Saturday, August 13, 2011

Raksha Bandhan

It’s just another lazy Saturday morning since I moved to Singapore. Like every other weekend, I find myself up at the peak of noon only to realize that there’s hardly any time left for the Sun to set and even lesser time for me to do something productive. I brush my teeth; fix myself a cup of coffee and park my ass in front of the laptop only to find that today is ‘Raksha Bandhan’.  

For those not familiar with this Indian tradition, it’s a day when the sister ties a “Rakhi” on her brother’s wrist. The Rakhi may be a mere piece of thread, however, it symbolizes the sister's love and prayers for her brother's well-being, and the brother's life-long vow to protect her from all the evil in the world; it symbolizes a sacred bond between the siblings which is considered as one of the strongest ties since ancient mythology.
When I was a kid, “Rakhi” would mean waking up early against my wishes; brushing my teeth and sitting in front my family (with eyes half shut), getting a Rakhi tied on my wrist, followed by exchange of sweets. I loved my sister then and I love her even more now, but the tradition took a lot of time to sink in.

As we became older, during college days, it meant getting up even earlier as my sister and I, both had to rush to our colleges to reach in time for our first lectures.  When we began working, it would be the same only that now I had started earning and could put some more effort in getting my sister a good present for Rakhi. It felt good to have been in a better position now. The feeling of being a brother was getting stronger. It was not just protecting her from bullies when we were kids, it had more meaning now – a meaning which can only be experienced by a brother.

My sister got married in 2008. She had a whole new life and thus, a whole new journey ahead of her. It was difficult to accept the fact that a person with whom you’ve shared your entire childhood, will no longer be in the same house. I knew there would be an empty space, a void, which can never be filled. The fights, arguments, differences of opinion - which have shaped both of us into what we are today - would no longer continue under the same roof.

We would meet each other but we would both be squeezed for time. She would usually come a day before Rakhi or on the eve of Rakhi to tie the sacred thread on my wrist. This was merely a tradition, for the bond has been established since birth. This was merely an excuse for siblings to get together and share their thoughts on what’s been going on in each other’s lives.

Unlike the maternal side of my family, we were a small family of four. My mother has three brothers and one sister. I was never really close to any of them. They never celebrated Raksha Bandhan or even bothered to exchange a phone call during the festival. It never really bothered me, but it always felt weird to see no real connection among them. I still remember my mother telling us when we were kids, to always love and cherish the bond of brother-sister. She never wanted us to drift away like the members of her family. I guess today I realize what she said about 15 years ago.

It’s been about 8months now, since I moved to Singapore for work. I’d last visited my family in Mumbai about five months ago. Three days ago I got a packet delivered to my office. I got a call from the staff telling me to come collect a packet which has come from Mumbai. These guys seemed to be more excited about “Mumbai” than I ever could be! I had expected this package ‘cos my mom and my sis are two impatient souls and had asked me over and over again, during the past phone calls, whether it was alright to send me a package at my office. Well, here it was, but I didn’t have a clue about its contents.

Being so long in Singapore, the only public holidays now known to me were of interest to people from neighboring nations! I was surprised to see that packet contained two Rakhees and a Book. I was speechless! Here I was, not really aware of which day of the month it was; and my sister, on the other hand, had planned for this, weeks ahead. I was humbled by the thoughtfulness of the gift I had received. The parcel also contained a letter addressed to me by my sister. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received and I shall cherish the same for the rest of my life.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Earth Hour – does it really help India conserve energy??

In March 2009, hundreds of millions of people took part in the third Earth Hour. Over 4000 cities in 88 countries officially switched off to pledge their support for the planet, making Earth Hour 2009 the world’s largest global climate change initiative.

Earth Hour 2010, which took place on Saturday 27th March at 8.30pm (local time), is a global call to action to every individual, every business and every community throughout the world. It is a call to stand up, to take responsibility, to get involved and lead the way towards a sustainable future. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Europe to Asia to the Americas will stand in darkness. People across the world from all walks of life will turn off their lights and join together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet.

Earth Hour has done a lot to raise awareness of climate change issues. But there’s more to it than switching off lights for one hour once a year. It’s all about giving people a voice on the future of our planet and working together to create a sustainable low carbon future for our planet. But can we really conclude that one day in a year can make such a remarkable difference?

Let us look at some of the major events in India that have been unaffected despite the propagation of this noble idea called ‘Earth Hour’:

1. The Indian Premiere League (IPL)

IPL is definitely one of the major contributors to the failure of the EH 2010. This season of IPL has showcased some of the best talents in India as well as that around the world. Almost every kid and grown-up can be seen glued to the TV set, admiring their favorite cricketers, in the evening during the telecast of the IPL matches. Do you really think that an ardent cricket fan from Punjab or Kolkata would think of switching off the TV set during a Kings versus Knight Riders game for EH 2010? I think not!

Why doesn’t the BCCI think of organizing day matches so that we can use the natural daylight, and thus save a lot of money as well as power on lighting? Don’t they think this would work? Or do they think that this isn’t such a good idea ‘cos it would really affect the TRPs?

What went wrong here? Is there a glaring defect in our cultural values that we rate cricket as a supreme part of our life? Or is it that we’re just too casual about this whole EH 2010 experience? These questions are based on the assumption that there ‘is’ enough awareness about the global cause in the first place!

2. Shopping malls

One of the major power guzzlers are shopping malls. These malls are responsible for a major part of a city’s power consumption. The development of a city is showcased by the number of malls it sports. But a higher number of malls would inevitably mean a higher consumption of electricity (Not to mention the higher prices as well!).

