Updated: Jan 30
“Hiking is not just a bit but a lot like life. The Journey only requires you to put one foot in front of the other… again and again and again… And, if you allow yourself the opportunity to be present throughout the entirety of the trek, you will witness the beauty every step of the way, and not just at the summit.”
I felt the above yet again when I ventured into the forest after a long gap owing to the pandemic situation our world has been facing this whole last year.
As they say, “Hiking in nature is the most ancient exercise, and still the best modern exercise.”
New Year brought hopes of new beginnings and as always the moment weekends started approaching, my travel buddies and I started feeling that itch only nature could scratch.
And, one fine evening sitting by a lakeside sipping some chai together, my friend Aalisha said, “hey guys… thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home… I guess we already know that… so, when are we going home?”
“Ahaan… Aalisha was right!”
We instantly decided to venture into the mountains once again, of course being mindful of the necessary safety norms considering that the pandemic is still here.
Another of our gang members, Sagar suggested, we begin the year with a forest trek. And, supporting his suggestion was a wonderful thought that forests are the world’s air-conditioning system – the lungs of the planet, and we need purest of oxygen at this time more than ever. So why don’t we go well inside these lungs itself?
Sagar charmed us all with his usual sense of humour yet again but this time it was as real as it could get.
It was decided. A forest trek somewhere in the Sahayadri ranges.
Sahayadri region is known to be home to more than 300 forts in Maharashtra, towering structures built on mountain tops passing through dense forests, and by the sea, ages ago.
After some discussions, our compass’s needle set its direction towards an easy-medium grade forest trek to Madhu – Makarandgad. Believed to be comprised of twin peaks, Madhu and Makarandgad, the fort has thus derived its name.
Although Karan wasn’t too sure of it reasoning that we have hiked quite a few forest treks leading to forts of the Maratha Kingdom.
True! And, there we had convincing wisdom coming from Aalisha yet again, when she smiled and said in a calm tone, “Guys, my favorite Paulo Coelho has said… in a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”
Our journey had already begun in our minds.
Makarandgad (or Madhu - Makarandgad) is a hill fort rising to an elevation of 4,055 feet. The twin peaks lie in the vicinity of the famous Pratapgad, near Mahabaleshwar (dist. Satara, Maharashtra.)
Historically, it is said the fort could not gain much glory like its neighbour, Pratapgad. In current times, it came as a boon to us because we like to hike lesser-known and rather offbeat trails. And, Makarandgad exuded that glory to us beautifully.
We were told that the fort can be approached via two base villages – Hatlot or Chaturbet.
We took the Hatlot route. We knew that our trek leads Prashant and RK had vast knowledge of almost everything about the trail, history of the fort, and the highlight was RK’s biodiversity’s expertise. So, we chose to happily surrender to them.
RK excitingly said with a smile, “Although the ramp from each side of the fort is similar, route through Hatlot will give you an experience of walking through the dense canopy of ‘Javali’ forest.”
And, we surely wanted to get soaked into its beauty, and also walk through the lungs of our planet – the forest, so, we chose to start our trek from Hatlot village. Also, we had RK – the biodiversity expert hiking with us and we definitely did not want to miss the opportunity to learn from him some secrets of our first love – Mother Nature.
After reaching Hatlot village by a private bus, we did a little stretching to warm up our muscles and started our walk. Less than five minutes into the walk, and a mesmerizing sight of Madhu-Makarandgad through the intriguing Bombay Insigne aka Snowy Silk Cotton tree welcomed us.
A quick introduction with the rest of the group, exchange of some enthusiastic smiles, and beginning of our hiking trail marked a humble beginning of some new friendships too at this point.
We crossed a small bridge, after which the actual trek route begins. The trail does not have a marked route, but is a narrow pathway next to small houses in the base village which took us to the forest. As always the colours and fragrance of tall trees, the leaves, the flowers, and soil had already started filling up my soul with serenity.
Though the route rarely has any forks, however, my friend Aalisha’s wisdom was always there for our rescue. We all simply love how she finds humour in simplest of moments too. In a serious tone she said, “It is so simple guys… whenever you face any point where you are not sure which one is right, always take a left.”
Well, fortunately we had an expert lead with us. He guided that the fort pinnacle always needs to be on your right while climbing. Prashant also told us that Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, the then ruler of the region conquered the forest of Javali. And, due to the spread of tall and dense trees, it was one of the strategic locations for a fort.
However, unlike many other forts in the Sahyadri region, Madhu-Makrandgad will not give you an experience of historical doors or walls. There will be structure of stones, or stones stacked together to give the mountain top a higher elevation. Since the fort never witnessed its construction completion, there are no traces of old hall ways or doors etc.
Now, this was interesting to note.
The trail is flooded with beautiful flowers and Ficus family of trees. The sight and overall experience is captivating. I could spend hours here simply observing and feeling the silence of the sounds of birds, getting absorbed in the vibes.
RK also helped us locate the tiniest orchid found in India. Interesting conversations with our fellow trekkers coming from different walks of life made the ascents of our hike much comfortable.
