Karjat is where the coastal plains of the Konkan end and Bhor Ghat begins. Recognising Karjat’s potential as a relaxing weekend getaway location, a mere two hours’ drive from home, many wealthy Mumbaikars have built farmhouses here.
In the monsoon and just after, the area is a luxuriant green. Paddy fields stretch from Karjat right up to the base of some of the surrounding hills. Waterfalls and rivulets gush down the hillside. When the sky clears, you get a glimpse of the magnificent hills in the distance — pinnacles, forts, plateaus, gentle spurs and steep cliffs — and sometimes, the ugly scar of a landslide or the gaping orifice of a stone quarry that mars the beauty of the Sahyadris.
Things to see and do
Karjat is a good base for a number of weekend options. You can come to one of the health resorts here, visit the ancient rock-cut caves and if you’ve a penchant for adventure, you can climb imposing Maratha forts, attempt some easy treks, or go on a monsoon white-water rafting trip on the Ulhas River.
Kondana/ Kondhavne Caves
From Karjat, drive or take an autorickshaw (Rs 15-20 shared, Rs 250-300 private) to Kondhavne village. From the village, follow an easy trail to the ruins of the rock-cut caves of Kondhavne. These are Buddhist caves complete with stupa, chaitya, vihara and sculptures. It is believed that during an earthquake in the early 1900s, much of the front, floor and stupa were damaged. This left the pillars in the chaitya suspended like huge stalactites from the ceiling. Several large beehives hang at the entrance to the cave, so avoid smoking, peeling citrus fruit or onions and other aromatic foods nearby. If you follow this trail further uphill, it will turn into a steep climb.
Van Vihar is a simple lodge at Kondana village, run by the very pleasant Gogates. Prakruti Farms, about 4 km away, also serves good food. You can hire a guide for the day (for Rs 150) at the village. Van Vihar too organises a guide for Rs 250.
Kerala-style de-stressing is another Karjat pick. Two health resorts here — Dr Modi’s Health Resort and Satya Health Farm — boast all kinds of remedies and natural treatments. Even if you have no health problems, why not pamper yourself with some deep tissue massage or spa treatment? Do note that neither health resort allows non-veg, alcohol or smoking
If you seek an adrenaline-rush adventure, Karjat will oblige. During the monsoon it’s possible to go rafting on the upper sections of Ulhas River, near Karjat. Because this is purely a seasonal activity (July-September), the trips are dependent on there being adequate rainfall. Outbound Adventure (Tel: 022- 26315019, Mob: 09820195115; Website: outboundadventure.com) organises rafting and canoeing trips here. Day trip costs Rs 1,600 per person, and includes thali lunch. It does not cover the Mumbai to Karjat travel. The put-in point is Kondana village about 15 km away. Hiking can also be arranged to the 2ndcentury Buddhist caves along the hillsides with prior notice. Archery tours are also available for Rs 1,500 per head (min 15 pax).
Lots of options depending on your energy and determination levels. One great trek is to Matheran, via Rambagh Point. From Karjat Station take an auto to Vavarle village. Just outside of Vavarle is a fork in the trail. There are two options before you. Either take the right fork up an initially gentle climb that progressively gets steeper (and tougher on the knees) and eventually brings you to Rambagh Point in Matheran. A small restaurant at Rambagh Point serves basic refreshments.
Alternatively, take the left trail at the fork outside Vavarle, and you will first walk through some fields and rather gentle slopes. A gradual climb up a spur will bring you to Ambewadi village. The trail then gets somewhat steeper. Just before you hit the tree line, glance up at the rock face above you. This is Big Chowk Point. Look carefully at the rock face and you will see why it is called Elephant Head. Once into the forest, the trail gets almost flat and much cooler — but the real test is yet to come.
The last section, known as the Shivaji Steps, is a steep climb up a re-entrant (which in the monsoon is a waterfall) and you could end up scrambling over boulders and rocks. On your left is One Tree Hill and to the right, the steep cliffs of beautiful Matheran.
The locals regularly use this trail. Stop at the cold drinks stall at the top to quench your hard-earned thirst or at least until you get your breath back before the half-hour walk to Matheran’s market.
It takes around 31/2 hrs to trek up to Matheran from Vavarle, via both routes. There’s a lot of uphill climbing but if you are physically fit, it should be no problem. If you are fit but not in excellent shape, you can still make it to the top with a lot of stops!
TIP: Do the trek on your way back to Mumbai, because from Matheran you can’t come back to Karjat unless you walk. You may either take a cab or the train down to Neral and from there you can go back to Mumbai or to Karjat by train.
Peth Fort and Kotligad
Peth is unique among the forts of the Sahyadris because of its funnel-shaped top (Kotligad) and its rocky staircase carved in the middle. It was never of major strategic importance and used mainly as an ammo dump. To get to the trekking trail, you need to take a bus from Karjat to Ambivli village, near Peth (ensure that the bus will actually stop at Ambivli before you get on). From Ambivli take the path to Peth village and from there it’s an easy climb to the fort. You can camp in the caves at the top where there is plenty of drinking water.
The walk up to Bhimashankar from Karjat is a classic trekking experience. It is steep and long and can take 6-7 hrs. From Karjat catch an ST bus or an auto (regular or six-seater) to Khandas (14 km), where you start the trek. Khandas is a very small village, once you get off the bus anyone will point the way out. After the first two (flat and easy) kilometres, the trail climbs steeply to bring you to the first flat section and to Padar Fort. From here it’s a long traverse to the left (north) that brings you to Koli village. Then it’s another long, steep climb that takes you through thick forest and a welcome, cool shade. There is a shorter, far steeper option — but take local advice on whether that route is open. From the Shiva Temple on top, another steep climb will take you to the peak of the mountain, shaped like the head of a cobra and called Nagphani. From here the view is awe-inspiring and makes it well worth the gruelling ascent. It’s a good idea to hire a local villager to act as guide. ST buses ply to Pune and Mumbai from the top so you don’t have to walk back.
Even if waking up early is not your idea of a holiday morning, at Dr Modi’s Health Resort in Karjat, you do. You wake up, take a brisk walk and follow that up with herbal tea. A session of yoga and spinal exercises is next, before you get breakfast. Sounds terrible? It’s not. Because after that, you go to the health club for some specialised treatments including massage, mud bath, hydrotherapy treatments, thermoleum colour treatments and a sauna or jacuzzi session.
This is not where you come for lavish comforts. People come here to lose weight, to heal stressed bones and joints or just to revitalise themselves. They come here for a real break from the ordeal of an unhealthy, stressful lifestyle. Health regimens at Dr Modi’s Health Resort are usually 5- or 10- day plans but a lot of people also come here for a quick weekend of de-stressing.
Location Mumbai’s closest trekking destination is by the banks of the Ulhas River
Distance 79 km SE of Mumbai JOURNEY TIME By road 21/2 hrs By rail 11/2 hrs
Route Vashi Bridge to Panvel; Mumbai-Pune Expressway till Khopoli-Shedung Exit; Old Mumbai-Pune Highway to Chauk; SH to Karjat.
When to go Karjat is great in the monsoon. The area is green even from September to December but can be excruciatingly hot from March until June
STD code 02148 From Mumbai 952148
By Niloufer Venkatraman