I massage my legs, trying to comfort the sore muscles and wish I had a personal masseur. “This pain is temporary; it will go away after a day”, I tell myself. To divert my attention from the pain, I close my eyes and reminisce the pastoral yellow-green of the wild flowers atop the fort (Lohagad) and the bliss I felt as rain clouds swept past and engulfed us in a heavenly mist…..
A day trek had been the next activity on the agenda of the girl-gang at my workplace. I was keeping my fingers crossed that this would materialize and not be dropped off the list due to lack of numbers. It is my experience that such activities do not find many takers. Lately I have been keen on doing some serious trekking; there are so many places around
Maharashtra to do so, however lack of time and association with like-minded individuals are my (lame?) excuses for not having been able to do so. So anyways, at the end of Friday there were 7 of us who were still game for a trek to Lohagad (Loha = iron, gad = fort). I only had a brief acquaintance with majority of the group and so was a bit skeptical about spending the whole day with such a bunch. All for the trek, I convinced myself and tagged my sister along as a fallback. I must admit that my spirits were dampened more than they were enthused as I was packing gear late into Friday night.
We decided to take the early local (train) upto Malavli. As we ware about to leave for the station, I was informed that the group had missed the local. The next one was almost an hour and a half away. My skepticism surged, but I decided to make the most of the time by building my energy reserve with wholesome homemade breakfast. Hot methi parathas did the trick and I was smiling and chatting all through the local journey. Wild orange flowers and lush green mountains zoomed past us all the way to Malavli.
A board at the railway station mentioned that Lohagad was a 9 km walk from Malavli. This was probably my 4th journey to the fort. All my previous visits had been during the simmering summer months and I hoped to see the fort in a different light at this time of the year. Here the monsoons are almost over and the weather is really hot on most days, however this is also the time for short but big showers. We were praying that the sun would stay behind the clouds for the most part and bless us with a drizzle just when we needed it.
We started the climb at about ; a late and slow start and I tried to build the group’s tempo so we could reach our destination before tiring ourselves by our own breaks and lazy speed. The hike is an easy walk along a wide gravel road for the most part. The sun was hiding but there was a lot of humidity in the air. I tried to look for old signs as we made our way up. After almost two hours of walking the twin forts of Lohagad and Visapur came into view. Wild yellow flowers were in full bloom and their color contrasted beautifully with the greens of the mountains and the brown earth. We couldn’t resist taking pictures and resumed our walk refreshed, after this short break.
Cool breeze and the yellow-greens atop the fort greeted us; none of us were really hungry, however the prospect of shedding some weight from our backpacks was reason enough for having lunch. A family of monkeys arrived just as we opened our packed lunches. Although we bribed a stray dog and some local kids with food, to chase the monkeys away, we were forced to have a hasty lunch. I think I am going to hold it against the monkeys for a long time. They are definitely off my favorite animal list!
We decided to explore the fort further, but couldn’t resist the cool water in the numerous water tanks that were along our exploration path. Chatting, singing, fish-spotting, we forgot all about the monkeys. Groups of teenagers suddenly appeared and soon the fort seemed like a vibrant youth hang-out rather than an historic artifact.
We continued our exploration after the water-play and soon the Vinchu (Scorpion) Kata (tail) point came into view. There is a tricky rock patch that one has to tackle before getting on the Vinchu Kata walk. Going down might have been easy, but we weren’t sure about making it up. Confused we sat there taking in the view of the valley. Soon misty clouds made way towards us and a cheer rose in the crowd.
Most of us had convinced ourselves that this was good enough. But S couldn’t go back after coming this far. She insisted on finding an alternative route and that she did. She urged us to look at the alternative path; a walk along the ledge below; it appeared simple and we decided to give it a shot. Suddenly a monkey appeared and edged close to S. The rest of us were at a distance above, and all we could do was scream in panic. S tried to shoo the monkey away, but the creature hissed closer. I was scared and confused at the same time. Our canine ally appeared on the scene just in time and drove the monkey away. I heaved a sigh of relief and tried not to think of what would have happened had the dog not appeared on the scene.
The walk along the ledge was the most exciting part of the trek. We seemed to walk in the clouds as we made our way to the furthest part of the Vinchu Kata point. We thanked S for insisting on coming to this point and not giving-in to our excuses.
We stopped for chai and kanda-bhaji before we began our walk downhill. The air was cooler than morning and clouds floated in the distance. We took a final stop that we had promised ourselves in the morning, at a waterfall and tried to speed up to make it in time for our local back.
Tired, sweaty and grimy we boarded the local and cheered each other for the wonderful time together. I silently chided myself for my earlier skepticism and wished for more of such times in the future.
I have but one regret – of making the exploration a mere physical activity rather than a studied tour. I hope I get better the next time on.