Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Anticipation

(waiting for the rains)

Monsoon is the best time for trekking in the Sahayadris. Though the rain makes the downhill route slippery and a bit tricky to negotiate, it is more than made up by the rain – drenched hills shrouded in mist, the clouds and the numerous small waterfalls and streams that spring up all over.

I went with Odati on two perfect monsoon treks last year – to Manikgad and Surgad. Both were short hikes and just right for a relaxed Sunday – a 3.5 hr amble uphill at Manikgad and a 2.5 hr walk at Surgad. The only patch of slightly difficult terrain was the the last patch at Surgad which is steep and slippery and requires concentration. While the rain evaded us at Manikgad, in Surgad we got caught in a downpour that was full ‘paisa-vasool’ and thoroughly enjoyed it. Both treks had lush greenery and long wavy grass rippling in the breeze.

Both places we had a local guide in addition to the Odati team; apart from showing us the way, they added to overall entertainment levels with their eccentric personalities. I have a sneaky suspicion, though, that these villagers might have a similar reason for agreeing to guide us – not for the money, but to observe these wimpy weird townfolk and have funny stories to tell their families over dinner.

The Maamaa at Manikgad was strong ‘n silent and quite a disciplinarian. On the way up the final portion, whenever we halted to catch our breath, he would stop ahead of us, look down at us and make clicking noises with his teeth to hurry us up – the kind villagers make to hurry along cattle in the fields ! Like all such maamaa’s I have seen, the fact that we were paying him made no difference to his bindaas attitude and behaviour. As we had oodles of time to enjoy the view from the peak, we intended to snooze for about an hour after eating lunch but he would have none of it. He woke us up in 20-30 minutes and herded us down, saying that he was worried it would soon rain heavily. As he had earlier confidently predicted a dry morning when we thought dark clouds heralded rain, we decided he might be right this time too and clambered down the hill lickety-split.

The Maamaa at Surgad had even more impressive weather prediction skills. A lean, stringy weather-beaten guy over 70 monsoons old, he would predict when it would rain down to the last half hour (maybe the MET office should hire him!) and his reading of the clouds was right more often than not. He was as much of a disciplinarian as the Manikgad Maamaa, but his style was to shame you into hurrying, rather than to herd you. Halfway up the hill, when we stopped for 5-10 minutes at a nice meadow, he proudly told us that he could ascend and descend the hill in less than an hour, which was less than the time it had taken us to reach the halfway point; you can bet we walked faster after that.

All these Monsoon maamaa’s interpret suggestions of alternative routes as mutiny and tend to mulishly insist that you take exactly the path they prefer – maybe it comes from a lifetime of being the undisputed head of the family and getting unquestioning obedience. Our Surgad maamaa had the same attitude towards dissent, except that he was also an expert at psychological warfare. When he didn’t want to climb right to the very peak, rather than argument and obstinacy, he used the tell-tales-of-townsfolk-who-would-not-listen-and-suffered-painful-accidents solution. Quite a storyteller, he relished multiple retellings of the tale of women from Mumbai getting stuck at the peak during a downpour, almost falling all the way down while descending and finally having to be lowered down on ropes. He was quite effective too, we convinced ourselves that the hills, the fort walls and the stone relics scattered around were sufficient adventure and there couldn’t be anything better to see at the peak.