Beginner’s guide to start trekking in Sahyadri

Sahyadri aka Western Ghats guard the western coast of India. These mountain ranges start from the state of Gujarat and run through the states of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and end at Kanyakumari. The temperature of the region drops considerably during monsoon making it the best site for trekkers to walk through the forests and various small and large waterfalls formed during the season.

The state of Maharashtra was ruled by the Marathas from 1674 AD to 1818 AD during which period, the Maratha warriors built/acquired approx. 40 forts in Maharashtra. These forts have now become famous trekking sites in Maharashtra.

Trekking is a high endurance activity. In order to venture into trekking, this is the best time for beginners to start training for it as monsoon is hardly two months away. Various trekking groups in Mumbai/Pune organize treks to various forts depending on the type of trail. The trails are divided into three buckets namely easy, medium and difficult. For example, the trail may be easy but the endurance required might be higher. Hence, I am sharing my experience of trekking in Sahyadris during last monsoon and what I learnt about choosing the right trek based on my endurance level. Ultimately, a person learns from his/her experiences in life!

Kothaligad (Peth) Fort:

This was my first encounter with Sahyadri after a few Himalayan one/two day treks. The fort got its name from its stairs which are called ‘Kothali’ in Marathi. Trekking in Sahyadri is very different from trekking in Himalayas. Most of the trekking techniques are not applicable for Sahyadri treks.

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View of Kothaligad Peak

This trek seems to be a cakewalk till the time you reach Peth village as the path leading to Peth is bitumen paved and doesn’t have much elevation. Challenging part of the trek is climbing the hill leading to summit. The fort houses a cave from where there are stairs which lead to the summit. The stairs are old and worn out so at few patches you need to be more careful while climbing up. The spectacular view of the mountain ranges from the summit does justify the hard work put in to reach there. Descending is more challenging due to slippery rocks and during rains it becomes a bit dangerous.

Difficulty level: Easy trail till Peth and thereafter, it is a little difficult and needs high endurance.

Base village: Ambivali

Getting there: Catch a local train to Karjat. After getting down, either catch a bus to Ambivali or shared tempo can be hired.

Other details: There is only one eatery at the base village where one can fuel up before starting for the trek and have lunch at about INR 100 per plate after getting down. Washroom facility is available only at base village at the same eatery.

Cycling ride to Kondana caves:

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Cycling ride to Kondana Caves

Kondana caves lie on the way to Rajmachi fort which itself is famous for trekking and overnight camping as well. This was a cycling ride cum trek to Kondana caves. The cycling ride starts from Karjat railway station to the base village Kondivade. The road to Kondivade is very picturesque with a river flowing along the route with the beautiful and lush green Sahyadri ranges in the backdrop. At few places the river is shallow enough to jump in and play, which of course our group did.

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Playing in river

After reaching Kondivade park the cycles, have lunch at a villager Kondu’s home and relax for some time and start trekking to Kondana caves. Lunch served at Kondu’s place is worth the cycle ride as it is served piping hot on a rainy day. But be careful, you may end up eating more and there are even chances of falling asleep in Kondu’s verandah 😉

The one hour trek leading to Kondana caves is very scenic and has lot of waterfalls on the way. The trail is easy but during rains it becomes slippery because of mud.

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Kondana Caves

You are welcomed by quite a huge waterfall when you reach Kondana caves. Sitting below the waterfall after a long cycling ride and an hour long trek is a bliss. The caves are situated right behind the waterfall. These are a group of 16 buddhist caves which were excavated in 1st century BC. The route for descend is the same as that of ascend. After getting down, have snacks at Kondu’s place and start cycling back to Karjat.

Starting point of cycling: Karjat railway station

Cycling distance: 26 km (to & fro)

Difficulty level: Easy but needs good quality trekking shoes because of slippery route.

Lunch and toilet facility: Available at villager Kondu’s house. Also, cycles can be parked at his place.

Sudhagad Fort:

Sudhagad aka Bhorapgad is one of the many hill forts in Maharashtra which is located in Raigad district. The trek starts from the base village Thakurwadi which is about 120 km from Mumbai. The trail is easy with iron ladders on various intervals making it even more easier to climb.

