The wild “escape”!
And so it happened. One fateful day an email was floated around with details of a trek being organized by a company called “Wild Escapes”. With Prateek featuring in one of their rafting pictures (!), six of us, Berkha, Kiran, Shashank, Tavish, Saurabh and Shivani, were sold on the idea of going on the trek to Kohoj Fort. This was to be the first trip since the beginning of the program and we were super excited! On the last weekend of August we set off in the wee hours of morning for the rendezvous point on the other side of the city. There was a light drizzle which turned into heavy rain and then disappeared by the time we reached the cab. Once packed into the cab for the 3 hr journey to the starting point of the trek, as if on cue, Saurabh and Shashank dozed off, undisturbed by the cacophony of the ongoing Antakshari with Kiran pitching in enthusiastically!
The journey by road was great. We saw beautiful places on our way and thus our expectations for our final destination were building all the more. Kiran surprised everyone by his talent in Antakshari (It seemed he knew every Hindi song!). The numerous rounds of Antakshari along with wake up calls for Shashank and Saurabh helped us complete the 3 hour journey without getting bored. Another important part of the journey was food. We all were given food packets for the trek (But, thanks to some people and the long drive, the packets were empty before we ventured out for the actual trek!).
From there, the real ADVENTUROUS trek started which has become a memory for all six of us…….
The signs were there right from the beginning when we saw the “guides” asking the villagers which way to take! Well we just couldn’t read them. To begin with, the climb was pretty flat and there were goats, small streams and hidden waterfalls that eventually grew in size as we continued upwards. Not the goats that is!
The trek was described as medium grade so we were prepared with just that level of protection, shoes etc. But there were some really difficult points where we slipped and Berkha even got her feet ankle deep in mud trying to cross a small water stream.
There was a green carpet around with a gentle breeze flowing through the valley. The ground was slippery because of some monsoon rains and the spirit in us was to touch the pinnacle as soon as we started from ground zero.
There was an enthusiastic Gujarati boy who walked along with the guide complaining about the route we were taking, rather suggesting some of his own. There were certain points while going uphill where all of us looked down to the point where we started and felt proud to have walked so much. But around 1 hour into the trek, Shashank and Saurabh were still in search of a place where they could go off to sleep again. (Due to certain reasons which can’t be explained here…)
The climb upwards, truth be told, was amazing. The rain kept coming and going so cell phones were in grave danger, there were crabs that kept crossing our path and seemed to appear out of nowhere from beneath rocks. We drank from a waterfall and were amazed at how great the water tasted. So much for Bisleri!
Gradually we began to realize that the KOHOJ fort had not put in an appearance and we had been on the trek for a good 2-3 hours already. The cribbing started then and the real K(O)HOJ began.
With lunch scheduled after the climb down, we knew we were in for the long haul. Just when all humankind seemed to be losing its faith Kiran baba appeared to the mere mortals on the trip and began his discourse! That was the high point. Listening to Kiran talk about his divine powers and his plan to setup his ashram at the top had us in splits and lifted our mood.
As we climbed the last plateau and came upon a really small temple, we could finally see the rundown fort and knew then that the khoj was complete.
We were on the edge of elation having made it to the top but the icing on the cake was the view. The plateau had a steep drop on one side with a waterfall that the wind kept blowing back up into our faces as we stood at the edge and peered down. It was scary and exhilarating at the same time. In the distance we could see rain that soon moved towards us, drenched us and moved on, all in a matter of a minute. These were unparalleled experiences for most of us.
Unwillingly, we set out for the trek down, buoyed only by the thought of how easy it would now be. As we navigated the steep hillside that continuously threatened to come loose beneath our feet, we realized that it was not as easy as we had anticipated. And then came the turning point of the trek.
A lady, part of the group, slipped and tumbled head first onto the rocks. We were quite horrified to see her bleeding from her forehead and everybody stood routed to the spot till the guides gave her first aid. Now as we set off again, unknowingly, the guide took us down a path that we had not taken on our way up. Of course at that time nobody noticed, shaken as we were by the incident.
After an hour or so of navigating extremely tough terrain and wondering why it was so tough, we began to wonder whether we were on the right path. At about the same time the guides realized the slip up as well. Now the nerves were beginning to get frayed. After much discussion and exploration, the correct path was found and we set off again. During all this Shivani’s shoes gave up and their soles had to be tied with makeshift strings! The whole thing was quite hilarious! We continued on our way down but due to the time lost in getting “lost”, it had began to get dark. Now with a prayer in our hearts and Kiran baba’s encouraging discourse, yes it was still on, we trudged along. Finally when we set foot on flat ground after many a fall, it was nearing 8:00PM.
But mind you we had still not finished getting lost and the guides ensured that the drama continued. Finally after changing routes 2 more times, we made it to the side of the road and began waiting for the pickup. What a relief that was! We finally thought we were home free. But were we?
We managed to haul ourselves into the cab and were just beginning to feel the relief when our driver started his speech. He told us how he was so worried for us when it got dark and how the villagers were worried too, apparently because of the panthers. Now we looked at each other and got the true measure of what we had been through.
He then set off about how he was a driver despite being highly educated etc. with our brains as numb as our muscles (we couldn’t feel our arms and legs!) we just wished that he would keep quiet and concentrate on driving. Just as this thought was forming and he was chattering insistently, we came upon a toll and the cab banged into the bumper of the stationary car in front of us. The poor soul had just stopped to pay the toll. The driver of course felt that the other driver was at fault for stopping!
A long argument ensued and between threats and counter threats, the cab driver managed to drive off with us holding onto our seats for dear life. We kept asking him to slow down but when he turned around and said, “Bade- bade sheheron mein choti- choti baatein hoti rehti hain. Aap ghabraho mat Yeh Mumbai hai, yahan roz aisa hota hai, koi mara toh nahin na?” we decided it was better to let him continue and just prayed to get home safely.
We did finally pull up in front of our houses, still in one piece, a surprise after the nerve wracking ride. With no energy left to even say bye to each other, we just trudged upstairs only to be confronted by the reactions of those who had stayed back. They wanted to know where exactly we had been because it looked as if we were returning from war!
Well what did they know! Not that they were too off the point. After shocking them with the whole story, we just thanked our stars and got into bed.
Despite everything that went wrong, it remains among the most re-countable experiences of our lives. What would we not give to get lost in the hills again?
P.S. In case you are wondering why the second half has no pictures, think again!
Class of 2011