Peb-Vikatgadh – A lesser known Gem

Some places have a charm of their own and this charm does enough to leave you spell bound. That’s exactly what happened as we explored a relatively lesser known fort right under the nose of one of India’s famous hill stations. Here’s all you need to know regarding one day trek to Peb-Vikatgadh fort in Raigadh District of Maharashtra.

The onset of monsoon turns the places near Mumbai and Pune to a lush green paradise. The western ghats and the Konkan belt ooze beauty its every nook and corner. So on a fine Sunday, with a little bit of rain and lots of clouds, we set for exploring Peb Fort, a place we had never heard of before we visited it.

Reaching There

The base or the start point of the trek is around 12-15 km from Neral Station. Neral is well connected by local trains bound to Karjat & CST. We took an early train, around 6:00 AM and reached Neral by 8:30 AM. From Neral, post hogging on Vada Pav & Poha, a shared Kali-Peeli dropped us off at a point known as “Three-Fourth”, from where the trek was to begin.

The Trek Experience

The first view of the base and we fell in love with the place. The starting few kilometers are on the railway tracks of the Neral-Matheran Toy Train. A narrow gauge track that emerges out of a canopy of lush green foliage makes a pretty spot for clicking photographs.

As you make a move forward, you are greeted with even better surprises and better views. You walk on the beautiful path, with light showers adding excitement to the trek. There’s a high mountain on one side and deep valley on the other, and you just wonder how minuscule and diminutive you are in front of the nature.

As you absorb the beauty of the place within your memories, you stumble across refreshing cisterns and small waterfalls, and believe you us, you will be tempted to take a dip in that refreshing cool waters. Carrying on the path you get the first view of the summit and your adrenaline will start pumping as the real thing is about to start.

The simple part of the trek ends at the place shown above. That’s the entry to the Ganpati Mandir and the trekkers and locals believe you must toll the bell before you make the start. It is good omen and the best part is when you toll the bell and the valley responds to the sound by echoing back. Such lovely feeling.

We would classify this trek grade to be of easy to moderate, and is best suited for first time trekkers and amateurs. The trek would require basic hiking, walking/ascending in a single file and ridge walking. It is very safe however everyone must exercise extreme caution while on the trek.

As you near the summit, you inch closer towards the clouds and at some point in the trek you are supposed to be surrounded by them. The panoramic views from these points are breathtaking and the images speak for themselves.

For final ascend to summit you need to climb through an iron ladder, again, a place of caution as it gets slippery when it rains. Just as we were standing at the base of the summit, there was a mad rush of clouds and the cross winds were so strong, it felt we might be hovering over the mountains in some time.

As the winds subsided, we made it to the summit, 2.5 hours post starting from the base village. There’s a small shrine dedicated to Pebi Devi at the top, but the atmosphere up there is absolutely electrifying. It feels like you are sitting in a room that is air cooled to 16℃ for the past 1 hour and the fans are running at full speed. Amazingly chilly it was, our poncho was the saving grace!

When the clouds clear, you get to see lovely views of Matheran, a sweet little hill station just 10 km from the spot. On other side of the valley, there’s picturesque Dhom Lake which looks equally enchanting and dramatic with the clouds hovering over it.

No amount of time is good enough to absorb the beauty of this wonderful place, but as all good things come to end, so does this. You make the descend from the same route and follow the toy train tracks all the way to Amar Lodge, which is the base point of Matheran enjoying the scenic views on either sides of the track. Once at Matheran, you hop on to a taxi and head back to Neral, reminiscing the eventful day you had and longing to return to the same place in future.

Words of Wisdom

Nearest Station to Peb is Neral, which is well connected to CST and Karjat on central railway local line. From Neral, you get shared cabs running for Matheran to reach at “Three-Fourths”

Total time of the trek is around 5-5.5 hours. However if weather conditions are bad, it may take more than that.

Best time to visit is during August-September, when the rains have receded and green bloom is at its very best.

The trek is not difficult, however in rains, you must exercise utmost caution while walking, you must use shoes with good grip.

You are visiting a natural heritage, hence it is of utmost importance to maintain the sanctity of the place. Do not litter around, carry your waste with you.

Lastly, enjoy the beauty of the place that is lost in the rich history of our beautiful country.

