Monsoon trek to Tandulwadi fort

Photo of Monsoon trek to Tandulwadi fort by Saurabh Tamhankar

Sometime in June 2019, I had done the trek to Karnala. That was my first trek after almost one and half year. The last one being Himalayan winter trek to Kedarkantha in December 2017. I had purposely chosen Karnala; as an easy trek to kick off this season of Monsoon. Come July and I was planning for one more trek.

Seeing the social media posts on FB and Insta of how some popular forts are getting crowded by "so called trekkers", I was specifically looking for some offbeat treks. You can say these are less popular and where one can avoid these crowds. Good thing about such offbeat places is that you get to enjoy the whole trail, spend some good time at the top and basically get away from all the nuisance. However, you have to be little careful about choosing such place. They are offbeat for a reason. Either they are located far away from public transport, or the route is not well marked or is confusing, or they are totally difficult to climb.

Even before I started blogging, I am trekking regularly in Sahyadris from 2013-14. And even after so many treks, there is so much left to explore. I literally have created a list as "treks-to-do". So I know lots of offbeat places. And thanks to google and all the internet these days, its not that difficult to get all the required information of not so popular treks. You only have to know "how to google better" .????

So I started narrowing down my list and finalized on Tandulwadi fort. It fits all the checks. In Palghar region, accessible by public transport, easy level, well marked route and in case I am alone, can be done as solo. As a ritual, I posted it on my social media status that I am going and if anyone is interested to join me. And as a surprise 8-9 friends said yes this time! I was like, OMG! Is this real? but deep down, I knew how many of them will back out ????. Anyways, decided to go on this Tandulwadi trek on 20th July 2019, a Saturday. By Friday, almost 4-5 friends gave their confirmation. Created a WhatsApp group to co-ordinate. We had planned to travel by Borivali-Dahanu local in morning, followed by local tum-tum to base village. One of our friend was to get his car from Borivali, but at the last moment he backed out. So back to public transport.

As planned, we all met at Borivali station around 7 o'clock. Borivali-Dahanu shuttle was already at the station. We boarded and got the seats. We had to catch this train anyhow as the next one was after an hour. Train was little behind schedule and we got down at Saphale station, which is 2 stops after Virar at around 8:20. Weather was clean. With little clouds. Had some breakfast at a small eatery just outside station. As most of us had gone through numerous blogs on this trek, we were actually able to spot the eateries mentioned in the blogs! Hot and spicy Misal Pav and Vada, along with Tea. And we were set!

Before leaving the eatery, we inquired about getting an auto or tum-tum till base village. Shop owner told us to walk for 2-3 mins ahead and to check at auto rikshaw stand. As advised, we went at the auto stand. Could see some State Transport buses too. Since we were 6, we hopped in auto which dropped us at the base village, which is also Tandulwadi. Total cost for this journey was Rs. 150. We noted down the driver's contact number so that we could call him for return journey.

After crossing some hairpin bends and a drive for 20-25 mins, we were at base village and ready for trek. It was around 9:20 and sun was coming up, no signs of rain. Let it be, we thought and marched on the trail. Some villagers directed us on correct path. You come across some old style village houses. Typically Kokani villages with backdrop of fort. After a minute or so, you see a large pond, and take a right turn. You again walk by some more houses, however this time, with little ascend.

Once you leave behind those houses, the walk is little bit inclined for like 15-20 mins. The trail walks us through some jungle. One could see some farmlands across the slops of the hill, just behind village. There are 2 routes to choose to reach the top of the fort. One being short but difficult and other one, which we had taken, an easy, but a long one. As we walked and hiked for another 10 mins, we came across a small plateau, and some clearing. Could see some cattle grazing. I asked uncle who was watching over his cattle about the exact routes. He pointed us the direction and told the trail till top is well marked. Follow the arrows. And yes, this is the easier route. The difficult one comes from that side, pointing towards adjacent mountain.

After following the trail which was in front us, we continued our hike. It was getting hot. Instead of drenching in rain, we were sweating! And thanks to jungle, and then to mosquitoes and insects, this was turning into bit adventure ????. As we moved ahead for some 15-20 mins again, we came across a small clearing. And again a plateau. This time, we could finally get some glimpses of the top.

After a small 10 mins break and getting refreshed, we continued our walk on this flat plateau further. This led us back into jungle. and then again on small plateau. We met a group of 4-5 trekkers here. They had climbed up till here by another route from village Lalthane. At this point, there is a diversion. A left turn goes up towards the fort. Right one is way to base village. From this point, its continuous ascend on boulders and rocks.

