Stopping to let the rest of the group catch up, we find a dead snake - a krait - on the road. It's been killed by a vehicle / stick, and is lying with one half-inch fang, razor sharp and needle-pointed, straight up in the air. Step on that, and...
dead, but still deadly.
Prabalgadh is a double-step trek; one to reach the first plateau, with the village of Thakurwadi on top; the second, a steep, gruelling climb in the sun to reach the fort. But that's just incidental; this trip is about camping under the stars. R has come fully prepared with a tent and a blanket; I stick to just the sleeping bag, gratis from ICICI because I was such a profligate user of their credit card.
Vardoli to Thakurwadi takes around a couple of hours, mostly through moderate terrain until the plateau; then, it's fairly dense forest. We pass through a clearing where the locals are brewing some moonshine; the fumes of the gur-based alcohol fill the jungle, and by the time you walk through the clearing, you've breathed in enough to fail a breathalyzer. It's more than just an olfactory assault; looking at it gets you drunk. A giant drum, nearly six feet high and four across, bubbling over a woodfire, filled to the brim with think, brown syrup, while the real stuff drips out of small outlets in the side and trickles down pipes into giant white jerrycans... it's a visual happy hour. You're flying just looking at it.
Another thing you find in the jungle is wildlife. No, not the regular kind like you thought, but the more interesting, unexpected kind. Like sitting down to take a breather, tilting your head back for a drink and seeing a Giant Indian Woodspider suspended in a perfect six-foot web overhead. The scuttling rustles in the undergrowth that's land crabs the size of your fist, pale yellows, ochers, browns, blacks, and the occasional ferocious orange, waving claws threateningly if they realize you can see them. Beetles that look like they have emeralds embedded in their bodies. Ferns growing out of solid rock.
Thakurwadi takes you back in time a dozen, fifty, a hundred years. From outside, nothing changes... there's still the village well, women washing up with ash, the tethered goats and roaming chickens, guard dogs... inside, there's satellite TV, a DVD player.
Reached back in a state of utter heat-exhaustion, and dozed off in whatever shade we could find.