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Travel: Trek to Jivdhan Fort

Around 8:00 am we started walking towards Jivdhan Fort top. The dhaba owner turned up as our guide. The distance from the dhaba to the
trek to Jivdhan fort
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The phone rang thrice and he answered – Anil here. 

-Hi Anil, Samaresh from Kharghar. I saw your post in the Mumbai Hikers group about the Naneghat Jivdhan trek. I would like to join but I am Bengali, don’t know Marathi, if this trip is meant for localites …

-That’s not an issue but do you have any idea about treks in Sahyadri? Did you do any before? How old are you? Anil fired a barrage of queries.  

– Well, I know many Hill Forts of Sahyadri are located at isolated places, amidst jungles, foot tracks are obscure, chances of getting lost is high, if something goes wrong help may not be available easily, at some places no mobile signal is available. That’s why I wish to go with your group.  I am 52, physically active, and did a mountaineering course from Darjeeling in 1985. I am aware of the difficulty and endurance needed for these treks. I did only one trek at Sahyadri to Harihar Garh, after coming to Mumbai recently.

-You are quite thorough. Welcome abroad. You know the rendezvous? 

-Yeah, Godrej Showroom, Dombivli East at 22-30 on Saturday, 13th October 2012. 

-Right, see you then.

The 1600 km long Western Ghat Mountain range running parallel to the west coast from Gujarat to Tamil Nadu is older than the Himalayas. It is one of the 36 biodiversity hotspots of the world. The 600 km northern part is made up of volcanic eruption deposits but historically there were no volcanoes. So how did it form? 100 million years ago, the Indian continental plate was located near Africa. Due to continental drift it was slowly shifting northeastward. 

The Sahyadri range is the world's largest prehistoric volcanic activity area.

About 60 million years ago huge amounts of lava from the base mantle of earth broke through the seabed of the Indian ocean and began to spread on the surface of the Indian tectonic plate in today’s Maharashtra region. This volcanic tumult continued for 30,000 years. Finally, the Indian plate came to rest with a huge volcanic deposit called Deccan Trap but the lava source remained where it was – under the Indian Ocean! Layers of lava pushed up and spread across. The solidified mass transformed into an awe inspiring spectacle. It can be appreciated at Mahabaleshwar or Khandala.  After erosion for millions of years the depth of this massive lava layer is still around 7000 feet. The 50,000 square kilometers of Sahyadri mountain is the world’s largest prehistoric volcanic activity area. 

Forts in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are protected with stone masonry fortifications but the vertical surface of hill forts of Sahyadri are natural barriers. Inside the forts of Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh there are residences of members of the royal families. So there still exist palaces, barracks, markets etc. inside these forts. But except Raigarh, Shivneri, Rajgarh kind of few large forts, most hill forts in Sahyadri are watch posts on high vantage points to monitor enemy movements. Most of them had only basic facilities like a granary, rock cut water tank and cave for a few soldiers. Stone cut access steps were made on vertical hill surfaces. Entry gates were properly guarded to make the fort impregnable. During the Anglo Martha war in many forts British forces demolished those steps with explosives rendering it difficult to access for the Maratha forces too. In Jivdhan fort also the access steps to Kalyan Darwaja were destroyed by British forces. Now the broken path needs to be accessed cautiously, especially during monsoon when it can be treacherously slippery.

The climb up to Jivdhan fort.

We intended to reach the base village Ghatghar by 3am to catch up on a few hours of sleep at a dhaba and start the trek around 8am after breakfast. It was 125 km from Dombivli. We started late after midnight. The driver didn’t know the route. Anil came here earlier to enquire about local guides. We were driving along Kalyan Ahmednagar NH 61. The night was dark and Anil missed the right turn at Pargaon. After driving for 20 km towards Junnar, Anil realized his mistake. We reversed. This time Anil rightly spotted the turn. Due to delayed start, missing turn, slowly retracing the path and we reached Ghatghar at 5:30am. In such outings inadvertent slippage from the plan is part of the game. Apart from me and a few senior members most others were in their mid-twenties and knew each other. They kept singing all through the night, blissfully oblivious about missing the turn or delayed arrival kind of trivia. That spirit of youthfulness is indeed energizing! 

Our group of trekkers.