A humble attempt made by these malls was to close the day by 11PM. This was a mere excuse to show that they are doing their bit in fighting the climatic change. But do you really think that this is enough? Are these malls really required? Whatever happened to the old-fashioned way of life when we used to visit small shops and bazaars to buy items of daily use?

According to people in the Metros, Malls are not just meant for shopping; they are also a hang-out place for most teenagers and employed people alike. A testimony to this fact is a growing number of stalls in the food courts and the exorbitant rates charged by them to their customers.

3. Power cuts!

EH 2010 asked people to turn off the lights and appliances for an hour (i.e. 8:30-9:30PM). A good attempt indeed, but are the people, from places like Thane, Dombivli, Kalyan etc. in Mumbai, in a position to appreciate the effort?

The average period for the daily power cut is approx. 4-6hrs! This means that these people practically spend about a third of third day in darkness without TV, A/Cs or fans. Usually these power cuts are experienced during the mornings and the afternoon. Most of these people live in rented flats or just aren’t earning enough to own an Air-conditioner. Now consider this, the average temperature during the day is 28°C and not everyone can afford the luxury of eating out on more than a day in the week; do you really feel a person living in such conditions will participate in the EH by switching off the lights for an hour? If you answered this with a “YES” then you probably need a reality check.

We cannot expect everyone to take a “Saving power is my personal responsibility” oath, but we can possibly start with the major contributors (Major Power consumers) and then gradually reaching out to the masses by means of proper advertisements and / or suitable incentives.

Does Earth Hour really help India conserve energy? What do you think?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Trek to Prabalgad – 2nd Oct ‘09

After scaling the wrong fort in the month of September, we decided to scale another fort in October; but this time we wanted to do it right! :) This trek, however, was more of a last-minute sort of thing and we weren’t even sure if anyone would turn up given a day’s notice!

1. The thought process behind the trek

It was Thursday morning when Milind and I realized that neither of us had anything planned for the weekend. Instead of rotting in our homes in front of our TV sets watching fixed cricket matches, we decided to embrace the outdoors. We both had plans for Saturday, so the trek had to be done on Friday itself. Though it was only the two of us, we were confident that the trek will take place.

We had images of ‘Kalavantin durg’ etched deep in our minds. We had seen images of this steep piece of rock on many an occasion on the internet. We were almost certain that this would be the best place to visit, but knowing that its neighboring fort ‘Prabalgad’ was bigger and mightier; we decided to go there instead. We also had the option of scaling both the places if we had time to spare (Was that too much? :P)

2. The participants

A few e-mails and phone calls later we had managed to amass a group of seven people who were quite sure they’ll come for the trek – Vish (that would be me), Milind, Roshan and Manoj – Friends of Milind’s, Sreekumar, Harish and Anand. Our regular members were too busy (Sathe, Arokia, Ashok and gang), too lazy (Glenn, Soura and so on) or had too many problems (Prashant, Smitha and gang).

Since it was going to be an “all-boy” trek, we decided to camp at Panvel station in the night. We’d planned to meet at CST at 11:30pm and board the last local to Panvel which would leave from CST at 12:43am. All of us would be at Panvel by 2:00am. The first bus to the base village (Thakurwadi) would leave Panvel at 5:15am. The plan was clear and simple. Anand had some work so he said he would join us at Panvel by 4:00am. Roshan was traveling all the way from Bhopal, so he said he’d meet us somewhere on the way.

3. Last minute changes

I was enjoying a cup of Gelato’s ‘flavor of the month’ at Oberoi mall in the evening when I got a call from Anand. He said that two of his friends would be joining us for the trek. The only catch was they were both girls. This usually isn’t a problem, but considering the fact that we were planning to spend the night on the platform was not such an appealing idea when we had female company.

I spoke to Kinjal first; she said that it’d be difficult for her to step out of her house after 10:30pm. So we had to change plans. We decided to meet up at Churchgate at 10:30pm now. Tara had some work at Hard-Rock cafĂ©, so she said she’d turn up at CST by 12:00am. It seems she was busy auditioning some bands for college fest (Quite an interesting job!).

4. Boarding the train to Panvel

I’d to leave my place by 9:30pm so that I could meet Kinjal on time. I didn’t have the time to enjoy a good meal. I met Kinjal, Milind and Sree at Churchgate. We took a cab to CST. Kinjal bought some burgers for herself at McDonald’s. I was in no mood to eat any burgers or wraps at that hour. I called Harish and asked him to get me some curd rice. There was no curd at his place so he decided to get some Jeera rice instead.

Tara and Manoj met us at CST at 11:45pm. There was a Panvel local scheduled to leave CST at 12:16am. Since we were ahead of schedule (A rare occurrence!), we decided to board the train. Harish boarded the same train at Mankhurd and with Harish came the delicious Jeera rice which I enjoyed after reaching Panvel.

5. Spending the night

We were at Panvel by 1:40am. We decided to spend some time on the benches on the platform. There were few people on the platform besides us. No sooner had we placed our bags on the bench than the cops came charging towards us. They told us that we can’t spend the night here. I was all the more surprised when I saw a platoon of pot-bellied officers (some still in the uniforms) lying fast asleep on the platform floor. I guess it was ok for them to sleep there as they have the responsibility of protecting us from international threats!

We started walking towards the bus station which was a few meters away. We found a good spot to rest. Milind and Manoj slept like logs oblivious to the hundreds of mosquitoes buzzing around them. The rest of us were up all night sharing stories and experiences. Before we knew it, it was 4:00am and we saw Anand coming towards us. We had some Bhurji pav and Bhajiyas at the stalls outside the bus station.

