I have been waiting to start a blog since long but wanted to start with something really worthwhile and interesting to share….n had such an experience very recently. One of the best ones in my life. A night trek where we got lost in the jungle and wandered all night!
So here goes the story...
One fine evening, as always, I was pondering in my hostel room about finishing some pending work and was making plans to do it that very night…when someone knocked on the door. It was a wingmate [a term I heard in the IIT campus where hostels are divided in so called ‘wings’ and each has a coded descriptor..mine is BGL..B wing Ground Floor Lake Side!] I think this would be the best place to put the Disclaimer: I wander a lot....even while narrating! So bear with me.
So the wingmate asked if I had a torch. Well I did not and so replied no but was wondering why did he want a torch at 5 o’ clock in the evening! He told that they were leaving for a night trek...from Lonavala to Rajmachi! Night Trek…that sounded interesting as I never had been on one before. I paused for a second…thought about the pending work and as usual kept it more pending…and left. Picked up a bottle of water and a towel and joined the already waiting gang. They did not get an extra torch but sure got an extra companion. But nothing mattered....everyone was way ahead of time excited to start the trek.
Or so we thought till the ultimate experience began…we arrived to Washi at around 7 after an hour of Bus drive to leave for Lonavala by whatever mode of transport we could find which is not a very difficult thing at the point we were. But being IITians we managed to screw up things ourselves and believed that it was more exciting than it would have been otherwise! Too many words till now...here is a pic of all eight of us who went on that unforgettable journey...
So waiting for something to take us to Lonavala we fell pray to a naïve Sumo driver who we thought can be fooled easily and got fooled ourselves….not by him but by circumstances and of course his naivety. Actually we were seven of us then and the only experienced fellow amongst us, Dixy, was going to join us in Lonavala, coming from his home in Pune. So this Sumo Driver whom we called Anna all the time afterwards was so skeptical about all the things that he did not want to go to Lonavala from Pune without any seats even when we tried to convince him [read try to fool him] that we are almost paying the cost and that he would get seats from Lonavala. But he requested to just take two more seats and we agreed. We all sat in the Sumo so that people would feel that we are about to leave and would join us in hurry. But that was not to happen. Only groups with more than two people would come and leave because we did not have enough space. Once in a while Anna would bring a person, and would go away to fetch another. Meanwhile the one he had already brought would get bugged up with our constant blabbering and ‘farting’ [another IITB term for pathetic jokes/statements/arguments]. So this continued for around 90 minutes...the time needed to reach Lonavala. We were still in Washi and waiting for Anna to bring two more co-travelers. We also made futile attempts to start the Sumo to give an impression that we are almost leaving but nobody would board…finally Anna managed an old lady and another old person [who helped us afterwards]..and we got going...Finally!
We started at around 9 and should have been in Lonavala by 10.30 – 11. But that was not to be. On the Mumbai – Pune Express Highway, Anna missed the exit to Lonavala and it was very late when we realized that. And on top of it was Anna’s reason: that he did not know about it! He expected us to tell him where to take the turn! That was the biggest ‘fart’ of the day! Anna who would not have been remembered had he did his job properly made a long lasting impression with a screwed up job! So the only options we had then were to hike around 7-8 kms back to Lonavala or go to next station and take a local train to Lonavala. Later appealed to all of us considering we had to walk the whole night anyways. So as guided by the old person who boarded last moment we managed to catch the last local to Lonavala had reached there by midnight. Dixy was waiting for us since 3 hours...but he did not throw much tantrums probably knowing what lies ahead. Amongst us only he had trekked that way before and did not remember much about it!
We got an idea about it when we came out of a Lonavala station and faced a fork on the road. Dixy paused for a moment and then confidently took the right road and we all followed. But that was the wrong one! He realized after going 100 meters and said we should have taken the left one! There we realized how exciting the night was going to be!!!
So as per his description straight ahead from that road a couple of kms ahead we would cross a village called Thakurli, past it a few kms after that we’ll find a dam, past the dam a wall on right, will follow the trail which will lead to a very small village. Going further the wall would suddenly shift to left of the road after the village and then subside. 10-15 kms from that point would be the Rajmachi village, at the foothills of Rajmachi. Rajmachi was a strategically found geographical point on a plateau and used shrewdly by Shivaji and other Marathas to keep a vigil around his fort in the Sahyadris. As planned we would be reaching on top of Rajmachi by sunrise, enjoy the view and trek down from other side to Karjat and by noon take a local to Mumbai from there.
Everything happened fine till few kms after the wall. The view was scenic and the weather was pleasant. Cloud cover and cool zephyrs took a lot of stress away from the heavy duty walking we were doing up the slope.
But because of the cloud cover no stars were visible. There was no light apart from the couple of torches that we had. So we had no sense of direction. Only that the moon had risen from a particular direction….somewhere around a 30 degree angle around it would be east and at right angles from that zone towards left would be north and we had to head in that direction.
There was a strong track that we were following sided by small hills on right. After a few kms walk we took a break. Dixy lighted the scented candle he had bought. I really felt I should have been able to fly to see the top view of a bunch of hikers sitting around a small candle in the middle of wilderness at 1 am in the night! Alas I could not and so here are some ground level shots.. :p.
