Monday, June 25, 2007

Gambirgadh Trek: High Jinx

Gambhirgadh. The Serious Fort.

They say that if God has not summoned you here... you will never be able to reach it. I'm beginning to believe in it now. This has been one trek that was so severely jinxed from the word go, I'm beginning to think it had been systematically cursed.

Starting off really early, and T saw the face of his boss the first thing in the morning. Do you believe that the face of your boss should be the face that comes before your eyes even before the dawn light has reached the sky? I don't either.

Then V got late, and called and asked us to wait. We knew he wasn't going to make it, so we told him not to try - it was simply too far for him to drive, from his home to the pickup points. He gave a solid senti SMS and signed off.

Less than an hour into the journey, we had our first flat tyre.

Explored the flora and fauna of the brush while the wheel got changed, and stopped later at a puncture repair place and fixed the flat spare while having the tapri-chai. I swear the sight of those stacks of yellow-painted tyres can be such a welcome sight in the right circumstances, on highways. And no flower must have looked as beautiful as the electric blue of the tarpaulin on the chai stall.

A while later, barely a few km from our destination, we stopped to ask for directions and got commandeered by Auntie. Auntie is a grey-haired, short and rotund elderly Parsi lady who's a social worker / trade unionist / local pain in the butt who uplifts workers' rights, educates them, makes life hell for the cops and walks around like a well-meaning but fairly effective short-range disaster area. She ordered us to drop her to the village - "Only 4 km out of your way," - so, kind-hearted souls that we were, we agreed.
Bare minutes after she got off and pottered off to her village, our bus ran into a patch of mud on a bridge and ran aground. Literally. The front wheel sank to the point that the body was resting on ground level, and the rear wheel giving it stiff competition. Barely a foot front the edge of the bridge, it tilted over and then settled heavily into the mud with a squishy sigh.

We got out to inspect the damage. It was bad. The wheel was mired so deep - and so thoroughly - that going either backwards or forwards was impossible. The only way to go was up.
"Good thing V wasn't here," remarked Y. "If he'd been, we'd all have been in the river by now."
But even without V's residential evil aura, the problem was bad enough. We were several km away from the nearest thing to a main road, and further still from the highway. Getting help was going to be very difficult. Our bus itself - a large white monster named Vishal, which means, appropriately enough, huge - simply sat there and looked like the heaviest thing it could think of.
We tried every possible strategy we could think of.

First, we tried to push the bus upright. That didn't work.

Then, we tried to lift the wheel out of the muck. The bus got lifted, all right - 22 Nature Knights pack a fair amount of muscle - but the engineers at Ashok Leyland, or Tata, or wherever knew their stuff; the suspension just let the wheel stay right where it was.

Then, we tried to push the bus back along the road where the rear wheel could get a grip. No go. The edge of the asphalt now made an extremely effective chock which made any backwards movement impossible.

Time to take a break and stop using brawn, and start using brain instead. And also recover for a moment. So we can't push it out. We can't push it up. We can't push it back. We probably could push it over into the river, but that wouldn't help.
How about pulling? Out come the ropes, knots are tied, and half the public pulls while the other pushes.

The bus remains immovably stuck, and begins to exude a kind of self-satisfied smirk that you see on particularly bloody-minded animals who you just cannot make do something while you get increasingly frustrated, heated, dusty and sweaty. Not to mention caked in mud to your elbows.
Time to call in the professionals. D heads off to find a tow truck, and the rest of us scatter across the fields to wait. I spend an hour or two under a banyan tree with R, T, and A, eating mangoes and giving gaali to respective bosses. And to Auntie, who we promised to pay double auto fare next time if we saw her, on the promise she leaves the next trekker's vehicle alone.
After a while, the Pandit Towing Company breakdown truck arrives. By now the village is besides itself with delight - we must have served them several months' worth of entertainment in one go. All shows running house full.

Pandit is basically built for power, not speed. So most of the journey had him gently chugging along, being passed by cycles, running kids, and goats, while D sat and vibrated with frustration. But once he was here, his skills and abilities were showcased in a dazzling display of strength as Vishal was pulled out ass-backwards out of the mud, squelching, screeching and slurping.

Knocking off as much mud as we could, we got in, studiously ignoring the anguish in the driver's eyes as he watched several kilos of mud being tracked into his pristine-clean white vehicle, and headed off again.
Fifteen minutes later, we had another puncture.

But thank god for small mercies - this time we were near a village, so we sat around munching mangoes and having chai, watching the cool rain, getting deliciously wet, while the wheel got changed.
Then we missed the turnoff, and had to backtrack.
Finally, at around four in the afternoon, we reached our trek start point - only six hours late. Do we stay put? Sleep? Lunch?

No way. We head off to see how far up we can get in the time we have. And do a pretty creditable job, too; around halfway, in just about 45 mins. 45 mins of clambering over slippery wet mud, of a particularly thick clayey consistency that makes it stick to your shoes like Spiderman and makes each foot weigh around 5 kilos each.

But it was a nice walk - there's a long ridge with the hill falling away on both sides, so you get a beautiful view all around. Would love to do it on a full-on howling rainstorm; that would be intense.

Rested and chatted for a while at the plateau-clearing, eating plum cake, and interfering with the sex life of Gambhirgadh Grasshoppers and Crickets; the poor couples would barely get a chance to mount before they would find themselves surrounded by Nature Knights armed with digicams, DSLRs, and inquisitive fingers, clicking and prodding away.

R went one step further and frightened ten years off a poor beetle's life by convincing it she was about to eat it there and then. Not to mention collecting the ticks, beautiful velvet-textured, Ferrari-red creatures.

Finally, it's time to go... and so we head off back, slipping, sliding, falling, and chatting.

Adventure treks come in different forms. We had set out to trek, but like they say - getting there is half the fun. And a journey is always more than just the destination. We had adventure all right, and of a sort that you don't get so easily - we had fun, we learned how to get a bus out of muck, and basically, we learned how you can still have a good time even when everything seems to be going wrong.


And as Arnie would say -

I'll Be Back.

Gambhirgadh Trek - see the photos here.

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