Climbing to the heavens – at Kalavantin Durg

Yun hi chala chal raahi, Yun hi chala chal raahi
Kitni haseen hai yeh duniya
Phool saare jamele, dekh phoolon ke mele
Badi rangeen hai yeh duniya … 

Trekking, for me, has never merely been about conquering the peak. It is all about being one with Mother nature, about feeling the wind, about introspection, about rediscovering myself, about making new friends, about enjoying freedom and about breaking free.
So when I read about a fellow trekker’s experience at Kalavantin (read here), I knew in my heart that this was one place I had to visit..and visit soon!
After almost a year of Kalavantin being on my wishlist, I jumped with joy (yes, literally) when Rushikesh (Our Man in-charge a.k.a. MIC) informed me that the next trek was going to be to Kalavantin Durg! So after a week of restless planning, excited phone calls to Rushikesh to inquire about when the event would be updated on FB, and asking friends to join in..December 15 finally arrived!

morning

Mumbai. 0445 hours.

After setting off the alarm (and the other six alarms that I had set – to be on the safer side, you know) I was finally awake at 4.30am on a cold December morning! Dressing up as fast as I could (Of course, all the food, water and snacks had been packed on the night before!), I waited for a heads up on whether or not the Breakfree Bus was leaving on time (We have a lot of these nocturnal species as our trek mates. So the early morning calls to the MIC are customary.) Rushikesh confirmed that the bus was very much on time and I’d be picked up from the Kalanagar bus stop at 5.30am (yes, this was supposed to be one of the earliest starting treks.)
So I reached Kalanagar just in time for the Breakfree bus at around 5.40am (Thank god for that! You don’t want enthusiastic trekkers cursing you that early in the morning for being late and delaying the most eagerly awaited trek!!)
Once into the bus, began the usual search for the best window seat and eager HIs, hellos & wassups. We had set out on our journey to Thakurwadi – the base village of Kalavantin – at a distance of around 15-20km from Panvel (and around 60km from Mumbai) . Yes, the journey to one of the apparently toughest and most memorable treks had begun on an extremely vibrant and positive note!

Yeh raasta hai keh raha ab mujhse
Milne ko hai koi kahin ab tujhse
Dil ko hai kyun yeh betaabi
Kis se mulaakat honi hai
Jis ka kabse armaan tha
Shaayad wahi baat honi hai

The morning was cold & beautiful..and the next stop was at Sion. Now Sion is known to be the place where most of the trekkers..sorry..punctual trekkers board the bus at. At Chembur, the bus was almost full with trekkers (three more were going to join us – from Vashi and Panvel. Like I’ve mentioned in all my earlier posts, you *will* find us everywhere!)

sai prasad

Enjoying the banter and the falling dew drops.

Once everyone was in, the Breakfree bus was buzzing with energy and chit chat! The misty morning only contributed to the trekkers’ enthusiasm and made us even more eager about the path that lay ahead of us! A quick break at the McDonalds outlet of Kalamboli (located just before the Pune expressway) awaited us (at around 6.45am), for that was where another trekker was going to join us at. After breathing in some cool and fresh morning air, we headed for our next destination – The breakfast place!!
Thanks to Mr. Sawardekar’s (the bus owner and adventure lover who was driving us to Kalavantin that day) exceptional driving skills, we reached Hotel Sai Prasad (on NH17: The Mumbai-Goa highway) in no time! Quickly getting off the bus, the hungry trekkers took no time in choosing heir breakfast menu from Kanda poha and misal pav. While the breakfast was under preparation, we couldn’t help but notice the fog coming out our mouth as we spoke! Also, the fresh dew drops falling off the gigantic tree right outside the hotel made us feel divine! Random jokes were being cracked among the endless cackling of farm hens kept at the hotel.

