Disclaimer: Nothing in the story that follows is fictitious. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is completely intentional. In other words, this is not a work of fiction, it all happened.
Starring: PJ (As The Explorer)
Supporting Cast: Hobs Crk, PP, Babban, Agam, Alan, Deven
Location: Tungareshwar is a mountain peak in Vasai, an hour or so from Mumbai. It’s a favourite with trekkers during the monsoons, when the rivers and waterfalls come alive and transform the whole place from a brown woodland to a lush green region with awesome vistas to be seen at every turn.
Chapter 1: Getting There
This was the second time we were going trekking to Tungareshwar within the span of a month or so. We went by train to Vasai and then caught a rickshaw to the base of the mountain where the trek starts. Even this was not without incident – the severe paucity of rickshaws from Vasai station led to everyone being stuffed into one rattling rickshaw. For those who have trouble counting or are just plain lazy, thats 7 people. One rickshaw. Wasn’t comfortable, in case you’re wondering.
Chapter 2: Looking Good
For the uninitiated, a short description about Tungareshwar. The common knowledge is that it is one winding track about 10 feet wide that runs parallel to a river for a few miles and then reaches a Shiv temple set on the side of the mountain. For a lot of people that is all it has, and this part is not without its own charms, with the path surrounded by dense forest and the river intersecting it in a few places. Of course, for the trekkers, this was just one small part.
Since we were there for the second time and had already seen what the main track had to offer, we decided to shift focus a bit and leave the path and just follow the river uphill. Our reasoning was that since the river is within viewing distance of the path for long stretches anyway, we could just skip over to the path if we got stuck along the river anywhere. So at the first intersection of the path with the river, we went off it and started following the river upstream.
To start off with it was pretty easy, we managed to stick to the river for an hour or so by walking along its rocky banks. We had to get out feet wet once in a while when we had to cross the river to get to the other bank when our way was blocked by trees or huge boulders. The flowing water was clean and the current, while pretty strong, wasn’t creating problems yet. Encouraged, we didn’t get back on the path at the next few intersections and stuck to the river.
Chapter 3: Getting Stuck
Soon after the last intersection with the path things began to get tricky. It was proving impossible to walk along the bank of the river because there just wasn’t one. The only way forward was trudging in the water itself or skipping from boulder to boulder along the river. The rocks were slippery from the water flowing over them, and walking through the river was getting more and more treacherous as the current got stronger. We had been sticking to it for a couple of hours or so when, after some heavy climbing and jumping, we finally reached what we had been dreading – a dead end.
Ahead of us stood a huge pile of boulders and behind that, a beautiful waterfall that must have been 70 feet high (it looks beautiful in the pictures, at that time it looked like a green bug-eyed monster alien from Mars to us). There was absolutely no way we could envision getting over that. Mocking us, the path passed over the top of the waterfall. At the base of the waterfall below the rocks, the water had accumulated into a small pond before flowing off as the river we had just come by.The Explorer wandered off in search of a path that would allow us to bypass the waterfall somehow and continue, while the rest settled down for some kidding around in the water.
The swimmers headed off to the deeper end (deeper means really deep, Hobs Crk, who was a good 6′ 4″ tall, couldn’t feel the bottom with his feet even after swimming down as far as he could go) while the non-swimmers stuck to the shallow part.
Everyone was just getting used to the soothing water when we noticed a commotion near the middle of the pool. PP, who at the time knew as much about swimming as my big toe knows about painting, had pushed off a rock and was suddenly deeper than he expected. Noticing him floundering in the water, the closest people rushed to him. Though the swimmers were still too far away to reach quickly, Deven was close by and had reached him in a matter of seconds to pull him out.
That was when we had our first heart-stopping moment. Deven, who had already stretched out his arm to get a grip on him, suddenly withdrew, turned around, and went back, muttering to himself “Bah, he’s just joking around, there’s nothing really wrong with him”. Unable to make our invective-laden words heard over the roar of the waterfall, Alan, who was the closest among the swimmers, reached a by-then-freaked-out PP and got him to the closest rock. Deven got a few cuffs on the side of the head, especially from a relieved PP. No one’s mood was brightened by The Explorer reappearing with the news that there was no way to go forward, and that we would have to go backward and try to catch the path wherever we could find.
