There are certain trips that take you to the brink - from that point onwards either you stop doing things altogether or you take that leap of faith and choose to go higher.
Credits to Rohan & Tanmay
We were planning to take up Torna Rajgad trek for a month or so, but unfortunately could not schedule the trip. Its funny when we were younger and had enough time up our sleeves we did not think of trekking. In a sense our group are late travel bloomers. But like the cliche goes - better late than never!And so with all things packed we began our own adventure at Dadar station. Tickets were booked for the 2355 Chennai mail. Amateurs that we are - our bags were pretty heavy, carrying all the stuff we could to make that overnight camp a little more comfortable. But I reckon if you ask any of us now - we would have definitely swapped an extra apple for an equal volume of air. We reached Pune on time expecting to catch the 6:30 am bus for Velhe - which is the base village for Torna. The idea was to reach the summit by 12 and take up the ridge on the same day so that we could camp at Rajgad. But then there's always Murphy's law.We waited at Swargate. According to "helpdesk" the the next bus was scheduled somewhere around 6:30 on platform number 9/10. The announcer's accent was just perfect - deep throated with a very high pitch. A loudspeaker without needing one. It took three separate turns for us to understand what bus to board and when it was scheduled. LOL. As we explored Swargate, its toilets and the tea shop - energetic as ever, at the same time kept a sharp eye on platform 9/10. So you can imagine the horror when we came to know our bus arrived and departed. Super! Adaptable as we are (atleast thats what our resume says), we took the next bus at 8. This time we were first to enter, fighting against a big group of college picnickers who seemed to be going for a month long stay. There was so much luggage! That was probably the only moment when we felt smarter.Arrived at Velhe somewhere around 10-10:30. We knew it was late, but the thought process was to make the most out of it. Moreover, by that time we were ravenous - looking to pounce on any kind of food that we could lay our eyes on. We found a small eatery and ordered everything that we saw others eating - Vada pav, Misal, Poha and it was simply too good. Served hot and much better than what you get in Mumbai !
Accounts settled and water purchased we thus started on trek.
I had been to Rajgad and the ascent was fairly easy - not too many steep inclines, a very easy trek. Therefore, we expected Torna to be somewhat similar - so as we started off with a few steep inclines there was a feeling that flatlands are near. But they never came! And we climbed and climbed and stopped and stopped. Comparisons began to be made with Kalsubai and how tough Torna is turning out to be. But we ascended slowly, weighed down by our baggage but equally charged by the views that we got. We neither left an opportunity for a photograph nor for a quick refreshment of limbu sherbet.
By midway, our endurance and stamina was tested but now rocky patches were coming up. On some occasions there were railings which helped but it was slippery given the gravel. If you lose your footing here then you are in serious trouble. We found going tough. There was a portion which was probably a 70 degrees rock path where it is very important to choose the right kind of rocks to put your weight on. Obviously we are not trained mountaineers, nor as rugged as the locals and therefore we struggled. But thrilling nonetheless!
After a final push we finally reached the top - and it was pretty huge. "Prachandagad" truly. We could see two machis - of which "Zunjar machi" one could travel to by climbing down a ladder. Folks coming down commented that it was very risky going there. And so we avoided - content with just the view.
The other was Budla machi, but we decided to settle down for lunch before starting another round of exploration. A sumptuous fare was lined up - cheese and chicken sandwiches with a few slices of tomatoes and onions. I also had carried fried crunchy fish which my trek mates duly avoided. Their loss my gain ! Our spot for lunch was nicely tucked under the shadows of a tree on the edges of the temple. A lot of fellow trekkers had arrived by then crossing the ridge and coming here with plenty of stories to tell.Done with lunch we headed out to scout for camping locations. I had brought along a 4 person tent from Amazon for 900 bucks. A good deal I'd felt then. First we went to Budhla Machi the unexplored portion. That is where one can truly gauge the massive length of Torna. The machi seemed ages away. Since the route to the ridge was through Budhla we decided to skip and instead went about exploring other sections of the fort.
After good hour or two of wandering and taking every factor into consideration we decided to camp near the temple on a flat patch. It was almost sunset time when we set up the tent, the wind by now was blowing hard. We seriously began to wonder if our tent would hold through the night. After much deliberations, we shifted our camp to a more enclosed location with Plan B being staying in the temple if anything goes wrong.
Now began the next task of setting up a fire, given the cold we were desperate get a fire going. But alas! The wind was too strong! Our lighters failed. No fire could be lit. We quickly assessed the food that we had and felt that could easily last for the night. Plus some of the locals could provide masala rice if needed. After some evening chores, we finally settled inside the tent and it was so cosy inside! Meanwhile, the wind was ferociously howling, intent on pulling down our tent. We were anxious for a while but after the first round of reverse Mendikot and in company of a nice song collection we merrily conquered the pitch dark windy night.
Other than a rowdy group who probably got drunk, we did not face much problems through the night. Rohan, Tanmay could not sleep and were already up by 3:30 am - busy with their own small adventures. It was beautiful outside with all the stars in their full glory - if of course one can bear the cold. Light started creeping in at around 6:30 and one could also see the morning star shining brightly as ever. Rajgad could be seen at a distance covered in a red mist with Balekilla standing imposingly.
