We never venture out without doing proper research. Our love for research is so great that we may equate the happiness we get out of it with the happiness while doing the actual travel. But, our experience on the Kalavantin Durg trek was different. It was spontaneous, and we had very little idea of what to expect!
Where is Kalavantin Durg?
Panvel is a suburb of Mumbai, India. It is well connected with Mumbai through local trains. The trail to Kalavantin Durg starts from a village named Thakurwadi. Thakurwadi is about 45 minutes away from Panvel. Auto-rickshaws from Panvel railway station charge near about INR 300 for a one way trip. The same auto can be re-hired for a return trip, provided you note down the driver’s phone number and give him a call for a pick up.
Alternatively, there are MSRTC (Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation) buses which are often loosely referred to as ST (State transport) buses which leave Panvel MSRTC bus stand for Thakurwadi village hourly. It costs INR 17 for a one way trip.
The last bus leaving Thakurwadi for Panvel is at 5.30 PM.
Although referred to as Kalavantin Durg (Durg means fort), there is no fortification. It is just a high hill with a watchtower on top.
Fire in The Oil Tanker
The plan was to go on the Irshalgarh trail. I had scrolled through the photos on Instagram and read the sparse literature which existed on google. When we arrived at Panvel railway station all we had was a handpainted rough map of the trail on a piece of paper. The auto driver was clueless about Irshalgarh and tried hard to convince us to take up his favourite – the Kalavantin Durg trail. We politely rejected his offer.
We were looking at the hills on both the sides of the highway. My hair was blissfully dancing to the tune of the breeze. This dance, however, was shortlived. The police had blocked the road ahead and the highway suddenly looked like a choked alley in the old neighbourhoods of Mumbai.
“The industry ahead has caught fire,” spoke a stranger.
“A resort is burning ahead,” an old woman muttered in broken Hindi.
“An oil tanker ahead has caught fire, the road will remain blocked for about an hour or two more at least,” the police personnel explained.
We preferred believing the oil tanker theory.
Thakurwadi Village – Gateway to Kalavantin Durg Trek
We made up our mind. We asked the auto to take us to his favourite trail – the Kalavantin Durg. He took a U-turn and soon we left the highway and entered into a side track.
The narrow path through which the three-wheeler passed had paddy fields on both sides. The hills overlooking the village appeared to be its guardian. The villagers were busy with their daily business.
Plunging waterfalls throughout the lush valley and tufts of clouds floating by, this is what a typical Maharashtrian village looks like during monsoon.
Some of the houses in the village appeared to be remarkably well-off. I was also surprised by the number of houses in the village with private cars parked in front of them.
Dressed in light shades of green, pink, blue and orange, the village temple complemented the moody lush beauty of the valley. The homes of the average villagers are clustered near the temple zone.
There was a riot of red and yellows in front of the institute of NOTI which deals with offshore vessel anchor handling.
Trek to the Base camp of Kalavantin Durg
“One, two, three, jump!”
Click. Click. Click.
That’s how our trek started.
Whenever we go to a new place, I (Tania) jump as soon as we find a desolate stretch with no one to laugh at us.
The dirt path was lined on both sides by bushes. On that particular monsoon day, the Sun was brighter than usual.
Once in a while we caught glimpse of some rare bird sitting on the branches of the trees on the slope.
For the initial 45 minutes, I felt obsessed with the waterfalls cascading down the hills in front. I made the husband stop every now and then to try and grab an artistic photo of me with the waterfalls. I was gleaming under the abundant sunshine. Profusely sweating and panting.
A carpet of pebbles made up most of the path. When there is a rainfall, I could very well imagine streams gushing down the slope on which we were walking. The rest of the stretch would be knee deep in mud.
The Sun shining brightly worked in our favour.
Makeshift shacks selling chips, lemon water, tea, cucumber for the trekkers gave occasional appearances on the way.
We stopped at scenic spots once in a while to enjoy the moment.
About a month before coming on this hike, we accidentally came across a Youtube video on Kalavantin and what we saw gave us goosebumps . At the bottom of our hearts sat a deep rooted fear, the source of which was that Youtube video.
