Hanging at 90 degrees on the side of the waterfall, I took a few cautious steps down, as the instructor kept saying, 'Don't bend your knee'. The wind howled against the valley, it started pouring heavily and I took slow steps at the edge of the waterfall, controlling my urge to look down. But then I slipped, panicked and hit the rock hard...
On the last day of July, I was on my way to Dudhiware Waterfalls in Lonavala for rappelling with some of my trek-buddies from the Kalavantin Durg trek. The trip had been organised by the MASK group. We left from Mumbai early in the morning in a bus and after 3 hours of travelling through heavy rains, which had completely clouded the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, reached our destination.
After a quick briefing, registration and breakfast at the base village Dudhiware, we headed to the waterfall. Walking through paddy fields, over rocks and through small streams, we reached at the base of the waterfalls and spotted people rappelling through the water down the falls. This was when I first realised the gravity of the task we had taken up and a quick rush of adrenaline and anxiety went through my body and mind.
|Our first glimpse of what was to follow. Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
The rain had stopped and the view of the clouds covering the nearby hills that met our eyes was breathtaking. Mangesh, the head instructor, guided us through the various equipments for rappelling and the dos and don’ts for our safety.
As we waited our turn (which turned out to be several hours), we visited the other waterfall in the vicinity for some fun time in the water and for pictures. I couldn’t recall the last time I had visited a waterfall. Rohitha and Srikanth had, this time, got their son along and surprisingly the 4 year old was equally enthusiastic and loved playing in the water (and later, doing the flying fox). I took the moment to walk behind the waterfall and see the water drops falling from the top. It’s not an experience most waterfalls provide.
|Walking through paddy fields. Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|Reaching the destination. Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|Mangesh and Arpit guiding us through the equipments and technique. Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|View from behind a waterfall. Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|The beauty of the landscape was enchanting. Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|Passing time with corn. Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
Soon it started pouring heavily again and we stood near the falls, waiting for our turn for rappelling. Amidst chances of taking some amazing pictures of nature, I struggled to keep my phone dry inside a plastic pouch. With the rains came heavy winds and soon we were trembling due to the cold. Late in the afternoon, it was finally my turn. Larissa came along. Srikanth had already done it and Rohitha, Renita and Avinash followed. My friend Arpit, our official MASK guide, kindly became our phone-keeper and photographer.
We got the gear attached to ourselves (elbow and knee pads, helmet, gloves and body harness) and walked up the hill. The rain had stopped although the weather remained cloudy. A quick 5 minute trek led us to the top of the waterfall. I sat there for a few minutes and the only thought that seemed to flood my mind was that of my previous rappelling experience…that first step…
It was back in May 2011 at Camp Ganga Riviera in Rishikesh. I had gone there with my college seniors for rafting and other adventure sports. The kayaking, cliff jumping and even rafting had been emotionally smooth. It was the rappelling that had got all my fears out. As the instructor released the rope and I lowered my body at the edge of the cliff, hanging parallel to the ground, picking up my first foot and moving it down the waterfall had felt like an impossible task. Looking down, all I could see was the flowing water of Ganga and terror had struck me. After many long minutes, I had been able to overcome the fear and taken the first step down. It was a joyride after that. But that first step…
‘The longer I sit and observe others, the more the anxiety would increase,’ I thought and got up. Don’t think too much, just do it!
|All geared up! Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala. Photo credits: Larissa/Rohitha|
After a few minutes, the instructor called. It was my turn next and I made my way into the rapidly flowing water. It wasn't cold. The instructor attached the rope to the harness on my waist and gave me some quick instructions. The wind howled against the valley, it started pouring heavily and I stood there, at the edge of the waterfall, controlling my urge to look down. I tried keeping the memory of the previous attempt at bay.
I looked down and the ground was too far away. One hand holding the rope on the back, one grabbing the rope in front, I was standing horizontally on the waterfall. There was no going back. It was now or never.
I took a few cautious steps down, slowly, as the instructor kept saying, 'Don't bend your knee'. No looking down, I told myself. About 10 steps later, I realised, I hadn’t given any time to the ‘first step’ fear to flourish. I beamed in happiness.
Just then I slipped, panicked and hit the rock hard as the rope swivelled to one side.
‘Be careful, keep your knees straight and get back in position. Stay to the left,’ the instructor shouted from top.
I adjusted my position and just a few steps later, I could no longer see or hear the instructor. It’s got to be me doing it by myself now. I won’t fail, I thought and carefully placed one foot below the other and scaled the rock.
Soon I was at the centre of the waterfall and my feet were grabbing the rock through the flowing water. I came parallel to two more people rappelling and realised I wasn’t alone. But my life completely depends on this 10 mm rope in my hand, I thought.
I rappelled down further, one step at a time. With each passing moment it was getting difficult to keep a hold on the rope. My left hand was going numb. I spotted some joints that the rope had, what if it snaps? I thought.
|'I came parallel to two more people rappelling and realised I wasn’t alone.' Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala. Photo credits: Larissa|
|Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
A few steps later, suddenly my feet didn’t touch any rock and were suspended in mid-air. Water hit the helmet like innumerable stones being hurled on my head. I didn’t panic but wondered how I was ever going to get down now. I was hanging in mid-air with the rope. I looked down and a shy of relief passed in my head. I could see the ground now, just about 25-30 feet below me and an instructor holding the end of the rope. He waved at me to slowly release the rope and float down. A few moments later, I was standing vertically on the ground, alive and without a single scratch on my body.
The instructor removed the rope from the harness and I was free to go, alive and with a big smile on my face.
As I walked out of the waterfall, Arpit stood smiling. Even in the heavy rains, he had managed to click a few pictures (of someone else who he assumed was me before realising it was the wrong person and then focussing the camera on the right ‘me’)! Haha…
We waited for another hour, as the rest of our group including Rohitha, Renita and Avinash, rappelled down. The rain wasn’t going to stop anytime today and the flow of the waterfall was visibly increasing with the rain water. I did the flying fox as well, and even in the absence of any deep valley or waterbody below it, it was fun.
We then walked back to the village, hungry and drenched, through the fields which were now more flooded than the morning, spotting some crabs here and there. In the compounds of a primary school, we changed into dry cloths and went for a late-lunch at 6 PM. The food had been prepared by a family in the village and it was savouring to have home-made food after a long time.
|Avinash caught in the waterfall's fury. Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|Challenge completed! Rappelling at Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|It's raining heavily but a victory selfie is mandatory! Dudhiware Waterfalls, Lonavala|
|We had lunch at a villager's home. Dudhiware Village, Lonavala|
We were exhausted with the day’s activity and slept through almost the entire bus journey back to Mumbai, arriving well past midnight.
It had been a long and tiring day and I beamed in happiness that I had overcome the fear of the first step. Had I not gone and sat at home, probably the fear would have simply multiplied over the years.
What adventure does to our body and mind is it brings us closer to nature, to ourselves and to people around us in ways we don’t even realise. And that’s exactly why we ought to get our body out of the comfort zone and with the right precautions, scale new heights.