Lost and found – in The Duke’s Nose.

Me : Rushi, my parents are a tad reluctant to send me for the trek.

Rushikesh : Kyun? Kya hua?

Me : They’re worried coz it’s raining so heavily. Someone told them that it’s raining too heavily out there. Can you please find out?

Rushikesh : Yes, I will. But I don’t think we’ll have any problem trekking.

Yes. That is how it started off for me – more like a contingency. The torrential rains sure seemed to dampen my trekking spirits, what with parents being overly concerned about my safety et all. It took me all my PR skills to convince them, and get them to believe that I would indeed return home in one piece.

So, by 1 am on Friday night(umm..Saturday morning!), I was finally done with all my packing and preparation (yes, that includes arranging for a Proxy for the all important Saturday lectures that I was used to missing, by now). I was nervous as it was pretty late, and The Breakfree Bus  was expected to reach Bandra at 6.05 am “sharp”. However, morning arrived soon, and so did Rushikesh’s message of there being a half an hour delay.(That meant half an hour of extra sleep, but it also meant half an hour more before we finally boarded The Breakfree Bus!)

I reached Kalanagar in no time, only to realize that there were a couple of others who were waiting for the Breakfree Bus, too!(yes, you will find us everywhere!). It was another 10 minutes before the bus arrived, and as soon as it did, we hopped right in to get ourselves the best seats! The next stop, Sion, was just a few minutes away and that’s where most of the crowd joined us at. What followed was an exchange of greetings, high-fives, what’s-upps, not to mention the random “I want the window seat” calls! The bus was buzzing with energy (what with the exuberant trekkers!) and after a few last minute back outs & surprise join ins (:D) we finally took off for our destination – Khandala.

The cameras were out, and chip packets surfaced. The next 40 minutes seemed to pass in no time, as we were at our first halt already – Kamat’s at Vashi – to pick our lunch up. Maybe the restaurant guys had had a late night, too, for it was a good 20-25 minutes before they finally handed over the freshly made biryani packets to us!
Back into the bus, chip packets were passed around (again), jokes were cracked, and the chatter restarted. We soon reached our next halt – in 45 minutes, to be precise – The Food Court, on the Expressway! We jumped out of the bus (intently discussing which chikki to buy) and soon dispersed in various directions. The weather was pleasant, so we waited outside for 10 more minutes before hopping into the bus again. It was already 9.15 am, and we were hungry enough to munch away all the remaining chips!

Soon enough (at 9.45 am), we reached our final halt (phew!) – Kamat (again), but this time at Khandala!
 The air was fresh, the weather was pleasant and the view, panoramic. Our breakfast comprised of hot idli-sambhar, and we were so hungry that we finished it up in a mere 10 minutes. Post-breakfast, we quickly boarded the bus and started off for Khandala station which was pretty close by. Come Khandala station, and we were off the bus in no time, already forming the traditional ‘circle of introduction’ and eagerly awaiting the trek to begin!

It was exactly at 10.30 that we started our much awaited trek. Yes, the trek started right at Khandala station!! (Reminder: Khandala is a ‘hill’ station). The enthusiastic trekkers were soon trotting on the railway tracks to get to the other side of the Platform. (Mind you, this was in Khandala. NOT Mumbai!). The place was, of course, breathtakingly beautiful. We crossed tastefully done up bungalows, small streams, waterfalls, exotic birds & fog covered  mountains en route our 30 minute walk to the ‘base’ of the Duke’s Nose.

 Since it was a track that none of us knew of, and with no arrows or pointers to guide us around, we were left on our own – heavily depending on local help to confirm if we were, indeed on the right track! We continued climbing up the hill, and reached the gigantic TATA hydroelectric power plant. After a quick dekko of the plant, we followed the man in-charge, Rushikesh, in quiet discipline. Another 15 minutes later, we reached a beautiful spot on the mountain that broke into 3 different routes. We realized that we didn’t know which way to take! That’s when Rushikesh and 3 other fellow trekkers volunteered to check which of the 3 routes was correct. (Okay, just FYI – the Internet said that there were numerous ways to reach the Duke’s Nose. One of them, apparently, was very easy but the remaining routes required extreme expertise. We, at Breakfree, prefer not taking the easy routes, ever. Period. :P). However, the rest of us were more than willing to laze around and click pictures at this picnic spot-like place. (It was yet to strike us that we were LOST). So, the cameras were out again and the trekkers were more happily posing on the scenic hill top!

