Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"- one word to define it. Well I could say "simply fantastic", but that would define just the trek and not the entire journey. Two months since I had been waiting to go on this trek. However, the lack of company, alien to local transport and right time posed a boulder.
2016 had been an eventful year, no significant change, but a few small changes here and there would add up to make this a year worth looking back to.
The new year's eve was approaching and unable to find anyone significant to make plans with made me take up the challenge for a solo trek to harishchandra gad. The excitement of the journey would easily take over the sadness of being alone in the new city.
While the days came closer to 31st, I would look for inspiration to do the trek and come above my fears and self doubt. Lack of knowledge for transportation and proper camping equipments made my resolve much weaker.
After the office hours in the local I would ask myself if it was worth the risk? Though the trek is quiet popular but still there's that fear of the unknown, and that there won't be anyone to look after you. Albeit all the hue and cry over the fear, I would get more resolute looking at others having there own plan for the celebration.
One thing that lured me a lot was the feeling of fresh air on my face and the wind blowing through the hair, while on the gate of a local train. I knew if I want more of this I should be heading somewhere up the hill.
28th night I ordered a trekking bag, making it sure I receive it by 30th thereby leaving no chance to say no to the trek.
Luckily, just a day before the trek I was able to find a person's contact who would arrange tents up at harishchandra gad. Later this guy would also be our guide for the trek.
So what now, transportation's been sorted, tents looked after and trek bag arrived. When everything's done, and I'm all boosted up for my first solo trek, my friend shows up and asks if he could join me for the trek as he had no plans. Damn my plans!
It's so difficult to tell no to someone especially when you know how bad it felt the last time someone told no to you. Aah! I still warned him it's a night trek and that it would be real cold. His reply by 30th night was affirmative. Come 31st morning and we were prepped up for our journey with lots of nervousness, considering our dubious understanding of the transportation timings. Anyhow, we started at 11 towards kasara from mulund. Until we were on the train we didn't realise not having bought the tickets, but the pseudo confidence made it's way through and after a few stations I had already left back the thought of getting caught. As the train moved closer to kasara, a distant village from Mumbai, the crowded stations started turning silent. Contrary to the stations in the city, the stations on the outskirts wore a deserted look. It was a nice start to the journey for someone like me who is tired of looking at the monotony of human settlement which stays the same throughout, has no life, no growth unlike the nature which constantly changes itself. It was two hours of train time till kasara. Like the rats coming out of there hole, we were vigil while getting down the train not willing to encounter a ticket checker.
After coming out of the station we had lunch and enquired about the bus to our next stop Rajur, from where we had to go to our base village Pachnai.
I could see a few groups already gathered for the new year celebrations. It was reassuring as I knew we were at the right place. Happiness! That few faces present could make guys turn their head around. Our bus to rajur would start around 2pm and so had to wait. Thinking if we would make it to Pachnai before the dusk, I got down the bus & asked with the conductor, who would bluntly reply ,"yes! In few minutes". He enjoyed the eagerness on my face and passed a laugh. The bus finally started around 2:15, it was a state transport bus, hence I was fully prepared for a bumpy ride, which I later realised wasn't so uncomfortable, or I was so lost in enjoying the view outside that I didn't feel anything. If you want to get an idea about how far can human settlements go, board a state bus to an unknown village, and state transport isn't unsafe. It's a nice way to experience life, one which you cannot live but can feel by just looking at it. The magnitudes of change in a matter of few kilometers, the only constants are human emotions, the laughs and the cries only the clothes change.