6. Reaching Thakurwadi

The bus for Thakurwadi arrived at the bus station at 5:25am. All of us hopped into it gleefully and dozed off without knowing what hit us! The bus made its way at seemingly top speed through narrow and dusty roads, finally coming to a halt after 30minutes of jerks and bumps. When we opened our eyes and stepped out of the bus, we were in the middle of nowhere. We had no clue how or where we’d reached, but this was definitely Thakurwadi!

We forgot to buy water at Panvel, but luckily a kind villager, who was up at that time, helped us to some water. We filled up our empty bottles and started down the path towards the closest mountain in sight.

It was very pleasant and we were really glad that we started the trek before 6:00am. The path was still wet with due and there were loads of big crabs running around the place. We walked through winding paths that seemed to lead us to nowhere till we came across the ‘Machi’!

7. Are we there yet?

The Machi looked like the entrance to the fort. We were all rejoicing thinking that we’d made it to the top. But what we didn’t know was that the Machi was the entrance to the base village. The top of the fort was a few more hours ahead of us. We decided to take rest at the village for some time.

The people at the village told us that the path ahead was through stark jungle and it would be advisable if we were accompanied by a villager who knew the path well. We asked a small boy named ‘Ram’ if he would come along with us as our guide. He gleefully agreed and led us towards Prabalgad.

The villagers said that Kalavantin durg was closer than Prabalgad, but we wanted to scale Prabalgad first. We decided to give Kalavantin durg a thought once we were back at the village from Prabalgad.

8. Does anyone have Arachnophobia?

The path through the jungle seemed to be a wild one. Not animals or birds, but spiders! Some of them were bigger than our palms. They were extremely bright in color giving us the indication that they were probably venomous. The idea of passing under large spider webs with large spiders just a few feet away from you face was not such a treat for the girls. It was difficult to spot the spiders as they would blend with the background. We had calls such as “spider alert!” and “potty” so that none of us accidentally ran into spiders or animal shit :)

The path with the spiders was soon over and we were at the foot of the mountain. We could see the mist gliding across the flat vertical rocky face of the mountain. It was a divine moment to see the top of the fort from there.

9. Half-way up there

Tara seemed to be very tired by the time we were almost half-way up to the fort. It seems she forgot to carry her inhaler on this occasion, but that didn’t stop her from moving forward. I was really surprised to see such courage and will in her. She made me think about my lazy ass friends back at home who were too lazy to turn up for the trek.

The path ahead was rocky and steep. We had to proceed with a lot of small breaks so that we didn’t exert ourselves too much. We were running out of water too, but Ram told us that there was a small tank of potable water on the top. After walking through rocky patches, we came across a small field of colorful flowers. It was really beautiful.

A few snaps later we stated to plod ahead. As time passed by, we all had started to feel the heat. We needed a burst of energy to help us continue reach the summit. We had an ample amount of Electral powder and Glucon-D, but we were fresh out of water.

10. Reaching the top

We didn’t even know that we were at the highest point of the mountain till we came to the water tank Ram earlier told us about. The trees are so dense that once can barely guess the altitude. We filled our bottles at the tank and proceeded towards the best point of the place. The place from where one can see Kalavantin Durg!

On the way to the Kalavantin point one can see the takmok tok (a point from where criminals were thrown off!) on the right. Reaching this point would've taken more time so we decided to skip it.

11. Reaching the summit

The last point (Probably the highest one!) on the fort was the one from which you could see Kalavantin Durg. It is a spectacular sight. The fort is at quite some distance from the top of the summit, but it feels so close that you can imagine swinging to its top with the help of a rope! We could see other trekkers on the peak. The weather was so good that we could exchange words in spite of being on the top of two distant peaks!

We had our food and snacks at this point. We’d reached this point at around 11:30am. It took us almost 45minutes to finish off our eatables and get going back to the village. All this while there was still no trace of Roshan. He had just made it to Thakurwadi when we were about to leave the summit.

12. The descent

The descent was as bad as it gets. There was a lot of loose rock which made life hell for some of us. The steep descent caused our knees to buckle. Kinjal was very kind to rocks ‘cos she almost tripped on each and every one of them! We halted for some time on a small rock patch on our way down.

Milind got a call from Roshan at around that time. He had run out of water so he decided to wait for us at the village. We decided to meet him there and head back all the way down to Thakurwadi.

13. Back to Thakurwadi

We were at Thakurwadi at around 2:30pm. We met Roshan who joined us on the way back to the base. We were all drenched in sweat from head to toe. We needed a quick dip at any cost. We saw a small pond (Rather an excuse for a pond!) and decided to cool off in it for a while. We washed our faces with soap and changed into clean clothes. There is a small spa close by called the Zola resort (who’d have thought of having a spa in such a location and that an expensive one!). The girls freshened up in the resort after some smart convincing by Anand.

We were all back at the bus stop by 3:30pm. The next bus was scheduled at 4:15pm. We had enough time to kill, so we decided to have tea and biscuits at a nearby stall. We came back to the bus stop at around 4:00pm and took shelter in a nearby temple. The bus was bang on time! We hopped in the bus and came back to Panvel. We had some snacks at Panvel and watched the rains pour down on us.

Tara had to dash back to her hostel. She had to reach before 8:30pm else she'd have to spend one more night on the platform! :)

We all parted our ways at Panvel as we boarded different trains to head back home - with new memories and some new friends. :)

- Vish

Monday, September 21, 2009

Trek to Sarasgad - 19th Sept '09

One should make use of every opportunity that comes one's way – and that is exactly what we did last weekend!

Planned, programmed and ‘sealed shut in an envelope’ was a trek to Sudhagad; but due to the blissful ignorance and some radical miscommunication among the organizers of the trek - That would be Milind, Prashant and Vish (that would be me) - We ended up going to Sarasgad instead! – A beautiful fort around 10kms away from Sudhagad.

