Hiking around my home in Shillong on weekends cemented a passion for adventure early on. As a result, my trips even today are never sedate. I don’t always opt for high-calibre adventure, but I do try and commit myself to the outdoors on every trip. And on a weekend break last April, I managed to make my friends sign up for Karjat.
Karjat is well known for its woodland treasures and hikes to ancient forts—an ideal “basking in the wilderness” destination. The Tooth Mountain Farms & Nursery was going to be our pad for the weekend. It took us only 2 hours to drive from Mumbai on a Friday evening, so an early morning hike on Saturday seemed feasible.
The next day, a 40-minute drive took us to the village of Thakurwadi, from where our 3km hike to the Kalavantin Durg would begin. There we met Ballu, a local resident who volunteered to be our guide. The Kalavantin Durg is one of two well-known hill fortresses of Karjat; the other is known as Prabalgad. Kalavantin Durg crowns a 2,250ft-high lone hill that rises from a vast stretch of wilderness around—it’s one of the toughest treks in the Western Ghats.
When we enquired about the complexity level of the hike and how many times Ballu had conquered the fortress, the reply was reassuring. “Don’t worry. It’s a bit steep. I’ve done it a thousand times.” The exaggeration helped. The only thing he knew about the fort, though, was that it was built for a queen called Kalavantin, around the same time that the adjoining fort, Prabalgad, was, in the 15th century.
From the base, we sized up the towering hill. Initially, the terrain was easy to manoeuvre. We walked on gentle inclines on a pebbled pathway. The more daunting forest trail began an hour later. This portion was interrupted by rocky steps and steep turns, but each time we looked up from the path, the panoramic landscape served as balm for the eyes. “On a clear day, one can see as far as Mumbai,” Ballu told us.
The single legitimate pit stop 2km after Thakurwadi is Prabalmachi village. From here, two paths diverge—one for Kalavantin Durg and the other for Prabalgad. Prabalgad is a lengthier trek. From Prabalmachi, the terrain changed drastically. Large rocks had to be negotiated. At a few places, we needed to hoist ourselves with the help of a tree branch or higher rocks. Even though we had only a kilometre to go, the 60-degree incline did not help.
Ballu announced that the steps would begin soon. But first, we had to scale even higher rocks.
Once we had tested our rock-climbing skills, we looked desperately for the steps. We should have known better. The steps, fashioned out of rock, were as steep—each 2ft in height.
Before the summit, we took a break, admiring the glorious shades of green around us. On the opposite side, Prabalgad stood even taller. Some hikers cheered us from its summit. Suddenly, the last leg seemed easier than the entire trail. The dramatic vistas of intensely green hills melting into the plains were a befitting reward for the 3-hour climb. An eagle floated effortlessly in the distance, unbothered by the whistling wind.
Back at Tooth Mountain, my friends and I slumped on easy poolside chairs. We got a good night’s sleep and relaxed the next day, doing only a few laps of the swimming pool and strolling through the nursery, with its bonsai, creepers and water plants.
As I slipped into a snooze after lunch, the stunning views from the summit flashed before my eyes. Even though my legs ached, the solace of a sustained connection with the outdoors was unparalleled.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @Amrita_Dass.