At the summit
He assured us just like Barrack Obama did a couple of years ago; "Yes, we can!" We started with careful little steps holding on to the iron bars moving slowly, one behind the other. Suddenly, my friend’s cell phone rang. Yes, cell phone networks might not work in the city, but here, they sure did! I believed what Vodafone said then, "Wherever you go, network follows." And guess who, it was the lone wanderer. "Please don’t come up, it’s very risky" were his words. My friend replied back saying, "Dude, we are half way through and from where I am standing right now, trust me it can't be any scarier." He replied, "Cool, just be careful and I’ll see you guys up here then."
Kothaligad, commonly known as Peth, is a fort and a popular trek spot located around 25 kms from Karjat, at the outskirts of Mumbai. Karjat acts like the main railway junction through which multiple routes to various peaks of the Sahyadri range can be accessed. A trekking enthusiast will be spoilt for choice here unless he has a specific peak in mind.
To get there, one can board a local from C.S.T to Karjat and then hike a bus ride to Ambivli village, the closest connecting link between the peak and the roadways. From Ambivli, there’s just one straight path you need to take to reach the top spot. No detours, no diversions, just a long, long way till you reach no man's land. So, on a sleepy morning in mid-August, the six of us set out towards Peth fort after light refreshments at a home cum hotel at Ambivli.
Wet soil, irregular stones and pebbles, fresh smell of mud, water-laden leaves, chirping birds, crawling insects, and misty air welcomed us into their haven. Monsoons are the best to glorify nature. And this scene stays with you throughout the walk when you visit such places during the rains. After a trail of about an hour and half, we reached the base village, which is also called Peth.
Where there is will, there is a way, and especially where there are settlements, be assured that humans have made their way. A typical countryside with humble and simple villagers who reside in modest huts and homes, their kids playing around in the courtyard accompanied by cattle and hens, the village setting is a pleasing sight to watch. A few of them even offered to be our guides uphill, but we politely refused them as we wanted to venture out on our own.
The real trek starts from Peth village because it's actually scaling-up a mountain. It is all about slippery paths, dangling branches, pouring rains, and an uneven trail. However, each hurdle pushes you to go further and explore what lies beyond. We reached the top (which we believed was the top, but it was not) after an hour more. There was a small temple and a large cave with intricate carvings. Three of us thought we should stop there, have lunch since it was the only non-wet place around, and then head down. The other three did not agree with our viewpoint; the dingy cave spooked them I presume. They vowed to go empty stomach than have food in the cave. Well, we thought it was not a right thing to argue about food at this juncture, so we gave in.
While we were just about to leave, I noticed a flight of stairs that seemed to head upwards. Curious as always, I suggested we check where they led to. The hungry souls seemed a bit annoyed by this but agreed to join.
Now I should have thought twice before I donned the Columbus' hat because that happened to be the base of the fort, and what lied beyond the stairs was a curvy staircase-like path with only slender iron bars for support; these went uphill and became narrower as the whole scene now unfolded. Now that we had come so far, going down again without completing the last phase seemed unfair. However, it was narrow, steep, risky, and inviting at the same time! One accidental slip and straight down the valley like Humpty dumpty.
While we were standing at the end of the rocky stairs and contemplating midway whether to go further, one of the guys offered to go up alone and check if it was feasible; else, we had no option but to go down. Before the rest of us could react, he left. Not that he was our version of Bear Grylls, but he was better than most of us out there. We paused and stared at each other for a moment. Couple of minutes after he left, another one said, "Why should he go alone? Let's all go for it." "If not now, then its never." and in true optimistic spirits he said, "Jo hoga, dekhlenge."
The only thing on our minds then was don't look back, just keep going. Slowly and steadily all of us managed to reach with whatever little confidence we had left. But the feeling of being on top was priceless. For a moment, the few of us could not believe that we actually made it. And the view from there—impeccable is the word.
My friend asked me, "so, how does it feel"?
I replied, “Blissful!”
Yes, that was my feeling at 1500 feet above sea level with my eyes shut and arms stretched wide open. I soaked myself in the clouds that surrounded me and opened my eyes to an unforgettable sight of the beautiful and strong mountains laden with lush green landscape.
If I thought that this was the best part, then I was mistaken. The adventure began now. The real zeal is not being on the top. It's peeking down from there. That is when you hear yours and your neighbor's heartbeat very, very carefully When you start a trail up, your vision is restricted as you have very little things to focus on, but when you come down, the view is expanded, and you can practically see everything, including the sights you should not see—a deep valley where even non-acrophobic people can feel dizzy, dense fog which can make you feel lost. You start to trust your instincts like never before, and descending a slippery path with the help of slender rods will only invoke and strengthen the fear of death in you. In addition, there's very little time to think at this juncture because there are others waiting behind you (and equally petrified as you are). You need to be quick as they are already semi-dangling and clinging to the bars with their eyes and hopes on you.
Thankfully, despite all the risks, fright, and scare, we managed to descend safely from the staircase. I was relieved and ecstatic once I was out of it. Then what ensued was a two-hour dragging trail all the way back to Ambivli via Peth. Super exhausted all of us were, but we managed to reach Ambivli faster than we expected. Maybe it was the beautiful view that kept pushing us and made the descent downhill easier. Once there, the hungry souls, which included the rest of us too by now, ate out to our heart's content at the earlier hotel. Food is all what you need at the end of a lovely day, and authentic tasty Malvani cuisine is like a reward for your efforts.
Thus, after an exhaustive journey of overcoming fright, challenging our limits, drained-out muscles, wonderful memories, and a liberating date with nature, six freshened-up souls left Karjat and headed back home just as birds flock to their nests in the evening after a long day. This event calmed me down, soothed my senses, taught me life lessons, and more than anything else, made me happy. After this experience, I can now relate to what John Denver said when he wrote this song:
Country Roads, take me home to the place I belong….