Karnala fort also known as the Funnel Hill is a hill fort in Raigad district, about 10 km from Panvel city and 65 km from Mumbai. The fort is a protected property which is situated within the Karnala Bird Sanctuary and offers a great opportunity to enjoy a refreshing, easy trek. Karnala fort consists of two forts out of which one is at a higher level and other is at a lower level.
The Karnala Fort was built the Devagiri Yadavs and the Tughlaq rulers before 1400. Later it fell into the hands of the Gujarat Sultanate but was eventually taken over by the Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar in 1540. The help of Dom Francisco de Menenzes (the commanding officer of the Portuguese) was sought by the Gujarat sultans to win the Karnala Fort back. 500 soldiers marched towards the mighty fort and recaptured it, leaving it in the hands of Gujarat sultans but under the garrison of the Portuguese. However, the Gujarat sultans fled from Karnala, leaving the fort under complete control of the Portuguese. An enraged Nizam Shah sent 5000 men to recapture the fort but failed in his attempt. Eventually, the Portuguese viceroy realised that the fort at Karnala was of little strategic value to them and agreed to return it to Nizam Shah for an annual payment of INR 17500.
If you are well-prepared for the heavy and continuous rains during the monsoon, then this is a fantastic time to visit Karnala fort. The whole bird sanctuary around the fort becomes beautifully green during the monsoon, and if you can manage to get a view from the top of the fort through the clouds, the surrounding area is lush green. Be prepared for heavy rains and a very slippery, muddy trek to the fort - wear shoes with a good grip, and carry a waterproof jacket.
If you don't want to visit during the rains, then winter is a good time as well (Nov-mid to Feb). The temperature is not very hot even during the day, and you can get a clear view from the top of the fort.
For bird watching: At the onset of rains, one can see the paradise flycatcher, the shama or the magpie robin and the Malabar whistling thrush which is one of the most melodious birds. In winter, the migrant birds take over. These include the blue-headed rock-thrush, the bluethroat, the red-breasted flycatcher, the ashy minivet, the black-headed cuckoo-shrike and a host of others.
Air: The nearest airport to Karnala Bird Sanctuary is Chattrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai which is 33 km away from Karnala Bird Sanctuary.
Rail: Panvel, the nearest railway station, is a major station on the busy line between Mumbai and Roha and also on the Mumbai suburban line. Auto-rickshaws and taxis are available from the station to reach the Karnala fort.
Road: Karnala is on the national highway 17 which is also called the Mumbai-Goa highway. State-run buses going towards Pen, Alibag, Murud, etc. stop at the sanctuary gate. Shared auto-rickshaws which run regularly from Panvel to surrounding villages is another way to get to Karnala. Taxis, from Mumbai, Navi Mumbai or Thane, can be hired to reach Karnala.
No vehicles are allowed inside the park. The only way to explore the sanctuary is on foot. Parking is slightly expensive but well-maintained : 25rs for 2-wheelers and 100rs. for cars (as of Dec 2016)
While here don't miss the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. One may also head to other nearby attractions such as Ram Mandir, Gaodevi Mandir, Ganesh Mandir, Datta Mandir and Bot Lake.
There are no shops at Karnala fort. There might be some local shops in the nearby localities.
There are quite a few excellent roadside dhabas near Karnala fort, right before the fort towards Mumbai. Most of them serve excellent local Maharashtrian style chicken/mutton, and some of them serve Konkani seafood as well. You would also find regular North India/chinese food places near the fort, since it's a popular tourist attraction - notably a food court hardly 3kms from the fort has all the cuisines and some cafes as well.
Hotel Fort View is a popular restaurant which is nearby to Karnala Fort. The Village, Neel Kamal, etc. are some other good restaurants in Panvel which have all types of cuisines.
The Karnala Fort is best seen on a trip to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary and Panvel. Take a shared auto or taxi to reach the fort. Explore the fort and go for a trek. Carry loads of water with you, and remember to carry some dry food. After a tour of the fort, go for some bird watching in the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. After your trip, have a bite at some nearby restaurant. Head back to your hotel and if you have another day or two to spare, visit other places around the Karnala fort such as Ram Mandir, Gaodevi Mandir, Ganesh Mandir, Datta Mandir and Bot Lake.
The Karnala fort was a fort of strategic importance as it overlooked the Bor pass which connected the Konkan coast to the interior of Maharashtra (Vidharba) and was the major trade route between these two regions.
Take lots of drinking water along with you - we would recommend carrying 2litres of water per person. Carry an extra pair of clothes, good trekking shoes and a haversack to put all these things. Also carry a rain cheater if you don't want to get wet. Avoid wearing gold and other instruments. It's a good idea to carry some snacks with you on the way up, like a banana, some biscuits or dry fruits.
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