Prologue: I visited Naneghat recently, and this incident that happened on my first visit came back to me in complete detail. Penning it down with due permission from R, my friend whom you will read about in the next few paragraphs.
The year was 2010, the holy month of Ramazan was underway. During the week I had eaten like a glutton at Mohd Ali and on the same weekend I set off on a trek to the ancient trade route of Naneghat with 11 other trekkers. Located in the beautiful Murbad region, not far from Bombay. The trek was long and indeed taxing because the rains had evaded us. We ran out of water and collected water from streams running down the walls of the rocks. But once at the peak, we forgot all our tiredness and enjoyed a sumptuous biryani with views of Jivdhan and a lot of laughter for company.
The descent was pretty much the same as any other trek; but we were looking forward to soaking ourselves in the second stream that we had encountered on our way to the top. It had rained in the meantime and the stream which earlier had looked promising was going to be a lot of fun. We rushed towards it and finally settled down, soothing our tired limbs in the cool, gushing water. But one of our friends, lets call him R decided to walk back to the bus and wait for us there instead.
The bus was barely a kilometer away from the stream and the arrow marks en-route made it possible to navigate your way back. So, I gave him the green signal and asked him to notify me as soon as he reached the bus. Most of the group sat in the water for some more time before resuming the retreat. The sun had already set and it was the twilight hour. The clouds at the peak cleared out.
I saw the magnificent Nanacha Aanghtha jutting out majestically, we recalled the moments spent there just a few hours ago and a sense of accomplishment overtook all of us. However, halfway into the final leg, I received a call from R saying that he was unable to locate the bus and was walking straight ahead in the direction of the road. I told him to continue as eventually he would come to the main entrance, for, there were no other routes.
Nevertheless, I rushed back to the bus and on boarding it, found it to be empty. There was no sign of R, anywhere. I rang up him again and he told me that he was not sure where he was. This was not good, I said to myself as I found myself dumping my bag and returning back into the forest.
Folks familiar with Naneghat must be aware of the initial first few meters, it is a walk on a flat meadow like region until the streams start to appear, from where the route ascends gradually to the top. I retreated my steps, running at first and then slowing down as I reached further in. On my left was a dense forest while on the right, a deep gorge plunged into the valley. The stream that we had sat in flowed like a mighty river through this gorge. Descending down that steep slope was not possible for goats too and it was largely left alone by the locals.
I trudged up towards the peak and rang up R once again. I asked him to tell me his location with respect to the peak but the clouds had returned and it was difficult to pinpoint the direction of the peak. We then decided to rely upon the age-old A-O call. I shouted A-O as loudly as I could, and immediately heard R’s reply somewhere towards the north. It definitely was coming across from the gorge but it was muddled by the sound of the stream. Since I hadn’t seen a route to get there, it was unlikely that he would’ve been in the gorge. I tried to peer over through the dense foliage but couldn’t see any sign of him. I started climbing up, passing the second stream, to gain some higher ground for a better view.
There was only one fear in my head, of losing him to the darkness, as the light was quickly fading and we had to meet fast. I reached higher and shouted again, but his reply seemed to resound from all directions and pinpointing its source direction became difficult. I called him again but the phone calls were meaningless because we couldn't convey much through them. I then decided to conserve battery(for the small flashlight on my phone, just in case) and retreated back to the stream.
I stood there for a few moments, the gushing sound of the water punctuated the silent atmosphere. The birds had gone back to their nests and the insects of the night were soon to wake up. I tried to rewind the farewell scene with R that I had experienced a few minutes ago. I called out a desperate A-O (to which I didn’t get any reply) and just by instinct decided to walk downstream and instead of walking on the right, walked along the left bank of the stream. The normal route goes past the right bank and turns sharply to the right and follows a straight path. However, the stream widened just after that bend, turning into a menacing river and the left bank only kept going farther apart from the other bank. I had crossed over and I had no intentions of leaving this one stray route unchecked before seeking more help.
So I trudged along, and gave out another A-O and heard a faint reply, that seemed to emanate downstream. My heart was beating faster, it could’ve been an echo, it could’ve been my imagination but I had to rely on this, the last lead that I had. I increased my pace, my trusted Converse shoes were now slipping on the muddy bank but I kept walking on. And I kept shouting, and the response kept getting clearer.
I then whipped out my phone and instructed R to follow my voice. But it was confusing for him too. He told me that he had entered the forest and moved away from the river. So, I asked him to retrace his steps. I was hoping desperately that he had not moved too deep in the forest to have lost his way to the river. I rushed further as the light continued to fade, the day was slowly being swallowed by the night. And the level of the water seemed to be rising.
I called out to him once more and sure enough I heard him, barely 10 meters away. And slowly through a small clearing in the bushes, emerged R. I rushed to him and we shook hands and hugged. But this was not over. The river had to be crossed and we found a spot where it was narrower than the other parts, so helping each other we managed to scramble onto the other side. The main route lay above the steep incline, which we decided to skip and walked back to the point where he had strayed off the path. At the same spot where a few minutes ago, I had made the decision to take the left bank, at the same spot where I had rested my tired limbs a few more minutes ago.
We got onto the main track and had a good laugh over the entire incident, the light was out, the night was the queen. The stars were twinkling as we made our way to the bus where our fellow trekkers eagerly waited for us! In complete darkness, we walked along two trekkers, two friends, united by an adventure! He confessed that at a point he was scared but following his survival instinct, he had already scouted for a spot to spend the night! We reached the bus within a few minutes to a host of sighs of relief and we were soon zipping onto the NH-222 on the way back to our warm homes. But R insisted that we stop over for a quick round of chai and misal pav and it was going to be his treat! At the highway hotel, we ate and we laughed and marvelled at the day that it had been! Naneghat, since then remains close to my heart.
Epilogue: Since Naneghat 2010, I have visited the ghat twice and it still holds the same charm for me. R, on the other hand treks with us, as and when his Marathon-running schedule permits! On a recent trek to Visapur, we both joked over this incident and he gave me the go-ahead to pen it all down.
It is a lesson worth learning for both trek organisers as well as trekkers. The forest is an enchanting place to be but exercising due caution and according safety of others and self should always be the first priority!