There is KshitiZ on the Horizon
So far I had never even imagined going on a trek with a crowd of 30 odd people. And that too with a group of guys and gals, none of whom I had ever seen before. When I told about my idea of going on a trek with TreKshitiZ, a friend of mine expressed no different doubts and said, "Have fun!" The sarcasm was too clear to be ignored. But I wanted to do a trek and the thought of not joining it was too painful for me. So ignoring my friend's sarcasm I said to myself, "Let me try" and I did.
TreKshitiZ had till date only a virtual existence for me. I had seen their web site, taken down some information I required for our own treks and exchanged a couple of mails with a faceless guy called Harshal Mahajan. But in real terms TreKshitiZ was to me as virtual as its web site.
It was when I called them to inquire about the trek to Gorakhgad that TreKshitiZ came to life. And it did so with speed. Actually, that evening when I called three of the contacts mentioned on the web site, I got none of them at their residences. 'I shall try after a couple of hours....or may be tomorrow', was my thought. But then my phone rang in another twenty odd minutes and the voice said, "Am I speaking to Prasad ? This is Amey Joshi". That was a surprise for me, as I had not kept my number with any of the guys. But then that's the way TreKshitiZ acts - quick. As soon as he came home, Amey was given the message that one Prasad had called. He took efforts to see the number on his telephone instrument with caller ID facility and wasted no time in calling me.
This was repeated the next day and this time to my greater surprise. I had called Amey's residence. He was not there. But somehow the message reached him that I had called and he returned my call from wherever he was. This time Kiran Kannadkar was with him. Kiran was going to lead the trek to Gorakhgad. Quickly he gave me the details about the trek - when, where and how. The call was over and I was hooked in. I had now actually started looking forward to the trek.
Gorakhgad is a cool spot, not too far away from Mumbai. By the local train we reached Kalyan and then onwards to Murbad with the ST bus. Though the bus was full and most of us had to stand, the journey was enjoyable. Partly due to the cool January morning and partly due to the thought of the trek that I was going to start in a short while. It always happens that way.
The bus reached Murbad in less than an hour's time. And that was the place for breakfast. Freshly prepared Vada-Pav and steaming hot Masala Chai are the perfect stimulants for treks. That makes you come out of sleep, pumps in the energy inside your body from nowhere and cheers up even the dullest of the faces. It was after this Vada-Pav and Tea that my body was stimulated enough and I started looking at the crowd around me.
I have a problem and that I cannot remember names. I mean, I do remember the names - I am not a Bhulakkad. Rather I am proud about my ability to remember the names. But there is a small hitch and that I have a tough time identifying names with faces. Especially when I get newly introduced to people - that too to a crowd of 30 at the same time. That's too much for my brain.
But that day it was not all my fault. Within the past one hour I had discovered the fact that almost everyone in the TreKshitiZ group has a pet name. One was 'Appa'. One was 'Appasaheb'. One girl was always referred to as 'Tai' (meaning the elder sister) and one was called 'Butlee'….only God knows what it means! One guy was 'Zanshi !' and another girl was 'Dhara' (the real name being Radha, as I found out at the end of the day!). Kiran, the group leader was 'Bhai' and one fellow for no apparent reason was 'Anna". So after addressing at least seven guys with names that none in the group had and talking to six guys with wrong assumptions about their real names, I started having doubt about my own name. Hence I decided to believe in Shakespeare for a while and stopped worrying about the names by which those happy souls were referred to.
Happy souls that they are! TreKshitiZ is a cheerful group. It's a young crowd. Most of them are students, or have just passed out. This group is never idle. They converse, they chat, they speak, they tell, they listen, they express, they over-express, they crack good jokes, they crack poor jokes, they crack poor jokes again, they sing, they shout, they yell, they yell louder, they laugh, they dance, they shout and then they yell louder than ever before - non stop !
