A Night Trek To Skandagiri

Skandagiri, also known as Kalavara Durga is a very popular night trekking destination among Bangaloreans and is admired for the fascinating views of sunrise. Skandagiri is a  hill fort which was built by the local palegars and further improved by Tippu Sultan. Much of the fortification still remains intact. Owing to the illegal activities and unlawful acts that have taken place here, the forest department has strictly banned trekking at Skandagiri. Long ago (2009), when Skandagiri was just gaining popularity, we were fortunate enough for having an opportunity to trek. One evening, we acted on our spontaneous decision of exploring Skandagiri that night to see a beautiful sunrise next morning. Back then, witnessing the crowds present there and their unruly behavior, it seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.
Good Morning from Skandagiri
We started from home at around 11.30 pm and after picking up a few friends who wished to join us, cruised along NH 7 towards Chikkaballapur. In less than 45 minutes we reached Chikkaballapur and stopped at a place where a few policemen were on patrol duty, to inquire for directions. We followed their directions and reached the hill base, where a person agreed to be our paid guide. We parked our vehicle as per his guidelines and started walking towards the other side of the hill from where the trekking trail began. After ten minutes of walk, we reached a small tea shop and took a much needed hot tea break.
Peaks Around Skandagiri
First Glimpse of the Sunrise 
 Queued Up to Get a Closer Look at the Sun
Nandi Hills as Seen from Skandagiri
 We ensured carrying sufficient lighting equipments such as torches and flash lights. Though the ascent was supposed to be easy, we struggled quite a bit as none of us had done anything of this sort. As this was our first trekking experience, we had to take breaks quite often and progressed slowly.  It  took us close to 3 hours to reach the top of the hill and we were glad to have made it! Our next challenge was spending time until sunrise in that cold winter night. We bade a good bye to our guide after paying his fee and found a nice place to settle down till the sunrise. It was a good two and a half hour wait for the sunrise and seemed to take longer for the sun to be completely out. The  views as the sun rose were simply out of the world and worth every single step we had put forward that night. After a  really long photo shoot, we descended down quickly feeling like achievers! Fortunately, we had another chance of trekking at Skandagiri two years later. While the crowd had grown five-fold this time around, the security personnel were more stringent about the rules.
Moon Lit Trek at Skandagiri
Floating Atop the Clouds
The Fort Wall 
Sati Stones and Hero Stones at the Base of Skandagiri Hill 
  Last weekend (December 2016) when we visited the Nandi hills, its counterpart Skandagiri attracted us for a trek. Later we came to know from our sources here that a strict ban has been imposed on trekking at Skandagiri, even during the day. Although trekking during the day was allowed previously, the forest department has completely banned since the beginning of 2016.It is worthwhile to note that Skandagiri falls under the reserved forest area and any illegal entry could lead to serious punishment. Measures such as restricting the number of people allowed to trek at a time, accompaniment of trained and certified guides, well marked routes, complete ban on smoking and alcohol consumption with strict enforcement, educating the locals about the importance of this hill reserve, setting up an organization for its development involving various trekking clubs, nature conservative clubs, forest department, local villagers and others need to be undertaken to ensure that the picturesque Skandagiri is well maintained and serves to be a sustainable tourist spot, only to make sure that such places are saved for our future generations. It lies within us to be a responsible trekker.
Latest Update: Trekking here is now conducted/regulated by Karnataka forest department under their new initiative "Myecotrip", check their website for further details. Many thanks to Thams Roy  for sharing this information with us.

