The very first sight that I had of the hills standing right in front of my house had made me long to go there - it was the monsoon season, and the hills were covered with several waterfalls flowing down their steep slopes. Tempting though the sight was, it was only sheer coincidence that brought me to scale to the top of these majestic hills.
With two holidays following one another, I was feeling impatient to go out and relax myself in the open air, under the sun. For what better way to spend a holiday than to be out exploring the world around, taking in new sights and experiences, and letting the world soak into you! A complete exercise for the body, mind, and soul.
The plan was to go cycling toward the countryside, a plan which, like the fate of all plans, came to nil as there were no bikes available on rent. I therefore decided to go walking, considered by Hippocrates to be man's best medicine. Hiring a vehicle to reach a place called Akurli where the foot of the hills was located, I set on my journey on foot.
A few steps ahead brought me to a bifurcation from where I took the the left route passing around the hills toward a farm and a village. Spotting a small pond right below the hills, I decided to go and have a look. This brought me face to face with the main hill that stood right over the main road I had been on. There were two more hills adjacent to it, and together they made up an imposing structure, at once challenging the human will to come and conquer it.
Moving closer to the base of the main hill, I spotted a man herding buffaloes along the middle of the hill on the right and coming down in my direction. I meet him on the course, and he advised me, after inquiring as to what shoes I had on, to climb the hill headlong, taking the zig-zag routes.
The paths cut across the entire slope of the hill from right to left in a complex pattern, and with cowdung scattered across them, it looked as if these routes had been formed by animals grazing across the hill slopes. The routes were narrow enough to let a man walk with caution, so I wondered how a four-legged animal could have followed such routes.
The climb was not difficult, and I soon reached a place more than halfway toward the peak to take some rest. The view of the surroundings was a welcome sight - the area I has travelled through was a vast plane surrounded on its three sides by imposing mountain peaks. The countryside consisted of small, haphazardly cleared fields with no distinct pattern, and randomly located trees spread across the terrain. Cutting across the plan was the highway, all along its route spotted by a sprawling series of concrete buildings, some still under construction. Several river tributaries, I counted four of them, flowed through the plane at a distance, merging into a big stream further down their course.
I continued to climb the slope, and had to often stop and decide which way to turn, sometimes retreating back on reaching a dead end. I had now about a quarter of the hill more to climb and was on its left side when I spotted three men in colorful clothes climbing the hill on the left. They were following a clear footpath that led stright to the top of that hill. This egged me on to take the steep slope that lay right over me, and with a hurried pace I finally reached the summit, the entire climb taking about fortyfive minutes.
The fresh breeze and a gentle sun shining from above refreshed my spirits, and my immediate decision was to spend the whole day exploring the hilly surroundings, much like Lucy Gray of Wordsworth, except that the grass cover had been burnt down all over the hills to allow fresh sprouts to come out quickly. I often thought of the time when, coming back from touring the Lake District, I wanted to go climb over the lush English hills, the same hills Wordsworth had described, but the Winderemere lake, with its ice-cold water had stopped me right on its banks. I did try to cross the lake, but an English lady had yelled from behind, knowing well that the cold water would have soon paralysed my feet, as I could already feel its numbing effect on my limbs.
What at first sight appeared to be a couple of hills were actually a complex of six to seven hills, with their tops interconnected. I travelled from one hill top to another, taking a look at the village that lay on the other side and where the road I had initially taken led. I heard loudspeaker annoncements of names of people, and it turned out to be a religious ceremony as I later heard verses being recited. The village was a very close knit complex of huts, hugging each other, with red brick tiles as roofs, a kind of early British style of making temporary houses in India.
The most breathtaking sight now lay in front of me. I saw huge peaks at some distance away, which had been weathered to take the form of giant inverted funnel-like structures, much like some of the temples in South India. There were two of these, and their shapes appeared to be perfectly chiseled, and reminding me of the Liverpool cathedral in its majestic and stoic appearance. I guess these to be the same hills I often saw while by train from Bombay to Pune.
As I stood on top of the hill, I was surprised to see a man approaching me from the hill that lay ahead. I tried to engage him in a conversation, but he was reticient, and told me the name of the village was Aregram, and that there was a village on top of the hill he had descended from.
One final task remained to be completed before I left this hill to explore the adjacent one where I had seen the three men, and this was to leave some mark of my having been there. I had no sharp object to create scratch marks. Spotting a sleek and slender piece of stone that looked much like a milestone, half buried inside the ground, I lifted some heavy stones lying nearby and put them in a circle around this milestone. Over the milestone, I fixed another piece of stone, and under the heaviest piece in the circle, slipped empty packings of chips and bread I had carried with me. It now looked much like a primitive temple of lord Shiva.
It was time now to go ahead to the next hill following the well formed footpath. Looking at these foot-stamped routes, it was evident that the hills were regularly visited by people who went along these routes with goats and buffaloes, some of which I could see grazing upon the hills.
The way to this footpath carried another surprise. A small portion of land had been marked out with tall bamboo strips with saplings growing inside. Nearby, a tricle of water coming down from the hill had been stopped with a small dam, creating a small pond surrounded with large stones. Some clothes, firewood, and utensils lay on the ground. This was a primitive shelter, a resting place of someone trying to build a small farm on this piece of land.
I crossed over the shelter to take the footpath that went straight up to the top of the hill. This stretched me to the extreme, and with my legs refusing to go any further, I had to sit down to rest for a while. Finally I emerged on top of the hill, and was surprised by the vastness of the area, for what appeared to be a pointed top was large enough to contain several big fields. Walking across this plane, the sight of a village welcomed me — this was probably the village the man I met earlier had spoken of.
Approaching the houses, built in the same red-brick style, all closely hugging each other, I emptied my water bottle so that I had a valid cause to justify interfering with such a secluded place. I stopped at the entrance, and saw several men, women, and children standing in the way. A young boy cautiously approached me, smiled and inquired if I had come from the town, to which I replied yes. He then asked me if I needed water to drink. I took out my bottle and had it filled up. Seeing this crowd standing right ahead of me, I felt a bit shy, smiled, and kept quite, which some of them found amusing. I decided to leave the place, asking what it was called and which way I could climb down. The place was called Vaghra. I was shown across the village to a footpath which I followed. It led to another small cluster of huts where I saw some children and young men playing marbles. I spend a good half an hour or more watching them play, with some young girls and women watching the game from the sidelines.
I was impressed by the beauty of one woman, with a small baby in her arms. Her slender figure was graced with a full bosom, and immediately attracted attention. Some young adolescent girls sat under the tree, but lacked charmng features. Feeling that the group was now tired of my presence, for they made no attempt to interact, and made snide remarks on the sidelines making me feel quite unwelcome, I decided to leave for the day. I asked one of the players, the most vocal of them, to show me the way down, which he did. Before leaving, I told him the purpose of my visit, inquired about him, and thanked him in English, to which he replied in English as well.
The way down was steep, and right at the start lay a small water hole used by the villagers to fetch water. A young woman happened to be present, and I stopped and kept looking at her, which frightened her to leave her belongings and climb up the way, pretending to be searching for something. She soon came back, followed by a woman carrying a baby and two girls who then accompanied me right to the bottom of the hill.
The visit to the hills was quite unplanned, and made for a refreshing change to the daily grind of the past few months. Though the trip was meant for me to relax in the countryside and get some exercise, scaling the hills and discovering a village habitation over them was a pleasant surprise, and I am still left wondering how old this habitation is, and what kind of life its inhabitants live, without electricity, clean water, or easy access to city amenities. I plan to revisit the hills, and my primitive temple located right over the highest peak.