All this was a "Fokat ka Time-Pass" for me and slowly I started enjoying the crowd. They are really lovable! And good-natured too. Frankly speaking, I am an extremely reserved person. And it takes me ages till I get comfortable with new acquaintances. This was not known to these good-natured buddies, and hence everyone was trying hard to make me comfortable. They introduced me to each and everyone in the group, they always tried to include me in the conversation, they tried to talk with me about treks, they asked me whether I was getting bored and so on and so forth. And to my own surprise, I started speaking to them on my own !
So the stage was set. Perfect winter weather, a group of well-behaved and good-at-heart trekkers, Vada-Pav and Chai resting in the stomach and a beautiful destination called Gorakhgad. Now let me tell you something about this place: Firstly, though it is called a Gad, there is no fort on top. So one won't see things like strong fortifications and cannons there. But there is a small temple at the topmost spot, spacious man-made caves at a lower level and many tanks with ample water - even in the month of January.
Our trek started from a village called 'Dehri', where we had reached in three-quarters of an hour from Murbad. To reach this village from Murbad, one needs to travel further by the Kalyan-Ahmednagar highway till 'Shivle' junction, where a small road (or the remains of something that was once called road) goes to the right. This ‘road’ meets with another somewhat wider road in the interior and at this junction is the village of Dehri. A small place, where according to the official information live about 450 human beings, outnumbered by 500+ cattle.
As soon as we get down at the junction, towards east we can see the gigantic wall of the Western Ghats. The sight is marvelous! Though it was already 8.30 a.m. when we reached, the village was still in the shadow of the great natural wall. That made the pleasant cool weather last longer and the climb much less strenuous. Almost immediately after getting down from the bus we started walking. When you turn to your right at the junction and start walking, you can see a temple on left at a short distance. One just needs to go behind this temple and the way to Gorakhgad can be easily found out.
With the massive ghat wall as backdrop, we see two pinnacles in front of us, which stand separated by a short distance from the main ghat-wall. The left one is slightly shorter than the other, but certainly equally attractive due to its excellent proportions. That's Machchhindra. And the right one is Gorakh. When looked from the village, it is difficult to imagine that one can reach the very top of that pinnacle, which has no apparent access ways. But certainly, one can reach the top. This is how -
From behind the temple, start walking up the hill in front of you. In about 15 to 20 minutes you can reach the top of the hill. The hilltop is wide enough to give you a feeling of having reached the first plateau. But the relaxing thought is short lived, as almost immediately afterwards you learn that you have to go down the hill again and hence obviously need to climb once more. So the efforts made during the first 20 minutes go down the drain!
Gorakh has a north-south ridge, which further has a smaller offshoot on its west. As soon you climb down the first hill mentioned above, this offshoot ridge starts. This ridge has a nice gradient and hence you reach good height in a short time. On your left stand the two pinnacles Gorakh-Machchhindra at around 10 O'clock position. ( man ! that sounds professional ! Good trick.) And at around 3 O'clock position (vow ! look at that !) the flat topped mountain of Siddhagad towers at a distance, also standing separated from the ghat-wall.
After climbing this offshoot ridge one reaches the north-south ridge descending from Gorakh. You take a few steps on the way and in a flash of second get stunned due to the view ahead. "Oh!", "Aah!", "Lovely !", "Great!", "Sahee Yaar!", "Lai Bhaari!", "Too good ! Too good !!". These are some of the very many expressions you keep on hearing, as the climbers behind you reach that spot one after the other. In front is the great wall, not too far away now. Robust and unshakable ! Quiet and still like a "Yogi" (sage), mighty like an elephant. And between you and this wall is a nice valley with thick forest cover.
On the left and at a height, the small opening in the rock of Gorakh is now visible. At this point you are almost circumventing the rock. Along the way there is an ancient Shiva temple, now totally in ruins. Once upon a time this temple must have seen a lot of hustle and bustle. But now lie only a few carved out stones scattered here and there. This place is nice to make a short halt. The thick shadows of big trees and a strong gust of wind are very relaxing.