From a city where it's difficult to find land without human footprint, to be transported to somewhere you can only see huge expanse of golden grass, is sure to flood your heart with emotions. At that moment to witness such a stark contrast, I couldn't find any reason to regret the time and energy I had to shell to reach harishchandra gad. The roads I usually tread on, I cover my nose and cough throughout, and the place I occasionally come to could hypnotise me to jump through a cliff to feel the burst of fresh air going past my hair. While all this was going inside my head, I sensed queasiness in my friend's mind. He was a kindergarten kid as far as leisure traveling goes. Later I would get jealous of him as he would have so much more to get from this trek than me, but at present I was worried if his presence would throw cold water on my plans. His excitement level had gone up looking at the offerings made by nature. Anyways, we were at Rajur by 4:30, an intermediate stop in our journey. As we got down, we enquired about the next bus to Pachnai. There was a complete hour left before the next bus would start, so I called Pandarinath, our Trek guide to ask him about any alternative to reach Pachnai. He is a savior, he called his driver friend to pick us up at rajur bus stop. This ride was yet another adventure in itself. Just like the cramped up mini truck you find in movies, this guy owned a Mahindra Bolero and would drive with at least 15 people seating in, out and above the vehicle and yes mind you, people had lots of luggage to carry; from vegetables to bicycles. When at steep turns, where it was difficult for a driver to know which vehicle might be coming from the other side, the people at top would signal us about the presence of incoming vehicles, ingenuous in itself and companies like Tesla took so long to figure out the solution. Haha! And where was I seating? Between the driver and the gear shaft. The sun was getting close to the horizon and my fears about not being able to do the trek before the midnight bigger. I asked the driver if we would be able to do the trek after the sunset, and he passed an impassive "Yes!". As we got closer to the village, roads would get narrower and the night darker, the trees and the bushes more darker. By the time we reached Pachnai, sun had already went past the horizon and all that was left were the beautiful hills and mesmerising sky lit with an amalgam of orange and dark blue color merging together to form a violet tint.
Now you get the idea why I described it as "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious". I haven't started with the trek yet and, you should have got bored reading such a long description, it was way more fun experiencing it. Another few minutes, we waited for pandarinath to make his appearance. Till then we helped ourselves with some water, chocolates and cup cakes, lightened up a bit. We could see many cars parked, indicating the presence of humans up there. It was cold so we pulled out our sweaters from the bag and sat under a tree for sometime. Pandarinath would arrive with his wife and a child.
We started the trek at 6:45pm, with another group walking ahead of us, they had got their DSLR so were taking it slow. One of them commended us for coming alone. We exchanged a few words about our places and then we moved on. Soon our guide followed with his son, both on their foot. The start was steep, tree roots had formed stair like structure, with uneven and long steps, it got more difficult to walk in the dark. However, since it was a frequented route, it wasn't so difficult either. Our guide was very quick and we were trying our best to match up to his speed. I was already feeling the heat and hence decided to remove my pullover as it made walking miserable, on the other hand my mate was still worried to be left behind and hence, was trying to keep up with pandarinath. His breathing rate had increased given that he isn't used to trekking, I suggested we take some rest, as the climb would continue long into the jungle; our guide waited for us. All this time I had forgotten about chandu's torch, so I took it out and this would be my savior. I snacked in an apple and we started again. The chatterbox in me couldn't stop and others find it difficult to talk while walking uphill. Shortness of breadth! I would lead with torch in my left hand and used the right hand to maintain the balance, our guide all this while tried to slow himself down to show us the way. Since the path's too rocky at start it's difficult for a novice to keep speed and get tired easily. I asked the guide to make his way forward, as trying to keep up with him was taking a toll on the body and took out the fun from trek. We stopped, took some breath, looked up the sky, looked around in the dark. I feel sorry for myself, but it was really dark and I couldn't completely drown in the silence of the night, as there was little fear at the back of my mind.
