Sunday, December 2, 2012

Trek to the Karnala Fort and Bird Sanctuary Visit

On every other trip passing through Panvel on the NH17, in front of one’s eyes passes the thumb like mountain peak covered with dense forests at its base. It is the Karnala Fort, located about 10 kilometres away from Panvel ST.Stand, it was the trek I had started my trekking with back in 2009, but for some reason left unaccomplished. I couldn't wait any more and even though only four of us gathered we set ourselves to the trek to the Karnala Fort and the visit to the beautiful bird sanctuary nearby on 2nd December 2012. To my company were as always were Zian and Tushar, with another member Jay who was on a trek after 2 years.  

Karnala Fort and Bird Sanctuary Map with Spots
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla
We reached the Panvel ST. Stand exactly at 7.30 am, one of the advantages of having a small group. It was winter and the cold morning called for a hot cup of tea at the stand. A minute or two in front of those lucrative bhajis and vadas we fell for it. We also packed a few of those along with some grapes and bananas. An auto rickshaw ride worth 200 Rupees would take us to the gate of the bird sanctuary. We dropped the idea of a sharing six seater, as it would drop us only halfway leaving no option for the further half path, so we choose the former one. It was only a 15 minutes drive with a loud trouncing music played inside the rickshaw. 

Karnala Bird Sanctuary Booking Office
 Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla
Suddenly a belt of cool air surrounded us as we moved into the forest area which was well marked by a board on either side of the road with warnings of Not to disturb the wildlife habitat about 500 metres away from the sanctuary gate. 
The sanctuary gate was marked by a vehicle barrier and nearby a good parking space where 15 cars could easily be parked at a rate of 50 rupees per LMV. At the gate while Jay booked the entry tickets, a board which had a list of people fined for breaking the rules of the sanctuary caught our sight. The fine was ranging from 100 to 5000 Rupees and entry tickets only 20 rupees per adult. The 5000 was for offering bananas to monkeys, well were carrying a few of those in our bags and certainly didn't have 5000 rupees with us. There weren't any ATMs around either. Next to the board was the list of rules and regulations to be followed and the employee at a check post a few meters away reminded us about the ban on plastic bags and bottles in the sanctuary.

Karnala Map with all the Trails
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla
In front us here was the map showing various trails in the forest area leading to the fort. The prominently stated steep short-cut in the map had lead to us being stuck up back in 2009.  So the next thing we do.......we again went for the same path with the Steep Short-cut.It was located on a path on the Mortaka Nature Trail which would initially start with the Haryal Trail. 

 The Mortaka & Haryal Trail 

Haryal Trail Begins
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

It begins with a nice oval bridge with wooden members over a gentle water body which forms a remarkable scenery for starters. 

Oval Wooden  Bridge
 Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

Suddenly you move into a whole new different world. There was very little water in the pond as it was winter.The freshness and warmth in the air filled us with a lot of excitement. On this way met a photographer alone who waited to capture the events of the woods.

Wooden Watch House
 Courtesy : Zian Lakdawalla

The path further leads a way in to a sort of wooden watch house if you may call that, meant for bird watching which stands about fifteen feet high. 
It's built so nicely that one can get a good view of the bird movements from that height.

Mortaka Trail Starts
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

It’s a beautiful place for nature lovers with a good flock of birds, immensely varying in species, colour and shape, some sturdy others delicate, busy with their eloquent chants in the silence of the cold morning.

A Spider as big as a Palm
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

One comes across a lot of webs built by spiders  of sizes as big as child’s palm beautifully coloured, with shades predominantly brown & black and dots of yellow and red. Most of these webs were in the way of the trail only visible with the varying angle of the sunlight. 

Hugely Spread Web 
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

Dew settled in the grass
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

We tried to avoid them by leaning down and making our way through as we didn't intend to harm the natural habitat to the extent possible.At our feet were many of those webs built around the grass but had become wet due to the dew.The dew had nicely settled on the grass near the trail, a much better settling of dues than that in our daily course of life, pun intended. 

At regular intervals around the trail there are steel indicator boards planted with the pictures of the birds that belong to this part of the forest. Also several trees carry metal plates each with a tongue twisting botanical names and a commonly used name. 

Various Rare Birds found in Karnala Bird Sanctuary
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

Variety of Trees in the Sanctuary 
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

By now we were quite away from the roadside and the occasional sounds of the trucks passing the highway had diminished. We reached a sleek tree with a circular plate with paint dubbed on it. It was unclear as half the colour had blown away and only thing left on it was ‘END’. 
Plate Indicating Path End
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

We sort of neglected it to move further down and found ourselves at a place where paths of two water bodies crossed. None of these paths seemed as clear trails, but we chose to take the one on our left as it appeared closer to the peak. 
A moment in that space was a real experience of the woods, with a dense array of trees and the significant movement of birds which we could spot. But as they were distant enough we could not exactly recognize any from the boards that we saw earlier. While our efforts to spot them were on we heard a very significant sound. This was the wood pecker........the continuous sound with a high frequency of the strong beak which, as shown in the images is tapered to the tip, almost like a metal chisel, used for pecking woods for food or nests.  The sound repeated after a regular interval resembling the one from a rusted hinge of a wooden door opening in an ancient in a horror movie .

Rocky Path Formed by Waterbodies
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

We kept looking for the bird but pretty much in vain. Boy...Bird watching is a patient exercise...I mean the actual birds. The hip hazard arrangement of the rocks formed due to the flowing water in the monsoon, made us stretch our muscles as we passed through. 

