Trekking to Lohgad

If you trek to Lohgad in the monsoons on a Sunday, you will mostly be put off by the piles of garbage at the base village, the sheer number of people in your trekking group, the annoying locals who are intent upon singing home productions of Bollywood songs on top of their voices all the way, more annoying locals with alcohol on their breath, assorted discarded bottles in otherwise freshwater pools, and the pitiful state of the Indian Railways. But then, when you’re sitting at the tip of the Vinchukata, taking in the mindblowing vista, fog/clouds drifting in and out of your vision, misty rain cooling your face and wetting your clothes, you realize that nothing else matters, and that it’s all worth it. And if you’re lucky, you’ll find a few other trekkers who share your thoughts.

I went with Green Carpets, which may or may not be your best choice, depending on what you’re looking for. Yet, they seemed most reasonable when I started off, and while not entirely managed as well as I would have liked them to be, the ‘leader’ did what he could, or what he thought he could/should. Yet, there were too many people, too many unruly people, for my comfort. Yet, I don’t (can’t) blame them, I found my future trekking group with them 🙂

We started pretty early. We took the Indrayani Express from Dadar at about 5:45 A.M. You could take the Mumbai-Pune Intercity too, although I don’t think there is one that early. These are mostly the only two trains that halt at Lonavla (our immediate destination). Unless you are ‘absolutely’ okay with standing in a PACKED, PACKED general compartment with the windows sealed tight (coz of the rains) please consider getting reservations. The ticket is usually less than 100 bucks. Alternately, you could do what we did. As soon as we got on, a plucky girl with us suggested we explore the length of train to check for any vacant seats which we may be able to occupy for sometime. And the five of us, (3 girls, 2 boys) set off, travelled through 6 cars to finally hit upon the General Reserved compartment, with empty seats. We got to sit upto Karjat, and it was a rather enjoyable ride. At Karjat the 2 boys had to get off and run the length of 6 train cars to get into an PACKED, PACKED general compartment to retrieve their bags. Evidently, they didn’t think we would find seats. Moral of the story: Never be pessimistic on a trek. 🙂

We had breakfast at Lonavla, although you could have it anywhere. Lonavla would be the most efficient way of doing it because you have to catch a local train that plies between Lonavla and Pune, to get off at Malavli (the base village). So it makes sense to do some pet puja while you pray for the train to be on time. (Oh, and btw, direct tickets to Lonavla are available only at Borivali, Andheri, Bandra, Dadar and mostly Virar, subject to the sole discretion and mood of the guy sitting at the counter at 5:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Tickets to Malavali are available from Lonavla) This whole journey takes about 4 hours, with half an hour for breakfast.

Once you’re at Malavli, it’s pretty straight-forward. You just follow the throngs of crowd — don’t get too close though. If you went on a weekday, though, it may be a lot different. There are three paths to the base of the fort. Don’t take the nice tar road or the steps, take the mucky trails and paths that cut through the mountain, ‘coz duh! you’re on a trek. And no, it’s not difficult. Depending on your speed and the crazy photographer in you, you’d take about 2-3 hours till the base. I AM a crazy photographer, so I’d say I took about 3.

From the base of the fort to the top is also pretty easy. There are good stone steps, and the walls have been reinforced with mortar. Lohgad is pretty impressive; there’s a lot of the fortification visible for you to be impressed. The view, of course is awesome. There are tiny doors leading into dark rooms from where a young boy will fetch you nimbu paani, slant windows from the days of the good ole bow and arrow, and a temple/mosque on top (sort of mixed architecture, couldn’t really figure it out).

Lohgad is a huge fort. The top of the fort is almost endless. And there’s a panoramic view of the nearby ranges, the Pavna dam, and the clouds. It is all just hitting me right then, and I’m sort of like the junkie who’s just beginning to appreciate his high, when the trek leaders gathers everyone around, chants some Marathi mumbo-jumbo with an echo effect which ends in a deafening cheer of ‘Shivaji Maharaj ki jai’. Thankfully, Lohgad is a strong dose; the high doesn’t wear off.

By now the plucky 5 who found seats in the general reservation car (minus 1) and a 6th (5th, actually) doctor have separated from the rest group, or rather have lost all sense of direction and the capacity for facial recognition. So we ended up roaming the entire top by ourselves, looking for the legendary Vinchukata. This blogger and another guy are extremely persistent, and in the meanwhile find a pond. This is something you have to do if you chance upon it too: You have to take off the socks and sneakers and sit on the few rocks in the middle of the pond and dip your feet in the refreshing, most coolest water body imaginable. After the labour of climbing, the feeling is orgasmic.

However, Vinchukata is still elusive, and one full round and some higher ground later we finally spot it. To those of you who do this trek when no one else is around, find the highest point on top of the mountain and look in all directions until you see an orange flag somewhere. That’s Vinchukata.

Now, the way to Vinchukata is as much fun as the structure itself. You have to walk along the edge of the mountain slope, to go down and then along (or over, if you prefer)some last remnants of what were once fort walls to reach the tip of a rather curved, longish tail of the hill. It’s futile to explain, really. I have pictures here.

This is an excellent spot for lunch. But since the plucky 5 are slightly worried about the trek leader getting worried, they decide to settle for a few biscuits and head back. Now, you can go back along the mountain slope, but heck, we’re plucky, so we climb a section of the cliff. After some good climbing (with the help of a few locals) and a strategically, yet unceremoniously torn pair of pants later, we’re back to the top of the fort, and on our way down.