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Iron stairs on trek route

It takes 2-3 hours to reach the top. There is a big plateau at the top where you need to keep walking through the mist during rains in order to reach the Pantsachiv Wada and Bhorai Mata mandir.

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Walking towards Pantsachiv wada 

Lunch with Maharashtrian delicacies like Pithale-Bhakri is available at wada hence, you need not carry it. Make sure you carry water in adequate quantity as there are hardly any water streams on the route. Behind the wada, there is a route to Chor Darwaza which is a must visit attraction here. Also, plan to start descend in such a way that you reach the base village before sunset as after sunset it may become difficult to descend.

Getting there: Hire a private vehicle depending upon the number of people to reach the base village Thakurwadi.

Difficulty level: Trail is easy but the amount of walking needs a little high endurance.

Other information: Carry odomos along as there are junglee mosquitoes at the top.

Karnala Fort:

This trek should have been the first on my list due to its easy approachability, location, time and endurance required. The trek starts from Karnala Bird Sanctuary in Panvel. You can catch a harbor line train for Panvel and after getting down at the station, shared tempo are easily available for the sanctuary.

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View of Karnala Peak

The trail is not so easy because one has to jump from one rock to another and cross water streams on the way. There are even such patches which do test your body’s flexibility. The route is covered with trees so there is no fear of getting tanned on this trek. The summit of Karnala fort is closed for trekkers since it is worn out and is considered dangerous for climbing. It hardly takes 1.5-2 hours to reach the top after which you can sit with your group and play games and enjoy the cool breeze. The view of valley from the top is breathtaking with lush greenery. The route for descend is the same as that of ascend. After getting down, you can have snacks either at a nearby eatery or the bird sanctuary also houses a restaurant but beware of monkeys there.

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Karnala Fort

Getting there: Nearest railway station is Panvel from where shared tempos are easily available

Difficulty level: The trek is easy but do not mistake it as walking on flat land. At few patches, it does test the flexibility

Other information: Toilet facility is not available on trek route

Andharban:

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Dense dark forest – Andharban

Here comes the best experience of my Sahyadri treks. As the name suggests, Andharban is a walk through the dark forest where sunlight doesn’t reach easily. This is a full descend trek with easy trail and needs a high endurance level as you need to walk for 20 odd kms. The trek starts from Pimpri village which is accessible by a private vehicle. If you start at 12:00 midnight, you can reach here around 5:00 am and freshen up and have breakfast at the villager’s house. We started trekking at 7:00 am in the morning from Pimpri. The route is so picturesque that I am falling short of words to express the beauty of this whole trek. Entire trekking route is full of various small, medium and huge waterfalls and water streams.

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Walking through a water stream at Andharban

At few places we even went inside the water to play and splash water on our fellow travelers.

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Playing in waterfall

The route was quite slippery due to algae grown on rocks and even the best of trekking shoes also can’t prevent you from falling. The experience of walking through the dark forest singing along and playing antakshari was one of its kind.

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Another water stream at Andharban

The trek ends at Bhira dam which is another beautiful site but sadly photography is prohibited here so capturing the beauty of this place in a camera is a farfetched dream. But the heart had captured the beauty of the scenery forever. It took us 10 hours to complete the entire trek but every bruise and pain in each part of the body was all worth it. To experience the beauty of nature like this is a bliss and needs a lot of courage as well.

Getting there: Hire a private vehicle to reach Pimpri. It is advisable to start around 12 midnight in order to reach the village around 4:30 am.

Washroom facility: Washroom facility is available only at Pimpri, that too only 1 washroom with a long queue of trekkers from various trekking groups. It is not available on the route, except for the dense bushes in the forest.

Other information: Food is not available anywhere in this trek so, it is better to carry packed lunch when you start from Mumbai/Pune.

The real beauty of Sahyadri lies in these treks and not in the famous hill stations of Maharashtra. So this monsoon, ditch Lonavla/Mahabaleshwar and set out on a quest to unfold the beauty of Sahyadri with one of these treks.

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