This post has been divided into two parts: The Ascent to Chanderi Cave via Tamsai (Panvel) and Descent from Chanderi Cave to Chinchavali (Vangani/Badlapur). Link to the second part can be found at the bottom of this page.
#47: Trek to Chanderi fort via Tamsai and Chinchavali.
I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Bhava, thik aahes na?” (Bro, you alright?)
“Yeah”, I lied without looking up.
Beads of sweat dripped from my forehead as I panted with my hands braced against the thighs, bent over on the ridge between the Col and Chanderi Cave. Fed up of the sharp, throbbing pain that shot through my right knee with every step, I gave into this insane urge to sprint up the steep ridge. A minute and 120 vertical feet later, I was still some way off the cave but my heart was now thumping against the rib cage at an ever increasing pace, cursing me for the foolish sprint.
The tip of Chanderi fort was just about peeking over the ridge and to my left, 5 km away, was the village of Chinchavali looking no bigger than a coin. It was an hour past noon and my still-recovering knee was posing questions I couldn’t answer. The heat and pain were only going to increase here on and I had a decision to make. Cave or the Village?
But first, let me take you all the way back to how it all began!
Folks, brace yourselves for another crazy trek of ‘A Season of Mountains’!
When: Dec ‘17
Where: Chanderi fort (Cave), Maharashtra
GPS coordinates: 19°03’51.3″N 73°14’43.5″E
Base Villages: 1. Tamsai: 16 kms from Panvel (South-west route)
2. Chinchavali: 10 kms from Badlapur/Vangani (North-east route)
Range: Matheran range
USP: Chanderi Cave
Best time to visit: Preferably winter (November-February). Please do not attempt this trek in peak monsoon.
Difficulty: Moderate till the Cave for experienced trekkers
Risk Factor: Medium. Do not attempt to climb the pinnacle without professional guidance.
All gradings are for winter trek. How are they classified? Read here!
Map & Elevation graph:
GPS trail: Click here to view GPS trail on Wikiloc -> Wikiloc Link
Our Route: Panvel-Tamsai-Col-Chanderi Cave-Col-Chinchavli-Vangani
1. For Tamsai, alight at Panvel railway station and hire a Tumtum from the stand outside ST depot.
Ascent from Tamsai: Panvel-Tamsai-Col-Chanderi cave.
From Tamsai, walk north along the paddy fields for 400 m before turning east (right with your back to Tamsai) along a faint trail heading in Chanderi fort’s direction. After some distance, it circumvents base of the unnamed hill on left before reaching a stream (dry except in monsoon) and then cuts across one of Mhasmal’s spurs to enter dense forest. Following this, a steep climb leads to the col (~3 km from Tamsai) where Chanderi stands on your right (east) and Mhasmal on left (west). An easy grade rock patch with a bit of exposure but excellent holds is all that separates you from the Chanderi Massif. Once at the base of the massif, turn right and pass a water cistern to reach the cave.
2. For Chinchavali, alight at Badlapur/Vangani railway station and hire a Tumtum/Auto rickshaw to Chinchavali.
Ascent from Chinchavali: Badlapur/Vangani-Chinchavali-Col-Chanderi cave.
A prominent trail climbs up the plateau from Chinchavali. The gradual climb leads you to a flat, clear trail due south that traverses the plateau to end at a dry basin, about 3.5 kms from Chinchavali. Look out for markers from this point onwards. The route sometimes climbs through and at other times, alongside the gully (Naal) to reach the col. With your back towards Chinchavali, turn left (east) for Chanderi and follow the route to cave as mentioned above.
Total trail length: 8.3 km
Actual distance covered: 9.2 km (including off-trail movement)
Min. Elevation of the trail: Tamsai: 96 m above MSL & Chinchavali: 45 m above MSL.
