Ask any Mumbaikar, and they’ll tell you that the monsoons in Mumbai have a unique, magical charm, best experienced in the open spaces right beyond the city limits. Trekking during this season is a rewarding experience – the lure of the lush green vistas, waterfall after waterfall, and the thick mists that engulf the mountaintops never fail to draw me outdoors during the rains.
Of course, you also need to keep safety in mind: flash floods are a possibility and sometimes, the route you’re on can becomes hard to follow in the mist. Always carry a torch, basic first aid, food and water with you, and hire a local guide if the route is not well marked.
Here, presented in alphabetical order, are my top ten picks for the season. It’s time to grab a raincoat or an umbrella, put on a good pair of hiking shoes and head for the hills.
Famous for the Konkankada, a majestic overhanging cliff, and the Kedareshwar Cave, Harishchandragad is best accessed from Pachnai village, which is about 5 hours from Mumbai. This is a 2-3-hour long trek. There are other trekking routes – there’s one via TolarKhind near Malshej Ghat, and the thrilling but difficult Nalichi Vaat, a steep route created by running water that goes straight up the mountainside and needs some rock climbing expertise (it is inaccessible during rains). During the misty pre- and post-monsoon season you can see the Brocken Spectre phenomenon at the Konkankada, when your shadow falls on the clouds and is surrounded by circular rainbows.
How To Reach: Pachnai is aroud 27km from Rajur, near Bhandardara. The best option is to drive there in your own car. There are also private jeeps available on a share-basis between Kasara Station, Rajur and Pachnai. There are several hotels run by the villagers during weekends that serve simple local food. You can hire a guide at Pachnai and stay overnight in the caves at the top. It’s not a good idea to stay in tents in the monsoons – so the caves are the only shelter from the elements. Bhaskar Badad (8308081939) and Pandharinath Bharmal (9657456920) are locals from Pachnai who run basic hotels in the village and on the fort, and also work as trekking guides.
Just 10km away from Panvel lies Karnala Bird Sanctuary, a popular weekend monsoon destination. You’ll get to see a lot of insect and amphibian activity all along the trail during this season. From the main gate, an easy trek of around an hour takes you to the fort. Look out for the Emerald Dove and the Leopard Gecko. And remember, the sanctuary is only open between 7am and 6pm.
How To Reach: The main gate to the sanctuary and the parking space is right off the NH 66, a few minutes after you exit Panvel city. There is a regular bus and a 6-seater autorickshaw service between Panvel and Karnala. The trail to the fort starts from behind the Forest Guest Houses and is very easy to follow.
Nestled amidst towering pinnacles that are famous among rock climbers, the Mahuli Fort is a great one-day monsoon trekking destination. The weather is cool and there are numerous waterfalls along the route. The base village of Mahuli is near the Asangaon Railway Station. The route is well-marked with a rocky patch at the top that is crossed on an iron ladder. It takes around 2 hours from the base to trek up till the caves at the top, where you can rest for lunch. Leopards are regularly spotted in Mahuli, so it is better to stick to your group and not venture out alone in the dark.
How To Reach: Catch a train to Kasara and get down at Asangaon station. Then take a rickshaw to Mahuli village (around 4km away).
Matheran via Garbett Point
This trek begins from Bhivpuri Road Station and takes you up the side of the mountain to the beautiful Garbett Plateau. You can sit here for ages, watching the mist roll by and hearing the calls of the Malabar Whistling Thrush. From the Garbett Point, an hour-long walk takes you to Dasturi Naka, where you can get taxis to Neral station or Mumbai.
How To Reach: Get down at Bhivpuri Road Station right after Neral, which is an hour’s train journey from Dadar. Head to the Bhivpuri Dam on the west side. You have to walk along the edge of the dam until you reach the base of the Matheran mountain. It is best to join a guided trek for this as the route can get a little confusing. Mumbai Pune Adventures organise treks to Garbett Point (call them at 9967564888). Or, you can ask the local villagers for directions.
