“Aee… Ooo…“, a voice called out in the dark. All heads turned. Ever since I had heard this call, it had grabbed my interest. I wanted to know what’s the story and the origin of this call. It was very successful in grabbing our attention, there’s got to be some story behind it. Later during the day I asked my fellow trekker if she knew the story behind this, she didn’t know it either. She said it was a usual call everyone used during the trekking expeditions.
All heads turned towards the source of the voice. It was our trek lead Nilesh Patil, asking us to gather around. Nilesh is a founder of an adventure group called ‘Trek Mates India (TMI)’ and also owns a brand, ‘Straub’. I was meeting him almost after a gap of 10 years. It was a coincidence that Nilesh was also a part of the group with which I had taken my first trekking expedition. The group was then called ‘Yougsterz’. Officially my first trek was ‘Mandagni Parvat’ in Vasai but that trek was a part of my NCC training and it was conducted under strict rules and torturous commanding officers. We hardly got to enjoy the beauty of the nature during that trek.
All of us had taken a last train to Kasara from Dadar Station at 11:05 pm on Friday night (18th November, 2016). Hopped into a rented Jeep from Kasara (Which were arranged by TMI) by around 1:30 am. We lost around half an hour as one of the four jeeps had a flat tire. The tire was replaced and we commenced our journey to the Samrad village. We took a tea break during the drive. As we started walking down the Samrad village, we walked past few trekkers sleeping in the varandah of some village houses. Nilesh told us that these guys are going to start their trek after the sunrise. At the edge of the village Nilesh had us all standing in a circle to convey the instructions for the trek ahead.
As we stood in the pitch dark night in a circle formation, I looked up and saw a bright moon. But there was something else in the sky that was jaw droppingly beautiful and I had never ever seen that before. There was perfect illuminated circle a distance away from the edge of the moon. Many other heads were looking up now. Someone answered my questioned even before I asked it by saying that it was a Halo of the moon, and it made a perfect sense. The Halo is formed by refracted light. And this refraction of light is caused by the ice crystals in the upper atmosphere. It was a beautiful sight to witness. Nilesh’s voice brought us back down on earth. Everyone was now standing in a perfect circle. In the darker than the darkest night and chilling cold climate we all were taking commands from our trek lead. We could make out who’s standing where only by the silhouettes of them under the moon light. Nilesh, started the introduction round. More than 80 percent of the trekkers in the group today were either from my workplace or were from the same profession i.e. CG and VFX.
Nilesh then gave us all the important instructions for the trek. He told us the reason why we were starting the trek so early into the morning while rest of the trekking groups were enjoying their slumber. The trek is entirely a descend from the Samrad village, through the valley. There are two rappelling points in the route. If all the trekking groups reach the rappeling point together then it creates a bottle neck and chaos, as the trekking group which reaches late has to wait till all the members of the earlier trekking group have to rappel down. By starting early, we were going to avoid this. We would be the first ones to cross both the rappeling points and also secure a great spot for our night stay. After these formalities, other members of the TMI distributed packets of Puran-Poli (Maharashtrian Delicacy)… our breakfast for the day.
From there we found ourselves walking under a moon lit sky. We were keeping our voices low, we didn’t want to awaken the sleeping village. Nilesh, guided our way out of the village. All we could hear in the darkness were our footsteps. Soon we were out of the village and the valley emerged out of the empty darkness. The earth beneath our footsteps was slowly turning into small rocks and then into boulders. Now we were walking though two giant rocky walls on both sides. The torches which were pointing downwards till now had started throwing bizarre light beams in all directions as their bearers were struggling to maintain their balance on the rocky surface. Every torch was casting a huge shadow of a person next to it on the rock walls. All of us were like handful of fireflies in the thick dark valley. The route went up and down for some time and then a gradual descend began. I could hear heavy breathing around me, including mine. This continued for quite some time when I heard a loud scream. Apparently someone had entered the chilling waters. We were told that at the very beginning of the trek we have to pass through chest deep waters, carrying our bags on our shoulders or head. We could not afford to get our bags wet as it had our stuff we required for the upcoming night stay. The idea of entering chilling waters in an already cold night, that too after hearing a loud scream from the one who had already entered the waters was daunting. And soon I saw it… water surface shining with torch-light and casting beautifully dancing water reflections on the rock walls on both sides. I could see silhouettes of my group members going through the waters, carrying their bags on the shoulders. The TMI members remained in the waters to guide everyone passing through. I held my torch in my mouth as most others did, carried my bag on my shoulder and entered the waters. A bone chilling shiver traveled through my body. Keeping balance was equally difficult task as the bottom of the small pond we were walking though was not flat. It had rocks of varying sizes. The idea of dropping the bag in these waters scared me. I crossed the pond and continued shivering for some time until my body heat dried up my soaked clothes. The star-filled sky was visible only as a tiny strip above our heads. Rest of the sky was covered by two huge rock walls. We had entered deep into the valley with our torches piercing the darkness.