The rope Climb up the Slant Hill
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

Soon we reached a point where a steep hill climb appeared as a way up covered with a tinge of pale grass and soil loose enough to make an average adult slip. But to our rescue in the climb were the aerial roots of the trees on the slant, which were slim yet tough enough to take our weights. Soon we reached a flat plot with trees dense enough to hide the panorama around us. We were stranded in what would appear as a circular patch from Google earth, roughly 30 meter in radius. All we could manage to see were monkey movements above us on the branches of the tall trees. We were Lost...

Short Break with Grapes & Bananas
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

A few grapes and bananas down our throats were a good food for thought, as we decided that only way up was to go back from where we started at the base. So we turned back to the same path that we had come from for returning to the base. Moreover it was only 11 am so we could still complete the trek by the normal path.  It took us only 10 minutes to reach back to the Haryal trail boundary, where again on our way back we met those spiders and birds.  

Here we actually spotted the beautiful Black Drongo, the glorious black shiny coloured bird with a long tail feathers. We were lucky enough to capture this not so shy bird, but from a distance and only in our normal digital cameras. The Black beauty sat on the branch roughly a foot tall shining in the morning sun.

A Black Drongo Bird Spotted
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

So many undisturbed spider webs right in the way was a good sign to know that this path is certainly less travelled, especially by the human kind, but somehow we missed that initially. Only because of the beauty of the natural that we fell for and little did we regret

The Karnala Fort Trail 
The Karnala Fort Trial Starts
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

The huge well lead us to the Karnala Fort trail where we started our way up. The sanctuary has bird cages here and this part was the most populated with many groups and couples who had primarily come to visit the bird sanctuary. At this point Joy had started to crumble and sat down at a place where he decided to quit, perhaps a 2 year gap in the treks had left him daunted. 

An hour or so on the path with small stones dusted by the arid soil and with benches at equal intervals took us to the top of the adjoining hill. Most of it was shady which helped us wait at times take photos or put down some of the real fruit juices; an extra ammunition carried by Zian.

The Karnala Fort Thumb Pinnacle View from adjoining hill patch
 Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

Finally when we moved out of the shades, a long trail which is on the top edge of the mountain open to the sky with valleys on either side awaited us. And in front of us was the pinnacle of the fort with the Saffron Flag of Swaraj on it and a few more groups around its base.

Temple of Goddess Karnai 
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

As we approached the peak on our right we found the temple of Goddess Karnai where we paid our homage and moved further. A smaller adjoining rock leads the way to the main pinnacle through steps carved in it. Here there are very few remains of the fortification left, of the fort which as history has it, was captured by  Shivaji Maharaj from the Portuguese in the 17th century, then lost to Aurangzeb and later re-captured by the Peshwas. Finally the East India Company captured it in the early 19th century.

Water Cisterns at the Pinnacle Base 

The base has many cisterns with water claimed as potable. There were a couple others groups one of which occupied the best spot where one could sit and enjoy most beautiful view of the valleys and mountains. As they moved on we almost captured that spot to relax ourselves and break for lunch at about 2 pm. 

Some Leftover Fortification
Courtesy : Zian Lakdawalla

The timely intake of the juices and banana fillers had left us with very little hunger.Moreover it wasn’t that much demanding endurance wise either; it’s just that we had made it a bit more difficult than it actually was. We could have waited there for long, but as Jay was waiting below, we started our descend at 2.30 pm. 

The Pinnacle Base
Courtesy : Zian Lakdawalla

The way down was one of the easiest and with only a group of three we made it without any hassles whatsoever in an hour’s time. At the base we found Jay completely relaxed after a good couple hours sleep and acquaintance with all the locals so much so that he played our guide for the rest of our time in the sanctuary. He showed us the cages with the Himalayan parrots, the peacocks and the peahens. The sanctuary claims to adopt the birds for treatment and after a certain period they are left free in their natural habitat. There also a cage there with a tortoise on the other side of the road.  

Finally we moved out at the gate of the sanctuary where we got the company of our ancestors which were present in good numbers as if to bid us Adieu.

At the Base after the Trek
Courtesy: Zian Lakdawalla

An ST bus arrived and stopped 5 metres ahead of where we were standing like most ST buses do. We took the bus which would take us to the Panvel ST. stand. 

Inside the Bus I just kept thinking of that steep Shortcut feeling just a little underachieved of not finding it but overall it was a good day’s trek with an added offering of the sanctuary.......  

At a Glance
Trek -Karnala Fort & Bird Sanctuary
Height above mean sea level - 1240 feet (Google Earth)

Trek Category - Very Easy
Base Village -Karnala , Panvel
Transport Panvel to Karnala by Autobus or Private Vehicle
Time to reach the top -About 1 hour from the base
Shelter -Caves at the top

Other Features - Bird Watching 


  1. wow.. awesome description of the Trek with the help of pictures... thanks, coz we were planning for doing this, so were looking for such guidance. keep it up

  2. Lovely captured from karnala! Karnala is beautiful, calm and loving place where one can enjoy lots of adventures also. I visited last year with my family and have some unforgettable memories of Karnala. Tourist across the seas comes here to visit the amazing location and for many travelers who prefer to stay at resorts in Karnala.

  3. This place is meant for those who love to shoot birds and kids who will really enjoy the blissful atmosphere. Thanks to share with us.

  4. Nice post with beautiful photos. Karnala Bird Sanctuary is famous sanctuaries in Maharashtra . Wildlife sanctuaries are a home for many birds, wild animals and unusual plants species. Get all information about plants or birds by visiting such places.

  5. Informative and Very well documented.

  6. Do we need to book before hand or we have to go directly?


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