Friday, February 20, 2015

Gorakh No. 4

13-14th Dec 2014
Gorakhgad No. 4

One would question as to why do I go to the mountains? And more so, repeatedly to the same venues? Does he have no other work in life? Well, I definitely do! But once you connect to the Mountains, you sort of befriend them and when they call you, you have to go! As simple as that, isn’t it? It surely is, especially after grinding your self down at the workplace for the entire week, this ‘urge’ to attend the call of the mountains strengthens even more. Go to the Mountains and they will tell you your true worth. To me, The Mountains help me discover myself, they let me feel the freedom which I so yearn for.

But, to the same venue, really? One may argue there are a lot of unexplored places, then why repeat treks?  Well, I agree to it but sometimes you need a stronger reason to trek the same place once more. It is not always about you and the hill; it is also about the people you trek with – that is one of the factors which shape your trek experience. But I must also say from what I have experienced that one should not stop exploring (even if it is the same place) as you always get to see/learn something new every time.

Initially, I had decided to go for a leisure walk in the hills of Matheran-Peb on Saturday as I did not want to sit at home over the weekend doing nothing! I wanted to undertake one last outing before I’d head for the Goa trekking expedition organized by YHAI, the following week. In the meantime I got to know that the Podar Hikers’ Club (PHC) had announced a night hike to Gorakhgad on 13-14th Dec. I was not as keen on Gorakhgad as I had trekked it thrice before but while glancing through the news feed on Facebook, I came across some article about the ‘Geminids meteor showers’ that usually take place during this time of the year.

The fact that this meteor shower would be at its peak on Saturday night enticed me to choose Gorakhgad. So, at the very last moment, I called up Phadke Sir and informed him about my decision to jump in. Sir agreed to accommodate me. With PHC, I always feel enthusiastic mainly because of the numerous memorable trek experiences the club has given me. And I shall always be grateful to it and Sir. This was my fourth visit to this wonderful hill – all of them with PHC. Each time I have seen or experienced something new here!

At about 10:30pm on Saturday, 13th Dec 2014, I joined my folks on the EEH as they picked me up in the mini-bus arranged for the trek. As I boarded, I was greeted by familiar faces: Abhijit (Laman), Manisha and obviously our very own Phadke Sir. Bhuta and Ruchi were among the current students whom I knew. There were a few FYJC students too. We were about 17 of us. It was nice to catch up with PHC people after long. We had a ‘shubh aarambh’ with a Dairy Milk chocolate! (Courtesy: Manisha). But surprisingly, the students were all quiet and relaxed - a deviation from the generally fun-filled and noisy journeys.

It was cozy esp. with the cool climate outside and the cushioned seats with full back support. I got a window seat and was hooked to the night sky right away in anticipation of spotting any “toot-ta-hua-tara”.  After passing a couple of toll plazas, we crossed Kalyan and Murbad. We had a short halt for tea around midnight and then headed for the base village ‘Daheri’ or ‘Dehri’ via Mhasa. The road was full of speed-breakers and after every few kilometers, there was a signboard indicating the name of the nearby village.

At 2am, as we reached the base village, another trekking group had already arrived and was about to start the trek. As soon I got down I heard some girl call out my name and it happened to be Varuni and Karan whom I’d met during Bhimashankar trek in July. It was a pleasant surprise to meet them.

Carry mats and sleeping bags were secured to the rucksacks and soon everyone was ready with the torches. After a brief round of introductions, Sir asked me if I would want to lead and I was more than happy to accept the chance. After three previous visits, I had a general idea about the routes and the directions. So we started the trek at 2:30am with Sir in the back lead and me in the front. It was a really dark night. There was no sign of the moon. We couldn’t even view Gorakh-Machchindra from base. Presumably, the weather was cloudy as it had rained the previous night in Bombay. December rains are unseasonal as per the geography I was taught in school. And this was a major hindrance in viewing the supposed meteor showers.

I enjoyed the cool climb and the perspiration. All went along well as we climbed the initial hillock and walked on the flat portion until we crossed a ‘ghost tree’. Further ahead, I had to stop at a diversion. Laman and I decided to walk further and confirm the route.  In that darkness, it was impossible to tell the direction as we couldn’t even view Gorakhgad. Though as per the GPS tracking app, I felt we should be on the correct path. 5 minutes later we could spot the previous group on the slopes ahead by the twinkling lights of their torches. So, yes we were on the right route. We signaled our group to follow and this time Sir took the lead and I stayed at the back.

The cool night made the steep slopes disappear like a breeze. Since the group size was small, we made quick progress. By 4am, we were at the small ‘temple’ at the base of the main climb of Gorakh. The place was all decked up and a beautiful black idol of Kaal-Bhairav adorned with a garland and flower petals was mounted on a rock platform under the tree. A couple of night lamps powered by the solar panel illuminated the place of worship. A newly printed banner with a few colourful photographs was set up by the Forest Dept giving out details about the place. Things are fast changing in the trekking world.

And now it was time for some basic rock climbing. The route to the cave is a brilliant one consisting of demolished rock-steps passing through one small fort entrance (’darwaza’). It also involves a minor rock patch which has got ample of good grips and footholds. Way back in the December of 2006, (my first visit to this hill) I remember being assisted by my seniors on those challenging little rock patches. And this time around, I was playing a small part in guiding the young college students. It was a very great feeling, but I can never ever fill in the shoes of my seniors.

