It's hard to describe the feeling of reaching the highest lookout of an Indian fort and seeing the landscape spread out below. There’s something about being a little sleep-deprived from waking up well before dawn to drive there, the exhaustion of having just climbed to the top, the cool morning air, the knowledge that you're in a place with almost 400 years of history, and being surrounded by the natural beauty of the area that makes for a surreal experience. I wish I could capture it in this blog post or with my camera lens, but I can’t, so you’ll have to do it yourself and see what I mean.
This week I visited Lohgarh Fort, about an hour and a half away from Pune, and it ended up being the perfect day trip: it wasn’t so far that I got antsy from the drive, the roads were in great shape, trekking at the fort was easy enough that anyone could do it, and there was a great restaurant in the area where I was able to freshen up (clean bathrooms!) and chow down on some delicious food before heading back to the city...
The fort itself is well maintained and the climb to the top is made less difficult due to the newly laid (and LEVEL) stone steps; the installation is still in progress but looks to be almost complete. There are food stalls and monkeys at the base and through the lower portion of the climb so if you take food, just know that they’re hanging around. I didn’t see any bathrooms in the immediate area, but I wasn’t looking for them either.
The fort structures are massive and still have a lot of old intact architectural features: several giant wooden doors with anti-elephant spikes, embellished stone carvings which decorate thruways, and cannons, which seems to be a bit strewn about but there nonetheless. When you reach the top, the fort opens up to a giant plateau, which is covered with beautiful, tall grass that sways in the strong breeze which passes over. There are lots of footpaths that meander this way and that, pass some small temples, many vantage points of the valley below, and eventually lead onward toward the "Scorpion's Tail" (pictured at the bottom), a peak that seems to go on forever. I didn’t have time to walk all the way so I don’t know how long it would take, but I hope to go back and attempt it. It looks like a great place for pictures, a picnic, and a snooze. There are also several water wells, most of which are so clean (still!) that they are crystal clear and host a variety of frogs, fish, tadpoles, and freshwater crabs. If I were adventurous enough, I might wager that swimming in the big one (seen below) could be quite a bit of fun!
One thing I didn't see at this fort which was a nice contrast to the others I've visited is trash. With the exception of a stray wrapper here and there, Lohgarh seems to be taking care of itself rather well. It really goes a long way in ensuring that visitors can admire the surroundings in the natural, majestic state they're meant to be.
To reach there from Pune is easy. Google Maps gave me directions that would have ended up being much longer so I’ll save you the trouble by shortening it. Take Google Maps directions to Karla Caves and before you make the right turn to go the caves, make a left, as if you were to go to Bhaja Caves. You can ask directions from the locals about how to get to the base of the fort from there since it's only about 10 minutes from the main highway. The road is quite straightforward –it's small but in great shape, and goes through a little village then off to a bunch of tight switchbacks and steep inclines until reaching the entrance on the right, which you'll know by the food stalls which line the pathway. The road offers a few good photo ops: a waterfall, a vista, and the beautiful mountains in the background.
On the way home I highly suggest stopping at Sunny Da Dhaba on the Old Mumbai-Pune Expressway. It's on the right side if you're going in the direction of Pune so you'll have to make a u-turn to reach it, but there are big signs for it. They have a full bar, hookah service, attentive waitstaff, tidy tables, and a big menu of northern Indian dishes. The serving sizes are generous (I placed one order of kebabs and it would have been enough for two) and they make a really nice masala buttermilk if you fancy it.