Tuesday, March 08, 2016

The Cold, Raw and Heart-warming Night Trek to Kalavantin Durg

Arpit and Harsh had already climbed down. I asked Gaurav to wait for me to get down first.
I looked down the cliff and could feel my heartbeat increasing. How am I ever going to get down from here? Get me a helicopter or at least tie some ropes to hold!

It all began the previous week when Stuti (from The 16th Hour fame) dropped me a text with the words ‘Night trek’ being conducted by the MASK Group. Those two words had me intrigued, and on Saturday afternoon I saw myself heading to Panvel station for the trek.

A trip with absolute strangers. A destination I had absolutely no idea about. An experience which I never had before. This had to be fun!

The 11 of us assembled at Panvel station and got the first instructions from our trip coordinator and guide Arpit, after a quick round of introduction. So here we were- students to working professionals, regular trekkers to first-timers, husband and wife to absolute strangers- all set for the adventure to begin.

When the night is dark, we create light. The 12 of us ready to kick-start the trek:
Thakurwadi Village, Raigad Dist, Maharashtra, March 2016
We reached Thakurwadi Village at the base of the hills. This is where the night trek was to begin. With backpacks ready, torch lights on, and careful instructions to be aware of snakes and other wild animals in the absolute dark night, we began ascending.

The close to 2-hour uphill trek covering nearly 5 kilometres of forest path with just stars for company and the search for Jupiter before Professor Ketki’s late night class on the way, brought us to our base camp at Prabal Machi. We were greeted by a barren stretch of land with a small single storey building, a few tents pitched to the ground and the first view of Kalavantin Durg towering above us. All our hearts (and stomachs) desired right now was to sit and have some good food.

The building is the lone hotel on top of the hill and food was ready to be served to us. The husband and wife who ran the place served us with the utmost love and care and were careful to make sure we had a stomach-full of food. We did!

We then headed out in the open and spread our bed sheets and sleeping bags to rest for the night. As we looked down at Panvel city lights in the distance, discussions went on about various treks that each of us had taken earlier.

“We can climb up to Kalavantin in the night if you wish,” Arpit told us. Half of us were already asleep and the morning would make us realise that not going up in the dark was a wise decision to make.

The speed of the wind was increasing and we had put on our hoodies and sweaters. I was in no mood to sleep but the thought of ‘sleeping under the stars’ seemed too appealing to not experience and I lay down to rest. What happened next made us realise within a few minutes that it’s going to be a sleepless night.

The winds increased and soon it was unexpectedly cold. We were shivering and were clearly not prepared to handle temperatures of this level in and around Mumbai. A few of us, including me, went to the hotel’s open sitting area, which at least blocked the wind, and slept for an hour disturbed by the continuous ‘kukudu-coo’ sound from the rooster who had clearly woken up too early before sunrise and was on the quest to make sure no one can sleep.

Torchlight hit my face and I heard Arpit calling out ‘Wake up Antarik, it’s close to 6. We need to start the trek so as not to miss the sunrise’. The first rays of dawn had hit the valley and after a quick round of early morning snacks that included Ketki and Rohitha’s home made sandwiches and Arpit’s theplas, we started the hour-long trek to Kalavantin Durg. The real adventure was about to begin.

Panoramic View of Kalavantin Durg (the conical peak) from Prabal Machi at dawn, March 2016

Before the sun comes up, the trek begins...Prabal Machi to Kalavantin Durg, March 2016

It began slowly. First a few slips due to the sandy and stony path and then a path that seemed never to end while it could end you at any moment. Steadily and carefully the 12 of us made our way up, carefully helping and guiding each other. We reached the end of the sandy path and the sun greeted us from between two mountains. There was a small deserted stall and a middle-aged man sat there, clearly waiting for his companions to return. I looked up the rocky mountain and immediately figured why.

There was no path now. We had to now literally use our hands for grip and climb the mountain. Saroj, for the daredevil she was, was the first to climb up and let us know that there were steps carved out in the mountain. It was only a moment of relief.

How do we even climb up without a path in sight? Way to Kalavantin Durg, March 2016
A Google search about Kalavantin had revealed a headline saying ‘The most dangerous trek in the world’. Although I am certain I have seen pictures of an even more dangerous mountain climb in China, the thought of the headline itself meant addition of a little layer of anxiety to our thoughts.

Stay on the mountain side, take support of the rocks, don’t look down to the valley,’ Arpit kept telling us. With a little struggle to find a safe place for keeping the feet, I started climbing up. Small and careful steps were the key. A few steps up and I looked down at the valley and came to a halt. Scary thoughts immediately filled my brain. I tried shaking them away. Do not look down, concentrate and keep climbing, I thought.

Within a few minutes, we reached the base just below the cliff of the mountain. A victory lap and photo session followed. There was another group of people on top of the cliff. We waited for them to get down and start the downhill trek, before making our way to the top. Most of us decided not to go up these final few metres.

The DSLR Girl Radhika clicked this amazing picture atop Kalavantin Durg, March 2016
I looked up at the rock standing between us and the cliff-top. It was an absolutely simple and flat piece of rock. And that is exactly what made me wonder How can anyone climb this?

Arpit climbed up like a pro soon enough and Gaurav followed.

‘We don’t know whether we would be coming back here another time. And after climbing so far up, how can we not touch the pinnacle?’ I said.