The chai/coffee and Kanda poha/misal pav were relished quickly by the enthusiastic trekkers (by around 7.30am). The filled stomach only added to our zest and made us even more enthusiastic about the trek that awaited us. Why not? Wasn’t this supposed to be our first winter trek? Wasn’t this supposed to be our first trek after a very long time? Didn’t we have every right to excitedly look forward to it? 🙂

Post breakfast, we rushed into the bus again. Panoramic views greeted us on our way to Thakurwadi. After another 45 minutes of travel on the highway, the Breakfree bus finally approached the base village. One shout from Rushikesh, and all eyes looked outside to catch the first glimpse of Kalavantin Durg – the beautiful sister fort of Prabalgad. The MIC explained to us the structure of the peak and thought aloud about where we would break for lunch and some much needed rest.

kalvantin

The first glimpse.

Once at the base, the trekkers quickly made ready their bags, food, water, trekking gear, etc. and assembled for the traditional Circle of Introduction.

Post the introductions, at around 8.30am, the trekkers finally set out on the muddy path that lay ahead.
As the morning sun shone, the fog had begun to disappear and the trekkers were awed by the picturesque surrounding. It almost felt as if the mountains were coming out of their hiding place in the clouds to greet us..to wish us good luck for the 2300 ft steep climb that awaited us.

Mountains.

Mountains.

Dekho jidhar bhi in raahon mein
Rang pighalte hai nigaahon mein
Thandi hawa hai thandi chhaon hai
Door woh jaane kiska gaaon hai
Baadal yeh kaisa chhaaya, dil yeh kahaan le aaya
Sapna yeh kya dikhlaaya hai mujhko

What lay ahead, was a long walk on the mud road, followed by a climb on rocky terrain. This was one area that most of the first timers found difficult to climb and put our stamina to test. After almost an hour of brisk walking, we finally reached a small clearing and decided to take a quick break. The water bottles and Gatorade quickly surfaced. The trekkers were already tired for the sun shone on us – as bright as ever. The cameras were out while we waited for those trailing to reach the clearing. The trekkers indulged in random small talk during the wait, but more importantly, we gaped at the beauty of nature of nature from that height.
Soon, the remaining trekkers reached the clearing (evidently exhausted, but most of them were either first timers or were trekking after a very long time. So we can’t blame them, can we?) Once everyone had arrived at the clearing, a small group of trekkers started walking towards the next destination – Nilesh Dhaba – where we had to arrange for our lunch (A dhaba on top of a mountain! Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?) It took us hardly 10 minutes to reach another plateau-like clearing on the top. Nilesh dhaba was located at the end of the clearing. We rushed to the place for that was where we’d be having our lunch and also the place where our guide – ‘Kaka’ – would be joining us at. Soon, the others arrived and Rushikesh quickly arranged for our lunch. The carnivores rejoiced when informed that non vegetarian food would also be available!

The Guide.

The Guide.

This was a defining point in the trek as this was when we decided to form two groups – one that would lead the trek with Kaka (reaching the peak first and enjoying the panoramic is a good bet, no?) and the other that would trail the trek at a modest speed. Needless to say, the first timers decided to trail and so those who wanted to capture the beautiful moments spent with Mother Nature on their cameras! Soon, we restarted our journey to the top with the help of Kaka (the trekkers were in awe of his speed, strength and stamina) as he made way for us by chopping the wild plants with his enormous sickle.
(Please to note: All this while, anecdotes & travel tales were shared, biscuits surfaced and the photographers were in their element!)

Mann apne ko kuch aisa halka paaye
Jaise kandho pe rakha boj hat jaaye
Jaise bhola sa bachpan phirse aaye
Jaise barson mein koi ganga nahaaye