Discovery of India - Ahmednagar Fort

Ahmednagar Fort
Entrance to Ahmednagar Fort
Ahmednagar is a district located in Western Maharashtra. One of the major attractions here is the fort built in 15th century which played an important role until the pre-independence period in India. This is where India's first Prime minister Shri Pandit Jawarhar Lal Nehru was imprisoned and during his imprisonment, wrote the famous book of "The discovery of India". This book gives an account of India's cultural wealth, historical significance and philosophy as perceived by the great Indian Freedom fighter. The fort currently lies under the  control of the Indian Armoured Corps Center and School, Ahmednagar. Built in an octagonal shape, this fort is considered as one of the best designed and the strongest of all land forts in the Indian sub-continent.
Leaders Block of Ahmednagar Fort
Pandit Jawarhar Lal Nehru
Pandit Jawarhar Lal Nehru was Imprisoned here
Pandit Nehru's  Room
The Ahmednagar  fort was built by Ahmed Nizam Shah in the year 1490 A.D. The name of this city is attributed to Ahmed Nizam Shah, the founder of the Nizam Shahi Dynasty who established the town after defeating the Bahmani Sultans. Later the fort and town, both fell into the hands of the Mughal Emperor Akbar  in the year 1600 A.D in spite of the valiant efforts of Chand Bibi, the princess of Nizam Shahi to save her territory. The fort was sold to the the Maratha King, Peshwa III in the year 1759 A.D. after which it went into the  hands of Shindia's in the year 1797 A.D. Finally in 1803 A.D, the British captured this fort under the leadership of General Wellesley and it remained with them until independence.
Preface of the Book"Discovery of India"
The List of Freedom Fighters who were Jailed here
 On the 9th of August 1942, Shri Pandit Jawarhar Lal Nehru along with 11 other freedom fighters namely, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel (iron man of India), Pandit Govind Vallabh Pant, Acharya Narendra Dev, Acharya J B Kirpalani, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Asaf Ali, P C Ghosh, Pandit Harekrishna Mahtab, Shri Shankar Rao Dev, Dr B Pattabhi Sitaramayya and Dr Syed Mahmud were imprisoned here for their involvement in the Quit India Movement until April 1945. The block in which they were imprisoned  is known as the 'Leaders Block' and is being maintained exactly the same way as it was, during their stay here. All the paraphernalia used by Pandit Nehru during his imprisonment are displayed here.
Ahmednagar Fort
The Fort Wall and Moat 
The Skillfully Laid Steps

Indian Flag Flying High
Though the movement inside this fort is restricted due to the control of Army, the outer fort walls and the Leaders block are accessible with least difficulty. As we approached an Army officer for taking permission  to walk around in the fort premises, he replied positively with a word of advice to stay within the said limits. We  had a chance only to visit the leaders block after which we could walk along the outer walls of the fort  for some distance. We thanked the Army officer in charge and circumvented the fort as we drove, only to find out that most of the fortification still remained intact. 
Fort Gateway

There are many other places to visit around Ahmednagar such as the Chand Bibi Palace, Meherabad, Cavalry Tank Museum, Rehekuri Black Buck Sanctuary, Shani Shignapur, Shirdi and so on...

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Maharajanadurga Fort, Hassan

Maharajanadurga Hill
Maharajanadurga is a hill located in Alur taluk of Hassan district. Having read about it previously, we wished to visit the same as we were around Hassan.  We drove to Alur the next morning and tried locating this place on google maps but in vain. Since all our efforts (including inquiry with locals) to locate this place failed to yield any positive result, we decided to drive ahead and check with the locals in the neighboring village for any information. We met an auto-driver who on questioning seemed blank and absolutely had no idea what we were looking for! When we specified it was about a fort near by, he replied with the answer of Manjarabad, which is a popular fort and not the one we were interested in. As a last chance, we tried explaining the story related to a King who ruled that place and finally, he realized we were searching for a place named 'Magana Thinda Maharayanabetta' for which he gave us further directions.
Path Through the Undergrowth
Third Gateway
Lord Hanuman 

 Following his directions we reached the village of Magge. A kindly person guided us towards the base of this hill, though reaching the same was quite tricky. We followed a route we found, passing through thorny shrubs and dense undergrowth until we reached the first gateway of the fort. We were glad to know that we were on the right path and equally astonished to witness the much intact fort walls. After we crossed four such gateways, the path led us to the top of the fort. Hereon, it was a steep climb to the hill top. We found remains of a few ruined structures here and there and  broken pieces of pottery which resembled that of the Vijayanagar period.
Fort Wall Above Rock
Soaked in History
Fourth Gateway
Fifth Gateway
Steep Slope
Bird's Eye View 
 As per the local legend " There was a king by name Veera Raja, who was a brave ruler. It is said that his own people conspired against him by killing his son and making him eat his son's flesh. The king remained unaware of his actions until one day when he came to know of his eating his son's flesh, felt guilty and committed suicide by jumping from the top of the hill. Thus the hill got its name of "Magana thinda Maharajanadurga", translated as "the fort of the king who ate his son's flesh". This beautiful fort certainly requires some restoration and maintenance. Little is known about the history of this place apart from the information that the fort was built by the local Palegars though it seems to belong to the 16th century, post Vijayanagar era.
Brain Shaped Rock
Remains of the Fort Atop the Hill 
Broken Pottery  
Horse Stable
A Ruined Water Storage Structure 
Maharajanadurga as viewed from Parvathi Betta