A Revealing Journey - First Climb

I have never been athletic. I barely passed physical education in school. Games and Sports activity of any kind meant the ones I saw on a screen. Climbing a hill of any sort was not on top of my list of to-dos.

Climbing Sinhagad

Then, one day, on a whim, I volunteered for a camping trip. Some of my oldest friends were volunteers too, so I was happy as I would have familiar faces along (Did I mention, I wasn’t into camping either?). Little did I know that it included a compulsory trek up a local, trekker’s favourite. Sinhagad (The Lion’s Fort). Located 4000 feet above sea level, the fort is atop the tallest mountain around Pune (India). And it’s not just any mountain, it’s a legend. The scene of epic battles of warriors during the reign of the Maratha Empire and witness to exemplary courage, valour and loyalty of the soldiers, Sinhagad is no ordinary fort, and no ordinary climb.

I did not know if I could complete the trek. This kind of climbing requires practice right? I had none (since the walks between college departments do not count). The night before, I decided to give it a go. There were a 100 other newbies too, I wasn’t likely to be the only one sweating in the first 10 minutes. To this day, I don’t know what motivated me – maybe it was pride, curiosity, enthusiasm – I choose not to delve into the intricacies of impulsive decisions.

Top of the mountain

The night before my big day, I could barely sleep. Maybe, it was the adrenalin. Getting up before sunrise, I stumbled around in the dark, ready to change my decision. But as I saw others slowly trickling out of their rooms, I was motivated. With sustenance from a cup of hot spiced-chai, we set off for the base of the mountain. I stretched my neck to locate the top; it had disappeared into the clouds. I felt tiny at the base. There was no turning back, and going forward was scary. But something kept me marching along.

Walking to wind point

The trek up is an unusual one to say the least. There are many points on the climb – small flat plateau like areas with rocks as seating and a hay shed for cover. Our leader told us that that we had reached the halfway when we reached the first point, but he said the same when we reached the second. The third, the forth (Maybe it is a motivation technique)... Even now, I don’t know which one is the real deal and which is not... 

A different kind of a dhaba menu - all made to order

Along the climb, there are more of those hay sheds. These sheds are home to small (& for want of a better word) shops where local villagers sell stuff like fresh lemonade, yoghurt, roasted corn on the cob and freshly peeled cucumber and seasoned guava.  First time trekkers like me get exhausted and love the sip of the cool lemonade, and experienced trekkers adore the comforting smell of roasting corn.  It is a part of the experience to stop at one of these many (mid) points, rest your feet by sitting on a rock and devour a fresh juicy cucumber or a roasted corn. The food works wonders to rejuvenate the tired limbs and flagging spirit...

The Dahi on the Fort deserves to have its own post - it's that good

As a camping group, we really did not have the luxury of such rechargers at each point as there was breakfast waiting for us at the summit- a reward for climbing up 4000 feet.
The initial climb is simple with gentle slopes meandering up. The mountain gently ensnares you with stunning views and beckons you higher for more. The peaks of the Western Ghats peek out of the fluffy white clouds playing hide seek with the trekkers attempting its slopes. As you climb up, you are likely to be blinded by what seems like sunlight bouncing off a zillion diamonds – that’s just the waters of the nearby lake basking in the morning sun...

See the lake?

Further up, the slope becomes steeper, rocky and slippery. I ended up on a wrong track and had to slide back down to get on the right track. I was caked in mud. I dusted myself off and marched on. I got my much-wanted practice of rock climbing too. No cable support!

We had a bit of a race going on. All those who reached first were nice enough to cheer and clap every single person who reached the top.  The last 10 meters, my feet were numb, my hands scratched and my clothes muddy. The moment I took my final step up, I looked back on the lake and the valley stretching to the horizon and filling me with a sense of unparalleled achievement. That is what travelling is for me – exploring, learning and above all discovering yourself.


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