The rains are gone (we all hope) and the winter sun is out, making the weather just right for a trekking escapade to the mighty Western Sahyadris. Venturing into the woods of the lesser-known Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary to arrive at the ancient Vasota Fort mandates a boat ride across the Koyna River and, then, a challenging trek up to the battle fort that once belonged to Chhatrapati Shivaji. It isn’t the easiest journey but one that’s absolutely worth all the effort.
Located on a remote outpost of the sanctuary, Vasota Fort, in addition to making for a great trek, offers the perfect setting for lazy afternoons spent picnicking and doing almost absolutely nothing. Surrounded by steep hills, the fort is accessible only by water. Your weekend adventure, therefore, begins at the riverside village of Tapola. From here, cruise down the backwaters of the Koyna River, and keep your camera handy to capture the stunning natural beauty on your way. You’ll also notice plenty of water-sports enthusiasts, from morning to dusk, around Shivsagar Lake.
The densely-forested hills are home to plenty of rich flora and fauna, including sloth bears, bison, boars, hyenas and tigers. Dock your boat at the base of the fort, from where your trekking route begins and winds upwards. The route takes you through thick shrub and tall trees like the palaquium ellipticum, more commonly known as palai. For company, you’ll have the constant chirping and twittering of birds and insects, and endemic butterflies like the Tamil lacewing fluttering about you. You’ll come across plenty of spring-fed streams and be tempted to drink straight from the cool, clean running water. Don’t ditch your bottle just yet – the broad but steep trek will have you breaking into a serious sweat soon enough; you’ll need that water bottle then. Treat that as a cue, also, to unpack the tasty lunch of bhakri and vegetables, prepared by your hotel’s kitchen. Fresh fish from Shivsagar Lake or Kolhapuri-style spicy chicken are also common in this area and make for a memorable feast. When you do get to the top, you’ll find a crumbling jail made of stone, where Maratha rulers once kept political prisoners. The yellow and purple wildflowers make for a pretty sight and invite you to set a mat out on the grass.
According to local folklore, it’s believed that Raja Bhoj of Panhala had originally built the fort in the 12th century, while another belief is that it belonged to the Shilahar dynasty. There’s no confirmed evidence of either but the lack of records somehow adds to the charm of the ancient fort.
From the top, as you soak in the views, on one side you’ll see the Nageshwar Temple, to which pilgrims flock during the annual Mahashivaratri celebrations. On the other side, there’s Babukada. Call out your name from here, and you’ll hear it echo over the untouched hills. Chances are no one, except for a boatman or two down on the lake, will hear you.