With darkness all around, the yellow lights from the villages at the base presented a wonderful scenario. The Moon made a guest appearance for a while only to hide itself behind the clouds. In no time we were at the cave which was already occupied by 3 different groups. In fact one of the groups had taken shelter just outside. It was 5am and we were keen on getting whatever little rest we could get. So while most of the students occupied the available space outside the cave near the steps, we ex-students along with Sir decided to retrace our steps and go back to the small flat area we’d crossed while climbing. We quickly laid down the carry mats and after a minor wrangle for the shawl, went to sleep. It was an amazing experience to lie down under the moonlit sky and enjoy the nature’s beauty. We all must try such crazy things once in the lifetime!

I hardly slept for a few moments when the cool climate forced me to wake up.  In fact, more than the cold, it was the surrounding views that made me get up. The play of the early morning fog drape the hill range in front of my eyes was so splendid! I tried capturing the moments in my camera – but it could in no way do justice to the Live scenery. You have to be there to experience it yourself.

After enjoying the sunrise, we moved on to climb the top of Gorakh. Laman decided to rest in the cave itself which gave us the freedom of leaving our rucksacks behind under his vigilance. The final climb starts from the cave; traverses a couple of water tanks and then goes up through a flight of rock-cut steps. To reach the steps, one needs to negotiate a rock patch (about 8-10ft). I was surprised to find a ladder fixed at the start point. Seriously, it killed all the adventure and the thrill. But on the positive side, it saves precious time esp. since there are lots of groups visiting Gorakh these days. Anyways, the rock steps are no less menace for beginners – as in - there is some bit of exposure and if someone is not used to it, they can feel nervous esp. while getting down. So what you do is: “Keep Calm, & Breathe in a bit of Gorakh Air” Also, it is important to carry water along as you’ll definitely feel thirsty after the thrilling climb!

Once atop, the views were astounding as always! Machchindragad, Siddhagad, Damdamia, Ahupeghat can be clearly seen. We could see our van parked at the base and also the temple from where the trek started. In clear weather you can also see the peculiar projection of Naneghat (I’m not too sure, though). Generally the place being barren gets heated up very quickly hence the surroundings appear hazy due to the sun’s heat. The temple atop Gorakh shone brightly in its vermilion hue.

Apart from photography (‘selfie’ included) and occasional bird-watching, there’s nothing more that one can do here in the scorching heat. But this time, we decided to venture ahead and explore a mud path going down the eastern slope (facing the Ghats). It was full of scree, but someone had carved steps into the mud. Initially I was hesitant of going ahead as any slip would’ve been difficult to check and prove to be lethal. But when Sir came forward, I felt encouraged and followed him on the path. Soon everyone else followed too.

It was a brilliant decision as we discovered a neatly maintained ‘king-sized’ water tank at the end of the route! Had I ignored the idea of exploring the path, I wouldn’t have even known what lay beyond. The place where we had rested in the night as also the flag at Kal-Bhariav temple could be unmistakably spotted.  That day I got to explore yet another view-point at Gorakhgad – all because of the first step taken by Sir. We at PHC are really proud to have a leader like Phadke Sir as he has led by example and has always encouraged us to take up various adventures (whether it be trekking or rappelling or rock climbing or any other related issues like conservation of forts/tree plantation) He truly is the Life & Soul of The Club!

So once we were back at the temple atop Gorakh, we clicked a few group photos as per the custom. Then, Sir threw in a surprise by distributing “Methi-Laddoo” and then it was no surprise that the water we were carrying quickly diminished! Just as we prepared to descend the rock stairs, we were held up by a few trekkers climbing up (who were in a lot of hurry, it seemed) One of them happened to be a foreigner who had come with a couple of his Indian friend-guides. Gorakh is world-famous now!

Back at the cave, we were stuck at the most important question: – whether to have food in the cave or after descending to base (as it gets pretty hot here in the daytime).  But “Janta Janardan” means “Majority Wins” and we succumbed to the hunger. Various delicious dishes were presented and we gorged on them with ease. As you may have experienced, even regular food assumes greater utility and taste, once you have made all the efforts! This is true for every adventurous trek. What is also true about a trek in the Sahyadris is that you are likely to attract a lot of monkeys when you sit down to have food. And a place like Gorakhgad is infamous for its monkeys (they had set up fielding since the daybreak for this lucky chance!) So initially these monkeys were successful in pushing us to a corner of the cave, but luckily we were able to defend ourselves with the help of wooden sticks. So yes, in the end we managed to scare the monkeys off and had our food too!

Descending was fun especially with the new crowd. We had a nice team effort wherein we passed all the rucksacks before we guided the beginners through the rock patches. We had applied the same the strategy, the previous night. There were a couple of groups climbing up in that heat – and all I could say to them was goodluck! Back at the base, we freshened up, had some tea/lemon juice/oranges and soon resumed the journey back home. At about 4pm, we took a halt at Murbad for snacks and sugarcane juice!

I couldn’t view the meteor showers, for which I had mainly come, but had a very good time exploring nature and trekking. All in all, it was yet another memorable trek with PHC. Three Cheers to PHC & Phadke Sir!!!