Ratangad (jewel fort) had been on my ‘to do list’ for a long while. Getting to the base village, Ratanwadi is a bit hectic to attempt by public transport. I was waiting for one of the local trekking groups to plan an outing to this place so I could skip the travel logistics. That opportunity turned up I grabbed it.
So on the night 14th of September I packed my bag and departed home to catch the overnight bus to Ratanwadi. Travelling with me were 30+ enthusiastic hikers. Some a bit too enthusiastic, so much so that they kept the entire bus up with a all night singing session accompanied with a drum and castanets.
The latter half of September is an ideal time to visit Ratangad as the local yellow Sonki (Senecio grahamii) flowers are in full bloom, the vegetation is still lush green and the departing monsoon winds always throws up variable weather conditions in a single day.
We reached Ratanwadi around 6:30am. On arrival we paid a visit to the Amruteshwar temple, built in the 8th century, followed by breakfast.
The hike began through the local fields of paddy and jowar and then slowly began to gain altitude. As this season is the fag end of the monsoon there were still numerous streams gushing down the slopes that had to be crossed. These crossings were not dangerous but a slip in the water can give one a nasty bump.
Within 2 hours we had almost made it to the fort. The final part of the climb involves climbing up a set of dilapidated metal ladders which can be a bit unnerving.
Atop the fort is where the fun really began. Ratangad is a relatively large fortification. As soon as one enters the fort through a large arch (Ganesh Darwaja) the mist begins to play a game of hide and seek.
It was at this point I foolishly decided to stray away from the group to enjoy a little alone time. The fort is littered with multiple interconnected trails that appeared and disappeared with the mist and I had no idea where I was heading.
When I finally decided to reunite with the group, I went down the wrong trail. This time I was walking along the edge of the fort with a misty valley on one side and a vast spread of wildflowers on the other. After about 30 minutes I realised I lost but kept moving forward nonetheless because the trail was that damn enticing. After another 500 meters I finally decided to head back to the group. I wasn’t fearful for my own safety but I was afraid of getting reprimanded by the group leader.
My reaction I on returning to the group was that of relief but also horror. I was told “oh, we didn’t even notice that you were missing”.
By this time it was noon. I began gobbling down lunch as fast as I could. I didn’t even need to open my own lunch as there was so much of variety on offer. The plan post lunch was to explore the fort and cross a rather interesting natural orifice formation in the rock called Nedhe or ‘eye of the needle’.
The trail to the Nedhe is mostly simple but steep towards the end. The Nedhe is dangerous for another reason; a gang of monkeys. These guys seem to have learned that trekkers carry food, lots of it. As I lay my bag on the ground and moved away from it to make a few photographs I large male macaque appeared. He confidently walked up to my bag, least concerned about the 40+ eyeballs on him. He calmly opened every zipper on my bag neatly removing my wallet, cellphone and other contents and kept them to a side. He grabbed a pack of parathas quickly devoured them and came back for a second course of biscuits as his family watched on.
This monkey was massive, none of us wanted to mess with him. As somebody who was bullied through most of school, I know when to knuckle down. I picked up my belongings and bag, now devoid of food, and quickly scampered away.
We proceeded back to the fort entrance and crossed another entry to the fort on the way. The Tryambak Darwaja was originally the main entry to the fort. After its capture by the British it was blocked by dynamite explosions.
From here it was back to the fort entrance and then all the way down to Ratanwadi. I descended slowly, at the back of the pack enjoying the sounds of the streams and forest. There was also a little time to enjoy a dip in one of the larger streams. Thus concluded a much awaited trip I’d wholeheartedly recommend.
A quick bite and a change of clothes later we were back on the bus to Bombay.
Need to Know Bit:
Ratangad is a 2000 year old fort in the Bhandardara area in Maharashtra. There are multiple ways to access this fort, 2 of which start at Ratanwadi. Personal transport is the best way to reach here. If opting for public transport one has to reach Igatpuri by rail. From here take a bus to Bhandardara and then either take a boat across the reservoir or hitch a ride with the locals.
Ratanwadi is a very traveller friendly town with facilities for food, stay and ample parking. Accommodation atop the fort is possible in 2 caves just outside the entrance. Camping in the monsoon would be tough as the caves are wet and smelly. Drinking water is plentiful in the rains but may not be so during April-June.