The best part about all of this was that no one really knew that they had scaled the wrong mountain until they were all back at the base village. It was truly a comedy of errors! Not only did we manage to screw up the destination but also the schedule (and how!)

Here’s what happened:

1. 14th Sept Monday – 10:30AM

As usual Prashant and I met to have ‘cheese-aloo toast’ at Anna’s place outside our office building. We had been planning a group trek for a while but we could not narrow down our options to a single good location. The places we had in mind would either be too hot, too tiring or too difficult to scale. We thought of going to Kalavantin durg but later found out that it may not be such a wise thing to go there in this season.

By noon we had googled every possible fort in the Sahyadris within striking distance from Mumbai. We finally decided that Sudhagad would be a good option for Saturday. It was stated in most of the sites that it was an easy trek and one would not take more than an hour and a half to reach the top from the base village. We knew that the merciless heat would not make this trek an easy one, not by a long shot.

2. 18th Sept Friday – 9:00AM

By Friday we thought we’d have the final head-count for the trek, but things just didn’t seem to settle down. Several phone calls in the morning only added up to the confusion and chaos. It was already noon and we were still unsure about the number of people who’d turn up on Saturday! We wanted to know this figure as we had to hire a mini-bus for the trek. We took an impulsive decision to hire a 25-seater irrespective of the number of participants.

3. 19th Sept Saturday – 5:30AM - The journey begins…

I met Prashant outside my building early in the morning on Saturday. We had to dash towards the bus as we thought we would mess up the schedule if didn’t! But there were others who took good care of that :)

We started having our doubts about the bus driver when he couldn’t tell which way Kandivli was! After a lot of running around near Borivli station, the bus was finally in motion and moving in the right direction at 6:00AM.

We picked up Malli and Yamuna at Thakur complex, Kandivli East at 6:10AM. When I called up Karan, he said it’ll be a while till he reaches the TOI Building at Malad East. He somehow managed to be there in time though Prashant decided to stay away from Karan when he said that he hadn’t bathed properly ;)

As the bus set in motion towards Goregaon, Prashant had started to experience emotions he’d never felt before. He knew that the love of his life would meet him at the next pick-up point! He stood by the door of the bus and thought he’d do a ‘Shahrukh Khan’ from ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ and lend his hand to a beautiful ‘Kajol’ running towards him.

But unfortunately the ‘Kajol’ waiting at Goregaon turned out to be ‘Ajay Devgan’ instead and Prashant realized his worst fears when the person on the bus stop was not a girl but a guy named ‘Tamagna’. This was the second time a Bengali babu had screwed Prashant’s happiness. No prizes for guessing the first one – Apna Soura Ray! :)

We kept on picking up people on the way. Luckily, most of them were on time – Arokia and Calvin at Andheri, Ashok and Dhanesh at Santacruz and Milind at Bandra. The bus was scheduled to be outside Sion station at 6:45AM. We picked up Smitha, Preetha, Pradip and Priya (who’d traveled for around an hour to get here on time!); but we were in for a surprise! Bharat and his friend Kailash would also meet us at Sion but an hour late! The duo arrived around 60mins later (stating “60mins” sounds like much more time has passed than stating “1hr”! Helps you kick-in the guilt!)

We left for Chembur at around 7:45AM and picked up Nawab sahib Hrishikesh who was also late by 15-20mins! The next stop was at Deonar to pick up Sonali who almost boarded some other bus. Her excuse was “mujhe toh har jagah Preetha hi dikhti hain!”

The final pick-up point was Vashi Center-one mall where Deepti, Payal, Hari and Anand boarded the bus. Our gang of 23 was now complete!

4. Breakfast at Kamat’s

We halted for breakfast at Kamat’s near Panvel. The place was as busy as the New York airport on a Christmas weekend! The waiter reminded me of ‘Squiward’ from ‘Spongebob square pants’ – with his eight hands handing out plates to eight different customers. I’m not even sure if everyone got what they’d originally ordered! I’m just glad that Malli didn’t work there as she couldn’t tell the difference between a token number indicator and a digital clock. Each time they called out “token 908” she thought it was eight minutes past nine!

There was so much confusion that I totally missed out on ordering breakfast for Deepti and Bharat. We ordered Dosa for Bharat and Mosambi juice for Deepti. Deepti said that it was difficult for her to gulp down the juice knowing that it didn’t contain a single ounce of Vodka! ;) We ensured that no one left the restaurant on an empty stomach. Everyone would need all the energy to scale the fort in this humid climate!

We left for Pali at around 10:00AM. We knew that we were way behind schedule but we knew that we could still complete the trek!

5. Reaching Pali

After reaching Pali, we were not sure about the way to Pachchapur – the base village to reach Sudhagad. We asked a lot of people but we still weren’t clear about the directions they gave us. We stopped the bus at a small shop and purchased some bottles of water. Few of us had a couple of glasses of Lassi at that place. We could spot a fort right over our heads. We were almost sure that this one was Sudhagad, but almost all of the people whom we asked for directions told us that Sudhagad was a little further away.

Convenience seemed more important than correctness and we decided to scale the fort in sight considering that it was indeed Sudhagad! We asked a couple of children to show us the way. They did show us the way to the fort but not once did they say that this fort was Sarasgad not Sudhagad!

6. The trek begins

We started off towards the top of the fort with great gusto. We spotted a huge butterfly that scared the wits out of Milind and Karan who walking ahead of all of us! We walked for a few more minutes when we saw a bunch of cows and buffaloes grazing. One of the cattle saw Smitha and got the shock of its life. It took us quite some time to calm the poor creature down (The buffalo not Smitha!)