After having simple breakfast and tea, we assembled for a brief self-introduction session. Around 8:00 am we started walking towards Jivdhan Fort top. The dhaba owner turned up as our guide. The distance from the dhaba to the fort base is 5 km. The walk to the top is another 2 km. About 400 feet high, Vanarlingi pinnacle near main Jivdhan fort looks formidable. It takes serious climbing effort to scale it. We carefully crossed the broken path to Kalyan Darwaja, one of the entrances to the fort from Naneghat side. Another entrance is Junnar Darwaja from Ghatghar side. It was mid-October and there was a lot of vegetation. Around 65 acres of the fort area was thickly covered with pink Balsam flowers and yellow wild flowers. It was a treat for the eyes. The traversing path round the hill till the top was faintly identifiable due to excessive vegetation. As such a local guide is essential to avoid missing the tracks.  

Pink balsam flowers en route Jivdhan fort.

Midway there are two rock cut tanks. The water looks clean but it is safer to consume it after purifying with a chlorine tab. Inside of the big rock cut granary was pitch-dark. The guide told us that anyone who likes to spend the night here needs to keep the candle burning through the night to ward off rats. Many hill forts are situated around Jivdhan– Dhakoba, Chawand, Hadsar, Nimgiri, Harishchandragad, Gorakhgad, Shivneri, Bhairabgad etc. Some of them and Manikdoh Dam backwater can be seen from the Jivdhan fort top where there is a small temple of Jivaidevi. 

Rising at 3757 feet above sea level the history of Jivdhan fort can be traced back to Satavahana Dynasty (3rd century BC to 3rd century AD).  During 1633 a very young prince Murtaza Shah III, the last nominal ruler of Nizamshahi of Ahmednagar was held captive here by Shah Jahan. Sahaji Bhonsle, father of Shivaji Maharaj rescued him in 1635. During the Third Anglo – Maratha war (1817-1819) forces of East India Company captured Jivdhan fort and destroyed its approaches and many parts. Since then the Jivdhan fort stands abandoned. 

we spotted a rock cut water tank on our way.

Vast expanse from top, Manikdoh back water far below, spectacular Vanarlingi pinnacle, impressive Nana’s thumb, a distinct rock feature rising like a whale nose from the plain –  such captivating views paid off well the hardship of sleepless night journey and long walk to the top. Exploring Jivdhan we started descending to Naneghat. Since Satavahana period, Naneghat pass was an important check post and toll collection booth on the ancient trading route between west coast Junnar in the Deccan plateau. One stone pot to collect tolls can still be seen there. 

On the way back we saw a small stream coming down from Jivdhan hill. Our guide told us its water was potable. We filled our bottles. A large rock cut cave at Naneghat pass was earlier used as a rest shelter for traders. Around sixty people can sleep there. Inside the cave there were some historically important rock inscriptions dating back to the Satavahana period.  For the preservation of inscriptions, a gate was installed at the cave entrance. The watchman allowed us to rest. Exhausted from the day-long walk, ascend to and descend from Jivdhan top, some members laid back on the floor.  

Naneghat cave.

On our return journey we would follow the 5 km long stone pitched ancient trading path till Kalyan Ahmednagar NH-61. Around 6pm we started walking down. Sunset was 15 minutes away but due to thick foliage it already appeared like twilight. Next day was a new moon so we were walking in darkness. Walking on that path on a full moon night would be charming. Around 2 km stretch of the road was narrow winding hill tracks. Everyone was walking with their torches that illuminated a small area in front. In his post Anil had categorically mentioned that everyone should bring a torch. We realized its utility on the dark path. Series of undulates lights moving down the hilly trail. Occasional sounds of unknown night birds, steady chirping of crickets added jungle walk flavor. 

Ancient toll collection pot at Naneghat

Some people come to Jivdhan through Naneghat pass from the trekking start point on NH-61 near Vaishakhare village but that requires walking uphill for more than two thousand feet in 5 km. That path is only suitable for walking. So our bus that dropped us at Ghatghar base village dhaba in the morning would wait there for us. Around 7:30 pm we reached the highway. Refreshed with snacks and tea at a dhaba, we headed towards Mumbai– satisfied with wonderful experience of the outing.

All images used in this article are by the author.

Samaresh Mukherjee is a retired Civil Engineer. In professional life he worked, lived and widely travelled in many parts of India. Post retirement he is pursuing his passion of Backpacker style long duration Solo Travelling on shoestring budget to offbeat places not frequented by regular travellers.

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