Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sindola fort trek

I first heard of Sindola fort in the album of some guy who commented on my Picasa album. A quick Google search revealed unbelievable pictures, similar to that of tea estates in the high mountains. The place was just ahead of Malshej ghat - now I have climbed Naneghat and Harishchandrad, which are both in the Malshej range but had never even heard of Sindola. I have no idea how a place so beautiful hasn't yet caught the fancy of trekking groups from Mumbai and Pune - this just added to the mystique of Sindola.

Anyway, I was instantly hooked and immediately announced the trek on Facebook. This was exactly a week ago, Kartik was ready and later Jinesh and Paramanand agreed to come along and the trek was fixed for Saturday.

There is very little information available on the web for Sindola but there's this great site where I found all the information we needed. It has a couple of very useful maps of the route to Sindola and the fort precincts, which we carried along. There are three routes to Sindola, each with a different base.
  • Karanjle phata
  • Velkhind
  • Pargaon
You can start from any of these, we chose the Karanjle phata route because it's the one that comes first coming from Mumbai. Velkhind is next and Pargaon after that. From Wikimapia, it looked like you have to take a right from Madh to reach Pargaon. Those with a private vehicle would prefer this option.

Start of the trek

We had a "fancy dress" event in office the previous day, which was followed by a treat from a colleague for her promotion. After all this, I came back home and was watching movies till 4 AM. Woke up in a couple of hours, picked up Kartik, and we were at Thane station at 7 AM - Kalyan by 7:30. We packed some vada pavs from Pandit's which is close to the ST stand and had them in the bus. I also caught up with some much needed sleep on the journey.

The ST conductor charged 77/- per head to drop us at Karanjle phata. If you conductor acts clueless at the mention of Karanjle phata, tell him its a couple of kms ahead from the very well known Khubi phata. There's a green board along the highway that announces this village so keep your eyes open for it after Khubi.

The bus ride from Kalyan took us 2.5 hours, this included a 15 min break at Murbad. We asked around for the route to Sindola and were asked to take any route along the highway that went towards Sindola. We started the trek at 10:45.


There are many criscrossing routes that seem to be frequented by localites - just keep in mind that you have to reach the top of the ridge to the right of the fort and you should be fine. The route took us along some fields, a small pond and through a forested patch before we reached the top of the ridge.

There are three levels of the ridge. If you come from Pargaon, you will start at the first level. While coming from the Karanjle route, you will meet the route directly on top of the second level. As you move upwards, towards the final level of the ridge, you will get two routes - one that goes right up in a zig-zag pathway and the other is along the left-side of the mountain. We started along the side, with was very narrow and very steep. Paramanand had taken the zig-zag path up and was on top in no time. While we were nimbly walking ahead, he called out to us - he was already on the top. Dont make the mistake we did - ignore the path along the side of the ridge.

The final level of the ridge gives you the first clear view of the Sindola fort. There were some weird looking plants here, and I got busy photographing. This was going to be a standard feature of this trek - weird and amazing flora that I have never seen in any other part of India, leave alone the Sahayadris.

From here, you have to go along the side of the mountain. The path was covered with waist-high grass and it was about a foot wide. If not for this, the trek would have qualified as a medium trek but this was a genuinely difficult patch. The grass makes it very difficult for you to know exactly where the edge is. Also, there are 3-4 places where there's a break in the path, a good foot or two wide where you will need to jump. It was slow progress and it took us half an our to reach the column of the final ascend and then we saw it.

The grass was beginning to turn shades of brown so I had doubts if we would get to see the scene I had come here for but it was right there in front of us - the fields of tea plant, well not exactly. It's some other plant that looks very similar to the tea plant but it's just as beautiful. We clicked lot of pictures and climbed up the rock path till the Ganpati idol. This is the fort entrance, take a right here and you are on top of the fort. It was almost 1 PM, just over 2 hours since the start.

The top of the fort

Not much to see except for a few water cisterns. There was no path anywhere which indicated that the fort had seen very little activity this season. We had to make our path, trampling through those cute tea plantations.

We circled the perimeter and could see Khireshwar dam, Harishchandragad, and the thumb of Naneghat as we moved upwards. This was the north most point of the fort and here we were attacked by an army of bees, not honey bees but they were very irritating. My full shirt and collars helped here. We scampered back to safety and noticed one of the water tanks. The view from there was just brilliant, with clouds of fog rushing past us occasionally.

We got out our food and chit chatted about this and that. I got some good macros in the tank and I don't think any one realized or minded that we had spent a long time here. It was all downhill from here i.e, we started the descent at 3.

Getting back home

Jinesh and Paramanand were leading on the way back while me and Kartik clicked anything that moved and anything that did not. I think we took a different route back to the ridge because we didn't cross the set of trees near the first column.

The weather was pleasant - it never got hot. I slipped a couple of times along the slope but I managed to hold on to something each time, other than that it was an uneventful walk back. We were back on NH 222 at 5.

There is a shop at the junction and a dhaba on the opposite side. We had run out of water a couple of hours back and the dhaba was a god send. Everyone who has been on a trek will agree that simple food tastes divine when you are back from a trek but I am sure that the poha and tea we had there was extraordinary. The guy at the dhaba is very helpful and can arrange for guides, private vehicles if needed. We got a private bus heading towards Kalyan as soon as we stepped out and enjoyed the fully reclining seats at the price of a ST ticket. It dropped us right outside Shahad station and I was back home before 9, much earlier than I thought!