TIME: 1-2 days
IDEAL SEASON: Jun to Mar
LOCATION: Karjat region, southeast of Mumbai, in Raigad District
The Peth Fort stands in splendid isolation in the Sahyadri mountain range, a solitary reaper rising like an inverted funnel above the surrounding landscape. The funnel is actually a volcanic plug, formed by the cooling lava flows that created the Deccan Plateau. The softer outer layers eroded over the ages, leaving pinnacles like Kotligad, as the Peth peak is called. A long time ago, the fort was a watch-post for soldiers guarding the Bhor Ghat, which was once an important trade route between Pune and the port of Kalyan. The fort played a role in keeping trade routes open and was only captured by intrigue or by mistaken identity.Legend has it that the commander of the fort mistook the Mughals for the Marathas and allowed them to approach the fort.
Once at the fort, you’re treated to a grand view of the Karjat and Bhimashankar Range, tunnels and pipelines, Matheran, several other hills and plains. In the monsoon, this is a particularly delightful hike and on weekends you’ll find the route quite packed with trekkers. The sound of a waterfall cascading down the hillside and cicadas rejoicing in unison create a pleasant soundtrack accompanying you as you walk. Wild flowers sway in the breeze and small and large bullfrogs (Rana tigrina) hop about crisscrossing your path. There are plenty of birds and great views, which make the hike even more enjoyable. Dozens of fruit bats inhabit the caves at the base of the pinnacle, so if you don’t mind the smell, take a peek at their habitat.
DISTANCE 5-6 KM TIME 2-3 HOURS
Take the right turn south-east just before Ambivli Village. There is a small restaurant at the junction here, called Hotel Kotligad, where you can get refreshments. Here, you will find safe parking for your vehicle, arrangements for meals, guides and porters. All this comes at a very reasonable cost (contact Gopal Savant on Tel: +91-2148- 687882/ 224944). Half a kilometre later, the trail to Peth branches off to the east, or left. This is a metalled road until the base of the hill, from where a well-used trail leads up to Peth Village 3-4 km away.
This hike is very enjoyable, with many birds and good views of the surrounding area. Peth Fort itself appears to be very far off but don’t worry. On reaching Peth Village, you can stop for a cup of tea and rest or even a hot meal at Bhairavnath Bhojnalaya (Tel: +91-2148-686017). Also, don’t miss checking out an unusual large brass cannon in the middle of the village. The trail to the fort goes north or left of the base of the fort (remember the fort should be on your right). Walk through the village (until the end) and turn right at the big red house. A path leads up north-east a little and then through fields. After a 10-min walk, look on your right (due south) for a trail leading through the jungle to the base of the pinnacle for a kilometre (30 mins).
Half-way up, take the trail leading off to the right or due west. It will bring you to an old cannon. At the base of the pinnacle is a large cave with five supporting pillars suggesting Buddhist monks hewed them, probably around 200 BC. At the end of this cave is a smaller cave (look out for the fruit bats that hang from the ceiling in this one). The steep ascent to the top of the pinnacle is via a stone staircase tunnelled out of rock from near the water tank. This is the only way to the top.
At the summit are some Maratha ruins that date back to the time when the fort was an important watch-post for guarding the strategic Bhor Pass. Atop the pinnacle is a pleasant reward for the trudge up — panoramic views of the Karjat and Bhimashankar ranges, Padar Killa, lots of beautiful waterfalls (which can be seen only in the monsoon months), and in the distance, the hill station of Matheran.
You can camp out in the caves at Peth Fort, but, during the monsoons, expect to have lots of company, especially on weekends, as Peth is among the easiest and hence most favoured weekend climbs for Mumbaikars. There’s also some lodging at the very rustic Hotel Kotligad at Peth Village. One could pitch a tent on top of the fort near the ruins, or just outside Peth Village, but only between end-October and May. Between June and mid-October during the monsoons, it’s impossible to camp out in the open.
DISTANCE 5-6 KM TIME 3 HOURS
Walk back to Ambivli by retracing your steps to Peth Village and then follow the trail down. Alternatively, you can take a lesser-known trail from just outside Peth Village down to Jambuli Village, which is a good tough walk in the monsoon. You should take a local guide (the charges will be between Rs 100 and 150), as the trail is often overgrown and indistinct. From Jambuli Village, there are several buses each day to Karjat as well as the odd six-seater autorickshaw.
● As Peth Fort is not connected to the main ghats running north to south, there is no direct route leading into the surrounding hills and nearby forts. You will have to descend into the plains and then climb up again, whether you are going to Bhimashankar or Padar Killa, or up to the Bhivpuri Tunnels.
● One interesting combination is to link your trek to Peth with one to Bhimashankar. From Jambuli, you’ll need to take a bus to Kashele or Khandas and from there, begin your trek to Bhimashankar.
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.