After what felt like ages of walking, we realized that we were finally ascending the steep peak. There was a point during the walk when we had to choose between two routes – the first one long, yet easy AND the other steep and tricky. Needless to say, we chose the latter (yeah, ‘shady’ is our middle name ;)) This part got a little tricky, because the mountain was so steep that were places where we had to crawl our way up.
The path kept changing from muddy to rocky but the trekkers diligently marched ahead. Finally, by around 10.30am, we reached a point on the mountain that had stone steps carved all the way to the top, as if to welcome us to the peak. Looks can be deceptive, it is said. We experienced it. As easy as the steps looked to climb, the trekkers found it extremely difficult to climb the stone steps! The terrain was uneven and steps, high. The ascend to the peak became challenging, thanks to the scorching heat, uneven terrain, steep hill and the continuous climb. It was a stamina test, more than anything else. Beyond a point, even water breaks proved to be of no help. However, the

Steps.
Steps.

trekkers marched ahead in zest. To reach the peak, was the ultimate goal for the day. Soon enough, we noticed the stone steps coming to an end. With renewed vigor, we marched on, waiting to see what the peak looked like! By 10.40am, we had managed to climb the steps and reach the top. However, the joy and excitement had eluded us once again. We hadn’t reached the peak. The last leg of the trek (and the most difficult one) was still pending. Rock climbing. The peak was nothing but giant rocks placed together, with no path to

The last leg.

The last leg.

climb. There were a few cracks and dents on the stones that we thought we could use to climb up the peak. So while one of the enthusiastic trekkers climbed up to check how feasible it was, the rest of us looked on with bated breath. All of us collectively heaved a sigh of relief when the fellow trekker safely managed to climb up the peak. Slowly, by 11am, each one of us climbed up the rock and with a little help from the others who were already up the peak and Sawarderkar sir (yes, he was looking forward to trek to Kalavantin, too and he managed to climb faster than all of us put together!) all of us (from the leading group) managed to reach the peak. Words cannot describe the feeling of elation on reaching the peak. The orange flag..the surrounding mountains..the blowing wind..all just too perfect to be true.
What followed was quick resurfacing of water bottles, cameras and a flurry of photographs! (Everybody wants to remember the wonderful time spent on the peak!)
While we sat there, enjoying the magnificent beauty from the peak, plenty of travel experiences were shared, jokes cracked, photos clicked and philosophy discussed. Mountain peaks do make one contemplate! We realized that it would take quite some time for the trailers to arrive and so the time spent up there on the peak proved to be a major ice breaker for most of us.

Yunhi chala chal raahi, yunhi chala chal raahi
Kaun yeh mujhko pukaare
Nadiyaan, pahad, jheel aur jharne jangal aur vaadi
In mein hai kiske ishaare 

By around 11.45am, the remaining trekkers finally reached the peak (Thumbs up to them! They endured major cramps, extreme fatigue, nausea and the steep hills to finally make it to the top. For first timers, it was a commendable effort!) What followed was a long photo session (multiple group photos included), catching up, sharing of experiences, some great fun and banter!

The mountains looked upon us lovingly.

The mountains looked upon us lovingly.

As always, time flies while you’re on the peak! Even before we knew it, it was 12.30pm and the MIC called for everyone to start descending.
Slowly, one by one, the trekkers started climbing down the tricky rocks. With a little help from the others, the trekkers were able to climb down safely.

Helping hand.

Helping hand.

Soon, the trekkers disintegrated into small groups and started on their journey to Nilesh Dhaba (Read: hunger pangs and survival of the fittest!)
The journey to Nilesh Dhaba was more or less uneventful, except for the beautiful scenery and the fact that we almost lost our way and the other trekkers. Making our way through the wilderness, we reached the dhaba by 2.15pm. A few minutes later, a couple of  fellow trekkers reached there, too. After one whole minute of debating about whether or not we should start eating our meal, we mutually concluded that it would make more sense to start eating in lots.

Lunch included some delicious bhaaji, rice rotis, papad, achaar, dal and rice. What completed the meal was some deliciously chilled nibu paani! The hungry (obviously!) trekkers finished eating in to time! The remaining trekkers arrived soon, and relished the delicious meal.

FOOD!!

FOOD!!

magnificence

Magnificence.

