However, our host from Purushwadi village guided us through the path. We slowly moved from one hill to the other.
We were rewarded by spectacular views of the valley below as we climbed up. Eventually, we reached a point where the path was cut into an almost vertical rock face. A waterfall from above fell in the form of misty droplets. Walking through this cliff was the most dangerous part of our trek to Harishchandragad Fort. Any wrong step would have proved fatal to our lives. We even had to kneel down while hiking to save our head from colliding with the rocks above.
Further, from this point, the climb became really steep and we had to hike very carefully taking help of the railings attached. We crossed several tiny waterfalls, dense forest and flowing streams while hiking the remaining trail. It also started drizzling at one point and the whole valley was covered in clouds. We stood in awe as nature unravelled right in front of our eyes.
We halted for having lemon water from a local vendor at a small stall at one end of the cliff. Slowly trekking forward, we reached Harishchandragad summit. The view from the summit was impressive but mostly covered by intermittent clouds. On reaching the top, the area was completely flat with several medieval age constructions presumably part of the Harishchandragad Fort. A local film was being shot on the top and we wondered how such heavy equipments have been brought up to such a height.
Main attractions at Harishchandragad Fort:
The temple of Harishchandreshwar is nestled in the greenery at the top of the Harishchandragad summit. The temple is built out of black rock and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temple is carved out of a monolithic rock in North Indian style architecture and a similar temple has been built in Bodh Gaya, Bihar.
The entrance to the temple is from all the four directions. A Shivalinga adorns the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The temple of Harishchandreshwar is surrounded by several caves and water bodies. Towards the left of the temple is an orange coloured shrine of Lord Ganesha.
Saptatirtha Pushkarni Lake:
This well-built lake is right beside the Harishchandreshwar temple. On the banks of the lake are 14 small temple-like constructions where idols of Lord Vishnu used to exist. These idols have now been shifted to the main temple. The lake of Saptatirtha Pushkarni seemed to be in a bad shape due to a lot of plastic waste. It is believed that the water was once potable.
This cave holds a big Shivalinga right in the centre. The Shivalinga is surrounded by knee-deep cold water all the year round. The water in the cave never dries out, not even in the summer season! It is believed that the River – Mangal Ganga originates from Kedareshwar cave. This famous cave holds a very interesting story – Four pillars surround the Shivalinga and support the cave. Out of these four, only one is left intact and the rest others are broken. It is believed that the four pillars were made to depict the four ‘Yugas’ (stage/ cycle) of life. As and when one pillar breaks down, one Yuga ends. We are currently living in ‘Kali Yuga’ and this Yuga will end once the fourth pillar breaks.
Several other caves are spread out surrounding the temple at Harishchandragad. Many of these are situated at the foot of Taramati peak and some near the citadel of the fort. These caves are used as shelter by trekkers who stay the night at the fort as a place of accommodation. We took shelter in one such cave to stay away from heavy rain. We even ate our packed lunch that we carried from Purushwadi village in the cave. Some of the caves are used as small shops/ restaurants by the local villagers to sell food items.
Taramati peak is another half an hour hike from Harishchandragad Fort. The route leading to the peak is pretty steep and passes through dense forests and rocky patches. One can get a panoramic view of the entire range of Malshej Ghat from the peak. Those staying at Harishchandragad Fort for the night can hike the peak early in the morning for a spectacular sunrise. Several nearby mountain ranges can be spotted from Taramati peak.
Konkan Kada can be reached by climbing the hill right behind the Harishchandreshwar temple. The temple and the Saptatirtha Pushkarni Lake can be viewed from there. Konkan Kada is a semi-circular overhanging cliff that looks like a snake’s hood. It offers breath-taking views of the vast green fields and the valley. A unique atmospheric phenomenon named ‘Brocken Specter’ is generated at Konkan Kada during monsoon. It is basically a full circular rainbow with one’s shadow in between. Konkan Kada is hence believed to be one of the wonders of Sahyadri mountain range. If you start your trek from the base village of Nailichi Wat, Konkan Kada comes on the way!
Accommodation at Harishchandragad Fort:
Apart from the above mentioned main attractions, there are a lot of things to be explored on the Harishchandragad trek. Hence, trekkers and nature lovers prefer spending one night at the fort. They explore the nearby areas in the evening and the next morning and then descend on the second day. The numerous caves surrounding the temple are used as shelters by the campers. If you carry your own tent, you can pitch it anywhere you wish to. If not, renting facilities are available near the fort. The villagers charge up to INR 500 per tent which can easily accommodate 3 people. Local villagers have set up proper restaurants near the fort and serve Maharashtrian food items. However, these stalls would only be found during peak season. If you trek off-season and decide to stay, carry all your essentials with you.
Harishchandragad Fort trek is a trekker’s paradise and provides plenty of adventure sports activities like rappelling, rock climbing, valley crossing and camping. For all those visiting Purushwadi village for “The Fireflies Festival’, do not miss out on this golden opportunity to trek to the Harishchandragad Fort.
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