You consider yourself an adventure soul, you are in Mumbai and haven’t done a night trek in a dense jungle. Walking through on the railway track admiring the lush green valley views. I am not talking about the Dudhsagar WaterFall Trek. Vikatgad aka Peb Fort Trek is a complete package.
The Peb fort was named after the Goddess Pebi at the base of the fort and Vikatgad fort due to a shape of the mountain like Elephant Headed ‘Ganesha’. There are Caves having various meditation chambers carved out from the rock inside the mountain. Disciples of Shree Swami Samartha take care of these caves. The fort is completely in ruins. Today, it only has one Bastion towards the Panorama point of Matheran. Peb fort is very special because of its meditation chambers, which are well maintained with tiles to sit on. The fort also has a temple dedicated to Swami Samartha on the top and has the footwear or ‘Padukas’ worn by the great saint kept on the top. The historical reference indicates that Shivaji Maharaj used the caves of the for storing grains.
How to Reach ?
The cheapest and most convenient way to reach Peb Fort for Mumbaikar it through Local Train (Central Railway). You can take any Karjat or Khapoli bound local train to reach Neral Station. For night you should reach Neral station by 12:30am.
There are multiple routes to reach Peb Fort
Railway Track Route: This is the easiest route. It starts from the rail marking 134 NM until you reach 154 NM (NM - Nautical Miles) from where you leave the railway track route and start the descend for the Vikatgad aka Peb Fort. After the descend, one has to ascend for around half an hour to reach the Fort top where there is a temple. On your return journey, you can reach the same point 154 NM and trek this time towards 180 NM which is near to Dasturi Point/Aman Lodge. To reach starting point one need to take a shared taxi from Neral Station to Dasturi Point but ask the driver to drop you at the starting point of Peb Fort.
Aanand wadi/Fanaswadi route: From Neral station, you can take a shared auto to reach Aanand wadi which is around 3-4 kms. You can also walk all the way to base village. The trek route to reach the Peb Fort from the village is a bit confusing. If you are a beginner, I would recommend you take a local guide along with you from base village.
Start from Aanand wadi/Fanaswadi route (Tulsi Kalash Complex – Near Dilkap College) and at the base, surrounded by the village and farms. Base Village landmark has a small temple, behind which is the path to summit of Vikatgad. In the dark night, I could faintly see our destination which was V shaped, on left was Vikatgad and on right was Nakhind. With torch light only light source. Moving up in the dark forest came across few rock patches and valley exposure on the both the side. Since it was dark and didn’t have any views to capture so I just enjoyed the trek not bothered about the views.
After about an hour and half of trekking, one comes across a rock patch which is a difficult one. These are actually two patches bundled into one, the latter almost impossible to be done without a helping hand or a rope unless you are an experienced rock climber. You can do it alone since its right in your face, almost 10 feet tall and there is hardly any foothold to stick your foot into and heave yourself upward. There are a couple of other rock patches which are not as difficult as the one mentioned. You will make it to the caved dedicated to Swami Samarth. The path to the cave is narrow road and with valley on right. The cave is just the right place for waiting and to make yourself comfortable. Cave protect you from the cold breeze too. Eat something before starting for the last patch.
To witness the amazing sunrise, it will take another 15 minutes to reach the summit from cave. Moving ahead from cave you will come across few openings in the mountain, one would have to crawl, these are meditation chambers lined with tiles, constructed by Swami Samarth disciples. Moving forward you will come across first ladder climb.
Next target is to reach the highest point - temple dedicated to Swami Samarth, it has padukas of Swami here. The climb to the temple was hard as had to climb with help of firm roots of trees with loose mud threatening to pull one down. Once at the top, It was amazing 360 degree view of Matheran mountain range and deep valleys around and you get to witness amazing sunrise.
Finally it a time for photo shoot and to spend sometime at the temple, The place around temple doesn't have much space, it was narrow but barricade on both sides. It would be just awesome to come here in Monsoon to be in clouds literally !!!!!
Another ladder to climb down and to move towards Matheran range just opposite Panorama point. Two more ladders to climb down and you will be again walk on narrow path with deep valleys on the right. Last stretch of trek would be on the tracks of this mini train before you reach Dasturi Naka from where you need to catch taxi to reach Neral station back.
On the way back you will also came across huge statue of Ganapati painted on rock surface, locally known as "Kadevarcha Ganpati" as its is corner of a hill. The statue should be around 20 feets high and looks stunning from a distance.
Completely uphill and through the jungle, it takes almost 3 hrs from base village to reach the summit and total journey will take around 7 hrs for a moderator trekker. Treading over rocks of various shapes and sizes, one needs to be extra careful. Walking the ridges, there are places where all there is space for is a single step and a slip could have you tumbling, bouncing and landing in the valley below.
Food and Stay Options:
Absolutely no food option available during the trek. Once you end the trek at Dasturi Point, there are few small places to eat where you can enjoy the local food. Do carry at least 2-3 litres of drinking water. You won’t be able find portable water sources throughout the trek unless you are doing it in monsoon.
For stay option, you can either pitch in a tent at the top of the Fort or stay at the Swami Samartha temple. Also, there are a lot of stay options available at Matheran so you can find the same once you reach Matheran.
Best Time To Visit:
Undoubtedly, the monsoon months of July, August and September is the best time to visit the Peb Fort as the surroundings are lush green and the weather is extremely pleasant. Also, you can enjoy the numerous waterfall falling on the railway tracks. But remember, for the most part of the day the surroundings may not be visible from the fort due to the heavy fog.
Vikatgad aka Peb Fort can be explored throughout the year. Recommended to avoid during summer.
Don't Leave Home Without shoes with good grip, a raincoat, energy bars and snacks as the whole journey up and back will take you some time.
This is an arduous trek and tests your endurance.
You need a local guide who can show you the way. If you are going in a group of atleast 5-6 people then hire a local guide or else you can join a group that arranges treks from Pune or Mumbai to Vikatgard aka Peb Fort over weekends. A trek group charges somewhere around INR 700 per person. This cost includes commute from Neral Railway Station, Breakfast and guide fee. One of the best option if you are from Mumbai is Travel Trikon.
If you see cloud moving in towards your path than wait till the path is cleared because it will engulf your path.
Grade: Medium. Hard during monsoon
Base Village: Fanaswadi
Maximum Height: 2,100 feet
Best Time: Only in Monsoon
Duration: 1 Day
Nearest Railway Station: Neral