Wah Wah Vasota – Don’t miss it the next time

24th – 26th Jan 2009

Ever since I started trekking, I’ve heard people go ga-ga (read vah vah) about Vasota. And I have always been unfortunate to miss out on this wonderful trek. So this time when kishore, said that he was planning it during the long weekend, I was the first one to put my hand up with my fingers crossed.

Then came the planning. And if it is Kishore bhai at the helm, you are assured of a thorough plan. From ration to rope to utensils to travel to haversacks to medical….every god damn thing. The final head count was twenty three, including the veteran trekker Anil (PD) and Jaison, who joined us at Satara ST stand, traveling all the way from Kerala and Bangalore, respectively. Crazy isn’t it?

Patcy and I received Anjali and her friend Anu, who was on her first trek. Kapil joined us soon and saved me from getting assaulted by the girls, who thought I shouldn’t have called them one hour early. Manoj, who was the only one to have gone to Vasota came in next with Abhilash and Hari, who for a change was an early bird. The latter, has this reputation of calling up his friends, when they are about to board the train in 5mins, and say, ‘Hey, wait for me….I just leaving home’

Kishore and Shailesh came in after a while and just then our ST bus arrived and we all hopped in. Thanks to Kiran who had made reservations, we didn’t have to elbow our ways in. Next stop was Chembur Maitri Park, where Darshan and his wife Anjali, Salil and Sumita with their budding nine-year old trekker Parth, Kiran, Sachin and Arvind got in.

My nephew Noel, Hitesh and Raj Kulkarni (Savarkar) got in at CBD Belapur. Three last minute cancellations allowed us stack our heavy sacks on those vacant seats. But the slightly drunk conductor saw an opportunity. Mauke ka faayda. Thankfully he didn’t get any passengers; neither were we going to allow him.

Salil and Darshan took to the floor immediately. Nah nah… not the dance floor…but they got the sleeping mat on to the floor and slept. The rest of gang either slept or tried to sleep.

At quarter to five we reached Satara ST stand where we met PD and Jaison. Kishore and I arranged for some garam chai (hey that rhymed), before we got into yet another bus which would take us to Bomnoli. The almost two hour ride took us away from city to the interiors, passing through villages, maneuvering numerous hairpin mountain lanes which left some of us dizzy.

We reached Bamnoli to find many trekkers already there. While waiting for breakfast at a small tea stall, Arvind had a very simple question for all the experienced trekkers. “What do you learn or achieve by trekking?” Remember he was a first timer. LOTS, we answered in unison. From team work to discipline to man management to patience.

After a misal-paav breakfast, we went to the forest department to get permission. We had to fill up a form with everyone’s name, sex and age and leader’s address. After that we had to pay the launchwala and get the receipt with the boatman’s name and signature, which had to be submitted to the forest department official. Ok now things get a lil tricky. The launches/ferries are privately run. One way, they charge Rs 700 per boat, which can fit in 14 to 15 people. We decided to take two boats. But if you tell him we are not returning…they charge you more. Here’s where your marketing skill comes handy. Arvind, that’s one lesson for you….bol bachchan giri. Else we would have been duped by the boatwala. He did try his best, but couldn’t outwit Manoj.

The one hour boat ride through the backwaters of Koyna was awesome. Mountains on both sides with a hut or two, once in a while, blue sky, crystal clear water, ab kya batau? It was straight out of a National Geography documentary shot in India. The boats dropped us at Met Indavali, where some construction work was going on. Otherwise it had only one concrete house…which was more like a museum and place to stay. The walls had photographs of the flora and fauna of the Vasota jungle and some tips for the trekkers.

There was also a small hut and 4 tents for the trekkers to stay. Bajrang bhau, the caretaker here, checked our receipt from the forest department, before allowing us to either stay in the house or one of the tents. You are also allowed to pitch in your private tent here. No one is allowed to camp up atop the Vasota fort, for reasons best known to them. You are fined Rs.300 per head if you do so.

We anyways had decided not trek that day, so we occupied the biggest tent to fit in twenty three of us and more than thirty baggages.

When we were doing some research about Vasota, we stumbled upon an article about a mishap at Vasota, where someone had lost his life, for not getting the basics right – staying together. Read the above article and you’d know

Anyways, we got into a hurdle and introduced ourselves once again to each other. When there is a big group, there is bound to be difference of opinions, misunderstanding and arguments. So it’s better to tell everyone whose decision would be final. Kishore and Manoj, were the obvious ones, but it’s good that it’s made very clear in the beginning. A group without a leader is bound to lose track. Arvind are you listening?