We quickly began to wrap up , clicked a few breathtaking photos, had some tea and a bar of snickers and started our real trek. Our expectation was to complete the ridge in 4-5 hrs and then take the 3:30 pm from Gunjavane to Swargate. We began enthusiastically not really aware of the challenges that lay ahead. Our first task was to reach the end of Budhla machi from where we descend steeply to reach the connecting ridge. The first rocky patch was a bit tricky but not too scary and hence we found it not too difficult to manage. Tanmay's knees were meanwhile hurting and therefore he took extra bit of precaution while descending - slowing down our pace. But always better to be safe than sorry ! The landscape was stunning with the sun's early morning rays making it even more so. Sometimes, our path used to disappear with only a faint inkling of dust on the adjacent rocks to suggest the way ahead. At times the path ended with a sharp drop, indicating that we need to climb down. While that is fine in normal circumstances, there was one particular patch where looking down we could see straight in the valley - any mistake here and we are doomed! In such places normally an ascent is easier but descending, especially if you are not used to it, is deathly frightening. Assuming it to be a easy moderate trek we did not carry any equipment with us or a safety rope for that matter - which we should have thinking about it now. That patch then led to a a 40 degree rocky, gravel laden slope that had to be passed. No railings here to help and like the previous drop, you lose grip of the surface and the slide will be fatal. After some anxious moments and some extra bit of precautions (sliding on our butts) we crossed that scary patch vowing not to go back in any circumstances.
We meandered ahead, increased our pace, for we had lost quite a bit of time negotiating those tough patches. The path was a visual treat now, only our small winding path separating both the valleys, we felt truly being on the top with occasional gusts of wind threatening to blow us over.
But we went on reaching the end. A final rocky patch awaited us. We climbed down the ladder and slowly descended over the ledge finally reaching the ridge!
The ridge was splendid. Imagine hopping over hills amidst the gentle morning breeze. The breeze made the dried grasses sway creating that pleasant rustling sound as we passed through. Along the way we met a lot of fellow trekkers - but these were folks doing Rajgad Torna and not the other way round. We enquired about the distance and it was still a long way away - 3 to 4 hrs more. Now our pace was brisk, as we criss crossed through the grasslands and then through some mild forests. We walked and walked with water breaks on the way. At times we ascended, while at times there was a steep descent. The distance between both the forts was approximately 8-10 kms. There were occasions when the path forked, but we kept our eyes on the white arrow that led the way. Its a small arrow that you can trace while trekking in this region, which can be found on a rock or a tree.
Once the path dropped leading to a tarmac road. We were so tired and fatigued that a fleeting thought of boarding the first bus that passes by came to your mind. But temptations were resisted and went on. After a while we were sufficiently near to Rajgad and could see the stiff climb that awaited - topped off with the dreaded rocky patch. But as a bunch who had navigated the tricky Torna descent, we were confident that an ascent to Rajgad would be easier. But this time our battle was not just against nature but we were fighting against out own bodies - knees were hurting, there was a lot of fatigue and we were short on water. There was barely energy to climb. But we had no other option - there was no turning back.
The climb to Rajgad was steep. Initially we negotiated a gravel laden 60 degree climb ultimately leading to an almost brief vertical rock patch. The trick here is not to look down and find the right footing. If you choose the wrong kind of rocks, it becomes tough to go down and impossible to go up. After a couple of breaks, given our extremely tired state we finally managed to scale this tricky portion. The view from here was breathtaking with our treaded path snaking across the ridge and Sanjeevani machi looking down upon us. We circled around the structure and after a 15 min walk finally entered the Rajgad fort through Alu Darwaja.
The trek wasn't over yet as reaching Padmavati machi would take another 20 odd minutes. And on we went, consuming the last bit of energy left in our tanks, eagerly waiting for some lemon sherbet. As soon as we reached the entrance, we pounced on the first sherbet wala finishing off whatever that was left with him. It was exactly 2:45 PM when we reached - the last bus for Pune leaves at 4 and then there's nothing left. Most trekkers tend to get their own private vehicles. A quick lunch comprising of pithla, bhakri, kanda and thecha was arranged and we literally feasted on it. The plan was to wrap up lunch and then quickly descend Rajgad through Chor darwaja hoping to get some form of transportation. The earlier we reach base, the higher chances there are to hitch a ride on a returning Traveller. Rajgad descent in comparison was a formality. But given that we were so fatigued it took a while to reach Gunjavane. My legs had started to cramp as well - a lesson demanding us to be fully fit before attempting any trek. We arrived at base by 4:30 PM and by then the last bus and the last traveller was well and truly gone. After much enquiry, it was found that a milk van comes by at around 8 and we could possibly piggyback till Pune. However, as luck would have it, we found a good samaritan who gave us a ride to Margasani and from there we took a shared traveller to Nasrapur. From Nasrapur we found a transport till Navi Mumbai to end our eventful and lively mini adventure.