This was a nice trek, one which left a lot of fond memories. The fort itself is not very big or famous, and is located in some remote place. But I romanticised the hike very much and enjoyed it in some sort of private way.
I was invited to the hike by Siddharth. A guy called Vinay (Siddharth's college buddy) had his ancestral house in a village near the fort. We were supposed to go to his house and then proceed to the fort. It was a small group. VP, Sarang, Richa, Nivedita and me from the Campus and Vinay and Siddharth. The girls were from the hostel and mostly kept to themselves. VP and me had a few small tiffs, so stayed away from each other. Sarang was sort of young.... I hardly knew Vinay. And Siddharth was busy with the girls. So I had decided even before the hike had started that I would enjoy it on my own.
We were supposed to meet at 6p.m. at Sion Hospital S.T. stop to catch a bus to Alibaug. But the girls were uncertain about going and as Siddharth had primarily arraigned this hike for their sake, he spent some time running around till all was well. We were only late by about 2 hours. Vinay was pissed of waiting for us and the last bus has also left for Alibaug. So we waited for a bus going through Pen. It was about an hour before finally a bus arrived. It was a plain old ST. I had taken my Harmonica and surprisingly Sarang had also brought his along. We spent some merry time making weird noises to the accompaniment of the bus diesel. At last at around 11.30 we got down at Pen S.T. stand. There were no busses going in the direction of Alibaug. For some time we were in a real fix. We tried the autowallahs but it was too far for them. Standing on a lonesome highway in the dead of the night, with uncertain shapes whizzing by at high speeds as if on urgent errands, I couldn't but help feel unreal. You have this feeling of being a total stranger in a strange place. Finally Vinay stopped some truck which was going to some village near his own. In a hurry we all scrambled towards the cabin. The girls, Sarang and Vinay got in. The cabin was already crowded and so the driver asked the remaining of to climb in the back. Myself, Siddharth and VP ran back and climbed over. The truck moved of as we settled down on a cargo of onions and potatoes.
It was a novel experience, this traveling in the back of a loaded truck in the night. We could see the surrounding landscape in the pale light of the heavenly bodies. The road was smooth and it seemed to me that it was we who were stationary and all the dark houses and shops, all those ghostly villages, the silent fields and woods, were passing by us.... on some strange and secret journey. This short truck journey will remain in my memory for a long time because at that moment it created a very vivid image in my mind's eye.
Finally we reached our destination. By now I was in a very happy mood, though the others were probably sleepy. Again the search for transport, though to Vinay's village this time. We got a couple of auto's and even though they demanded an exorbitant charge, we had no choice. We finally reached the old house in a quaint, old world village at around 1.30am. There had been some new construction and a new hall had been built on top of the old one. Here we all relaxed. We all were hungry, and Vinay suggested that we cook a chicken and eat as there was nothing much left for us. The girls only ate vegetarian food so they had some left over vegetables and hit the hay. By this time Vinay had rustled up a couple of old buddies and together they caught a cock, killed and cleaned it up. They put up some home grown rice to cook and also the spiced up cock. While it cooked for about an hour or so we all had a good time having "men" talk. Then we ate the poor cock and went to roost ourselves. Early in the morning everyone was up as is the custom of the place. We had tea and got ready to leave for the fort. Vinay's mom had packed up a lunch for us. By the time Vinay arranged for transport we thanked and took leave of his parents.
Vinay had arranged for a huge 6 seater diesel rickshaw. I took some 20 noisy minutes of traveling through small winding country roads to reach the village at the base of the fort. It was a small village, with its tiny half naked children playing on the dusty lane. It brought back some long forgotten memories for me. I had lived 5 years of my earliest memories in such a tiny village. Though, as it was very much near to Mumbai and many commuted to worked there, the villagers were well off, unlike the ones here who lived in much poverty.
Vinay had brought a couple of his village friends who knew the way to the fort. The initial part of the path passed through the village fields and surrounding shrubs. As almost everywhere in the Konkan, the fields are not extensive but are small terraces on the hill slopes. The ground is mostly rocky and barren and does not retain water. Being near the sea there are no big rivers and even though this region receives heavy rains in the monsoons there is water shortage soon after. The people here have to live in abject poverty and lead very hardy lives.
Crossing a small nullah signifying the boundary of the village lands, we entered some dry brush at the base of the hill. After climbing for an hour or so the vegetation changed and became more and more denser and wilder. It was still drab-gray-green, but the presence of large ancient trees made it look rather majestic. We came across a huge mango tree which had part of its trunk burned. We spent about 45 minutes monkeying around this tree. Many snaps were taken with Sarang's camera....
