Trekking Tales – A Riveting Experience @ Karnala Fort

At the top of the hill, around 1500 ft above sea level, 700 year old Karnala fort stands as a symbol of human aspiration. Though somewhat succumbed to nature, it still generates pride in us for being part of a rich history. Even in this modern age, trekking seems to resemble our aspirations in many ways.

There are no “shortcuts” to achieving heights

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A difficult way to climb up

This one was my first experience as a lone trekker. All I carried was a camera, 2 liters of water and a lot of excitement. After entering through the gate, I came to know that there are two routes to climb the hill. The lengthier route is used by 99% of the people and is relatively easy to trek. The other one, though shorter, is through thick forest where you have to make each step carefully. It is full of steep climbs, spider webs, mosquitoes, and possibly, snakes.

Thanks to my excitement, I took the shorter, tougher route. Covered with thick vegetation, there was hardly any passage for sunlight or wind. The atmosphere was extremely humid and tiring. I did not even feel like taking the camera out because of the thought of getting to the summit quickly.

Well, as they say, there are no shortcuts to reach the top!

Will power is the greatest strength

1500 feet can be child’s play for experienced trekkers, not for me. Having only a couple of experiences before,  this was possibly my tallest climb.

I can’t remember testing my body to such an extent in the recent past. The climb got steeper and tougher as I progressed. The slippery rocks – thanks to the Monsoon rains – made them even more difficult to negotiate. Sweating intensely and breathing heavily, I literally thought of turning back 3-4 times. The only thing that kept me on course was the will to conquer the hill.

Having good companions will make things a lot easier

Thankfully, I met a team of three people on the way up. One of them was a professional trekker nick named ‘Birdy’. The other two were his clients. “It’s easy to get lost in the jungle and wander about for a couple of days” – Birdy told me when he came to know that I was alone and did not know the route.

I can’t stress more on how much these men helped me out. At places where the trail seemed to end, Birdy would find a way to go up. During steep climbs, they would provide me the much needed support. Most importantly, they were the ones who gave me confidence and kept me going. Both Birdy and one of his clients seemed to be on their late 50s. Whenever I thought of stopping, the embarrassment of admitting failure to these older men would drive me forward. Once we reached the summit, they even offered me food, which I was too tired to refuse.

Even on the way down, I got a couple of good friends. We got introduced because one guy wanted

Birdy with Clients Abhinav and his father
Birdy (middle) with his clients – Abhinav and his father

me to take pictures of them. I guess having a camera helps you make friends faster in trips like these! Anyway, the way down was even more dangerous.

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(From the right): Tarique, Nitesh and I – friends on the way down

We had taken a shorter route again to reach the bottom part of the fort faster.
This route was very narrow. Possibly around 30-60 centimeters from the deep canyon. There was one point where life and death were just one step apart. Between two narrow trails, we had to step through a slippery rock with only a couple of small dents. If you slip, it’s over for ever. To avoid falling, I had to push my body against the stone as close as I can, and then slowly move sideways facing the stone. The two men held my hand and slowly pulled me over the stone.

Success is sweet

As we reached the top, I understood that the tough climb was worth every step. The air around was foggy and very cool. There was constant breeze and mild rain. I quickly regained all my strength in the refreshing environment. IMG_0063

Since it was a morning trek, there were only a few people and the fort was hardly visible through dense fog. Then, it was more of an experience than the imagery. Once the fog cleared, all the beauty of the fort and the surrounding valley came to sight.

The hill holds a lot of historical significance for the people of Maharashtra. Constructed before 15th century, the fort was captured from Portuguese by Maratha king Shivaji in 1670. It is said that a goddess called Bhawani Mata presented a sword to Shivaji, which he used to capture a vast area of land. Therefore, there is a small temple constructed for Bhawani at the hill top. After Shivaji’s time, it was taken over by Mogul emperor Aurangzeb and subsequently by the British. Today, it stands as a historical monument and a popular weekend getaway for Mumbaikars.

Temple dedicated to Bhawani
Temple dedicated to Bhawani

Around 60 kms from Mumbai, Karnala is a great place to explore if you like a little bit of adventure. I took a train from  Andheri to Wadala and then to Panvel, which takes around 1:30 hrs. Karnala is just 10 kilometers away from Panvel and is reachable through bus/auto rickshaw.

Though a small step, I can be proud of what I did. In difficult times, I would remember how I kept on going uphill. So, overall, a life’s worth of lesson to remember.

Tip: Apply a mosquito repellent and take at least 2-3 liters of water.

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