If you don’t mind sleeping under the skies, there are options aplenty a short drive from the city
This campsite is located between the Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary and the unspoiled Arabian Sea. It ticks all the key boxes for adventure: nature treks, wildlife, and water sports. Kashid is three hours from Mumbai, on the coastal road heading south. You can spend your days fishing with the locals or getting in some strenuous beach volleyball. Nights are for bonfires under the moon and stars, before snuggling into your tents to the tune of crickets and the distant roar of the sea.
Tungarli Lake, near Lonavla
Thanks to the monsoon, this lake is always brimming, giving one the pleasure of a water-side campsite. The forest around is lush for walks and bird-sighting, the mountain air fresh and invigorating (even in summer), and a company called Letscampout even provides adventure activities like rappelling and guided night-treks. Don’t have a tent but want to camp anyway? Letscampout will help you with en suite tents and bonfire-cooked food.
Charlotte Lake, Matheran
Charlotte Lake is a short walk away from the station, deep in the heart of sylvan Matheran. Alternatively, you can drive up to Dasturi Naka and ride horseback to the campsite. Pitch your tent lakeside, and head out; Matheran abounds with activity. Nature walks will come with the added bonus of seeing old and lovely colonial architecture. Lazy to walk? Hire a horse and visit all the viewing points; Matheran is an eagle’s nest giving a 360-degree view of the magnificent Western Ghats.
Shirota Lake, near Kamshet
This is the perfect trekking-camping combo. Unless lying in one spot lakeside and listening to bird-calls is your thing, you will want to get out and explore. There is the Rajmachi Fort, an hour’s trek away. The fort is replete with lush meadows and silvery waterfalls. For a deeper plunge into history books, visit Karla Caves, the ancient Buddhist shrines that date back to 160 BC. Read up your history before you go, and you will be able to enjoy the experience even more.
Rajmachi Fort, near Kamshet
If you wish to park yourself at one place and merely soak in a bird’s eye view of the magnificent Sahyadri Range, the Rajmachi Fort is the ideal location. You will feel like a Maratha warrior surveying the ancient trade routes over the Ghats. Waterfalls and misty peaks are the visual menu by day, and nights are unbelievably starlit. Fresh water can be obtained from streams that flow on to form the mighty Konkan Kada Waterfalls. For that top-of-the-world feeling, this location is unbeatable.
Kaas Plateau, near Satara
This one is a good five hours from Mumbai, but worth the trip for the solitude it offers. There is a lake, which always makes for a good campsite. But the real treat is the flora and fauna which seem to grow and thrive with a zest for life. From August, until the end of October, the plateau comes alive with exotic species of carnivorous plants, like the gorgeous Venus Fly Trap and the Pitcher Plant. Photographers and nature-enthusiasts, this one is for you.
Tikona, near Pavna Lake
Hook a right off the bustling Mumbai-Pune NH4 just after Lonavla, nose past a village or two and the sense of freedom you experience is palpable. Undulating, winding roads, lush with greenery, criss-cross these hills and lead to Pavna Lake, with its signature island-peak in the centre. Pick your spot and pitch your tent. You are never far away from a Maratha fort in these parts. Trek up the Tikona Fort for stellar view of the topography for miles.
Situated off the Mumbai-Goa highway (NH17), Kolad is well and truly off the beaten track. Thickly forested, sparsely populated, and right next to a perfect Grade II & III rapids, this has all the makings of an adventure camping experience. Forge your own path through the greenery for a pleasant trek, or suit up and plunge into the Kundalika River, which is fed by the Bhira Dam. It is a 12-km stretch, so arrange for transport back to your campsite.
Vasind, Nashik Highway
Drive north for a change, towards Nashik. Cradled between the craggy Mahuli Mountain and the Bhatsa River is the perfect secluded spot to pitch your tent and string your hammock between Chikoo trees. Local tour operators offer kayak safaris. If you prefer something more meditative, sling a line into the crystal cool waters and wait for a bite. Carry a portable barbeque; this river is teeming with fish fresh and succulent, begging to be on your plate.
Karnala, Mumbai-Goa Highway
The meditative ones will prefer to unfold their camping chairs and just soak in the music of our exotic feathered-friends. Bird-lovers and nature enthusiasts will prowl the woods with binoculars and cameras, marvelling at the diversity of flora and fauna. The energetic ones will trek through the forest or hoof it up Karnala Fort. It’s a great option for a family trip. Watch out for the monkeys, though.