It must’ve taken a toll on Smitha too ‘cos she seemed to be totally exhausted within minutes of the trek. The heat was getting to her and she decided that it would be better if she didn’t continue with the rest of us. We were really concerned about leaving her alone over there (For the safety of the buffaloes of course!). But Deepti and Yamuna also decided to stay back with Smitha. We left the trio at that spot and continued towards the top of the fort.

7. Half-way up there

We’d reached almost half-way when we saw the rest of the gang – the ones ahead of us – resting in the shade of small shrubs. The heat was getting to most of us as we scaled up the slopes of the mountain. Preetha was feeling the heat but Glucon-D and Electral were always there to the rescue.

After waiting there for a few minutes, Milind, Karan and I headed off towards the small rock patch towards the fort. Hari and Anand were already way ahead of us. We reached the base of the rock patch and decided to rest in the shade of the trees for a while.

The entire gang joined us within a couple minutes. We were all enjoying the occasional shade and the cool winds that helped us maintain our sanity. Priya had brought some home-made sandwiches which disappeared as soon as they were out of her bag! Karan, Dhanesh, Anand and Hari missed this welcome bite as they had already crossed the rock patch.

The rock patch seemed to be an easy one most of us, but certainly not for those with the slightest fear of heights. We decided to work as a team and collect everyone’s bags and stack them on the top of the patch. Climbing the patch without your bags on your shoulders certainly gives you more confidence.

Milind, Karan and I stood by the rock patch to help the others climb to the other side. Hrishikesh seemed to have turned pale during his turn. I think I saw the Tattoo of the Lion on his shoulder let out a soft purr like that of a pussy-cat :) but he conquered his fears well enough and we all managed to reach the base of the fort at the Rock cut steps.

Tamagna and Pradip weren’t feeling too great at this point. They decided to call it quits and stated that they didn’t have the energy to proceed further. I handed over my last packet of ElectralTM power to them as we proceeded towards the rock cut steps leading to the entrance of the fort.

8. Finally here!

The rock cuts steps which led to the fort were huge and steep. It would be an ideal way to burn fat off your hips and buns if you went up and down the stairs a couple of times, In case of Ashok probably a few more times would do the trick :)

The walk on the steps proved to be tiresome for some but the shade made it easier for the rest of us. Within a few minutes we were at one of the Darwajas (door) of the fort. We decided to explore the fort before settling down for lunch.

9. Hey this doesn’t look like Sudhagad!

After walking around the fort for few minutes, we could see small caves and ponds. We had to walk through tall blades of dense grass. The grass was easily 6feet tall at a few places. Prashant already had his doubts as he thought that the terrain did not resemble the one shown in the websites we’d checked out before we embarked upon this journey.

I had a firm belief that we were on Sudhagad. Milind and I tried to search every nook and corner of the fort, but we could not find the ‘Chor Vaat’ mentioned in one of those websites.

We stopped at a pond where we could see some fish and clean water. We were all so tired that we decided to cool off in the small water tank. Karan didn’t hesitate to take his shirt off, but to his dismay Preetha and Sonali caught a glimpse of him in his topless Avatar. Last I heard from the two of them was that they were undergoing therapy as they still suffer from horrible nightmares! ;)

Once the girls were repelled by Karan, we were sure that they wouldn’t cross the imaginary ‘Laxmanrekha’ drawn by him. We all got rid of our T-shirts and entered the tank one by one. The water was cool and we exercised extra caution as this was an unfamiliar territory to us. We got out of the pool and went and sat with the rest of the gang who, by now, had already finished more than half of the food items they had carried for the trek.

From Theplas to eggs, from bread-butter to Apples we finished of everything in sight. We were all quite relaxed by now as we were basking in the shade of the fort. Cool winds blowing over our faces never before seemed so divine.

After a few group photos, we were all set to come down the mountain. The rock cut steps and the rock patch now seemed a little easier as people seemed to have more confidence in themselves while getting down. But before we reached the half-way mark most of us started to feel tired again. Our knees started to buckle due to pain and made us to trip, fall and slide like there was no tomorrow.

At one particular point, we all felt like there was a sudden earthquake. The whole world seemed to have stopped in that second. But the earthquake was a false alarm; it was actually Ashok’s behind making love to the green grass below. Ashok had such a nasty fall that he left behind a crater the size of Halley’s Comet! Last I heard from the villagers was that they were planning to start a new civilization in that crater!

We could see three small specs waving at us in the distance. Yes this was indeed the trio of Smitha, Deepti and Yamuna. They made their way back to wards the bus so that they could arrange for some potable water for the rest of us.

After a lot of slipping and falling, we finally made it back to the base where we’d parked our Bus. There was a small well at the base. We requested one of the ladies drawing water from the well to lend her pail to us. The villagers were very friendly. It was now that we were told that we’d scaled Sarasgad not Sudhagad. Sudhagad was around 10kms away from this place. They said that this was the best time to visit Sudhagad as the villagers celebrate Navratri with zest. They said that the villagers decorate the fort and set up a variety of food-stalls on top of the fort. I guess we really missed going there.

While most of washed our hands and feet with the clean water from the well, Milind and I almost took a bath o’er there. It was really refreshing. We were careful not to disturb the lovely turtles in the well who weren’t shy to make an appearance every one and then.

After an hour or so, we were back on our way towards Mumbai. Milind said that he’d spotted a ‘Kokum juice’ center close by. We got off the bus and bought some Kokum juice and some Amla juice for everyone.