Max. Elevation of the trail: 1. Cave: 664 m (2178 ft.) above MSL. (Verified during trek)
2. Peak: 688 m (2257 ft.) above MSL. (As per Google Earth)
Total Time: 11 hours (of which active time: 6 hours)
Food and Water: Carry at least 3 litres of water per head during winters. Water cisterns with potable water are located at the southern end of the fort. Rest have been contaminated by plastic waste.
Accommodation: 15-20 people can stay in Chanderi cave
Night trek: Not recommended
NOTE: If you plan treks on your own, please consider hiring a local guide from base village. There have been fatal accidents and incidents of trekkers getting lost in the forest. Links to a few rescue/stranding incidents on the fort- One, Two, Three & Four.
0700 hrs- Alighted at Juinagar Railway Station
0715 hrs- Boarded ST (State Transport) bus for Panvel
0745 hrs- Reached Panvel Bus depot
0845 hrs- Hired Tumtum to Tamsai
0930 hrs- Reached Tamsai
1245 hrs- Reached Col
1345 hrs- Reached Chanderi Cave
1620 hrs- Started descent from Cave
2035 hrs- Reached Chinchavali
2100 hrs- Hired a Mahindra Maximo from the village to Vangani railway station
2139 hrs- Boarded an UP local train to CSMT
NOTE: For video of a trek with similar itinerary, check out Sujit Mallick’s excellent Chanderi trek video from June 2018!
Railway ticket: Rs. 40 per head
Bus ticket (Juinagar to Panvel): Rs. 20 per head
Breakfast: Rs. 554/7 = Rs 79 per head (One of the friends joined us post breakfast)
*Tumtum fare from Panvel to Tamsai: Rs. 400/8 = Rs. 50 per head
*Van fare from Chinchavali to Vangani: Rs. 500/8 = Rs. 63 per head
Post-trek snacks: Rs 300/8 = Rs. 38 per head
Total: Rs 290 per head
Other transport options: ST buses (aka Laal Dabba) run a couple of times each day between Panvel ST depot and Dundra/Dundra Fata. Sharing Tumtums are available for Tamsai from Dundra.
Alternative Routes/Other trails:
1. Trail to Chanderi from Ashaswadi: A very rarely used trail climbs up to the Mhasmal-Chanderi Col from Ashaswadi near Dundra. Hiring a guide is essential to explore this route.
2. Vaghachi wadi-Chanderi traverse: A trail from Vaghachi Wadi (base village of Nakhind) descends to the valley between Chanderi and Nakhind before climbing up the south-eastern end of Chanderi fort. Caution: This trail is not used anymore.
Tentative itinerary for a 5-day Range trek:
Time to let my imagination run wild!
I have done the entire route mentioned below in segments. Feel free to drop me a mail using the contact form for more information about any section of the trail.
Chanderi-Nakhind-Peb (Vikatgad)-Matheran-Irshalgad-Prabalgad-Kalavantin Durg
Overall: 51.2 km with a total elevation gain and loss of approx. 3970m (13024 ft).
- All the pictures used in this post have been clicked by my friends or me, unless stated otherwise.
- Hyperlinks are highlighted in blue and open in a new tab.
- The information provided in this post is for informational purposes only. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore, strictly at your own risk.
The flourishing 4th Season of Mountains came to a screeching halt the moment I re-injured my right knee in the first week of September ‘17. Common sense (and my Doctor!) dictated that I take some time off from treks to help the knee recuperate and I duly kept a low profile in the months that followed. But when an easy hike failed to satiate my yearning for the mountains, I knew only one thing could help me- a full-fledged trek, injury be damned!
The following is an account of the crazy trek that was borne out of this craving for the hills. The destination? One of the most notorious hills of the Matheran range- Chanderi fort.
The Gang: Abhishek, Darshana, Gauri, Krunal, Manish, Shardul, Tejas & Me
The 4th Season Of Mountains:
The Monsoon of 2017, which also happened to be the Fourth Season Of Mountains for me, started with the long awaited trek to Bhimashankar via Shidi and Ganesh Ghat. We followed it up with another amazing trek to Naneghat and even though I started experiencing niggling pain in my right knee a few days later, I wilfully ignored it.
