This is a write-up by my friend Irfulal (Irfan) of our experience at the trek of Mauli.
Adventure unlimited. Never ending excitement. The ultimate trekking experience. I feel sorry for those who could not make it, at the same time I feel happy that I live to tell the tale.
Saturday, July 26. As decided I was waiting under the indicator at 8:30 pm at CST station. As I took a bite from the chicken roll in my hand, the phone rang. It was Kapil. He said he was at Dadar station. He said he would take the train from there. Then I called Arvind. He too was at Dadar with the others & would not be able to come to CST on time & would take the train from there. I told him to look for Kapil. I had to take the 8:42 local from CST. It was the last fast train for Kasara. We had to take it. I told them where exactly I would board the train. The train was moving past Parel station when Arvind called again asking me to get down at Dadar since Mangesh had not arrived. I was hanging out so that they could see me. I was looking for them as the train pulled into the crowded Dadar station. I heard cries of,”Irfan… Irfan.” I saw them & waved. Somebody standing behind me said,”bhaisahab shayad aapko koi bula raha hai.” I said,”malum hai.”
I jumped down on the platform. The whole group ran towards me & said,” get in…get in”. All of us pushed ourselves into the compartment that was now packed. Presumably Mangesh must have arrived. We were seven in all. Myself, Sanjay, Kapil, Arvind, Vartak, Sid & Mangesh. We had got into one of those karaoke compartments. There was a group singing Gujarati bhajans at the top of their voices banging the bogie walls hard for percussion. We were all packed tight in the crowd, could not move one bit, clutching on to the handles for balance. Finally at Dombivli the crowd loosened up. Even the bhajan group got off. We went inside & kept our bags on the rack.
Just then we saw people on the platform running helter-skelter & shouting. It was a bomb scare or maybe someone had noticed a fire in the train. People in our compartment pounced on their bags & scampered out. We did the same. On the platform it was like a stampede. I had never seen the public so petrified & running for their life. We tried to see if there was a fire but could not spot anything. Just then the train horn blared & it started moving. We realized the bomb scare was a hoax. We got back in the train & secured our places. There was another group of 16 boys in the compartment playing antakshri in a loud & wild manner. We were irritated. But little did we know how useful this group would be for us.
We reached Asangaon station at 10:30 pm. The question now was, how to reach Mahuli. Let me tell you what made us come here. In the previous week I had read an article in the Times on trekking spots around Mumbai in which Mahuli was mentioned. That was all we knew about this place. We crossed the tracks & came to a hanuman temple where all of us changed to our shorts. We asked a local for directions. He asked us to go straight through the village onto the highway beyond which is the road to Mahuli. A walk of around one hour would take us to a Shiva temple, which is the base of the trek.
We kept walking straight on the narrow village road with houses on both sides. Then we came to a dead end. The highway was in front of us but it was very high above the ground level. We would have to climb up to it. It was dark. Kapil showed the way with his torch & we climbed up onto a dark long highway.
Huge roaring trucks whizzed past with their bright lights beaming on the wet tar strip. Now we had to look for the road to the Shiva temple. A little distance ahead we saw the group of 16 boys getting down from the opposite side of the highway. We followed them.
We climbed down on to a narrow road. Their group moved ahead & we walked some distance behind them. Probably this was the road to the Shiva temple. The group ahead was a bunch of taporees. Some of them were drunk & were shouting like crazy. But one of them was a decent guy. More importantly he had been to Mahuli a few years back so we thought we’d stay behind this group. We kept walking and left the highway far behind.
Slowly the shouting & singing subsided. It was dark & silent all around. This was a very haphazardly made road just wide enough for a bus to pass, without any streetlights, infected with potholes. There were no houses there. It was pitch dark. No light in sight. There was no civilization for miles on either side of the road. We had to use our torch to see our way on the road. Suddenly the torch went off. Now all we could see were frequent flashes of light from the torch of the group ahead. Imagine you are blindfolded, walking in a forest, not knowing where you are going. Occasionally the silence would be hampered by the shrill noise of crickets in the grass, or the croaking sound of toads. There would be brief showers of rain every few minutes & in the dark we would trip in the water filled potholes. This was getting creepy every moment. We kept wondering whether we were on the right path. We would not have dared come so far if the other group was not ahead of us. Occasionally we would spot tiny yellow sparks flying around. These were fireflies. The vegetation grew denser & huge trees surrounded us. We could hear the sound of water flowing. Probably we were walking beside a stream. Sometimes the sound of water grew louder & we could make out white patches of foam in the distance created by water flowing over the rocks. Sometimes the streams flowed across the road. We would wait for the group ahead to cross the water just to make sure the depth of the water. Then we would wade through the flow. We had already walked for one & a half hour now.