Dawn Into The Valley
The walking had continued for an hour and half when the starry sky started turning into reddish blue haze. Soon, the torches found their places in the backpacks. They had performed their duties quite well. The dawn had brought with it a stunning view of the valley. The golden sun-rays flew over our heads and lit up the valley before us. Everyone had stopped for a break at something that appeared as cliff. The food items made their way out of the backpacks and into the hungry mouths. I sat there with others and enjoyed the beautiful view. The entire valley was visible from there. After a flat section of the rock the valley suddenly dropped below. Forest trees stood like sentinels protecting the valley. The combination of grey rock boulders, green tree tops and blue sky was a wonderful sight. As we were enjoying the view many other members of our groups were coming in and stopped at the awe inspiring view. Nilesh climbed up the highest rock where we all had settled. Someone pointed up on the top of the mountain, a faint rainbow was visible. I wondered how much more beautiful this view can get. I imagined this valley in the monsoon season. This beauty must be turning into a violent sight with the fiercely flowing water through the valley.
After munching on few food items for breakfast we started the descend into the valley. The descend was getting very steep. Sometimes it was a 6-10 feet vertical drop. We had to pass our backpacks to the person who had already descended down before crossing through this vertical section. We would rest our hands against the nearby rocks, take entire body’s weight on it and then hang between them and slowly move our bodies down before it touched the ground. This trek was indeed a full body workout.
We arrived at the rappeling point. Leaving early had given us ample amount of time to prepare and finish our rapplling activity before another group reached there. But there was a problem. The hooks hammered on the rocks through which the rappelling rope were to be hooked, were missing. Nilesh and other members soon made arrangements. They hammered in new hooks and began the setup. Everyone else had found a place to sit and rest by the time the rappling gears were setup. Some were having fruits for some more energy. A monkey made an appearance in the scene. It was evident that the monkey was interested in grabbing some food items from us. It constantly made several attempts at it but failed. It seemed to have made a target on the youngest member of our team… Radha. We asked her to move from there and sit somewhere else. Nilesh threw the remaining pieces of eaten apples at the monkey. It grabbed swallowed it completely and stored it in his throat and disappeared from there.
The rappling began. It was a great experience. I fell at the very beginning as I had let the rope go loose before stepping back. But then I managed to complete it properly. Every individual took around 10-15 minutes to rapple down. We moved ahead from there as soon as the last person came down. The last individuals were asked to keep harness on them as they would be the first ones to rapple at the next point to save some time.
During our descend further ahead the soothing sound of running water kept reappearing every now and then. We then passed through a very narrow gap between some boulders. We slid our bags in first and then slid our bodies through the narrow gap. Further ahead there was another rappling point which was very short and was crossed in very little time. A little further ahead there was again a vertical drop and we had to slide on a flat rock and enter into a deep pond with cold water. While others were crossing over, some of us had a swim in the pond. There were little creatures swimming in these water and I had never ever seen such creatures before. A week later during my ‘Nature Conservation Campaign’ I came to know that these creatures which looked like a shell of pistachio indicate the presence of fresh water. My fellow traveler had told me that wherever you find these creatures swimming in water you can be sure that the water is drinkable.
The descend was soon getting less steep. We had crossed the valley completely. We all looked up into the valley and traced down the path we took to cross it in last few hours. It was a fantastic experience and many of us agreed that we need to do this trek again in future. After a slight right turn ahead the valley disappeared from the view. We walked on a flat ground for some time and reached a hidden pond. The water was crystal clear. Some couldn’t resist the temptation to swim in it. I didn’t want to get soaked up again so sat at the edge. When the everyone had arrived on the spot we walked ahead for several hours and reached our campsite.
A Beautiful Campsite By The River
Someone complained that we should have stayed at the campsite right at the bottom of the valley. Nilesh explained us why he decided against it. The campsite at the bottom of the valley gets crowded by the night as all the trekking groups stop there and it turns into a havoc and besides that, by crossing a two hours distance on foot, we saved that time for our next days walk when we would leave from here. I personally felt it was a great decision and I also liked the campsite we were at. River had almost dried up. There was little water left in it. Golden grass on one side and deep forest on other, gave a beautiful appearance to the river. The horizon comprised of many hills disappearing into an orange evening haze. We had a dip in the river water to freshen up. As the night appeared the sky was once again filled with thousands of stars. We saw the band of the Milky Way again in the sky. Two boys from the village brought our dinner. We had our delicious dinner under a torch light. After that we played some group games and then slept under a starry sky. I kept my eyes open to take in the beautiful view of the star-filled sky and saw many meteors shooting past. I didn’t realize when I drifted off into a slumber.
Lunch In A Beautiful Village
In the morning Nilesh cooked amazingly delicious ‘kande-pohe’ for us. We played some more group games before packing our bags. We walked though forest, dried river and barren land and arrived in a beautiful village. Our lunch was planned in one of the houses in the village. When we arrived, some other trekking groups were already having their lunch. Nilesh, distributed Popsicle to everyone and we had fun games while waiting for our turn for the lunch. The house we had our lunch at was very beautiful and the lunch was simple yet amazing. Our jeeps had arrived after the lunch which took us to the Asangaon station from where we took the train back home.
The trek was amazingly beautiful and it became even more beautiful because of the team we went with. The experience was unforgettable and I’m looking forward to return into the same valley again in future.
Photo Courtesy : Shobit Trivedi