Amidst some much required rest at the dhaba and plans for the next trek, we finally started to descend from the dhaba at 3.30pm. Descents are always quicker than the climb. They’re a wonderful opportunity for introspection, and give us some good time to spend with ourselves. We were familiar with the mountain by now, so climbing down wasn’t as difficult. That probably explains why we managed to touch down to the base by 5pm.
Awaiting the others’ return, we had a good time chit chatting, joking and discussing other trek experiences. Soon, the remaining trekkers arrived and we jumped into the Breakfree bus. We took a small halt at a chai tapari in Kalamboli at 6pm for some evening snacks. Before we knew it, it was time to return to the monotony of our city life.

I’d refuse to say we ‘conquered’ Kalavantin Durg. We, at Breakfree, don’t believe in conquering peaks. Kalavantin was an experience..a unique one at that! It was one more beautiful mountain that we were fortunate enough to visit and it was a day well spent in Mother Nature’s lap.
Trekking is not so much about reaching the peak as it is about enjoying and feeling happy about every moment spent in freedom.
At Kalavantin, we crossed all barriers, pushed ourselves to the limit, introspected, contemplated, hugged the wind, saluted the mountains, touched the clouds, experienced heaven, felt Mother Nature’s loving care. At Kalavantin, we did break free. That is probably what differentiates us from the rest.

Yun hi chala chal raahi, Yun hi chala chal raahi
Kitni haseen hai yeh duniya
Phool saare jamele, dekh phoolon ke mele
Badi rangeen hai yeh duniya … 

BREAKING FREE!!!

BREAKING FREE!!!

A big thank-you to Ameya, Abhay, Abhishek, Swagata, Rajiv, Nitin, Vipul, Aishwarya for capturing the beautiful memories on camera! We owe you one! 🙂
You can check the pictures out here.

Thank you, Breakfree Journeys and Rushikesh. We had a wonderful time!

A.R. Rahman’s composition – Yun Hi Chala – from the movie Swades was stuck in my head throughout the trek. I thought including it here would be a nice way to remember how I kept humming it in my head during the trek! 😉

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Finding freedom at Vitangad!

I wander away looking at the silent sky

I wander away to have the monotony die

I wander away to put an end to all the strife

I wander away to have a life, away from life.

Sometimes, all we need is a nice break. A break from the stressful busy schedules and our monotonous city life. After having missed one such opportunity last week (the visit to Palghar), the trek to Vitangad fort on June 2 was something I was looking forward to and had me in absolutely high spirits!

Having slept quite early on Friday night, it didn’t come to me as a surprise when I lay awake in bed at 4 am – a good one hour before my alarm was actually supposed to wake me up (or was it plain excitement, I wonder!). Quickly dressing, I ran through the list of things that I was supposed to carry for the trek and meticulously checked if I had each and every thing in place (Can’t really afford to spoil the first trek of the season, right?). Water bottles – check. Cap and sunglasses – check. Extra pair of change – check. Chips and chocolates – check. Wallet – check.

Convinced, that I was prepared to take off for the long day that lay ahead, I called the Man In Charge – Rushikesh – at 5.30 am to check if the bus had left from Borivli on time. It had, and I was to reach Kalanagar at 6 am, sharp! I reached Kalanagar by 5.50 am only to realize that I was not the only one waiting for The Breakfree Bus. There were a couple of other trekkers, too! (See? You will find us everywhere)

On the express way.

The bus reached Kalanagar at 6 am sharp and we jumped in to save ourselves the best seats. We reached Sion in no time but the otherwise always punctual Sion-crowd was running late today!! We had to wait for another 5 minutes before the group started hopping into the bus! What followed was a series of “HIs”, “Whatsups” and the usual fights for the window seat. Another 5 minutes later, on arrival of the last entrant, the bus took off for the final destination – Tikona!