10. Jangal jangal baat chali hain…

Prashant was in great spirits on our way back home. He initiated the singing session ‘Malvan panya madhe killa…’ and started taking everyone’s case (Especially Milind and Karan’s). I’m sure Milind will never wear those shorts on a trek again as the gang couldn’t stop dedicating ‘Jangal Jangal baat chali hain…’ to his lovely shorts.

After a lot songs depicting male love for each other, Karan decided that it was better if he swapped seats next to Sonali instead of being seated next to Milind. Sonali threw an atomic bomb on Karan when she asked him if the songs being sung had a fragment of truth in them!

After sometime, Milind, Karan and I decided to start our own singing session to put Prashant back in standby mode. Prashant instantly did his usual Nakhras of having signs of headache and stopped his tape recorder in no time.

We dropped off everyone at their respective pick-up points one after the other on our way back from Kamat’s restaurant. We were all back home by around 10:30-11:00PM with sore muscles, aching bones but a lot more memories of good times spent with friends old and new alike.

- Vish

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trek to Kalsubai – 24th and 25th July 2009

Friday, 24th July 2009

1. The turnout

It was 9:00am when I received an e-mail from Malik which read that he wouldn’t be able to join us for the trek to Kalsubai tonight. Bharat wasn’t too sure about making it either. I called him up to ask him about his plans tonight. If we happened to cancel this trek due to a poor turn-out, then we’d have cancelled three treks in a row for the same reasons! I was a little disappointed about the fact that the strength of our group would now be reduced to a measly ‘six’ from a whopping ‘eight’. It’s funny when you consider a group of eight to have significant advantage over a group of six! Both Milind and I really wanted to go trekking this weekend. We knew that the monsoons would soon recede and that if we didn’t go on a trek soon, we’ll probably end up sulking in our office chairs, waiting for someone to pull us out of the slump by taking some pains to organize a decent event in the outdoors!

2. A week before the trek

I’d sent out e-mails, to more than a dozen people, a week before the trek. Most of them replied with a firm ‘NO’ on the same day, but most of them made excuses which were the meat of our discussions during the trek. People had reasons so silly that even the village idiot would look smarter in from them! Excuses ranging from ‘back problems’ to ‘bike problems’, you name it, I’ve heard it!

One said that he had abstained from any kind of physical activity because he had to take a steam bath in his gym. Apparently, he got real tired from ‘not’ working out for six days of the week and decided that the best compensation for his wasted fees would be consuming steam and oxygen in the gym premises! Another said he had to visit a counselor to take tips to go abroad for higher studies. He had a real good tip for him – get a Passport first mate!

3. The night of the trek

After a lot of thoughts back and forth, Milind and I came to the conclusion that the best way to reach Kalsubai would from Igatpuri and that the best mode of transport would be an ST bus, which we’d be able to catch from Dadar west. Neither did we really bother to come up with any great plans to reach the destination nor did we plan our journey back home. We decided to meet up at Dadar railway station at 10:15pm.

I had some curd rice before I left my place. I was still hungry as I was on my way to Dadar in the local train. I’d carried some idlis and chutney and I thought of munching on them in the local train itself, but I thought it would be wiser to share it with the gang during breakfast on the following morning. The six of us - me, Milind, Karan, Avinash, Dhaval and Sree - met at Dadar at around 10:30pm.

We waited for an ST bus which was leaving for Nashik. It was late by half an hour or so. The 10 o’clock bus finally reached the bus-stand at 10:55pm. The bus conductor instructed us that the bus would not halt at the Igatpuri bus station; instead he would drop us off at the highway, at a certain distance from the bus station which would take us no more than 10-15min on foot. We agreed and hopped in to the bus. It was raining cats and dogs throughout the journey. The seats were quite comfortable and the bus was clean and dry – Not a bad deal for 115 bucks!

Saturday, 25th July 2009

4. Spending the morning at Igatpuri

We got some shut-eye on the bus. When we got off the bus at Igatpuri at 3:00am, the view was breath-taking! There was purple mist all around us. We were so mesmerized by the beauty of the place that we forgot that we were standing in the middle of the highway! It took some loud honks and bright fog lights to get us back to our senses and on to the side of the road! We looked around us and realized that we needed directions to get to the bus station. We started walking in a lane which would (well, at least we thought it would!) lead to the bus station. There were a couple of big companies over there – HDFC, Mahindra & Mahindra etc. We woke up the security guard in the Mahindra & Mahindra premises. He said the bus station was straight ahead and it’s approx. 2-3kms away.

We started walking in the direction shown by the guard and reached the railway station at around 3:25am. The bus station was just a couple of meters away. We decided to rest at the platform. There were a few cops, chai wallahs and a bunch of trekkers over there. We spotted a couple of empty seats and decided to place our bags over there. We had tea (which was quite good!) and biscuits. I decided to have the idlis over there for I feared that they may not make through the rest of the journey. As soon as I opened the box there was a quick flurry of hands and all the idlis were gone. I guess we’d underestimated our appetite!

5. Reaching Bari

The chai wallah told us that there would be bus for Pune at 4:45am from the bus station. It would reach Bari at around 5:45-6:00am. We left the railway station at around 4:30am. We surprised to see only three other people at the bus station. A few more people joined us in sometime. There was a huge hoarding on the bus station which came crashing down as it was unable to withstand the forces of the strong winds. We killed time by feeding some biscuits to a small pup that was shivering the cold. The bus reached the station at around 5:20pm. This bus was clean and cozy as well. Apart from us only three other persons boarded the bus. It was evident that they were trekkers and were probably going to the same place as us – Bari village.