I had been to Irshalgad & Prabalgad the year before and when I read about a rarely attempted traverse between the two forts, I knew I had to do it. My usual partner-in-crime during such treks, Sud, gladly agreed to join me and we roped in a guy from Irshalwadi, Sunil, to guide us through the connecting ridge that becomes a challenge to navigate during Monsoons.
As luck would have it, about 10 kms into the trek I slipped on the mossy trail and heard a pop as I landed awkwardly on my knee. Determined to carry on, I pulled on the knee sleeve that we usually carry in our first-aid kit during difficult, isolated treks and somehow trekked another 10 kms to Thakurwadi.
The next day, I was crestfallen when tests revealed I had partially torn the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) of my right knee. With strict orders from the doctor to avoid straining the knee for 6 months, I reluctantly buried the season then and there.
But we, the people in love with mountains are an incorrigible breed and rational things don’t make sense to us! 😛
So I was back doing light exercises by the time December rolled in and about a week into the month, decided to test my knee by hiking up to Matheran by one of the easier routes, the Dodhani-Hashyachi patti trail with Tejas. Even though I was limping by the end of it, I knew one thing for certain- I couldn’t stay away from the hills.
The Mountains were calling me and I had to go!
Okay fine! No mountain called me. Mountains have better things to do.
But you get the point, right?
As long as I could walk, I was going to climb and just like that, the 4th Season was alive again!
When the Season had been resurrected, how could the Gang be far behind?
So we got together to brainstorm and zero in on a place. The conditions- It had to be an exciting climb and at the same time, well connected to the city. Everyone bounced a few names but most were shot down due to one reason or another. Except one.
As was the case with Irshalgad, I had been apprehensive about trekking to Chanderi due to its unfortunate reputation. But the more I read about it, the more I gravitated towards it.
Chanderi is a peak in the Matheran range with an obscure history. Although no signs of fortification besides three water cisterns & partially blown off steps survive today, British records of the region indicate ruins of several houses were present on the fort till late 19th century (Reference link).
As for the route, several trails climb up to the Chanderi-Mhasmal col from nearby villages but the ones originating from Tamsai (Panvel) and Chinchavali are used most often. From the col onward, the trek ahead can be divided into two phases-
1. Col to Cave: Moderate grade. A steep climb followed by an easy rock patch leads to the cave at an elevation of 2178 ft. above MSL.
2. Cave to Peak: Very Difficult grade. An exposed traverse beyond the cave ends at a vertical slab near the southern end of the fort. A few inches-wide groove in the wall leads to a flight of partially blown off steps from where, a very exposed path across the peak culminates at the three-foot tall statue of Shivaji Maharaj (installed by Badlapur-based Ajinkya hikers on the occasion of their 25th anniversary in 2008). This is the highest point of the fort at an elevation of 2258 ft. above MSL.
None of my friends were keen on scaling the peak after such a long break, an opinion I seconded. Instead, we set our heart on doing something else to make it a little more interesting- traverse all the way from Tamsai to Chinchavali via Chanderi cave!
Most of the blog posts I read had described the Chinchavali trail in great detail but it was incredibly difficult to find a reliable account of the Tamsai trail. Therefore, we decided to explore and document the South-west trail from Tamsai in broad daylight and descend to Chinchavali by the North-east route later in the day.
The Knee Sleeve:
If the hills above seem familiar to you, chances are you have seen ‘Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya’.
With the research and planning phase more or less done, I shifted my focus to prepping for the trek. Chanderi is also notorious for its scree slopes and if you have ever set foot on one, you know the significance of a grippy pair of shoes. Unfortunately, my pair of Action trekking shoes had worn out by then and breaking into a new pair so close to the trek was out of question. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I traded grip in favour of blister-free feet and kept faith in my existing pair- a choice that’d come to haunt me later!
