When Pranil asked me if I could join him to take his office buddies for a trek (19th Sept) I readily agreed. Meeting new people on a trek is always a welcome.
Bhai (Pranil) had organised everything from hiring a bus, breakfast and Bhaskar, the entertainer, the crowd puller…whatever you want to call him. I just had to hop into the bus which picked me up from near my house in Belapur. Yeh aur baat hain ki it came almost an hour late….but then when you have group of 32 and that too some of them, the corporate types (no offence meant to anyone), then late toh ho jaata hain.
Anyways I joined the gang from the Belapur junction and Pranil bhai introduced me to his colleagues. Bhaskar was leading an antakshari session. Meanwhile I spoke to the driver, who was well aware of the trek region. I also met Sainath, Sandeep and some others. Sorry I wouldn’t recollect all the names.
After over an hour of singing, crooning or screaming, joh bhi ho, we reached what according to our driver was Rajmachi point. “Whaaaat? I’ve never been to this place” I said to myself. Looking at my expression, the driver tried to convince me that this is it….”Saab, me itthech khooob trekkers la sodla ahey” (I have dropped many a trekking groups here, he tried to assure me in Marathi).
Trekking teaches you trust. So I did. But since none of us had been to Rajmachi via this route, I re-confirmed with a villager. I passed on that confidence to Pranil and Bhaskar, who rubbed it on to their colleagues.
Pranil, with the help of Swapnali, Shivaji and others distributed idlis, chocolates, biscuits and a tetra pack of Appy. In between his detailed planning our man had forgotten paper plates. Hota hain…buddy buddy (pun intended) trekking mein, chotti chotti baatien hoti rahti hain. So all of us had idli chatni on newsprints of Navakal and Navbharat Times, thanks some brilliant brainwork from Sandeep. Thank goodness, idli saambar wasn’t on the menu.
After eating we had a small introduction of ourselves and some instructions that needed to be followed. There had been reports of dacoity enroute Rajmachi via Lonavala, so I advised them to stick together.
We started very slowly….with most of them either clicking photographs or walking at their own sweet pace. It was very sunny too. We reached the first watefall, took a little while to fool around, informing the gang that we needed to climb down with the help of rope. Everyone was like – are you crazy? Bhavesh and Ashish wanted to return to the bus right away. However they let a sigh of relief when we decided to walk ahead. After another hour long walk we reached a stream, which usually had more rush of water. We spend some good fifteen to twenty minutes, dipping our tired legs in cold water, before we proceeded.
We walked again. I was speaking to some of the guys. I figured they were either from different departments or techies working on different projects. I also met Leena and Pradnya who happened to ex-NCC cadets. Yes, we went down our respective memory lanes and shared some woh bhi kya din tey tales.
There also were Rao, Yogesh and Sainath who spoke in Telegu, I guess. I later found out that they had the common Andhra Pradesh link. Shivaji and his buddies would scream, Mushkil waqt, Jawaan saqt, Commanddddooooooooos. That became the slogan of the trek and they carried on the chant till the very end.
Oh yes, there was also one Ms Nivedita. I nicknamed her Ms Standard Chatered, because she was literally in the brand’s color. Light green track pants, a Blue T, again a light green sack and sports shoes, which was sparkling white enough for the Safedi ki chamkar, Rin ad. But just when we were minutes away from the base of the fort, Madam found herself stuck in a puddle and both the shoes were singing a different tune (read advt) Maeel acha hain. Or did they look as if dipped in Cadbury’s chocolate? Thankfully, with the help of Chirag and others, it remained up to the shoes only. The blues and greens remained clean.
We were late. It was two in the afternoon and everyone was exhausted. I knew not all wanted to go and explore the fort. So I advised that whoever didn’t want to go up, could sit near the small temple, have their lunch and relax. There was a small water tank where they could drink water. So while they took a break, the others pushed themselves uphill to the Srivardhan fort, one of the two structures at Rajmachi. Clearing a slippery patch and braving the heat, they all managed till the cave. All of us were exhausted. Bas ho gaya, was the expression on everyone’s face. We settled down to rest just outside the cave.
Just then Leena and others asked me how much more would it take to the top of the fort. They had spotted a flag post and was eager to get there. I smiled and said, hardly ten minutes. “If we have done so much, don’t you think we should touch the top?” prodded Mithun. I smiled and said yes of course…if you guys are ready, am game. Within ten minutes we were on top, enjoying the view. Some of us even climbed the flag post and clicked photographs.
We didn’t want the others to wait for us too long…so we walked down to the cave, picked up the gang who were resting near the cave and soon reached the temple down. Out came the lunch boxes to fill our hunger. Our man was fasting that day and so was Anu. How could they, I wondered?
After a very late lunch it wouldn’t be good idea to start hiking immediately so we rested for a while. Meanwhile I managed to speak to some other hikers and exchange information and contacts. I took the gang to Tukaram’s house, the villager at whose place we generally stay. He offered us tea, while we freshened up.
When we started descending 5.30, I knew we were in for some adventure ahead. What with thirty two people and four torches. But then what’s a hike without some adventure, hain na? Tukaram accompanied us a short distance just to make sure we didn’t use a wrong diversion. Some children were coming towards the village and Tukaram said that they were his children and their friends who went to school in Kondivite, the village where we had to get down. Imagine climbing up and down for more than three hours everyday for school. We live in so much comfort here, many of us agreed. Tukaram had managed to build a small house in the base village, so from last year the children came up only once a week, he informed us.
