Thursday, June 29, 2006
We have a trekking/biking/backpacking group in office. They call themselves the wheelies. I call them the crazies. What else would you call those who go trekking to forts, mountains, rivers et al in the peak of the monsoon and come back boasting about the number of times they fell and sprained their ankle. Like anyone else, I am not immune to moments of madness and in one of them I committed to joining them on a trip to Kalsubai.
Kalsubai is the highest peak in the sahyadris. The peak stands 1600 meters above sea level. The climb is approximately 1000 meters. That dint sound too bad. Google said the trek is an easy climb. How tough could it be, specially for a person who had been halfway down the grand canyon? It is strange how I always end up grossly overestimating my scarce talents. When I went down the canyon I was a person who would run a 5 miler at a good pace atleast twice a week. Now, two years, 1 marriage, 1 child and 15 kilos later I would huff and puff my way to the water cooler across the hall.
Anyway, Pratibha was in Trivandrum, and weekends were boring. So I decided to go ahead and do the trek. I wrote my last will and testament, signed it (and again at the witness page .. Since there was no one else), packed my bags and set off for mount Kalsubai. The train ride was great. The wheelies sure were seasoned travelers. There was cards, food, jokes, songs .. fun all the way. Each of the wheelies had a nickname that ended with 'baba (saint)'. There was 'rassi(rope) baba, cycle baba, vada paav baba, running baba, bhai baba, baba.latest and so on and so forth. The little knot in my stomach was beginning to dissolve. Ganesh aka 'baba.all' planned to take a tent and a sleeping bag with him when he climbed. I figured, worst case he could pick me up too if I collapsed.
Consensus was that we'd hit the sack early since we had a long trek the next day. However Ganesh had different ideas. His hoarse voice reminiscent of several donkeys braying in unison kept us awake till the early hours of the morning. Time flew, it was close to 2 O clock at night Anand and I had given up our miserable attempts at sleep and baba.all was still hee hawing in the background. Suddenly Siddharth aka vada paav baba rolled off the top berth. He was wide awake and sniffing the air like a greyhound on a rabbit trail. Then we got it too. The train rolled into Manmad and the tongue tickling smell of hot vada paavs filled our nostrils. vada pave baba took a running jump from the train. By the time the train stopped and we found him, he was already into his third one and had also ordered a bread omlette and 5 chais to boot. I don't discriminate between different foods. Vada paavs or Sonu's rotis, I eat till I can eat no more. And so we had a quiet 5 minutes when we tried to stuff as many hot vada paavs into us as we could before the train started again. Finally, fully sated and with a few more packed as backup, we boarded the train.
Couple of hours later we reached Igatpuri where we got down and boarded a bus to Bhandardara. Right beside the bus stop was the guest house where we had booked a 15 bed dormitory for all of us. But .. Before that .. More vada paavs. The few vada paavs we had packed from that stall in Kalyan had done little but wet the appetite of the other babas. Right at the bus stop was a tea stall. Wasn't much more than a few benches and a gas stove. But the food was awesome. I often wonder why food in these dingy places invariably taste better than those at post hotels. Take this fellow for instance. He had a very special chutney that his wife makes at home. It is fantastic. It gave such an awesome flavor to the vada paavs that we ended up gorging all of them and giving an order for more to take with us on the trek. Why is it that the high profile chefs with fancy degrees cant come up with a chutney half as good as this one?
Off we went to the dorms and got ready for the trek. True to his word, ganesh packed his tent and sleeping bag into his backpack. By 9:30 all of us were ready to roll. We went down to the bus stop paid for the vada paavs, forgot the packet there, and took off. After some searching we managed to find a jeep that would take us to bari from where the trek begins. 1 Jeep and 15 people .. not exactly a cozy fit. My added 15 kilos and ganesh's size let us down. I had put on so much weight that if I sat in the jeep I would take up the space of two people, likewise Ganesh because of his height, and space was at a premium. This meant that we spent the whole journey hanging precariously out of the back of the jeep. By the time we reached bari my calfs were aching and I was wondering if I should ask Ganesh to pick me up already.
The view from bari dint look too bad. 1600 meters can look deceptively simple. Consequently (and in retrospect foolishly) I ended up offering to take 2 more bottles of water with my current load. I also ended up doing the first leg of the climb with Anand and Ketan, two exercise freaks one of which runs marathons and the other bikes close to 100kms every week. Pretty soon I started to resemble a marathon runner myself. Tongue hanging out, foot dragging, stumbling every alternate step, I knew it was time for a break. As for the other two, I doubt if they had even properly warmed up.
Waving them ahead I sat down for a break. Just about when I had caught my breath Saurabh and Manoj aka rassi baba caught up with me. Saurabh dint look very different from me, drooping tongue, bulging eyes and all. He had a bottle of gatorade in his hand which he was stoutly refusing to open till he reached the top. They dint stop though and I fell in step with them. During the second leg of the climb, I completely forgot about my exhaustion. There were more pressing matters .. like how am I going to climb this rock face?? When your life is at stake you don't usually feel tired. There were ladders in the really tough portions, but the others weren't exactly a walk in the park. All along I was thinking "If I could only get my hands on the fellow who called this an easy climb" .. and "why oh why did I agree to come?" It culminated in a raw rock face. The drop was well over 500 feet. Saurabh and rassi were already 10 feet out, but I stopped. There was no way this could be the right route. We needed ropes for this. So I stood there looking at them go .. and then I noticed a very funny thing. Neither of them had looked down yet. Their plight reminded me of the old Tom and Jerry cartoons .. where tom goes over a cliff and still keep going for a few steps before actually realizing what happened. Saurabh was the first to look down. In a very small scared voice "guys!! ... er .. I think I am lost". rassi .. in an even smaller voice "Nishant .. If you haven't gotten onto the wall .. don't .. I don't think this is the right way" . Me "if this is the right way .. I turning round" . By now By now Saurabh and rassi were mumbling all the prayers they knew as they slowly made their way back. I retraced our steps till I found the right path and we continued on.
The experience had pumped so much adrenalin into us that the rest of the climb was cake. Before we knew it we had joined Anand and Ketan on the top. About half an hour later the rest of the group caught up. They were held up in a tricky portion of the 2nd phase where some people needed a hand up. Lots of photos later realization dawned on us that we had forgotten the vada paavs in the tea shop. A blame session followed when everyone blamed everyone else and vada pave baba gallantly agreed to shoulder all the blame. The less said about the descent the better. Suffice to say it was so slippery we spent more time on our butt than on our feet. As for the second section, I consider it a miracle that I made it down in one piece. Another precarious jeep ride later we were back in the dorms eating our sorely missed vada paavs.
The next day we split up into two group. The hard core wheelies went on a second trek to ratangad. The rest of us spent the day lounging around the guesthouses, did a little boating and finally caught a Jeep to kasara. Here we were joined by the wheelies. From Kasara we caught a local train to Kalyan.
Local trains in Bombay are fascinating from a distance ... Once inside the perspective changes. The first thing you do as soon as you are in is to get as far away from the door as possible. Woe be you if you fail to do that. If by the time you reach the next station, you are still near the door, a flood of people would push you out and unceremoniously dump you on the platform. Without so much as a second to protest, you should pick yourself up and shove into the second flood of people to get back into the train. I watched this pattern for a few stations from the safety of a seat that I managed to capture and very soon Kalyan came up. I picked up my bags, joined the flood and was washed onto the platform of Kalyan station from where we caught our train to Hyderabad.
Will I do it again? Sure .. Because 1) I like the wheelies 2) I love the vada paavs and three 3)Kalsubai rocks :):):)