This story is based on real-life experience. All characters are real and incidents mentioned are non-fictional. Any similarity is purely non-coincidental and intended to be taken in good spirit.
With specials thanks to rediff.com for giving me no work on my weekend; to the shady old man who nearly made me wet my pants and to Vipin for making my story readable.
The time’s between 9:30 pm -10 pm on January 26, 2007. I and my friends just had a great day at Rajmachi, which is God knows how many kilometers away from Mumbai. We are walking back to the base camp through the dense, creepy jungle in a perfect moonlit night. The eeriness and hustle behind the bushes kept us on our toes. I was in bad shape. Drained in sweat, tired of trudging through the rough terrain and with immense pain in the back, I was afraid of earning my friends’ wrath. I was delaying their return journey. Then, my body gave in. I couldn’t move a step. Reuben and Nandu rushed to help me. Suddenly, a crackle of dry leaves… We froze… coming towards us was something or someone we thought (at least I did) could be our nemesis…
It was unlike the usual days of life. Today promised the excitement, the thrill and the adventure that I craved for. I wanted to go away from the milieu… far far away from it. However, like most things in life, the trek to Rajmachi Fort did not start off in time (not that I had expected it to!). In fact, this journey was bound to end up delayed just like most our country’s trains… thanks to our lead stars Salil and Sumita (they are husband & wife. So avoid the gossips), and Nandu the comedian (nowhere near Johnny Walker or Paresh Rawal standards) and Lalitha (the child artist). It is a different story that I did add to the delay eventually… But never mind!!!
This grouping of so-called adventurers also included Anjali (the Jhansi ki Rani clone), Chella (the smiling-swaggering lady), Reuben (the customary guide) and myself — Patcy (just to SPICE up things)!!!
We arrived at the base camp in Lonavala by noon, hoping to begin our trek by 12:45 pm after lunch. The initial anxiety at the start of the trek dissipated not long after we began our journey, as we made our way around the terrain huffing-puffing. That’s when we spotted a river. It was like showing an oasis to a thirsty traveler, and soon we were cooling off in the water… (oops!!! Forgive me… it was just me… others were satisfied with just dipping their feet in water).
Time for an item song — yeh mera dil, pyaar ka deewana…Kind of a mismatch here. Yet, I wonder how I could have pulled off the number showcasing my bulging curves. We moved on (But only after the item girl has had a dress change).
Like a badly edited movie, the scene shifted focus to the realization that we were OUT OF DRINKING WATER. While Nandu and Reuben tried their luck at a nearby village, the rest of the gang huddled under a tree (the only tree we could manage to find). The scorching mid afternoon heat was taking a toll on us. (We regretted not carrying our shades… We didn’t have it when we needed it the most). Meanwhile, our water-carriers returned… As we eagerly took turns to take a gulp, the duo narrated how an old lady had been our saviour. Despite the fact that she had to climb mountains to get water everyday, the old lady did not refuse to partake with her elixir of life. She gave us three (precious) bottles of water. Who says Indian culture has taken a beating at the hands of rapid industrialisation?
The journey to Rajmachi village proceeded at good pace. Though our destination lies further ahead, we called it a day at the village… much to the disappointment of some trekkers (including me) who had planned to have a nap at a cave in our destination.
Tukaram, a resident of the barely 20-30-house village, offered to take us in his home. Once again, the down-to-earth attitude floored us. Tukaram’s family took good care of us – got us warm water to wash ourselves, offered us tea and the fed us some good food. Indian villages still have not lost their belief in athithi devo bhavah.
Over dinner at Tukaram’s small, cosy home, a discussion on national security kicked off with the bone of contention being why does Reuben want to remain single?
I and Salil come up with all sorts of ‘interesting’ conclusions but our guide is unnerved (all you can ever see on his face is a smile…Common fella!! Time for an expression change and for heaven’s sake change your life’s caller tune — Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya, har fikr ko doohay main uadata chala gaya…)
After a point I thought we were very mean to Reuben. We went to the extent of stating that he just did not want to take responsibility (too much!!!). We did not realise that he too had the right to his opinion. If he is not forcing his single hood on us, we shouldn’t force our marriage idea on him. Anyways, it was very nice of Reuben not to take the criticism to heart. (I guess what I said the line before spares me the spanking).
The next morning, we prepared to set off for our destination after breakfast. Then we encounter Z-bac, a group of enthusiastic rock climbers who had arrived at the village the night before. They group offered us rope-rappelling experience (thanks to our guide’s contacts in the group).
