[Note To The Reader: While trekking in the monsoon season can be adventurous, it comes with its own share of risks. Please check weather and news reports for storm predictions and cases of landslides before you go. We also encourage you to be responsible travellers to ensure that these beautiful places thrive in all their naturalness.]
As someone who grew up away from her ancestral home in the northern plains, summer vacations meant driving down to the closest hill station (Mumbai has plenty)—which was always just a few hours away—and challenging each other to make it to the top of a nearby fort without falling short of breath. Come monsoon, the same destinations transformed into our weekend getaways, only prettier as the rain would truly invigorate the Western ghats every year – a spectacle we never got tired of witnessing. But trekking was never off the table. Unless, of course, it was peak monsoon and the rains were slashing against our windows to the point of zero visibility.
This annual tryst with the hills continued during my formative years of higher education. Every year, the month of July came with the news of another trekking experience at a new fort. Driving to the base of the fort in anticipation of the gruelling climb that awaited us, washing the mud off ourselves every time we came across a tiny waterfall and finally making it to the top. With the magnificent expanse of the Sahyadri ranges in front and the idea of going back down for a steaming bowl of Maggi—everything seemed worth the effort. The destination was always as beautiful as the journey.
Trekking during the rains is not the ideal adventure. I learnt it the hard way. It’s inconvenient, slightly risky, and pretty unpredictable. But that’s exactly what makes it exhilarating. The key is to be careful and well-prepared. Carrying appropriate rain-gear is a must, but make sure your bag is not too heavy or it might be difficult to climb up. Carry enough but take only small sips until you’ve reached the top. Wear trekking shoes, and lastly, check the weather predictions before heading out.
And now that you’re all prepared for a monsoon trek, here’s a list of forts near Mumbai that are perfect to visit during rains.
Difficulty Level: Easy
Trek time: 2 hours
One of Shivaji’s most popular forts located in the Sahyadri ranges in Lonavala, Lohagad is a scorpion-shaped fort located 98 km from the city of Mumbai, at an elevation of 1033 m. With its panoramic views and lush green valleys, it is an ideal trek for a beginner and looks particularly splendid during the rains. Once you’re on top, don’t forget to catch an aerial glimpse of the Pawna reservoir. On your way to Lohagad, you can also take a small detour and visit the Bhaja caves—a short, scenic climb, just perfect for the season. Also, there are plenty of roadside hawkers waiting for you at the base of the fort, for when you’re hungry!
How to reach
You can drive from either Pune or Mumbai, via the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Or take the train to the nearest station of Malavli. The distance between Malavli to the base of the fort is 7 km. If you’re driving to the fort, there is space to park your vehicle at the base as well.
II. Rajmachi Trek
Difficulty Level: Challenging (Karjat); Easy (Lonavala)
Trek time: 5 hours, if you’re trekking via Karjat
Waterfalls, Buddhist caves, and fireflies—such is the trek up the Rajmachi fort. With the right amount of rainfall and humidity, these bioluminescent bugs tend to come out in great numbers and light up the rich forest cover at Rajmachi, making it an ideal monsoon hike.
There are two routes to reach the top of the fort: one goes via Karjat, and the other via Lonavala. We’d recommend beginners to opt for the Lonavala route as there is a 15 km long motorable road from Lonavala to the Rajmachi village. You can drive to the village and park your vehicle at the diversion that falls midway. From there, you can walk to the fort which is only a kilometre away.
The second route goes via Karjat and is recommended for experienced trekkers only. Begin at the base village of Karjat and walk towards Udhewadi village which is located about a kilometre away from the fort. This route is rugged, winding, and full of interesting things, like the Kondana Caves and a mysterious railway tunnel, to explore on the way
How to reach
Lonavala is easily accessible by buses as well as trains. You can also take the Mumbai-Pune expressway if you’re up for a little road trip. You can reach Karjat by taking the Pune-Khandala highway.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Trek time: 2hrs 30mins
Lying at an altitude of 1400 m, Rajgadh is located at a distance of 200 km from Mumbai; four-hour travelling time by road. It stands out for its 1500-step climb to the top of the fort, called ‘balekilla’. Formerly called Murumdev, Rajgad was the capital of the Maratha empire for 25 years, under the rule of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. A remarkable feat of architecture and design, the fort is divided into four parts: Padmavati Machi, Suvela Machi, Sanjeevani Machi, and Balekilla.