While some of us arranged our baggages in the tent, others went in search of drinking water. Kishya came back with some refreshing news. We could eat by the water stream and also take a swim. Out came the lunch boxes and we headed towards the spot.

There was a lot of variety on the menu. Idlis, theplas, lemon rice, boiled eggs, jhaavlas (dried fish), chappatis, subzis, achaar. And mineral water on the flow?. Honestly it tasted better than the bottled ones we get here. After lunch, it was swimming time. I could see everyone shiver in that chilling water. Anjali and Sumita showed their floating skills, while Kiran and others played mischief. Kishore, I and few others were content watching them. We did bathe, but much later.

The sun was setting soon and it was getting colder and colder. The woollens came out even before we started cooking. While Darshan took the bacha party to collect wood for the campfire, Anjali and Sumita set up the kitchen. Here’s when we got to see the vegetable cutting talent of Jaison. All the girls were maha impressed. At this point lemme tell everyone …that he is my cousin. Haha.

Thanks to Patcy, even the other campers knew that we were preparing Dal-chawal and egg masala. Hitesh proved that he is a pucca Sindhi, by roasting some fifty odd papads on our neighbour’s choola. Manoj and Shailesh, meanwhile got pally with the villagers and got some fish from them and roasted it.

By the time we finished eating and cleaning up it was eleven. While most of us got into their sleeping bags, some of us stayed back at the campfire, singing some slow melodies. How can we put the efforts of the bachha party to waste? Guys, who slept missed the campfire.

Next morning, Kishore and I got up at six, but it was too dark to wake everyone up. The early morning calm in the forest, everything so silent, and then first rays of dawn painting the surrounding with crimson was so heavenly. No 7.10 ki local, dhoodwala, paperwala, Waah! Mazza aa gaya!

By seven, everyone was up; answering calls (arey phones calls nahin – samjha karo yaar), brushing and packing up. Kandha poha and chai for breakfast before the big march began. While we were packing our stuff, an elderly person came up to us and asked if we had some biscuits to spare for his daughter, who had to rush to school and they didn’t have time to cook for her. That was really touching….because trust me, he wasn’t begging. But he was helpless. We have so many comforts in our lives, yet most of us aren’t thankful. We either waste or over feed ourselves. Acha acha sorry….I know thoda senti ho gaya main. We offered him some biscuits.

Next was a fall-in for instruction from the boss. Kapil and Sachin would be the last and no-one would be left behind them. Manoj would be leading the pack and everyone will be moving together. No one was allowed to say, ‘you guys carry on….I shall catch up’

Atleast five of us had double backpacks, one in the front and back. The initial patch was easy, early morning freshness and everyone was quite enthusiastic. The two school kids, Noel and Parth were full of energy and put many of us to shame. After four hours of hike through the jungle we reached a diversion. One headed upwards towards Vasota fort, while the other one towards Nageshwar temple seemed easier. From here the climb to the fort would take another hour and once we reach there we had to come all the way down and start walking towards Nageshwar. “Kishore, can I sit here while you guys see the fort and come back and then I can join you”, I heard someone ask. Kishore will only laugh aloud, I knew. The one who asked the question also got the answer. Saala khadoos hain he/she must have thought about Kishore. Smiling assassin, some call him. Anyways….after almost six hours of hike from the base, we reached the top. There was a Hanuman temple just as we enter. Everyone just dropped their backpacks there and lay on the ground. All the bottles were obviously empty by now. Manoj knew where we could get water….so he took some guys to refill the bottles. Anjali made nimbu flavoured Tang in that naturally cold water. After quenching their thirst everyone went for a stroll and enjoyed the surrounding.

Nearby there was Babu-kada, from where one could see the old Vasota region. It was densely forested and no one is allowed to go there. The valley looked great from here. I overheard a foreigner, remark that Vasota was over-rated. It wasn’t has great as what he had read about on the net. I wanted agree with him, but I was sure that there was more to explore and the adventure was yet to begin. I wasn’t wrong. Read on and you’d know.

It was almost two and Kishore called for one more hurdle. This time he had some not-so-pleasant news for us. He had heard from the other trekkers that the forest department officials fined those who decided to stay at the Nageshwar cave temple, which was our actual plan. The fine part was okay, but then he also heard that even after paying the fine, the trekkers were force to leave. Now that would be difficult, because after trekking so much if you had to descend after sunset…it would not only be tiring but dangerous too.