Lesser Known Karnataka

Summer of 2015, life was all set to take a new turn. A new adventure was about to begin, and I never knew that the two years I was going to spend at the student town of coastal Karnataka called Manipal, would turn out to be just magical. While juggling the rigor of the academics, the traveler in me did manage to explore almost everything within the vicinity of the place. Here I present the 15 hidden gems of Karnataka, and I would call them hidden for the fact I would have never visited them hadn’t I come to Manipal.

NOTE: Distance to all the places are with reference to Tiger Circle, centre point of the town of Manipal.

1. Arbi Falls, Behind New DeeTee, Dashrathnagar, Manipal

It rains a lot in Manipal, and a lot actually means a lot. And the hilly terrain of the place carves out a perfect pavement for the rain water to flow down hill thereby creating an eye-pleasing waterfall.

Hardly 5 km from Manipal towards TAPMI campus, these are also known as Manipal Waterfalls, and is easily accessible by road. Once at the base of the hill, you take a small hike following the water trail and sometimes you might get amused as if you have witnessed something so simple and scenic that you want to frame it and use it as your desktop wallpaper.

Entry to the falls is free, and the locals are well aware of the route. But the falls are not perennial as it is the rain water that flows down from the hill top. Best time to visit is June-August when the water level is at its peak, 2-3 hours at the place and you’d have had a great time!

2. Delta Beach, Kodi-Bengare, Kundapura

Just imagine, when while travelling through the country side, small cottages on either side of the road and towering coconut trees, like you are having a great ride and you reach a dead end! Just a foot trail leading inside the woods. Sometimes it is good to take the road less traveled! An estuary lies right behind, a place where river meets the sea, leaving behind a soothing effect.

At times some of the scenes will make you go philosophical, make you ponder about the purpose of life, the search for truth, the answer to the unknown. And who knows, you might find them as well!

Reaching Delta beach is fairly easy. State transport buses run almost every 15 mins from Udupi Central bus station, 8 kms from Manipal. If going by own vehicle, take the national highway 66, and detour for Bengare after 10-15 kms from Udupi!

3. Kaveladurg Fort, Agumbe

You have the mighty Arabian sea on one side and lovely Western Ghats just a few 100 kms apart. That’s the beauty of Manipal, as diverse is its population, similarly diversified is the terrain.

Agumbe hills, a section of the Western Ghats, lie just a 100 Km from Manipal. Dense jungle and serpentine roads, the perfect recipe for an avid traveler, will greet you on your way to the ruins and remnants of this 9th century fort.

And a 3-hour ride is perfectly worth because the trek to the fort top is equally mind blowing. It begins with a trek through the paddy cultivation, one step at a time, as you move in a single file formation for there is no other option!

Cross these and you begin your hike to the top, passing cross the ruins of the fort. The rains completely change the look of the place, and the earth just looks like a bride-to-be, adorning a covering of lush green vegetation.

After an hour of trek, a bit of slipping and sliding and a few bruises, as you reach the end point with the panoramic view of the beautiful Agumbe Ghats, all the pain and trouble just vanishes and you just jump with joy, while hogging at the site the place had to offer!

4. Jomlu Teertha Falls, Belve

Just 40 km from Manipal, a cluster of small waterfalls forming over the river Seetha, located in an extremely quiet place called Belve, over the time, have formed trenches giving a feeling of a natural Jacuzzi right next to a waterfall.

One can surely practice meditation here, for one thing is sure, there ain’t any disruptions in the middle. It is pure bliss!!

5. Murudeshwar Temple, Murudeshwar

Ever thought of experiencing fun and spirituality together? A weird combination, isn’t it? A divine feeling sets in as you approach the premises of Murudeshwar temple. Standing in between the 20-storeyed Gopura and huge Shiva idol, the heads go from right to left and back, in amazement and awe, similar to that of the audience witnessing an interesting rally between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Done with spirituality, now comes the fun part.

20-storeys above the ground, a realization occurs that the shrine is surrounded by water from 3 sides. 3 windows, 3 directions, 3 jaw-dropping views. And all three views are unique in their own aspect. Take a look at the wonderful views here.
The entry fee to the Gopura structure is Rs. 20/- The view it provides is priceless!

The legend of the temple is as unique as the view of the temple. It is one of the four places where a part of Shivlinga fell when the demon King Ravana tried to uproot the Atma-linga he received from Lord Shiva himself.