We lunch on village home-made zhunka bhakar and besan at the base of the fort. There are other lunching options here. Thankfully our trekking group hasn’t really left us, there are in fact a lot of people still up on the fort. So we’re able to lunch in peace, albeit at 6 PM.

Leaving Lohgad on time is important. Remember, you still have a 4 hours journey back home. We conveniently forgot. So it’s 7:30 PM by the time we’re at Malavli station. Ideally, it should be 5:00 PM. From Malavli we have no idea what train to catch, we are waiting for anything that will stop anywhere in or around Mumabi. The standard process is to purchase tickets to Dadar, which turns out to be pointless because we end up in the general compartment of some Ahmedabad-Bangalore express which seems to run on the Harbour line. (Dadar is on central/western line) The plucky 5 are seriously considering hiring private transport from Malavli to Mumbai. But some of the plucky 5, this blogger in particular, are always hard-pressed for cash. So no matter how exhausted you are, or how claustrophobic that general compartment makes you, you’re willing to stand 4 hours on feet you can’t feel anymore.

The journey home is long: Malavli-Lonavla-Karjat-Kalyan-Vasai-Goregaon, but this blogger is a freaking junkie. Junkies are relentless in their pursuit of high. And they can disregard everything else that comes in between. So at the end of the day, it’s not the crowds, or the garbage or the locals that you remember, it’s all the scenes along the way, all the short-cuts that caused all the delays, all the views from the top, every, ‘Wait, Wait, Sit like that, This is an awesome pic’ and every moment spent sitting at some of the most mind-blowing spots around the fort. And of course, having a plucky bunch of friends makes a whole lot of difference.

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Why do you climb mountains?

‘Because they are there!’

Yup, he's still alive

Yup, he's still alive

This was what Reinhold Messner answered when questioned in an interview. For those not in the know, Reinhold Messner is regarded as the greatest mountaineer of all time. He was the first climber to make a solo ascent to Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen and also the first to climb all fourteen eight-thousanders (peaks above 8000 mtrs.) solo. Yeah, he was pretty crazy.

Mountaineering, I believe, requires a bit of insanity. Something’s gotta have fallen off from up there. Messner’s answer was not ridiculous; it was not even rude, or silly. It was the only answer. After all, what purpose is there to mountaineering?

If the extent of your contact with mountains has been watching them through your car window while you were holidaying in Himachal, then you probably don’t appreciate what I’m saying to its full extent. Mountaineering is no joke. It looks great fun and seems exciting — living life on the edge and all — but the only thing on the edge here is your life. Reaching the summit may or may not be possible, but death is always a possibility, with every step. If not death, you face the possibility of becoming disabled temporarily or permanently, physically or mentally, and rest assured, any of these consequences are going to be unpleasant in the least, if not agonizingly painful and dreadful. This is what mountaineers live to do. Does it make sense? At all?

And yet they do it. When Reinhold Messner climbed the Everest without supplemental oxygen, he achieved what was considered physicially, physiologically even mentally impossible for a human being by doctors, medical experts and moountaineers alike. Reinhold Messner chose to do it because he thought it was only fair to climb like that. It may seem mighty unfair to some that he’s still alive.

All this brings us back to my point — Why? What’s so amazing about the possibility of getting buried alive in an avalanche? One might say it’s the thrill. But no, not entirely. Mountaineering is not exactly thrilling. It’s dangerous, and when done at an amateur level it is purely adventurous, but it’s not ‘AXN’ thrilling. You can’t afford to get thrilled on a mountain. It would take up too much energy and oxygen.

There was a time when it was necessary — in order to battle the enemy or to travel to another country. Even that’s not the case anymore.

I think the answer lies somewhere in this statement: “If you stand in front of the mountain and don’t think, there’s no psychological space between you and the mountain. You are the mountain”

I’ve spent some time in the mountains and I know, that it is the only place that can suspend my thoughts. And looking at a picture doesn’t do it. When I stand right there, right in front and behold that spectacle of might and majestic proportions, for some time, even if it’s a moment or two, I stop thinking.  At that moment I’m just being. Being in that moment, in that place, in front of that mountain. And it is the only other thing that can do that to me.

In front of a mountain is the only place that I have felt humbled, and yet felt good about it. There’s this majestical entity in front of you. It’s real, it’s not those lines you would draw with pencils on your drawing book. It’s been created, evolved rather, over millenia. The formation of the Himalaya started 70 million years ago, and it is the youngest mountain range. Can you imagine such a measurement of time? So when you stand, looking at this mountain, you realise that you are looking at something that is 70 million years old. You can’t even comprehend the extent of the time period this would be. And here you are, on this planet for a mere 22 years and you’ve come to climb it. Or have you?

No, the mountaineer hasn’t come to climb the mountain. He’s come to see it. His own smallness is no match for the mountain — but he’s not here to compete. He comes because he relates the might of mountain with the might of his own will. The mountain makes him what he is, it gives him a sense of who he is. This has not been made by him. But yet this is real. Reality untouched by man’s perception, and yet existing. A truth that no one can deny. A truth only he knows, and the mountain.

However, people are so used to creating their fanciful, whimsical and flawed versions of reality that even the realism of the mountains seems lost on them. They watch the mountains through their car windows and play in the snow and they will never know what a mountain really is. All they can do is ask: Why do you climb mountains?