A few months ago I chanced upon the perfect antidote to chaotic life in the city: the mountains. The trek in the Himalayas, many many miles from home, in effect felt like a homecoming. And since then, it’s been hard to resist the call of the nearby Sahyadris.
Last weekend when the summons became particularly strident, 5 of us bundled into an Indica and headed off. Our destination: an ancient fort called Harishchandragad, which is also a well-known trekking route.
The moment we cleared the city limits, the horizon magnificently expanded. No concrete heaps, no raucous horns, no scurrying hordes… Even the wind began to whistle as the first of the peaks hove into view… Siddhagad, Dhakoba, Naneghat, Jivdhan… Their resolute visages limned against the sky brought on a warm, familiar feeling.
By noon, we were at the base village of Khireshwar. A cool breeze wafted out towards us. We hitched our backpacks and sleeping bags, smeared sun block and set off.
The blistering sun didn’t affect our pace as the trail was lined with shady copses. Conversation fell to a minimum as the grunting and gasping increased. The ‘real’ world faded away and all my concentration was narrowed down to balancing my 12-kg backpack and myself over the sharp stones.
The meditative silence was shattered by loud, grating yowls. Another group of trekkers had come thrashing through the woods. Their glazed eyes suggested that they were ‘spiritually fortified’. We hurried on, keen to put enough distance between them and us.
An hour later, we stopped to catch our breath at a place called Tolar Khind. I was examining an impossibly contorted tree trunk when I spotted the board, which listed the forest regulations and penalties for breaking them. For some reason, the officials had decided to tack it in a place where it could do no harm. And no good either. What else could explain it being high up in the tree, semi-obscured by foliage?
Even as I mulled over this, a tinny sound reached our ears. The next moment a thin youth appeared carrying a transistor, which spewed filmi tunes. Behind him, was another who was awkwardly lugging a VIP-type suitcase. And bringing up the rear was a third, who was carrying a chicken. A live one! While their enthusiasm for roast chicken at 3500 feet could be commended, their folly could not. Perhaps no one had told them that the woods were home to leopards and wild boar!
Two hours later, we passed the crumbling ruin of the old fort and reached the Harishchandreswar temple. For an 1100-year-old temple, it had aged well. But its more recent history had been fairly blighted. Dried tallow, garbage filled bags, even an empty Old Monk bottle all shared space with the hallowed deity. On one of the walls, a certain ARUN J. RAUT made a vain attempt to go down in history by scrawling his name in hideous yellow paint.
Outside the temple was a board, which proclaimed this ruined edifice to be a national monument. The board itself was covered with a metal grill, which would’ve protected it from the likes of Arun J. Raut. Can you think of a more telling irony?
Somehow, the serenity I’d experienced at the start of the trek had evaporated. All the minor irritations through the day were now hanging like a black cloud over my head.
We followed the snaking trail behind the temple and reached the edge of the cliff, Konkan Kada, just in time to view the sunset. Shrugging off our backpacks, we settled down on the rocks and waited…
Kestrels flew around in lazy arcs. The golden orb turned crimson. And the lofty peaks, bathed in the dying sun’s glow, kept their mute, impassive watch. It occurred to me then that these silent sentinels had watched millions of sunsets. They’d seen everything that was there to see. Seen generations of humans come and leave a trail of destruction. And yet, there was no air of judgment or resentment. And here was I, getting hot around the collar all day…
As the sun slipped below the horizon, a pink glow spread across the sky. The cool breeze now had a nip in it. And I noticed with relief, that the black cloud over my head had vanished.