It started with a clichéd “What’s the plan for today” on a lazy Saturday afternoon. With the advent of monsoons, grand plans were being made every weekend and none materialized whatsoever. So when my friend Ajinkya casually suggested the idea of doing a night trek, I jumped in eagerly. I immediately packed my bags, fearing the enthusiasm would fade away with every passing idle moment. We quickly read up a few blogs and zeroed in on One Tree Hill Point.
We caught the 6.00 p.m. Khopoli train and reached Karjat by 7.30 p.m. We had dinner at a local dhaba. While we were having dinner, a local dissuaded us from doing the trek at night citing dangerous paths and dense jungles. I must say it did make me a bit anxious, but we decided to go ahead anyway.
By the time we had dinner it was 8.30 p.m. and at that hour no auto driver was willing to take us to the base village Ambewadi. After trying for half an hour, we had almost made up our mind to turn back when one guy agreed to take us. We reached Ambewadi at around 9.45 p.m.
The locals there also warned us from venturing at night since we were not familiar with the place. Realizing that we were stubborn about doing the trek anyhow, they voluntarily decided to send two of their men to guide us throughout the trek.
Armed with flashlights, we set out for the night.
The trail was clear, courtesy the moonlight and steep right from the start, which was contradictory to what we had read on various blogs. We reached a point where we saw the trail diverging into 2 different paths, a flat one and an uphill one. The locals took the uphill one and that’s when we got inkling that they were possibly taking a short cut.
Pretty soon, we reached the mountain ridge with a drop on both sides. The view of the lake below, from the ridge under the moonlit sky was bewitching. We could only imagine how beautiful it would have been in the morning, especially in the monsoons.
After a small break, we started back up the ridge following the clearly visible trail and as we walked on the trail, the creatures of the night (read frogs) darted away from our paths. We were surprised to see huge crabs on the way up.
While we were flashing our torches from left to right, I noticed a snake hung on a tree to my right side. It was a tiny green colored snake, a non-venomous species according to the locals. It remained motionless, unperturbed by the 4 torches which were aimed at it. After several failed attempts at getting a good shot, we decided to leave the poor snake alone.
The ridge got narrower as we kept climbing and at its narrowest point was around 15 feet. At the end of the ridge, we had to climb a rock wall of about 10 feet and that finally got us to a flat patch. The flat land gave us the much needed respite after almost 45 minutes of uphill climbing. The locals however gave no hint of fatigue.
A few minutes into the plateau, we entered a dense jungle. It seemed like we had left the moonlit night somewhere behind. We came across a well in the midst of the jungle. We took a right from the well and the path started getting steep again. My calves started burning now. We decided to stop for a break.
We switched off our torches to conserve batteries and sat on the rocks. The moment we sat down in silence, it felt like the jungle had suddenly come alive. I could hear leaves rustling all around me. Sitting on the ground suddenly made me feel vulnerable. There could be snakes lurking about. And not all of them are as innocuous as the one we met before.
Brushing these thought’s aside, I got up for the final leg of the trek.
The jungle suddenly gave way to a maze of boulders and from then on there was no trail. It was a steep climb over boulders till the very top. We had to slowly climb these rocks, as some of them were wet and slippery. I had become terribly frustrated with the slow pace at which we were forced to go and constantly kept pestering the locals on the time it would take to reach the top.
But my frustration vanished when I saw the last few 100 feet which we had to climb. It was nothing short of walking into the clouds. We were completely engulfed by fog, with visibility restricted to a mere 10 feet. We made our way to one tree hill point at around 11.45 p.m.
We had not reached our final destination though. The idea was to find a hillock which had only one tree on it and we had even made plans of sleeping in the open sky under that tree and stargazing. But we decided to explore it in the morning, given the exhaustion and the poor visibility.
I was surprised when the locals told us they were going back the same way we came. I mean it would take adamantium balls to go back in the dead of the night.
But they had a home to get to, unlike us.
We paid them some money for guiding us this far. It was the least we could do for this unexpected act of kindness. Had it not been for them, we would have certainly lost our way in the forest.
After they left, we walked to a small bench which was overlooking the valley and had dinner. Although the cloud cover made it impossible to get a view of the valley below, the place which was surrounded by trees, enveloped by clouds and bombarded by heavy winds had a surrealistic feel to it.
It was one of those perfect natural settings that lent itself to ramblings about the bigger questions in life, and ramble we did through the night, for the monsoon winds had other plans for us.
There was a tea stall and its roof was going to be our shelter for the night. We laid down plastic sheets under the roof and using our bags as pillows tried to sleep. It was 2.00 a.m. I drifted off to sleep quickly, or so i believe.
As the night passed, it became colder. The tea stall which had protected us from the wind earlier was of no use when the wind started blowing in our direction. I woke up to see Ajinkya already awake and shivering.
Although we had our windcheaters on us, it was useless in the bone chilling cold of the night. Ajinkya suggested we sit instead of lying down (something he had learnt from his multiple viewings of Man versus Wild).
We pulled a couple of chairs which were lying nearby and tried to sleep in a sitting position. The cold had not subsided, but it was surprisingly easier to bear it in a sitting position. We passed the next couple of hours trying to sleep, but to no avail.
Bird calls indicated morning had arrived and even though we were sleep deprived, one could not help but admire the beauty of the place. It was foggy, but when the cloud cover lifted for a fleeting moment, you could see the lush green valley below.
It was 6.30 a.m. After a refreshing cup of tea, we descended from one tree hill point and followed a trail which led us to the edge of the cliff .The one-tree hillock was separated from where we were standing by a very thin path of around 4 feet. The narrow path was not only exposed to the valley on both sides, but the climb up the hillock was vertical, making it extremely risky, unless of course, you are a gecko.
We had to be content with photographs of the place. We retraced our steps back to one tree hill point and from there walked back to Matheran main market.
Now that I reminisce about it, I realize what a crazy adventure it was. It was spontaneous and we were unprepared. But I guess that is what made this memory stick with me.
The thrilling climb in the dark, encounters of the wild, sleeping in the open on a chilly night, exploring the mountains on a misty morning, exactly the kind of weekend i was looking for.