Meanwhile, my knee was feeling no better but I knew I’d somehow pull through the trek. What really concerned me was that if any of my friends sensed my discomfort during the ascent, they’d have turned back with me without a second thought.
So I came up with a Master-Pilaan! 😉
I would keep the knee sleeve ready at my ankle, hidden under the jeans and the moment my knee started hurting, I would pull it up without anyone noticing and continue!
Just as I was smirking at my evil plan, Mansi informed us that she was dropping out due to personal reasons but graciously agreed to be our backup* for the trek.
*Backup: A person regularly updated about our location during the trek.
The Megablock Mess:
With Mansi not being able to make it, the Trek Gang was now down to 8, including me, coming from all over the city- Abhi (Ghatkopar), Darshana (Panvel), Gauri (Kurla), Manish (Vasai), Krunal (Gujarat!), Shardul (Thane) & Tejas (Andheri).
Here’s an infographic to better illustrate this:
You must have probably guessed by now that travelling by Railways was central to our plan. So you can imagine my plight when later that night, a notification popped up on my screen- Central and Harbour railway divisions were going to implement a 13(!) hour long Megablock* between Nerul and Panvel from 2 am to 3 pm!
Kaboom! I could see all the planning go down the drain.
*Megablocks are service blocks undertaken by railway divisions to carry out maintenance work on the suburban line, usually on public holidays to minimize inconvenience to commuters.
But how could we let it bog us down?
After briefly toying with the idea of reversing the trek direction, we finally figured that the best way round this new hurdle was to reach Juinagar by local train and then hop together into an ST bus for Panvel!
With the travel woes (hopefully) sorted, I tried to log a few hours of sleep to make sure my body was primed for the ordeal that I was going to put it through the next day.
One of my favourite events of the trek-day is when everyone reaches a common place from all corners of the city- as if part of a larger symphony where all notes come together and sync to create music 🙂
The other notes of this symphony- Abhi, Gauri, Manish, Krunal & Tejas were on their way to Kurla when I reached Thane railway station, a little before 6 am. Shortly after, Shardul joined me and we boarded the 6.09 am Trans-Harbour train to Vashi while the rest boarded a Harbour line train from Kurla.
When Shardul and I reached our interchange station, Vashi and had about 20 minutes to spare before Abhi & Co.’s train reached there, we went out looking for breakfast. Unfortunately, no restaurant was open that early in the morning and Shardul had to make do with a cup of tea while I couldn’t even find a cup of coffee! *sigh* We trudged back to the station and did our customary Bharat-Milap with the rest of the Gang after boarding the train to Juinagar.
A footbridge from Juinagar railway station leads one to the Mumbai highway passing besides the station and we had barely descended it when Manish let out his trademark war cry! His hawk eyes, tuned to reading the smudged display plates of buses after years of trekking, had spotted a Panvel bus speeding towards the stop and in an instant, everyone was sprinting down the highway faster than Usain bolt. Seeing our desperation for the bus, the poor bewildered passengers already waiting at the bus stop made way for us and a minute later, we were speeding past vehicles sitting comfortably in the rearmost bench of the bus 😀
The rising sun welcomed us in Panvel at half past seven and a quick enquiry with the bus counter confirmed that the only bus to Dundra in the morning had departed long back. So Tumtum it had to be!
But I was still craving for a nice, hot cup of coffee and the rest of the Gang were hungry as well, so we walked over to our usual pre-trek breakfast haunt in Panvel- Rahul restaurant.
That reminds me- if you ever wish to perk someone up, offer them food. Period.
If only you’d seen our beaming faces when we left for the Tumtum stand after gobbling up half the restaurant’s kitchen, you wouldn’t need any more proof 😉
Coming to the transport options- You can find Tumtums catering to different destinations lined up in queues underneath the Panvel flyover. The drivers at the Tamsai stand initially quoted Rs. 600 for the 17 km ride but after some haggling, settled for Rs. 400 which wasn’t too bad for a group of 8.
