Have you ever experienced a 200 ft. long climb on steep rock-cut slippery stairs inclined at an 80 degrees angle in heavy rain showers ? If not, then you need to head to Harihar Fort in the monsoon to experience it.
Bhavini heard about the steep ascend from her colleagues, and asked me to watch a Youtube video of the trek. I obliged and the video instantly stoked my sense of adventure. We had to do the trek, When Trek Mates India organized the trek in August 2015 we jumped at the opportunity.
Harihar Fort – History and Significance:
Harihar fort, situated in the Trimbak range, is at an elevation of 3676 ft. It stands on top of a massive prism of triangular rock, with natural fortification on three sides. One meter wide steps are carved in the rock itself with grooves for additional support. They are the only point of access to the fort. The entire set-up is jaw-dropping beautiful to look at from the base.
The fort was given to the Moghuls by Shahji Maharaj in 1636 along with Trimbak, Tringalwadi, and few other Poona forts. In 1818, after the fall of Trimbak, Harihar fort was surrendered to the British along with 17 other strong forts by the Moghuls. When Captain Briggs visited the fort, he was mesmerized by the beauty of the stairs. The British army, on capturing Maratha forts, used canons to destroy all access routes to their forts. This is seen at many forts viz. Alang, Malang, Harishchandragadh, Padargad etc. However, at Harihar, Captain Briggs didn’t have the heart to destroy the beautiful stairs. He left them untouched. Even today, these beautiful stairs are the only way to climb up to the fort.
We started from Mumbai by bus in the night and braced ourselves for a long journey. In the morning, before dawn, we reached the base village – Nirgudpada. It is a picturesque village surrounded on all sides by forts and mountains. Harihar Fort stands distinctively amidst the hills. Watching it from the ground, we wondered how exactly would we climb this monster of a fort ?
We started after having a quick breakfast of home-made onion poha and tea. From the village, it is difficult to find the path as one has to cross many farms before reaching the start of the trail. However, our trek leader was experienced, and we did not have much difficulty. We climbed to the pass in between Fani dongar ( 3255 ft. ) to the left and Harihar to the right. The pinnacle of Fani is nearly 30 ft. long and resembles the hood of a cobra, hence the name. Along the way, we came across a tiny temple and a beautiful pond in front of it. Even though the water was green, it was full of fishes. The group halted here for a long break.
After the brief history lesson, we proceeded on our trail. Soon, we reached the base of the mighty rock prism on whose pinnacle stood the Harihar fort. The rock-cut steps lead up the fort and are very steep. We all lined up and started to climb the stairs one below the other. The initial fright gives way to excitement, as we marveled at the views from the height. We climbed nearly 100 stairs to reach the first gate – Mahadarwaja, then walked below an overhang, and continued further on another flight of winding stairs, to reach the second entrance door. This opens onto a plateau. It has two small temples of Lord Hanuman and Lord Shiva and a pond with potable drinking water. We sat here to have our lunch.
Post lunch, we explored the fort. There is a tiny hump in the middle, which is the highest point on the fort. We climb up, soak in the views and click photos. After some time we made our way down as it was getting crowded. We explored the back side of the fort which has 5 cisterns. It tapers down providing spectacular views of the Shayadris range and the valley below. We walked along the edge that faces the base village – Nirgudapada. This edge is named “Scottish Kada” after Doug Scott who was the first person to climb the edge in 1986.
A successful Finish:
Spending over 2 hours on top of the fort, it was time to climb down. The steep staircase made everyone a bit anxious before the descend. However, slowly, everyone got down comfortably to the bottom of the rock. We waited for everyone to come down the stairs before continuing on our trail to get back to the base village. In another hour or so, we walked back down to the base bringing an end to an exhilarating trek to Harihar.
Afterward, at Nirgudapada, while everyone changed, and had snacks, Bhavini and I decided to explore the surroundings. We walked down along the single road, and soon we were out of the village. Bhavini, carried her shoes in her hands as she had shoe bites. We walked along, hand in hand, wondering what the future had in store for us. We didn’t know yet whether we would be married or not but we knew that someday we both would come back to this beautiful place.