We started again, this time completely alone, my excitement level all time high. I could see light from people's torch going into the sky at different points on the path., that helped us to get a hint of the direction. People have started learning some duty towards the environment, and most part of the trek is clean, but there are still a few who need the lessons. Anyway we kept moving forward and at times I would walk really fast leaving my friend behind, I would have to go back and let the torch help him find his way. At this moment I was really proud to have remembered to ask for the torch. With no one around to ask, I would shine the torch in different directions to look for the route ahead. At times we would wander on to a wrong path just to go back from where we had come. The silence of the night, broken by the chattering of insects, gave our ears the much required exercise it needed. Moving ahead, we were able to find some humans at higher grounds. We tried shouting out at them, so they would wait for us, but our voices couldn't reach them. Here we were walking the path on the right of which was a dry waterfall and on the left a ginormous boulder. Seating arrangement could be found with a wall made by stacking rocks on top of each other, but fearing that the occupants might not entertain the night guests, we decided to move forward without any halt. From here on the trek gets more interesting and less tiring as it gets less steeper and you have a larger aperture of open air to view the sky through. Also that the paths get more wider and planar solid, it's much comfort. You can feel the drop in mercury as the wind grazes past through your ears. I'm just wearing a tee and it was real cold, but then it was fun having not experienced any cold this winter. I started walking fast as I could hear our guide calling out my name. Walking fast helped maintain the body temperature, but the ears were still feeling the cold. We walk up to our guide, who's sitting near a hut like structure with his dog and his family. He tells, that the trek is almost done. All this while I had been wanting to do the bonfire after reaching the top, so I had started looking for firewood, and had brought matchstick, paper and some fuel for the same, my pessimistic friend smirked! As we closed in towards the peak I found many groups nicely settled with tents and campfires lit, it appeared as of there was some some fair at harishchandra gad. Enthusiast level so high that some had bought stoves to cook food after reaching the top. It's 8:30 in the night as we touch the peak, the guide welcomed us into his small abode and laid down mats for the sitting. There was a small calf inside the hut, a dog, his entire family and visitor's luggage. All exhausted, we drank some water, cleaned ourselves, sat still and cheered on completing the trek. Pandarinath had already set the tent outside and asked us if we wanted to have dinner.
Finally, up there I had a glint on my face. With the chilly winds and a few specks of light in a huge expanse of land made it feel like a different world.
It was just 8:30 in the night and there was still much time left, so I decided to go to another point by the name kokankada at a short walk of somewhere around 20-25 minutes. I asked my friend if he would join too, but he was tired and was unwilling. Hesitant to go alone, I asked pandarinath if it was ok to wander towards kokankada in singularity. He told it was a nice spot and nothing much to worry about any risks, so I left for the next point with torch and my phone. On the way, I got company of another guide and a trekker, they asked me if I was going alone and warned me against it, given my alienage to the place. The guy looked like a professional trekker, so I tried to strike a conversation with him in order to get to know more about the places around Mumbai, but he too tried lecturing me on the safety. I wondered how'd I return back, I was already scared! When we reached kokankada the guide asked me to join him on my way back and not to leave alone. That was a relief! I wanted to talk more with that trekker but then, I allowed myself to delve in the night than to look into tomorrow. At kokankada I found myself a comfortable seat near the cliff away from the unexpected crowd and the noise, after confirming there aren't any insects around the place using the torch I lied down in peace. It's unusual when you are at a place you wanted to be, but then you achieve it so easily without a drop of sweat that you aren't fully satisfied. Struggling to find a pattern in the randomness of the infinite stars, I gave up amidst the frenzy of new year celebrations and the silence of the valley. At that point towards the left of me was life, on right the death and above me the after life. Seating blank for a few more minutes I decided to head back towards harishchandra gad. I looked for the guide I had met earlier, but he wasn't to be seen anywhere so I moved along solitary. It wasn't one of the wisest decisions at that moment and one should have patience, especially somewhere you don't have the required expertise. This time I wasn't lucky enough to get any company, and the dogs barking made me reconsider my plans. At the last tent on kokankada I stopped for a few minutes to see if anyone would be heading back to harishchandra gad. I was able to see two men leaving the point so I rushed towards them and asked if they were heading towards the gad, but alas they weren't. I was done with waiting and so, I started moving just to be stopped by the same men again who warned me of the hogs in the jungle who usually come out during the night. One person said a hog could easily tear up a man in one go. Too scared to go alone after hearing this, I decided better to wait for someone, than leave alone, but again the same men said it's OK! This is a frequented route and it's not that dangerous. I was like! Dude when you had to say this, why did you scared me earlier. Just for the sake of it I picked up a stone, though it won't do any good but to fool myself that I had a weapon to protect myself. Haha! Another one said, it's already a short walk and you should be able to cover it in half the time given the state of mind you are in! So, I start towards harishchandra gad with torch in my left hand and stone in the right, torch held at neck pointing down at the height where I thought the probable hog's eyes might be. I rushed, using the torch to look for the right way, I would shine it to left, right and back to left again ensuring I don't miss any turn. I was able to recognise the the path so I was positive and continued.
