We last left our heroes on the perilous slopes of Mount Purandar. They are a mite perplexed on being told that they're standing on an invisible fort. So they proceed to a hall containing a mythical map that is supposed to answer all their questions. Will "X" mark the spot, or are their adventures just beginning? Read on to find out more!
We dutifully made our way to the hall. We did see a map (covered by graffiti) behind a statue of Shivaji. Looking at it, it indeed looked like we were on the fort itself. The mystery deepens. What about that temple that is an hour's trek from the fort? Behind the hall we saw a huge rock outcrop on top of a hill even higher than where we were. We reasoned that since we were already on the fort, and since the temple was supposed to be the highest point in Purandar, it must be on the rock, as we could see no higher points in the vicinity. We decided to get to its top - a decision we regretted for every minute of our climb upwards.
Several trails we took - all of them ending either with the trail narrowing to a few nanometers, or bees, wasps, spiders and other human unfriendly creatures stopping us. We also saw the bones of dead animals eaten by leopards and tigers. Of course, it might just have been the shells of some weird fruits we saw hanging on some bushes there, but that possibility is small. Several times we decided to go back. But every time we would see a new trail, and curiosity - the thing that killed the cat - and pride - that deadly sin - kept us going. A thought was starting to worry me.
"Do you know how to get back?"
"Eh, no. But that doesn't matter. We can see that statue on the ground over there. We can make our way to something as long as we can see it."
It seemed to me that there was something wrong with that logic. We'd been seeing that blasted rock above us for about 2 hours, without getting us anywhere near it. It was an unpleasant train of thought, though. There was no point following it.
To cut a long story short, after more twists and turns than we cared to count, we reached the top. It was beautiful. There was the rock hanging there right above us. There were some steps-like thingies that looked like the seats of an open-air theatre leading up to it. And a hell of a view, as well. No temple, though. Our reasoning faculties working overtime, we concluded that the temple must be on the rock itself. There was no question of us actually climbing that rock, but we saw a trail going up around one side of it. We took it. This was a trail that had a huge vertical face of the rock on one side, a valley on the other - and it was all of a foot wide. It looked like only a few goats, and Spiderman - on a good day - had ever used it. I had on a pair of "hiking shoes", that was about as grippy as wet ice. It was a lot of fun.
To cut another long story short, that trail lead nowhere. It just went on and on. After some time, we just gave up, sat down, and had lunch. At least Ashwin did. I hadn't had any breakfast, either, but starving was better than eating potato-chips sandwiches. We were tired and hungry. The sun was beating down on us. We didn't want to take that trail back. We started searching for helicopter rescue services on our phones. We didn't find any. We called up an old friend of ours, instead, and taunted her a bit. This done, we felt a lot better and made our way back. No number of words can express our joy on reaching the end of the trail that ran on the side of the rock, and reaching a proper trail - that had only a few bees, wasps and spiders to worry us - back down to the statue. This we did, and began to make our way back to the car. We reached that fork in the road again (where we had taken the right to avoid the kids), and out of morbid curiosity, took the road on the left.
We met some people there who told us that the correct way to the fort was to take that road until we saw a canteen, and then, behind it, the trail to the fort started. We saw people going up and down the trail. I don't know what that map back in that hall was all about (most likely, our map-reading abilities are on par with our highway-sign reading abilities), but now that we "saw all", we realised that the rock that we thought the temple was on had been the back portion of the fort, and we couldn't enter it, of course, because the entrance was up this trail that we saw people using. Logical, too. No point in building a fort and then allowing people who climb up any side of the hill to get inside it. We even saw the temple.
Ever been to the Taj Mahal? Me neither. But my point is, imagine that you did try to go there. But because some kids were there in the correct route, you took some other road, and ended up at its back entrance, or something. No way to go in. But you don't know you're at the back entrance because there's a deserted hall there with a map that says you're in Taj Mahal proper. Having no proof to the contrary, you believe it. "Isn't there more?", you still wonder. "It looks so different in pictures." And then, on your way back, when it's too late, you see its front in all its glory - from a distance. "Oh, there's the entrance," you say. "And that garden. And those other thingies." And you say, "Oh well, such is life. Besides, to a true traveller, it is the journey that matters and not the destination."
Anyway, thinking these thoughts we walked back, and saw a gate from which we were supposed to have entered. It seems we missed that too while coming up, and had taken a kind of detour through the army camp - typical for the day. We walked down that trail a bit, and as we didn't know how to reach our car down that way, walked back up to the gate. A gentleman standing at the gate thought we were nuts. He sees these 2 chaps enter through one entrance and then promptly turn around and head for a second exit. "Err, the fort's that way," he said, pointing up. We smiled sadly, explained a bit and were on our way.
We reached Pune at around 3:45 PM, and had a bit of lunch at Polka Dots (my first meal for the day). As a general rule, in movies, guys who return from perilous expeditions get to jump into the arms of girlfriends who look like Liv Tyler. Well, that's why they don't make movies about software engineeers. In our field, women who look like Liv Tyler - oh, forget the looks, ANY women - are about as common as a Rahul Dravid reverse sweep is. Amazing sleep, though. About 12 hours of it. A lot of good photos, as well, from the trip.
P.S. - Here's a link to Ashwin's album for Purandar. He has shamelessly appropriated some of my photos, though.