Monday, September 8, 2014

Walk in the clouds...!

Disclaimer: This is going to be longest and historical blog post by me 
and it deserves all the length, breadth and depth; believe me!

Have you ever been to heaven and rediscovered yourself back in flesh and blood so much so that you caught a muscle strain and pain…? I have and I did…!

This weekend I was part of a master-plan by a master-mind who is hysterically passionate about history in general and fortification in particular. You must have read about this character in my recent post ‘History, Glory... Story!’. Yes, right this is the same guy who literally pulled me with him to visit ‘Ghangad, a kind of less popular, rarely heard of and somewhat detached fort that stands in solitude for centuries. Milind Sir must have preferred this fort for my first trail (or trial?) and insightful interaction with Shivaji Trail as he must have sensed the characteristic features that we (I and Ghangad, not him!) share. Here’s the story of what, how and why it happened…

Mukund Utpat, one of my old buddies is closely and actively associated with Shivaji Trail for few years now and it is impossible to get connected with Shivaji Trail and escape the spell of Milind Kshirsagar! Ask any living person who have heard any of these 2 names and you will listen to a story… a thing as common as breathing, with Milind Sir! So this old pal of mine shared this culture (not a venture) called Shivaji Trail with me and I was excited to learn more about it and get involved if possible and feasible. I showed interest in participating in one of the treks first before I can decide about the trail and Saturday, 6 Sept 2014 was the day chosen to take me for a ride… literally!

Started around 7 AM we had our breakfast in a small hotel ‘(Ku)l deepak’ at a cozy corner of Paud. (Letters in the bracket were missing… a little scope for your imagination, I guess!) As claimed by my guides, the Misal tasted really wonderful and I was about to find out the importance of having an early breakfast when I would be starving in hardly couple of hours from now. So it was 8:15 when we actually started our journey towards Ghangad and we reached a point named ‘Nagoji Point’ by these creative members of Shivaji Trail, the story of which could be shared only at some unwatched and little private point of time! Even before stepping out of the car, I could sense the magical environment that surrounded us. However clever, imaginative and smart I considered myself till the point we walked down to, everything that revealed in front of my eyes from behind the clouds (YES… Clouds, not fog, mind you!) completely bedazzled me shattering all my beliefs and senses! I was standing on the peak of Kailash and everything including the skies (in form of clouds, of course) was beneath me…!

If you have watched Indiana Jones the Last Crusade, try to remember the scene towards the climax where Indy reaches the end of a cave and needs to get to the mountain on the other side to get the potion to save his father. Apparently there is no bridge in between, only an endless valley that will drown you to black hole. “Only in the leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth…” Indy reads from the book as he overhears his father talking about faith. He takes the first step and the bridge appears…! A classic example of an immortal Optical Illusion! Just imagine Indy’s state-of-mind throughout this sequence and you could empathize with my feelings I had at the glimpse of this heavenly topography that surrounded and mesmerized me. How I wish pictures could have the power to convey the feeling…!

Returning to our vehicle from Nagoji Point was ‘A Walk in the Clouds’… not figuratively but actually! Harrison Ford made an exit as Keanu Reeves entered the scene through my body and I had Manoj, an incredible element of Shivaji Trail, playing the Truck driver saying ‘Welcome to earth…’ in a rather mischievous tone…!

As we spent around half-an-hour at these divine gates of heaven, it was 11 AM and we headed to reach ‘Ekole’ the base village of Ghangad that was going to be our home for this weekend. Around 11:30 AM we entered Ekole as Hanuman welcomed us and invited to sit and have a chat to mark the beginning of our expedition. We had a long and perceptive discussion for 3 hours till we were informed of the lunch notice. Village Home treat is an experience that could neither be expressed nor shared and I will refrain for making a futile effort to word it. Go get it!


We started our trek of Ghangad around 3:15 PM and I was informed that it takes about half-an-hour to climb the peak of it. I never took their word for it and applied my own guesstimate by calculating the visible height of Ghangad, well-informed and talkative guides, my trekking skills(?) and the moody monsoon. I was not to get fooled by this expert advice and I knew that I would take nothing less than an hour. It’s a different story that neither of us proved right at the end of the day…!

It was time for the incredible Manoj to take the lead and responsibility to conduct yet another successful trek of his life with a minor difference… the size of team was just one… a special one…!?! Mukund decided to take a rather philosophical approach and play the Mentor as moral support and confidence was as necessary for their novice trekker. The trek started and with 5 minutes the incredible Manoj deviated from the trail and reappeared in bushes where he showed me this little unusual Shiv-ling with a square outline in place of a regular circular one. This Shiv-ling is claimed to have an age of over 900 years as the Veer-sheela found around it and the style of this works dates back to 10th century.

Our first stop was the Garjai Temple, around 500 meters from the Shiv-ling where Shivaji Trail has put an informative panel with a brief history of Ghangad and MAP (An unbelievable skill and invention of Milind Sir) to guide and facilitate the visitors. Most of the trekkers and bloggers writing about Ghangad seem to miss out conveniently on the details of this effort by Shivaji Trail. Anyway, it’s absolutely human tendency to grab the benefit and ignore the effort. Only thing that bothers me is… ‘You Too Trekkers…!’ 