After about an hour’s climb, we reached a grassland, where there wasn’t any tree cover. We located some buffalos enjoying the muddy sun-bath. Honestly speaking, I was a little watchful as we were in their home and not vice versa. RK, at this moment calmly invited us to take a pledge to respect the residents of any region – the flora and fauna, and that we may want to remember that we are their guests.
What an awesome thought!
And, our lead, Prashant reminded us of the philosophy of “Responsible Travel” at The Orange Sky, and our undying motto – “Leave No Trace.”
I still remember his words profoundly, “Friends, the aim is to leave no trace of you having been there. To be able to enter these “untouched” areas on marked hiking paths is a great gift, and may we invite you to cherish that gift more responsibly.”
Our entire group of trekkers wholeheartedly took this pledge and we continued our mindful journey.
Another walk of about 40-45 minutes under the canopy of forest after the grassland introduced us to the first sight of Mallikarjuna Temple; the peace of the place was beyond divine. If you face the entrance of the temple, the presumable pinnacle of the fort lies on your left side. Temple lies at the base of the final climb to the top of the fort.
Our excitement grew further when we noticed the route to our summit point was more or less visible from here. It was time for a quick water break and also some of us wanted to soak into the silence of the place for a while. It is also a decent camping spot or you may stay the night inside the temple premises too with local’s permission.
Remember? Respect the residents.
Madhu-Makarandgad is known for its enchanting sunset and sunrise views. Another gradual ascent led us to the best sunset view point but we reserved it for our next visit here. Since our plan was a one-day hike, we wanted to cross the dense forest and descend back to the base village before sunset.
So, we continued our journey to the top.
The stretch to the top I found comparatively a bit steep at some places. It was around 2 PM and the Sun was working at its full capacity. I was feeling a bit exhausted owing to lack of a regular fitness regime. My energies started to feeble now, and I was unsure if I could reach the top. Few of us started taking more breaks to gather our breaths as well as some courage. Motivation was no less though.
Someone had to come to our rescue. And, yes, you guessed it right. Our trek lead and fellow trekkers started giving each other just enough doses of cheerful energies. We were like a family supporting each other with all the love we had within. I was once again reminded that some of the trails I have hiked in the past have given me best of friends for life.
Meantime, a young first-time hiker, Aditya – hardly a 12 year old smiled at me innocently, offered me an energy bar and said, “You can’t climb up a mountain with downhill thoughts.”
A lesson for life – I felt taller than the trees we had just walked through a while back. And, I knew I want keep hiking more and more and more. Navigating the trail further for 20-30 minutes, we reached the top.
The top of the fort is more of a plateau than a hill, and, as always the views left me awestruck. I could not blink for a while. I had walked the strawberry farms in Mahabaleshwar, and now I was seeing another perspective - those farms from a bird’s eye view. It was an absorbing sight that made us all forget the hard climb.
Prashant told that one can see the views of Mahabaleshwar and Pratapgad on the north-eastern side, Forts of Rasalgad, Sumargad and Mahipatgad on the eastern side, and also are clearly visible the backwaters of Koyna and Shivsagar dams. To our luck, the day was a bit hazy that blurred our views a little.
However, Sahayadri forts continue to fascinate me with their self-sufficiency in spite of their challenging locations. On the eastern side of the fort there is one water reservoir in the cave. Now, that’s amazing. Right?
The ancient Bhairon and Shiva Temple at the top evoked my spiritual side and the soothing vibes invited me to sit in silence and practice vipassana meditation. As they say that your vibes attract your tribe, few of my trek buddies joined me in meditation to feel the inner peace that nature bestows us with in abundance.
After enjoying a yummy local cuisine that we had carried in our backpacks from the base, some fun moments of photography, some memorable experience sharing, and lots of smiles and positive energy, we wore our renewed selves and started descending back to the base.
Last but not the least, I personally would like to thank each one of my fellow trekkers and especially, Madhura, who set an example of a true responsive traveller by initiating collecting plastic she found on the trail.
That was the beginning of a new year for us.
Points to Note:
Trek Name: Forest Trek to Madhu-Makarandgad
Difficulty level: Medium
Endurance Level: Medium
Altitude: 4055 Ft.
Water sources: None. Carry at least 2-3 litres of water
Food availability: Nothing on the trail. You can carry packed meals from the base village and also carry some quick refreshments for energy refill.
Overnight Stay: You can carry your own mats and sleep in the Mallikarjun temple premise. Cave at the top is not inhabitable.
Things to Carry
An unmatched will to climb mountains, and explore the nature responsibly.
Additionally, you may want to carry a cap, sunglasses, sunscreen lotion, basic medicines and ORS packets. This trail may become slippery and muddy during the monsoon and may be avoided.
Do you think we still need a lot of inspiration to venture into the mountains for our next trekking expedition?
Well, well, well…
Our energies and enthusiasm has hiked too, as YOU hiked the “Forest Trek to Madhu Makarandgad” with us!
See you in the mountains!