It was comforting when we saw children and aged people hiking on this trail alongside us.
“So the video must have been an exaggerated propaganda to attract eyeballs,” we discussed among ourselves.
Little did we know that soon we would be facing some of the scariest moments of our lives.
Like a wolf waiting for a prey, sitting on a rock, I was waiting for a trekker on his homeward journey. I pounced on the first person. Well, from him we came to know –
1. Thakurwadi is not the last village on the Kalavantin Durg trail.
2. There is a real base camp on top with tents. People can choose to stay there overnight.
The good news was that we were close to the base camp.
We enjoyed some calm moments of solitude with cucumbers in hand by the side of a waterfall flowing into a stream.
A narrow strip of land connects the two shores of the stream. The velvety grass on the other shore was too inviting to ignore.
Base Camp of Kalavantin Durg Trail
“What an uncanny resemblance it bears with Mordor of Lord of the Rings,” I exclaimed.
I was referring to the eerily black coloured hill which abruptly rises from one end of the plateau that happens to be the base camp.
The base camp was a huge meadow on a hilltop. In terms of beauty it was in no way less than the Himalayan sites. Close your eyes and imagine any Himalayan meadow sans the snow peaks — well, the Kalavantin Durg base camp had a similar charm.
The vibrant pop of blue here and there on the green attracted our attention. Tents were not the only accommodation available. An entire concrete shelter with rooms was built on that meadow.
The owner is a local named Nilesh Bhutambara who is “the only graduate resident of the village Prabalmachi”- the last village before the no-man and no-woman’s land.
People were merrily sitting, chatting and having a good time on the grassy plateau floor. I saw the kids and some oldies hanging around. The dining space in the concrete structure was packed.
It was not an easy discovery. Since leaving the base camp, we befriended a group of native language speakers and followed a thin trail. It was clear a large number of visitors never venture farther than the base camp. This time we were completely on our own and we could have ended up lost in the forests beyond Panvel.
For one thing, I knew these forests are home to leopards.
We were unsure of our next move when a woman appeared from the bushes. She was wearing a blouse and saree. The saree was draped in dhoti-like fashion, typical to Maharashtra(or Konkan) area. On one hand was a dagger, her other hand was free. On her head was a basket. A nose-ring was dangling from the separation of her nostrils.
She gave us directions of the trail to Kalavantin Durg in Marathi. What she said was incomprehensible to us, we followed the natives.
We were indeed going the wrong way and if not for her, we may have found ourselves somewhere lost in the forests.
This stretch was daunting. We were deep in a forest. The trees and leaves blocked out the light and made the path quite dark even during daytime. It was a wild mess of trunks, branches and roots .We were placing our feet very carefully in the minor gaps among these. It was not a flat land but an uphill rise. We grabbed the trunks and branches for support. At some point our knee started paining.
A blind dog came to welcome us. In a forest clearing we saw little huts rising up. Through the open doors of the huts we saw people living in abject poverty. They had very little belongings. A little girl passed us, hens clucked, the kids with eyes full of playfulness were running around barefoot.
At that moment we understood the true power of Nilesh Bhutambara’s achievement. We felt proud of him.
The village had proper provision of feeding the weary trekkers. Vegetarian and chicken meals were available.
Last Leg of the Trek – The Most Dangerous Stretch
A little ahead from Prabalmachi, the summit and the way to it was clearly visible. There were no more trees or forests to block our sight. There was nothing but a gigantic perpendicular rock.
Rock cut steps with very narrow footspace were carved out of that hill. There were no handrails of any sorts. Since it was monsoon season, most of the stretch was wet and slippery.
From the solo lemon water shack at the base of this hill, we observed the plight of the people climbing up and down. It was a hard decision to make, but we finally made it.
In order to reach the perpendicular rock, we needed to cross a roundish rock with cracks and fissures. The round shape of the rock and the mosses thriving on it made this stretch extremely dangerous. A fall meant almost certain death.
As I am writing this, my hands are shaking at the thought of it. The climb up was nothing compared to the petrifying climb down.