The scenery on the way to Bari was beautiful. I missed most of it as I was busy napping in the bus like most of the guys. We reached Bari at around 6:15am. We had some tea and Kanda-poha at the small shop at the bus stop at Bari. We befriended two of the three people who got down at Bari. Rahul and John were from Mumbai and they said that hey happened to plan for the trek just the night before. The third one, a man in his late thirties-early forties, had come alone and had started the trek even before we’d finished our breakfast.

6. Crossing the Village

We started the trek at around 7:00am. We hired a local named Pandurang as a guide for the trek for 200 bucks. We had to go through the village to reach the summit. We were surprised to see a bus full of trekkers who’d just reached the place and would soon join us in the trek. On talking to a few of them, we came to know that they had plans to visit Ratangad on the following day.

As we passed though the village a bunch of three-four playful dogs started walking with us towards the summit. We encountered a small stream of water. The water level was around 2-3feet and we made it across to the other side easily. What we didn’t expect was that the dogs would swim across the stream just to trek with us.

We reached a small Hanuman temple which was a few meters from the stream. We decided to get a closer look inside the temple. It was a small temple which had a lot of bells tied on the inside. The rain was pouring and there was no shelter from this point on. We fed the dogs some biscuits and made our way to the top of the mountain.

7. The ladders of death… mwahahaha…

The start of the trek was a little tiresome and the rains weren’t make life any easier for us! After an hour or so, we reached a place from where we could spot the three iron ladders which would help us reach the top. There were painted railings at places which would prevent you from falling off. I was surprised to see railings present at places where there was no evident danger of a fall, but as the strong winds blew over us, we realized that we could use absolutely anything just to hold on!

By the time we reached the first railing, we saw the man who’d traveled on the bus with us. He was making his was on the third iron ladder. The rains were performing a wonderful act of appearing and disappearing in intervals as small as 5minutes. We could capture some beautiful rainbows and some wonderful pictures of the sun-rays piercing through the dark skies!

The first ladder was an easy one. Even the dogs could make their way across the first ladder with ease. There were four dogs with us at that point - Three adults and a younger one which was smaller than the other three.

Ladder two proved to a little difficult for the smaller dog which fell off between the rungs of the ladder. Luckily, there was some ground below the ladder for it to land on. It started to let out cries of pain as everyone else had reached ladder three. I decided to carry the poor guy till the next ladder. It was a good thing that he cooperated with me else we could both have slipped and would’ve fallen of the ladder.

8. The Ladder to nowhere

As we reached the third ladder, the prevalent winds had gotten stronger. The third ladder spanned a good 50ft and was a little crooked as well. Unlike the previous two ladders, this one was exposed to the open skies above as well the green ground below. We feared that we could be thrown off the ladder if we encountered a sudden gush of strong winds. The temperature would be around 9-10°C at that point. We were all feeling cold and were hoping to find a shelter soon.

By the time I’d reached the foot of the third ladder, almost everyone else had crossed it. I saw two dogs at the foot of the ladder struggling to find a shelter from the cold winds and heavy rains. From where I stood, I could not see the top of the ladder. It felt as if it leads nowhere. There was mist all around it. It was difficult enough for me to climb this ladder alone, so the option of carrying a dog with me was ‘out’! I climbed up the ladder to meet Milind who handed me a pack of biscuits. I climbed down the ladder and placed the biscuits on the ground for the dogs and continued my way up the ladder for a second time.

9. Chasing the monkeys away

There was no possible way for the dogs to come up the third ladder, so there had to be another way through which they’d joined us at the top. One of the bigger dogs just started running along the sides of the mountain. We were surprised to see this sudden movement, but we soon realized that the dog had chased away a bunch of monkeys. These monkeys are infamous for their treacherous ways to steal bags from unsuspecting trekkers. They know that trekkers carry food in their bags and snatching their bags from them just happens to be a very common way for the monkeys to find food.

10. The ladder to heaven

We’d gone through a couple of websites to get some info about the Trek. Most of the websites stated that one had to cross three iron ladders to reach the summit. After crossing the third ladder we were a little relaxed that we were very close to the summit. I told Dhaval that we would reach the top in a few more minutes. Though this was the twentieth time I’d said this to him, it was the first time I’d really meant it!

The winds kept getting stronger and the rain didn’t seem to die down either. We couldn’t see beyond a couple of feet ahead of us. There was no way for us to predict how long it would take for us to reach the top. We had barely walked for twenty minutes from the third ladder that we saw a fourth one. This was bigger and more crooked than the last one! Our feet had started to ache by this time and the numbness due to the cold air had sunk all the way inside us. This ladder seemed so tall that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that it could lead to heaven. We climbed this ladder with utmost precaution and reached to the other side.

11. Reaching the summit

By the time Dhaval, Avinash and I made our way across the fourth ladder; Milind, Sree and Karan had already reached the summit. Winds were so strong by now that at one point I could feel getting blown away with it! We were trying to maintain a low centre of gravity at the last few steps. Within half an hour from the fourth ladder, we’d finally reached the summit at around 10:30am.

There is a small temple of Kalsu Devi on the top which is painted on all sides in orange color. It has no windows and it serves as the only shelter throughout the trek. The entrance of the temple is barely 2ft x 1ft wide and can accommodate at the most four-five people. It is the only place where one could escape the harsh winds and heavy rains. We took turns to rest inside the temple for a few minutes. Apart from Pandurang (Our guide) we all waited outside the temple so that other trekkers would get an opportunity to rest inside.

We started munching on a packet of channa brought by Karan. Avinash, who was all praises about his Nike shoes, almost lost one of his shoes as a sudden gush of heavy winds almost blew it away. I think he was lucky not to be blown away himself! The place was too windy and we were all feeling really cold. We decided to start the descent at around 11am.

