Note: This post is dedicated to Hitesh Ghusani – the “coolest” 40+ guy I know, after Salman Khan. He is “cool” not in the “yo I’m so kewl” sense but a he’s very chilled out person having wisdom like that of a 60 year old and open mindedness & wonder like that of a teenager. He’s a photographer by profession who can arguably be said to be the pioneer of wedding 3d photography in India. I have tremendous respect for the man because he is one of those rare people who has made his hobby his profession without selling his soul.
Rajmachi is his “pet place” (just like how Visapur is Tosh’s pet place). He has been “religiously” coming back to Rajmachi, at least twice a year, since the first time he trekked here 25 years ago. It was the first trek of his life and your first trek always has a special place in your heart; just like first love.
25 years back, as Hitesh recalls, Rajmachi trek was so much different than today. It was a trek through dense jungle, through grass upto 4 feet high, through knee deep water and mud, with no discernible path in sight. Snakes, wild boars, hyenas, deers and even leopards were common species of the region. Fireflies, which are like a barometer of wilderness, were also aplenty (though not as much as Ratanwadi). It was such a virgin and disconnected place back then. Any normal person in his sane mind did not venture to go there but ’twas every adventure seeker’s fantasy come true. Almost like a “Shangri-La”.
Over the years it has been changing gradually. In the last couple of years there have been drastic changes due to various NGOs, resorts and adventure tourism companies. Also trekking has become quite an “in-thing” among middle class of Mumbai & Pune, hence hordes of “touristy” groups flock here during weekends. People come here for all sorts of crazy activities apart from trekking – biking, cycling, kayaking, rappelling, camping and drinking. This has done a world of good to the locals staying up there in financial aspects. They are now having fresh water supply thanks to tank built by NGOs, solar streetlights, satelite televisions and paved internal roads. Youngsters are employed by the resorts. Some of the villagers have built a second home which they offer for “home-stay” and some people are able afford good schools for educating their 3rd generation in Lonavala or Pune. Maharashtra Tourism Department has grand plans to develop the village into a full fledged tourist hub.
However, this has severely affected the ecology of the area. Earlier the village was self-sustained for food but now they have to buy stuff to cater to the tourists. Children are often seen eating branded packaged snacks. There is no system for garbage disposal. Plastic waste can be seen littered all over the place. Soon the accumulated junk is going to bring a whole spectrum of diseases.
Rajmachi represents all those ecosystems of the world which are at the risk of imbalance due to man’s mindless deeds.
For me Rajmachi is not just any place but a symbol of that sacred, secret getaway where you feel disconnected from the city, yet feel like home. And you wish that it stays protected from the outside world. Gotta find my own “Rajmachi” one day!
How to reach
Rajmachi lies near Khandala and you can see it while going by train from Karjat to Lonavala. There are 2 popular routes to reach the top village called Udhewadi.
1. From Lonavala
A 16km walk from Lonavala station through this unpaved but very scenic route will take you to Udhewadi. It can take between 5 to 8 hours to cover this distance. For the first timers this trek will seem like never ending. However, most people prefer this route over the Karjat route, as there is no climb involved. 4×4 cars and tough bikes can go all the way up.
On the way you will cross Tungarli dam, Tungarli village, the upper deck resort and let’s-camp-out permanent camp site.
2. From Karjat
You will have to go to Kondiwade village from Karjat station via ST bus or share rickshaw. From Kondiwade it is a 2000 feet climb through dense forest. It is easy to get lost in this forest. Most people who have spent a night in the top village after taking the Lonavala route to reach up, prefer this route to come back. Few people with great stamina go up and down this route on the same day.
P.S.: Me, Tosh and Jinesh have a record time of 45 minutes to climb down via this route. We also went up by this route on same day.
On the route you will cross an Emu breeding farm, Kondhana caves, dense forest and more dense forest. During heavy rains a few patches where you have to cross the river can be dangerous.
It is essential to carry at least 2 liters of water and a packet of Glucose/Electral per person. Without which this route can prove to be lethal.
What to do
1. You must enjoy home stay at one of the houses at Udhewadi, after the strenuous walk/climb. We generally stay at Shirish’s home. (P.S.: Comment below for his number)
2. A swim in the pond, if there is water. It is a little dirty but that should not stop you.
3. If you have any strength and enthusiasm left after reaching Udhewadi, you can go to one or both of the forts – Manaranjan (2700 feet) and Srivardhan (3000 feet). View from the top is worth it.
Best time to visit
Monsoon WAS the best time to visit Rajmachi. Now, there is no good time to go there because it is highly commercialized and lost its charm 🙁