An ACCIDENTAL trek to Karnala Fort
After a long time (and yearning for several years) I accomplished what I call ‘the challenging’. While I’m sure some of you (who are avid trekkers) may dismiss this is as not-so-challenging; I maintain my stance. At the other side of 40, with my level of fitness (read sluggishness/lethargy) – it was indeed a challenge to me. Well… so it was, for the other two too, who I accompanied. It was a cool Sunday morning (just like today) on the 27th of January – just one day after my Home Minister’s birthday. She wanted to do this for quite a while – just that domestic chores kept us tethered to Mira Road. We finally managed to break that tether. While our goal was to see birds in the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, we missed the bus by a few minutes. We ended up scaling the Karnala fort instead.
For anyone interested in the trek – here’s how you can get there. Karnala bird sanctuary is located in Panvel. It is 75 km from my place, as the crow flies. Anyone who drives a car can take the Western Express Highway (and then the Mumbai-Bangalore highway) if you can manage a 2-hour drive to Panvel. A suburban commuter can take a Harbour Line train to Panvel.
Once you disembark at Panvel, you need to take a bus to Karnala which is just a 5-10 minute ride from there. For this you have 2 options from the station:
- Get fleeced by the trike (rickshaw) drivers
- Walk for just 6-7 minutes and reach the municipal bus stand
I chose option b much to the chagrin of my wife. We boarded the omnipresent RED BUS (not from redbus.in) a.k.a. ESHTEE that promptly dropped us at our destination in 10 minutes. For the first timers (like me) it was shocking to alight at an apparently desolate place. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was not all that desolate. There was an eatery just a few feet away from the highway where one can refuel one’s tummy before even reaching the sanctuary. While the eatery is on the right, the Sanctuary was to our left. We couldn’t see clearly due to the road maintenance works.
At the entrance, you will be greeted (not so politely) my men in jungle fatigues (presumably forest officers/guards). You need to declare any plastic bottles that you may have in your bags. In the wake of ‘Zero-plastic-tolerance’ move, they mark your bottles and you need to pay Rs. 100 as a deposit – needless to say, which you can collect on your way back. If you lose that bottle during your trek – you lose the deposit too. Just a few paces after the check post, you have a few eateries to satiate your appetite. After packing a few carbs, proteins, and calories, we marched ahead.
WARNING: The birds in the sanctuary do an early morning shift. So, if you wanna see them, be there before 8 am. They presumably take the 8 am flight to their destinations (Damn!!!).
Thanks to my ignorance about ‘bird timings’ – I had to face some cold-shoulder from you-know-who. Man! It did take a while for all that ‘ice’ to melt. Those who don’t get my drift – get married. Once we knew for a fact that the birds are gone – we chose to look around. We had a few options left. One of them was a walk along a nature trail. The other was to see the caged birds (that hurt). The third and the most spectacular one was the TREK to KARNALA FORT.
Resting at 1440 ft ASL, the fort offered a magnificent feast unto the eyes. The pinnacle protruded high into the skies, a-la the thumbs-up sign. Here’s another word of caution: Please avoid going there with kids under the age of 10 (personal suggestion). My 6-year old was exhausted beyond recall after the trek. It took her an entire day to recover from the exhaustion. If your kid has a medical condition, then this trip is not for him/her – at least till they grow up.
Now for the nitty-gritty. The trek – I must admit – is not the easiest. There are 2 approach routes – we started with the ‘road-less-travelled’ but after walking a few paces – we had to cancel the idea. We had no clue where we were headed and there was nobody there to ask for directions. Plus… no signals on our phones too. We retraced our steps to the start of that trail. From there we took the beaten track. This time though, we had company. Some of them were locals who were frequent visitors too. All they did was mislead us about the duration – while they said ‘a little over 1 hour’ we needed 2 hours to reach the highest point.
A road less travelled
The trek reminded us of how precious WATER is. Although Wikipedia claims there is potable water atop the fort – we couldn’t find any that I could even wash my ass with. So, if you’re there – carry as many gallons of water as you can. Do not forget to pack some ready-to-eat stuff too e.g. biscuits, chips, cookies, or anything else that not too heavy to carry. Try to keep your backpack as light as possible. Carry a stick if possible. That will help you to prod around, if in doubt. Given that it’s also a reserve forest – you can expect some unwelcome critters and reptiles too. I cannot completely rule out the presence of apex predators – just that I didn’t encounter any.
Sneak-peek at the peak
The trek becomes more and more treacherous as once climbs higher and higher. There wasn’t a single well-paved/constructed/cemented step. We had to climb large rocks and boulders. Be sure to wear closed shoes that have an excellent grip. You won’t necessarily die if you slip and fall – just that you will be immobilized (incapacitated, at worst) for a good period of time. I cannot rule out the possibility of a fatal fall. CAUTION needs to be exercised at each point of the climb – especially if you’re new to the terrain.
All the skill I had at my disposal was my sense of (not-so) keen judgement. The rest just fell in place and before we knew, we stood face-off with the lofty fort – too bad, it’s in ruins now. Just so you know, the pinnacle is practically un-scalable. One needs to be a trained rock climber/mountaineer to do that. The highest point that the less agile ones can reach is the fort. The pinnacle juts out of the fort like a gigantic thumb and rises up to another 300-500 ft. there’s a flag atop the pinnacle – which is a proof that humans have been there – just that we were neither trained nor were quipped to scale that last bit.
We somehow managed to reach the fort. Now reaching the fort was nothing less of a challenge. From the miniature plateau atop the hill, one needs to climb the steps that lead to the fort. Sounds easy – NO. those steps can scare the daylights out of first-timers. If it were not for the steel railings – I would never reach the fort. At some instances, we had to climb like babies – on all fours. Just one look down could make an acrophobic dizzy. I must admit – I’m borderline acrophobic. But that did not daunt me in any way. I not only reached the fort – but also managed to capture the pristine beauty the landscape had to offer.
This is not all, the downward trek is all the more difficult. While climbing, you know how much strength one needs to use to climb. Also, you’re going against gravity. On the way, gravity keeps pulling you down. Each boulder you climb down weighs you down heavily. Knees start to ache. We were already exhausted with the climb. The harsh sun did not let us rest in the fort. We had to trek down – and now we were trying our best not to slip – thanks to the monstrous gravitational pull. All the time, we trekked down – we just had the base camp (the eatery) in mind. The trek seemed interminable. The path seemed unending. It was as good as free-falling for a plane – just that we wouldn’t crack our skulls open at the end of it all.
While it took me a good night’s sleep to shake off the hangover (of the trek) – it wasn’t so easy for the girls. While the 6-year old recovered in 24 hours – the bigger, meaner one (who always taunted me about my lethargy and lack of fitness) took all of 4 days to completely recover from the ACCIDENTAL trek. For a good measure – she’s open to more such treks in future. I’m waiting for the next long weekend. While I do that – let me sign off for now.