If someone had told me a week ago that I’d be standing on top of the highest peak of the Sahyadri, I would’ve laughed at them; hard. Me?? And trek?? It was something that was difficult for me to imagine, especially because I am not athletic at all and even more so when my geography was just refreshed when I found out that Kalsubai is the highest peak in the Sahyadri ranges (I never liked geography anyway.)
For me, it was an outing with my school gang – something I had been looking forward to since the day we decided that we would all go away for a weekend trip. So I was all excited about going on a trip and having fun. Madhu and Amit told me two days before the trip that we would be going trekking and advised that I should bring appropriate shoes to facilitate the climb and strictly warned me against bringing any footwear that had heels. They added that apart from being appropriately dressed for the trek, I should also be mentally prepared for the trek and I thought, how hard could a trek be? Turns out, very!
Packing and Preparing
We were scheduled to leave early in the morning on Saturday before dawn from Andheri and so I had to reach there Friday night. I was still coughing and hadn’t slept properly for three nights in a row and was doubtful as to whether I should go. I went to the doctor Friday morning since he had told me when I had visited him previously that I would experience some relief in a day or two; it had been more than forty-eight hours and I was still coughing (harder each time if possible) and my body hurt with the jerks I felt every time I coughed.
The doc altered the medication and gave me a few more tablets for the next two days assuring me that the cough would be better in a day or two since it was a viral infection and that would take three to five days at least. He also suggested that a blood test be done if it didn’t get better by the time I came back from the trip as the Eosinophil count in my blood would have increased beyond normal. With that assurance, I came back home. My head was aching very badly because of all the coughing and I just had to lie down for a while after lunch. I took a nap for about an hour and a half after which I started packing.
It was an effort to carry just one bag and that too a small one and not carry all my basic essentials. But since the guys had insisted that I carry minimum baggage, I tried to fit all my stuff in one small carry bag which contained an extra pair of pants, three Tees, inner garments, a nightdress, a toothbrush, a pair of slippers and my medicines. I also took a handbag which carried my purse, my cell phone charger, headphones, a rubber band, an extra clip, my combs :-p, glares, kajal, gloss and my keys.
It hurt to not carry my own towel, soap, shampoo and other stuff that I usually carry with me when I go out of town. I didn’t even take deodorant!! Kamya and I used Jyothi’s who had to carry that, soap, toothpaste and a towel which the three of us would have to use, in addition to her own stuff that she was carrying.
I dressed up in denim three-fourths and a tee, wore my sports shoes (very unlike me; I know!) grabbed a windcheater and set off from Nerul around five in the evening and was at Andheri by seven thirty (the trains were unusually slow because of the rains.) I went to Dadi’s house first where I spent the evening with my cousins and had dinner.
I reached Jyothi’s house around eleven in the night and Kamya arrived about an hour later. We had to start from Mumbai by five in the morning and we knew we would not be able to get up and get ready in time if we went to sleep. We spent the night chatting and catching up and before we knew it, we were freshening up, filling water bottles to carry on our way and getting ready to leave. We were asked by the guys to wear full pants because there may be thorny plants on the way during the trek. So the three of us wore full-length denim (big mistake for me… I’ll tell u how and why) and were waiting for the car we had hired to pick us up.
The Drive to Igatpuri
The car arrived promptly around four forty-five in the morning. The three of us, Amit and Madhu were there already and we loaded our small bags into the car and started off with Ganpati Bappa… Morya – the ‘Morya’ recited only by Kamya and Jyothi when I said ‘Ganpati Bappa…!’ We picked up Vishal and Aditya on the way and the journey to Igatpuri began.
Vishal has fondly named me ‘Bolne ki machine’ which changed to ‘Khaansi ki Raani’ this time contributed by Madhu because I was coughing every few minutes! The songs from the latest Bollywood movies were being played and Vishal, Amit and Madhu managed to twist the words around and make all the songs sound funny/ stupid at which Jyothi, Kamya and I laughed while Aditya sat next to the driver giving him directions.
It took us about three and a half hours to reach Igatpuri and the drive to Igatpuri was awesome. It is located on top of a hill and to get there we had to drive through the clouds and the view was just beautiful.
We continued to chat and have fun while we reached our destination at about eight thirty in the morning.
Once we got there we had to search for a place to stay as we were not able to book a place over the internet. All the resorts there were way beyond our budget and the only place that was within our budget was not all that great, but we still went for it.
It was a small lodging called Hotel Darna (which was spelt differently at different places – ‘Darna’ at the entrance, ‘Dharna’ on the building, ‘Darnaa’ on the menu card, etc.) and though we would have loved to stay at a better place with better facilities, we decided to stay at Darna since a low cost of lodging would mean we could spend more on other stuff 🙂
So we checked in and were at the breakfast table in forty-five minutes. It was a typical Maharashtrian restaurant. Aditya, Vishal and I had Misal Pav whereas the others had Egg bhurji for breakfast along with tea/coffee. After breakfast, we went back to our rooms and decided on what stuff should and should not be taken on the trek.
