The HARIHAR FORT lies in the Trimbakeshwar mountain range. It was of substantial importance in earlier days to keep watch on the route crossing the range connecting Maharashtra to Gujarat. The Trimbakeshwar range spreads from north of Igatpri to west of Nasik. It is divided into two parts, with forts of Basgad, Utvad, hill of Fani, Harihar and Trimbakgad on one part and those of Anjaneri and Hargad on the other. Vaitarna is the main river in this region. The water flows away from this region because of the one-sided slope of the Sahyadris. There is an absolute shortage of water from January to March in this region. The Fort appears to be rectangular I shape from its base village and is located on top of a triangular massif with all the three sides being vertical and hence naturally fortified. There is only one access to the fort through a 200ft high rock-cut staircase inclined at an 80 degrees angle.
Captain Briggs, from the British army, visited the fort in 1818, and left a fairly detailed description. He described the ascent as truly wonderful. Captain Briggs also added that it was so difficult to climb that only five men could hold it against any odds. He further states that words would not be able to give an idea of its dreadful steepness. It is perfectly straight for about 200ft and can only be compared to a ladder up a wall 200ft high.
In 1636, Harihar, Trimbakgad, Tringalvadi and a few other Poona forts were given by the Marathas to the Mughals. Harihar was one of the 17 strong places that were surrendered to the British on the fall of Trimbakeshwar in 1818. This was one of the rare forts that was not destroyed by the British because of its beauty.
The trek to Harihar Fort is short, yet tiring. The last 200ft, of the hike, is a nerve-racking climb through steep rock-cut stairs inclined at 80 degrees. The adventure doubles up in the monsoon as the stairs become slippery. To add to the excitement, fierce winds blow through the gully making it difficult to balance on the slippery slopes. The descent is particularly exhilarating as you have to climb down and, at one point, face a sheer 500ft drop. The architecture of the stairs is so diverse and outstanding and offers a spectacular and occasionally scary views of the valley below. The fort is situated amidst the huge Vaitarna Dam and the Trimbakeshwar Mountain Range offers stunning views of the area around. The fort is well supplied with water and can be attempted in any season.
Proceed in the direction of the Trimbakeshwar range. The trail moves away from the village towards the range crossing the paddy fields. You will notice the trail gradually climbs up after passing through the fields for 10-15mins. Continue on the trail till you reach the stream. It takes around 25-30mins to reach the stream. Cross the steam and continue on the trail ahead. The trail gradually starts to climb up in a zigzag manner and passes through the thickets. You need to be very careful, because there are several misleading trails formed by the grazing cattle. You will notice that the trail slightly moves towards the left away from Harihar Fort. There is a small hill between the Fani Dongar, on the left, and Harihar Fort on the right. The trail gradually climbs through the ridge on this hill. From the stream it takes around 30-45mins to climb this until you each a plateau. Notice in the left direction, there is a trail to Fani Dongar. The trail to the right goes to the Harihar Fort. The trail passes through the fields on this plateau which is enclosed by thorny bushes along the circumference of the fields.
Proceed ahead in the direction of the Fort. After walking for a couple of minutes, you will come across a small stone Shivling surrounded with saffron-colours stones right in the middle of the plateau. Continue on the trail ahead. The trail now enters through the woods, and then the trail climbs up the ridge. Another 10-15mins into the hike, you will see a rock wall towards your right. Continue on the zigzag trail that climbs up to a small col. There are steps cut in the rock on the left side of the col. It takes around 1.5-2hrs from Nirgudpada to reach the base of the stairs. The trek, till this point, is fairly easy. The real ascent to the Fort begins from here. —You need to carefully climb in the monsoon, preferably one-by-one. The steps are bad and broken at places and hence grooves are cut, in the rock, for support. After reaching the top of the steps, you will come across the 1st fort entrance door. You also see a small cave formed by the overhanging rock wall. Proceed ahead on the trail that moves towards your left under a rock-cut gallery. The trail now climbs up through the gallery where there is the 2nd flight of stairs. Unlike the 1st one, these are not straight and you can see the steps are cut within the rocks forming a tunnel, with space enough for just one person to crawl through the opening. Climb up the stairs that twist and turn to reach the 2nd gate. This route is the only entrance to this fort. It takes around 2-2.5hrs to reach the top. You can explore the top area which is massive.
Here you can see a Hanuman Temple which is right next to a pond. On the banks of the pond we also see a Shivling and Trident painted with saffron colour. At the eastern edge, near the potable tank, we find the only remaining structure on the fort. This thatched stone structure is a double-room like area that can house about 20 people comfortably, but in the monsoon, water trickles in. There is a saffron flag hoisted at the highest point of the fort. From the top you can see Basgad Fort, Utwad Mount, Bramha Parvat and Upper Vaitarna reservoir. Beware of snakes in the pond and the undergrowth. After exploring the fort, which takes around an hour, you can proceed back to the village through the same route. You need to be extremely careful while descending the steps. It is advisable to climb down facing the rock.
TREK INFO :
(1) By Train : Reach Igatpuri Station or Kasara / Nasik.
(2) By Road : Reach Igatpuri via Kasara or Nasik by bus or shared vehicle. From Igatpuri, board a bus for Trimbakeshwar and alight at Nirgudpada.
(3) By Trek : Nirgudpada to Harihar and back (10-11 km ; 5-6hrs)
(4) Best Season : During monsoon season. But it can be done anytime between mid-June to February.
(5) Approximate Cost : Rupees 500-700, including travel in a private vehicle, breakfast and lunch for a group of 7-8 people.
(6) Climate : 30-35 degrees in summer ; 20-25 degrees in the monsoon season.