At this point one has to look around carefully for the way ahead. From near the temple ruins, one way goes almost straight ahead - may be a bit rightish. But that won't take you to the top. It will in fact circumvent Gorakh completely and bring you to the base of the pinnacle of Machchhindra. And that won't be of any good, as you need to be a real, real rock-climbing expert with all the necessary equipment at hand, if you wish to reach the top of Machchhindra. So don't even try that, leave it to the experts. For the rest like you and me, it is advisable to turn to the left. Here you see a small, precariously held ancient stone wall, on top of which has grown a peeple tree. The way can be easily seen on the right of the wall and adjacent to it.
Now you have almost begun climbing the pinnacle. Well cut stone-bricks, which once must have stood as sturdy walls of temples and other buildings can now be seen lying here and there. Some even have beautiful carvings on them. Same is the case with the steps carved out of the hard rock. After centuries of beating by rain and the sun, these steps are eroded at most of the places leaving hardly any space to rest your feet. Nonetheless they do facilitate easy climbing.
At a few feet above, a small door-like aperture in the rock painted in saffron colour has looks of a temple. However, that is nothing but the way carved out through the solid rock. The mediaeval architect has used a simple idea here, by cutting out a small, stepped tunnel instead of breaking down the whole rock in order to make open steps. The arrangement reminds one of the carved-out staircase of Peth (Kothaligad), though the one at Gorakh is not as big.
A wonderful view awaits you, when you come out of the stepped tunnel. As enough height is reached by now, one can have a bird's-eye-view on the eastern side. The long ghat wall can now be seen spread north-south, right from the pinnacles of Naneghat and Jeevdhan fort on the north to the rugged Siddhagad at south. Also in the direction of Naneghat can be seen the ranges of Harishchandragad.
From this point onwards, one needs to be a bit cautious while climbing. Not that it is too difficult, but an extra care during the vertical climb is not a bad idea. Most of the steps are broken , leaving just enough space to rest one's foot. And at a few places they are missing entirely. However, the better part is that excellent grips are provided in the rock, which makes the climb quite easy. (A notable point: The last 50 + meters at Gorakh is bare rock. Hence it is better to avoid this trek during monsoon. I heard that a couple of guys in the Kshitiz group have been to Gorakh during the rainy season and frankly speaking I was quite impressed by this adventure of theirs. But if you ask me, I won't try it.)
It is always good to see your efforts being rewarded. And the Sahyadri is always kind enough to reward trekkers. Soon we had reached the big cave carved out of the rock. It is large enough for at least 100 persons to sit. The cave faces north and thus the peaks of Naneghat region can be seen at a distance. Beneath them is a vast expanse of land with good vegetation and a couple of dry rivulets. A good thing about this landscape is that there are scarcely any signs of civilisation. This makes the place an excellent site for meditation- though for that purpose you need to come alone or with a couple of other guys at the most. A number of 30 can not be exactly called 'ideal' to that end. However, in spite of our own crowd and the additional 10 to 15 trekkers, who were awaiting us at the place, the surroundings were quite relaxing.
After the first ten minutes of the state of "Samadhi" (meditative Trance), everyone of us again started becoming aware of the physical realities, one of which was hunger. The 7 O'clock Vada-Pav at Murbad was topped by nothing. And it was now 10.30, with around two hours of climbing in the meanwhile. Though none of us wanted to be the first in admitting that he / she was hungry, brilliant attempts were made by a couple of guys to hint that it was better to open the tiffin boxes without any further delay.
"On your feet !", shouted the troop leader. I was taken by surprise. The last thirty minutes I was enjoying the thought of having completed the trek, that is, at least the climbing part of it. But this relaxing thought vanished in a split of a second with the latest order issued by Kiran. That means - I thought - there is further to go! And sitting near to the cave I could imagine, that if there is anything further, it has to be straight upwards. Trying my best to hide this extreme shock of disappointment by expressions like 'Yeah, we are ready ! Let's go!' and 'Vow ! There is something more !', I lifted my sack together with my own body and proceeded.