The group ahead stopped. There was a diversion ahead. The road split into two. Now where do we go? Left or right? Both of them looked the same – dark. All of us stayed there while two guys from the other group went ahead on the right hand side road. They returned after ten minutes & said there was nothing beyond that road. So we would now resume moving on the left hand side road. We were moving with the other group since they had a torch. In the torchlight we saw a huge toad lying in the middle of the road. One of the guys kicked it off track. Are we going on the right way? What if we come to a dead end? What if we have to go back? These questions kept hounding us. The trek had not started yet. But the adventure certainly had. It was well past midnight.
We saw a hut. At last some proof of human existence. One of the guys went up to the hut to see if there was someone. There was no light there. He came back without any news. There was nobody there. We would have to keep moving on like ignorant nomads. After having prodded for another twenty minutes we came up to a board with a picture of a monkey on it. It was put up by the forest conservation authorities to spread awareness about protection of wildlife. A little beyond the board was a house. Adjacent to it was another structure that looked like a temple. Was this the Shiva temple? Someone from the other group went to check. He shouted back, calling us & confirming that we had finally reached our destination.
It was 1:30 am. We had been walking for almost three hours. We went off the road, stepping on the wet grass, wading through a flowing stream, towards the Shiva temple. A simple box type structure with a pyramidal dome. At the entrance stood an idol of the nandi bull about two feet high facing the shivling exactly opposite at the rear end of the temple. A few bells hung in the center. There were no windows, but there were openings with grills on all sides of the temple. The group of 16 guys settled near the left hand side of the shivling & we secured our place on the left hand side closer to the entrance. Opposite us there was a Punjabi family already in deep sleep. We squatted on the temple floor & had some snacks. Mangesh had brought a sheet of cloth. We lay it on the floor & lied on it using our bags as pillows. The temple light was switched off. I tried to sleep. But could not. The other group was creating a lot of noise. Some nuts in our group as well were not too keen on sleeping & were disturbing those who were trying to. Also it was very cold since there were no windows to shield us from the chilly winds at night. But Sid slept. He did not give a damn to what was happening around him. Even an earthquake would not wake him up.
All of us did catch a small nap. I opened my eyes at the crack of dawn & watched the morning unfurl gradually & reveal the beauty of the surroundings. The previous night everything was black. Now everything was green. There was a house adjacent to the temple where the temple caretaker stayed. Between the temple & the house was a little stream flowing. In front of the temple was a well. But where was the entity we had come all the way for. Where was the mountain? Almost everyone was up & awake (except Sid of course). We came out of the temple & went up to the well for a wash. As I turned back to go back in the temple I saw a huge dark green mass encompass the horizon. I could only see the lower half of it since most of it was covered with fog. I said to myself, “Wow! We’ve got to conquer that!”
Sid woke up. We had hot soothing tea at the caretaker’s place. There was a notice board inside the temple giving details about the trek & the Mahuli fort that was perched atop the mountain. The only thing I was interested in was the height of the mountain. 2815 feet. Not much. But what matters is the nature of the trek. The difficulty level. We had already scaled Kalsubhai peak, which was 5350 feet so this should be a piece of cake. I was wrong.
One smart move was to leave all the bags with the caretaker & carry just one bag containing the food & money. So all of us had our hands free & no load to carry. Vartak carried that one bag all the way during the ascent. Thanks to him. He is very agile. Fresh, excited & full of anticipation we tread on the path towards the mountain that started from behind the temple. It was 7:45 am. It was a flat route. Not much of an ascent. We had not actually started the climb. We were chatting, laughing & admiring the flora & fauna around. I could hear the sound of water flowing but was unable to spot the source of that sound because of the thick vegetation. The sound became louder & suddenly we were stopped in our track by a river. This was the Barangi River. If we had to move on, we had to cross it. The group of 16 guys were already there making an attempt to cross it. It was not deep. Just above the knees. But it was fast, as if in a hurry, unstoppable by the huge rocks, creating white foam as it pushed its way through them. Both the groups formed a human chain clasping each other’s hands. I stepped into the water one person holding my right hand moving ahead of me & another person holding my left hand moving after me. The water was cold & trying to sweep you off your feet. Slowly we crossed the river & came out on the other side. It was great fun. I felt like playing in the water. With water in our shoes, we moved on. The ascent had started. We spotted different kinds of crabs & other crawling insects creeping under the rocks & hiding amongst the plants. The trail was now in the form of steps carved into the rocks. I personally do not like trekking routes to have such steps. It becomes monotonous & unchallenging. Mangesh & I moved much ahead of the others. We could still not gauge how high we had climbed because we were still in the midst of trees. It was like walking through an equatorial rainforest. We thought we’d wait for the others & then move on together. It was then that I realized that the moment you stop moving you will be attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. More irritating were these blood-sucking insects. I had never seen anything like that. They were like huge flying ants. They stick to your body & administer a sting that feels like an injection & start sucking your blood like leeches. You have to actually pluck them off your skin. All of us had scores of these stings on our bodies that kept on itching for days after the trek. No wind was blowing. There was a strange silence in the forest, which gave you a feeling as if you were somewhere you were not supposed to be. The entire group was terrified of snakes that are found on such spots especially during the rains. That was another reason why the dense vegetation seemed to be so unpredictable. We could hear Kapil & Sanjay discussing the species of a particular bird they might have spotted. They were getting close. The whole group got together & we started climbing again.
