Sunday, July 27, 2014

Being Sir Phadke

Tandulwadi Fort
27th July, 2014

We had a Super Duper Trek Yesterday! We kept up the PHC tradition of increasing the difficulty level of simple treks (4 hrs of ascend & 4 hrs of descend). By no means can Tandulwadi be considered an easy grade trek. It was a Palasdhari (Part-II). None of us knew the proper routes here and our selection of the guide was incorrect too. But on a positive note, we got to traverse longer routes and that added to the excitement & sweet agony. It rained from the very beginning and that made the terrain all the more slippery, but the climate was awesome! It was a thrilling experience to lead the students at the rock patches and slippery paths.

For me, it was a great learning experience - To manage a group of 49 without the presence of Phadke Sir was always going to be a Herculean task, but still I was nowhere close to even 10% of his skills & experience. In fact, no bunch of people (committee) or a single individual like me can ever fill in his big shoes. In the absence of a regular leader, the decisions were taken by multiple heads and that created some chaos before and after the trek. On hindsight, I could've done somewhat better as a "trek leader" knowing very well that I barely managed to have the required qualifications, Experience being my only friend. But all’s well that ends well!
The support of fellow ex-students Kiran Tanawade, Manish Didwania and Nirved Shah saved the day. We worked well as a team and I think we did fairly. Amongst the committee members, Vipul Khaire did a good job. There is a need to groom the committee members to maintain the standards set by the seniors over the years. It would be great if we ex-students join more frequently and guide the young students who are new to trekking so that they can take interest in the club’s activities and handle its responsibilities well (both on and off the mountain).
Lastly, the tremendous responsibility that Sir has been undertaking with such grace since the last so many years is really worth appreciating. What it really takes to be a Leader like Sir R. M. Phadke, I learnt during this trek.

Brief Report:
In spite of the reporting time of 5:30am, we left Matunga only at 7am. If we want to have better trek experiences, we must first bring in discipline & punctuality. This is where the committee needs to get its act right. Lesson: Next time, we shouldn’t wait for latecomers.
The arrangement of idli as breakfast was a good idea. A couple of large plastic bags should be carried on every trek to collect the mess in the bus as well as the mountain. The committee did a decent job in this regard. But they did not have any medical kit.
We reached base at 9:45am approximately and started trek around 10 am. Since we all were new to the place, it was prudent to engage a guide. Just as our bus reached base, a man came forward and offered to guide us & he was hurriedly taken in as the guide. I wasn’t comfortable with the idea and realized the mistake soon, but it was a bit late by then. It was only after the trek got over, that I came to know from the shop lady that the man was not even from Tandulwadi village.  Lesson: We shouldn’t have been hasty in hiring our guide without knowing his background. Always check with the local villagers first.
Although nothing untoward happened, the routes he took us through were apparently too long & tiring for newcomers. For something that would’ve taken hardly 2hrs, we took a good 4hrs for the climb. No doubt, it is usual for a big group of first-timers to slow down at tricky places and hence it was a given that our progress would be slow and we would take longer than normal. Also the weather was so heavenly that it made the longer routes beautiful. I’m sure it was a thrilling experience for all. Everything said and done, the guide did a fine job in the end. Lesson: It is sometimes good to come out of our comfort zone and enjoy the sweet pain that comes with exploring the unexplored nature.
            The guide being the only one who had a better idea about the mountain, it was crucial for us to maintain the link between us. It is not practically possible for one person to control the entire crowd and that’s where the committee needs to share some basic responsibility. Instead it was at the end of the group, dawdling and doing time pass. Thankfully, I had Kiran, Manish and Vipul who took genuine interest in sharing the responsibility. The final climb was the best moment of the trek – with wonderful misty views, cool winds, rains and rock patches. By 2 pm, we reached the top and had lunch. Everybody was damn hungry. It was a pleasure to have something to eat in the cold rainy winds. Lesson: Try cheese cubes with bread if you don’t have cheese spread. Also, try Parle-G-Jam sandwich.
I later got a hint that some students were carrying alcohol. I am absolutely unsure of this – maybe it was just hearsay. Lesson: Avoid Smoking & alcohol while on a trek.
            After a group photo at 3 pm, we started descending. Everybody was concerned of having to return by those slippery and exposed rock patches. Instead the guide took us from another route which was comparatively easier but also very long. There was an impromptu blood donation camp as the insects made the most of us. This steep route did not seem to end, for a while I thought I was descending Chanderi – thanks to the stream which gushed parallel to the path.
It was 5:30 pm and we were running late. It was still about an hour to get to base. So far it was an uneventful day and hence it was about time for something to happen. After all how is it possible for PHC trekkers to not lose the way? And so 33 members lost the way only because someone took a right turn instead of simply going forward! This definitely happened because there was a gap somewhere in the link. Thankfully we stayed together and soon figured out where we went wrong. Had the link not broken, we would’ve reached much earlier. Lesson: Always stay together. Ensure you remain in a visible/audible distance to the person in front and also the one behind you. If you feel the person ahead is hurrying or the person behind is lagging, call out the one in the front to stop for a while till the rest of the link catches up. Ideally, slow movers should be in the beginning and the speedy ones should be the last ones to descend. Avoid overtaking. Take care at diversions if you are leading, wait for others. Carry torches even for a day trek because the jungle is always dark and it is more so especially during monsoon.
By 7 pm we were at the base. But wait, Surprise... Surprise… this wasn’t Tandulwadi - It was Laalthane village. Tandulwadi was another 30-40minute walk on the tar road. The guide did not tell this to us. And we were too tired to bother to even ask him. After walking some distance, we decided that Jay & I would go ahead along with the guide and fetch the bus as others would wait behind (by local standards, 5 minutes equals at least another half hour). But the adventure wasn’t over for me and my friend. As soon as we reached Tandulwadi by a shortcut, we saw Nirved speeding off in his Innova. We shouted but to no avail. We realized they’ve taken along the bus too. Then we waited at shop at the base. To my dismay, my smart phone wasn’t starting up as water had crept in. The lady at the shop allowed us to make a call from her phone. I contacted Vicky and informed him to make the bus stop at Tandulwadi to pick us up. The guide was more concerned about his election card that he’d deposited in some guys bag {“Tumchi Bus azun yet ka nahiye?”} Lesson: Never take shortcuts in Life!
Just then we saw two orange lights appearing in the dark night. We ran towards it, but the bus did not stop in spite of us whistling and shouting. Bus#$%^&%&@#@!!! We got very angry. Thankfully I had a spare phone. I called up my friend Vicky to bring back the bus. But it was not possible for the bus to make a U-turn as it was a narrow lane. So we had to walk an extra 3-4 kms in the dark rainy night, with the guide more worried than us. Eventually we were united with the group. There was disappointing news for the guide: his election card was with Manish who’d already left in Nirved’s car. In the morning, while hiring the guide, he’d said he was happy with whatever we paid him, so the treasurer had paid him fifty bucks then. Now he requested to be paid more but his claim was rejected. I felt a bit sorry for him but then who was I to interfere, I thought.
After everyone had changed into dry clothes, we resumed our journey. With such a confusing spate of events taking place after the trek, it was time to grab a Dairy Milk. Later at about 10:30 pm I got down at Western Express highway, Andheri, along with a few FyBcom-ites and we took the Metro for Ghatkopar. So one of the several good things about the trek was I got my first ride in the Mumbai Metro! I got home by 11 pm.
In Life we all have some good or bad events. The bottom-line is to cherish the good ones and learn from the not so good ones. I’d once again thank PHC and Phadke Sir particularly for the wonderful trek experience. Cheers!!!

+Parin H Shah