26th July, just a date on the calendar? Not for many Mumbaikers a few years back in 2005, when the torrential rains created havoc in the city and the metropolis was flooded causing deaths to many, disrupting lives, destroying infrastructure and bringing the city to a standstill. To all the lives lost, may their souls rest in peace!
26th July 2015, a Sunday, another day on the calendar, an unforgettable one for a batch of 30 trekkers on their way to Vikatgadh or Peb killa. The monsoons are a trekker’s delight and the skies promised us of a nice wet day. A few first timers, a few experienced ones, we were an odd lot but the enthusiasm was just as much as needed. Vikatgad is so named as it is claimed that it’s shaped like Lord Ganesha. It’s also called Peb killa, deriving its name from the Goddess Pebi.
Vikatgadh is one of the many forts lining the Karjat range of mountains in district Raigad, standing tall at a height of 2100 feet. From Neral station, one needs to take a share auto to a village called Fanaswadi, about 3-4 kms from Neral. On a weekend, Neral station is flooded by the multitude of trekkers and tourists on a trip to the hill station of Matheran. Outside the station is a vegetarian restaurant ‘Sai Shraddha’ which is where most of the trekkers halt for a quick bite before they embark on their trek, hot wadas and missal paav being the all time favourites. There are also other stalls outside Neral station and it is advisable to get something packed before you start your trek if you are not carrying a packed lunch.
The trek starts from Fanaswadi and at the base, surrounded by the village and farms; one can see the ‘V’ shape in the mountain ahead which happens to be where one is heading. The peak of Vikatgadh is marked by the temple of Swami Samarth. This is an arduous trek and tests your endurance. Completely uphill and through the jungle, it took us almost 3 hrs to reach the summit. We were guided by a local villager. Treading over rocks of various shapes and sizes, one needs to be extra careful in the rains. Walking the ridges, there are places where all there is space for is a single step and a slip could have you tumbling, bouncing and landing in the valley below. And after about an hour and half of trekking, one comes across a rock patch which is a difficult one. These are actually two patches bundled into one, the latter almost impossible to be done without a helping hand or a rope unless you are an experienced rock climber. I and many others were literally pulled up by our guide and the trek leaders. I, for sure couldn’t have done it alone since its right in your face, almost 10 feet tall and there is hardly any foothold to stick your foot into and heave yourself upward. There are a couple of other rock patches which are not as difficult as the one mentioned.
Once the first rock patch is crossed, the scenery opens up to a visual delight. What we saw is near inexplicable; rather words are a futile medium for expressing the ravishing beauty. The canvas of tall green mountains, the vast landscape, the lashing rains, tricking waterfalls, the dark clouds and the strong wind calms not only your soul but eases the mind off the pain in your legs. The highlight of the scenery was the scattering and playful clouds. Hiding the landscape, and magically making them appear the next moment, the clouds were romancing the mountains like never before. Enchanting, enthralled!
Another 30 minutes of climb and one comes across a big cave at the edge of the mountain with an idol of Shivaji Maharaj and a Shivling. The cave is maintained by disciples of Swami Samarth. This is a good place to have lunch if you want to but take care not to litter. Walking against the line of the cave, about 200 meters ahead comes the first ‘shidi’ or ladder. An iron ladder which sways midway, how adventurous and the weak hearted dare not see below. Once the ladder is crossed, there are a few other rock patches but not as difficult as the first one and then you come to an open space from where you can see the other side of the valley below and the temple above you. This is where we had lunch, saving ourselves from the wrath of the chasing monkeys. Beware of the monkeys; they won’t stop short of slapping you at the cost of grabbing your food. A climb of another few minutes and you reach the temple. Oh, what a sight, a temple almost suspended in air, at the peak, at the edge and wherever your eyes roam, the sight is a joy to celebrate. Experiencing the magic is what needs to be done; this blog is too small to portray what you actually see and feel there. Into the distance, one can see the Chanderi pinnacle and Doodhani dam.
Spending some time there, we moved ahead. We didn’t go back the way we came, thankfully for many of us. We crossed two more shaky ladders, one person at a time, and took the path which leads to the toy train tracks of Matheran. Walking to Dasturi Naka along the tracks, from where we were to catch a shared cab to get down the Matheran Ghat to reach Neral station, you come across a huge beautiful idol of Lord Ganesha partly carved out of rock. Zigzagging and zooming down the ghat, we reached Neral in no time and were on our way back home.
This by no means is an easy trek, rather a wee bit more than ‘medium’ grade but one of the best and most enjoyable treks I have ventured on till now!