And 8 reminds me of the last note of the day’s symphony- Darshana!
She was already waiting for us some way ahead along with Mansi, who had come to see off her sister and meet us as well. As you might have already guessed, the Gang didn’t let go off the opportunity to berate (in jest, of course) poor Mansi for missing another trek and I actually had to urge the driver to speed off before our Tom & Jerry duo of Mansi and Manish got down to a WWE-style match in the middle of the street.
As we moved farther from the city, the urban structures were gradually replaced by fields, glowing golden through the morning haze and what appeared as a faint spec in the horizon, grew steadily to take on the distinctive shape of Chanderi.
When we finally got off in Tamsai at 9.30 am, we were greeted by the most violent of hosts- A bull charging straight at us! But even before we could react to the unusual sight, the bull swiftly turned direction and set off for a circle round the village.
Yes, it was a trained bull who performed for the crowds and earned money for its masters. A very sad sight it was to see such a majestic specimen performing like a clown, but even we couldn’t help stand there transfixed by the spectacle for a good 10 minutes before remembering that we had a mountain to climb!
And so it was a quarter to 10 when we finally exited the village by a kuchcha road in the north and thus started the long awaited trek to Chanderi.
One has to walk north from the village, along a small stream (almost dry even though it was only December). Women from the village were doing their chores in whatever water was left in the stream and it is sights like these that make me think of the unfortunate gulf that’s prevalent even today.
Anyways, back to the trek! After passing the stream, the trail climbs up along the fields and about 400 m from the village, cuts through them to turn east.
Nearly lost point #1
It is here that one should be a little wary of the numerous trails that criss-cross the region. Most of these are cattle trails that end up in the bushes.
At one such point near the fields where our trail forked out into three, Shardul, Krunal and I fanned out to find the correct one. And bizarrely, the correct trail turned out to be the faintest of the three! One of the pointers to remember here is that correct trail traces a quarter circle around the base of the unnamed hill on the left before straightening out in Mhasmal’s* direction.
*Mhasmal is a non-fortified cluster of pinnacles that poses an interesting challenge to professional rock climbers. However, loose scree near the peaks has been one of the major reasons for its waning popularity in the rock climbing community.
Once you have safely negotiated this maze of trails, the rest of the path is pretty straightforward, except at another point which would be mentioned later in the post.
The previous week had been beautiful- Sunny weather with temperatures hovering around 25 degrees and huge, foamy white clouds racing against the stark blue sky. Unfortunately, the day of our trek turned out nothing like that.
Any hint of colour had been obscured by haze and there was no trace of a cloud for miles round the sky. Worse still, the temperatures had climbed back to over 30 degrees, necessitating a rather early hydration break barely 45 minutes into the trek. Some light banter and a couple of sips of electrolyte water later, we were back hauling our backpacks up the mountain with renewed vigour!
About half an hour later, we reached the dry bed of what must be a torrential stream in peak monsoon. A flat rock standing at the precipice of a steep fall in the stream bed looked perfectly placed for a picture and after resisting the temptation for a while, we finally gave in 😛
With the photoshoot wrapped up, we took the clear trail on the other side of the stream. A minute later, I was staring at a dead end.
Nearly lost point # 2
I tried scouting around for the trail ahead but thorny bushes were making it difficult to continue. Nevertheless, I turned back with a smile, happy that at least my calves were saved from unwanted tattoos by the thick jeans!
Back at the stream, I cross-checked our location with the map and found that the old GPS trail I had traced, passed through what was now a dead end! For a fleeting second, I did think about forging a path through the bushes using our multi-tool but then better sense prevailed and I abandoned the foolhardy idea.
There was only one possible explanation for this anomaly- the old trail must have got blocked by landslides and subsequent wild growth during the previous monsoon. But this also meant the new trail ought to be close by!
So we started looking around and a minute later, Abhi spotted an opening in the bush wall few metres upstream. Enthused at the probable headway, we scrambled up and there it was! A red arrow painted on the wall next to a clear, steep path passing underneath a canopy of trees!
