Thursday, June 23, 2011

I Was, Literally, On Cloud 9!

Thursday was the day, 16th June was the date. I was going through the pictures clicked while I went on a trip to Sinhgad, the fort of Shivaji Maharaj near Pune, with my office friends. Surfing through the clicks, I felt “It’s been damn long since I went out after coming to Pune, need to plan out something for this weekend." That was it; I opened my Office mail and sent in a mail to the "Sinhgad Group!" Things have really changed since that trip, People, to be specific. After lots of mails here and there, talks and planning, six people joined in for the adventure to Lohagadh that was for a life time! Preksha, Suraj, Pankaj, Roshan, Ritesh and Me. Which actually turned out to be good, less the people and more was the fun!

19th day of June was the day and I was too excited for it that I couldn't sleep the whole night. The day started with a run behind the local bus at 6 am which I missed by 5 seconds, imagine! And the stupid bus driver didn't stop even though I chased it for more than 200 freaking meters! Got the next bus in 20 minutes or so but fortunately we were taking the 8am local train. Met Preksha, Suraj and Pankaj at the station itself where we had a light breakfast. It wasn't difficult for us actually to locate the platform from where the local was to leave. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, same age like us, were all flocking towards the same direction, for the train to MALWALI, the base station nearest to Lohagadh. The colorful crowd at the platform reminded me of the local train rides of Mumbai, another experience one should really go through. It also got me into an instant mental mathematics to calculate the chances of us getting a place to sit in the train. The train arrived which triggered off an instant mosh-pit at the platform. First class, ladies and special compartments held no meaning at that time. Lucky as you would call us, an empty compartment stopped right in front of us and we didn't let the chances slip off. Window seats were ours, that too, two window seats. Gave us a sense of victory at that time. The adjoining compartment to us, full of youngsters, was supposedly the compartment for disabled and cancer patients and I doubt there was a single person ailing from either. Irony, isn't it, how much, of this type of compartment, is actually used by the CORRECT people. Rather, people get disabled after getting into such overcrowded compartments, either sandwiched between two individuals or dangling at the edge of the train, so yeah, the purpose is served. Local, as the train was, it stopped every station it got through and every compartment got all the more crowded with the passing minute. The journey of an hour and a half flew by amidst shouting of a gang of guys, more people, few fights which, for me, has become a mandatory sight in every train journey, still more people and the awesomely fantastic weather which kept it all bearable. Malwali station arrived and almost the whole of the train alighted there. Umpteen number of groups, dressed in the brightest of the colors and all ready to conquer the fort which made me realize one thing, jeans is, no ways, the correct thing to wear for this trip. "Koi nai, fod lenge", I thought! Photo sessions had started at the station already, people using everything possible at the station as a prop to make their photo as cool as possible. Roshan and Ritesh joined us half an hour later from Mumbai. Till then humne bhi thode bahut pictures le liye, the normal human tendencies to do what others do, knowingly or unknowingly. 
It was around 10 am and we were standing at the base of the climb that awaited us. The weather, slight drizzle and the cool air; perfect atmosphere for a trek. Far away, I could see the fort, atop the mountain and totally covered with clouds giving it a very mystic yet beautiful look. A flight of ancient-type large stairs were leading to the top of a mountain at the base. We climbed all the way up only to realize that it ended at some caves and that it wasn't the correct way to the fort. Nevertheless, the caves were beautiful. Actually, every historical thing, somehow manages to look beautiful. From there, we were told that there were two routes to the fort. Either go back the stairs and join the normal road that the people are following or jump the fence near the caves and trek through the mountains and meet the same road around a kilometer ahead. The choice was obvious, trekking through the mountain under light showers- the very prospect of that gave me shivers, both of fright and excitement! Jumping over the fence, I had my first of the many falls for the day. Slipped over a wet rock and fell down. No serious injuries but I somehow found an analogy between this incident and the fact that they say about new cars, "If u get a scratch on your new car on the very first day, it is supposedly good for the car." So, I presumed that this is the last time I’m slipping which obviously was not to be. No dangerous accidents but funny for sure, I fell almost 6 times in the whole trip. The first part of the trek was fantastic; rocky terrain, greenery all around with the color so bright enough to blind you, encounter with a beautiful red insect, crossing three waterfalls, going through the narrowest of the trenches; all of this was just the trailer to the whole movie that was still to unfold. An hour into the hike and we reached a turning where Pankaj was told by a local taxi driver that a trek of 3 hours was still needed to reach the top of the fort to which Pankaj was like “ Chhodo yaar, koi fayda nai hai jakar. Kuch khaas nai hai upar.” A statement he surely would have repented had we all followed him. We carried on the trek till Pankaj and Roshan found out a narrow path deviating from the normal route and wandering into the mountains. “A shortcut it can be”, we all thought. Two groups, well ahead of us on the same narrow shortcut, were spotted and presumably so, we followed them. There was no support on either sides of the path except the small shrubs and tress with thorny branches. The path was narrow for jus one person to pass at a time, not to forget, water was continuously flowing through it making it look like a mini-waterfall. So, it wasn’t easy at all to climb up the mountain but, unarguably, that was the best part of the trek. As we got through the “army-training” climb, we realized that this shortcut had reduced our journey through the normal route by almost 2 kms. It had got us to the place from where an almost tarred road led the base of the fort where there were a number of small dhabas and food stops. The far-away mountain with the fort on the top which we saw at the start of the journey was right in front of us. The fort, still covered with clouds, looked historically amazing. 

Half an hour more of climbing among incessant rains got us to the top of the mountain and believe me, the sight was just heavenly! I was among the clouds, wind blowing at the fiercest speed possible and all I could see around was lots of people and lots of mountains surrounding us. We shouted at the top of our voice, a sense of excitement and happiness prevailed. A group had gathered near one of the edges of the fort, where there was a waterfall. The beautiful thing about this waterfall was that due to the high wind-speed, the water was being thrown back and it had a created a kind of reverse waterfall. Water was thrown back to almost 200 feet from the source of the fall in a parabolic path creating a amazing scene. We could see clouds float in front of us making the visibility to near zero at one time and then there was the next moment when it suddenly used to become so crystal clear that literally we could see things miles away from us. It was the wind that was making the clouds just whiz past us. We clicked a lot of pictures at the top of the fort and spent almost an hour and a half over there. Having enjoyed to our heart’s content we started the descend to the base.

It drizzled sparsely at the top but the moment we started climbing down; it started to rain heavily which accompanied us till we reached the station. There were three more groups with us as we plodded our way through. Shouting songs, making noises, running for cover under heavy rains, stopping by for poha, kakdi and bhutta; it all made the descent a not-so-difficult affair. The up-hill time was almost 5 hours while we got down in a little more than a hour. As we moved far from the mountain, the fort, again, went into its cloud covers. I kept staring at the fort which seemed to tell me mystically, “If you want to see me, you got to reach me.” There was always, which I felt strongly, something unsaid, unspoken and not-talked-of about the fort, something which will keep pulling visitors, hikers and enthusiasts till eternity. As we took the local train back to Pune, the whole day flashed in front of me and we all had a sudden realization that the day got over just  too early. We, out of all the excitement that was still left in us, decided to plan another trip to another one of the many forts around Pune before monsoon got over with its quota of rains over the Western Ghats. This trip, though I won’t compare it to my trip to the Northern shrines of Kedarnath and Badrinath, has been one of the most memorable trips ever.

Will be back once I am through with another amazing trip. Cheers!! \m/

---------------------------------_!_ << AJ >> _!_ ----------------------------------