From here it started getting real tough and I could sense my nerves started ticking. Even it is doable till the point of Valley View where a Toilet is put by Shivaji Trail for visitor’s convenience. It is matter of study, understanding and respecting the efforts put in to bring the water pipe from the tank above to the toilet. All the sensible and sensitive people are expected to show some enthusiasm for learning about those efforts and the incredible Manoj is always ready to explain it in detail, why, he is so fearless that he prepares to show the demonstration as well, please put off him from doing so, though!

With a slippery track and lots of moist water pockets in between, it took me almost 20 minutes to reach the Cave from where the ladder leads the way to the top of Ghangad. This Ladder (220 KG) project is another laudable effort of Shivaji Trail that also seems to be slipped upon by other blogging trekkers. The cave, reportedly, is around 1000 years old as the marks on its stone walls suggest. There is a rock slide happened long ago and a huge part of a pointed stone has slipped from above and rested just inside the boundary of the base forming a huge triangle. This huge natural hut of stone can accommodate a group of 8 – 10 people easily…! There is a stone idol of a Devi in the niche of the stone wall under the slipped stone which also seems to be ancient from its characteristics.

Most of the enthusiast fort lovers consider this point as the end of the fort and start descending after having their meals in and around the caves. Who can provide such valuable yet entertaining information other than one and only the incredible Manoj! I myself strongly believed that this is it and let’s call it a trek! But these to directors of mine had some other plans. If they had taken enormous efforts to bring a 220 KG ladder over to this point and install it in place, how could they let go their pupil without even climbing it for once! With trembling feet and pounding heart I climbed the ladder to the top to discover a thin trail of death that needs to be crossed to proceed. Mukund, already reached on the other side was trying his best to provide me enough impetus to take the challenge(?) and from behind the incredible Manoj was struggling to make me believe that it was his duty to get me back in one piece.

With all the Deities I could remember off and on the account of all the good deeds that I might have done, I started this slippery-tight-rope-walk by completely relying on the incredible Manoj to catch me the moment I will fall. But the tally of my good deeds outnumbered the bad ones(?) or the Deities listened to my prayers for once or both my life-guards ignited me enough to pass it, whatever be the force behind it, I came out (or top) triumphant and moreover… on two feet and alive! And realized that this entire risk was worth taking… not only once but as many times as you can!

As I wandered around on the top of Ghangad I could not gaze long enough to look at one scene that my vision can capture as there were invitations from nature all around to attract and hypnotize my senses! There stood ‘Tail Baila’, another magnet of mountain trekkers just behind the Ghangad as if an elder brother keeping an eye on the younger one as he plays. There are valleys all around that were big enough to swallow entire Jurassic Park and deep enough to compete with the black hole. Being Monsoon, all of these nature’s children were wearing pearl ornaments as steams of water made paths through them every here and there…! Amazing, enchanting and miraculous was the feel to witness this grandeur of incredible nature! However I wished to stay there for rest of my life, my saviors made be start the return journey as now they were little educated about my (in)ability with the mountaineering and knew that it is going to be an uphill task to get me down…!

It took me over 2 hours to reach the top of Ghangad and around 1 ½ hour to get back to the base. Practice makes man perfect, you know…! While returning it was not easy but seemed little easier as I was already saved few times by the incredible Manoj and I could only wonder how he can manage to stand firm on two feet and catch, direct and keep on track people weighing almost double (not me) than him. But it seemed to him as he refers to Ghangad – ‘A piece of cake’!

We returned to base around 6:45 PM and Mukund discovered that he has forgotten his eyeglasses at the cave. I tried my best to look unassuming and almost succeeded in giving an impression that I am shivering because of wet clothes and cold winds. This was the point where Manoj won the incredible title from me. He exclaimed… ‘You to have a chat for few minutes and I will go get the glasses…’ I don’t know about Mukund, but I was speechless…! I tried to explore whether there is any hidden elevator Shivaji Trail has installed for its private use but couldn’t find one. At times when I forget something while leaving my home that is on second floor in an apartment with 2 lifts, I normally feel reluctant to get back to home unless the forgotten thing is not something I cannot do without. Here this man who literally brought a learner trekker down the hill was as eager to get back on top as he is seeing that fort for the first time. I and Mukund sat there chatting when Mukund pointed at something and when I looked at the direction I was perplexed. It was the incredible Manoj who has reached there within say 7-8 minutes…! I was about to faint when Mukund told me that the incredible Manoj have trekked Ghangad for over 35 times and the trail of Ghangad for him is as clear as back of his hand. Although this piece of information saved me from fainting, it could not lower my respect for the incredible Manoj even an ounce. TIM returned with Mukund’s glasses in about 15 minutes and might have set a new record that goes unnoticed like most of his adventures and achievements.

Around 7 PM we returned to our weekend home where Milind Sir was waiting eagerly to hear about my latest adventure facilitated by his soldiers and all I could do was offer him a Sashtang Dandwat (Full Body Salute – if I must translate it) for having the determination to carry on this uphill – literally – task for over two decades. Rest of the part was a piece of cake for me as it was my unprecedented expertise and proficiency… to narrate, to analyze, to discuss and to format. The things I supposedly do best…!

At the end of an exciting weekend, I returned my (worldly) home with an enriching experience, life-time lessons and insights and immense enthusiasm to explore mission further. With a heart full of gratitude towards these absolutely incredibly and unbelievably selfless people, I wish all the great things in the world and expect that each and every individual that reads this, tries to contribute to this ambitious cause in whatever manner and way he or she can…! Way to go!

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