With a little confusion and guidance, I was on top in a couple of minutes. Harsh followed soon after.

There was a flag waving at the top, marking the summit. Hills surrounded us on all sides as far as the eyes could see. Our base camp at Prabal Machi looked like a faraway speck of dust. The sun was up and the night’s cold had gone. A good photo-session later, it was time for the 4 of us to get back to our fellow trippers. After all, getting to the summit is just half the job done.

The 4 who dared to reach the top, Kalavantin Durg, March 2016

Victory Pic! Count the number of people in this picture. It's more than 4. Kalavantin Durg, March 2016 

Arpit ready to climb down as I take a look below the cliff. Get me a helicopter! Kalavantin Durg, March 2016
I could see everyone sitting calmly below the cliff, having chips and snacks after the gruelling climb, laughing and talking, enjoying the early morning air.

Arpit and Harsh were the first to get down. I asked Gaurav to wait for me to climb down first.

I looked down the cliff and could feel my heartbeat increasing. How am I ever going to get down from here? Get me a helicopter or at least tie some ropes to hold!

Stay calm, I told myself. I can do this.

Arpit, for the motivator and support that he was as our guide, stood at the bottom and gave me step-by-step instruction. I took the first step down and frantically searched for a place to fit my other foot while finding grips on the rocks for my hands.

Come on, it’s not that difficult, I thought and tried not looking at the base which could still hurt me bad if I were to slip and fall.

Scenes from the descend scene of Everest filled my mind. I had to stop thinking and just get down. A few more careful steps and Arpit finally grabbed hold of my leg which was close to shaking with nervousness and anxiety. I jumped the final step.

Immediately, a sense of unexplained victory filled me and I wasn’t going to stop boasting for the remainder of the trek downhill which was scarier than the climb. With the valley visible now at every point, descending felt even more dangerous. Our backpacks just added to the misery. Carefully we treaded down the mountain path, and reached the now no-longer deserted stall and had some much needed nimbu-pani.

See the narrow steps and the valley beyond? Kalavantin Durg, March 2016

Darr sabko lagta hai. Galaa sabka sukhta hai. Lekin phir bhi selfie lena to banta hai :D Kalavantin Durg, March 2016

There was another group of guys going to the summit here. One of them wasn’t willing to go up and his friends kept motivating him. As we climbed down from there, I carried the rear. I told him, “This looks steep and dangerous till that cactus you see up there. Just go ahead and do it, it will be worth it.” I didn’t stay there long enough to see if he overcame his fear and went ahead or not, but there sure had been a surge of motivation inside me and hopefully inside him.

After all if you come so far why would you want to live with the ‘I wish I had done it’ thought for the rest of your lives?

An hour later, we were back at the base camp. Breakfast was served, a too-sweet-and-ginger tea made its way down our throats, a final group photo followed. The sun was high in the sky and our downhill trek to Thakurwadi went without any events. The short weekend trip was coming to a close and we only wished to continue this for a little longer. We were tired, our legs exhausted. The spirits were still up.

The hotel and our beds in the night. And Arpit after getting our 'death certificates' signed. :P Prabal Machi, March 2016

The owner of the hotel and server of the food, Prabal Machi, March 2016

Group picture at the end of the day. From strangers to life-saviour friends. Kalavantin Durg Trek, March 2016

Kalavantin Durg from Thakurwadi Village. Yes, we were right there at the top just a few hours ago! March 2016

As we reached Thakurwadi, we looked back up at the mountain. The summit of Kalavantin was looking down on us. We had gone up there and we had conquered the fear. We had returned victorious. We had returned with memories that will stay with us for all the years to come. We had returned with stories that we will share in the most dramatic way to new people we meet during future treks while sitting under the starry sky late in the night.

We were there, right at the top, just a few hours ago, struggling to get past the rocks. From so far now, it seemed like a tiny little adventure. A tiny little adventure that had our adrenaline rushing, our heartbeats racing, our spirits being tied together. A tiny little adventure that was cold and raw and heart warming and will remain unforgettable in our memories.

Ketki, Vidhya, Radhika, Saroj, Siva, Srikanth, Rohitha, Rohini, Harsh, Gaurav and Arpit thank you for being part of this crazy trip! Glad to have met you guys and looking forward to more adventures with you.

14 comments :

  1. Loved the post.. Felt like I am treking. Missed it but I am not gonna miss ne future ones for sure.

    That pic of more than 4 people, yes, the aeroplane :)

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  2. You know it's a job well done (of blogging) when you make the reader to want to be there or, better yet, inspire them to ty trekking for themselves. Your vivacious writing style has totally achieved that and then some. Kudos :)

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  3. Well written. Difficult to believe that a person who still fears to be pricked by a needle and avoids injections has taken this adventurous trek with such a spirit. Keep up.

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  4. Hey man, very nice yaar.. U r one if dat guy .. "1 baar soch liya to karna hai types" relived d trek reading it .. Thanks for joining mask :) c u soon for some more adventure trips..

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    1. Thanks for being such a great guide and friend Arpit! :)

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  5. Awesome, I love the view Prabal Machi offers during monsoons, it's all green with an array of small waterfalls

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    1. I can only imagine how much more difficult the trek would be with the path all the more slippery with rain water :P

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