We placed our legs oddly in the fissures and cracks of the rock and successfully avoided stepping over the mossy rock surfaces. With our hands we grabbed the safe holds in the rock. We were waging a different war in our minds. We fought hard to push aside all negative thoughts and kept on believing ‘WE CAN’.
Once this part was done, another challenge presented itself.
One set of rock cut steps abruptly ended. The next set of rock cut steps was to the right of the previous one. There was a considerable gap in between them. The gap was a 90 degree rock wall. Extreme stretching of legs without losing balance is required to reach from one set to another. The taller you are the better.
At this point I almost gave up and was ready to return back. But I didn’t. I did the stretching and survived.
The next part included just climbing up the stairs without slipping and falling. It was definitely easier than the two challenging stretches which we had already covered. Once in a while we stood still and looked back, rather down. Strangely, it didn’t scare us much.
We saw a flag fluttering on the hill opposite to us. It’s summit was higher. It is Prabalgad Fort- the twin of Kalavantin Durg.
The climb continued for about 20 minutes. The steepness of the stairs and our paranoid nature made us use all four limbs.
Kalavantin Durg Summit
The summit had panoramic views of the surroundings. Matheran, Karnala and many other places are said to be visible from the summit. Though we saw many a place, green valleys and water bodies, we have no idea how to distinguish between Matheran and Karnala. Again, one of the disadvantages of inadequate, or in this case zero, research.
The summit of Prabalgard Fort was in front of us on the opposite hill. May be we watch way too many fantasy movies, but we almost felt an evil vibe radiating from that mountain. It looked like Mordor from Lord of the Rings more than ever.
Soon we were under the blissful cloak of clouds. The surroundings grew surreal. We saw a waterfall plunging down through the clouds on the slope of another mountain.
A downpour started. We sat on a rock under an umbrella. In the worst weather conditions, on top of a treacherous mountain we found our moment of solitude and bliss.
We were finally living our dream of travelling together in offbeat places, doing things which scare us and living a fulfilling life.
Some loosely fit boulders made up the steps of the tower built on the summit. Infinite leg stretching was required in order to scale it. Since we were just two people and conditions were already adverse with the rain and clouds drenching us, we decided not to try it out.
Climbing Down – The Horror and New Friends
We started our downward journey as soon as the rain stopped. Fortunately, our lack of expertise was spotted by a hiking expert. He taught us some proper techniques of climbing down.
As we descended, we befriended another expert who was busy helping a man with cramped leg climb down.
If on our own, the descent would have terrified us. The downpour had made the path more slippery and life threatening. But, the company of our new found friends supplied us with loads of courage and confidence to overcome the fear.
The descent down the round rock numbed me of my senses. I spent so much time in taking that first step that I must have created a queue behind me.
I couldn’t believe both of us made down to the bottom of the rock unharmed.
Walking down the rest of the trail till the base village of Thakurwadi was a breeze. We were no more just a group of two persons but a group of around ten people. New friendships were formed, interesting stories were exchanged.
This daytrip was traumatizing and freeing at the same time! I couldn’t sleep that night. The thought of the magnitude of the notorious terrain we had just managed to climb and get down safely tormented me throughout the night.
Do’s and Dont’s In Kalavantin Durg Summit Expedition – Learn From Our Mistakes
- Anyone with average amount of body fitness can reach till Kalavantin Durg’s base camp.
- Scaling Kalavantin Durg’s summit is no joke. Don’t go farther than the base camp if you are an amateur.
- It is best to go for the summit with a group including an experienced (mountain climbing) person to guide you.
- Don’t panic at any moment. You have to keep your mind under control and think clearly if you want to scale a vertical rock and come back alive.
- Wear very good shoes with excellent gripping.
- Throughout the trail there are shacks selling drinking water, the last shop is at the base of the vertical rock.
- Don’t get overexcited and shock your muscles by jumping on the summit. It may result in leg muscle cramp.
- Avoid monsoon season. If you can’t, then at least go for the trek on a non-rainy day.
- Carry extra pair of trousers as the one you are wearing may get torn up due to friction with the rocks while climbing up or down.
Have you been here? Do you plan to go here and need more information? Comment below and let me know!
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