Last Saturday, our office gang of seven, set off towards Torna. Two people in the group were what we could call trek-virgins and the rest of us were on-off trek enthusiasts. This group of people is as diverse as diverse can get : ages ranging from 30 to 60, there’s a mixture of different cultures, religions and experiences that adds a unique flavour to our everyday conversations. No matter how much you love your work, we all have those down-days. On so many such days in these past few years, this lunch table has been my sanctuary. Those spirited conversations spanning the widest range of issues over a shared meal are always the highlight of my day.
We started out that day at 5 am in the morning and were at the base village of Velhe by 7:30 am. Roshan and I traveled in one car up to the base village as we were traveling from the same side of the city and rest of the group took another route altogether. This (below) is a point in our journey where we stopped to enjoy the sunrise. I was the self-appointed DJ of our car and so we played Kishore Kumar all the way up barring the exception of this magical cover of ‘Isharon Isharon me’ by three supremely talented artists. Transcendent performance.
#Fair warning : That song is addictive. You listen to this once and the next thing you know is that it’s been playing in a loop over 50 times through the day.
By the time we got there, all others had reached and taken care of the most essential business item on our agenda -ordering chai and poha. I do not like that sev thing on the top but by the time I got there, all plates had been garnished with it. Anyway, we had a nice long breakfast, ordered our lunch in advance and started out towards the Fort.
I remember the last time I climbed Torna. It was with a couple of office friends from EEEC in the month of October. I remember this trek distinctly because it was the first time I’d come close to giving up mid-way through a climb. (This and Kalavantin Durg ,of course but that was a different story altogether). Torna is a deceptive climb because after about an hour and a half of climbing, you think you’ve gained sufficient altitude, reached the mid-way point and you’re happy because you can see the top of fort clearly now. But that’s when this killer of a climb actually begins. And the October heat certainly did nothing to ease our misgivings about reaching the top. This picture below was that dreaded mid-point (October, 2008)
Back to 2017, here we are approaching the same mid-point. But here’s the spoiler, the government has now built a road up to this mid-point. There’s a designated space where you park your cars, start climbing and within 15 minutes you reach the mid-point. This took away those initial 1.5 hours of climbing which was the most exhausting part of the climb. Kind of disappointing! So by all measures, Torna this time, was an easy climb.
Torna is also known as ‘Prachandagad’– the word prachanda in marathi means ‘huge’. The hill has an elevation of 1,403 metres (4,603 ft) above sea level, making it the highest hill-fort in Pune district.
My favorite part of the trek both times has to be this ridge that connects the mid-point and the Torna Fort. The valley views on both sides of the ridge are spectacular and the wind…ah, the strong free-flowing gusts of wind that grace this ridge! It was invigorating. This (pic below) is me making Roshan do an ‘aeroplane’ pose for a picture. :)
Striking the evergreen Bollywood hero pose…perfect for windy ridges. :)
View of the Padmavati lake from the ridge.
Finally, we reached the top of the Baale Killa! It took us 2.5 hours to reach the top – the climb was peppered with plenty of breaks and photo-ops along the way.
We spent an hour exploring the fort. This below is the famous Zunzar Machi. I remember it much greener from my last climb but it’s an iconic image of this fort nonetheless.
One my friends on seeing the pictures of this trek asked me, ‘Why would you want to climb in this season when the forts are all dry and barren? Just looking at mountains like this makes me sad, inspires a sense of loss’. I never thought of it this way. I mean, there’s no denying how glorious these mountains look during the monsoons but they’re no less alluring and beautiful in other seasons. At least not to me. But I get her point, look at this shot Zunzar Machi from the 2008 trek.
After enjoying snacks and goodies from everyone’s lunch packets, spending an hour exploring the fort, we started to climb down. This was the last stretch of the trail (pic below). Vilas and I had a tall glass of limbu sharbat at the big tree ahead and waited for everyone else to come down to the car parking.
We were back to the base village by about 2 PM and our delicious lunch was waiting for us! There are only two vegetarians in this group, rest everyone had their chicken and prawns with unparalleled joy! I don’t understand why in Maharashtra the non-vegetarian thali looks so deprived. It has no vegetables, no dal, no sweet dishes or even papad. It’s like …”Thou hath animals on the plate; thou shall not seek any other food!” :) Okay, that was a stretch but yeah, one look at the vegetarian thali (below) and the attempt at over-compensating is abundantly clear. Anyway, worked out well for me because I don’t eat sweets at all nor am I a fan of the papad so I was happy to outsource these to the ogling eyes around the table. :)
On our way back, we had a brief stop-over for tea and we were all back home by about 6:30 pm. The trek virgins cribbed about the tea break and how it was not really necessary. At which point, I had to launch into a mini-speech on cherished trek protocols. Stuff like – pohe in the morning and chai on the way back – these are basic elements of a trek day. These are sacrosanct and must not be tampered with. :)
This below, is probably the only group picture, we have with all of us in the frame. I was introduced to this amazing, fun group of people at lunch on my first day at work here. Five years ago. Interesting thing is that two people in this group aren’t even a part of Thermax anymore but the camaraderie remains intact. We meet for dinners, movies and treks and have a blast every time we’re together. It’s nothing short of a blessing to be surrounded by such folks at work.
I came across this quote a few years ago and my thoughts instantly went to this group of people. And I felt good about it.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ― Jim Rohn
If this is true, then I’m in very good company indeed. :)