12. The way back to Bari

Walking back to the village from the summit was not an easy task. There were three dogs with us during the descent. I still have no clue how they made it all the way to the top and I still wonder what their motivation was to scale this mountain in such a harsh weather. The mist still remained as thick as it was when we started the ascent. We walked for about half an hour before coming across a small tree which gave us enough shelter to enjoy some theplas and Achar brought by Karan, theplas and Jam (Norway wala jisme strawberry ke pieces bhi the) brought by Dhaval and some really delicious parathas and Achar brought by Avinash.

We were quite full by the time we’d finished the food. We’d regained energy to walk back downhill but the cold had taken a toll on us by then. We’d all started to shiver and to add to the agony we were constantly being hit in the face by hundreds of drop of water, each striking the flesh like small sharp needles!

Our knees had started to pain and our feet slipping as we made our way down the rocks covered in moss and mud. I decided to climb down the ladders facing them. This way I would exert less pressure on my knees. Karan seemed a little shaky while coming down the second ladder (the third one on the way up!) while Dhaval was so tired that he forgot his fears!

On our way up to summit we’d spotted a place where we could take a dip on our way back, but now we were feeling so cold that we just wanted to get into dry clothes and eat some warm food. The thought of swimming in the cold water didn’t even cross our minds. We hurried on our way back and reached the Hanuman temple at around 12:30pm.

13. A quick dip

We were quite cozy by the time we’d reached the village. We decided to take a dip at the place we’d spotted earlier. We reached the banks and placed our bags on a patch of grass. Pandurang was eager to get back to his routine activities. He asked us for 220 bucks (20 bucks more than what we’d agreed upon!). We paid him the amount (plus 10% service tax) and decided to hit the water.

The current was too strong to swim but we tried to swim anyway! The rocks in the catchment were jagged and sharp. We got out of the water as soon as we started experiencing cramps. We knew that it was time eat some warm village food!

We had a satisfying meal at a villager’s house in Bari. All the items on the menu were ‘Shuddh Shakahari’ but you could opt for chicken or fish. We also ate the ‘Batata ki Sabzi’ brought by Dhaval and the amazing ‘Bombil chutney’ brought by Milind. For dessert, we had ‘Shrikhand’ courtesy of Milind.

We agreed that there was no point in getting into dry clothes as the rains were still pouring down on us. We bid goodbye to the village and made or way back to the bus stop at around 3:45pm.

14. The journey back to Kasara

The lady at the shop at the bus stop told us that the next bus to Kasara would come by 4:30pm. We didn’t have the patience to wait for half an hour. We decided to travel by the next jeep that would come our way.

We saw a packed jeep coming our way. He said he’d drop us off till Kasara, but there was one small problem – there was no space for all of us to fit in. The jeep driver seemed to have no doubt that we would ‘easily’ fit in his vehicle. I’m sure he’d fit in eight adult African elephants in his Jeep if you paid him the right amount for it! Avinash hated the idea of traveling in such conditions, but it was the only way to reach Kasara. The bus service is too uncertain in these parts of Maharashtra. The other passengers were out of the Jeep before we reached a place called Ghoti which is approx. 15kms from Igatpuri.

15. Reaching Ghoti

The Jeep fellow was slow and his riding was pathetic! He was such a miser that he would turn off the engine at every possible downward slope just to save fuel. He dropped us off at Ghoti and said that it wasn’t economical for him to take us all the way to Kasara. We didn’t bother to argue with him as we would’ve ended up wasting our time and energy.

We didn’t bother to negotiate with the other Jeep fellow at Ghoti either. He said that he would start the vehicle only if it is filled up and by filled up he meant about 10 more passengers. We felt that these guys couldn’t be trusted. We started to enquire about the next bus to Kasara at the bus stand.

A bus to Kasara pulled up in the bus stand within minutes of us reaching there. Just about the same time, a guy in a Maruti Omni made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. He said he’d take just the six us of us (No other passenger) to Kasara for just 200 bucks. No stopping, no stalling, just riding all the way to Kasara. We agreed that it was a good deal and we hopped in.

16. Landslides galore!

This vehicle was cozy and clean and everyone welcome the breathing space. We munched on whatever was left in our bags. From dry-fruits to chocolate cakes – we decided to finish off everything. It was raining and the mist still hadn’t lifted. We were doing a ‘90’ on the highway when we experienced the first road block. There was a huge landslide which had blocked most parts of the road. Luckily the bulldozers had already done their job. We negotiated our way through the debris to come across two more landslides on the way to Kasara.

We reached Kasara station at around 5:30pm. Just as we were buying the tickets, we saw a train pull in to the platform. Milind and I stayed back at the ticket counter as the others rushed in to the train to get hold of empty seats for everyone. The train was a 6:15pm slow local for CST. We took our places inside the compartment of the train and recollected the memories of the trek as we went through the pictures in Sree’s digi-cam. We’ll have to wait for the pictures taken by Avinash, as his camera was a film camera and not a digital one.
We reached Dadar station at 8:45pm. We bid goodbye to Milind, who looked like a sleep deprived junkie, as we got off the train. Sree and Avinash boarded the Virar fast local. Karan, Dhaval and I decided to take a slow local to Borivli. The 8:47pm local train (which arrived at 9:05pm) was packed and it took us a lot of effort just to get inside the train! The train was so crowded that Karan decided to board the next one. Dhaval and I managed to find some place to stand in the crowded train without getting our toes crushed by other passengers. Dhaval got off the train at Kandivli.

I reached home at around 10:15pm. A warm shower and a warm meal never seemed so satisfying! All the muscles in my body were aching but it felt great to have been through this wonderful experience. It was indeed an amazing trek – the best one so far, if I may say so myself!

- Vish