As we moved further on, the steps diminished. Now it was a natural path. More challenging. Then it happened. What I was waiting for. Rain. Now the equatorial rain forest setting was complete. We did not have any protection at all. We were drenched in an instant. This rain did not stop the whole day. As we kept climbing over the rocks, catching hold of trees & small plants, we noticed water flowing down the trekking route. As the rain continued the volume of water flowing down kept on increasing. We were almost climbing in a stream against the current. We had to take breaks after every few minutes of climbing for everyone to catch up. We were especially concerned for Sid, wondering if the trek was too taxing for him. But he was trying his best. At no point during the trek did he give a feeling that he was a liability on this trip. Hats off to his sporting spirit. Not only did he enjoy himself but also is keen on going for another trek. At every steep rock the stream would turn into small waterfalls & it was thrilling climbing such rocks with all the water pouring on you. The ground vegetation was now very thick and above our head level. We had to move the plants with our hands to move ahead not knowing where we were taking our next step.
The track became narrower & the mountain began revealing itself. Every now & then we would see a glimpse of the huge mountain. We have seen the most breathtaking views on this trip. A huge mountain range covered in dark green velvet cut at various places by white streaks of waterfalls pouring down from the top to the base & transforming into rivers that flowed out of the valley. The entire green valley was being lashed with heavy wind & rain. Then a veil of white fog would come & blanket the whole valley like a shy woman hiding herself behind a curtain.
Then came the most difficult stretch of the trek. There was a sheer drop on the left hand side & we could see the deep valley waiting to swallow us. The track was playing tricks with us. Sometimes the valley would be on our left & then suddenly it would emerge on to our right. I would walk ahead & then shout back at the others warning them, which side the drop would be & what lay ahead. It was more dangerous because we were walking on barren, slippery, moss infected rocks with water flowing over them. At one point of time there was a steep drop on both sides with only two feet of ground width for us to walk without any support. Then Sid tripped & fell flat on his chest. His face hit a rock & was bruised. We went to help him but he just lay there for a while gathering his senses. Everyone was dumbstruck. He got up on his own & we moved on. After this incident everyone was very serious. The talking stopped. Anyone who opened his mouth was asked to shut up. The amount of ground for foothold became narrower. At a particular stretch we had to walk sideways with our back towards the rock & looking down at the valley holding the plants for support. At that point any distraction could be disastrous. Everyone was quiet & focussed.
The rain gods were busy doing their job. We came up to a vertical rock face. There was an iron ladder attached to it about ten feet high. It was not as simple as climbing the ladder & reaching up. The vertical face continued well beyond the ladder. We had to climb to the end of the ladder & then move on a narrow shelf of rock on the huge vertical face. This was absurd. People could easily die at this place. Whoever constructed it ought to have made it safer. I approached the ladder & began climbing it clasping the rusted iron firmly. I thought I wouldn’t, but I looked down to see the sheer drop hundreds of feet below into a dense forest. If the ladder gave away I would be gone for good. At that moment it seemed so silly to rely on a pipsqueak rusted piece of iron for your life. I came to the end of the ladder. Now I had to secure my grip in a crevice on the rock face & haul myself on the narrow shelf on my left hand side. One by one everybody crossed this obstacle. Now it was just climbing on & on for long following the water streaming down around sharp bends & between thick undergrowth. Every few minutes flat stretches of land were emerging which gave an indication that we were close to our target. There would not be any peak at the end as the mountaintop was in the form of a rugged plateau. At one point beside the track was a ledge of rock protruding out as if it were a diving board to serve as a suicide point. I moved on to it & lied down flat on my stomach at the edge so that I could look down. I was flabbergasted by the view. As if I were flying over heaven. I took a deep breadth wishing to take in the entire view inside me.
It was all flat land now. The rain had intensified & it was lashing hard because of the strong winds. We were engulfed by fog. I was sort of acupunctured all over by the pricks of the lashing raindrops. We saw a huge water reservoir. Such reservoirs are dug deep into the mountain. One of the remnants of Mahuli fort. We had reached the top. We walked ahead till we reached steps formed by huge blocks of stone going down to small caves carved in the mountain. We cleaned ourselves in the rainwater dripping at the entrance of the cave. The group of 16 guys were already there. It was 10:30 am. The ascent had taken almost three hours. We waited for them to leave after which we sat down to eat. We removed our wet t-shirts. It was very cold. The rain was still pouring. We did not feel like stepping out of the cave. But we had to. We came out at around 11:45 am to commence the descent.