So there we had to slightly change our plan. Lunch had to be skipped; instead we had some light refreshments. Then we started our trek to Nageshwar. This time there was no climb, but we were in for some nice adventure. We had to take a very narrow path where everyone had to walk in a single line. I mean there wasn’t enough space for two people to walk side by side. And it was so edgy that if you look towards your left you see the open valley and nothing to hold on to. Noel and Parth was our biggest concerns, but they just sleep walked, the entire patch. Patcy and Salil, both had vertigo problem and Savarkar demanded that I walked in front of him and Kishore behind him. Not that his request was fulfilled. While Salil managed on his own, Patcy had Kapil for support. Infact, Kapil was kind of a personal instructor for Patcy, from the very start to the end. Surprisingly, she followed every order from him and came out successful. As Kapil put it later…her vertigo had disappeared by the end of the trek.

The last patch was so scary that after finishing it I saw a very relieved Salil, just throwing his backpack aside and telling Kishore, ‘lemme lie down here for sometime and believe that I had actually overcome vertigo and cleared that patch. I want to just to get the fear out of me.’

It took us more than two and half hours from Vasota fort to Nageshwar temple. Everyone went straight to the nearby well to drink water and freshen up. There were already some two to three groups of trekkers either filling up water or cooking or washing.

Manoj, Hitesh, Harish and I filled up some bottles, pick up some backpacks and headed towards the cave to secure some place for the whole group. We had to push ourselves really really hard. But once we reached the cave, we were so relieved to see that the cave had a proper tiling done, thanks to the villagers. The Nageshwar temple was frequently visited by them and other pilgrims.

Towards our right we could see the sun setting slowly. The cave faced north-south, so sitting inside the cave one could experience the sunrise as well as sunset. Manoj was sharing his experience of how he witnessed both, many years ago, with only three others for company. They had spent two full days there, with no one around. I envied him.

I did not want our gang to miss the sunset, so I went down again to call them. And what do I see? The forest officials were on their round up and collecting fines. We bribed them to allow us to stay on top. But the next day when we got to Choravne village, the Sarpanch informed us that we didn’t have to pay anything because the region where the temple was situated didn’t come under the forest department and so they didn’t have any right collect fines. He gathered the villagers and was planning to take up this issue. Anyways, next time we know what to do.

All of us reached the cave and some just crashed to the floor. Alas they missed the sunset. Now it was time to set up the kitchen once again. Anjali and Sumi once again took charge. I was lying on the floor when I felt some reaching for my leg and giving it a massage. Kapil was playing a masseur. Infact, Jaison, Patcy and Anu were also giving everyone a massage. It was such a nice gesture by all of them. No one had asked…but then they had volunteered. That’s bonding for you Arvind. Most of us were meeting each other for the first time but we were gelling well together as a team.

Raj Kulkarni ensured that there was a conversation going on, about teamwork, leadership, responsibility, etc. I could see Kishore trying too hard, while Salil almost pulling his hair apart, trying to convince Raj. But he wouldn’t agree to anything. Jaison treated us with a Kerala folk song, while Kiran inspired Raj to sing some Marathi classics.

We had Jeera rice, Alu mutter and Papad (by now we knew Hitesh was a pro at it) for dinner. By the time we were done, it was almost midnight. We lied down gazing at the open sky with a million stars twinkling. Was I sleeping in an amphitheatre? It was so blissful. I didn’t realized when I had passed out.

I woke up when, Kishore played mischief and rang the temple bell. It was 6 in the morning. He and some others were waiting for the sunrise. But somehow Suryadev kept them waiting, so they were up to some masti waking up others. Finally at 7.30 we saw it peeping from behind the mountains. Out came the cameras and the mobiles to click pictures of the orange ball lighting up the hills. I think this was the first time I had experienced both from the same place.

Mr. Sun had delayed our schedule once again, but we were not here to live according to a time-table, were we?. While some went down to brush and clean up, others took to making breakfast. Poha and garam chai ummm. After breakfast Manoj had plans for a flag hoisting, but just when we packing up, some other trekkers had formed into squad and requested us to join them. Within a minute leaving everything each one us was in a squad and one among them gave Savdhan order and then Rashtriya Geet (National Anthem)

I saw everyone’s chest expand with pride, while some got emotional. Later I heard that Jaison had tears in his eyes, and Hitesh and some others had goose pimples, singing the anthem at a height of 4000 feet above sea level. Some confessed that they had the pages of history flipping through their minds and how proud they felt of the Great Maratha warrior, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

Now it was time for descend and Kishore for the last time gathered everyone and gave a briefing, including how important it would be to save water, because the next source of it would be right at the base village. No sooner had we started our descend we encounter our first difficult patch. There was some iron railings but then it didn’t look very dependable. Every step had to be watchful. Someone suggested to take out the rope but Manoj was confident we wouldn’t need it. He was carefully managing the kids and asking Hari and Abhilash to pass on the baggages. Abhi drop one bag…and down it went into the valley. It was Anil’s. We just heard the sound and no sign of it. Everyone was stunned and lil scared too. Thankfully it came to a halt on the slope. But it would be difficult to get there.

