It's adventure all the way as you trek to Harihar Fort

Harihar Fort is one majestic man-made high-rise, 48 km away from Igatpuri, in Maharashtra's Nashik district. An ideal getaway for wild adventurers, the fort, with its 80 degrees slope, delivers on all counts. The climb, fraught with danger and challenges, calls for physical strength of the finest kind. Full of thrills, it beckons climbers from all over the world. No balustrades or ramparts remain of this once-glorious look-out. Weather beaten and dilapidated, the fort stands tall reminding posterity of what it once stood for.

Though the best time to go up is when the rains come down, that is, during the rainy season, the climb can be tricky up and down the slippery slopes. If you can find a guide or someone else for company, you could call it the mother of all treks. Here's a reality check on how the climb is like during winter, when the icy winds cut across the mountains.

Climbing the fort had always been a dream, said the adventurer sharing the experience of his climb with Manorama. Now it would materialize and he took the Kerala Express from the Thrissur railway station at 8.30 on the night on December 17. A day and one-and-a-half nights later, the train pulled up at Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh in the wee hours of the day. The train to Nashik was scheduled only at 6.30 am.

The Godan Express from Gorakhpur to Mumbai rolled in bang on time and was crowded. One had to struggle for breathing space. A six-hour journey later, the Nashik station came into view at 1 pm. Spic and span, the platform as well as the railway tracks were a picture of immaculate maintenance.

The Nashik bus stand stands next to the railway station. But to reach Trymbakeshwar, one has to reach the Central Bus Stand first. From Nashik to Trymbakeshwar lies a distance of 36 km.

Tryambakeshwar is famous for the Jyotirlinga temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. Rooms around the place are affordable.

The journey to Harihar resumed early in the morning from Tryambakeshwar to the village of Harshewadi, along a 13 km route. Clans live in clusters here. The place is mostly deserted but for a few hutments along the way. Not even a tea shop anywhere. A ride in a rickshaw up Harshewadi is one bumpy trip, as the vehicle hobbles over stones and unevenly cut mud roads. The village is innocent of modernity. Change has not touched the place. It's still cocooned in the old and the unseen. The rickety vehicle went up thus for a while till the man stopped short a distance away and pointed to the way that led up the fort said he would go only thus far and no more.

The way towards the fort was again totally deserted. There existed no sign of human habitation. Quite by chance, the team bumped into a 'sanyasi' in his traditional garb. With long, uncut beard and saffron bag on his head, the holy man soon became 'baba' for the team. The baba was apparently going up to pay obeisance to the lord Hanuman who, he said, was at the top.

Introductions over, the trek up continued. Surprisingly, there appeared in view a tarpaulin cover under which sat a village youngster selling nimbu paani (lime juice) and biscuits. Though the youth charged Rs 15 for a glass of juice he could not calculate how much three glasses would thus cost, bringing into focus the lack of literacy and basic education around the place. It was so appalling a reality. On being given a Rs 100 note, his agitation at calculating the balance was painfully pathetic.

More steps up and a hard trek later, the destination loomed large ahead. There it stood, majestically rising into the clouds, a shell of its former glorious past. Here's where centuries of history lay in slumber. The fort, 3676 ft above sea level, was built in the 13the century during the reign of the Sevuna dynasty. The architecture is amazing in that it was structured in such a way that enemies were rendered helpless in infiltrating the place. One misstep and the steep, narrow steps cut into the rocks would send you hurtling down to sure death.

One needs sheer courage and strength to inch up. If one has the guts to look back, the panoramic vision opening up is worth the risk. The hills and valleys lie spread out in all vastness. But careful, as you go up, the steps become narrower and steeper. They open out to the main entrance of the fort built like a minar. From then, into a tunnel cut into the rock through which one has to inch forward head and back bent. Once the tunnel is crossed, there are countless steps snaking up, redolent of helical steps, steeper than the ones below. There are supports built into the rocks where one can take the steps by holding the sides and they lead up to an even surface of the fort. Square reservoirs cut into the rock stones to collect water, choke on the plastic refuse left behind. But there's no other option in sight where one can draw water from. So drink and slake your thirst.

The only reminder of a once-past glory is the armament store and the entrance over it. From then on, it's one frightening, steep climb up the highest rock atop the fort.

"Watch your step," reminded the baba. The reminder was not in vain. There are no steps one can take. Just a peek down will send shivers down your spine. One loose step and you can say bye to the world. But determination always gets the better of true adventurers as it did in this case.

The climb up was arduous. But it was done. And the top was worth all the fears, aches and crunches. One could do a Titanic ship show and scream, "I'm the king of the world," for that's the feeling one gets from atop Harihar Fort. It's the peak of achievement where the winds are icy cold.

You can see from here the Alwad dam which gives Mumbai city its water. Spread out are farms, wastelands, hills, mountains, rivers and valleys.

The climb down is more difficult than thought. You are doing a steep trick with nothing to hold on to. The paths are treacherous and the steps difficult to negotiate. Climbers are warned not to panic. Focus on the descend, not the sheer drop below, say expert climbers.

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