Visapur

Have been wanting to do Visapur for a long time now, finally managed it last weekend. Ashok, Sansy, Anusha and I. We take the Pune-Lonavla local train leaving Khadki at 5:55 am. S&A just make it as the train is pulling into the station. I am extremely sleepy and grumpy. The train ride is very comfortable, I doze off with my head against a window. Get cool enough to pull on my wind cheater. Trains are awesome, remind me of my childhood, spending about an hour and a half daily on local trains in Madras.

We get out at Malavli station – it’s a rural, sleepy, peaceful station, especially at 7 in the morning. Progress has come to this station too in the form of inter-locking tiles paving the path right outside the station where you get out to Baja Caves, Lohagad, and Visapur forts. We walk across to a shop for breakfast – paav, omelette for us, and vada paav for Anush, chai all around. Desultory conversation if any.

Ashok magnanimously tells me I can choose – whether to take an auto-rickshaw to the base or walk it. When I sulk and say “auto” he laughs in a derisive manner and raises all kinds of objections, all the time maintaining that he *really* doesn’t care which option I choose. Now there’s a genuine choice! I give in and say we’ll walk. As it turns out the walk does me a world of good. Anusha and I sing some English songs that we both know the words (and imperfectly the tune). The grumpiness is gone by the time we reach the base of the steps at Baja caves. This is the starting point for Visapur too. I am leading on account of having been there some six years ago (mid-2003…). My memory is to take off on a trail to the left from the Baja steps where they first bend to the right. We are walking counter-intuitively away from Visapur fort, which is visible all the way from the expressway and throughout the trek. Just that the path to get there is not at all clear. This hill has a village somewhere midway to the fort – so there are several well used footpaths and shortcuts, all of which look like they could be “the one”. We go along many only to reach points where they peter out into cattle tracks, then cat tracks, then… snake tracks. With thorny thickets covering the paths and scratching us. After about 40 mins of these low level traverses, we hear a local coming downhill – and he tells us about the village (name – ?) midway up. He breezily waves us in a general upward direction and tells us to ask for further and better directions at the village. After heavy backtracking and backing and forthing, we eventually arrive at the village – characterized by bamboo planted like a facade as you climb up to it.

The backing and forthing has not been completely useless. We have seen a snake, about 8 inches long, slithering across the path. It’s sand colored, no distinctive markings. Then Sansy finds some white mountain lilies where we’ve stopped to regroup – this I pounce upon and photograph (as it doesn’t have the luxury of slithering away like the snake did). I also spot some pink ground orchids. If there is a fault to the Panasonic Lumix I’m carrying, it doesn’t make the satisfying “katak” sound when I click – that the Canon SLR does, and sounds so good. I miss that sound. I miss Canon. But my new camera is not bad… actually it’s quite good, I just got onto a rant about the Canon and its sound effects :-] We also see some pretty colored garden lizards scurrying out of our way once in a while. We find ourselves in a “karvanda” bush once, and stop to eat the wonderfully sweet berries. They are about the size of grapes, purple tending to black on the outside, with one to 3 seeds inside (seeds the size of sunflower seeds). I have never eaten this fruit before although I have been hiking in these hills for over 10 years now.

Anush is by now wanting to “put her posterior down” as she says. Sansy and Anush patiently follow us as we go hither and thither. Cess pools in the rock here and there, are teeming with life – mosquito eggs, tadpoles, some tiny fish (I think)… we stand by one of them and watch the creepy crawlies in the water. Anush has spotted a hovering bird, which we decide must be a kestrel – it has the distinctive hovering technique of being still in one spot in the air, without so much as batting its wings.

Finally we reach the village, and plonk right there on the path into the village. Shaded by bamboo, it is nicely relaxing and tempting to turn back right then. Ashok goes on an information gathering mission. When he comes back, a fellow from the village is following him. We take a long break (20 mins? perhaps more) while the fellow from the village is standing by, waiting patiently for us to finish the sucky sweets and get to our feet. We have by now decided the fellow is the village idiot (VI). The fellow comes along with us, to Ashok’s increasing displeasure. He is muttering and plotting about how to lose the fellow – and then chooses the most direct way – to tell him that we will carry on if he could only point the way from here.

Amazingly (or not!) we lose our way soon after the VI is out of sight. We cross and recross a meadow with cows grazing in it. The cows must surely begin to wonder what kind of nuts we were – if cows ever wonder. The dilemma seems to be which way to approach the fort such that we are not faced with 100 feet of black stone wall to scale. The fort is alternately on our left and right as we thrash about the undergrowth. Having exhausted the trail going to the right, we decide to follow my original impression that we have to enter the fort from its left-most point. Not that there is much choice now. More or less by random brownian movement, we come upon a path of sorts – denoted by a cairn, which means it *is* and authentic path! There are a few stone steps, otherwise the path is just a rough way through rocks. Ashok parks at the first sign of constructed stone things – a broken down wall of yore. From there it is not easy to lose the path. We also see a chappie waiting at the top, trying to say something, but he seems to be in two minds about shouting to us.

Ashok waits by the Hanuman-guarded entrance which has a shaded cave by the side – could house about 12 people overnight. I carry on up, and find the chappie waiting there. We converse in awkward hindi for a few minutes, and then I make a bold guess and ask if he is tamil – he is so relieved and we switch to tamil immediately 🙂 I am guessing he must be a poor fellow software engineer – he has come to Visapur from that mindless hotbed of software engineering, just like we have.

Ashok joins me by and by, and Sansy and Anush reach soon after. Chappie and I have been conversing across a chasm – he wants to explore the rest of the plateau, so he pushes off. We lie around just at the edge of the plateau for a bit. I see a soaring bird with a flash of rust-red on its shoulders – I think the red-shouldered hawk? Mother and daughter seem to have a thing against their shoes – they keep getting out of their shoes at the slightest opportunity!

I convince Anusha that a little more of a trudge up to some ruins is worth her while.. and we find the ruins I remember from last time – two long rectangular “rooms” without a roofs – standing spaced out on the large plateau, separate from each other and at right angles. I am almost certain we scrambled up a different path the last time I came here with K… we had reached the plateau much closer to these buildings. We enter the left hand room, and Ashok speculates that it was used as a stable in the hey days of Visapur. We each find nooks and spots to lounge for a while, and eventually go over to the excellent spot Sansy has picked – under a tree, for our picnic lunch. Lunch consists of khakharas, banana chips, aam papdi, crushed peanut chikki, cheeselings, that awesome mallu sweet – dried “kadak” banana pieces coated with jaggery…

Lunch, a quick snooze, then head back. Reach the village more or less on the path, and an enterprising little chap comes along to show us the way down. Chappie talks a lot, Ashok prodding him on with the right questions. Seems he is from somewhere near Rajmachi, and is visiting his (maternal) uncle and grandmother here. School has not yet started. He gives long winded and detailed directions in Marathi which I follow more or less – but there are no specific landmarks. At the end of his speech, he asks for money – which we find rather sad… I ruffle his hair and tell him not to ask for money, and we carry on after giving him some hard boiled sweets and the big bottle of cheeselings instead.

Not much of an adventure after that, except that Sansy’s feet have started killing her – and not so softly too. The heat of the afternoon becomes particularly noticeable when we get off the hill and onto the long road back to Malawli. A leisurely stop at the breakfast joint, we drink lots of water and pick at some bajjis Ashok orders, before heading to the station and back home.

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