Few more hours of walk on the hilly terrain and we came across a road being constructed on a mountain. Good to see people after a long time! Though it was pretty late some were still working....it reminded me of my pending work but to hell with it! I was having a rocking time! We heard some music from a truck…did not know till then that the radio transmission covered that wide a area! And it was on at 1.30 am. At least gave a feeling that we are not too away.
The truck driver guided us about the direction and we headed that way. Some time later we encountered another fork. In the dark we had no idea where we were going. There was huge stone with white paint splashed on it. One of the trail [which was still strong] was lined with a couple of smaller stones and we all had a gut feeling that we should head that way. But Dixy said that trail is going down and we had to go up…the other seemed like going up. So we followed that one. A few kms down that road we were trying to locate Rajmachi as was expected from Dixy’s description but was not to be found. We knew we were lost and by this time seemed to have moved in the jungle. Actually misunderstanding some arbitrary mountain for Rajmachi. And lo! What do we see?? Some lights twinkling in the jungle…that was surprising and scary at 2 am in the night! But we were running out of water so we took the so called risk and approached the lights in the middle of the jungle. And to our luck it turned out to be another small village. The dogs started barking as we approached and woke a few villagers who were sleeping outside the huts enjoying in the open. An old person offered us water and again gave us proper direction. We realized we were 4-5 kms ahead in the wrong direction taking the wrong path at the fork with the white painted stone. While drinking water we struck a conversation with him and came to know that they had lands nearby which they cultivated. The lands were taken by the Ambanis and provided them with electricity. The lights we saw were actually the street lights.... six of them for a 200 m main road lined with huts on both sides which served as homes for around 100 odd people. These people currently had nothing to do and in a phase of looking out for new opportunities. Life.. I wondered is a lot different than our '9 to 6' lifestyles in cities. This experience was far greater than my pending work I thought… as we headed towards the right direction.
But we had following a strong trail till now and still had landed in the wrong place. So Dixy and me both were in a mood to wander and take less treaded paths. We managed to convince others and left the strong trail and headed directly towards the direction of the mountains that the old man in the village told us was Rajmachi. Now this way was directly through the jungle and we could already feel our pulses increasing in excitement.
But avoiding the bushes and abutting the hillocks, we soon managed to lose the direction and get lost again…this time in dense jungle! But that was amazing....having no clue about our whereabouts we were wandering in dense forest trying to find our way with no sense of direction!
After meandering for around an hour, at around 3 – 3.15 am we managed to find a trail in the jungle. We decided to follow that.
Soon too many stones filled the path and we realized that it was a dried water stream. There are many of those around the Lonavala and Khandala ghats. We were sure we will be reaching a bigger water body if we follow that…and we continued. But it started descending…a lot! And we realized we are headed towards the valley. By this time we had lost all hopes of reaching Rajmachi and had started making plans to just find our way back if the trail doesn’t lead us to somewhere interesting soon. Descending down the stony stream in total darkness in deep jungle was an indescribable experience. Some of us felt of backing up but Dixy kept on motivating everyone with his crap that we will now reach Karjat if we follow that stream downwards. At around 4.30 we reached the climax point of the journey….a steap cliff edge. The stream we were following turned to a deep waterfall and we were on a dead end. We decided to rest there till sunrise and then backtrack. Then started the chats.
The point we stopped at was awesome. A huge boulder was held by a fallen tree just on the edge of the cliff. On both sides were mountains, on the back was stream that we had followed and far ahead was another mountain which Devang was pretty sure was Rajmachi because there was a photograph with same view in his Orkut album labelled so!
But then Dhakad cracked the best ever of the outing…saying it cannot be a fort because even F of Fort is not visible. Then started a S-E-R-I-E-S of F-A-R-T-S on letters which continued till sun rose at around 5.30 am. We started back soon.
Returning I thought would be a piece of cake and it went fine till the sun started glaring and our feet started aching from the 25-30kms walking that we had did in last 5-6 hours. But on the way back we saw all the nice places we had passed in the night, a few mountains that we misunderstood for our destination and found a well near the village we had reached in night, replenished our fluid resources and decided to head back to Lonavala.
By 10 am everyone was completely exausted....nobody could move any longer. A night without sleep, nothing much to eat overnight and a blazing sun overhead made all of us crash as we found a shade on our way back. There were lots of other little rests...like one when we again came back to the fork and wondered what if we had taken the other road! But this was the last...no one could walk anymore. So finally after an intense discussion we decided to walk till the mountain where the road was being constructed which we had seen last night. Rough estimations told that the point would be around 2-4 kms far. We would request the truck drivers to drop us till Lonavala whenever they go and eat and live with them till they do so. Fortunately they were leaving soon after we reached and requested them. I thought this is the end of the experience. But the cherry on the cake was the truck ride on the half constructed road on the mountain with hair pin bends and just wide enough to fit a truck. Moreover there were empty containers which would keep coming on us.
At a couple of bends the truck stopped and would not pick up...an instead moved back...I was the on the end corner and could actually see the valley down. The scariest sight ever!
But we finally managed to reach Lonavala without anymore hiccups....went straight to a hotel, ordered lots of food and.... fell asleep right on the tables!
An unforgettable adventure indeed!!!