The Tikona-Peth village that houses the Tikona a.k.a Vitangad fort is at a distance of 17km from Lonavala and 15km from Kamshet. The village can be reached through either of the routes, but we decided to go via Lonavala. En route Lonavala, we had the last trekker join in at Vashi. Excitement was in the air! Groups were formed and biscuit packets were out! Why? We had loads of catching up to do, didn’t we? That early-morning-sleepy feeling was finally vanishing and the chit chatting was beginning to gain command over the drowsy feeling! The plan was to reach Lonavala by 8.30 am, have breakfast, collect the lunch packets and leave for Vitangad by 9 am.

In spite of the slight delay at Sion, we reached Lonavala well before time – at around 8.15 am – and headed to Purohit’s Holiday Resort for breakfast. Having been greeted by a lovely, pleasant weather, all of us were hungry enough to gobble down the delicious idli-vadas in no time! Of course, after such a long drive, an unlimited breakfast was always welcome! Breakfast was done by 8.50 am (that includes having tea and coffee – the masala chai was so amazing that many of us found it difficult to resist a second cup). After the delicious breakfast, having picked up our food packets and all the freshening up, the enthusiastic trekkers got back to the bus, ready to head to the place that mattered most – Tikona.

The filling meal we had just eaten sure seemed to have its own side effects and the trekkers were yawning and dozing away, again. However, everyone was awoken – on Rushikesh’s call – as the beautiful Pawna lake came in sight! There was chattering all over again, plans of having a picnic lunch by the lake surfaced and the picturesque Pawna lake had managed to leave all the 18 trekkers enchanted for long enough! We reached Tikona-Peth in no time and excitedly hopped out of the bus immediately as it halted. The customary Circle of Introduction was formed and the group of trekkers was officially introduced to each other. This was a major ice breaker as many of the trekkers were travelling with Breakfree Journeys for the first time.

Walking to the base.

Soon, by 10.50 am, we started walking towards the base. From all that we had read about Tikona fort, we knew there were two routes to reach the fort – one was shorter but tougher while the second route was longer but comparatively easy. Because we were trekking with nearly eight first timers on board, we decided to take the easier route.The route to the base was through a dusty road, from the village clearing. The trekkers were high on energy and enthusiastically marched towards the base. We reached the base in no time, and were welcomed by an ‘All the best’ sign on a giant rock. A well marked trail lay in front of us.

The ripe figs!

On our way up the mountain, we crossed numerous mango and fig laden trees. Picking up a few raw mangoes and figs, we continued on our journey to the top. Soon, the water bottles and gatorade started surfacing from the bags. The climb was not difficult, but the heat managed to make us break quite a sweat. Diligently climbing the slope, the trekkers were busy chit chatting and clicking pictures (and posing for them, too!) Soon enough, we reached the ‘darwaaza’ – a cave-like door to the fort, which was a major relief from the heat. After a quick water break, some chit chatting and a few pictures, we continued climbing uphill, waiting to reach the top.

Following the trail, we continued walking up to the fort (yeah, someone also commented that Shivaji shouldn’t have built the fort after all because nobody was crazy enough to come so far and climb that high hill just to get to the fort – we’re used to such comments already) We crossed by a Hanuman statue followed by a water tank that contained massive catfish. We also came across a gigantic lime grinder! The cameras were handy, and the trekkers were happily posing for pictures throughout the climb! After crossing the water tank, we came to the Shivaji Trail. We had to climb giant steps to get atop the mountain! The steps had wires attached on one side to help trekkers climb up easily. Climbing higher up (yes, there were more such steps) we discovered a cistern adjacent to a cave. We quickly removed our empty bottles to refill them with the cool water from the cistern. The place was so cool and soothing, that it was immediately decided that we’d have our lunch there.

Catfish!