We stuffed all of our purses/ wallets, cell phones, the two cameras, a water bottle, glares, my medicines and any other stuff that may have value into Vishal’s backpack, wore our shoes and set off for the trek.
The trek was to begin from this village called Bari which was about thirty kilometres from our hotel. We got into our car and drove through this small town called Ghoti which led to Bari village.
Reaching Bari It took us about forty minutes from our hotel to reach Bari because we had to ask the route and turn around and go the other way more than once. On our way, we saw the Sahyadri ranges, their peaks covered by the clouds in a beautiful embrace. The panoramic view was spectacular and I couldn’t help but click a lot of pictures of just the view.
Bari is situated at an altitude of 750 metres (2,461 ft.) Vehicles cannot go beyond a certain point, i.e., a small school. We had to park the car locally and the trek began through the village.
As soon as we approached the school a few locals asked us if we needed a guide. We decided that it would be sensible to have someone who could lead the way than getting stranded on the mountain. A seventeen-year-old boy named Santosh agreed to guide us till the peak and back for a sum of hundred Rupees, and we agreed.The Trek
It was eleven-fifteen in the morning by the time we started the trek. We walked through the small hutments to reach a small waterfall that we had to cross (our first hurdle :P) Fortunately, it wasn’t raining that day but the ground was still a little slippery. We walked through small bushes and there were trees all around us.
The climb was a little steep and everyone was starting to feel tired already. I was wearing these full-length denim jeans that were a perfect fit and hence it was an effort to pull my legs up and place it on a higher step, which led to exertion. Twenty minutes later I found myself panting, unable to take another step because of the pain in my thighs, gasping for breath, wanting to just sit down, whereas the seventeen-year-old guide was sprinting towards the summit and would have reached there and come back in less than half the time we took just to climb up, if he didn’t have us to slow him down.
Amit was closest to where I was and I told him that I needed to sit down. Everyone including Santosh slowed down a bit and waited for me to regain composure. I on the other hand familiar with the way my body works, knew what was about to happen. I told them that I thought that my blood pressure was falling and I didn’t think that I should continue. Everyone asked me to rest for a bit and told me that I would feel better in a while. I sat there for about two minutes before it started to get worse.
I could feel the familiar weird churning inside my stomach that made me feel uneasy and I told everyone that I was blacking out. Amit knelt down next to where I was seated on a rock and asked me to relax and not panic while someone gave me some water to drink from the bottle we had carried. That is when we realized that we should have carried something to eat as well.
Anyway, the churning sensation in my stomach was getting worse and with every passing second, I was trying hard to just remain conscious, almost in tears thinking about how I was ruining the trek for everyone. A moment later I just lost control of consciousness and slipped from where I was sitting and would have fallen if it hadn’t been for Amit who held me the second I lost control. I was still half-conscious while Amit held me and I was murmuring something about not wanting to go as I didn’t have any strength left and said sorry. There was a small group of people passing by who saw what had happened and offered us a few Parle-G biscuits (Bless them!)
Someone put a small piece of biscuit in my mouth and I wasn’t even able to chew properly. I was able to eat only half the biscuit. We gave the other half to a dog that was standing nearby. It took me sometime before I could sit up straight, without any support, and even then I was asked to lie down on the muddy path with someone’s windcheater placed under my head as a cushion cum dirt-resistant. My body was wet with sweat and I had made up my mind that I was in no condition to take even another step towards the summit.
The entire gang was very patient with me and ensured me that I could do it, there was nothing to worry about and we could take a break every time I felt tired. Santosh was busy breaking twigs when the entire group was doting over me, ensuring that I was feeling better. We waited at that place for some time till I felt I could start walking again and started climbing slowly, the dog following us. If it wasn’t for everyone’s patience, I wouldn’t have managed to take even a step further.
I had just finished reading Paths of Glory by Jeffery Archer a few days back and the book is a biography of this mountaineer (George Mallory) whose dream was to conquer the Everest. It describes the expedition organized by the Royal Geographical Society in 1924 where George leads the expedition. In the book, there were details about how the climbing party managed the climb, how they battled the extreme weather conditions which helped me quite a bit while I was climbing to reach Kalsubai. Even though the Everest is at 29,002 ft and Kalsubai at a mere 5,406 ft, and Mallory and his team did not have any railings to hold on to, to assist them in the climb while we did, I could relate to some tiny parts of the story that made me feel better and helped me climbing the remaining 3,000 ft or so from Bari village after I nearly fainted.