The trek to the fort was long and winding. It was an exhilarating moment when we reached the summit of the mountain on which the fort had been built. As for me, I started thinking that I could very well add trekking feather to my frail feather-filled cap. I had just walked, climbed and reached a fort above how much sea level I don’t know… (Little did I know that the worst was yet to come!!!). Meanwhile, we continue to explore the fort, the cave…Ahh…which reminds me of an incident that only I can be so proud to write about. While others were marveling at things like the sight from top of the fort and the design of the cave, I managed to spot a condom… So proud I was on my discovery that I went about tom-toming it… The expression of the faces of Sumita, Anjali and Lalita were worth a Kodak moment.
We were so enthusiastic that we performed stunts… The camera-hungry animal within us unleashed itself as we posed for photographs atop trees and a flag post.
Then Salil – our hero (just in case you forgot) got into the act. Spotting a bullock cart sans the bullock, he asked Sumita to get on to it while he pushed the cart. Imagine a medley of Jo tum ko woh pasand, wohi baat karenge and Sumita singing kaaton se kheech ke yeh aachal, todh ke bandh baande payal, koi toh rokhe dil ki udhhan ko dil yeh chaalaaa….. aaj phir zeene ki tamanaa hai… I was jealous. Wish someone could do that for me. But hey, I am just an item girl not the lead actress in the story.
Soon, we started making our way back to the village. Hunger was creeping up slowly. The famished souls were further disappointed when we reached the village. Our hopes of finding a sumptuous meal were shred to pieces, as we had to make do with rice, dal bhaji and papad. (Wonder what gave us the idea that we could savour chicken rasaa and bhakari?)
Nevertheless, as they say something is better than nothing. We decided to take a siesta at a temple in the village before starting our trek down to base camp. The battalion was ready to march at 4:30 pm. The route down the hill was steep. We had not expected it to be so… especially me and Salil — the trekkers with vertigo. We were shit scared. Poor Chella kept on falling (thanks to the slippers she was wearing… This dialogue should aptly describe her determination — Girte hai shai sawar maidan ne jung main, woh tiffal kya girre jo ghunto ke bal chale). Lalita was tired even before we started the journey; the only people who could withstand this were Sumita, Anjali, Reuben and Nandu. I felt ashamed every time I looked at Lalita. Oh man, if she can do it, then I have to do it too.
Everybody’s spirits were at high when the team split in two groups. Group A comprised of Sumita, Salil, Anjali, Chella and Lalita while group B had me, Reuben and Nandu.
Sun went down unnoticed. We were nowhere near our base camp (we were supposed to be there at 7:30 pm). To top it all, we didn’t have torches. Moonlight it was all the way. Then in typical filmy fashion, Salil and team lose their way. As they were figuring out their way, suddenly they could hear faint noises coming from a distance. The voices were closing in fast. Our hero gets prepared for the worst, asking Sumita to get his knife. He is ready to die but resolves to take two or three with him. Lalita was in tears as Nandu was not with her at the moment. The nausikhas (barring Anjali and Sumita) trembled with fear.
Soon the voices confronted them. It was the Z-bac group on their way back. A relieved Group A decided to follow the dictates of the Z-bac to safety.
Meanwhile, Group B had its own cause for worry – ME. The steep journey down and the circus during the day had taken a toll on me. Reuben and Nandu were trying to boost my morale as I kept breaking down with unbearable pain in my back. Sometimes, I thought I just couldn’t move another step. But they kept pepping me up, telling me that I could take as many breaks I wanted. On one such break, a sudden crackle of dry leaves got me on my toes. Kon hai tikde (Who is it there), we call out almost in unison.
I literally peed in my pants even as I gripped both Nandu and Reuben very tight. In the dim moonlight, we could make out a frail figure with a stick in his hand. My first reaction was obvious… I froze as the feeling of having seen a ghost flashed past.
It turned out to be an octogenarian, who offered to help us show the way to a nearby village. Our guide thrust 2 ten-rupees notes in his hand. He was thankful. Then it was our time to encounter the Z-bac group who told us that group A had gone ahead. Somehow, we managed to contact them and asked them to wait for us. We hitched a ride on Z bac’s bus, which was headed for Thane. Group A was picked up at some kilometers distance. Thanks to some snobby Talwalkarians on the Z bac bus, we decided to get down at the nearby village. Thankfully, we found rickshaws that took us to Karjat station… The train journey back to civilization was a non-stop chat — about Rajmachians memorable trip.