At Maharashtra's highest peak - Kalsubai
When you have signed up to do a midnight trek on Sahyadris' highest peak in the state on the night of 31 December, you expect it to be called a Mount Galaxy or Cape Bell's Peak. But it is called Kalsubai, located in the Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. Once you have survived the adventure of this mountain, you are reminded of what the greatest European laureate William Shakespeare had appropriately exclaimed: 'What's in a name?'. The name Kalsubai is highly deceptive. Or that's my linguistic bias. There is much more to this mountain than what has already been written or spoken about it.
From the chaos of Kasara local to the joy of Bari village
If your stars are really aligned, then you may manage to board and alight from the train to Kasara from Mumbai. All it then takes to ca
tch a tumtum/taxi from Kasara to Bari village. Bari is a small hamlet located at the foothill of the Kalsubai hill in the Sahyadris, one the planet's richest, yet most threatened biodiversity. If you make it to Bari before 7 pm then your eyes can not miss the nonchalant home restaurants owners, all of which are called Kalsubai Tea Centre. The locals are too generous to offer you a meal and space to store your excess baggage at a nominal cost. The meal in Bari is too spicy for Mumbaikars and too bland for Puneites.
Bari village and Lakhan, the guide
We spent an hour in a local's house which was a home in the guise of an office of the Indian Post. "Mobile network is down. Jinko ghar message bhejna hai, yahan ke telegram se bhej do," humoured one trekker to break the monotonous silence of strangers who were yet to be introduced with each other. Nobody laughed. The first 20 minutes were melancholic since it was a group of trekkers (many first timers) with diverse backgrounds, as it eventually turned out in the introduction round that it was a group Chartered Accountants (in majority), electrical and mechanical engineers, dancers and choreographers, HR professionals, a BMC architect and writers (to be found everywhere, but always in minority).
And then there is, of course, the ancient, age-old challenge of discreet, whispering, hand-in-hand couples and overt, loud, brutal singles who, somehow, nobody in the world has succeeded to bring together. The leader from Trekmates Arun (the urban nomad) is a strong soul who kept the group of 27 together till the very end. A local ninth standard, police service aspirant boy Lakshman (or Lakhan) led the group towards the state's tallest peak at 10:30 pm.
Ae Oo (inspired by the disastrous Tushar Kapoor) was the pass-code for the group. The pass-code was meant to be screamed occasionally to keep the group together and it worked. "But don't play with it," requested Arun. One of the most challenging aspects of the trek was to make Lakhan speak or at least scream the trek code to make sure that nobody is lost. But like a Harry Potter's other worldly being, he silently kept climbing without breaking a stride until asked. Our first halt was at the very first hill, near the impressive temple of Kalsubai, the fierce-looking yet compassionate saffron feminine deity. The mobile networks by then had given up and thankfully selfies ceased to work too since it was pitch dark. The only option was to keep climbing. And after a 10 minute break, we did exactly that.
It really was a mission impossible for many, especially the first time trekkers but all put their best foot forward. The path to Kalsubai has three undulations. The next major halt was at the second and the third undulations. In between the first and the second undulations, we broke free from the past of 2015 to what they happily call the New Year. Some were joyous and loud screamers, others silent. The golden moon was at its full glory and the stars were staring straight into our eyes. The seasoned mountaineer in the group - Shree, who is trained into star gazing, walked us through the sky and the million twinkling stars. Some (the singles) expressed immense interest as if wondering which constellation is plotting the advent of their lucky man/woman. He patiently went about how each star symbolizes a sun sign and how some of them get along very well and others not so much, though the married barely showed interest. After all they know well that regardless of the alignment, the stars never fight, but the human pairs inevitably do.
The last mile and the ladders
Kalsubai is also one of the steepest treks I have been to, but the ladders installed here don't let your experience turn miserable. At the topmost hill there are three man made metal ladders that make your journey easier. But one wrong step and you could land in god's lap or probably break a couple of bones. Just a few steps before you make it to the top, you may be pleasantly surprised to find an open air midnight shop selling oranges, fresh lemon juice and water bottles to trekkers (sorry, no booze on sale here). Grab your last chance at fresh fruits because there is nothing at the very top to consumer except fresh air. After making it to the top, one can't help feeling like Bachedri Pal at least for a moment. Gather sticks, throw some fuel over it and the bonfire is ready. After an hour of singing, it's time to hit the bed, if you are carrying one. Else you may be left with no choice except for sitting in the cool breeze, frozen. But you can tell your friends that you meditated all night.
Next night trek, come my way soon.