Just when we had started climbing down, Pradnya broke her sandals. I asked her if she could manage with my floaters. She readily agreed. No guys, I wasn’t trying to be macho, but I knew I could walk faster than her without leg wear. Pranil offered me a nice thick pair of cotton socks, which thankfully didn’t stink.
The climb down wasn’t very easy. It was rocky to begin with and a little steep too. Everyone was moving very slowly. I requested them to try and move as fast as they could before the sun went down, because in the dark it would be much difficult. And remember we had only four torches. We hadn’t covered even half the patch by twilight.
Pranil was leading the pack and I was the last. Nivedita was finding it very difficult to climb down. Just then someone twisted her ankle. I had Relispray. It gave some relief. Shivaji was motivating the gang with his Commanddddddo shouts. Suddenly it was dark and the torches came out. I asked everyone to stick together. Everyone was tense and worried. But from here on what saw us through was teamwork, unity, patience and endurance. I am sure not many realized what they were about to achieve.
Mobile phone calls started ringing. I advised them to assure their dear ones that they were safe, but will be coming very late. A couple of girls who were in the front with Pranil weren’t making life any easy for him. And because of the lack of faith they showed in him, he would stop at most places and request me to come in front and confirm if he was leading in the right direction. He seemed under immense pressure. I would search for signs and indicators like footmarks, chocolate or food wrappers and give him an okay. But fellas, let me tell you now, sometimes it was sheer intuitions from my part. Guys this is where you have to trust your leader, because he isn’t going take you the wrong way, on purpose. He has a huge responsibility on his shoulders and lack of confidence on the team’s part doesn’t help anyone. Thankfully most of the others were very supportive of him. He is a lovable and trustworthy character. (Ok Pranil, patha hain zyaada chadd mat)
Meanwhile, did I hear someone weep? A close look and I saw Shweta, the most talkative girl in the group crying. I chatted with her and told her to look behind, where we saw a pale looking Nivedita walking in auto-pilot mode. Her sadness will only bring down the morale of the Stanchart gal and others. Soon Madam Chatpati was in control of her emotions. Meanwhile Nivedita was being helped by Mithun, Sandy and others. I was told that in office, most of them hadn’t even interacted with her, but here they were very helpful. See team bonding here? I was keeping my fingers crossed all the while, that I don’t come across any casualties in form of someone fainting or injuring themselves.
Just then Shivaji, sprained his knees. We tried some spray, but that wasn’t helping him much. The commando shouts stopped. But, nevertheless, like a saqt jawaan, he braved on in mushkil waqt.
Bhaskar, knew someone at the base village and suggested if we should ask them for help. I replied in the negative. I said so because for one, I was sure that we were on the right path and secondly what if the villagers went in some different direction and we reach the base via a different route. In such a situation their efforts would be a waste and also we would have to wait to inform them that were safe. That would delay us further.
Everyone was helping each other. They were also talking to one another. It helps. I found some statements very amusing, like Chirag to light dikha. And Mr Chirag on his part was trying to walk with the help of his mobile phone’s faint light. Suddenly, Pranil summoned me to the front. There was huge block in the path. A massive tree had fallen on the route. We asked the gang to take rest, while both of us searched for a detour. Luckily we got one very quickly. It was well past ten. All of us were walking and walking towards what seemed a never-ending trail. I was constantly bombarded with one question, “Tell me honestly, how much more time?” I would try and tell them, “Actually it’s only an hour’s climb down, but because we don’t have enough light we are getting delayed”. But later this question was replaced by another one, “Boss, we don’t care what time we would reach, but are we on the right track?” For this I had very confident answer, YES hundred percent.
Fortunately there were many streams along the route. So we would wash our faces and drink water. Once again Bhaskar came to me, Reuben…should I call a villager? I said ok. By now, I knew we were close and they (villagers) wouldn’t miss us. And with more light we could only move faster. He called Patil sir. The villager told him that two guys have agreed to come but they would charge four hundred rupees. Bhaskar checked with me, I said it’s ok yaar…money isn’t a concern here.
We would have walked for another fifteen minutes and the villagers spotted us. To our relief they were carrying one huge lantern. Bhaskar’s wife approached me very apologetically and enquired if I was bugged that we called for help. “No way” I kind of yelled back. It’s a collective decision, I tried to assure her. And for me, ego has no place when it comes to everyone’s safety. Early I had said no, because I saw no reason. Now I had said, yes, because I knew the villagers wouldn’t miss us. One more plus point was that, now each and everyone in the team, including Pranil and I was hundred and one percent assured that we wouldn’t get lost. So that tension was off everyone’s mind.
Soon we spotted our bus. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. Bhaskar and I went to thank the villager who sent us help. But he was fast asleep. We checked our watches and realized it was midnight.
We hopped into the bus and started counting. There were thirty-two tired, bruised but relieved figures in the bus. I was happy to have achieved something. For those guys and gals in the bus who thought it was a waste of wonderful Sunday, I pity them. Imagine watching Iss jungle se mujhe bachao or any other like wise reality show on television. I think you folks achieved more than those paid actors. You guys were part of real adventure. You tested your endurance and came out a winner. No one gave up till the very last. You guys stuck together as a team. There was some much to learn. From co-ordination to management to organization to decision making to finance to patience to bonding, you guys achieved a lot, that day. I can go on and on.
In the bus, Sandeep (man you play the bongo well, though you had to make do with a water bottle), Bhaskar, Shivaji and we were singing non-stop old melodies. We re-lived everyone moment of our eventful hike when Bhaskar sang Musafir hoon yaaron, naa ghar hain naa tikaana, humein chalte jaana hain. Every verse of this song was so true to our experiences that day.