Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Vikatgad (peb fort trek) - An experience of being on top of clouds -- Literally

Vikatgad also called Peb fort is situated on north west side of Panvel, about 3-4 kms from Neral stn. Located in same mountain range as Matheran, Its a famous one day trek from Mumbai and is quite popular among trekkers throughout the year. Peb fort derives its name from Godess Pebi temple at the base of the fort, also its called Vikatgad as it resembles the face of God Ganpati. Historical reference indicate that caves were used by Shivaji as silos to store grains. But today the caves at the top of fort is dedicated to Swami Samarth, disciples of Swami have contributed immensely at maintaining the caves and also constructed a temple at the highest point.There are few routes for this trek one being from base village of Fanaswadi, other being small village behind Dilkap college in Neral west. One can also come from Matheran as the routes are clearly marked.

My trip : After my first trek with TMI at Anjaneri, I had enrolled for Vikatgad trek one month in advance as I always wanted to do this trek, Its very popular among trekkers and then last week I was suffering from summer heat effects but still decided to go to Sarasgad day trek, unfortunately had to abandon in between just when I had reached the fort due to heat stroke. It was disappointing trek for me and trekker in me was feeling restless. So here I was all excited on Saturday night for night trek to Vikatgad. I was all prepared to complete this trek successfully and also got my friends Bharti, Aparna & Mark to join me and TMI group. We reached Neral station much earlier only to find that at 12.30am, apart from few people sleeping on station and few policemen on station we four were the only soul awake at Neral station. Wait of around one hour and two trains the entire TMI group had gathered at Neral station now. Total of 39 people joining march to Vikatgad. After a quick round of introduction, It was time for celebration for one of the trekker - Vishal More had his birthday so it was memorable cake cutting done at Neral station in middle of night. What a way to celebrate one's bday !!!!! of course it was followed by bday bumps to Vishal from all of us. Poor guy was already carrying Ralispray for after effects .... Lol

Happy Birthday !!!

We started our journey around 2.30am, walking past the dark and isolated streets of Neral west, the route we took was not commonly used from fanaswadi but behind Dilkap college. with lot of construction activity happening in the area, our leader Vishal lost the way in the night but eventually were on the right path. Base village landmark was a small temple, behind which was our path to summit of Vikatgad. In the dark night, we could faintly see our destination which was V shaped, on left was Vikatgad and on right was Nakhind. With torch light our only light source, it was unique to see 39 people with torch light moving up on the mountains. Climb initially was easy but due to summer heat and humidity, in no time everyone including me were sweating like pig. Occasional halt for 2-5 minutes, we slowly and gradually climbed to our first plateau and landmark - Huge transmission tower. Funny part was transmission lines supplying power emitted buzzing sound and we all wondered where the hell is that sound coming from, then realising that was being caused by power transmission lines. Also before we reached the tower, we also had to climb small rocks and also got lost in the darkness of forest once reaching a dead end. But it was all fine as we all reached the plateau.

Moving up in the dark forest, we came across few more rock patches which we climbed slowly. My camera as always, failed to start and I was staring at another trek which would not have pics from my clicks. I just cannot imagine any treks which would not have pics for memories and my blogs. Anyways it was dark and didn't really have any views to capture so I just enjoyed the trek not bothered about the views. Around 4.30am we reached the first difficult path en route where we had to climb muddy patch with deep valleys on both sides. Moving forward,we it was first rock climb, helped by experienced co-trekkers we all climbed safely. It was now around 5.30am when we were just minutes away from our resting place - cave dedicated to Swami Samarth. What we saw here was just mesmerising and indescribable. We were above clouds and valley which we climbed was now covered with clouds and with first rays of sunlight it was dangerously moving in to cover our entire path.

Vishal our leader pressed the panic button as we could see cloud moving in towards our path and fear was if it engulfed our path then we would have to spend time at the same place till its cleared. Our path to the cave now was narrow road and with valley on right and without clear vision, it was no way one could walk safely and reach the caves. 

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We all hurried to the caves but luckily it was not a long walk but just couple of yards away. The cave was just the right place everyone was waiting for. Within no time, many of co trekkers made themselves comfy and were off to sleep. It was a tiring climb of over 3hours. After some photo shoot, it was now time for 7 course breakfast, we were all dead hungry, it was so amazing to see so much variety of snacks and breakfast carried by everyone.

It was around 7.30am that we now decided to move forward. Moving ahead we came across few openings in the mountain, one would have to crawl in, I had read that it was meditation chambers lined with tiles, constructed by Swami Samarth disciples. We didn't dare to go in but moved ahead. Now it was first ladder climb. I couldn't stop wandering how one can climb this during rainy season with rains and winds for company.

We were now at Vikatgad fort. Again it was time for some photo shoot. View as always from the top was amazing but we were now staring at hot blazing sun, it was just 8.30am. Water resource was fast depleting now and there was no potable water source at the fort. We were now at 2082 feet above sea level. Deciding to take a short cut to reach the highest point - temple dedicated to Swami Samarth, it has padukas of Swami here.The climb to the temple was hard as had to climb with help of firm roots of trees with loose mud threatening to pull one down. Once at the top, It was amazing 360 deg view of Matheran mountain range and deep valleys around.

Chanderi in background

Again it was time for photo shoot, while we spend sometime at the temple, The place around temple doesn't have much space, it was narrow but barricade on both sides. It would be just awesome to come here in Monsoon to be in clouds literally !!!!! Another ladder to climb down and we were now moving towards Matheran range just opposite Panorama point. On the way we came across ashram, which was I would say best place to stay, surrounded by mountains and deep valleys. On enquiring there was Shiva temple close by, which had potable water and this was first source of drinking water that we came across in entire trek till now. Its so important to have lots of water on the trek specially during summer treks !!!!

Two more ladders to climb down and we were now going to again walk on narrow path with deep valleys on the right. Thrilling it was !!!! But we were now all exhausted to the core even though it was just 9am in the morning. Only thing that motivated everyone now was the Matheran mini train passing by on Matheran mountain range, this was our indicator that we were very close by to our destination and our last stretch of walk would be on the tracks of this mini train before we reach Dasturi naka from where we were to catch our cabs taxi to reach Neral station back. On the way to Matheran, we also came across huge statue of Ganapati painted on rock surface, locally known as "Kadevarcha Ganapati" as its is corner of a hill. The statue should be around 2storeys high and looks stunning from a distance.

It was around 9.30am that we finally reached Matheran mini train tracks. With smile on everyone face on having completed the trek successfully, we all sat on the train tracks with the mountain providing welcoming shade. We sat there relaxing on the tracks, watching at the far distance the Swami Samarth temple which we all had successfully climbed. It was most amazing feat I felt I had accomplished. It might have been couple of times one must have climbed and not one of those difficult treks but still I had a feeling of satisfaction on completing this beautiful trek in Sahyadris. We had a feedback session from everyone and after spending some time resting we all moved to Dasturi naka from where we got into cabs for Neral station and back home. I would love to do the same trek again in Monsoon, when it would be different face of the same mountain range all together with lush green mountains and rains god showering from top.

I bowed to mighty Sahyadris on having being able to explore its beauty and on successful and safe journey that I had. Hoping to explore as many places that mighty mountain has to offer. By the time I complete updating this episode of my trekking experience, who knows the trekker in me might be off to some other place or may be completed one. Till then Good bye !!!!!