It’s a noisy box!
No, It’s a noisy creaking box!
Nope, No, It’s a noisy creaking I-am-going-to-break-now box!
Indian sweetheart “Dil chahta hai” pulsates high volume through the skull candy into my ear drums, as I wake amnesiac and salivating…trying to recollect…
I am in a frigging train compartment!
Its early Saturday and I sail through the noisy rail in a dilapidated compartment to where…?
The outside world is in slumber as I look for the time.
My arms, still sleeping and won’t move…
The train lights flickering, dim and the overhead fans buzzing incessantly, meanwhile at distance I see a figure in black and white moving towards me.
Instantly, I feel a sudden sense of insecurity as I try very hard to move.
Finally, with my arms functional, I strain my eyes to see the wrist-watch reading 4:50 in morning and I woke undead.
I a vagabond soul had started its journey to …where?
I don’t know yet 😛
Deep sleep for about 30 minutes had erased the sense of time passage!
Besides me, I found my ever faithful friend.
He, the silent, the still, with an unfathomable patience to my oddity, my dear backpack!
In backpack my lifelines: A bottle of water and Marie biscuit.
It was still not day and I could see the gibbous moon, its calm light streaming through the night landscape flooding its silver grace over the idyllic landscape.
Especially to see the tall coconut trees and the minuscule village huts pass by speedily as the train rolls towards its destination.
There is something in travel, the mood goes beyond mere words, as if with disregard of destination, we exercising the degree of freedom.
Going somewhere, always on move, always about to reach that elusive destination.
Moving, traversing, dynamic!
The above may not make sense or has solid logic, but some things are past the domains of understandability.
Maybe that’s what the sane majority define as “Madness” and other minority, the “adventure”.
In this case, it’s being an nomadic adventurer :p
The thrill of seeing the world outside going backwards in direction as we escape the chains of city life has its own un-comparable high!
But what is this sense of unease bothering me?
What is the source to it that is disturbing me!
Why am I at unease in all this euphoria!
I try to recollect the past (on how I end up being in this train compartment)…
The night shift had just come to an end on Saturday 2:00 AM and I was full of week load of frustration.
The day had not gone smooth after a stormy altercation with my HR as we fought via shooting email arrows to each other.
Top of that, he had also called me to meet him on Monday in hopes of ruining my weekend.
Obviously, some other infernos souls at work also wanted me to do an overtime and shorten the weekend 😛
Work is their love, mine is just profession.
The overflowing irritation set the perfect fire to eject through the jail of cubicles and walls and set momentum to go someplace.
I shot away from the workplace and hired an auto outside.
Words shot out thoughtless to the auto driver: Pune station. NOW!
Speeding through the roads, all silent and no traffic I felt a sudden sense of freedom as cold air blasted through and flattened my hair backwards.
Zig , Zag, Zipping through concrete ribbons cloaked in night as I hastily reached Pune station.
I ran like anything reaching huffed, puffed at ticket counter only to find ticket counter personality snoring…
My oxygen deprived lungs were thoroughly disappointed over my vainful effort.
Still, I dint give up.
I needed escape.
I ran, breaking through the silent compartment to find Mahalaxmi express just leave…dammit…
In all this chaos, I ran through google and the only name that popped familiar in this legion of unfamiliarity was: Lonavala.
Okay, when is the next train..google…google…04:15 AM. Good enough.
Waited for the train on a desolate platform.
People sleeping on floor hither-tither, dogs patrolling the pavements…
Few shadowy figures moving , standing, looking….4:15, 5 minutes more, more,more… 4:20, 4:25…damn how much late…
Coooch…coooch coooch coooch….as a fresh breather the train finally arrives on platform and I get on a random compartment hastily, drop my bags and lose my consciousness to a nap…
As I divert from the past happenings and look at present, I realize my source of un-ease: The figure in black and white: The Ticket checker!
I had no travel ticket!
He was four seats away and a grumpy looking guy with thick glasses…
Adrenaline rushed as I threw my arms into action and sprang my heels hot!
Heart thudded as I tried as normal to pretend a walk away from him while my brain signaled legs to run!
I could feel his eyes on my back but I dare not turn back.
I skipped two compartments, hopping one to another to shake off tail.
In all this clutter, I stood, hanging, at the compartment gate, looking at the outside world, which was serene and peaceful.
The train went through rock tunnels, then came a typical village, with simplicity of life on display as the train went on speedily on tracks.
Occasionally, I would glance inside the compartment, scan for Mr. checker.
Suddenly the train started to lose momentum and slacked down as I saw a station approaching…it read: LONAVALA.
