About 45 minutes into the digging rhythms of the tum tum, and Mumbaikars give way to their itch of history with a small dose of poha and chai at the base of Karnala Fort Trek.

This poha is made by the women from the base village of Karnala Fort, who have helped themselves with a mini hoteling start-up of sorts in that hustled territory. The taste of poha bodes well for the small steppers, all ready to set off towards the fort.

Today though is a special day for this fort. For today this thumb shaped giant poking out into the skies, trembled. Not really because of our thumps of feet. We were meek spectators this time around. The real show was stolen by the worshippers of this fort’s makers, who arrived in all of their glory. It was a celebration time for them, Shiva’s birthday rekindling their war cries as the flags unfurled on top of the fort again.

A party of twenty of us, along with two coordinators from Small Steps Adventures, moved onto the forests beneath the fort. Karnala fort trek is an easy to medium grade level adventure for newcomers. The celebrations above kept egging us to move ahead. Scorch of morning sun melted into the dark shades of the forests in the later part of the trek. The caps and hats that came out at the start of the climb, hugging the drips around the foreheads, gave way to naked eyes refreshed by the soft shadows and staring in green and muddy pathways.  Doing away with our sunglasses, once again all over, we thanked our forests for the shades that they gave and the warmth that each tree showered on tiny drips of our sweat that morning.

It’s not for nothing that small steppers are known to clear the specks of garbage and junk found on such heritage spots and in the forest beside them. We don’t forget our mothers love and the mother never stops loving us back.

Karnala’s aisles are also known for the chirps of the birds from the sanctuary and their calls to the trekkers who share the same motherly arms of the forests. Morning had already greeted us all with the majestic gait of the peacock, and now those bird watchers in our party were all tuned into the subtle rustles and tingly metals that birds sneakily threw upon us. Karnala bird sanctuary trekking offers a great opportunity to enjoy forest trail for kids and beginners.

For the first timers on our trek who find themselves busy with their medical and organisational undertakings, these few minutes when their ears heard throws of a bird’s language in that wilderness, were paths that took them back to their childhood. Friends spoke of the times they spend lazing around into the verandas back home. Colleagues thanked our fellow trekker for reminding them of times of the villages they all left for the rush and push of weekdays in dazed cities of Pune and Mumbai.

A gratitude arose in all of us for this beautiful fort and the gift of nature around that treasured a thousand species like us. Leaning on a big bridge of branch that arched around our path, we stood silent for quite some time.

The roots of the trees spread out ladders for us and the peaking buds and their blooming brothers nodded their leaves, witnessing our walk into the fort.

Finally, the rock patches in the last leg of the climb had come upon us. Trekking near Mumbai can be risky for outsiders, joining a trekking group from Mumbai is highly recommended. A few of those who felt like resting, waited back at a shed below along with our coordinator, while a majority of us climbed up and deep into the sweet thirst of the old wells inside the forts. Dropping their water bottles into the tanks holding cool waters that hot afternoon, we tasted a drop of Raja’s legacy that day.

The trek was done on the peaks, and photo ops were gladly taken, albeit with reminders of not being juvenile with selfies posed on edges of the forts. A lot more forts the small steppers still had to step on in coming years and a dash of madness mixed with a tinge of restraint is always welcome in such climbs.

Prashant rode down to the shed and asked those we still hadn’t forgotten if they wanted to have one more shot at the peak.

SSA team leaders make sure we ask and nudge our friends to the best views at the top. Never push, but we do ask. Who knows what one might muster up in moments like these that take us through. Our fair lady though decided to let her legs rest. And so we obliged.

Maybe it was also the smell that wafted way up from the lunch being prepared for all of us back at the base, which was tempting us back into the descent. Karnala fort trek is one of the best one-day treks near Mumbai. The village women we left below, caretakers of a hungry lot like us, hadn’t forgotten us and sensed our croaking appetite to prepare steaming hot meals for travelers on both sides of the road.

Divine worth of a clean and ever-giving water source was glittering in the succulent taste of these meals. But who can forget to acknowledge the love of their fingers which the women poured into our tired bodies and smiling faces. Some of us might have giggled like these village kids who come home evenings from long hours of play, and mothers did their part to perfection. Embracing us into their simple but memorable offerings.

The parting too was accompanied with the tasty lemon squeezed in Karnala’s water and shared amongst newly born friendships of the trek. Thanking the forest department for letting us in, we took leave and set off to our homes back in bustles of the city.

But once you enter forests and snuggle to meals like these, those that return back, never return the same way they came in. Promising ourselves to collect some more on our next trek to Kalsubai, we all carried back personal souvenirs in our stepper memory boxes.

Karnala Fort Trek Blog By: Dattaprasad