Kishore ordered to forget about it for the moment. First let’s get everyone down from this patch; the sack could be retrieved later. Some sat and dragged themselves, while others carefully managed to clear the patch.

Just then I heard Manoj asking Kishore, “I can see the bag, can I go and fetch it.” Now that’s discipline for you. Even though Manoj was a seasoned trekker, he made it a point to get the leader’s permission. What an example to set. And the moment he got an okay from Kishore, what we saw was just amazing. I saw this man running (or even sliding) down the slope, pick up the bag and run back up. It all happened in a jiffy that I managed to click one snap of him doing that.

After that for about an hour we kept facing such difficult patches….but none was as difficult as the first. It was getting hotter and hotter and the water bottles were getting emptier. Lemon and orange sweets were also getting over faster than expected.

There were many breaks in between and each time we stopped Raj and others asked for water. Kishore and Manoj kept on refusing. We didn’t know how much more we had to cover to reach the village and sun wasn’t showing any mercy either. Unlike the previous day when we climbed from Satara, which was densely forested, there wasn’t much shade on this side. We had warned everyone about this before we started. What if there was an emergency where we needed water. Everyone very reluctantly agreed. Water was allowed only when everyone had gathered. No one drank in private. Everyone understood the importance of saving water.

We reached a spot where we saw a kachha road. But we weren’t sure how much we had to walk till the village. There were some unmanned huts at the beginning of the road. Anjali went to check for water. She couldn’t find anyone but she found some pots of water. Apparently the villagers had stocked it for themselves or the trekkers. We wouldn’t know. However we filled a couple of bottles and left some money. But honestly speaking money couldn’t wash away our guilt. We drank lil and started walking. It was well past three, and no one realized that we hadn’t had our lunch. No one was complaining but it was getting to be little frustrating. Everyone just wanted to get to the village, but the road seemed never ending. On route, we met two guys carrying pots of water on their heads. Anjali asked them and they readily obliged. Salil offered them money, which they refused. We were so touched, that some of us refused to drink until we reached the village.

Just then we heard children play and familiar sounds of a village nearby. We could also hear Kishore and Kiran from one of the houses. I reached there to find Noel and Parth playing with a dog. Where would they get all that energy? While I was drinking water I saw Kapil getting his ward. Arey Patcy, who else?

I asked Kishore if we could go for a dip in the river nearby. Kishore informed that everyone had already left for the spot. Aaah, it was so refreshing to splash water onto your face and lie down in the stream. After bathing, we changed and headed straight to the house where lunch was awaiting us. We had the best bhakris and sabzi, daal chawal. Everyone ate their hearts out.

After thanking the villagers we took our bags and walked towards our bus. Yes… we had arranged a private bus to take us from Choravne village to Mumbai. Planing boss, planning. This last patch seemed even more difficult. I suffered cramps, which had to be attended to. Somehow I managed to reach the bus.

In the bus, Dr. Kapil was attending to blisters on Pat’s feet. We left the village at around 6pm. Everyone was refreshed and had energy to sing some taraane naye purane. The best number came from Manoj – singing – Ek jhopda banayenge, dono mazze karenge – in his unique style. Waise he admits that he sings for himself.

Anil and Jaison left us at Khed, from where they would travel back to their respective destinations. In the bus we had some testimonials. Arvind agreed to have learnt a lot from his first trek. He admitted that it was the first time ever that he had washed his own plate. He promised to keep up the good work and help his mom more often.

Anu wished she could join us more often. We don’t mind coming to Dubai, Anu. Just send us those tickets and we’d be there.

Abhilash who by now had done many a trek with Manoj, admitted how innocently he had asked the latter, if he could get Bisleri water on the top of the mountain, during his first trek. Manoj had convinced him that he could get real mineral water up there. He now laughs on his stupid questions.

Shailesh always envied his sister Swati who was a regular with us. But now he had experienced all the fun personally, which till that day he had only heard from his chatter box sister.

Hitesh was proud to have done what none his friends in college must have done. Celebrating Republic Day atop a mountain. We appreciate your papad-roasting skills buddy.

Kishore was happy that everything went off well and everyone had co-operated so well. Basically there was a sense of achievement in everyone.

Am sure everyone wi-ll remember this trek for a long long time. I would easily put this among the top five treks that I have done so far.

-Reuben

Also see

Manoj’s Vasota photos

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