I got myself ready to get down, but the train refrained from stopping, but just travelling slowly passing the platform, only giving slight hint to my instincts: GET DOWN!
Suddenly the door connecting the other compartment opened as to my utter horror, I saw the familiar black coat with railway emblem making an entrance.
Jump and whoosh, I detached myself from the train and landed myself at Lonavala station as the train sped away leaving me at peace.
The watch read 5:40 in the morning and I was surrounded by the idyllic hill-station.
It is mid-July and Lonavala is at its best.
The twilight broke to reveal the grey-blue sky with orange streaks of the incomplete sun.
Emerald green valleys, heavy clouds looming, the sun shying to shine through the monsoon romance, the occasional chill , the odd drizzle, its FANTABULOUS!
I stroll down the misty platform onto the peaceful road exiting the station as I see a few shops outside, opening their shutters for beginning their day.
Lonavla is famous for its chikkis. Its a hard candy (called patti in delhi) with peanuts embedded in crystallized jiggery(Gur in hindi).
Strolling streets of lonavala without chomping on chikkis would be an incomplete experience!
The streets were narrow, small establishments with asbestos top, light fog as its about to be six in the morning as I see people starting their daily hum-drums.
I pull out my jacket as it starts to drizzle yet again.
The fog settles on the ground as streams of water effuse from nook and cranny…
Its still way too early morning for people to start business but the calmness is very touching.
I roamed through the streets branching into narrow streets and even narrower streets.
The terrain itself is not flat as neighboring housing colonies are way elevated than the others.
Green moss covers the trees shrouded in moss as leaves trickle the early morning dew.
The sky turned slowly into shades of crimson contrasting with the royal blue hue as the sun tried to make a timid entrance into the remaining night sky.
The hill tops at distant horizon became visible with misty peaks!
What an insurmountable temptation to scale those hills. Irresistible!
Never realized two hours had passed as I was lost in the beauty of city without thinking of the relevance of time.
Shop shutters opening, the rough rustle of busy brooms cleaning the streets, stoves firing themselves to feed hunger…so much stimulus in too less a time interval.
I warmed myself with another cup of chai and a vada pav shop that had just opened. I was the first customer in this cold morning, I bit a mouthful into hot smoking vada pav with a crunch of sizzling chilly!
Vada Pav and chai! What an energizing start to this calm morning.
But this calming experience was unlike me, I was again hunger for speed and thrill, a fast adventure!
That’s when after some stroll I found a group three young people discussing among themselves with great importance of matter.
I usually keep to myself but blame on that vada pav and chai, I had got this oodles of enthusiasm and confidence that I went straight to them and asked: Where are you guys heading to?
As If they were also waiting for the some more company as well. The response: Tiger’s point
Info: Tiger’s point or Tiger’s leap is a cliff-top with a sheer drop of about 700 mts, giving a charismatic view of the lonavala city.
As we people talked through, I came to know it was just a hotch potch group formed ad-hoc so that they could look around the place.
A mix of different people from different walks of life, all escapists, who ran away from the bustle of city life.
We went around the streets discussing things among ourselves and striking conversations with numerous unknown faces on our way, the gang grew larger to 5 people.
More interesting people adding to more interesting conversations!
We discussed all our adventures, fun stuff , et al.
But there was this un-spoken rule amongst us: ABSOLUTELY NO TALK ABOUT WORK or WORKPLACE.
The town had woken up by now and as we walked through the streets, it was almost everywhere one name on billboards: MAGANLAL CHIKKI.
We stormed into one of the shops and saw the plethora of varieties of chikki.
Though ground-nut and jaggery is the most common one, I tried the rose flavored and mango chikki.
These were unique in flavor and suited perfectly in this colorful , flamboyant town of Lonavala.
Then someone suggested going to Cooper’s which was famous for its chocolate fudge.
We reached the shop and saw this big frenzy of crowd all jostling for the same!
Cooper’s we quit you.
Back to the road, we booked a cab to the tiger’s leap. All of us jostled into the cab as the car started its ascent to the hill top.
We could see these amazing hills whose tops had vanished into the clouds and littered with brick roof houses in midst of those hills.
The town seemed just out of a fairy tale!
Round and round we went as the cab swayed extreme road curves, snake like route to the top of the hill.
Climbing higher and higher up the roads started to blur down with thick fog.
On one side towered the wet glazy black rock of the hill sprinkled with moss and algae and trickling with water streamlets.
On other side is fog that covered the deep valley. One wrong maneuver and whoosh, life will be gone.