Chapter 4: Escape
So packing up our stuff, we left the pond to go back downstream to look for the path. We didnt really expect a problem finding it, because we remembered the river could be seen in quite a few places from the path. What we hadn’t reckoned for, however, was that the path was a dozen or so feet higher than the river, so while the river could be seen from the path, it was almost impossible to see the path from the river. After a few wrong turns where we were sure we had seen the path, only to have it mysteriously disappear as we got closer, we finally found a place where we knew the path was just above us, and we just had to climb a slope to get to it.
This was however easier said than done, because as soon as we started climbing, we let loose a barrage of pebbles and mud, falling all around us. Further tries just led to more sliding gravel, so we decided to leave before we let loose the bigger rocks or started a landslide. So back to the river it was. It was around this time that Hobs Crk’s windcheater disappeared from the strap of his bag, only to mysteriously appear on the branch of a fallen tree at the next turn we tried. This spooked us all no end, because we were sure now that we were just going around in circles. It was mid-afternoon, and it didn’t help that none of our cell phones had any sort of a signal.
Nevertheless, it was The Explorer who finally got us to the track, after almost an hour of backtracking along the river. How he found the little gap between the trees that led us uphill and to the path only he can tell us, but at that moment, curiosity was the last thing on our minds, with all the bad stuff it did to cats.
Chapter 5: What came next
Needless to say, we were one relieved bunch of guys by now, but we definitely werent done for the day. There were still a few hours of sunlight left, and we didn’t want to head home. So we continued up the path, taking no diversions this time, all the way up to the temple. After some prayers, (exams just over, you see) we decided we wanted to continue up from the temple.
There’s two ways to continue from the temple – one is follow the path upwards, and the other is to go through the jungle along the river. Both land up at approximately the same place, and you’d think that we’d have had enough of following rivers, but no, we followed the river. This time without incident, until we reached our destination – a small pond in the middle of the river that’s a popular place for trekkers to come to at the end of the long walk up. The last time we were here, it was packed with swimmers, this time we had reached so late that everyone had already left and we had the whole place to ourselves.
It was the ideal place to rest a bit and eat some food we had carried along and carry out some emergency repairs to our terrified footwear and bags, Hobs Crk’s shoes in particular had completely given up and come apart at the sole. I tell you.
Chapter 6 – Descent – And Food. With a capital F.
We caught the path on the way back and stuck to it like glue. The walk back would never feel longer, especially since it was almost evening, and none of us really fancied being stuck there in the dark. If we were in slightly better condition, we would have even run down. Of course, running was out of the question, and it didnt help that Hobs Crk was still using his shoes with the sole tied to the boot using the laces (LOL!!).
We needn’t have worried though, we reached the base while it was still early evening, and obviously, the next stop was for food. The base of the trek is close to the highway, so we went to the closest dhaba we could find and asked him to cook the biggest chicken he had for us and prepare his tandoor for unlimited rotis. And of course a few plates of paneer and other stuff for the vegetarians. The pet tabby cat kept us company while the chicken handi cooked, and we touched 56 rotis among the 7 of us.
After that it was time for home. We were no good at going back to Vasai station, so we put our thumbs out and hitched a lift to Borivali in a milk van that was going that way. It smelt of milk, and it was no fun sitting on each other stuffed at the back, but by then, we were too far gone to care. Borivali and then home. We paid the tempo guy 10 bucks each. Come on, we’re not rich people, or we would have booked a helicopter.
Lesson learnt: “The only time you wish for adventure is when you’re safe at home. When you’re having an adventure, you wish you were safe at home.”
Epilogue: So this was it. The trek to end all treks. The trek after which no other trek will feel the least bit of a challenge. As a tribute to our awesomeness, this post was written one year after it actually happened, and its no surprise that the details are so fresh in my mind it could have been yesterday. PP, Agam, Babban, PJ, Deven, Alan, cheers to us!