Wednesday, May 6, 2009

High on Rajmachi

Often, some trips, some treks lodge themselves in memory and refuse to budge. What makes them so memorable is usually a very disastrous incident. Injured trekkers, water shortages or even adventures of roughing it out in the outdoors in the mornings (ahem!) are part of the deal. But the trek to Rajmachi last weekend, on the 1st and 2nd of May, had none of these. It was, well, ordinary. Almost forgettably so. But even then, I remember it well enough to write this piece. I remember it well because in some way, all of us were high on Rajmachi.
So there we were after weeks of co-ordinating. Twelve of us met at the Lonavala station, all geared up to the long walk up to the fort. The demographics of the group were slightly unusual. Being an unofficial trek, the number of ex-students (Anish, Rohan, Rucha, Gayatri and Jovy) was almost the same as the number of current students (Anujeet, Vallari, Mili, Ryan, Supraket and me). We even had a non-NC member, Kedar, with us.
In his usual Commander-in-chief style, Anish rounded us up and began the march towards the fort at about 6p.m. But all this was not before we ensured that all of us had at least 3 litres of water and enough food to last the night.
Now, loaded with enough water to flood the fort and bags full of Cup Noodles, we started walking. The first stop of our destination was to be the Tungarli Dam, which was the beginning of the actual trek. To reach here we passed the quiet bylanes of Lonavala. Here, I take a moment to mention that Lonavala was a beautiful place. I use the past tense here, because Mumbai seems to have slowly clawed itself into this quiet hilly resort in the form of empty Pepsi bottles and gutka packets which litter the floor. Also, if I have seen a place with an even bigger stray dog problem than Mumbai, it is here. Nevertheless, we walked on till a point where human encroachment (illegal or otherwise) reached a minimum. The only reminders of the scary metropolis in the making below were huge gravel-laden trucks and monstrous bulldozers. According to Mili, our very own Lonavala girl, they were making a road on the hill, which once comfortable motorable, would enable the government to sell the surrounding area. Hmm…
Our trek upwards, was oddly, not upwards at all! We were sort of walking, endlessly, on a long undulating path. It was narrow and covered with dust and gravel bits thrown off from the bulldozers. We went up and down and up again. We walked at a comfortable pace too, lest Mili (with excess baggage in her backpack) and I (with excess baggage on me!) were lagging behind! But in spite of our comfortable pace we managed to cover enough distance while daylight was still on our side. Then, the best part of the trek began.
Walking in the dark has a different charm about it. Firstly, it’s never completely dark. Once your eyes adjust, there’s this ghostly glow on everything. It’s not extremely beautiful. It’s more surreal, if anything. We could probably have walked on for what seemed like ages. The terrain rarely changed. It was the same undulating road, with either barren land or interruptions of dry vegetation juxtaposed against the now blue, black surrounding earth on both sides. That’s when a sort of a high sets in. it’s what makes feet fall in front of each other even when they’re tired. It’s this high we all were searching for. It’s exactly what makes 12 people come to the middle of nowhere and exert themselves after a tiring work week. Some call it Biophilia. In some cases its spread by the infectious bite of the WCNC Bug. Highly contagious…
At one point we halted at a small rocky junction. A quick break for tired feet. We even came across a lone trekker. There is probably something even more romantic about walking along these trails alone. We would never know. Our group by now had connected well. Almost all of us knew each other from earlier camps and treks. This was a good time to catch up.
There were parts of the trek when it got too dark. It was where there were sufficiently dense deciduous forests looming over the path to hide away the moonlight. Powerful torches came to aid and we successfully made it through these patches without tripping over rocks or treading over any snakes or other ground-dwelling wildlife in the dark (or so we believe).
After what seemed like a long time, we reached the village at the base of the fort. It’s a hamlet really, with a school and half a dozen houses and shops. A local elderly man advised us to set up camp right there. The fort at night isn’t safe, the villagers say. But coming up till here and not going up would have been pointless. So, on we marched.
In the short hike up to the temple below the fort, Commander-in-chief, along with Comrades Mili, Supraket, Rohan, Jovy and Ryan collected dry sticks, leaves and firewood. While some got busy trying to light a fire to boil water, Kedar was shooting off into bouts of paranoia and was mistaking the local emaciated dogs to be leopards!
But soon, all fear of any non-existent wild animals disappeared and stomachs started growling. After burning all those calories in the hike up, we promptly compensated by hogging on large quantities of cup noodles, parathas, eggs, bread, cheese and popcorn. Ryan, being creative as he is, even mixed a few of these together to come up with a culinary masterpiece!
Nothing could have made the night better, but something did. The one thing that tells you that you’re not in the city- a clear starry sky. It was something amazing. The moon had almost set by then and the stars became clearer. I tried for a moment to locate constellations but gave up. It’s at these times, when you’re looking at huge, burning balls of fire thousands and millions of light-years away that you begin to feel infinitesimally small. It’s a wonderful feeling.
Soon, tired and well fed, we dived headlong into deep slumber. The ones who did stay awake longer than the rest had to listen to the sounds of the forest form a melody with the resonating snores of the rest of us. But we only snore when we’re tired, don’t we?
The next morning, we decided to go right up to the top of the fort. After a climb that took not more than 20 minutes, we were overlooking the whole path we had trekked the previous day. It was a view from the top that words like breathtaking or splendid would only belittle. We’d all been to possibly more beautiful faraway places on previous camps. But when you know you’ve walked 13 kms oneway for this, it just make the place that much more special. Finally, we were, literally, high on Rajmachi.
We spent a few silent and some not-so-silent moments there. It was more relaxing than the whole night’s sleep hadn’t been. It really was something else. We even discovered a little bat-inhabited cave on the way.
The way down was quick and almost effortless. We reached the base village where we had a superbly delicious and ridiculously inexpensive breakfast of Poha and Nimbu Pani, prepared by a local household.
By this time it was almost 9 a.m. in the morning. Walking back in the increasingly ferocious sun would have been nothing short of suicide. So we took a jeep back to the station. It was a bumpy ride. But since we were 12 of us plus a driver squeezed into a sumo, we were well cushioned against the impact of the road.
In less than an hour or so we reached the Lonavala. The long trek up, the stay at the temple, the awesome starry sky, the climb to the fort in the morning, everything in less than 24 hours. We were definitely high on Rajmachi.

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