Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Chronicles of Matheran: the monkey, the road and the poo

There is rarely a time when you hear the alarm ring at 4:00 AM in the morning and wake up to do something more than just turning it off. At least for night birds like me, it is pretty close to impossible. Exceptions to this case are times when you have something extremely exciting up your sleeve and the thought drives all the lethargy and sleep away. On last Monday, it was truly the latter because on that day, Matheran beckoned. Yes, I was up and raring to go at the break of dawn.

Ting-tong, "CST se Karjat jaane waali 5:53 ki dheemi local platform kramank ek par aa rahi hai." In no time, we found ourselves at Ghatkopar station, waiting for our train. Wait, when did I become we? My bunch of trekkers included a geek G, a topper T, a bubbly chirpy animal (strictly metaphorical) B, the youngest youngling Y, the mean M (Hindu astrology) and a makeshift Supandi that was, S. Here on I will only use the alphabets to refer to my fellow trekkers, in case I am forced to, not for reasons of discretion, but filling in more space with what we did, rather than who did what.

Traveling by local trains had never been so comfortable. There were enough seats for each one of us to go to sleep on. Initially, we spent a lot of time actually waking up and shooing the yawns away. The pleasant breeze contributed to the cause further. One hour into the trip, we finally looked like a bunch of noisy, energetic picnickers. That look also got the attention of uninvited visitors- the people who make the locals their homes every night. Initially they asked us for money, we refused and the left. But later, when we opened up our breakfast, some of them had the audacity to ask us for an entire plate of snacks, and oh my, they were so adamant that they stood there staring at us for a good 20 minutes. We gave the kids something to it, but then put a full stop on community service because we needed enough supplies to last the day.

Neral arrived in around an hour and a half. We could already feel the freshness in the air. We had a quick meeting to discuss the best route to Matheran along with the much awaited pee-breaks. Weighing our experience and stamina levels and the suggestions given to us by the locals, we chose to walk along the road, and bypass it wherever the jungles permitted (we underestimated the jungles). We were told it is a 6km trek.

It was time for a quick resource check, water, food, first aid kit, cameras, wind-cheaters, emergency medicines, all were in place. Putting on our respective hats, caps, glares, we finally were set to begin the trek.

The first impression we got was that the place had only two things, horse and horse poo. It was the repeated spotting of the poo that the group unanimously agreed to sing a birthday song for the a person who steps on the cake, the dung cake. As we moved on however, there were other things that took over.

The waterfalls and streams crossed our route on many occasions. We made it a point to stop over and freshen up wherever we could. On one of those, my dear friends decided to play a prank on me. The got me in striking range and then all of them with all their strength splashed as much water on me as possible. Freshening up is cool but I didn’t want to freshen up so soon after just having gotten out of the fall and dried myself.

We decided to cut across the road through the jungle once closer to the beginning, but were all itchy in around 10 minutes because of the thick undergrowth that lay scattered. We decided it wasn’t a wise choice. Another problem was that finding our way through the jungle was impossible without someone who already knew the path.
We had our share of encounters with animals, domestic and wild. I already mentioned the horses. We spotted cows and goats grazing on the slopes. We had a companion during a small stretch of the journey in the form of a dog. It didn’t look in great shape but followed instructions to the tee considering that we had barely known it for 15-20 minutes. Nonetheless, the animal that completely got us in frenzy was this monkey.

We were half way through at this stage. Walking along the road bordered by a narrow railing, we saw a few monkeys. We ignored them, but it wasn’t vice-versa. There was a monkey who I’m going to call Mawali here on. Mawali was particularly large in size and had a rogue like look on his face. The six of us were walking in pairs. Suddenly Mr. Mawali started trailing us. We still didn’t pay it much attention and continued to look the way. It suddenly caught up with T and B. They decided to put G in the firing line. As manly as he was, he tried to remain unperturbed, but then Mawali got the better of him. It pulled G’s wind-cheater first and then, when G threatened it with a pebble, he chased G. We never knew G could run so fast!! A timely screech by B scared Mawali off. Now, when I think about it, the whole incident makes me smile, but back then, I was so freaked out.

We took breaks at a tremendous rate, once every 500m. We stopped to click snaps whenever and wherever we could. We clicked everything covering the valleys, the trail, the jungle, the hills and the creatures (both primitive and modern, social and asocial). We stopped once in a while for a quick snack (not that we didn’t eat while we ambled along).

We also took breaks to get our breath back. Our lazy bones and weak muscles are not used to so much exertion. It was a little worse because some of us weren’t in good health but considering our past records, it wasn’t bad at all. At the later stages of the trek, I was beginning to wonder if we were taking breaks between walking or walking between breaks.

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