Finally, by around 12.20pm, we reached atop the fort! The trekkers went berserk clicking pictures, gasping at the view from the fort and exploring the hill top. It was here that we came across the caretaker of the fort. Named Sujit, he mentioned that his forefathers were Mavalas(soldiers) of Shivaji. After whom, this taluka is named – Maval. On prodding further, we got to know that he also served ‘Pitla-bhakhar’ – local staple food – back down at his house in the village. The trekkers were all set and extremely enthusiastic about tasting the local delicacy! Sujit also mentioned that during the rains, the fort is visted by 400 people at a time! That’s when we realised how lucky we were to have the fort all to ourselves! After spending some more time on the top, clicking the Breakfree group picture and visiting the “Trimbakeshwar Mahadev” temple that was located right atop the fort, we climbed down to the cave and cistern to have our biryani meal. Chocolates and masala chaas were also out in no time! So much incentive for climbing right to the top!

Post lunch, at 1.50 pm, the trekkers lazily but steadily began climbing down. It is always difficult to trek after eating a hearty meal, but lunch being another ice breaker the trekkers were in a joyful mood happily talking and cracking jokes. The descent was much quicker than the climb (maybe it was the delicious pitla-bhakhar that tempted the trekkers to rush down!) and we were already at the base by 2.30 pm!! We sat at the base in the shade of trees to relax after the long climb down. After some much required relaxation, we walked on the dusty road again to get back to the village.

The delicious local fare – Pitla Bhakhar 🙂

On reaching the village the trekkers went hunting for a cold drink shop! There was havoc as soon we reached the shop for nothing looked more tempting to the thirsty trekkers after such a long walk down! After soothing ourselves with cold drinks, we reached for Sujit’s house – which was barely a few minutes away. The ladies of the house served us with freshly made pitla-bhakhar and techa, a mixture of freshly ground onions and chillies! and the tempted look on ever trekker’s face was hard to miss! The trekkers were seen feasting on the delicious food and talking nineteen to the dozen! After having the mouth-watering fare, we headed to the bus. The journey for home had begun but before we hit the NH4, there was a stop to be made – the river stream!

The water babies 🙂

On our way back, we kept looking for a suitable spot to take a dip in, into the river stream! Soon enough we spotted a nice place and immediately jumped off the bus with the Man In Charge to quickly examine the waters. On obtaining his approval, we jumped into the cool waters! Soon, others followed, too (at around 4.50 pm). What ensued was a fun filled time – swimming, trying to swim, splashing water, hand-standing and major bonding. We got out of the water only 5.30pm (the winds made us freeze!) and after a quick change, we left for Mumbai! En route Mumbai, we stopped at Lonavala for some chikki (One cannot possibly exit Lonavala without buying chikki, can one?) following which another halt at Datt vada pav was taken.

The return journeys always make me feel happy-sad. Happy, for having had a wonderful day and sad because it marks the end of a wonderful day. We usually sing songs during return journeys. But this time, no songs were sung. We were instead having animated conversations on various topics – academics, society, news, travel and a lot of other things!We spoke about things that mattered as well those that didn’t really matter very much. We had fun even as we spoke. Soon, we reached Mumbai, and thereby ended another beautiful day with Mother Nature.

SPLASH!!

In conclusion, I would like to quote a famous man even though it doesn’t directly really relate to this piece .

“ Not just the Spanish Main, love. The entire ocean. The entire wo’ld. Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails. That’s what a ship needs but what a ship is…what the Black Pearl really is…is freedom.” — Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean –The curse of the Black Pearl.

Every time I think of Breakfree Journeys, the treks and the travel, I think of freedom. With every visit to a new place, I feel free. With every mountain that we climb, comes a sense of achievement. With every fort we visit and every river we take a dip in, comes an inexplicable high.

Even at Tikona fort, we did taste freedom. We did smell enjoyment. We did break free!

The breakfree group picture.

PS : If you plan to visit Vitangad and need a guide, you can contact Sujit – 9545863824. He can arrange for some mouth watering local food, too!

PPS : A big thank you to Breakfree Journeys and Rushikesh Kulkarni for the wonderful trek! Thank you Kavya, Karan, Vipul, Krish, Aditya, Sreejith, Abhijeet for the beautiful pictures.