An analysis of what drives tireless souls on unrewarding treks.
“Aap mere pehle customer ho jinhe har dus kadam mein photo nahi khichana hai!” (You are my first customers who don’t want to click pictures every ten steps of the way), our guide at Vikatgad marvelled at us.
“Hum har hafte trek karte hai. Kya phayda photo ka? Sab same hi toh lagta hai” (We trek every weekend. What’s the point of taking photos when they all look the same), I replied instantaneously - faster than the thought occurred in my head.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the walk pondering over my reflexive answer. The next weekend at Rajmachi I meticulously observed the natural habitat around me and my response to it all, in a bid to decipher - why do I trek? I realised that each person has a unique story and a cause that gravitates them to the wilderness. Some people do it for their love for nature, some for wildlife, and others for relaxation or a change of atmosphere.
On the way to Lohagad. Note to self: drive there next time
It’s been ten months since I jumped, twisted and tore a ligament in my knee and consequently opted for an ACL reconstruction. Since the injury, my activity level has fallen as hard as I did. Inevitably, the pace of all movement has been restricted to 0.1m /s. In the bargain, my body has forgotten what a sudden change in direction feels like.
When the monsoons came to Mumbai this year, I cautiously tried my first trail walk – an easy grade – to Kanheri High Point at SGNP. I have hiked almost every Sunday after. The treks I went in that month have been:
1. Vikatgad, where the route leads up from Neral and comes down into Matheran
2. Gambhirgad, at the Maharashtra-Gujarat border
3. Rajmachi, ascending and descending the steep path from Karjat
4. Mahuli Fort in Asangaon, Thane
5. Lohagad, at Malavli
6. Kaldurg Fort, that lies in Palghar
The rocky patch at Mahuli Fort
After profound observations, I arrived at the conclusion that barring the difficulty grade, there isn’t much difference between the treks. To surmise the experience, there is a similar looking narrow pathway bound on either side by an infinity of 9ft trees, shoulder-high lush greenery or knee-high grass. The jaunt through streams and water crossings, under large boulders and over loose gravel is enlivened by a panorama of towering mountains and waterfalls. In the monsoon, the breathless trudge almost always leads to an identical, zero visibility zone at the top.
In every trek the ascent takes a heavy toll on my quadriceps, up to a point where my body automatically accommodates by adapting a hand-to-knee gait. At the peak – any peak – you have strong breeze, pelting rain and the view of a smoking room. At some pinnacles, you’ll find an undefined mass of pointed boulders, scaling which adds thrill and peril. The descent, in a nutshell, is an unequivocal method of developing bilateral osteoarthritis in roughly 2-3 hours.
Ruins of Rajmachi
The toe stubs, burning soles, wet shoes, drenched clothes, heavy bags, soggy sandwiches remain constant. I have sunk my feet in muck, slipped on mossy rocks and narrowly missed an ankle sprain every single time. The inability to set my bare feet on the floor, a swollen and stiff left knee, and an unflattering, uneven tan is the fixed price I pay every Monday.
But still, I come back for more of the same, the next weekend.
The final phase at Kalawantini
This led me to question if I would watch the exact same movie, the same day every week. Or visit an amusement park, solve murder mysteries or diffuse bombs at a live escape game multiple times? Surely not. Unless of course, I suffered from anterograde amnesia, or was on my journey there.
So why do I find myself repeatedly drawn to the hills and the mountains, the rivers and the falls? What is it that makes me incessantly toil through the unforgiving path, push through the discomfort and the ache, only to return with twice the magnitude of pain? In what frame of mind do I voluntarily put myself through dehydration, take grave risks, scale steep rocks, stand on edges or jump and trip? How do I lose my way along a marked route or find grips where there are none?
Fitness lessons at the summit
It was on a night trek, when the moon shinning on the coal-covered forest, formed faces that found voice in the creaking branches and rustling leaves and whispered answers that I barely managed to wrap my head around. At the break of dawn, the revelations were as hazy as my myopic field of vision from the pinnacle.
My speculations had me circumnavigate along an infinite loop and arrive precisely where I began. I didn’t know. And I might never.
So maybe it’s for the new challenges waiting around each corner of the climb. Or the discovery of byways and secret water-holes that keep the adventure alive. Or for the crucial decisions flipping everything over, that are making us wise. Or the brutal wilderness that licences nothing but our presence in the moment. Because it is only in the looseness of a grasp, slip of a foot or an involuntary slide that we invariably learn to empty our mind.
Or maybe it’s for the discovery of an inner defiance, which can only be uncovered in the face of untoward hardship. After all, triumph over catastrophe is what shapes the edges of the will. And the nothingness to be found at each summit preaches that it is only the passage of the first breath that will ever make room for the calm.
It’s only for this mindfulness that we fight for permissions, beat the dead-lines, and hustle through our stressful weeks leaving moments unscreamed. For the real struggle doesn’t lie in the trek, it lies in the eternity spent before it.
Running to catch infrequent trains
1. For short treks try Kalawantini, Lohagad Kaldurg Fort and Vikatgad.
2. For longer, more exploratory treks try Rajmachi in Karjat, Mahuli Fort or Gambhirgad in Thane.
3. Extend a trek whenever possible; camp the night.
4. Understand the grades, and choose your treks wisely – don't overestimate your readiness.
5. Don't wait for the perfect day, or the best company – JUST DO IT. You won't regret it.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Nidah Kaiser
Photographs by Nidah Kaiser