A two-two and a half hour climb brought us to the fort. The top of the fort was more or less flat. There were signs of excavations as some gold coins had been found recently. There was a stone kunda with dark looking water in it. One the west side of the fort there was a sheer drop to the lowlands which rolled on to the sea. The town of Alibaug and further south, the famous Dharamtar khadi (creek) were visible in the distance. The view was very peaceful and beautiful.... the wind brought the tang of salt even up to the fort. I would have liked to stay there for a day or so but we had to hurry and get back as the girls had to report at the hostel before 10p.m. We had time just for lunch, so we could not explore the fort. We went along and found some nice shady tree to eat it. Lunch consisted of rice bhakris with bhaji of vaal. After resting for half an hour it was decided to head back. On the way back we came across a part of a great stone wall and every one had to climb down it. It was great fun. More snaps.....
We decided to head back on a different path as Vinay said that there was a beautiful Mandir (temple) which he would like us to see. As I mentioned earlier soon after the rains the water flows down to the sea in the Konkan. The path we started on went over the adjoining hill. It was horribly dry and everywhere there were sharp stones, thorn bushes and dry bamboos. The soil was more rocky on this hill and therefore there were hardly and big trees. After an hour of hard walking through torturous thorn with the sun beating down us in full glory, we were getting suspicious that we were lost. The Mandir was not to be found and we were getting desperately short of water. Luckily we came across a collection of huts. I was surprised that anyone could survive on such a harsh and dry spot. But looking at their pathetic condition I guessed that they did not have any choice. They could hardly afford it, but gave us some water. In normal conditions we would never have drunk it as the container and the water itself was very dirty. But that time we happily gulped it down. We requested the lone male there to guide us to the path which will lead us down to were we started from.
He lead us through a tangle of brush and intersecting goat paths to a bigger looking trail, which according to him lead directly to the village from where we started. He asked us for 100 rupees for his trouble. Vinay was shocked at his demand and gave 10 rupees. The man went away grumbling after haggling uselessly for some time. We made a very rapid decent to the base (at considerable risk to ankles and necks) as we had lost some time wandering about. We all washed our tortured faces and necks in a small stream just outside the village. The problem now was that there was no conveyance to Vinay's village. We had to walk on the tar road for about 1and a half hours in the blistering sun to reach it.
Everyone was dead tired when we did reach. Everyone except me had lunch. The plan now was to reach Revas bundar before the last ferry for Mumbai left. For that we had to reach an intersection on the highway and catch some bus or rickshaw to Revas. This intersection turned out to be another hour's walk in the sun. Finally we reached it and got one of those big rickshaws. It cost us 10 rupees a head for a pleasant 25 minute drive through some very green and picturesque coastal countryside.
At Revas, Vinay went to get the tickets (which, by the way turned out to be very cheap). The rest, except me had sugarcane juice. After Vinay had got the tickets we all went to the jetty where we had to wait another 30 minutes for the ferry to arrive. When it did arrive it was almost sunset. There was a mad scramble to procure seats. We all jumped onboard from the sides and got good seats. The ferry started for 'Bhau cha dhakka' in about 10 minutes. As soon as the ferry was out of the harbour, people started to climb on top of what was some sort of a deck. We all went up and sprawled around.
The sun was setting behind some palm trees on a sand bank. The sea birds which had accompanied us from Revas flew alongside, gleaming golden white in the light of the setting sun. There was a group of returning picnickers who were singing all sorts of old Marathi songs to the accompaniment of a bongo. It looked right out of a picture book. I and Vinay lay on our backs and enjoyed ourselves. The rest were playing antakshari. Soon darkness fell and the birds returned to their roosts. As we neared Mumbai we started passing huge ships anchored outside the harbour. The ships had hundreds of lights on them and looked almost like villages. What sort of life did all those sailors lead?, I wondered. Travelling the world.... away from home and friends...
By the time I finished wondering such thoughts, we had reached Mumbai. It had taken around an hour and 25 minutes . We all went to a bus stop just outside the bunder and caught a bus which left us near Dockyard Rd. rly station on the harbour line. The train was empty and our journey uneventful as we traveled to Kurla Stn. Every one was silent... reflecting on the trip... thinking their own thoughts. This trip had been a lot different from our previous treks. It had not been one filled with loads of fun and frolic, but it had been a thoughtful and enjoyable one... at least for me.
(The next day, to our disgust, we found out that Sarang's camera did not have any film in it)
- Abhijit Rao © 1999