The chattering of insects wasn't so soothing now, with the sound created by the movement of dried leaves made things more scary. I was moving too fast just on the hint that I was able to see a clear path ahead. I got lost!
At some crossing, I had to head upwards but I had moved somewhere down. I had come too far and I realised I was lost when I happened to come in an open area with rocky plain and less trees around, a few metres forward I could see a cliff.
It was getting too panicky and I cursed myself to have wandered alone. Difficult to accept the situation, given the ill preparedness and that everything required to survive the harsh night was left back at the camp, I moved the torch in different directions to look for any way out, shouted for some help but no response. After a few unsuccessful attempt I decided to stay for the night as it was open and animals generally don't wander around such places, at least that's what I got to learn from the shows on Discovery channel. So I sat down, took some deep breaths and moved my torch again, I recalled that at the end of route from kokankada to harishchandra gad I should have headed somewhere up. So I used the torch again to look for a peak around, I was quick at finding one and started heading towards it. I wasn't sure but still took the chance, luckily I was able to find the right path. I hastened towards the gad, this short walk felt too long and too scary.
Another ten minutes of rampant march and by the end I was on seventh cloud. I reached the camp feeling so proud and happy about myself. I still wonder, what if I would have spent the night there, what if I would have taken the wrong path, what would be someone else's reaction or what if I wasn't alone and there was someone with me.
After I reached the camp,I cleaned myself took some deep breaths again and had light dinner at guide's place. After finishing the dinner we headed into the tent and spread out the sheets. The night was cold and I had a decision to make, to look up the sky there was an opening in the tent, but with the view came the chilly winds. After such an eventful journey, exhaustion was bound to make an entry, but had no plans to miss the new year night. I took out the shawl from the rucksack, covered the body, neck to toe and used the rucksack as pillow, head positioned so as to be able to enjoy the glittering sky. The sky looked like a black canvas with nothing but splashes of sparkling white, a simplistic marvel. My body wanted to enter the slumbering state, against the will to give away the opportunity at hand. At times I would be woken up by the clamor of a neighboring group over the petty topics of drinks, marriage and there previous trips. It would get too loud at times and I was more than willing to confront them to bargain some silence. I would definitely head back here for some silence. As the time marched towards midnight, I cursed the people in the camp next to ours.
Somewhere around the midnight, a group of fierce young men burst into there camp for bringing the liquor into the jungle. Neglecting their methods and the hooliganism they flaunted, I was thoroughly impressed by their ferociousness and the command they enjoyed over the terrain. Their pledge to maintain the sanctity of the jungle as if it was a temple. In the dark they rode on the rocky plain like they knew it as if it was the palm of their hand. To witness the dramatic fear and the pleadings, and to enjoy the authoritarian parade of that group, I let go off the 0000 (midnight) moment. It was a simple "happy new year wish"and then I continued enjoying the live high voltage action. A continuous trail of denials of the poor wine, the matches, hookah and the glasses after failing the sobriety test was sure to get them banged. One started and the others joined, oh the poor soul! Just minutes earlier how they discussed the after descend celebration and now they were running to save themselves from the shame. Later on I would get to know the same group catched few more people, made them do sit-ups, slap and promise each other not to drink outside the four walls of there homes, bathe them in the cold night and sent them back down the hill in same condition.
Once this episode was over, I came out of the camp, enjoyed the chilly winds, lightened up a bit and back again in the tent with head under the confines of sky, just like in the movies. Slowly, I slipped into the arms of sleep in the lullaby created by the chattering of insects and the slow winds. Second thoughts, if it was a perfect start to the new year, but at the stroke of first midnight of 2017,
" I hanged out in the silence with the infinite stars and the waning crescent, above me was the sky and I above the land."
