Of all the mountain fortifications in the Sahyadris, Kalavantin trek is considered as one of the steepest climbs that can be quite a challenge for new trekkers. If you have been to Harihar fort near Nashik, you can consider Kalavantin as its closest sibling in the Panvel Zone of Sahyadri fortresses. No wonder experienced trek leaders will usually emphasize on climbing Kalavantin before one tries Harihar.
So what is it about the fortress that makes it such a challenge and thrill for trekkers? Its the potent combination of history and legend mashed with an unforgiving terrain that makes Kalavantin stand out from most of the forts in the Sahyadri range (of course, baring the more challenging ones such as AMK and Lingana forts).
The trek to Kalavantin Durg can be divided into three parts. First, reaching our base village Prabalmachi, before we start ascending Kalavantin and covering the easier rocky pathway and then the difficult steep mountain where the true experience begins. Ascending up to Prabalmachi is not a great challenge in itself if you have done a good number of treks. For newbies, it may feel overwhelming or tiresome. However, one gets used to it as they keep moving up towards the plateau.
Prabalmachi is a high-altitude village of an odd few hundred (maybe even lesser) residents for whom agriculture and the ever-present trekking trips are the only sources of income. Before I move further to the core of the topic, Id like to say hats off to the grit and persistence of those villagers who have to travel all the way down to the plains and then to Panvel, the nearest city to stock up their supplies from time to time.
After spending a night camping on the Prabalmachi plateau, the mild and cool September dawn presents a spectacular view of the Kalavantin fort; covered in the morning mist, asserting its ancient existence and challenging trekkers right on the first view of the morning to come and conquer it.
The second lap of Kalavantin trek (the first one being climbing Prabalmachi) begins with a moderately challenging ascend that tests your endurance rather than the ability to maintain balance. The climb goes steeper and steeper, until a point where one comes across a rope tied to a fallen but robust stem in the path. After you have moved past this patch, that is when the real challenge begins.
The climb becomes so steep, that you are required to have at least some experience or aptitude in rock climbing to cross this initial stepping point towards the well known Kalavantin rock-cut stairs. After a steep rock climb and moving past a narrow pass, you will reach those historically marvelous rock-cut stairs.
And the mesmerizing view of the gap between Kalavantin Durg and the nearby Prabalgad Fort deserves its own mention. Covered in a lush canopy of the monsoon greens and flanked with mist, the gap between both the mountains gives you a real Sahyadri heavenly feel.
Ascending the stairs is not much of a challenge for those who have been trekking for a while. For the uninitiated, this patch may be too overwhelming, bordering a horrendous terrain that can push them down the cliff any moment. I’d personally suggest, that anyone willing to climb Kalavantin should do somewhere around ten climbing treks so that their bodies and most importantly their minds get used to the steep terrains of the Sahyadris.
Hiking Tips for Kalavantin Trek
During the ascent as well as the descend, trekkers should be particularly aware of high-altitude winds that can possibly trip their balance. In the face of one such strong gush of wind, trekkers should halt at their positions and consolidate their balance on whatever patch they are on.
Caves of Kalavantin Durg
A mostly unknown but interesting fact about Kalavantin Durg is that the way in between consists of rock-cut caves carved most probably during the time when the stairs were carved on the steep rocks. These caves are deep and narrow. I think they served the purpose of temporary housing for climbers and to stock their goods. Maybe, they were also used as hiding locations or to store surplus supply. Given that the Kalavantin Durg is a fort with a narrow top, unlike the expansive Visapur, these caves most likely would have served the purpose of storing food and other supplies.
Conqueror and a guest of Mother Nature
For me, descending the Kalavantin was more of a farewell than relief of getting back to the comforts of Prabalmachi plateau. This majestic mountain that used to give me goosebumps merely on a mention or while watching its video on YouTube, made me feel like a conqueror and a guest of Mother Nature at the same time.
I’d also like to suggest, if you have done more than ten climbing treks in the Sahyadris, let Kalavantin trek be your next frontier.