The monsoons still weren’t anywhere in sight, but there was no way were going to sit at home cooling our heels until they got around. With Lonavala being the preferred destination because of its altitude and hence the greater chance of getting some decent cloud cover, we settled on Korigad, and easy one hour trek from Peth-Shahapur village, located about 20km away from Lonavala railway station. Catching the InterCity Express at 7 from Dadar and spending the two hours to Lonavala standing was no one’s idea of a good time, and made us promptly decide to go back by bus come rain or snow.
Our spirits were lifted slightly once we reached though, because though Lonavala was sunny and there wasn’t a cloud in sight, it was not really hot, the atmosphere being cool and pleasant in the shade. We set out to look for breakfast, but to our dismay every shop (except the ones selling chikki) were closed! The only food we could find was – wait for it – McDonalds! Well aware of the irony of eating at McDonalds before an outdoors trek, we nevertheless relished the Sausage and Egg Muffins on the breakfast menu, and an ST bus ride later, we were at Peth Shahapur, with the fort in sight a long way above us.
Any slight chance of rain we thought we had ended with the blue skies over the fort, but putting on a brave face, we consoled ourselves with the stories we had read about the short duration of the trek. The small village consisted of a few houses and farms, so stocking our bags with supplies from the lone general store, we headed towards the trail leading towards the fort. We took it slow because the sun was pounding down on us, and the forest cover over the trail was almost non existent. It was a relief that the trail had a very slight gradient, being almost flat in most places.
A leisurely 45 minute walk later, we were at the base of the stairs that would take us right up to the entrance of the fort. In the rains, this stairway is converted into a veritable waterfall, making for some beautiful scenery and an interesting climb up. However, the stairs were really the pits in the heat we were facing, forcing us to rest every few minutes and fill ourselves up with water for another ascent. They were also completely devoid of interest except for some small temples and caves we came across once in a while.
The Korigad trail is really one of the simplest you would find to reach a fort, with most of the path consisting of the broad well defined stairs that curve through the mountains, so there is really no place where you would even have to think about using your hands or struggle to keep your balance. The only real challenge is if you elect to get off the patch and attempt to take the many shortcuts that would make your climb shorter. These shortcuts through the trees have the dual advantage of getting you through some forest cover as well as giving you a break from the stairs. We ended up taking quite a few of these shortcuts before finally reaching the fort.
Normally, the primary reaction of an avid trekker on reaching the pinnacle he was aiming for is to forget the difficulties of the climb and revel in the winds and rains the highest peaks have on offer. However the Korigad peak is very different in this respect, being a large flat arid hilltop dotted with ruined stone structures and small shrines. The peak normally contains a couple of lakes, however, these had dried up in the heat of the summer months, with only a few inches of water to show that they ever existed. The worst part was that we couldnt find a single covered spot that would offer us a spot of relief from the sun. It didnt help that there was absolutely no semblance of any kind of wind, cool or hot. We did a quick tour of the peak, clicking photographs anything interesting, and then quickly headed back to the shade of a huge tree near the entrance to get some respite from the heat.
A short rest in the shade later, we headed back down the stairs. Sapped of energy, we were in no mood to use any of the shortcuts we had taken earlier and trudged down the stairs dragging our feet. However, when the stairs ended, we found ourselves on a concrete road which we couldn’t remember coming through before. Thinking back, we remembered we had come through a shortcut that had reached us a little above the base of the stairs. After debating the comparative merits of going back up and finding the shortcut to get back to the trail or of continuing along the concrete road, we decided to follow the road and see where it led us.
Refreshed by the ease of walking along the road and some sudden shade, we walked down confidently, coming across a few construction sites and the entrance to Amby Valley. We came across a construction worker who seemed to be the only human being in the place, but our inquiries about where the road went only led to a non committal “Down”. Unperturbed, we continued, with the sloping road even making us run at full pelt downwards for a while. Covering a lot of distance in a short while, we finally found people who told us that the road led practically nowhere. Jaws on the floor, we looked back at the distance we had covered and contemplated having to go back all the way. Dejection on our faces, we headed back upwards to the stairs and climbed them till the shortcut that took us to the trail, cursing ourselves every minute.
Back on the trail, we wasted no time hurrying back to the base village, refreshing ourselves with food and drink before running to the bus stop to catch the one bus in an hour that would take us to Lonavala. Exhausted, we reached the bus station at around 4 pm, only to find that it was easier said than done finding a bus to take us to Bombay that had place to sit. Since there was no way we were going to go home standing for three hours, we ended up waiting till 7 and looking for innumerable different modes of transport before luckily finding an ST bus that would take us to Borivali. We all fell asleep, only to wake up in a few hours stuck in traffic, only reaching home at around 12. There was only one thing on our minds by then – Never again.