As I moved up the steps of stone I heard the sound of water. I went in the direction of the sound & what did I discover. A huge waterfall. I yelled in excitement calling the others. About one floor high it was crashing down making a deafening roar. The water was light brown because of all the silt it carried with it. There was a small shivling kept near it. Vartak, Sid & I stepped into the water moving cautiously towards the fall. I thrust my hand into it to check the pressure of water. It was enormous. This was mind blowing. All three of us formed a chain & thrust ourselves under the torrent. The entire cascade was hammering down on us. The water was ice cold & the pressure of the water was hitting us hard. This experience made the entire ascent worth wile.
The descent gave some warmth to our cold shivering bodies. Soon the group split. Sanjay, Kapil, Mangesh & I went much ahead of the others. As we were going down we came across many people moving up. Groups of girls & boys, families with kids & elders. We wondered how they would manage to complete this trek. Descent is as taxing for the legs as ascent. Especially for your toes & knees.
The four of us reached Barangi river & were about to cross it when we were stopped by the group of 16 guys. They warned us not to even step into the water. We saw two of the guys sitting with their legs bleeding. We asked what happened. Because of the incessant rain the volume of the Barangi river had swollen which they did not realise. When they tried to cross the river two guys were swept by the force of the water & hurt their feet on the rocks in the water. Luckily they held onto some plants & were pulled out with the help of ropes. So now what. How would we cross the river? The only way would be to wait for the rains to stop & the water to calm down. We saw people gathering on the opposite bank of the river. We shouted & told them what the situation was. They had long ropes with them. They would tie the rope across the river & then we could cross. This was thrilling. Almost a rescue operation. We walked along the bank to a point in the river where there were fewer rocks & the water was less turbulent & shallow. Few guys from the opposite bank threw one end of the rope to us & tied the other end to a tree. We secured the rope firmly at our end. Then one by one the guys stepped into the torrent & crossed the river holding the rope. People on the opposite bank pulled them out. Quite a crowd had gathered there by now. My turn to go. I held the rope & stepped into the water. Immediately I felt a jerk putting me off balance. It was not as easy as I thought. The rope was swaying & the current was trying to take you along with it. There was remarkable force in the flow. In addition to that the riverbed was full of loose rocks so there was no firm foothold. I was now in the centre of the river. Just then a huge boulder moved with the force of the water, hit my shin & I almost fell. People at the opposite end shouted, ”whatever happens, don’t leave the rope”. I finally reached them & they pulled me out of the water. Slowly the others followed, everybody crossed the river & they detached the rope. But where were Sid, Vartak & Arvind.
The people are gone; the ropes are gone, now how would the three of them cross. We had to wait for them at the bank so that we could warn them against getting into the water. After about fifteen minutes they arrived on the opposite bank. We shouted & told them what had happened. They looked tense. One of the locals was there. We explained the problem to him. He went looking for help & got with him a group of around ten local boys who were used to the river & its ways. They decided they would form a compact human chain to prevent being swept away. They entered the river forming a chain from our end to the opposite end. Vartak crossed the river holding the chain. This bunch of guys was excited about this rescue & was creating a pandemonium. For them it was fun.
As Sid was wading through the surge he lost his balance and crashed into the water taking the entire human chain with him. I bet the river could not sweep him away. We pulled him out. Finally even Arvind came safely on our side. We thanked the locals for their help. Now it was just a short walk to the temple. We were discussing what an eventful trip this had been. The trek had taken its toll on us. Sid, Arvind, Vartak & Sanjay had torn shoes. The entire sole had come out. Arvind had fallen on the steps while coming down. Even Sid was hurt. My shin was now bruised & swollen. The entire group was battered to extreme. But it was all worthwhile.
We pulled buckets of water from the temple well & took a bath. Collected our bags & bid farewell to the temple. We now had to walk back three hours to Asangaon station on the road we had taken the previous night. Damn. We were already fatigued. But we nudged on. The road, which was dark & ghastly the previous night, now looked beautiful wriggling through bright green stretches of rice fields & little streams. After one hour of walking & singing we saw an empty rickshaw & all seven of us cramped ourselves into it. It dropped us on the highway from where we walked up to the station. We changed our clothes in the station masters cabin. It felt very nice to wear dry clothes. I had seen so much water in one day that I felt like taking the next trip to the deserts of Rajasthan. We took the 4:20 local going towards CST. Just the right time for sabooites. The last twenty-four hours would remain etched in our memories forever as the ultimate wet & wild experience.