TIME: 1-2 days
IDEAL SEASON: June to March
LOCATION: Karjat region, southeast of Mumbai, in Raigad
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Of Peth Fort stands in beautiful isolation in the Sahyadri Mountains, a lone reaper rising above the surrounding landscape like an inverted funnel. The funnel is actually a volcanic plug, formed by the cooling lava flows that created the Deccan Plateau. The softer outer layers eroded over time, leaving peaks like Kotligad, as the Peth peak is called. Long ago, the fort was a guard post for soldiers on guard 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 conquered through intrigue or mistaken identity. According to the superior, the commanders of the fort mistook the Mughals for the Marathas and they were able to approach the fort.
Once at the fort, you will be treated to sweeping views of the Karjat and Bhimashankar Range, tunnels and pipelines, Matheran, several other hills and plains. In the monsoon this is a particularly pleasant walk and on weekends you will find the route quite crowded with trekkers. The sound of a waterfall cascading down the hill and crickets rejoicing in unison create a pleasant soundtrack that accompanies you as you walk. Wild flowers sway in the wind and small and large frogs (Rana tigrina) hop over crisscross your path. There are many birds and beautiful views, which makes the walk 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 look at their habitat.
DISTANCE 5-6 KM TIME 2-3 HOURS
Turn right to the southeast just before Ambivli Village. There is a small restaurant at the intersection called Hotel Kotligad, where you can get drinks. Here you will find secure parking for your vehicle, meal arrangements, guides and porters. All this comes at a very reasonable price (contact Gopal Savant on Tel: +91-2148-687882/224944). Half a kilometer later, the path to Peth branches off to the east or left. This is a paved road down to the bottom of the hill, from where a well-used track leads 3-4 km away to the village of Peth.
This walk is very pleasant, with lots of birdlife and good views of the area. Peth Fort itself seems very far away, 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 a look at an unusually large brass cannon in the center of the village. The path to the fort runs north or to the 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 a little northeast and then through fields. After a 10 minute hike, look to the right (southbound) for a path that leads through the jungle to the base of the pinnacle for one kilometer (30 minutes).
Halfway, take the path to the right or to the west. It takes you to an old cannon. At the base of the pinnacle is a large cave with five supporting pillars suggesting Buddhist monks carved them, probably around 200 BC. At the end of this cave is a smaller cave (look out for the fruit bats hanging from the ceiling here). The steep climb to the top of the pinnacle is via a stone staircase tunneled out of the rock near the water tank. This is the only way to the top.
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At the top are some Maratha ruins dating back to when the fort was an important sentry for guarding the strategic Bhor Pass. At the top of the pinnacle is a pleasant reward for the sjoegel – a panoramic view of the Karjat in Bhima Shankar ranges, Padar Killamany beautiful waterfalls (which can only be seen in the monsoon months), and in the distance, the mountain station of Matheran.
You can camp in the caves of Peth Fort, but expect to have lots of company during the monsoons, especially on weekends, as Peth is one of the easiest and thus most favored weekend climbs for Mumbaikars. There are also some accommodations in the very rustic Hotel Kotligad in Peth Village. One could pitch a tent on the fort near the ruins, or just outside Peth Village, but only between the end of October and May. Between June and mid-October during the monsoons it is impossible to camp in the open air.
DISTANCE 5-6 KM TIME 3 HOURS
Walk back to Ambivli by retracing your steps to Peth Village and then following the path down. You can also take a lesser known trail from just outside Peth village to Jambuli village, a good brisk walk in the monsoon. You would need to take a local guide (the cost is between Rs 100 and 150), as the trail is often overgrown and unclear. From Jambuli Village, there are several buses to Karjat and the six-seater auto rickshaw every day.
● Because Peth Fort is not connected to the main ghats running from north to south, there is no direct route leading to the surrounding hills and nearby forts. You have to descend to the plains and then climb back up again, whether you go to Bhimashankar or Padar Killa, or to the Bhivpuri tunnels.
● An interesting combination is to connect your trek to Peth with one to Bhimashankar. From Jambuli, you have to take a bus to Kashele or Khandas and from there your trek to Bhimashankar starts.