This is part II of the Vikatgad trek series. Part I can be found here.
The rock patch has two levels, one is about 8 feet high and the second is another 7 feet but with a wedge between two rocks at 5 feet from the ledge. There’s a half foothold to plant your feet while climbing the first level and then you have pull yourself up the second level on the strength of your shoulders.
NOTE: Carrying a chord/rope would be a good idea if you are attempting the rock patch during monsoons when the rocks are slippery. (To find a list of shops in Mumbai where you can get mountaineering equipments, check this post of mine)
Mansi & Ruchit had scaled the rock without much problem and soon Shruti followed them. Later on we came to know that the people who were waiting for others to come up the rock patch made constructive use of their time by calling 911 from INDIA to call for help!! 100 dial kiya to samajh ata hai but 911?!? Indian help par bharosa hi nahi! 😉 😛
A little help with the feet placement and Persis was up the rock patch. I climbed up the second level after handing over the bags to Ruchit who went on ahead to find the route to the caves along with others. Aparna followed me up the rock with a helping hand and then started the most epic portion of the trek- helping Omkar up the rock! 😉
NOTE: I have noticed it quote often the people scale high rocks by pushing against the surface with one knee. Not only does this make you vulnerable to slipping but can be damaging to your joint in the long term. Whenever you are unable to reach the surface with your feet, look around for footholds at a lower height. Trekkers and Villagers have carved out rocks at intervals at most of the difficult sections on fort trails to make it easier for first timers and kids 🙂
Omkar’s running shoes weren’t helping him much on this scree filled terrain. The half holds weren’t confidence inspiring as it is, and it took some convincing to make him trust his feet placement but he somehow made it on to the ledge. Yogesh climbed up behind him and tried to help me help Omkar (HELP-CEPTION! 😛 )
So Yogesh was on the ledge and giving Omkar an additional foothold with his hands who was in the wedge now while I was sitting over it and trying to give him a hand hold. Some jostling and amazing contortions later, Omkar was up over the rock! Phew!
Then Yogesh threw his sandals up the rock (yes, he wore sandals and did this trek! Kudos to that guy) so that he could climb the wedge with his feet, giving him more flexibility than sandals. Though the force with which he threw them over a 5 feet distance towards me still makes me doubt his intention! 😉
After negotiating the rock patch, you climb up a sharp inclined ridge for a few metres and come across another a bifurcation. One way goes to the right and another goes straight up to a flagpost.
We initially took the right path but soon came to a place where a tiny exposed patch was there. I decided that it wasn’t a necessary risk and asked Yogesh to go check out the upper route before proceeding on this patch.
It was at this point that Ruchit got a call from home and had a conversation that has become the standard template on ‘HOW TO FREAK OUT YOUR PARENTS WHILE ON A TREK!’ 😀
I ‘ll prefer to keep that convo a group secret though! 😉
Meanwhile Yogesh replied in the affirmative about a possible route and we promptly set out for that one.
NOTE: The exposed patch on the lower path is perfectly safe since there are footholds carved in the rock above it but the overgrown grass had hidden it from our view. We took the lower path to the caves on my visit to the fort this year.
The flagpost gave us a 200-degree panoramic view of the surroundings and we traced our path in the landscape below while some took care of their sprains with help of our pooled in medical kit 🙂
Beyond the Flagpost is a narrow traverse overlooking a 20 feet pit on the way to the caves. The ledge has a small gap in between and lies beneath a protruding rock.
Everyone completed the traverse with utmost care as a fall, though not fatal, would severely affect mobility due to injuries. A 5 min walk from the traverse brings you to the famed Vikatgad cave big enough to comfortably house 20-30 people for an overnight stay.
I couldn’t have asked for anything better than the tiled platform outside the cave and slumped there while others caught up. A quick photo session along with a Shivgarjana by Yogesh followed. Just as we were leaving the cave, we heard some noises from people far away in the valley and we tried communicating but to no avail.
Take a left from the cave to arrive upon a ladder fixed on the fort wall. This is one of the few remnants of the fortification. (The ladder is a recent addition to the fort. People used to climb up into the fort with the help of rods inserted in the rock patch beside the wall but I wouldn’t advise anyone to attempt it now as the rods are no longer present making the rock almost a straight slab)
Once you climb up the ladder, there is a flight of stairs. A few feet to its right is a water cistern and a Hanuman Idol.
There is an easy rock patch of about 10 m after the stairs that leads you to a clearing just below the temple.
Two routes lead you to the temple from the clearing. if you stand facing the temple, the proper route goes through the bushes on the right and takes you around the edge of the fort onto the small plateau above the bastion as seen in this map made by Sanket Sangwikar & Trekshitiz group.
We tried to take this route but the impending darkness and the narrow path made us turn back mid-way. We took the shorter route straight upto the temple. Most of the blogs I read don’t recommend this route ‘cos of the steepness but we had little choice & after 10 mins, we emerged out of the thin forest and stood within 10 m of the temple. A tricky but easy rock patch separated us from the temple and there stood a Sadhu (Priest) who was looking down upon the nutheads scrambling out of the forest at this unusual hour.
I reached the temple and dumped my bag to watch others follow in quick succession. If you haven’t been to Vikatgad temple, it’s to tough explain in words the awe that the sight inspires in you.
The temple is built to shelter the footprints of swami samarth on the topmost point of the mountain and commands the best view of the entire range. We could see the Central Railway line running through the flatlands far away as well as other mountains of the Matheran range like Prabalgad, Kalavantin Durg, Chanderi, Mhasmal & Nakhind.
