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.