India, it never fails to amuse you!

6. Manipal Railway Bridge, Manipal

When a UNESCO World Heritage site is just a stone’s throw away from where you live, a visit to that place is must. An impeccably beautiful place, Seetha river flows underneath and the trees form a perfect canopy for the train to chug through it.

It is a visual treat, both symmetrically and aesthetically. The train emerging from the woods is a site to behold and capture in your memories, and think over it again and again till the end of the time.

And after the train passes, you are on your own to have some fun, just like we did here.

7. Malpe Beach & St. Mary’s Island, Udupi

A mighty beach, the deafening sound of the sea, the thunderous breeze and a glass of drink. Yes, it is the kind of beach where you just sit back and relax. Just 8 km from Manipal, is this beautiful beach of Malpe. So big, that you can gather 1000 students for a mega flaghip event, and still there is ample amount of vacant space on the beach. That’s Malpe for you.

A ferry ride away from the main beach, lies the St. Mary’s Island. The Basaltic Lava formation and deposition around the coast has led to creation of black vertical columns, provides a perfect late afternoon getaway.

The ferry ride ticket rates are Rs. 250/- for the return journey. There is no time limit for the stay at the island, the first ferry starts at around 11.00 am and the last one departs from the island around 5.30 pm, every 20 minutes.

8. Kudlu Falls, Agumbe Road

Hidden in the center of the forests of Agumbe, are these soothing waterfalls. But as they say, best things are not easily available. Situated at a moderate distance of 50 km from Manipal, Kudlu falls are on the way to Agumbe hills on the state highway 169A. A superb ride, every bikers dream, an empty road and beautiful surroundings.

But, just then, the good road ends and the final 10 km, which actually felt like a 100, begins and takes a toll on your arms and back. A complete off roading experience is followed by a 2 km hike to the falls. A moderate to heavy trek, make sure you carry enough water and food with you, as there is nothing you can do once you enter the premises.

And just like the light at the end of the tunnel, stands a magnificent waterfall, over a 100 feet high, falling right in to a pool.
As you stand there adulating the beauty of the place, a spectacle is served on your dish in the form a rainbow, right at the base of the falls.
The chilly waters of the reservoir are safe to swim, however one must take precautions as the rocks and pebbles beneath the surface are quite slippery.

The falls open up after the monsoon as the rains deluge the approach road to the falls. Best time to visit is from December to February and weekends are to be avoided. The area falls under forest department, and they charge Rs. 50 per person for the entry, no time limit. The entry to falls close at around 4 pm and the falls close at 5.30 pm. Ideal time, reach at 11:00 am and spend an awesome day at the falls.

9. Kapu Beach, Manipal-Mangalore Highway

A beach having a lighthouse always leaves you in an awe. It is the charisma of the lighthouses. For the ship lost at sea, a lighthouse gives it hope. When a person sees a beach with lighthouse, the tranquility of the scene has similar effect on his mind. Kapu beach is no different.

The narrow allies leading you to the main beach will itself make you fall in love with the place. And as you approach the beach, you just get mesmerized by the simplicity of it. Someone has rightly said, “Simplicity is the Essence of Beauty.” Mere sitting on the rocks at the base of the lighthouse facing the mighty ocean with cool breeze ruffling your hair is quite an experience in itself.

As the ascent to the top begins, somewhere midway a voice from within calls out, “No Further.” But then another voice subsides it saying, why did you even make it this far.

The battle within goes on and suddenly a strong gush of air blows and everything just quietens up. Nothing but the ocean. Seamless, endless, boundary less.

Kapu beach is around 15 km from Manipal, on the Manipal-Mangalore Highway. State transport buses run from Manipal and Udupi every 15 minutes. Beach is at about 3 km from highway, one can catch an auto to reach the beach. If travelling by private vehicle, follow the Google Maps.

10. Shrines at Karkala

Perks of being in a diverse nation like India, well, you get a glimpse of different cultures, all at one place. Two lovely shrines belonging to two different religions are separated by just a few meters, and they perfectly co-exist.

St. Lawrence Church, amidst the lush green backdrop of the base of the Agumbe hills stands this beautiful church with rich history and is purported to be site of many miracles.

Pleasing aesthetics and beautiful colors make this church a visual treat. Calmness of the place and serenity which surrounds that it offers, is priceless.

