It had been almost a year since I had gone for a trek. Pre-monsoon showers had begun in Mumbai, so my wander-lust had begun itching. A trek was on the cards.
Male fireflies glow in huge numbers on trees and bushes to attract their female counterparts. This mating exhibition is at display only at this time of the year, just before and during the start of monsoon. To watch this though, one needs to visit the jungles of the Sahyadris. At night.
The way it is done is to go for a night-trek. That requires you to pre-book travel via eight-seater “tumtum”s (bigger versions of three-wheeled rickshaws) to the base-village of your destination from its nearest railway station, and dinner and night-time shelter with one of the local homes at the village at the top. After frantic searching on Thursday night and Friday morning, in which I did manage to retrieve local contacts of some of the destinations, I realized something: all such facilities are pre-booked by professional groups that organize treks. It is impossible for a few people like us to get anything, so late. Hence, quite grudgingly, for the first time, me and my friend Prateek registered with one of the professional groups. What that also ensured: the headaches of the trek were taken out of the equation.
We boarded the (fast) local train from CST at 4.30 p.m. and reached Karjat at 6.30 p.m. After a round of introduction, we got going in the tumtums in groups of eight, and on reaching the base-village Ambiwali, had the pre-ordered snacks. Then, the trek started. With torchlight leading us.
Immediately, we started seeing fireflies on the trees on both sides. If you watch carefully, they are visible only on trees with low branches. The blinking of this huge number of fireflies is quite a sight. Pardon me, neither is photography nor words enough to describe the view. So I won’t try.
The initial part of the trek is a bit of a steep climb for about quarter of an hour, but then it slowly gives away to a gradual walk along a flat land. On the way, Prateek and I made friends with some of the other trek-companions. Some old Hindi music was being played and sung along with, and that made the atmosphere surreal. Occasionally, we encountered crabs, from small ones to big, and of primarily two colours, yellow and red.
The clouds were making the weather gloomy and humid, and wouldn’t care to donate a few drops of rain. However, the walk simply got serene as the moon came out of the clouds. We stopped to catch the breeze once-in-a-while. The destination peak was visible and calling from a distance. However, the summit was to be conquered the next morning, and we would retire for the night at the village of Peth.
As we reached the shelter for the night, after a bit of rest and friendly banter, the group got together for a quick dinner. And then, as the elders retired for rest, the others got out for a post-dinner walk to catch more photographs of fireflies. The photographers in the group were itching for their long-exposure shots on DSLR.
Before we went for the walk, however, we were given a lesson by one of the members. He (an avid trekker and about to start his own trekking business) had brought his tent and taught the others the simple piece of art of putting it up. My friend Prateek and I thought it was a helpful lesson, for his next-week trek to Mount Kilimanjaro, and my August expedition to Ladakh.
As the cameramen got busy with the fireflies (with their DSLRs, tripods and loads of patience), others were enjoying the spirit of the night with a bit of music and dance. Prateek and I retired to our usual conversations and came back to the tent to explore how it was like sleeping inside.
After an hour or so, we were woken up by the owner and retired to the village shelter with our sleeping bags. The spirit of Antakshari was still pretty much on with the others, but we managed to sleep off in the middle of that.
My sleep was broken with a natural alarm: the calling of cocks which were roasting right at the top of our heads, in the small creeks along the walls of the shelter. It was about 5.30 a.m., and the morning was about to break. I was excited for the trek to the top and got myself going with a light walk.
A pleasant breeze, a bit of fog, and windmills on the opposite hill. What a perfect start to the day!
The view changed as we took turns, showing different sides of the hill we were climbing.
With frequent rests and stops for photographs (as is evident), we finally conquered the final frontier, the steep stairs at the top, and then the view gave away to a full 360 degrees.
After an hour at the top, we started descending, and this part was tricky. Not only because climbing down is generally more difficult both technically and psychologically, but also because there was a large inflow of trekkers coming up. These, I realized, were people who are doing the trek from the base to the summit and returning the same day. Probably they didn’t know about fireflies or didn’t care. But anyway, we reached Peth village after an hour’s descent and had our breakfast: tea and hot Poha.
After another hour’s rest, we got going for the final descent to Ambiwali, where we had light lunch, chitchatted, and finally caught our tumtums to Karjat. It was here that the rain-clouds decided to pour in, and the drive back to Karjat was amazing, punctuated with the enthusiastic group of people singing all the way. We finally caught the 3.30 p.m. local train back to CST.
There are a few things you learn from going with a group of people from diverse backgrounds. These lessons will stay with me.