Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sankshi Fort -- A Memorable Offbeat Hike

Traveling more than 100 kms for a trek before the crack of a dawn on a holiday when everybody is having a sound sleep is a daunting task but indescribable joy and pride that you experience after completing your trek motivate and peg you on to repeat this ordeal more often. My independence day trek to Sankshi was no different.

As I was thinking for a nice one day trek on independence day to some nearby fort, I got invite from Onkar Oak, a veteran of 250+ forts, for offbeat trek to “Sankshi Fort”. Frankly speaking, I had not heard of this fort before. As I was eager to trek with Onkar since a long time, I immediately accepted the invite without thinking too much. As seats were not yet full, I also invited my friend Sandeepak Phadke who at first was bit reluctant but later got excited after seeing the offbeat nature of the trek. 

Onkar hired a mini-bus for this trek which was going to start from Alka talkies at 5.30AM. My pick-up point was from Marriott Hotel at 6AM. Almost everyone was on time and we left Pune without any delay.

As our mini-bus was waiting on the toll booth, one of the tempo drivers halted too close behind our mini bus and our mini bus came backwards because of the slope and hit the front of the tempo. We were expecting quite a scene considering the mentality of the drivers but luckily damage was not that much and after a mild argument, the matter was resolved amicably and we started our further journey hoping rest of the day would pass without any further untoward incident.

We soon reached to Lonavala which was engulfed in the clouds.As everyone had got up early in the morning, everyone was hungry around 8AM and we halted at a little restaurant in Khopoli. We had a heavy breakfast of hot and sumptuous Idli-vada sambar followed by hot tea and all were content after satiating their hunger!

After breakfast, we proceeded towards the fort. Onkar confirmed the direction twice before we got the route which ran through a non-existent pavement road with width just enough to accommodate our 20-seater bus. Finally after bumpy ride on this bad road, we reached to the base of fort and parked our mini-bus in front of new Badr-ud-din dargah.

This is the new Badr-ud-din dargah and old Badr-ud-din dargah is at the start of climb to the fort. This new dargah seems to be painted recently and was looking pleasing to the eyes.

As Onkar was asking for the direction to a local villager, I was searching for a good opportunity for a nice photograph and spotted a bull who was looking great in the lush green surroundings.

Once we got our direction, we started our trek. It was a welcome break from the rain and weather was pleasant though slightly on the humid side.

About the fort:

Sankshi fort at an height of 800 metres lies within the limits of Nidivali village about five miles north-east of Pen. Its name is said to have been derived from a chief named Sank who is traditionally believed to have been the lord of the fort. You can read more about history here.

Actual Trek: 

Just start of the trek, you come across an ancient dargah. It is said to be built by by a merchant from the former Janjira territory. Because of the presence of this dargah, this fort is also called as Dargyacha Killa (Fort of Dargah). Unfortunately, this dargah seems to be in neglected state similar to structures on other forts. What an apathy!

You can clearly see fort from this location. As you can see, it is not a very large fort; but looks like much of a hill.

Apparently, this fort is not visited frequently and there are no directions and the path to the fort is also not clear and you need to trace the route through the bushes.

You have a GI pipeline accompanying you during most of the trek. If you spot the GI pipeline intermittently, be assured that you are on the right track.

 Beautiful flowers accompanying us during the the trek:

After climbing for 15 minutes,You come across a first rock patch. These rocks are slippery in monsoon and you need to be careful to avoid the slip. First step of this rock patch was difficult; since there was almost nothing to rest your foot onto. Still, few of us negotiated it and crossed this patch.

It seemed slightly risky and we decided to tie a rope for others' safety. Fortunately, Onkar was carrying a rope.

Onkar busy in preparing the rope:

After crossing this rock patch, you come across a small water cistern.Apparently, there are many water cisterns during the climb as well as on top of the fort.

There is a second rock patch, more difficult than the first one, immediately after the first rock patch and the water cistern. Here again, Onkar tied the rope so that everybody can safely come up.

Just right of the second rock patch, you can see an irregularly shaped excavation under the over-hanging scrap. This excavation contains water cistern and the tomb of a Muslim saint named Gajishah.

There is a niche cut in the wall with an image locally worshiped as Vajrai or Jagmata, believed to be the daughter of Raja Sank, the founder of the fort, who is said to have killed herself on this spot when her father was engaged in a battle with the chief of Karnala fort, eight miles to the north.

