It was the only school picnic I had missed. Didn't feel too much at a loss back then because by all accounts, all that happened was a bit of dance and a visit to a biogas plant. The only birds they saw outside the cages were the sparrows. They had gotten terribly excited over monkeys and crabs, but that was understandable in a jungle where the only wildlife was stray dogs, crows, and humans.
Things changed today. Going with a bunch of photographers you meet online makes the whole thing look better. Anyway, they called it a trek and well, it was something I had missed long ago, so I thought I would give it a shot. Four thirty in the morning, I was awakened by a call, one of the guys in the trek was just confirming my presence. I rushed to Dadar station without thinking too much, and still, very much, asleep. The bus ride to Panvel after that woke me up enough to get to know everyone.
Eight of us. So it was a walk of about an hour and a half. If you end up at Panvel bus depot, and want to end up at Karnala fort, for heaven's sake, clarify with the driver of the tum-tum or the tuk-tuk or the gavti auto... whatever you might called the three wheeled Indian limo, that you want to head to the Karnala bird sanctuary, and not Karnala sports club, where you can apparently catch cricket matches over the weekends. This was a mistake we did, but we caught an ST to Alibaug, and dropped off at Karnala's gate. Pay the gatekeeper twenty bucks for your ticket, hide your video cam, just in case, and shell out an extra buck for a map. Today he had only one, and I got that one. It has a very wrong map, and a list of birds you will not see on the way up, and probably haven't heard about if you are not an ornithologist. Finding out which of the rampant and wild tracks within the sanctuary are actually represented on the map is a challenging thing to do. Infact, the map on the board before the second gate has an entire track missing from the map they give at the first gate.
Basically head upwards, any which way you want, and unless you hit upon the very very steep short cut (the map does not use the word "very" even once), you will probably end up at Karnala fort in an hour and a half or so. Up there, we met a bunch of hikers, exchanged a few stories of climbing and such, and he told us that this was like an introductory trek for those who want to get into that sort of a thing.
I definitely remembered my lungs screaming for oxygen on the way up. This was nothing compared to the things they had done. There were one or two sections where people gave up completely. The first point was a small temple, with a broken top... things got much steeper after that. The second stop was the actual pinnacle, people didn't usually venture beyond that. And you can't, it just goes upwards, and the only way to climb it is to use at least four people and ropes, and a tree on the umm... left side as you walk towards the pinnacle. Its this creeper on the sides of the pinnacle, and that's all you have to clutch on to. Of course, if it rains in the season you try to do this, the rocks will be too damn slippery, and you will reach a heaven beyond the one you just trekked into.
The bunch of trekkers there finally clarified the difference between hiking, trekking, and climbing. Trekking involves walking long distances to places that haven't had roads constructed to them as yet. Hiking is walking or travelling free, or at least dirt cheap, from one point to another, by any and all means possible. Climbing, is well, going up something steep.
These people had gone to glaciers and could recall particular holes in different mountains where you could shove in your climbing rope. I do not know their terminology, nor could totally understand their enthusiasm, but they seemed like a bunch of really happy people. They had endless praise for one another, and the praise was received with endless modesty. They left on the note that we would meet again in "some such place".
Noon was yet to hit. These guys did things early. I know friends who wake up at noon and wander about aimlessly till evening. Infact, I was like that some time ago.
Anyway, it is interesting to see photographers in action. Just before they click, their eyes dart around the frame checking for things that would make the thing look bad. Their legs and shoulders are hunched almost like they would hungrily pounce on some food. They behave exactly like hunters in a sense, only they use cameras.
We relaxed with a steady wind, and the sky drifted some clouds towards us every now and then. Everything would become foggy and the trees and the turrets of the forts would gradually get consumed by the vapor, and then revealed again suddenly, in a matter of minutes. From our vantage point, we could even see the receding clouds. It wasn't rain, the rain was below us. I was scared of lightning, but did not voice any opinions about this.
You know those pictures or movies where the clouds are slowly rolling over the mountains, pushed by the wind. Yeah, only the mountain, was below our feet. So the winds were pushing the clouds over the mountains, below our feet. Our feet may have been on the ground, but it wasn't too difficult to imagine that we were walking on the clouds. We sat in the clouds, ate in the clouds, photographed each other in the clouds, and even smoked in the clouds. There might be rainfall somewhere that smells like cloves.
The coming down bit was easier than we imagined, but we got slightly waylaid and hit everything from slabs of crystal to condoms. There is a lot of insect life, the leaves beneath your feet are in different stages of decay in this season, so there is a nice tonal range from dark brown to bright yellow... which looks like gold leaves.
Had tea at the bottom, figured out that you could book bungalows for four hundred bucks for a weekend, and then bussed back home dead tired and dirty.
End of story I think, here are the pics.