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Your plan to camp at Harishchandragad fort this weekend just got cancelled, here’s why

An increasing number of trekkers, tourists and picnickers have violated the sanctity of the area and as a result, the Maharashtra forest department has decided to put a ban on staying and camping in the fort. The department has also asked local villagers to close down hotels on the fort premises and to vacate the place. 

pune Updated: Nov 29, 2017 14:57 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Harishchandragad fort,trekkers,tourists
Volunteers who from time to time clean the fort show the amount of bottles collected during one such clean-up.(HT PHOTO)

The Harishchandragad fort, known for its size and spectacular ‘Konkan Kada’- cliff overlooking the Konkan belt, has been a hot pick amongst adventure enthusiasts and trekkers for several years.

However, an increasing number of trekkers, tourists and picknickers have violated the sanctity of the area and as a result, the Maharashtra forest department has decided to put a ban on staying and camping in the fort. The department has also asked local villagers to close down hotels on the fort premises and to vacate the place.

Range forest officer (RFO) Amol Ade, Rajur said, “The notice will be issued in a couple of days. Till then we will have meetings with the villagers and will try to solve the issue mutually.”

The fort comes under Kalsubai Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary, and as per the rules, no visitor is allowed to stay in a protected wildlife area.

However, the fort is famous for its religious value and thousands of devotees visit the fort to see the ancient stone-carved Harishchandreshwar temple, origin of Mangal ganga river, Saptatheertha pushkarni and Kedareshwar Cave, in which there is a five-feet Shiva Linga, which is completely surrounded by waist-deep ice-cold water.

As per the records, the annual average footfall at the fort reaches a few lakhs.

To provide food and staying facilities to trekkers and devotees, several local villagers have built permanent hotels on the fort and as a result garbage is increasing.

“Earlier, we allowed villagers to provide food at the fort, but we had already warned hotel owners to control the increasing garbage, but they didn’t listen, so we were forced to take this step,” said Ade.

Difficult to implement

Though, the department has taken a correct step to protect the fort and forest, considering the size of the fort and several routes in, it’s a question of how they are going to control visitors.

“There are seven routes to visit the fort, but a majority of them prefer Pachani, which is the easiest one, followed by Khireshwar and Murbad. So we will focus on these three routes. Every group intending to visit the fort, must take a guide from these villages. The guide will have certain authorities and will prevent the trekkers and tourists from littering or consuming alcohol. He will also be responsible to bring them down before sunset,” Ade informed.

Big blow for hotel owners

Currently there are 20-25 hotels on the fort, mainly run by local villagers. Considering the number of trekkers on weekends, several of them have sold their farms to invest in a hotel. These villagers not only provide food, but also provide tents for a night stay. They are naturally opposed to the decision saying henceforth they will take care of the garbage.

Bhaskar Badad, who owns a hotel on the fort said, “This is not a big issue. The major crowd is witnessed on weekends and at the end of the weekend, we clear most of the garbage. Moreover, we are ready to give it in writing that we will not allow our customers to litter and harm the forest.”

“Instead of putting a ban on staying, the forest department should appoint check points at every village and no plastic bags, thermocole plates or liquor should be allowed on the fort. This will solve the problem drastically,” he said.

Trekkers welcome the decision

On the other hand, trekkers have welcomed the decision by saying that now the fort will be free from pollution.

“This is a welcoming step. Though we will miss the experience of staying in the fort under the open sky, in the long run, it’s going to benefit the trekkers,” said Pune-based trekker Onkar Oak.

Swapnil Pawar of Raanvaata group, has been active for several years in cleaning the fort. Every year his group clean the fort of tonnes of garbage. When contacted he said, “This year, we removed over 2,500 bottles from the water tanks on the forts. This is a huge number and it should have been controlled much earlier.”

“However, putting a ban on staying won’t solve the purpose. This is a huge money making business and if the department runs it professionally and follow the rules and regulations strictly, it will be an ideal model for other forts,” he said.

Harishchandragad: three dynasties, one history

The fort is quite ancient. Remnants of the ‘microlithic man’ have been discovered here. The various Puranas (ancient scriptures) like Matsyapurana, Agnipurana and Skandapurana include many references about Harishchandragad. Its origin is said to have been in the 6th century, during the rule of Kalachuri dynasty. The citadel was built during this era. The various caves probably have been carved in the 11th century. In these caves are idols of Lord Vishnu. Though the cliffs are named Taramati and Rohidas, they are not related to Ayodhya. Great sage Changdev (who created the epic Tatvasaar), used to meditate here in the 14th century. The caves are from the same period. The various constructions on the fort and those existing in the surrounding regions point to the existence of diverse cultures here. The carvings on the temples of Nageshwar (in Khireshwar village), in the Harishchandreshwar temple and in the cave of Kedareshwar indicate that the fort belongs to the medieval period. Later the fort was under the control of Moguls. The Marathas captured it in 1747.

First Published: Nov 29, 2017 14:56 IST