You directly enter the fort soon after you negotiate the second rock patch.

Exploring the fort:

There are many water cisterns on the fort.

Part of the fort with the stiff cliff seems to be separated from the main plateau of the fort.

Photo Courtesy: Onkar Oak

Lush greenery of the fort:

There are three forts in this region which form triangle - Karnala, Manikgad and Sankshi.

Stunning Karnala Fort on the North Side as seen from top:

Zoomed view of Karnala Fort:

View of beautiful Manikgad on the North-East side from top:

Zoomed view of Manikgad fort:

Amazing blue sky seen after a long time:

There is a dense forest on the South side of the fort. Sandeepak Phadke who is a regular Himalayan trekker didn't seem to have acrophobia and sat on the edge of the cliff without giving a damn to its height!

After introductory sessions, Onkar Oak told some fascinating stories from the history of forts like Golkonda, Naldurga and Sinhagad. Everybody paid rapt attention as stories were informative and never-heard before by most of us. I had heard and read about Onkar's knowledge about the forts before but this was the first time that I heard him unleashing his great source of knowledge about history and geography.

After the session, we went towards western side of fort. You need to climb few feet to reach to western plateau. Here, you can spot another water cistern.

Also, there are few remnants of the food granary on this side.

Some Flora and fauna on the fort:

Photo Courtesy: Sandeepak Phadke

Soon, we started descending from the same route. We had kept the rope fastened at the second rock patch while climbing; so we used the same rope while descending. Descending is difficult on such patches because of moss on the rocks. You absolutely need to have proper shoes in order to have firm grip on the surface. Rope is also a must for your safety on such patches.

Still, there were many members to descend the above rock patch and I wanted to click more pictures. As I was taking the pictures, a small boulder rolled down and missed me and my camera by a whisker. In order to avoid any such incident, I proceeded to remaining rock patch without waiting for others to descend.At first, it was looking scary to descend through the other rock patch without rope; but as few members had already gone down without the rope, we took each step carefully and descended successfully one by one.

Old Dargah and Karnala fort were looking stunning while descending.

Soon, we reached to the Old Dargah. As there were still few members who were descending, I explored area around the Dargah and spotted a small kabar nearby which I had failed to notice while ascending.

Finally all were back safe and sound and rested in front of Dargah for a while.

All were very hungry as it was almost 2 PM. Initially we had planned to have lunch in the same restaurant where we had breakfasted but considering further travel and famished faces, we halted in Pen and had a heavy lunch of Rice-Plate. It was almost 3 PM when we started our lunch and we really gorged on the food and ordered one roti after another ignoring the hostile looks of the waiters who got really tired after serving lunch to 20 famished trekkers.

Finally, we were out of the restaurant and chatted for few minutes and then boarded our mini-bus once again to travel our journey back to Pune. We took a small tea break at Lonavala and finally reached to Pune around 7.45PM.

Verdant wilderness, thrilling rock patches, panoramic views of Karnala and Manikgad fort and amusing historical tales by Onkar Oak made the trek worth remembering.

Tips for the trekkers:
  • Carry rope if you want to trek this fort during monsoon. This is especially important if you have a large group. Remember, safety is the most important thing beyond anything else. In Summer and Winter, there is no need for any rope.
  • Better to carry your own water. Avoid using water from the cisterns on top of the fort.
  • Avoid temptation of going to the eastern part of the fort with the stiff cliff. As there is hardly anything to see on the fort, you may get tempted to visit some of the risky parts of the fort.
  • Carry your own lunch in case you want to have it on fort. As this fort is rarely visited, you won't find a single food stall on the fort.
  • Avoid stay on the fort as no shelter is available.
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Happy trekking!


  1. Very nice and useful article. Such articles helps people to visit the unexplored forts.
    Thanks for sharing the great information.
    BTW, your photography skills are improving day by day, great snaps ...


  2. Hi Prashant,

    As Usual excellent travelogue.This again refreshed my mind and took me back again to Lush Green World of Sahyadri.And thanks a lot regarding for your valuable appreciation regarding our services during the trek. We will going to do more and more best in upcoming events..!!

  3. Nice Photography and Thanks for sharing the great information.

  4. Wonderful... Need to read more on new treks, forts and experience. Thank you