The Sahyadris in the Rain
We met at Victoria Terminus, (I shall persist in using the British name, they built it after all) Ankit, Praveen and I. We were to catch the 7:10 p.m. Vidharba Express from platform 18. The train actually turned out to be rather royal despite the name having connotations of farmer suicides. We walked past more than 12 AC coaches before reaching our 2nd class sleeper – S3. The humble 2nd class too had rather classy yellow lighting and with the monsoon breeze roaring in through the window at 90 kilometres an hour the setting was pleasant to say the least. After a while we moved to the main door of the coach where the wind was even more fierce. The time passed quickly as Ankit and Praveen discussed the glory of the 1990s and tried to convince me that I had lost out on a golden period of great culture in terms of music and cinema. I remained non-committal. Neither the 90s nor the 2000s inspired much loyalty in me although I did not mention that I felt that songs picturised on Emraan Hashi and songs sung by Atif Aslam (the two are sometimes concurrent as in the case of the legendary Woh Lamhe) were aspects that the 1990s missed out on. There is no man as stubborn as a nostalgic man. Try convincing your father that the 60-70s were not the golden era of music and cinema or try convincing your brother that the 90s was not in fact the best era culturally; in both cases you will hit against a blank wall.
The train rolled into Igatpuri Station at 10 p.m. Equipping ourselves with vada pav and water we started walking. The destination was a beautiful lake that Ankit and Praveen said was uninhabited and undiscovered. At around 10:30 p.m. we arrived at our destination. The lake was astonishing in its beauty, even at night. Surrounded by misty hills and lush green meadows, the lake had a mysterious glow to it. I did not even attempt to capture that beauty from my rather average cell phone camera, I waited for morning to capture the beautiful scene. We set up camp next to the lake with the water less than 4 feet away from the tent. Setting up the tent took approximately 20 minutes. We then threw in our bags and spread our sleeping bags as a mattress. The weather was not chilly but it was cool and breezy. Comparisons with Scotland were made and were quite justified. We took out our food, and while it was still no match for Enid Blyton’s legendary picnics we did have Coke and chocolate biscuits. We sang, not always soulfully, but Praveen somewhat made up for the lack of singing ability of the Vyas brothers. Ankit and Praveen insisted that we stick to Hindi. This led to several average songs being given more than their share of glory but today was about the magic 90s and thus every average song was a classic.
It rained intermittently, all of us were aware that the tent was not waterproof. The water seeped in a few times. A few times the wind ripped out the bearings of the tent and one of us had to venture out and repair it. It was 2 a.m. at the time we saw a torch light. All 3 of us were already outside battling the elements of nature as repaired the tent in drizzling rain and a heavy breeze. There were 6 of them, listening to a Marathi folk song on their mobile. They approached us curiously. One of them carried a torch light in one hand and in the other he held a machete (a machete is a large knife like instrument, a cross between a sword and a knife) that was around 2 feet in length. I spotted another man with a fish and assumed that the machete was for cutting the fish. Praveen engaged in a brief conversation with them, their first inquiry being whether we had anything to do with fishing. Once assured that their fishing had not suddenly acquired midnight rivals they proceeded to curiously observe the three of us struggling to pitch the tent. After 5 minutes they moved on and we managed to set the tent back to shape. Inside the tent Praveen and Ankit started thinking furiously on the nature of the activity of the 6 men we had met. Walking around at 2 in the night was an activity usually carried out by men on the wrong side of the law. Possibility after possibility was examined and dismissed. I declared my intent to sleep peacefully even as Praveen protested and said that it was unsafe to stay on in the same spot. The machete, he said, was certainly not to be used for cutting the dead fish in their hands. Ankit was neutral. He said that the moving camp in the middle of the night was suspicious too. Praveen foresaw various different possibilities, all rather gory. While I dozed off around 2:30 am Ankit and Praveen had stayed awake for an hour after that, keeping guard. Morning found us alive and with all our possessions intact. Praveen refused to be abashed, he stood his ground. Said that the machete was a very menacing object.
The view outside was spectacular. There were hills surrounding us with rain water brooks flowing through them even as their peaks were covered in heavy mist. The lake was serene and beautiful. Taking the remnants of our food we proceed to another side of the lake, a meadow. Here we played a brief game of catch-catch (a thoroughly Indian term) after which we had more biscuits while dipping our legs in the water. Then we proceeded to pack up our camp and set out trekking. The hills were treacherous, the rain water had made the rocks extremely slippery and the grass had grown thick and tall so that it reached our knees and we could not see where our next step was falling. We progressed steadily, the climb was not easy but we were careful and focused. We reached a small cave at a point that was 30 feet below the summit. Here we rested, and took stock. To our left the cliff was steep with only the grass providing grip. The grass is never reliable, it comes out from its roots if too much force or weight is applied. To our right was a small waterfall, the mouth of the waterfall was the next level that we wished to accomplish. After a few minutes of rest, photography and general appreciation of nature’s beauty, we were ready to go. The next 8 feet were some of the toughest we had ever attempted as we climbed up steep and slippery rock with only the wet mud providing some support. At this level we were found that the next 15 feet that separated us from the summit were beyond our reach, especially in the monsoons. The rain had made the rocks a liability. Ankit and I are especially good with rocks when they are dry, they give exceptional grip. But wet rocks are dangerous. We were happy with our accomplishments, it had been one of the more challenging treks of our trekking history.
An hour later we found ourselves in the restaurant of a rather decent resort. Lunch was average but we were famished and had cleared the plates by the time we were done. We bought train tickets from Igatpuri to Kurla (a Mumbai suburb). While we had tickets, we did not technically have a reservation. Which meant you sat wherever you found the place to sit. For us that meant the space between the the doors and the toilets. This meant that we were completely in the way even as shared that little space with around 7 more people. Praveen and I were placed the worst with someone having to step over us anytime they wished to walk between compartments or visit the toilet. Then a great man came and placed his huge suitcases in the last remaining space in the aisle. This resulted in several curses being directed at us as people assumed we were responsible for the entire blockade. We defensively mentioned that the suitcase did not belong to us and the offended party was at liberty to throw it out of the train if that was what they wished (and we secretly hoped). Tragedy struck when Ankit and Praveen realised that they had lost our tickets. We stayed put and waited for the ticket checker. He arrived in due course. Praveen told him that we had recently discovered that our tickets were missing and that they were in the vicinity of the space where we were sitting. The TC listed our offences and said that we were liable to pay a fine of Rs 1,050 (350 multiplied by 3). In what turned out to be a master-stroke Praveen assured the ticket checker that we were looking for the ticket and were confident that we would locate it. The TC said that he would be back to check on us. With 15 coaches in front of him and more than a thousand tickets to check in the space of 2 hours, he never returned. We got down at Kalyan Jn., a station on the out skirts of Mumbai. We got tickets to the local train from Kalyan and waited for one to arrive. When it came it found us standing in front of the luggage compartment. We did not hesitate. Unlike the rest of the train, the luggage compartment felt like hallowed territory. There were few people and the doors were astonishingly large. We sat down next to the door, using our sleeping bags and rucksack as cushion. It was a fast train (in local train terminology that is defined as a train that does not stop at every station, only selective ones) and the driver pushed it to its limits. Soon the green countryside surrounding Mumbai was speeding past at speeds exceeding a 100 kilometres an hour and we all dozed off into a peaceful sleep. Kurla arrived in about an hour and that was the end of our journey as Ankit and I walked back home to Chembur almost exactly 24 hours after we had left.