Every turn of the road became treacherous as roads got even narrower.
Two cars, one climbing up, another in its descent , through one narrow road, both making a steep curve, while the other side of the road is valley so deep yet invisible to our eyes.
Yet, in all this uncertainty, people are so happy. Singing songs loudly, some just screaming on top of voices letting all frustration go!
Making loud whistles and waving hands!
All glowing, grinning, gleeful!
Some daredevils even strapped themselves on top of cars while the vehicles traversed the hilly roads.
Higher and higher we climbed, louder did our voices of grow, thicker the fog got, intense did the joy get and ahoy! we reach the cliff top!
Tiger’s leap reached.
Visibility was very low and cool drizzle was incessant.
Both sides, the road was only going down-hill which was an assurance that its the top.
Here it was, full of people, music in the air and high energy among people.
Some had the car headlights on and party full on with dance and drinks.
Other side were some families as well who were enjoying the nature peacefully.
Stark contrast of different people, with different ways to enjoy, all unifying on this foggy hill top as a weekend get-away.
We walked through the rough terrain kissed with this haze and sprinkled with dew over green grass and black rocks!
So nice, some people of the group were clicking pics, some sat down silent to feel the peace.
Next we saw some stalls serving hot potato fry and onion fries.
What a combination of these hot foods in this cold environment.
Though a bit on the costlier side, yet it was awesome!
And how can I forget the hot bhutta roasted over black coals rubbed with lime and sprinkled with salt and red chilly. Just Mouth Watering!
We bhuttas in our hands, we started to trek the unknown land.
Into the hills we saw ancient staircases covered with thick algae.
We climbed up those staircases in anticipation where they will lead to!
So dense the fog had become that nothing past three steps could be seen.
Both sides wild bushes and plants as the ground became more muddier and walking became difficult.
The stairs then suddenly dropped when we stopped in out tracks, the stairway had given way to a large chasm of which the bottom was no longer visible.
Across the chasm was an idyllic house in the middle of nowhere. I wanted to know, who must be staying here in this isolated, desolate place.
Unable to cross further, we called off and went back to the cab.
Now, we started journey to the opposite side of downhill, over to Bushi dam.
The cab sped on its own as it started rolling downhill.
The drop in altitude was staggering as the intensity of fog indeed reduced.
By this time it was about twelve noon.
The downhill roads gave way to broader flatter ones as we reached the foot of the hill and the weather had become more sunny.
Here, it was a bumpy ride as the roads were muddy and rocky as we reached Bushi dam.
First thing I saw here was how people make a fortune by looting money for parking. Simply stupendous!
Anyway, we got off the car and here it was all full of mud and slosh of water as we could hear the water scream but the dam remained cloaked from our vision.
Following the herd of crowd we reached the entrance of Bushi dam.
We reached a dim tunnel that lay entrance to the slushy overflowing road to the dam.
On that enclave in one side, were people storming into stalls selling slippers to stop slipping on slippery staircases that lead up to bushy dam.
On the other side were steaming grills of fishes, chicken rolls sold hot and spicy, kebabs and a gamut of other condiments to overload the taste buds.
I had steaming hot chicken leg pieces and fish fillet while others had aaloo and onion fries.
Some slipped into slipper proof slippers and we put our feet into the water.
Damn, extreme cold this muddy water was as we search the ground beneath the water and plunged knee deep into it.
As if the entire body went rigid.
Makes sense why to have all those hot nourishment just before plummeting into this frosty flood.
We held each other’s arms as the ground was not level at all with sudden depths and uncertain rises to it.
Plus that the water had a certain force to it and a certain resistance that was preventing us to move forward.
Bushi dam was now a visibility and in its glory as it overflowed with water.
No more was the fog before us but the sky was pitch black and startled us with sudden thunder.
The stairs up to the dam’s brim was pouring with water with force.
Yet people sat on the stairs, frolicking and joyous!
So noisy and full of clatter, here was a sizable chunk of public all lost in watery intoxication!
Just as we were to reach the staircase, one of my the group mates lost his slippers. They had slipped away from him 😛
No time to be sad and relent, we carried on, cutting through the force of water as we laid our feet on the staircases.
Damn, really slippery they are.
With constant flow of water and a thick coat of algae to it, it surely is a risky walk here!
I now started my climb on top of dam, as other started to roll on staircase immersing themselves in water.
Other people had radios and speakers that they played on full volume as guys danced topless!
Some couples splashing water on each other while others just screaming and singing at top of their voice.
Kids, adults in bermudas, women in sarees, salwar suits , families, couples, bachelors, spinsters all were here.