Little did we know what was ahead of us. The humid climate and the surrounding jungle, this ascend was a hell! We were getting drained out and we started taking breaks every 10-15 mins. There was not a drop of rain! and no sight of any fortification or any walls of the fort. Only good thing was that we were on correct route, thanks to the well marked arrows directing us. At every break we were like, "Aur kitna baki hai", "Plateau kab aaega" and a typical trekker's response "5 mins more" ????. This 5 mins were turning into more than hour now. Me and Rajesh were ahead of rest of group. It was getting irritating for me! Can you imagine? Me, who loves treks so much and is doing it for last 5-6 years, was down with this climate! I decided not to stop till I reach the top. Let others continue with their pace. The only reason was to reach the top and just lay down on the grass.

And finally, at around 12:15, I reached the top! And so came others. But it was no different here as well. Just imagine you had completed a 3 hour climb through boulders, jungle and facing loads of mosquitoes with no signs of rain and you reach the top and the sun welcomes you! No clouds, no winds! This was supposed to be a monsoon trek! Not a freaking summer trek. Add to it, there are no trees on top where you can find a shadow.

Somehow we managed to sit in that condition, took some rest and opened up our tiffins. Sandwiches, Theplas, Parathas, Boiled Eggs, some biscuits and what not. What else do you expect on trek? And these Theplas are staple food of trekkers ????. Some of us tried to take a power a nap but couldn't get any success. It was almost 12:45. We had just reached the top and no one had any energy left to explore the remaining fort. Considering all the boulders we had to descend, I suggested lets start moving down, on which Rajesh said let's wait till 1 o'clock. Get some more rest.

And luckily I nodded in and in just 5 mins, we were welcomed by clouds! and some wind! Mood was changed in a snap! And then I opened my bag and took my Canon 600d out. Its a photoshoot time! ????. These people exploited their very own photographer friend just to get some nice photos to put on social media. It was hell of a photo session. This pose, that pose, this background that background. Landscape, Portrait, Candid and everything in between. Finally we were done, packed our bags and started our descend.

It was around 1:15-1:20 in the afternoon when we started to move down. Only thing that was worrying me, and the group was drinking water! We were 6 and had only 2 bottles of water remaining. We had to manage it anyhow till we reach base village. We entered back into the jungle and the path full of boulders. And it started to drizzle! This was what we were waiting for. Like since ages! Finding our way through the same path we had climbed up, we were at good pace while descending and little drizzle was really refreshing. We decided not to stop till we get down till plateau. As you take more break, you lose your rhythm and that makes you slower. Even if you are slow, try to keep the pace. You have to build momentum. And thus almost an hour and half later, we reached to the point where we had seen the diversion. Where we had met that trekking group in the morning on our way up.

I could see Rajesh going towards left and I was wondering this is not looking good. We should have turned right. Luckily a small group was trekking down from a different route along with a local boy as their guide. I asked him about the route going to Tandulwadi village and he directed us to the right side, which was "right". The left one where Rajesh was about to go was for village Lalthane. Anyways we followed that group till we reached the plateau. Took some rest. Had some chocolates and energy bars. By this time, we had consumed all the water we had carried.

It was now past 3:00 pm and village was not yet in sight. Thanks to the well marked route, we were on track but our pace was really slow. After sometime, some villagers who were working in the forest passed by us and they directed us the way to reach base village and went ahead. We followed the advice and took the diversion. The route was marked with arrows and we could see the village from this height. However after around 15-20 mins, we realized this was not the path we had climbed in the morning! This is something else. There was no option left. You are dead tired. Exhausted. No water to drink nearby. Only thing you can do is descend as fast as possible to base village.

Even though we could see the houses and some farms, we were still 15-20 mins away. Some of the first timers in group were having nightmares. This was supposed to be an easy trek! Half of the group went ahead with their pace to arrange some food and water at the village and remaining of us took our own time to get down. By 4, we all reached the base village and realized what route we had taken. In morning we took right turn from the pond to climb up and climbed down from left side. Refilling our bottles and ourselves with fresh cold water and some food, we called Auto Rickshaw driver to pick and drop us at Saphale station.

All in all, this was an easy trek, turned into moderate one thanks to bad climate. It does not matter how was the trek, but what matters is to complete the trek, and not give up! And these treks, let me tell you, help us realize our potential. Both physical and psychological. At the end of the day, one trek ticked off from my "to do list".

Keep Trekking, Keep Exploring!