With exams done, trekking season was never going to be too far away. Rushikesh, man-in-charge, Breakfree Journeys had announced a student special trek to Karnala on Monday, the 11th of June, for those of us who weren’t burdened with corporate responsibilities. With light showers in most parts of Mumbai the previous night, we set out to Panvel station early in the morning with high hopes of good weather and an enjoyable trek.
A hearty breakfast and packed lunch later, we took a tum tum to the Karnala Bird sanctuary, where we had to pay a deposit and submit a count of the plastic bottles we carried to ensure that we did not dump any in the sanctuary, an impressive measure to combat careless tourists. The traditional Breakfree Introduction Circle later, the eight of us started off on the path through the forest, taking the turn off at the hiking trail to the fort.
The initial climb was fairly easy, but any hopes of rain were scuppered fairly early on by the clear blue skies and bright sunshine. The heat was a problem, but regular bird sightings and a multitude of crabs and insects in our path kept us in good spirits with lots of friendly chatter and playful banter.
We made good progress for the first hour or so, punctuated with a few breaks for water and to catch our breath. The pinnacle of the fort was in sight by then, and the height and open topology meant we were getting strong breezes very frequently. With renewed enthusiasm, we started the last part of the climb,an extensive rock patch, which was trickier than what we had encountered till now.
A long climb and walk later, we were finally at the entrance to the fort. It is in a comparatively decent condition, with most of the ramparts and walls still standing strong. It had three different levels, with the middle level consisting of some water cisterns and a massive thumb in the sky. The last level overlooked a steep incline, with what felt like Force 10 winds rushing up the incline and giving us an air conditioned destination. The sun chose this moment to disappear behind some clouds, and with a sigh of relief, we set our bags down to enjoy the breezes whirling around us and click some photos.
Everyone was hungry by then, but the sun was still playing hide and seek with us, and no one really wanted to sit where the sun would be shining down on us. Making our way back to the middle level, we found the ideal place – a dried up cistern that we could crawl into to get the sun off our backs. The cistern was extremely windy, and the lunches were soon out – puri bhaji is always the tastiest thing in the world after a climb.
Stuffed, we were in no mood to start the climb back down, especially since we had only taken two and a half hours on the way up and had a good 45 minutes before we needed to start our descent. So everyone settled down in the shade of the overhang outside the cistern for a little siesta while Rushikesh gamely attempted climbing up the rock thumb using no equipment but his bare hands. He hadn’t got too far when the complete lack of footholds on the vertical rock forced him to pull off some acrobatic moves to get back down.
Refreshed and full, we finally started the descent. The rock patch we had encountered while coming up was slower than while climbing up, and we were thankful that it didn’t rain to make the rocks slippery or loose. We still made decent time, while Rushikesh deliberated on the wisdom of getting off the main trail and taking a shorter steeper route that would take us down in a straight line instead of in a circular path around the mountain. We could see concrete structures down below that we could aim for, and when we found the small trail heading downwards, we unanimously decided to take it and see what it had in store for us.
We soon realized that this new route had almost nothing in common with the easier route we had gone up by. This one was a continuous steep decline with tree roots and rocks and loose mud making it a tough slippery path. We gamely persisted, hoping for easier terrain further on, and hoping that we were going in the right direction. Needless to say, the terrain just got tougher, and our joy at finding a flat patch was soon ended when we found that it only lasted for a few minutes.
With aching feet and the sun back in full force now, we were endlessly relieved to see the structures that we had aimed for suddenly before us. The trail ended near the bird cages, and after checking out some magnificent specimens, we were soon at the exit waiting for our tum tum to take us back to Panvel station.
The journey back was spent discussing options for our next trek, excitement already running through us, with the hope that the weather wouldn’t dampen our spirits by not damping our bodies! The train journey back was uneventful, and when we reached home, we knew this was the first of many exciting opportunities to Breakfree!