Serendipity struck when I found myself in the similar position as the moon.
I would fight the discomfort of cold throughout the night and struggled to have a nice sleep. We had planned to wake up at 6 in the morning to witness the sunrise and managed to get up by 7, the sun had already come out by then. We said goodbye to our guide, paid him his charges and left for the descend.
There was another point to be touched, but time constraints didn't allowed us to. On the way down, I tried recalling the route from the previous night, trying to recognise the places we halted at. It was an easy task going downhill, just that now all your body weight was concentrated on the legs and so we had to take frequent stops to allow the legs to recover. We clicked a few photos as memoir for the trip.
It was a simple 2 hours of descend as against the rapid ninety minutes we took for ascend. Initially, it was the adeptness of the guide on the mountain tracks and then the darkness that compelled us to walk briskly in the night.
As we reached Pachnai we inquired about the ferry back to Rajur, but it was too expensive and so we decided on waiting for the bus which was scheduled for 11. It was just 9:30, we stopped at the only eatery in Pachnai and ordered tea, already had the leftover snacks to get over with. Finished with tea and morning breakfast we moved towards the bus stop around 10:15. We were the first ones to reach there, shortly more than 100 trekkers had queued for the bus by 11.
It's another adventure from here on. It was already 10 past 11 and people were tactfully waiting anticipating the spot bus would arrive at. Once the bus came, everyone ran towards it in unison like a swarm of bees. For me it was the spirit of "I'm Sparta!" while getting on the Mumbai local which came right through to grab a seat in the bus. My friend was much smarter and reserved a seat by throwing his bag inside beforehand. Everyone who wanted to reach rajur got onto the bus, without giving a thought to the capacity of bus. As, the bus started, everyone adjusted themselves, the bus conductor collected fairs and we collected our tickets. It stopped at yet another stop and more people got into the bus, repeating the same for two stops more and then when we were 7kms away from our destination the bus stopped to be started only after being looked by a mechanic. Now we were stranded under the hot sun, tired and little hungry, but still hopeful that another bus might arrive. Some people got out of the bus stopped a passing truck and got onto it, before we could decide to get on the truck, it was already full and on it's way. With the driver and conductor already gone, there was no chance of getting any bus to rajur in another few hours. It was too frustrating to stop there and I was just willing to walk, I told my friend it's different path for us now and i was ready to hop on the next vehicle towards rajur. Everyone found themselves place to seat under the shadow of the trees, I went a few meters down the street so that I would be the first one to get a lift to rajur. One motor driver arrived, so we stopped him for the lift. He was negative, but looking at everyone he asked if we wanted a ferry to be arranged. It was a yes from everyone, I was still waiting for another motor driver to ask for lift, and shortly after, one arrived with no pillion. I rushed towards him and asked if he could drop me to rajur. The guy was good and wasn't hesitant in saying yes, he even allowed my friend for the lift. "Tripling!" in that 7 km long not so comfortable ride, I would again enjoy the vast expanse of empty land, the fresh air and the ride up and down the slant roads. It was the same road I had been on the day before, but still felt so different. Amidst all the pain of carrying the bag by the fingers and the cranked up space on the bike, the view brought a satisfying smile on the face. Hitch hiking sure was fun, but after getting on the pillion, it was freak thinking why would someone so easily give a lift to anyone?
After reaching rajur, we boarded another bus towards kasara. In the bus I would enjoy the company of exchange students from Germany who also happened to be at harishchandra gad the previous night. Then from kasara to mulund it was another great conversation with a professional trekker who also happened to be rafting coach at Rushikesh. There's still more to tell, but...... It's too long and too old for the tale to be more distinctive. Hopefully, reading this may inspire you to get up and going for some fun, away from the systemic lives where it's the clock that commands you to rise and the walks between the bed and work like the "to and fro motion" of the pendulum.