After slowly climbing for another half an hour (Santosh had told us that it would just be a fifteen-minute climb… of course we have to consider that he could reach there much faster than we ever could) we reached this small temple which was our first official stop. The wind was blowing on our faces and a little bit of the tiredness started to go away and left us refreshed. We spent about fifteen minutes at the temple and continued our climb (the time now about 12:10 PM) to the summit which according to Santosh would be just another two hours.
Half an hour later we reached a plateau which had a small Nimbu paani stall where we could also buy biscuits 🙂 For me, after almost losing consciousness Nimbu paani was the thing I needed. So all of us gulped down one huge glass each and munched a few packets of Parle-G before we stuffed Vishal’s backpack with a few more packets. We gave one or two biscuits to the dog that was still following us and we all concluded that he was my Guardian Angel 🙂
By this point our bottle that could carry 1.5 litres of water was almost empty and we refilled it at the stall before we continued climbing. After another hour’s climb we reached another plateau which had cliffs on both sides and clouds in front of us through which we walked!!! We sat down for about fifteen minutes to rest and enjoy the beautiful view which each and every one of us fell in love with.
Reluctantly we all started walking away from the mini heaven we had reached and at about 1:30 PM we reached this point where there were railings along the path that we could hold on to, to assist us in climbing. At some places, there were stone steps (sometimes very high ones that were difficult to climb) which had railings on one or both sides to help us climb up.
Other places had iron ladders so steep that we had to try and not look down when we were climbing up. Unfortunately, some of us did look down when specifically asked not to and freaked out! The guys had started swearing long back when the climb had started to take a toll on us and I was hearing phrases I had never heard before in my life and they were hilarious! In the sixteen years that I’ve known the guys, I had never heard them swear so much in all those years put together as much as they did on that day while climbing up and down!!
It was drizzling on and off and at about two in the afternoon we reached a point where we discovered that there were dew drops on our body. Our hair, eyebrows and eyelashes were covered with tiny drops of water that resembled tiny icicles.
Even the plants were covered with small droplets of water and it seemed as if little pearls grew on the plants.
We realized that the temperature there was very low but somehow we didn’t need to wear our windcheaters. Our bodies had generated enough heat due to the effort it took all of us while climbing for about three hours now (and were still about an hour and a half away from the summit) that we didn’t feel the cold; it was pleasant.
Fortunately, we did not come across any wild animals throughout the climb which we were afraid we might have to face and that’s why we carried a small knife. The only living creatures there apart from us, the trees and the dog were a few crabs. There were very small; their size a little larger than the cap of a bottle. The strange thing about these crabs was that their bodies were golden yellow or orange in colour while their limbs were milky white.
At each step, we thought that we had reached the peak because we could not see how much higher the peak was since it was covered by the clouds. After climbing for another hour (Santosh always a more than a few feet ahead of us, happily sitting on some huge rock waiting for us to catch up; without a hint of tiredness) we reached a well and were disappointed that we weren’t there yet. A few of us were so frustrated that we were just climbing and were not reaching anywhere apparently and were prepared to go back down! Though the well water was not all that clean, our throats were parched and we didn’t care if the water was clean or not as long as we could quench our thirst. We suspended the bucket placed next to the well into it with the aid of the rope that was tied to its handle and extracted it half filled. We each drank a little water and dragged our tired bodies up the mountain for another thirty minutes or so.
At every railing that we came across, we hoped that it would be the last and that there would be no more. At around 3:45, our prayers were answered and we came across this scarily steep iron ladder that was more than thirty feet high. We knew that was the last railing because we could hear the temple bells ringing. We climbed the scariest steps on that ladder and reached the summit after another minute of climbing a few rocks.
We could see the small temple through the clouds that engulfed us. The wind blew so fiercely that it took a lot of strength for us to not get blown away! Behind the temple was where the plateau at the summit ended and it was surrounded by railings which acted as a shield. We stood close to the railing almost hugging the iron bars to feel the wind slap our faces so hard that it was impossible to keep our eyes fully open. All we could see from there were the clouds below us and it seemed as if there was nothing below the clouds. And my cough miraculously disappeared all through the climb! It was extremely cold and I wasn’t coughing at all. Vishal and Madhu (who were irritated with me coughing every now and then) suggested that I should be left at the peak! :-p
After a few minutes, we started to feel cold and we had to wear our windcheaters lest we freeze! I started to put on my windcheater but the wind was blowing so hard that I could put only one hand through but had to struggle a little to get my other hand inside. I decided to turn the other way such that the wind blew from behind me and I succeeded in putting my other hand through the windcheater and the hood placed itself on my head automatically!
We didn’t wait for long at the summit because we were hungry and cold and wanted to reach down before it became dark (the time now somewhere around four.)
