Usually we had this practice of climbing at night. It makes it easier, see? At night, it’s colder so you don’t sweat much. At night, it’s darker so you don’t see the amount or distance you have climbed. And a moony night is a bonus because you don’t even need flashlights. But we were climbing this one during the day. By the time we reached the telephone cable we had already removed our overalls and thrown them over our rucksacks. Our rucksacks were also a wild assortment. My dad and his trekking friend had the huge 15kg and 10kg rucksacks respectively while the first-timer carried his own personal belongings. My sister had her foodie bag, while I had all kinds of left over things packed in mine. My mom? She carried my camera bag. Somewhere in the way we switched though. She threw this enormous look of contempt my way when I stopped her for the umpteenth time for the camera. So I took over the photography department. Well, there’s not much I can say about the climb up. It was beautiful, no doubt but then again, what part of the jungle isn’t really? I can sum up the climb in a few phrases- sweaty, tiring and full of breaks. Yeah, I know that constant breaks are unforgivable when it comes to a teen like me, but hey, you have to excuse my poor unfit body. So anyway, 2 hours or so and we reached the Dhak village (same pronunciation). It was the village at the foothills of the fort. A cutesy village (it was ‘gaon’ mind you, not a ‘wadi’, as the villagers promptly reminded us. The difference is in the size. A ‘wadi’ is smaller than a ‘gaon’, so they were pretty hurt when we called it a ‘wadi’) where we replenished our water store (right from the village well) and made arrangements for next day’s lunch. It was also the village where we rested for half an hour before continuing our climb. About two hours more and we reached the fort. And that’s where things went haywire. You see, we were supposed to take a left, skim through open yellow fields waddle across a small marsh, hike up a woody patch, traverse a rocky cliff and then climb a tree to reach the cave. The next day we would go visit the fort above the cave. But we took a right, climbed a completely 50° incline to reach the fort. Not thinking then, we marched up to the water tanks. Amusing fact- it’s called five tanks (panch tanki) though there are only four tanks of water. Why? No idea.
Now, all Maratha forts had water tanks. Four or five of them. The people dug up a water-hole (usually rocky places) and built a tank. Then they used those rocks to border the fort or build soldier outposts. Point being- if you were on a Maratha fort, you would never be out of water. SO we made ourselves comfortable there. It was almost around 3 in the afternoon. We had more than enough water, things to eat, warm soil to sit on and a tree to shade us. We had a quick photo session in the surroundings and tried to catch a wink for a while. And then of course, we decided to empty our bladders and intestines. We had a weird rule for this too, we would carry one green bottle and use it only for ‘nature calls’. So we took turns answering our respective nature calls and employed the honorary use of the ‘green bottle’. Next time, please remember the role that the ‘green bottle’ plays so I don’t have to go through the details over again and embarrass the ‘green bottle’. Anyway, while the others attended their call, the rest of us went and sat on the stone borders of the fort. The border fell off to a sheer cliff drop and I chose my seat well. It was a block off in the stone wall so if I sat in the crevice I had arm rests too. My sister came and perched on the outcropping next to me and we took some pics. Later though, we sat in silence. The wind rose from the cliff and blew our hair away from our faces. A hill loomed over our backs so we were shaded while the valley and mountains in front of us looked as if they were on fire. My mother had to come and hit us on the head before we started out of our stupor. We got up and hoisted our bags. And then we got lost.
I classify my life in two modes- fit or unfit. And my hobbies in two options- trekking or not trekking. So, that gives me four options- trekking with a fit body, not trekking with a fit body, not trekking with an unfit body and trekking with an unfit body. The first is the best option. Nothing could be better! For me, the second option just defeats the whole purpose of being fit. The third option is the most lethargic and despicable life I think anyone could ever live. And the fourth? Well, that’s the option I undertook, isn’t it? Foolhardy and brave me, who thought I could go climb mountains and it would be a piece of cake. The piece of cake killed me and was a pain in the ass (quite literally!) But oh, what a piece of cake! It was perfectly like a heavy dark chocolate cake. Gives you the best experience you could ever want, leaves a distinctive taste in your mouth for a long time and leaves you thirsting for more. And the cherry on top? It was one of the most difficult treks ever.
You see my family has the knack for doing things that so many others wouldn’t dream of. And if we told any ‘normal’ person they would ask- WHY? It was not very uncommon you see. It’s just that its uncommon for the people we moved around with. But there were many other groups of trekkers moving around the Sahyadri range of mountains. The one that we had chosen to conquer was less-known trek from a well-known venue. Wondering what I mean? You see, my parents have been trekking before they had my sister, before they had me, before they got married and even before they started dating. And they keep saying that in their days, and probably today as well, if anyone wanted to for a trek, they just took a train heading to Karjat and chose any direction. It would lead to some or the other fort of the bygone Maratha empire. So from this Karjat “venue” we choose to trek this less-known fort called Dhak Bhairi. That is Dhak- dha from ‘dhol’, a nice and long ‘aa’ ending with ‘k’; and there is Bhairi that rhymes with ‘kairi’ the Marathi word for a raw mango.
Now, Dhak Bhairi was less frequented because it was known for its dangerous cliffs and the blood-thirsty rocks that awaited the bodies of falling men. Adrenaline charged that we were, we took my 9 yr old sister, a first-timer, 3 older veterans and me- a ‘no-more fit’ teenager. So the train journey that started at 4 ended at 8 in Karjat. We hopped onto a 6-seater rickshaw that was about 10 times noisier than my grumbling stomach. We soon stopped at a small dhaba on the side-road and had some nice and hot onion bhaji with tamarind chutney. Appeased, we got down at the bus station of this scenic and sprawling Wadap village. There’s this one awesome thing about all the villages in India- their temple. Big or small, stone or cement, Durga or Vitthal, the temple is always a landmark. You reach there safely, and you will know where to go. Some or the other helpful soul from the village is sure to direct you in the right way. And that’s what we did. We went straight to the temple and asked for direction. The weathered old man’s withered old hand pointed in the direction of the telephone cable pole on a hill. Standing there half an hour later we made our last calls and switched off our mobiles. We wouldn’t get range anymore until we reached the cave.
Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky. As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that you’re pure within and will find happiness once more.
I’ve been given mean looks for biting nails, sarcastic looks for writing silly answers, rude words for interrupting. I’ve been screamed at for not working, and screamed at for disturbing while you’re working. I’ve been shoved out of your room, and escorted out of it too. I’ve been an out-standing student for coming late. I’ve had you knocking on my head for knocking too loud, and I’ve had you whack my legs for sitting like a guy. I’ve had you give me meanings of words and give me a ‘The-dictionary-is-there-use-it’ look. You’ve said a million straight and unquestionable No-s, and I’ve heard the triumphant rare yes-es. We read books, marked books, written answers and discussed them. We’ve compared, commented, contrasted, discussed, , deciphered, plagiarised, procrastinated. We’ve given a billion excuses. We’ve given you too much work, and too less work; the latter of which you prefer. You’ve rephrased the same things a billion times to make us understand, and reiterated the same literary devices. You’ve had to listen to horrendous commentaries and read terrifying written tasks. The answers are worse. You’ve heard all kinds of wicked schemes and obnoxious theories. You’ve walked away from me, with me, behind me (with a stick?). You’ve probably come to an end of your interjection-vocabulary after dealing with me. You’ve smiled, cried, sang, yelled, imitated, criticized, and loved.
So in the end of it all- I really admire your patience.
But above all- I really, truly, completely, entirely and irrevocably love you.