Trek to Sudhagad - the abode of Bhoraidevi
Sudhagad is a fort located near Pali, about away from Khopoli. Getting there from Mumbai or Pune is quite easy, and so it is a popular trekking destination. Sudhagad was originally referred to as Bhorapgad, after the Goddess Bhoraidevi who was the family deity of the Pant Sachivas family who ruled over the Bhor district in which the fort lies. However the origin of this fort is said to date back to the 2nd century B.C., the same age as the Thanale Caves and Khadsamble caves nearby (ref).
There are various documented routes to climb the mountain to the trek:
- The main route is from Dhondase village to the north of the fort. As you travel south from Pali on state highway 93, there is a turn to the left at Wavloli village going towards Dhondase. The trekking route from Dhondase is supposed to be quite well defined and reaches the fort at the main entrance or "Maha Darwaja"
- The other route is from the south of the fort, from a village called Thakurwadi. From Pali, go south on state highway 93 and turn left at Adsule village towards Pachchapur. Thakurwadi is at the end of the road ahead from Pachchapur
We took the second route. This route is now more frequently used by trekkers due to the steel ladders that have been fitted at the most difficult spots on the route, thereby avoiding the toughest parts of the climb.
Thakurwadi is a small village with a population of about 300 people surrounded by rice fields.
The road from Pachchapur ends at Thakurwadi. The road is quite rough but my jeep handled it without stress.
There is a small school located on the right as you reach Thakurwadi. There is a parking area in front, where we parked our vehicles. The trekking route starts right next to the school building through the small gate to the right.
Before we set out for the trek, we stopped to have tea at a villager's house who also agreed to accompany us as a guide. His wife was busy grinding rice to make bhakris.
The route gradually climbs the mountain along the ridge to reach Takmak Point and enters the fort area through the Pachchapur darwaja (doorway)
As we approached the mountain, it was covered in a shroud of clouds
The difficult parts of the route have steel ladders like this one, making it a relatively easy trek
The weather was perfect, cool with an occasional drizzle. We navigated through the forest to reach the top of the ridge and then climbed further up towards the fort
The last section has stone steps that climb rapidly uphill to reach the Pachchapur darwaja
After entering the Pachchapur darwaja, stone steps lead all the way up to Takmak point.
A short walk from Takmak point laterally takes you to one of the bastions from where you get a nice view of the valley below
From the bastion, looking up one can see the hillside reaching up to the top of the mountain hidden in the clouds
We reached the mountain top amidst the clouds. It is a wide table top with rocks strewn about. Would have been difficult to make out how to navigate towards the temple without the arrows painted on the rocks
Following the arrows, we found the Pant Sachivas' wada (mansion). It has a wooden pillared gallery surrounding a central courtyard
The Pant Sachivas family who governed the Bhor district in which the fort lies, were the last owners of the fort. They built and maintained the fort, the temples and the mansion (ref). There are still some people living here.
As we walk further ahead from the mansion, we come across a large lake. We take a moment to wash up the grime from the trek and sit for a while enjoying the view and to wait for the laggards in our group. On the other side of the lake, we see the remains of several houses.
We then arrive at the Bhorai Devi Temple. Bhorai Devi is the family deity of the Pant Sachivas.
The rest of our trekking group caught up with us here, and we took a quick group photo by mounting the camera on a makeshift tripod made with two bamboos and a tree branch stacked against each other.
The interior of the temple has a main hall with two rows of wooden pillars, and a wooden tiger crouching in the center. The Pant Sachivas built the main hall of the temple in 1750 (ref). The tiger is the vehicle of choice of Goddess Durga and hence I surmise that Bhorai devi may be a form of Goddess Durga.
The sanctum santorium of the temple has the idol of the Goddess, but unfortunately it has been sealed within a cubicle and covered with a shroud - and so could not see the features.
Behind the Goddess to the left is an idol of Ganapati, the elephant headed God with a couple of Shiva Lingas in front of it.
In the courtyard in front of the temple is a Deepa Stambh - a pillar of lights. It has places to keep diyas that light up the courtyard.
At the base of the pillar is a carved elephant with the mahout sitting atop it.
Around the platform on which the Deepa Stambh is constructed lie several hero stones or Virgals. They are made and installed for commemorating the honorable death of a hero in battle.
There are several hero stones all around the temple. They are usually divided into panels - with the upper panel depicting the subject worshiping a deity such as a Shiva linga, and the middle panel depicting the hero.
On one side of the temple I found ruins of an older temple. I wonder if this predates the Pant Sachivas to the time when the fort was first used in the 2nd century B.C. Will seek some expert guidance from Prof. Kurush Dalal.
Also located nearby is a small Maruti or Hanuman temple - to worship the monkey God made famous by the Ramayana.
The next task was to head towards the Maha Darwaja or main doorway of the fort. Located further north from the temple, we had to make our way through thick jungle, but the path is paved with stone - and quite slippery in the monsoon.
We arrived at the Maha Darwaja from above, and could see the magnificent construction down below.
We walked gingerly over the stone steps that led down to the doorway, as there was a stream of water flowing over it.
The doorway was impressive! It is a replica of the Maha Darwaja at Raigad fort (ref). There are two Sharabhas carved on the top two corners. The Sarabha is a part-lion and part-bird beast in Hindu mythology, an eight-legged beast more powerful than a lion or an elephant, possessing the ability to clear an entire valley in a single jump!
The doorway is located next to a massive bastion. There are steps leading down from it but they are now destroyed by constantly flowing water. This was the main route to climb the fort from Dhondase village to the north of the fort.To really appreciate the magificence of the Maha Darwaja, explore this 360 degree view!
We then made our way back to the Bhorai Devi temple, and sat at the edge of the mountain to enjoy some yummy snacks that we had brought along. The view of the Tail Baila mountain behind us was obscured by the clouds.
We passed another makeshift temple with a diety that seemed to sit cross legged with two animals on either side. Wonder what it represents.
We also saw the Shiva Temple located just behind the Pant Sachivas mansion.
Inside, there was a row of different idols. I could make out the distinctive Ganesha and Vithoba (with hands on hips) idols but not the rest.
The fort ramparts are constructed all around the mountain, at a distance of about 100 to 200 meters below the top of the mountain. You can see parts of the ramparts sloping down in this view.
I had lagged behind from the rest of the group, busy shooting photographs and ended up losing my way in the thick fog. But luckily I heard the shouts of a big group of trekkers and headed in their direction to finally find the way down.As I approached Thakurwadi, I came across this group of village enjoying sliding in the mud... I wish I was brave enough to join them... they seemed to have such fun!
On the way back, we stopped at Pali to pay our respects at the Ballaleshwar Temple, one of the eight temples of Lord Ganesh (Ashtavinayak). Ballaleshwar is the only incarnation of Ganesha that is known by a devotee's name. There is an interesting story behind Ballal, the child whose devotion led to the installation of this temple.
Sudhagad is so big, and so many things to see on it that one visit is not enough. There are other attractions such as a secret passageway, and several bastions all around that need to be explored... surely another visit is warranted!