Before I begin this week’s trek-blog, let me give you the context. This solo trek to Karnal fort was totally unplanned. Instead, a friend and I had rigorously planned a trek to Andharaban, and I had even reached CST station to catch the train the previous night at the decided hours, but we had to cancel it at the last moment due to unforeseeable reasons. Returning home disappointed from the ticket counter, I decided that instead of unpacking my bag and doing nothing for the day, I could do an easier day-trek instead. I caught 2 hours’ sleep and then started for CST again, precisely at 4 a.m. in the morning, caught the 4.38 a.m. slow local train, and slept off snugly in my seat.
I woke up as the train was nearing Panvel, my destination. Dawn was breaking, it was early morning. I was pleasantly surprised at the brand new and clean look of the spacious platforms. Situated at the end of Navi Mumbai, Panvel is a town on its own. I had some trouble catching the right ST (State Transport) bus to Karnala. Basically, any bus that goes to Alibag via Pen can drop you off at the Karnala bird sanctuary. I didn’t find the staff at the bus depot any helpful. Moreover, they didn’t speak Hindi — so I had to figure things out myself, looking at GoogleMaps and asking passengers. Anyway, off I went and another half an hour later at 6.30 in the morning, I got off at the gate of the sanctuary.
Here, before I could do anything, a surprise greeted me. A white stray dog came running from the gate and jumped straight on to my lap! Not once or twice, but it kept jumping as it fell off. I am not particularly a dog-lover, and this freaked me out a little bit. Getting bitten by a stray dog was not on my list. However, I tried to stay calm, and soon it got the hang that I am not loving it back, so went away. I got my ticket for the sanctuary and started the stroll on a pleasant morning.
The ascent got steeper as I went, and the Sun started peeping in through the branches. Every few hundred meters, there is a small sanctuary signpost indicating the way, so you never get lost. I noticed, in particular, the system of roots and branches of trees mingling with each other. The thick roots sometimes hang across the branch of one tree and go to the other, right in front of you, blocking the way. The softness of the ground was an indication that this patch would be muddy in heavy monsoon.
The weather was dry so I had to stop a few times for water. Also, one needs to be beware of the monkeys. They observe you from the trees. If you are not careful to keep the water bottle inside your bag, they won’t minding attacking you and snatching it away. The fort at the top could be viewed occasionally from behind the trees, which urged me to keep moving on.
After around 50 minutes of brisk climbing, I reached a point that offered a surreal, mystic view of the valley on the east. The Rasayani river could be noticed at a distance, and the peaks of Matheran were covered behind the clouds.
After this point, the trek became a gentle walk up a gradual slope until I reached the base of the fort, in another 15 minutes. There was a small temple here and an artificial resting shade. This offered me a much-needed shelter from the Sun, which was starting to get hot. Unexpectedly, there was not much cloud-cover, and that wasn’t good news. The rest of the climb ahead was on big fort stairs, and there would be no forest cover either. So I decided to make the most of the shelter and had a packet of biscuits and some dry glucose.
Around 8.15, I got going for the final ascent to the fort. There are painted railings along the edge of the steps, and these offer much-needed support in the areas where the footing becomes narrow. This part is not easy, especially if the Sun is up, and took me a good 20 minutes to the top. Thankfully, the clouds from the eastern valley started moving in, giving me some respite from the Sun-God.
The ruins of the fort spread out in a large area surrounding a protruding bit of rock that is impossible to climb. From the various positions, one can get a fantastic view of 360 degrees of the valleys below, the Nakhind-Peb-Matheran-Prabalgad-Kalvantin system of peaks, the Mumbai-Goa highway bustling with traffic and the vast plains, and the town of Panvel spreading out. The fact that it wasn’t rainy and foggy at the top ensured that there was nothing obstructing the view.
I spent an hour exploring the ruins and the 360 degree-view, and there was not a single human soul anywhere near me. It felt like I was a king of the land, but no treasure to guard. I was also lucky to catch a train snake past due south at a distance.
I started descending around 0930 because the Sun had started to come out of the cloud cover and my skin was feeling itchy. I met two groups of three trekkers each in the stairs of the fort and another couple of guys at the base. I took my final rest here, knowing that the descent ahead would be quick, giving not much scope to breathe. And I was right, I was back to the gate of the sanctuary by 10.20. On the way, there were so many groups big and small that crossed me, that I lost count. Most of them stopped to ask me the same questions: How much more to the top? Are you alone? (Really?! Cheers man!) When did you start? I realized that they would be baked in the Sun when they reach the top, and also the fort would be crowded. I was glad to have started and ended early.
As I waited for the ST bus at the stop, a tumtum (8 seater rickshaws, 6 at the back and 2 at the front) came along and offered a seat for Rs 25, which is 10 more than the bus. I was happy to take it, and reached Panvel around 11, Mumbai CST around 12.30 and was back to my place by 1 p.m. Total cost: Rs 215.
Overall, this was the easiest trek I had done. But, there are certain things which are never easy when you are alone. On the way up, in the dry weather and negotiating the monkeys, sometimes your spirits aren’t the highest, and you need to keep telling yourself to go on. Your 6th sense is at its peak. The high you get on making it to the top, with one else around you, is totally worth it.
P.S. By the way, I crossed Mansarovar twice, on the way. While non-Mumbaikars will be wondering if I have gone mad, Mumbaikars, especially those who travel by the Harbour line, will snigger at the poor joke. I wish to leave it at that.