As far as trekking is concerned, monsoons certainly bring out the best in Rajgad. However, winter is more appropriate to camp at the fort. We’d recommend the jungle trail for trekking enthusiasts. Once you’ve reached the Nane Darwaja, rest a bit as the climb gets a tad difficult beyond this point. Look for the Maha Darwaja next—a sign that you’re only a 100 steps away from the top of the fort. Returning to the base is made slightly easier by the Rajgad ropeway—an excellent way to get some breathtaking aerial shots. Some travel companies also organise night treks to Rajgad in the summer.
How to reach
Overnight buses are available from Mumbai to Mahad village, from where you can take a bus to Pachad, the base of the fort. Alternatively, you can also drive to the fort.
IV. Kalsubai Fort
Difficulty Level: Challenging
Trek time: 3 hours (from Bari)
The Kalsubai Fort, located 150 km away from Mumbai, is the highest peak in Maharashtra with an elevation of 1646 meters. The trek up the fort is dotted with rocky outcrops, abundant waterfalls, paddy fields, and occasional steps that make it easier to climb as and when the gradient increases. The authorities have also constructed a few iron ladders along vertical slopes to ensure convenience and safety. The trek begins at Bari, which is 15 km away from the holiday town of Bhandardara, in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. You can also trek to the peak of the fort via Indore. However, this is a relatively less-explored path and is definitely not recommended for beginners as it’s laden with raw stone steps and a giant iron chain for support at various intervals.
Once you’ve reached the peak of the fort, a mesmerising view of the commanding Sahyadri ranges, the Kalsubai Harishchandragad Wildlife Sanctuary, and a small temple shall await you. At an altitude of 5400 ft, you can also spot the Bhandardara dam. One of the most strategically built forts, the Kalsubai fort was used to keep a watch over enemies during the Maratha rule.
How to reach
It is a 3-hour long drive to Bari village, near Igatpuri, via the Mumbai-Nashik route. You can also catch a bus for the village from Kasara.
V. One Tree Hill, Matheran
Difficulty level: Moderate
Trek Time: 3.5 hours
The go-to weekend getaway for anyone who grew up hustling their way through the streets of Mumbai, Matheran, with its deep forests and majestic waterfalls, comes alive in the rainy season. Popular for its cooler temperatures (as compared to Mumbai’s unceasing humidity), Matheran was discovered by the collector of Thane district, Hugh Poyntz Malet in 1850. At an elevation of 2625 feet, it boasts of 38 stunning viewpoints, One Tree Hill being one of them.
The One Tree Hill point is exactly what the name suggests—a single tree resting upon a giant hill overlooking a dam on one side and mountains on the other. The trek from the base of Matheran begins with a 1.5 km tar road leading you upwards, until you find yourself on a plateau, amidst the Varosa forest. Keep moving, look for an open-air Ganesha temple to ensure that you’ve reached the end of the forest cover, and are on the right path. Once you’ve reached One Tree Hill, the trek up to the One Tree Hill point can be a little arduous. At a distance of merely 500 metres from the hill, it’s definitely worth that extra last-minute effort.
How to reach
You can reach Ambewadi, a village at the base of Matheran, by hiring a cab or taking the train, and hiking up from there. You can also hire a guide to take you to the different viewpoints of Matheran. If you’re coming from Neral, hope on the 110-year-old Matheran toy train.
VI. Tikona Fort
Difficulty Level: Easy
Trek time: 1.5 hours
The trek to Tikona fort, also known as the Triangle fort because of its shape, is an easy one and suitable for adults and children alike. The route is comfortable, without too many uneven surfaces. However, as you reach closer to the top, you’ll come across 100-odd stops which need to be climbed with the utmost caution, especially during monsoon. With its rocky outcrops, dense forest cover, and gorgeous viewpoints overlooking desolate valleys, Tikona fort is home to a number of lakes and tanks, along with the famous Trimbakeshwar Mahadev Temple. Another one of Shivaji’s forts, it provides a magnificent view of the Pawna dam and nearby forts such as Tung fort, Lohagad Fort, and Visapur fort.
How to reach
It is a three-hour long drive from Mumbai to Tikona Peth, which is the nearest village to the Tikona Fort—the distance between the fort and the village is 2 km. There are hourly buses to Tikona Peth from Kamshet.
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