This time the climb was to be done with more care than before. And the required discipline was followed strictly by everyone in the group. The task of shouting and cracking jokes, which was executed meticulously since the morning gave way to calmness and concentration. Instructions and suggestions to the fellow trekkers were issued by the ones who had taken lead. With slow and steady pace the group reached the summit quietly.
As that was the highest point on the rock, a bird's-eye-view was possible over the entire 360 degrees. In addition to the eastern side, which was in sight for a long time, the villages and the vast expanse of land on the west could also be seen from the top. The rugged Siddhagad was now completely visible, along with the lake at its base formed by the dam at Jambhurde. It was nice to see the village of Dehri from where our trek had started earlier that day. The entire route by which we had reached this place was very interesting to see. A local guy, who had come to the summit with a couple of his friends also identified for us the nearby villages of 'Uchale', "Narivli' and 'Mhase', as well as tiny white dots much farther towards the horizon, which were parts of the city of Murbad.
The summit area is very small, may be around 50 sq. meters or so. Though the place is not as cool as the caves a few meters below, there is enough shadow on top due to a small temple and a couple of fully grown trees. The joy of reaching the summit, the comforting shadow of the trees and a pleasant breeze inspired a couple of guys and gals of the group to sing and a small Mehfil of Gazals began instantly. As I am not one who can be particularly called a singer, I was just enjoying the view and the nice Gazals, which were being sung on the background. It was here I discovered that the well-built, handsome guy called Kiran, who had a very attractive personality and had the ability to lead the trek, was also a very good singer! (later that day I even learnt that he also plays guitar, when he gets time amidst his studies, trekking activities and the social work he does). So taking the advantage of the height we were at, I whispered in a low voice towards the sky, "Hey, God ! Why not me, yaar ?" But there was no reply.
About an hour's time that we spent on the top was quite relaxing. After that the orders of returning to the base were issued. The troops moved, again observing strict discipline. Without speaking many words, a well-thought strategy was followed. Some good climbers like Kiran and a couple of other guys took the lead. They were followed by girls. Especially the girls, who were new to trekking or who were getting nervous climbing down the difficult turns were given priority. After every batch of three to four girls, an experienced guy like Amit would fill the gap, so that all the girls could get help, if required. Then came the guys, who apparently needed no help and only when all were on their way, did Harshal start climbing down. That was an excellent demonstration of how to trek in a big group.
In a short while we returned back to the caves. Now none was in a mood to wait for further instructions from Kiran to open the tiffin boxes. I think there would have been a spontaneous mutiny, had Kiran tried to stop us from eating at that point of time. He was wise enough not to do that and all of us took out the lunch boxes that we had brought from our homes. However, even here a discipline was observed. Newspaper sheets were spread on the floor of the cave and all sat down in a perfect circle. No one started eating till a couple of guys, who had gone to fetch some water returned back. Then, there was a short prayer and it was only after this that the lunch started. But then it was an all-out attack on the food and everyone took a handful of whatever he/she could reach at and gulped it down in no time. The more adventurous ones preferred to be mobile and as a result gathered more quantity and variety of food than the lazier ones, who did not leave their place.
The lunch ended with a discipline as it had begun. Without anybody requiring to issue orders, everyone did what he could think about and the place was back to its earlier state in less than five minutes. All the foodstuff and especially the plastic materials were picked up and packed back in to the sacks. (On our arrival, I had seen a tin sheet with a request written on it for the trekkers, not to leave behind any plastic material. TreKshitiZ had affixed this sheet on one of the cave walls during their earlier visit to the place. I could see for myself that TreKshitiZ practices, what it preaches.)