Once you have crossed the canopy, the trail gradient increases steeply and my beloved scree makes life all the more difficult
Very soon, the brief respite from Sun ended when the trail climbed up to a spur coming down from Mhasmal with a concave wall, which transforms into a splendid waterfall during monsoon, standing on our right. The concave wall (or waterfall depending on the season) is one of the important landmarks of Tamsai trail.
The trail climbed even more steeply from this point onward and the breaks became more frequent.
During one such break, I learnt something new.
I firmly believe that if you get along with someone on a trek, you have found a friend for life. And the fact that we have been trekking together for several years should help you gauge the close bond we share with each other. Therefore, when one of the friends unknowingly went a little overboard with his/her jokes and kind of stepped on toe of another, I wasn’t too worried because I assumed both would know there was no malice in it and banter is anyways an essential part of treks. However, I soon noticed things had turned a little frosty between the two and that is when I understood that sometimes, words can touch a nerve so raw that even years-long bonds take a hit.
Another round of climb-break-climb followed this incident before I scrambled up a very steep path carpeted with dry leaves to reach a four way junction of trails: the Mhasmal-Chanderi col.
Standing on the col, the four trails are as follows:
North-east: Trail to Chinchavali; South-west: Trail to Tamsai;
North-west: Trail to Mhasmal; South-east: Trail to Chanderi.
The afternoon heat had started affecting each one of us, some more than the others and with the trail gaining elevation at a faster clip, we soon split up into two distinct groups. Manish and I were climbing at a faster pace in the first, followed by the rest of the Gang.
By this point of time, my knee had already been hurting for an hour and climbing such a steep trail with worn-out shoes was turning out even more taxing. But nothing, not even premonition could have prepared me for the wave of pain that shot through my leg when I slipped on the scree and twisted my knee once again about one-fourth way up the ridge. I looked behind. Krunal and Manish were still a few steps below and they mustn’t have heard my involuntary cry of pain. I turned around to look at the peak. It still looked far.
A crazy thought popped up in my head- What if I ran up the trail?
Not the ‘hop-run-hop’ that trail runners do but a full-blown sprint for as long as I could manage? The sheer effort of running up might even mask the pain for a long time afterwards!
Foolish it might sound now, but at that point of time, nothing seemed more logical.
The next instant, I was running up the ridge with a 15 pound backpack, kicking up a cloud of dust with every slipping step.
And I was smiling. The steps too quick to process pain from the previous pounding and thoughts occupied by the next foothold. It was pure bliss while it lasted.
And then pain hit me again like a wrecking train. I stopped on the spot and staggered backwards but somehow steadied myself. I wanted to sit down but the trail was too steep for that. So I bent over and braced my hands against the knees. When I opened my eyes a few seconds later, the trail was a feet from my face and seconds felt like hours.
Beads of sweat, looking impossibly big from such close quarters, dripped onto the trail accompanied by a micro splash. Muscles twitched in rhythm with the racing heartbeat and each beat sounded like a drum being pounded with sheer fury. The surge of blood in my head too much to bear, I tried standing up again but another wave of pain shot through my knee and I bent over again and closed my eyes.
And then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Bhava, thik aahes na?” (Bro, you alright?)
It was Manish. I clenched my teeth to muffle a groan from another wave of pain.
“Yeah.” I lied without looking up.
I asked him to go ahead and then opened my eyes again by a fraction. I could see a tiny village and a rugged peak in my peripheral vision. Chinchavali and Chanderi.
I had a decision to make.
To know what happened next, read Part II here!
NOTE TO SUBSCRIBERS!
– 995 high-resolution images (including over 75 unpublished pictures of the Chanderi trek) from 16 escapades of ‘A Season Of Mountains’ have been published with captions in my Flickr account. You can check them out here!
– Useful Links post too has been updated with new links and book recommendations that might be helpful to anyone intending to further explore the Sahyadris. Go check it out!
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