Bahubali Temple, a 10th century Jain Shrine situated on a hill top is an architecture marvel. The idol of Lord Gomteshwara or Lord Bahubali, as referred to in the region, is a 41 feet high and is carved from a single stone, it always makes me wonder the architectural genius that this structure stands still, rock solid, after about a 1000 years.

The greener parts surrounding the shrine have a breath taking view, so lovely, you tend to fall in love with it instantly.

The Chaturmukh Basadi, has four identical entrances on the four sides, each side with three identical idols facing in 4 directions. The sun rays used to illuminate the statues, indicating the time of the day. Some genius they were back then.

Karkala is about 40 km from Manipal and is well connected by roads. A private vehicle or hired cab is preferred to visit these shrines.

11. Sharavathi Back Waters

Perched upon the hills is quiet little village of Shimoga, a huge catchment area of the dam on river Sharavathi provides you a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate.
Sharavathi Adventure camp, a rustic nature resort, tucked snugly in the hills skirting the Talakalale reservoir, offers you the place you wish you would never leave.

You can Kayak in the the reservoir or go for a jet-ski or a speed boat ride or just sit on porch and be mesmerized by the simplistic beauty of the place.

The tariff for the resort are around Rs. 3500/- per person per night, which includes all three meals, complimentary water sports and visit to Jog Falls, which is just 5 km from the camp. A day visit to the place is around Rs. 1200/- per person, includes meals and boat rides. This is one heck of a place to visit, around 180 km from Manipal.

12. Gokarna

A hippie town with a perfect melange of beaches and forests, a place where you can trek, relax, eat, drink, celebrate and party till you drop and no one to stop you.

Om Beach, is the most famous beach in Gokarna, its name is derived from the shape of the beach in the form of Hindu religious symbol of Om. Pristine blue waters will make you fall in love with the beach at the first sight itself.

A short hike from Om beach is a beautifully hidden beach called Kudle beach, which from the top of the hill gives an awe-strucking, mind blowing, jaw dropping view, and you just can’t wait to descend through the bushes and make way to the beach.

The beach side cafes are just about perfect to sit back and relax as the waves wash the shore time and again, as one cherishes the invaluable moments with nature.

13. Sirimane Falls, Agumbe

Deep in the heart of the western ghats, is this gentle waterfall. Situated 15 km from Sringeri, an ideal place to have fun in water.

Taking a dip won’t clear your sins, but will definitely rejuvenate your mind, body, heart and soul. The reservoir is safe for bathing, a must do when you visit this place!

14. Ottinene Secret Beach, Baindoor

The joy of finding a treasure is ecstatic. Finding a secret beach is no different than finding a treasure. Through the narrow lanes and unexplored territories of the town of Baindoor, 70 km away from Manipal, lies not just a beach, but a delta point, where river meets the sea, twice the fun and joy.

An unspoiled and secluded beach, perfect for a leisure trip with family, a romantic getaway with partner or noisy outing with friends, it has everything to offer for everyone present. As the river meets the sea, a series of emotions pass through your body, with your mind thinking how beautifully the clock cycle devised by the Almighty keeps on ticking, and so do we!

15. Kudremukh National Park

Certainly not the least, Kudremukh is hands down one of the best places I have ever been on a bike ride. 40 km of twists and turns of the road, right through the heart of the forest (read: dense forest) with green surroundings on either side, it is an experience of a lifetime.

Entire area falls under the supervision of forest department and you have specified time to clear the area as encounter with wildlife are quite common. But, if the view is this great, a bit of rule breaking can surely be accounted for.

Imagine you are traveling through a forest, on a cold misty day, and a gurgling sound mixes with your engine rev up. And from behind the green shoots of the trees, emerges this visual delight.

Gushing around the bushes inside the Kudremukh National Park, this fall, dropping from an altitude of 30 m becomes a pit-stop for the passersby. And only a person not having any interest in life would not stop by at such a sight! A true feast for the eyes!!

So, there you have, 15 beautiful and unexplored gems in and around the lovely place which was my home for two years. All the places have their unique charm, each has its own flavor, a flavor that leaves you spell bound. Time and again, I can visit these places, remembering all the tiniest details associated, and then browse through all the photos over and over with a smile on face and thought in head that, “Kuch To Baat Thi Uss Jagah Ki!”