Weekend Getaway from Mumbai
Mumbaikars take fun seriously. Weekends are usually reserved for it. My own idea of fun is a day in the hills: pack my haversack, gang up with friends and then heave ho to some cave at the top of a hill.
My ideal weekends have the following rules:
One weekend found us headed towards Dhak Bhairi, a village approximately 7 hours from Lonavala. We went to Karjat in a local train, and thereafter reached Lonavla, packed in the general compartment of a long distance train. A quick dinner in the town of chikkis before we hit the slush path. It was 2230 hrs when pouring rain and deja vu made us decide we were lost. As luck would have it, a few dogs found us. They proceeded to bark us on to the village they were guarding. Wee Willie Winkie, if he passed by, would have found us snoring at the village school that night. The next morning, suitably fortified with some milkmaid tea and milkmaid sandwiches, we hit the road. This time we had clear directions to Dhak village.
The path steadily climbed a hill, passed a waterfall and then turned into a gully between two hills. It was mid-August and the hills were green. Tiny flowers swaying in the breeze carpeted the slopes. Now and again a silvery stream would emerge through the carpet and make its way to the valley below. To complement this visual treat was an audio soundtrack of the gurgling brooks punctuated by the odd call of the cuckoo. Paradise could be somewhere else, but I preferred being here.
We traversed along the edge of an imposing plateau and through another gully we entered the valley of Dhak village. The first sight of this valley gave me goose pimples: golf green slopes, majestic waterfalls everywhere you look, natural rock formations with cacti to add character and a quaint little temple half way up the slope to complete the picture.
We decided to camp up on the mountain from where Dhak village could be espied in the valley. The temple was already occupied, so we camped in the ruins of an abandoned temple. We were all engineers, so putting together a makeshift roof for the structure wasn't difficult. What was difficult however, was trying to convince a rat snake to find alternate accommodation. We need not have worried. Our reputation had obviously preceded us and the rat snake did not want anything to do with us. Three walls, a roof, running water from the stream, the soft piped music of the stream, what more could one ask for ? Food. Yes hunger, which must have been lost in the beauty of the place finally caught up with us. Supper was Maggi. If there is one thing that Nestle has done is that it has irrevocably changed the eating habits of the average trekker. Gone are the days when Upma and Phoa formed the mainstay of a typical trek menu in Maharashtra. These days it is instant soup followed by instant noodles, usually embellished with sundry vegetables.
As I made myself cosy in my sleeping bag, I had not a care in the world. To make our little habitat complete we had hung sheets on the fourth wall-less side. To prevent the sheets from flapping, we had weighed them down with our hunter shoes filled with stones. We had not accounted for the ferocity of the winds. We did not have to kick ourselves for this, our shoes soon took on a character of their own and woke us from our exhausted sleep.
The next day had been slated for an attempt on the Bhairi caves. We had been warned that during the best of times the climb was difficult for Sunday trekkers like us. This was not the best of times, neither was it a Sunday. We exited the Dhak valley on the windward side of the hill through a narrow gully. Straight down was an abyss, to the left was a trail leading to the Bhairi pinnacle, to the right was a mountain-hugging trail that led to the caves. We took the path to the right. We established a base camp in a small cave. The stout hearted among us made an honest attempt to get to the caves. Slippery footholds and heavy rains soon sent us scurrying back to the safety of the base camp. Across the valley from us was the "Dukes Nose". From our cooped position in the cave, it seemed that the duke needed liposuction.
Back at our campsite in the abandoned temple, we opted to stay another day. Since we were running low on rations, a party went to Dhak village to get something to prevent the rumble in our tummies. Dhak is a small village. It has seven and a half houses, two dozen denizens including a couple of small kids with runny noses, a coop of one rooster and five hens, three cows and a well. The pride of the village is a ST stop where a bus had come two days back. The only shop in Dhak catered more to the smoking pleasures of the villagers, rather than to their gastronomical needs. However our resourceful party managed to corner the entire stock of eggs available in the village - all nine eggs. The worst was yet to come, the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. Our purchase party had one such slip between the village and the camp leading to egg burji (scrambled egg) made with 400g butter and one surviving egg for 14 ravenous trekkers. Our second night here was uneventful.
It was pack up time. After a cup of tea each, armed with half a tin of milkmaid we started back to reach home early on Monday morning with just enough time to clean up and head for office. It had been a great weekend. Come to think of it, if we extended our weekend rules to include our weekdays, perhaps it would change the character of our lives!
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.