Soon enough, we figured which way to go to, but unlike most of the other treks, we were walking right through the wilderness – crossing streams, thorny bushes and very thick vegetation – and to add to it, it poured. And heavily, at that! The rocks were slippery, and the mud, loose. It was now, that the Non-Action-shoe-trekkers realized their folly, as there was a series of thuds & falls. (No, this ain’t no endorsement. But DO wear Action trekking shoes the next time you decide to go trekking. It’ll save you a fall or two).
 Not even 10 minutes into our adventure, we figured that our newly taken path broke into another 3 routes, again! (Spoilt for choice, weren’t we? :P). But this time, it was a tough decision to take, for the path ahead was dangerous, it was raining, and we could have lost our way in the deep jungle! As the wait grew longer, we heaved a sigh of relief to know that we weren’t the only lost souls on the mountain. There was a bunch of five trekkers who had lost their way, too! (One of them resembled a cowboy in more ways than one – cowboy hat, boots and a rope hanging around his neck). With our newly made companions, we somehow managed to find a way out. But as luck would have it, we trekked right into another problem area, and were lost again! That’s when all the smart phones were out, and Google Maps was being browsed like never before! It did give us some very useful leads (thank God for technology, I say!). We walked into the forest again, saving ourselves from the thorny bushes, wild trees, hungry mosquitoes, and a horde of other insects that we didn’t even know of. There were quite a few falls here, as the mud was slippery and it had begun to rain again. However, what was most disheartening was the fact that in spite of having walked through the dense forest, in spite of having endured the rough path and in spite of having saved ourselves from the dangers of the wilderness, we ended up coming back to the same place we had been at, barely an hour back! That is when doubts started creeping into our heads..doubts about whether we were on the right mountain, after all! Doubts about The Duke’s Nose, for it was nowhere to be seen. However, thanks to Rushikesh and his encouraging ways, we continued walking, nevertheless. Soon, we came back to the stream we had been at, just a couple of hours ago. But now, thanks to the rain, it was gushing with a force like never before! We looked lustfully at the cold water of the stream and immediately jumped into it – some were busy getting their pics clicked, some were happily washing the dirt off their clothes (Remember how so many of us fell?), some were enjoying the feel of the cold water and some were happily washing their fatigue off!
Soon, we bid adieu to the rejuvenating stream and started off in pursuance of our quest for The Duke’s Nose!! (Multiple events happened at this time – a new packet of banana chips was opened, biscuits were passed among the tired trekkers, and not to mention – Gnanesh’s famous theplas were eaten in not more than 20 seconds!).

So yes, we went ahead, half debating on whether or not we should continue trekking. That’s when Rushikesh decided to give it one last shot. If it didn’t work out, the waterfall was always there, he said. We tried taking a new route (actually, it wasn’t a route. It was only a forest, where we made our own way), but it turned out to be quite a dangerous one, so we headed back to the base. But this time we weren’t sad. We had a more lucrative deal to grab – THE WATERFALL!!
How we jumped into that magnificent water body can get me to write a book altogether! But, a jolly and fun-filled time we had, with everyone jumping in and getting drenched from head to toe! Innumerable group pictures were clicked in the water, and all of us took turns at jumping right under the waterfall!! 😀
 We spent a good hour and a half lazing around in the water, posing for all sorts of photographs, splashing water at one another, losing balance and falling in the fall, and just childishly enjoying the cool water! It was only once we were out that we realized how cold it was (shiver)! The rains came again, and so did lunch time! The biryani packets were soon empty and the dripping wet trekkers started their journey back to Khandala station. Jokes were cracked in abundance on our way back, and we finally did figure the actual way to the Duke’s Nose! (A tad late, I know!). We reached the Bus at around 4.30 pm, and all we had on our mind was to change into a dry set of clothes!! It was only at 5 pm that we boarded and started on our journey back home!
A halt at Kamat, garam chai and new chip packets followed. The journey back was spent singing songs, old and new alike (Trademark Breakfree ishtyle) and looking outside the window at the beauty of nature!

Soon, Mumbai came, and also came the end of a very beautiful day!

PS: Thank-you, Winnie for encouraging me to write this piece. This write-up happened because of you.
 Thank-you Nikhil, Kavya, Nily, Hemang sir, Nilesh, Rahul & Gnanesh for capturing those awesome moments. It is these memories that will stay with us forever!
Rishi, I tried my best to match up to your level. Hopefully, people will enjoy reading this as much as they enjoyed reading your write ups!
Rushikesh, thank-you for this opportunity and the wonderful trek!

PPS: We may not have reached the peak this time. We may not have conquered it. We may not have gone the conventional way.
But the beauty of nature, enjoy we did! And hell yes, we did Break free!!! 😀