Monday, April 27, 2009

Vasota trek – Test of mind, body and soul

The start

I was going through the website of my favorite and revered trek group Yuvashakti, and saw that they are conducting a trek to Vasota on 25th. Since my trekking days Vasota had held a fascination for me, especially since it is considered as one of the toughest treks and is a forest land, with tigers, leopards, bear etc and you can only enter the area with permission from the Forest Officer. So seeing that Yuvashakti has done all that (I trust them so much that I always assume that whichever trek/trip they are conducting has been well planned and thought through), and I hadn’t trekked in 4 years, I thought I would give it a go.

It started on 24th April at 11 p.m. It was a 4 hour journey in a rickety old bus in which around 7 people were extra and so we took turns standing. We reached the starting point of the trek at 3:30 at night, and were supposed to sleep in an abandoned warehouse at the edge of a lake. As soon as we got down from the bus we could hear thousands of bats screeching overhead as we went towards the warehouse. Most of us got ‘gifts’ from the bats in the form of unwanted designs on our clothes. But after a sleepless night the 2 hours of sleep from 4 to 6 were welcome. At 6 we got up and took in the beautiful sight of the lake from our warehouse.

We saw a plain flat land till the lake, which posed a problem regarding answering nature’s call. It was a tough task, especially for a group of girls for whom this was the first trek, to search for some boulder to hide behind. Anyway, all this was a minor thing and we got past it and had breakfast and left by speedboat to the base of the trek.

Climb to Nageshwar

We were already tired from only 2 hours of sleep. But we took on our huge sacks and started the climb. Now it was a fairly steep climb. And it turned out to get steeper, and climbing it with sacks weighing us down and the hot sun baking and dehydrating us was not an easy task. This lasted for 4 hours. At the end of the first hour many had given up, don’t know whether it was their minds or their bodies. But people were refusing to move. So one group leader took ahead the fast walkers, one went with the middle group, and I and a senior group leader Vinay took on the responsibility of the last few people, since they can cause problems. Eventually it did happen that I had to carry 2 sacks on that climb for 2.5 hours since an uncle was unable to move with it. By the time I reached the top, my water was almost finished, and dehydration was giving me cramps in my legs. At the top we rested for 10 minutes and started the descent to Nageshwar.

Descending is actually tougher than climbing, since you have to hold your legs in place on small footholds to prevent from slipping into a valley. The descent was a steep one, and with loose mud. It was a narrow path so only 1 person could walk at one time, and there was a valley on the side. For first-timers this was an unnerving and scary experience, since they kept feeling that if they slip they will fall into the valley. We could not even help them down since the path was too narrow to walk side by side. So to reassure them, I and Vinay stood on the sides of the narrow route with our backs to the valley and herded the scared group past us, giving them confidence that if they do fall, we will catch them. And we did catch them about a dozen times each. So it was a slow descent, and standing precariously while guiding others had taken its toll on my leg muscles, which were by now screeching desperately for water. Finally at 4:30 p.m. we reached Nageshwar. Some poor people thought this was the end of the trek. But it was our lunch halt only. Till now we were on empty stomachs.

Walk to base camp

From Nageshwar we had to walk to a different site where instead of warehouse we had tents. Since I was dehydrated, I had to take water from a well at Nageshwar. There was no bucket so I had to climb down inside it, and take green coloured water from a pool filled with litter and frogs!

I drank the water without second thoughts and we started walking. Now one guy got severe cramps and both his legs gave way. In order to reach camp before dark, Vinay told the other group leader to take the rest of the people ahead, and asked for volunteers to come with him and the kid slowly. By now Vinay was somewhat sure I would volunteer, and of course I did. So we helped the kid walk slowly, along with a local guy and his dog. I recognized the dog since I had given him a biscuit while climbing and he had accompanied us the whole way up to the top and down to Nageshwar. Dattu the dog wagged his tail when he saw me again, and if I had one I would have wagged it at him too. For now, a pat on the head would suffice.

Now Vinay took me aside and told me to run ahead to the group gone ahead and hold back a few more volunteers, since after dark the predators like leopards, bears etc would start moving about and only 3 of us would make an easy target. So I went ahead, and saw that no one was volunteering. So I dragged back a hesitant guy to have at least one more head. As darkness fell I was glad we had Dattu who would warn us, but then realized that a dog in a jungle is an invitation for leopards and tigers who love to eat dogs! So I and Vinay not only had to take care of ourselves and the kid, but Dattu too.

The next 2 hours were unforgettable. Walking over a stony uneven path, at night, in a jungle full of animals, is not for the faint of heart. With torches throwing small light for our feet, we trudged ahead and soon caught up with some of the girls from the group ahead. Then Vinay went off, and soon at 8 o clock at night in pitch darkness I was guiding a group of scared teenagers through the jungle. We kept hearing sounds to our sides from the bushes, but we could not stop. We kept walking, the stones twisting our ankles and hurting our feet and toes every minute. At one point we were crossing a small water body, and suddenly a huge swarm of small insects descended on us, attracted by our torches. They were everywhere...sticking on our sweat-covered hands and faces, entering the eyes, ears and noses. If we switched off the torch we could not see the path, so we kept it on and ran through the blanket of insects, emerging with a lot of them sticking to our bodies. Finally we reached the tents and collapsed. That night my legs had severe cramps, my toes were bruised, feet abraded, stomach hungry, sleepless brain. And what damage the frog-infested water had done would come to light later.

So you ask, why do all this at all? Well, it is inexplicable, this spirit. For even though I felt I had done something good today, by walking 10 hours over mountains and through jungles, climbing with 2 sacks, helping out many people so that they could complete the trek safely, go without sleep and with little food for 2 days, it is still nothing special. The Yuvashakti group leaders do this every weekend when they lead treks, and since it is a non-profit organization, they work on the rest of the days in their respective offices. Next morning we all woke up feeling good. Although I didn’t get sleep this night also, which makes it 2 nights in a row, by morning I was feeling fresh, and could go without food and tea till noon easily, and in the return bus journey I again volunteered to stand for the entire 4 hours. How and why do we manage it?! There is a drive to be amidst nature, accustom our body to primitive living, go where few people go, help people experience it, keep the group together, help each other, face any challenges confidently, solve problems instead of crib. This is the spirit of Yuvashakti, this is the spirit of the trekker.

(Photos at