Climbing Maharashtra’s Tallest Peak
It was 06 AM. We were huddled at the top of the highest peak in Sahyadri mountain range, shivering in the cold, our teeth chattering during the long wait for sunrise. It didn’t look like we’d make it.
Kalsubai has always eluded me. Somehow, every time I have put together a plan to climb this mountain, I have had to abandon the plan at the last minute. So when a local trekking outfit called Gypsy Backpackers announced a trek to this mountain, I figured lets try one more time.
The trek was organized as a night trek, with the aim of catching sunrise from the top of Maharashtra’s tallest point. And this was just after New Year’s, an excellent way to begin 2015 on a high note. It was a no brainer, I signed up for this almost immediately !!!
The plan was to leave for Kalsubai in the night and drive to the base village, reaching there at about 2:30 or 3:00 in the morning. A 3 hour climb would see us to the top in time for sunrise. Our departure plan was originally a long route, picking up people all over Mumbai before moving out of the city. But a few logistical hiccups later, we all met in Dadar to board our vehicle (Yay!! For WhatsApp) and we were off on our nocturnal adventure.
The journey to Kalsubai was one of excitement and with people chattering away all through the ride. And we all got along fabulously well as. Our cacophony of excitement got so loud that the driver literally begged us to go off to sleep and let him drive in peace!!!
Standing at 1,646 m tall, Kalsubai is not a particularly tall mountain, but is still the topmost peak of the Sahyadri mountain range. Unlike most other popular day hike destinations in Maharashtra, Kalsubai has no fort on the top of the mountain. Instead a small temple dedicated to Kalsubai, a local deity, stands on the top. Trekking to the top usually entails climbing up a foot trail starting from the village of Bari, which is about six km from Bhandardara. This village was the first destination in this adventure.
We reached the village in the dead of the night. The streets of the village were empty, looking eerie in feeble streetlight with not even a village dog in sight. After getting our gear out of the car, we began hunting for the start of the trail. And that’s when we realised that none of us knew the way. Imagine being stuck in the middle of the night, in a somewhat remote village, and kind of semi-lost!!!
Luckily for us the minor ruckus that we created attracted the attention of one of the local villagers who came to see who the city bumpkins were. He very graciously agreed to guide us to the top in the dead of the night. This was something we would be grateful more than once, as the events unfolded.
Now the way up to Kalsubai is rather well marked and usually you should not have a problem finding your way up. In broad daylight, the well marked trail seems quite obvious. And we started up this trail, scurrying up to make our way up as fast as we could. The trail goes through some fields and cuts through a temple and village houses, before ascending somewhat steeply. It evens out in a little plateau of sorts where there is a little hut built. You can get snacks and drinks here during the day. But since the stars were out, the place was closed and we only used that as a brief resting halt.
The trail continued onward, leading to the famed ladder sections, where precariously propped ladders help you to cover some rock patches in a jiffy. There are a total of three ladders that you need to climb before finally reaching the top. The ladders are missing a rung or two in the middle, but are otherwise are quite sturdy. Pro tip – If you don’t like heights, you probably should climb this in the night, when you can’t see anything below.
At about 6:00 in the morning we finally made it to the top. As soon as we crossed the final ladder we were greeted with some graffiti on a large rock, proclaiming the height that we had reached. Crossing this rock and climbing a little up, we reached the Kalsubai temple.
After we had settled down a bit, the first thing we noticed was the much cooler climate. And boy was it freezing !!!. Even though we had come prepared for the climb, with warm clothes in case it got a tad chilly, nothing prepared us for the sudden drop in temperature. We were sitting huddled together, teeth chattering away, wondering why on earth the sun couldn’t rise sooner.
That’s when Uttam, our absolute life saver of a guide, had a brilliant idea. He gathered around all the flammable material he could find at the top and built a small little warm fire. In no time, all of us were around that small little source of warmth, preferring to endure the stinging smoke over freezing out in the cold.
While we were huddled there, we almost missed the most wondrous sunrise I have seen in many years. The sun peeked from behind the clouds lighting up the sky with golden rays, bringing back the much needed warmth to our chilly bones. Gradually the light from the sun filled the air making it brighter and brighter and letting us see our surroundings for the first time in daylight. But this alone was not what made this sunrise stand out.
As the sun rays bought light, we saw the most awesome sight – a vast river of clouds flooding through the valley below, gradually floating up. We spent a long time sitting and admiring this view, until it was time to go back down. The view was so mesmerising that we almost didn’t want to turn back down.
But with heavy hearts, we knew it was time to head back down. On the way down, I managed to find a village dog that decided I was it’s next best friend and kind of tagged along with me till about the refreshment hut. The climb down was predictably faster, especially with canine company and we were back at Bari soon enough. After gathering together at the village and profusely thanking our guide, Uttam, we made it back to our car and drove back to Mumbai.
Kalsubai lies close to Igatpuri and is about 150 km from Mumbai. Driving there would take about 2-3 hours. It is also possible to reach the base village of Bari by public transport. To do that take the local train to Kasara on the central line and get off at the last stop. From Kasara it is possible to either catch a bus or hire private transport in the form of jeeps. Buses plying on the Kasara-Akole route will get you to the base village of Bari. For night treks it is probably best to drive to the village instead of using public transport.
Best Time to Visit
Like most trekking destinations in Maharashtra, September to about February are the best times to climb Kalsubai. September is possibly a better time to climb, especially if the climb is timed to coincide with flower blooming season. It is generally hot in the summers and the route can get slippery in the monsoons, so these times are best avoided.
Where to Stay
Kalsubai is mainly intended to be a day hike, but it is possible to spend the night at the village of Bari. You may be accommodated in a villager’s home or may be able to sleep in the temple courtyard, so do ask around. Other options include staying at Bhandardara and doing Kalsubai and Ratangad as day hikes from Bhandardara. At Bandardara, the best located property is probably the Maharashtra State Tourism Department Corporation (MTDC) resort. Book well in advance if you want to stay at MTDC. Other stay options are also available.