Another thing I learnt from Paths of Glory was that it was easier to climb up than down because when you are climbing up the distance between the next step and your eyes is barely a few feet and you can see where you have to place your hands and feet to pull your body upwards whereas while climbing down the distance between your eyes and the next step is more than your height! Also, when you’re trekking in the rainy season the ground is slippery. Another thing that we had to consider was that since the climb was steep getting down such a steep slope would be more difficult though less time consuming because two steps in the downward direction would give us some momentum which would be difficult to manage if we didn’t step carefully.
With all of that in mind, we started our descent and reached that scary railing that we had to climb down now. Kamya was the first to go and I followed her slowly, holding on tightly to both sides for support and stepping very carefully. After what seemed like ten long minutes I reached the bottom of the railing to see Madhu, Amit, Jyothi, Vishal and Aditya (in that order) carefully trying to climb down without panicking. All of us heaved a sigh of relief when we reached the base of the ladder.
Madhu and I experienced shivering sensations in our feet every time we stopped somewhere and decided not to stop for long anywhere and continued walking through the haze; Santosh still way ahead of us. We had to ask him to slow down. At one point we couldn’t see Santosh and we all started yelling his name and decided to stick together till we found him. After a few moments and a few steps in a direction we had no idea about, we found him and asked him to stay within visibility.
Obviously climbing down took a lot lesser time and effort but it was more dangerous than climbing up as one wrong move, one slip would have landed us in deep crevasses that did not seem to have a bottom. The railings which seemed to be never-ending were nowhere to be found. We walked and walked and it seemed as if we had never seen these places before even though we were walking down that same path that we used to climb up. It was forty-five minutes before we reached a railing and it took us another forty-five minutes to an hour to cover all the railings.
Our toes had started to hurt through the shoes as we were all stepping down toe first and that combined with the fact that our legs were already hurting due to the climb slowed us down even more whereas we wanted to get down as soon as possible. We were tired, weary, frustrated, hungry, drenched in the dew and icky and it seemed that even after hours of climbing down we still had a long way to go. All of us were sure that we had each lost at least five kilos and that made everyone a little happy; so happy that the guys decided that they would eat fifteen kilos of chicken to compensate for the massive weight loss that would happen as a result of the trek.
After what seemed like an eternity we came to the place where we walked through the clouds for the first time (our mini-heaven) and thought that we could see the Nimbu paani stall from up there. It took longer than we thought it would, to reach the stall (the guys still swearing non-stop.)
When we did reach there we were all exhilarated to find out that apart from lime juice and Parle-G biscuits even tea was available. Vishal, Madhu and Amit who had reached before the rest of us, had already placed an order for tea for everyone. We all had a round of lime juice and biscuits before tea was ready. We relished Parle-G like we’d never eaten anything nearly as delicious ever in our lives! I’ve never liked Parle-G all that much, but even I loved it! While we were seated on the small wooden bench at the stall we were so comfortable that none of us wanted to get up and start walking again! But we had to!
Now there was only one stop left and we were to reach the car in about an hour. We had all tried to stay together while climbing down as the terrain was rocky, slippery and foggy and it was essential that we keep track of the person immediately ahead of us as well as right behind us. But now that we were at a much safer place and visibility wasn’t an issue at all, we all started walking at our own paces and finally reached the temple where we stopped again for a few minutes and clicked a group photo.
Back to the hotel
We mechanically slumped into the car, removed our windcheaters, some of us even removed our shoes and relaxed for the first time in eight hours! Some of us fell asleep while the others were still awake and continued talking about the trek, the view, cursing the fact that it took so long to get up there, how hungry we all were and how we couldn’t wait to get to the hotel, have dinner and then party afterwards.
Of course, no one was in the condition to party. By the time we girls had a bath and freshened up for dinner and went to the guys’ room to check if they were ready, the guys were already asleep! Four huge guys on one small double bed! We had to wake them up like you wake kids up, bribing them with the fact that they could eat chicken at dinner.
At dinner, we all ate like we’d never been fed our entire lives! The fact that the food was tasty added to it! After dinner, we all went to the guys’ room where they opened a bottle of vodka! Everyone (except me and Aditya) had a glass and was already half asleep before they could finish it.
So we (the girls) went back to our room and tried to sleep. Jyothi fell asleep instantly whereas it took some time for Kamya to fall asleep. I, on the other hand, don’t know if I slept at all with all the coughing that I was doing all through the night!
It was an extremely eventful and adventurous day and an awesome experience; completely out of this world in the real sense of the term! But it still felt incomplete because Sandeep, Jay and Omkar were not there! We missed you guys!
Phew! I guess this is the longest post I’ve written so far. So let me save the details of Day 2 for the next post.