A melting potpourri of madness, overwhelming joy!
The clouds now started to thunder.
Within half a minute did the visible horizon vanish as black clouds descended.
Heavy downpour started and the Bushi dam water flow became all too overwhelming.
Within few seconds the water flow increased to devilish velocities as it became difficult to hold ground on stairs.
Some tried to dare the force with all four limbs yet gave up all too soon.
This was no longer play and becoming all to perilous as we slowly backed off the water.
Here, I witness, another side of nature. What was playful and full of glee, can also be so overwhelmingly powerful!
We humans really are marshmallows to nature. Perishable, any time.
Minutes ago what was a water fun is now having people fleeing and scurrying away.
We stood on side rocks that flocked both sides of the staircases under a shack which was a stall of pakoda seller.
Ordering few chilli and aaloo pakodas , standing under shared umbrellas did we watch tufts of speeding water as we munched merrily on the crunchies in this heavy rain.
Finally after some time, we decided to move back.
We reached our cabbie point only to find him no-where.
Thankfully we dint leave anything in the cab.
But damn, where did he go!
In all this rain, thunder and torrent, we took shelter under a wine shop.
Whatever the weather be, a wine shop is always open. Always on profit!
We had a few beers and sat at the footsteps of the shop oscillating between the mood of happiness over the journey to annoyance over the absconding cab driver.
The rain had slowed down by now there was an eerie silence as if the day itself has been finished with the rain.
Some of the group members were asleep on the stairs whereas others were jabbering on phone, others just into themselves, their silence.
One of the guys got us hot Maggi from a nearby seller and it was excellent in this cold weather.
Just as we thought how to go back on our ways that the cabbie called us.
He had found himself a safer place to park his vehicle in the heavy rain, we all annoyed with him shoved a piece of mind into his wits.
He came hurriedly as we beings, tired in soul and body limped into the cab and started for Pune.
We passed through the Bushi dam road and passed through the Lonavala lake. We could see people flocking the sides of the lake as evening sky had started to hit.
Speeding through the roads, greenery on both sides, flat broad roads, the cab windows open and a beer can in hand, what more could be asked!
Sky was turning darker shades of grey and blue , while the greenery faded to black.
Roads were shining with the constant light rains and we savored the clashing cold air, our minds free, our voices loud again.
There was this inebriation in this cool moist rain weather with sharp winds or maybe it’s the beer :p
Then, the cab suddenly slowed down as we came to realization of horror why!
With Hats on head, white shirt, grey pants, belly inflated, military haircut with fake ray-ban glasses donned in dim evening they waved the engine down.
The guy locked the car ignition, took the key, took the driver sideways and was blabbering loudly at him.
Thankfully we had the wits not to drive by ourselves else we would have been screwed.
Wait, is the driver drunk as well? It better be not!
After a few minutes of squabble and inspection, they finally let go us.
He was sober after all which is why we are on our way soon.
There was no stopping now.
No turning back.
The landscape sped away fast.
Speed-speed-speed as we turned for the old Mumbai-Pune highway and went through the flyover to connect to the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
The sky was black now and all we saw were hazy vehicle lights and their reflections on rain drenched roads.
We guys chattered our way to home, lost in buzz of beer, talking to others about all from girlfriend to forever alone situations to love lost to even forbidden topic WORK!
Got to know a couple of them were from my firm as well.
Well, its a huge firm so its OK I have never seen their faces.
We got down at our individual stops, paid our bills, said the last thank yous, good byes and parted.
The heady beer buzz was washing away and being replaced by fatigue as I dragged myself home across the street.
Wet, drenched, thoroughly enjoyed, I was a soul happy and content.
Then, something suddenly struck, that guy’s familiar name- my company- Human Resources department.
Unknown to each other we all were such a cohesive gang.
That is the same guy that intended to ruin my weekend :p
Wait, did I tell my name too? I cannot remember!
Wonder what Monday will bring.
I looked above, it was evening sky and still raining in Pune.
The rain drops seemingly moving slow in their fall.
The Saturday evening had just begun.
People frolicking chat stalls, some eating vada pav at the corner, gulping soda while some bargaining at grocery shops,
Others enjoying coffee, some sandwiches.
Yet others smoke through the moist evening.
Another group of youngsters’ chit chatting on the pavement.
All too happy!
The city lights looked diffused and there was this enthusiasm of life and sound in the air.
The mood of evening was surreal.
Entering my room, the pillow and warm bed looked all too inviting.
I jumped into the bed and plummeted into unconsciousness.
What a Journey it has been!