“Bye, happy journey. Come back soon,” our hosts shouted out to us when we left for Kalsubai trek.
Shades of grey adorned the sky. The storminess of the weather catalysed our willpower to scale Kalsubai. Little boys and girls were going to school. On the two sides of the road, lush greenery extended for miles. It was difficult to separate the grasses from patches of paddy fields. Rain drenched trees populated the slopes of the hill. Dhoti-clad men donning white caps were walking on the village path with us. Bari village is really tiny, abruptly rising around the vicinity of the temple and ending on the bank of a seasonal stream.
The villagers here are accustomed to watching poncho-laden men and women walk by on weekends. They usually don’t bat an eyelid. But, our case was different. They know us; we had visited the village temple the night before in complete darkness, under heavy downpour with a local kid as our guide.
The numerous cascades diving down the hill slopes had created channels of small streams with significant water current. With pants hitched up to the knees, shoes in one hand and our camera in the other, we crossed one such stream barefoot.
On top of Kalsubai is a temple housing the local deity. The temple holds important religious significance among the people living in the nearby villages.
After a very brief walk through paddy fields, the terrain started gaining slope. An orange flag hoisted doorway was standing in the middle of nowhere. The patch next to it was perilously muddy. The pitter-patter of the rain made the path more treacherous.
We arrived at the first crucial point of the Kalsubai trek, the first metal ladder. There are,in total, four metal ladders which are attached to the boulders of the Kalsubai mountain by bolts at different sections of the trek. Sometimes new ladders overlapped the old rust-laden and half-broken ladders.
The iron claws of fear clasped me hard. The husband made the first move while I stood by the foot of the ladder praying to all the Gods and Goddesses that I might have offended in my lifetime. When it was my turn to put the first step forward, the wind started blowing furiously and the pitter-patter took shape of a full blown shower. Halfway up the ladder, I stepped on my own poncho and almost tripped.
A tiny plateau region provided a decent vantage point to view the valley below. As far as I could see, there were streaks of white ribbons meandering along the green hills. The unabated rainfall triggered cascades all through the hills. With a glass of lemon water in hand, I wondered how I am going to survive the other three ladders.
Monkeys are the real bosses of the second and third ladders. Families of monkeys sat on the handrails, stairs and the adjacent boulders. I don’t like being around monkeys. They are too mischievous and unpredictable. I was not bold enough to risk clearing the traffic jam on the wet metal ladder with wafer thin footspace of the steps.
Usually, on monsoon weekends, Kalsubai trail is accustomed to seeing whopping footfalls. We were lucky. On the day we hiked, there were barely other trekkers there, probably owing to it being a Saturday and not Sunday. The only drawback of this equation was that the monkeys outnumbered us.
A local dog following another group of teenage trekkers came to our rescue. With its tail wagging, it took the lead on the ladders and cleared our path from the monkeys.
With the rise in altitude, the temperature drop was real. The surroundings were draped in a translucent curtain of mist.The lush green turned hazy green now. Visibility was poor. It was as if we were watching the world through foggy glasses. On two sides of the trail were blue wildflowers. A thousand tiny water droplets settled over the wet petals of the flowers.
Stairs to Heaven
Vicinal to the flowery land was the fourth and final ladder to reach the summit of mount Kalsubai. The first sight of the ultimate ladder made me euphoric. Using ‘surreal’ would be a major underestimation of the scenario. The foot of the ladder originated from right where we were standing but its head was swallowed up in the depths of clouds.
We emerged from the clouds and stepped on mount Kalsubai’s summit. The pinnacle was deprived of any vegetation. The edge of the summit was fenced with occasional openings. An orange coloured temple popped up from the blackish rocky mountain apogee. The temple was tended by two priests. Peda, a very common Indian sweet was sold at the temple by the priests at INR 60 for 6. We stuffed our mouth with some,which gave our intensely tired bodies some much needed carbohydrate.
On a clear day, miles and miles of Maharashtrian countryside is visible from the top of Kalsubai. But on the day we went, a typical monsoon day, we were shrouded in clouds. The wind had been howling throughout the trek, but on the summit the temperature dropped to freezing cold and the rain lashed hard. Clouds raced around us and once in a while, it revealed the green cloaked valleys below.
Our guts were in for a real test on the downward journey. Climbing down ‘stairs to heaven’, that is the first ladder on the downward journey or the last on the upward journey, was more terrifying than I thought. The only assurance I had was the local guide hired by another party who kept telling me not to look down.
My survival called for a tea break and we enjoyed sipping hot tea from a shack on the trail. Beside us, a 50-something man was devouring stir fried onions fritters or kanda bhaji. A walking stick lay beside him. Before we finished our tea, we got to know he lives in Kolhapur and frequents this trail.
A disturbing noise took us by surprise. It was a screeching baby monkey. Two men had forcefully grabbed it and they had an evil grin on their face. The shack owners continued their business without any emotion on their face. We, the trekkers, exchanged confused but alert glances with each other.
A troop of monkeys were lounging on the second and third ladders. A group of youths were stuck. For every step they took forward they ran back four steps. We joined them in the back and forth movement. Soon, another batch of youngsters joined the drama with us. The man from Kolhapur came and waved his walking stick at the monkeys. He kept shaking the stick and rescued us panic-stricken souls. But in our hearts, we knew the monkeys had enough reason to rebel.
The descent beyond this point was sans any major trouble. Only once, a herd of goats mistook our ponchos for something edible and the pack of 30 surrounded us, gradually closing in. Thankfully the goat-herd came in time. We and our ponchos escaped unhurt.
Losing our way near the bank of the stream can be counted as our last adventure on the Kalsubai trail. We took 12 hours to complete the trek which is generally completed in 5-6 hours. After crossing the stream, we turned back to look up on the majesty of Kalsubai for the last time, until we return again.
Practical Information for Kalsubai trek
Kalsubai Altitude : 1646 metres
Base village for the trek: Baari
Camping allowed on summit: Yes
Time taken: 5-6 hours
Best season to visit: Monsoon and winter
How to reach Baari village by public transport from Mumbai: Take a CST/Thane to Kasara train, get down at Kasara and get in one of the umpteenth shuttle services which ply from Kasara station. The shuttle services are crammed with as many as 25 passengers per car.
For further details refer to my Baari village article.
Have you trekked to the summit of any mountain? How was the feeling? Was the journey worth it? Comment below and let us know!
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