I have lost count of the number of times I have climbed Duke’s Nose (1,005m) but I have never tired of this hike. This prominent peak, also known as Nagphani or Cobra’s Hood, guards the Bhor Ghat and is visible from the train as well as the road. While climbing the Khandala Ghat, Duke’s Nose looks like a formidable pinnacle. However, it’s a very popular and easy hike and requires no special climbing skills. It takes an average of two hours to get to the top and the same to return. Unlike other spots, this is a very enjoyable hike even in the monsoons. Though the top can get windy and cold, the clouds occasionally break to give you a fantastic view of the valley below. You can also sit and watch trains crawling in and out of the tunnels like giant worms. Remember to stock up on drinking water. Unless you are hiking in the monsoons or know the area very well, you are unlikely to find potable water along the way.
A NOSEY AFFAIR
Duke’s Nose is named after Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington (later general and British prime minister) who was famous, among other things, for his large aquiline nose. The large Apinnacle, when seen from a distance, appears to be the nose of a person lying down. Locals call this peak Nagphani or Cobra’s Hood, though it doesn’t really have the fanned head of a cobra. Duke’s Nose has been a challenging technical climb from the valley as well as a daring rappel for intrepid adventurers over the years. Any one attempting any professional rock climbing should be aware that there are huge bee hives on the cliff side of Duke’s Nose and that an accidental disturbance could cause major bee trouble.
DISTANCE 8-10 KM TIME 4 HOURS
From Khandala Station, walk back along the railway track for about 100m going towards Mumbai. Just past the level crossing (west), follow the old unused railway track that climbs up the hill. Once the track ends, continue along the narrow tarred road going left (due south-west) for a kilometre or so, which will bring you to Fore Bay. This is where the Tata duct line water is stored before it’s released down to Khopoli. This is private property but the Tata Electric Company has kept access open. This is also the last point where you will get water.
From Fore Bay, a footpath leads off into the jungle on the left (due south). This is really where the hike begins as one now leaves the beaten track and enters forests. About 5 mins into the trail, you’ll leave the Tata property and pass through a turnstile-like gate, immediately after which the path forks. The trail on the right is steep and full of scree, and the one on the left is gentle and easy. Take your pick, they both lead to the same col. A 15-min uphill trudge will bring you to the col with a large electric pylon. On the other side, you can see INS Shivaji, the naval training school, and Koregad Fort in the distance. Duke’s Nose is not visible from here. This is a good place to take a break.
If you look back along the way you have come up, you can see Khandala Village, Rajmachi Fort and Dhak Plateau in the distance. From the col, follow the path going down towards INS Shivaji (due southwest) for a kilometre (10-15 mins). You will come out onto an open plain with Duke’s Nose visible on the diagonal to your right (due west). Duke’s Nose now looks like a small hillock because the entire area is at a higher elevation. It’s a 2-km walk (due south-west) across the fields to the base of Duke’s Nose (head for the low ridge that seems to connect Duke’s Nose to INS Shivaji). In the monsoon, this can be a very enjoyable but wet walk and you will have to ford several small streams (not very swift, mostly knee deep).
From the base, a well-used path winds its way and leads to the top. The path climbs gradually at first and then gets steeper. You’ll pass some Nilgiri trees and then take a rather steep trail (1/2 hr/ 1 km) to find yourself at the top marked by a tiny Shiva temple, marvellous views and a sheer drop to the valley below. It can sometimes get quite windy at the top as there is very little vegetation, so watch your step. Return You have to backtrack the way you came up.
● From Lonavla make your way past Ryewood Park to Monsoon Lake (also known as Lonavla Lake). Walk along the shores (on the right side or due south) till Duke’s Nose comes into view, then head across to the base of the ridge and walk up to the top. This is a longer route.
● Another option is to take an autorickshaw from Lonavla to Kurvanda Village and then walk around the base of the hill (on your right or along the shores of Lonavla Lake) till Duke’s Nose comes into view and head straight for the ridge.
● Yet another option is to head out to INS Shivaji (by bus or auto) from Lonavla and then hike cross-country to Duke’s Nose. You could return by the easier route described above.
● The die-hard trekker can go past the old railway line. On reaching the road that leads to Fore Bay, follow the path going right that leads down into a thick jungle. Climb a little-used path to the base of Duke’s Nose (the rightside base). Be warned this is a tough route and only those with rockclimbing skills should try it.
By Andre Morris
About the author: Andre Morris taught history at Mumbai’s Wilson College before walking the wild side. He lives in Mumbai but spends half his life in the outdoors – hiking, rock climbing, rafting, canoeing and birdwatching. He also runs Outbound Adventure, an outdoor education and adventure outfit.