Peb Fort (Vikatgad)
Connected to Matheran by a ridge, Peb fort offers a thrilling trekking experience. The traditional route starts from Fanaswadi near Neral, climbs up to the fort and continues to Matheran. It takes a little over 2 hours to reach the summit and another couple of hours to reach Dasturi Car Park in Matheran. It is best to go with a guide as the route can get confusing and it gets very slippery after heavy rains. There are caves on top maintained by disciples of Swami Samarth. Keep an eye out for vine snakes and bamboo pit vipers. You'll also spot several lilies and wildflowers in the forest.
How To Reach: Neral is about an hour's train ride from Dadar. Get down at Neral Station on the west side and ask for directions to Fanaswadi. You can hire a guide from this village.
It takes roughly 4 hours to drive to one of the base villages at Rajgad, located near Nasrapur. Rajgad was the capital of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's empire before he moved to Raigad Fort in Mahad. The fort has a rich history and some excellent architecture like the Mahadarwaja, the main entrance of the fort and the Sanjiwani Machi, a formidable watchtower with a spectacular view of the valley. The fort is known for its magnificent views during the monsoons. Also look out for geckos in the nooks and crannies of the fort walls.There are multiple routes to the fort – two of the most popular routes begin from Gunjavane village and Pali village, respectively. The latter is the easier way to go, and will take you to the main door of the fort in about 3 hours. There are two temples on top where you can stay overnight, and on weekends you can also get simple food cooked from the villagers.
How To Reach: Nasrapur is approximately 35 km from Pune station, from where you’ll need to head westwards to get to one of the base villages.
The twin forts of Rajmachi and the village of Udhewadi are every trekker's favorite monsoon destination due to their proximity to Lonavala. It's a good trek to do with kids as there is no steep or difficult terrain to worry about. A long winding dirt track goes from Lonavala to Udhewadi, and it takes around 5 hours to cover on foot. If you're feeling adventurous, you can ride all the way on a bike. There are lilies and orchids, especially the Habenaria species, as well as the usual monsoon wildlife like vine snakes, chameleons and frogs. There are ample stay and food options in the village. It is a great place to watch fireflies at night.
How to Reach: Take a train to Lonavala. From Lonavala go to Tungarli dam in an autorickshaw. From there, it's a 16km dirt road to Udhewadi. For accommodation, contact Ganesh Umbre, the owner of Hotel Aryan, on 8888190854.
Ratangad, which translates to Jewel Fort, is accessible from Ratanwadi near Bhandardara. It is around a 5-hour drive from Mumbai. This is a medium-grade trek which takes you to a large cave, where you can stay overnight. Remember to carry sleeping bags and/or bedding if you plan to spend the night. It’s a magical experience: the surrounding forest lights up with swarms of fireflies at night. Also, don't miss the Nedhe (eye of the needle, in Marathi), a natural hole in the rock on top of the mountain.
How To Reach: Ratanwadi can be reached by car via the Igatpuri-Ghoti route or by shared jeep from Kasara Station. You’ll find food and trekking guides in the village.
SGNP Highest Point Trail
The Highest Point Trail, also known as ‘Jambhulmaal', is a short hike that starts right behind the Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It takes around 1-2 hours to reach the top, from where you’ll be treated to breathtaking, panoramic views of the Tulsi, Powai and Vihar lakes. Keep an eye out for wildflowers, mushrooms and vine snakes.
How To Reach: From the Borivali Main Gate it is a 15-minute drive to theKanheri caves. The trek starts from the plateau above the caves. You need to take prior permission from the Nature Information Centre (Email: [email protected] or call 022-28847800). Alternatively, you could join one of the many organised weekend treks.
This is a fun and exhilarating trek from Tandulwadi village, near Saphale, to the 800-year-old fort. It provides some great scenic views of the surrounding landscape. It is the perfect one-day monsoon trek to do with kids. It will take you around a couple of hours to reach the top. From there, you will see the confluence of the Surya and Vaitarna rivers. You can spot a variety of insects on this route such as jewel bugs, tortoise shell beetles, and mantises. If you're really lucky, you might even come across an Atlas Moth.
How To Reach: You can travel via the Surat highway by car or catch a train to Dahanu, get down at Saphale and take a rickshaw to the base village. It is best to ask for a guide in the village.
Illustrations by Ryan Venattu