It was after this meal that I could understand the correctness of Kiran's decision to visit the summit before lunch. Now we became too lethargic and none of us would have shown any enthusiasm to climb further in that condition. The fatigue due to climbing, the comfortingly cold rock surface in and around the caves and full stomachs were reasons good enough for us to feel sleepy and most of us stretched our bodies, wherever it was possible. We could have immediately fallen fast asleep, but for the presence of around a dozen of our ancestors, who were trying to have an intimate contact with us. It was not that those mountain monkeys were happy to see us, but their eyes were shining only because they knew about our stock of food. Right from the moment we started our lunch, they were employing various strategies to steal the foodstuff. But, having the advantage of being evolved slightly more than they were, we were successful in defending ourselves. However, those apes also weren't too dumb and were able to snatch away one Tupperware box and a plastic bag with someone's Chappals. After these incidents, I picked up my sack and the shoes quietly and sat on them till the orders of a retreat were issued by Kiran. Later on however, a truce was declared between the two warring groups and peace prevailed in the region, barring a couple of sporadic battles. Then the monkeys took positions in front of us on the cliff-edge and both the groups spent the rest of the time observing the behaviour of their distant cousins.
It was at 3.30 that Kiran shouted "Pack up!" Suddenly there was a lot of activity. All the trekkers seemed to be very busy packing the things, names were being called loudly, girls started getting the best possible looks with the limited resources they had. The guys were "almost ready" for quite long, but then they were suddenly rushing in to the cave to pick up forgotten 'something'. In all this chaos, someone had the idea of having group photos and we spent a lot of time in that activity, until Kiran shouted "Now move!" for the fifteenth time. Only then some guys paid attention to him and one by one we started to climb down.
As the sun had also started its descent a couple of hours earlier, the improved versions of the same morning scenes were now to be seen. The golden light of the evening sun was causing sharp shadows of the hills and the cliffs, tempting everyone to take a couple of additional snaps.
The climb downwards was quite smooth, though it took a bit longer than expected. Firstly, due to the rock portion of it and secondly due to the slippery loose soil on the ridge. After a good rest the group had recovered back all its energies and the same singing and shouting of the earlier part of the day started again. And to remove the monotony of a boring downward walk, some excellent examples of slipping and falling were demonstrated by some of the guys and the gals. Especially the slips, which were performed while laughing at the other's fall were very entertaining. Oops! I fell down too.
In about two hours we reached the junction, from where we had begun our trek. In the twilight, we could have a nice view of the two pinnacles of Gorakh and Machchhindra. 'I have been there!' was a pleasing thought, which kept on coming to my mind, as I was admiring the beauty of these two brothers. And 'See you in near future' was my promise to the mountain of Siddhagad, which was now vanishing slowly in to the evening haze.
The morning bus-driver was instructed to pick us up at 06.00 p.m. and we were back at that place at 5.45. That's planning! There is a small village restaurant at the Naka (the road junction) and right at the beginning of the trek, intimation was also given to its owner about the requirement of tea in the evening. Thus he was already prepared and waiting for us when we reached. Thus, no time was wasted and tea was ready, just when we finished washing faces with the water provided by the restaurant owner. That's organisation !
Why do all these guys - Kiran, Harshal, Suhas and others take so much of efforts in taking such a big group for a trek ? Why do they take initiative and execute even the smallest tasks that are required during the trek ? Why are they so involved in this activity ? Money is certainly not the answer. The trek fee was just Rs.125. And that included travel expenses from Dombivli to Dehri and back. I think this itself must have consumed half of the amount. In addition to it was the morning breakfast and the evening tea. Plus there must be expenses related to arranging the trek and maintaining the web site etc. My hypothesis that these guys don't do it for money was further proved to be correct, when Harshal returned to us Rs.20 each, because the collected revenue was in 'surplus'!
I think TreKshitiZ is a group of true nature lovers. They love and respect this region of Sahyadris - its geography as well as history. They are a rare gathering of young, smart and well-behaved people, who not only know how to extract the joy of being close to the nature, but also know how to spread it. And that is the sole reason, that they toil so much in executing such trekking expeditions with perfection.
During the bust ride back to Kalyan, while the TreKshitiZ group was singing songs and with it demonstrating the highest decibel levels that the human voice can reach, I was taking stock of the time spent by me during the day. And to my great satisfaction, I found that in return there were gains on all the fronts.