This article is contibuted by Ruzbeh Billimoria
Brief Details of the fort:
Height above mean sea level: 707 metres / 2320 feet.
Trekking Area: Panvel.
Trekking Routes: There are many routes to this fort. The route to and fro followed by Bhramanti is from Thakurwadi village and is called the 'Step route'.
History: There is not much mention of this fort in history. However in 1658, Shivaji conquered Prabalgad from the Mughals, after establishing his powers in the Kalyan-Bhiwandi area. When Shivaji attacked the fort, the Mughal Sardar and fort chief Kesar Singh forced himself and the ladies in the fort to commit suicide so as to save themselves from falling into the hands of the Marathas. His mother along with her grandchild hid inside the fort by the fear of Shivaji, but such was the greatness of Shivaji that on finding them he sent them to their village with genuine respect and dignity.
The Bhramanti Trek:
On 23rd February 2003, the members of Bhramanti group gathered outside Dadar station (East), near the Hanuman temple at 5:45am. After all the participants arrived, we walked upto the main road and took a Dadar-Panvel ST bus at 7am. This bus is like the BEST buses running in Mumbai and not like the regular ST buses. The only difference is that they are not maintained as well as the BEST buses. We reached Panvel by 8am and met a few participants who joined us there. In all we were 14 and our group leader was Milind Gyani, a very experienced trekker. This was only my second trek with 'Bhramanti' and I was appointed the deputy leader, a responsible job. To my surprise there was also a 12 year old boy Siddhesh, accompanying his mother Mrs. Suvarna Jadhav, a regular trekker with Bhramanti. It's good to see youngsters taking up trekking. I hope he continues trekking as he grows older and never gives up.
From Panvel, we then hired 2 ten seater auto-rickshaws to Thakurwadi, about 14km. away. The road follows the Old Mumbai-Pune road upto Shedung phata (9km), from where we turned left Shedung, Belavli and then Vardoli. After taking a right we reached Thakurwadi. In Thakurwadi there is a research-cum-recreational centre called 'Apollo Nusi Research Centre', built in the year 2001. From here we turned left. On the right we saw a beautiful private bungalow. We got down from the auto-rickshaw a little before the tar road ends, as the driver refused to take us ahead. From here we walked on the tar road and from a bifurcation we turned left. A broad cart track leads to the top. We could see the triangular shaped fort, Kalavanteen durg (2263 feet) on our left and the rectangular massif of Prabalgad (2318 feet) to our right. On the left of Kalavanteen durg we could also see an unnamed small hill with three pinnacles.
We continued walking and after a while we had a brief talk about the route to Prabalgad by Rajan and also a brief self-introduction. Our initial plan was to trek to both, Prabalgad and Kalavanteen durg, depending upon our speed and available time. But we decided to tackle Prabalgad first. We then started our trek at 9am on a broad cart-track. After about half an hour we saw a small 12-15 feet pinnacle-like rocky formation on our left. From here we trekked on a few rock-cut steps, which are now cemented by the villagers. On the right we saw idols of Lord Ganesh and Hanuman carved out in the rocks.
In one hours time we reached the lower plateau of the fort called 'Prabalmachi' (984 feet), which is well forested. Here we came across a hamlet of 'Thakur' tribals. Most of these people work in the villages below the fort. There is no water problem here, as there is a well in the village which provides water throughout the year. We spoke to one of the villagers who showed us the route to Kalavanteen durg, which climbs from the col between the two forts. To reach here one has to trek through the hamlet, then through the forest to the col, then turn left and climb the steep rock-cut steps. This route is marked with white painted arrows in the reverse direction. The villager also showed us the rock-cut caves on Kalavanteen durg. The caves hold potable water but it is very difficult to reach them. A rope is required for this. We were also told that there is local trekking group from Panvel called 'Nisarg Mitra', who come here sometimes to do valley-crossing. They would anchor a rope between the wall of Prabalgad and that of Kalavanteen durg and cross from one end to another. Sounds very exciting, isn't it? But, remember, all this requires guts, a steady mind, a fit body and a lot of practice.
After confirming our route to Prabalgad with the same person, we continued on the track from the hamlet and turned left towards the fort. The climb from here is a bit steep. After about an hour we turn left and climbed through a gully. As we saw the fort from the lower plateau we never imagined that this would be the route. In fact the route was not noticeable as the rocky walls are almost straight. After a while we could see the rocky formations on our right, which are very much inviting for the rock-climbers. In fact this can be a good place to practise rock-climbing. We finally reached the upper plateau by 1pm. The entire 'step route' is marked at certain places with arrows painted white.
We trekked upto a water tank, where water was not drinkable. From here we could see a bastion of the fort down below, facing Matheran. We then selected a good shady spot and had our lunch. It is really good fun to share and eat. After a bit of rest, we began exploring the fort. We went north towards the edge of the fort. In front we could see the Kalavanteen durg with its steep rock-cut steps. The top of this hill is very small and open from all sides. Looking at it from Prabalgad makes one imagine the beautiful feeling one would get by getting up there. But due to lack of time we decide only to explore Prabalgad.
On our right (east) we could see the Matheran range of hills from Haji Malang (Malanggad) to Matheran. The series of hills is as follows:- Malanggad (2595 feet); Tavli (2594 feet); Badlapur hill (2420 feet); Navra-Navri (2011 feet); Mhasmal (2339 feet); Chanderi (2592 feet); Nakhind (2311 feet); Peb / Bikatgad (1554 feet); Matheran (2516 feet). In fact Matheran is parallel to Prabalgad, but very huge comparatively.
The British developed the Matheran hill into a hill-station, soon after it was discovered in May 1850 by the then British collector of Thana, Mr. Hugh Poyntz Malet. Seeing the plateau and forest of Prabalgad, the British also thought of developing Prabalgad into a hill-station. They finally gave up the idea because of the scarcity of water on Prabalgad. We could also see Dodhani Lake (Gadeshwar Talao) at the foot of Chanderi and a few scattered villages all around.
On our left (west) we could see the Prabalmachi hamlet and the Vardoli and Thakurwadi villages further down. The white buildings of Apollo Nusi in Thakurwadi could also be easily spotted. Further on we could see the Mumbai-Pune road and Expressway and also the Karnala fort (1538 feet) and pinnacle in the background.
We sat in the shade on that point. One of the participants sang a few songs for us. After a bit of photography, we move south for a bit of more exploration, but due to lack of time we decide to descend. Prabalgad is so huge that it requires an entire day for exploration. It is better to hire a local villager as the fort is covered with dense Karvi trees and one can easily lose his way.
At 3pm, after a bit of rest we started descending. By about 5pm we reached the tar road down below. And then after a 15 minutes walk we reached Apollo Nusi Research Centre. The Panvel-Thakurwadi-Panvel ST buses come upto a spot a little ahead of Apollo Nusi. After tea and a bit of snacks, we take the 5:45pm ST to Panvel. We reached Panvel by 6:30pm from where a bit good bye to few of the participants. We then took the 7pm Panvel-Dadar ST bus and reached Dadar by 8:30pm, from where the group dispersed. This was indeed a memorable trek for all of us even though we never explored the entire fort. But, remember "THERE'S ALWAYS A NEXT TIME".
(24th February 2003)
This article is also featured @ 'www.bhramanti.com'