Kathingadh, literally translated, means 'difficult fort'. So there was some trepidation while getting there - but this turned out to be one of the easiest treks I've been on, barring Murud-Janjira, which wasn't a trek at all. As D said, this fort will be Saralgadh from now on.
6 am at Ahura Bakery; it's still dark, and the newspaper packers are getting the bundles ready on the pavements. When I reached, I called D to confirm where he was, and saw a european guy waving frantically at me from the other side of the road. But when I went over, his happy expression suddenly turned into a very confused one; apparently he had been calling someone else at the same time, saw my cell, and assumed I was the friend who was supposed to have arrived. And I guess the friend also told hime something along the lines of "I'm practically there!" so there was a moment of serious identity crisis while he tried to desperately figure out who the hell I was. This was my first meeting with N, A and J, exchange students at NM college from France.
We had hired a 25-seater sky blue minibus this time round (which is exactly like the ones the government uses for administering polio eradication drives in the countryside, so we were greeted with villages and scared-looking children all ready for the polio shots when we arrived, but that's another story)
Picked up De (long live the Net! He joined up via an Orkut community) from Sion, and headed down to Chembur for the first pitstop to fill up on fuel; There's something about that canteen next to the petrol station which is the embodiment of travel. Hot chai, cold morning, and a cig.
Fairly peaceful journey out of Bombay; I slept very peacefully if ungracefully, in spite of R trying to feed me hairclips and camera cases in my sleep and taking photos; and woke up at a place called the El Taj for breakfast.
Every time, Nature Knights adds on something new to it's treks. This time, it was a live sex show. Who needs the weekends in Bangkok? It's all at Lonavla! But I think the people have started to protest...
The ride got quite a bit more bumpy from here; rockin and rollin, we finally arrived well and truly shaken and stirred.
Quickly got a guide, and started walking up. The sun was out, and it was pretty bright, but surprisingly not very hot. Pleasantly warm at best. Passed a palm tree with an old man sitting under it who gave us all an extremely baleful, evil look. Probably guarding his tadi up in the tree.
Started climbing; this was a fairly easy climb, but B, who was trying this for the first time, had to stop halfway up, not feeling too well. So we (me and N) drop her back and then come literally running back. Without packs, it took just about ten minutes to reach the entrance. Cool.
A little photoessay on the Various Faces of S during the trek
Arrive to find the group sitting like a disaster-struck refugee camp, draped across the landscape in various dispirited poses at the base of the final peak. The peak, naturally, had the mandatory flag.
It also had a little gap in the wall which we tried to use as a kitchen, but the place heated up so fast with the smoke it was more like a tandoor in which D emerged, coughing and semi-broiled. We were not hungry enough to eat a whole Roast D, so we let him be and A made a fire on the edge where we quickly heated up some tuna mince.
So, in the afternoon, we're sitting at the top of the hill in the warm winter sunshine, eating hot fish, bread, apples, theplas, cheese sandwiches, khajur... you get the picture. I'll get paan next time, and I know how to get it properly, too. Hmmm... Nature Knights seriously lives to eat. Here's Y in a Sania Mirza pose with the tuna; A cooking; us waiting with growling stomachs; and D who couldn't wait anymore and seems to be eating a can of tuna without opening it first.
After lunch, a very peaceful hour lying in the shade, chilling. Spectacular view all around; misty mountains on one side - you can see the forts of Lohagadh and Visapur in the north, and Tikona in the east; and the Pawna lake on the south.
Cool, strong wind. Silence. Once in a while, you can see the wake of a speedboat slowly creeping across the steel-blue waters, or the gently drifting orange of a sailboat. From that height, they look like ants; but the silence is so intense you can hear them. A farmer, far, far down, was calling out to his bullocks as he plowed.
The top of the fort is fairly small, and has mostly deformed, alien-looking vegetation that's dried banana trees, and tall yellow grass; there's also a small shrine to Devi Tuljai, and a small reservoir. You can't drink or bathe in it, though; too dirty.
After resting, D wanted to practice rapelling, since Harshchandragadh was coming up soon; some other people immediately wanted to try it out, so that afternoon's entertainment came from helping the new trekkers through their first steps in rapelling. Very small descent, but quite noisy; R went down amidst so many yells that she had nearly 10 people shouting instructions at her. But still did pretty damn well. I think I'll take her for a more vertical rock-face descent soon.
The Progress of R
Climb down later in the afternoon, peaceful and incidentless. Play a little cricket with the village kids at the bottom.There had been a samadhi earlier in the afternoon, and when B and R wandered too close to it, the dog who was happily accompanying them till then suddenly went extremely nuts and growled them away. Animals and death have a strange relationship; they can sense death, and it makes them uneasy, and they will warn away people from that place. Maybe they can smell a dead body; maybe it goes deeper than that, and they can sense the soul itself, wandering around briefly before it moves on. Either way; best avoided.
Pile in and head off to a Kamat's in Lonavla, where we went berserk with giant paper dosas and paan.
Good, relaxed sunday.
Update - I had written earlier of my experience at Dhak-Bhairi. Just got to know the week after we were there, another group tried the same crossing, and while one guy was traversing the rockface, his hands got too badly stung by the heat of the rock in the sun, or maybe the sun itself was too hot... and he had to let go. He fell. Died.
Guys, again - Dhak is dangerous.
Be careful. Use a safety line.