This was by far the most exciting and adrenaline filled weekend in the 25 years and a few months of my existence.
This weekend, six people came together on orkut, and after much deliberation, decided to hike up the hills to a Shivaji era fort, Lohagad, in Lonavla range. The decision was made quickly and the planning even quicker. Six of us, five initially, including me, decided to meet at Dadar station, take a train upto Malawli village, and start our trip to Lohgaon, the base for climbing up to the fort. Unfortunately, we missed the last train at 11.30 pm. We were now left with two choices - either take a private taxi to Malawli or a bus to Malawli. We went with the former and got a Tavera. It was crowded with 10 people, still it was fun to begin. André and Gautam couldn't stop chatting all the way :-) The taxi driver didn't know the place we were talking about and overshot Malawli and led us up to Kamshet. Now, he was in a desperation to ditch us and make his trip to Pune. The first major bad thing to happen was when André lost his wallet in the Taxi. I still have a suspicion that he dropped it in the taxi and one of the four other riders (who were got by the driver to fill his quota) must've found it and kept it. We got down at Kamshet and waited for the first local between Pune and Lonavla. Instead of waiting in the railway station, Aditya, Gautam, André, and I decided to go for a small warm-up trek in the nearby hillock. It was a cold night and by the time we reached the top and came back (it was very small) we were feeling very hot! The other two had gone down to Kamshet station and found benches to sleep peacefully. We caught the first train to Malawli and walked towards the village, crossing the place where we were supposed to have got down in the first place. After some watery tea and a couple of cigarretes, we decided to start walking to beat the sun. Little did we know that the sun is all too powerful and would beat us black and blue by the time we finish the trek.
The trek started at around 7 am in the morning; we were all raring to conquer a fort. After about some 30 minutes, the sun had come out completely and was showing just a part of its power. Three of us couldn't walk that much, so we slowed down and fell back. Fortunately, we found a small shack selling very good Nimbu Pani (lemon juice). We all had 2 glasses each and got charged up. It turned out we were on the foot of another hill, and Lohagad was another, just across us from that point. We gave a look at that fort (Visapur) and thought we could do both of them in one day. So we started walking up towards Visapur fort. The path was full of thorny bushes and rocks. After walking for maybe 30 minutes, there was no path going up - just a path that seemed to go downhill again, and a tiny clearing towards the steep face of the hill. After some deliberation, we just walked along the path. Instead of a well defined path like in other treks, it just narrowed down into a single track through the brush and bushes. We decided to take a chance and tried to find the road to the top of the hill through that thin line. This took us almost two hours at the end! Sometimes we went through flat ground, sometimes we had to climb up steeply. Sometimes the path disappeared completely, only for us to walk through the step-like structures created by seasonal waterfalls. All through, we could see the coming closes towards us, our only fear was what if turned out to be a dead-end, like thousands of Mughal soldiers had found out the hard way a few centuries back? We had almost run out of water by the time we reached a small temple just below the fort, carved into the hill. It had a carving of Hanuman, but it was painted bright saffron! The trek uphill was coming to a close, and just a few metres ahead, we reached the ramparts. We were told that there would be a lake in the middle, but what we found was just a small tank filled with mud and very little water, a big disappointment.
At the top, Arjun, one of the trekkers, promptly went to sleep in what must've been the barracks, like a true urban soldier. Even Shishir, the most experienced trekker among us, was very tired, mainly due to lack of water. André and I decided to walk along the ramparts and took a few "action shots." André was born model material, he knew how to please a photographer. I just copied some of André's poses. Aditya and Gautam (the youngest among us) tried to do a level 3 trek, and climbed the small hill within the fort meanwhile. We had to share space there with a bunch of buffaloes, which must've been scared by the sight of people, and got ready to charge us. We met another group of 4 trekkers, who told they came up another way, in about 30 minutes! We were surprised. The other group decided to go our way and we decided to go their way - we decided to swap ways. Now we had to find a waterfall (dried up) and climb down that. After 30 minutes, we could not find it. When we decided to give up and walk back the tortuous way, Arjun found out the waterfall just ahead of him, and climbed down first to lead us by example. We got all our stuff ultra secure and walked to the bottom. The descend was almost vertical. At a point, there was a path visible to the right of us and just a few more metres of waterfalls below us. One group of three took the trail and another three (with me in it) went down the falls. We finally reached the trail and found out it was where we decided to follow the trail earlier. After carrying 60 kgs of me and my rucksack, my legs found themselves very easy to carry my a-little-heavy upper body, and I felt like I was floating. The other group meanwhile had some trouble due to the blazing sun and lack of water. The last few precious sips of water had probably saved someone from fainting. From there, we knew the lemon juice shack was just a few minutes away, and we walked as fast as we could towards that. We were very happy to reach the shack and sat down in the shade; the temperature in the shade was a few degrees higher than in the sun, still shade was shade and we all sat inside and ordered a round of nimbu pani for all of us.
There were three little kids playing inside the shack, one was the daughter of the lady running the shack. This little girl was very cute, and whatever her mother told her, she repeated the lines again and again as a song! I then ordered a Zunka-Bhakar (chapatti made of rice flour, and some vegetable stew) and found it very very tasty. I eat everyday in a Zunka-bakar shop, but did not feel like having that any time. The lady told us that the store was up only on the weekends, as no one else came that way in the week days. She was referring to people like us, the trekkers from the big city, trying to do heavy stuff that we don't normally do.
After sitting in the shack for about 30 minutes, we did not feel like getting up at all. Reluctantly, we got up and started walking down. Four of the gang went down fast and two of us (Shishir and I) fell back. We tried to follow the route taken earlier, but we lost our way and instead went into an orphanage. The people in the school started shouting at us and didn't even let us drink water from the cooler there. The manager told us to come to his office where, he said, he will give us water. With our parched throats, we went to his office only to be shown a store just inside the gate. We were not complaining and just bought a bottle of ice-cold water and sat for a few minutes. In the meanwhile, the other four had reached the base village where we originally started, somehow found an auto and went to the station. They had left one guy back to receive us, and sent the auto back to pick us up. Shishir told that the auto felt much better than any low-cost airline he had travelled in.
To finish the trek, we decided to take a train to Lonavala and decide there, whether to take a train or bus back to Mumbai. At Lonavla, we had a medium-sized lunch in a restaurant. Refreshed, we decided against the bus and took a train to Karjat. Gautam decided to stay in Lonavla, see a few of his friends, and come back the next day. Five of us bought tickets and took an express train from Kolhapur to Mumbai; we had to travel in the unreserved coach, the general compartment, which was very crowded. I had travelled in such coaches earlier, so I did not feel like it was overcrowded, while some did not like the journey, which they felt was awfully overcrowded. We had to wait for another 20 minutes in Karjat, for the Karjat local to VT. I was so high with the trip (the trek, not acid) that I even ordered an oily vada-pav from a guy in the platform. As soon as I sat in the train, being awake for over 28 hours, I immediately fell asleep, only to be worken up by Aditya just before we reached Dadar. The train ride from Dadar to Andheri was fun for me. I had never felt this dirty in my life and was proud of it for the first time. After reaching my house, I just hit the sack and woke up at 10:30 in the morning. So much for starting a work-week after a rejuvenating trip.