It was 5.40 by the time we reached the temple and the sun had started setting. The Temple priest told us that the railway tracks of Matheran were still a good hour away and it ‘ll be pitch dark by 7. I enquired if he was planning to go towards Matheran but he said he lives in the ashram on the fort halfway towards the bastion. Not wanting to spend the night on the fort without any provisions for the same and faced with the prospect of finding our way through the wilderness in the dark, we wasted no time in starting towards Matheran.
Any exposed peak has its set of unique challenges and the Prati Girnar (as the peak of Vikatgad is called for its similarity to the Girnar mountain of Gujarat) is no different. The path ahead of the temple is unique in the sense that it isn’t that narrow but it does taper as you move towards the ladder.
These factors coupled with the sheer drop on either side gives you a sense of walking on a tightrope with no support. The wind had picked up by now and it struck fear in my heart. I somehow held my nerve to negotiate the rickety ladder perched precariously atop two rocks and had just went some distance when Aparna called.
I looked back and to my horror, the sole iron rail pegged there in the name of a handhold decided to play truant and came off its support and she was right in the middle of it! Despite wanting to, my feet refused to budge and thankfully Ruchit, who was standing near me, went back and helped Aparna come down and I heaved a sigh of relief. This incident left me a little shaken and I decided that I wouldn’t let such a situation arise ever again and I would like to believe I have succeeded in that endeavour. (Going over the temple ladder again to overcome my fear was part of the reason I went back to Vikatgad with Rohit a month later).
Once everyone was done with the ladder, we literally started running towards Matheran. We skipped the bastion and instead made way for the path on the left side of the mountain that goes to the double ladder after passing the Ashram mentioned earlier. You can see a Shiv temple on the left of the path just before you reach the Ashram. A narrow path goes to the temple over the edge of several water tanks with the valley on the other side.
A narrow but easy path then leads you to the V shape that is visible even from Anandwadi.
Akshita, Shruti, Ruchit & Persis went ahead while Mansi helped Aparna and Yogesh helped Omkar over the path safely. I took a moment to look back and it was here that I got one of my favourite clicks-
A solitary narrow, tilted path leads to Matheran from the col.
Soon enough, we came across the last ladder of the route.
And then came the time for the tactic which I have had to resort to quite a few times since then- False assurances about the proximity of our next landmark so as to keep the enquirer moving! 😉
This is why the answer to the classic “AUR KITNA DUR?” remains a standard “5 MIN AUR” even an hour after the first time its asked! 😛
Numerous such queries later, we finally reached the stairs I had descended till during my December hike about a fortnight back. The sun had set half hour back and It was almost pitch dark. Despite the meticulous planning, we had overlooked the possibility of getting stuck in darkness before reaching our destination and consequently, did not have a single torch amongst us! (To make sure you don’t end up in a similar predicament, check out this list)
Our cell phones came to the rescue at this point and with the help of their flashes, we passed a small place where some idols are housed and reached the bench near NM 158 at exact 7 pm.
Aman lodge lies about three km from NM 158 marker and somehow everyone willed themselves onto their feet.
Someone asked me if the toy train comes around this time and I promptly said No.
BUT! Indian Railways has a knack of proving you wrong and within minutes we heard a horn in the distance. Confirming our suspicions, the gentle engine made it’s not so gentle entry and while we waited for it to pass, to my shock, my friends started shouting ‘HELP! Help!’ to the passing train! The driver, clearly not moved by my friend’s pleas went ahead without even bothering to slow down and we continued our lonely march to Dasturi Naka 😛
NOTE: If you plan on taking a cab to Neral from Vikatgad and don’t want to visit Matheran, make your way straight to the car park as soon as you see the cars parked alongside the tracks. The ticket collectors at Aman Lodge will otherwise charge you 50 rs entry fee to Matheran even if you don’t cross Aman lodge station.
A kind soul enlightened us about this shortcut and we reached Dasturi car park around 7.45pm and took two cabs to Neral.
Just when I had thought the day had no more drama in store, the 8.01 train left the station as my cab reached Neral. Next train being at 8.56 and the rest of the gang yet to reach in the trailing cab, we decided to go to the same restaurant we had breakfast in the morning to take care of our empty tummies & wait for the others to catch up. As luck would have it, someone from the other cab rang us up and urged us to move our asses into the station asap ‘cos the 8.01 was the next train on the indicator! Omkar gave me a perplexed look and without a second thought, both of us along with Yogesh broke into a run towards the station leaving the bemused Restaurant owner to cancel our yet to arrive order. 😦
It’s funny how your legs get a new life at the prospect of reaching home an hour early but alas! our sprint went in vain as the people at the platform confirmed the train indicator that showed 8.01 as the next train, in fact, referred to the very train I had seen pass earlier and was due to be changed to 8.56 pm.
With nothing to do while we waited for the train, tiffins were opened and the famished souls that we had become, squatted on the platform and ate like there’s no tomorrow!
The rest of the journey to our respective homes was nothing out of ordinary, which seemed like an anti-climax to the roller coaster day we just had been through!
We were classmates till the morning of the trek, knew each other and spoke a bit (yeah okay, spoke a lot 😛 ) but something in those 12 hours made us friends- in the true sense of the word. We looked out for each other, made up for each other’s shortcomings, laughed & winced together. Hell! We even bled a bit on the trek! (Chill, no slasher movie this. I am referring to thorns that pricked us 😛 ) So you can even say we forged bonds of blood! I know, a bit OTT but you get what I am trying to say, right? These are moments which are hard to rival. You could spend 2-3 years together and still not bond like we did in those 12 hours. That is the beauty of Sahyadri. Of Mountains. And Of Friendship as well.
Vikatgad was, and remains, one of my favourite one day treks near Mumbai. If you are thinking about visiting it, and have persevered through my extra-long blog post(s), I hope it would have helped you make up your mind either way.
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