Difficulty Level: Easy
Time required: One day
Base Village: Mahuli
Best time to go: All year round
Altitude: 2,784 feet (Above sea level)
Accommodation: Possible to pitch a tent or stay in the cave-like structures near the ‘Mahadarwaja’
Drinking Water: Available at a small cistern near the ‘Mahadarwaja’. This tank has a sign in Marathi that mentions it is potable. Avoid the water in other cisterns.
Food: Available at the base village
History of the fort
The highest peak in Thane district, Mahuli has a long history, filled with multiple rulers associated with it. There is no information on who built this fort originally, but it has changed hands with the Nizams, Mughals, Marathas, Peshwas and the British. In 1435, this fort came under the rule of Malik Ahmed, who founded the Nizam Empire. Around 1635, Shahaji, Shivaji Maharaj’s father, came to Mahuli from Shivneri fort. Khan Jaman, the son of Mughal Emperor Mahabat Khan attacked the fort. Shahaji pleaded for help from the Portuguese, but they refused and he ended up surrendering himself.
After Shivaji Maharaj grew up, he re-captured the fort from the Mughals in 1658, but ended up losing these forts to the Mughals again in the Treaty of Purandar in 1665. An attempt to capture the fort by Shivaji Maharaj in April 1670 was unsuccessful, and over a thousand Maratha warriors ended up losing their lives in the bargain. In June 1970, just two months after the failed attempt, a brave Maratha General, Moropant Pingle won Mahuli back for the Marathas. This fort stayed with the Marathas till the demise of Sambhaji Maharaj (Shivaji Maharaj’s son), and then went back to the Mughals. The Peshwas conquered the fort from the Mughals in 1735, and finally surrendered it to the British in 1857.
An interesting point to note is that Mahuli is not just one fort, but a trio of forts – Mahuli, Bhandargad and Palasgad. While Mahuli is visited often, the sister forts of Bhandargad and Palasgad are unfortunately quite forgotten today.
How to reach
From Mumbai, one can take a train via the Central line to Asangaon. From Asangaon station, there are autorickshaws that will take you to the base village, also known as Mahuli. The village is only 5 kms from the railway station, but a rickshaw will cost you Rs. 250 (non-negotiable rate). Alternately, there are State Transport buses that ply from Asangaon, but these are quite infrequent (but much cheaper, at around Rs. 10). Another option is to of course walk till Mahuli village (if you are keen on upping the challenge!)
About the trail
Mahuli is a great trek for the nature enthusiasts, history buffs, and adventure lovers. The trail is well-marked with plenty of painted arrows and signboards, so it is also safe for those looking to trek independently. Autorickshaws will drop you off near a building called ‘Bhakt Niwas’. The trail to Mahuli starts from the right side of the Bhakt Niwas, and you pass through a gate. The area is gated as it lies in the Tansa Sanctuary, and there is also a waterfall in the monsoons which attracts tourists. After walking for less than a kilometer, you will come across a small bridge, few houses and a small toilet. There, the trail breaks into 2 – left and right. Take the one on the right, and keep walking along it. Here onwards, the trail is very well-trodden, and you will see painted arrows and signboards pointing the right direction. The route is also quite nicely laid with steps fashioned out of pieces of rock. At multiple points on the trail, you will encounter railings installed for safety. They also help in making your trek safer, especially in the windy and wet monsoon season!
If you walk at a reasonable pace, with a couple of short breaks, you should reach the final climb within 1.5-2 hours. The last stretch is a short steep patch, made easy by an iron ladder. Once you climb up this ladder, you reach the fort. This area is quite windy throughout the year, and you are greeted by a huge saffron flag once you climb up.
Things to see
Mahuli is a HUGE fort, if you also decide to explore Bhandargad and Palasgad. Once you climb the iron ladder and reach the top, you will see a paved way lined with white painted rocks. Keep walking straight on this path, and it will descend slightly to a bunch of things to see – the main entrance (also called the Mahadarwaja), the pillared cave-like structure next to it which were the gatekeeper’s quarters (this is where you can stay at night in case you want to camp), a stone Shivling, a newly installed statue of Shivaji Maharaj, a water cistern with potable water. Beyond the Mahadarwaja, there are steps, but these are in a completely destroyed state. On a good day, you can spot the other trio of forts – Alang, Madan and Kulang, as well as Kalsubai.
After exploring these, you can head to Palasgad. There is a signboard towards the right in Marathi that points towards the route for Palasgad. This is an extremely long route, and filled with overgrown grass and trees. Do not venture to Palasgad if you are alone, as it is usually quite deserted. Unfortunately, most of the construction at Palasgad is destroyed, so there is little to see.
Using the same route, come back to the Mahadarwaja area, and go back up to the main route lined with white stones. You will see a board pointing the way to Bhandargad on your right. Follow this route, and on the way you will spot various artefacts and old construction. There is a partly destroyed Shiv temple, a few carved stones, a huge lake (dried up in the summers), and ruins of palaces and residences. All of these are marked with black signboards in Marathi.
After seeing these, you will come across a fork in the road, the left one going to Hanuman Darwaja and the one going straight to Kalyan Darwaja. You can quickly explore Hanuman Darwaja (the way to reach it is filled with quite a bit of scree, so we only saw it from above). Right next to the Hanuman Darwaja are carvings of Lord Hanuman and Lord Ganesha, which are only visible if you are right at the Darwaja. Once back on the route to Kalyan Darwaja, you will walk quite a long while, till you reach a couloir. This col separate Mahuli from Bhandargad. Get down to the col, and climb up the other side using a small ladder and negotiating a small rock patch. After walking straight ahead for a short while, you will come across a signboard for Kalyan Darwaja. The route to reach the Darwaja is a little tricky, and needs to be negotiated with caution.
After exploring the Kalyan Darwaja, come back on the main trail, and you will spot a hidden pillared cave. The final point is the very edge of Bhandargad, which provides a breathtaking view of the many pinnacles of Mahuli. These pinnacles are a dream for many rock climbers, and require technical equipment and expertise to climb. Once done exploring all of these, you can retrace your steps, and descend the same way that you had ascended the fort.
Total Cost for one person (from Mumbai)
Mumbai CST to Asangaon train (Return journey) fare: Rs. 50
Asangaon to Mahuli autorickshaw (Return journey) fare: Rs. 165 (Rs. 500 divided between 3 people)
Snacks (optional): Rs. 35 (For a small snack like vada pav. Carry your own packed lunch)
Total: Rs. 250 ONLY!!!