A long weekend could not go wasted. A tight budget but the willingness to make the best of it found the 6 of us in a Toyota Innova racing towards Pune. The famed expressway was a bit of a dampener though. My built up perception included 6 lanes and a perfectly straight road cutting right through the ghats. The reality however resembled the Delhi Mathura highway: good but not a class apart.
After over 3 hours on the highway which included a couple of pit stops, we finally reached Pune. Here we picked up 2 more friends to take the total to 8. The Innova is quite a spacious vehicle and despite being a 6 seater and almost all of us having stretched beyond agreeable weight limits,it was able to accommodate us in comfort.
We now moved towards Sinhagad road. After about 10-15 kms we reached Khadakwasla Lake. An expanse of water that stretches well beyond the horizon, one could easily mistake it to be a delta right besides the sea.The murky and swirling waters appeared to be quite above the danger levels.The lake seems to be a favourite amongst the Pune locals or maybe thew were the Pune Outskirts locals. The sight reminded us of the Marine Drive in Mumbai and henceforth our name for the place “K Drive”.
Anyway, our final stretch of driving was marred by our misguided sense of direction and we had to constantly stop to ask for the right way. As luck would have it, our query would be placed in front of the local marathi population which would then animatedly explain to us ( in marathi of course), the route. The wildly flailing hands didn’t help either and so it was after a while that we finally made it to the base of the Sinhagad peak also called the Swarna Dwar ( The Golden Door).
And so we started on a trek to the top, slowly negotiating the curves and bends that the peak had to offer. My friends, with their penchant for photography, felt the need to stop at each juncture to take photographs of the surroundings and themselves. I must admit now,however, that their photographs have come out quite well.Mine too.
The climb must have lasted for an hour when we came across a cute till ‘tapri’, essentially a stall selling tea, lemonade and pakoras. We decided to stop and had some amazing theplas ( from our bags) and some refreshing lemonade ( from his stall).
Being India’s Independence Day only ensured more unruly crowds and slowly the people behind and ahead of us just kept increasing.
Tired as we were, we decided to carry on.The rain had slowly become a force to reckon with as well and our thick raincoats only ensured more heat within and hence more sweat beads.
We stopped after another 30 minutes of climbing and took a break to chatter amongst ourselves on the distance left to cover. We could barely see the Doordarshan Tower on top of the peak but knew we were close. Two of my other mates took the break as an opportunity to carry some explorations of their own.Even as we were readying ourselves for the final ascent,these two vanished without a trace. After some frantic calling we decided to move on. Concerned as we were we thought that good sense would prevail and that the two of us would stop midway and meet us. Alas, we were wrong and soon mild concern intensified into worry. Shouting at the top of our voices,we went back looking for them but they were nowhere to be seen.
We decided to surge ahead and after a final 20-25 minute trek we finally reached the summit and to our relief quickly masked by anger, our two mates were standing there grinning. After the necessary and required session of reprimanding, we were ready to explore the fort that Shivaji had so valiantly fought for.
The place has an interesting story to it. The fort was annexed from the Mughals by Shivaji after an intense battle that saw the death of one of his favourite generals,Tanaji, the sinha (lion).
Tanaji used his pet Indian Monitor Lizard, called Yeshwanti, to scale the steep rock face of the fort and attack the mughals from the least expected side of the fort.
A memorial now stands within the fort,dedicated to this great maratha warrier.
After a 5-10 minute walk within the fort we decided to try the much acclaimed food of the locals. It must be the cold,I believe, the food tasted divine. We feasted on tea ( served in kulharrs),rotis made of jowar,curd,egg curry and onion pakoras.
And so with a full stomach and tired legs we decided to take the next best option to trekking downhill: The Jeep.
After some useless negotiations with the driver we got in at Rs 30 per individual. We were 8,the Jeep was designed to carry a maximum of 10 but the driver believed in 12, if not more…and so hands and feet were stacked wherever possible. The driver just about managed to get the wheel in his hand. I was more concerned about him falling out of the jeep with the rest of us inside. Fortunately, his expertise proved correct and within half an hour we are at the base of the hill, still alive and kicking.
We were however on another side of the hill,not where our vehicle was parked. The “no network” message only compounded our issues and I, along with another mate, had to trek 5kms to get to our vehicle. Exhausted, we climbed on and wished ourselves back in town : Mumbai which was fulfilled after another 3 hours on the road.