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Risk vs Adventure

Risk vs Adventure

Someone asked yesterday whether I’ve ever set out on a kayak trip and not reached my destination.

I told her that there was a time I was foolish and I almost didn’t make it back home.

Bringing us to our trip yesterday. Shanj has been pestering me to go Waterfall Rappelling with her. So we looked at the options, and chose the most adventurous one. 400 feet. Or 40 storeys high! We read through it, and it looked great. The group looked young and eager, they had an online presence and even had their own payment gateway. The trifecta. We booked it and I did my usual bit of inviting people to join us.

In our light hearted revelry, we looked past the trip organizer(Mr. D from hereon) getting a little hot-and-bothered when I added two numbers for one person on the whatsapp group.

Suraj Singh has never backed down from something rash and outdoorsy. Often, to his and my, detriment. Little did we know, the jinx would continue. So here we are, awake at 5:30 a.m. on our way to Lonavla. Suraj in shotgun, Sleepy Shanj staying true to her name in the back. It’s a lovely, uneventful ride and we reach Lonavla station ahead of the others.

Trying to reach Mr. D, he emerges from said station and beckons Suraj in the way you’d beckon coolies at railway stations where coolies are beckoned sharply. I’ve never beckoned anyone undeserving-ly, so I can’t empathize with Mr. D. Suraj looks like one who’s had a punch thrown at him before he’s in the ring.

We huddle in our Tata Sumos, too many pickles in a jar. We chalk it up to the thrills of an adventurous weekend and move on. The ride takes us past Della Adventures, that place you go to walk a dog for a price. I’m pretty sure the guy who used to wash my car charges money the other way around, but hey, Thrills, yes?

The road is the kind of peaceful that you’d expect in warn torn Afghanistan, but the beauty is breathtaking. Everything is lush green. Knee high grass rolls for miles on plateaus that stretch evenly on hills. Every near vertical face has a stream and the mist wafts in and out to show you the spectacle and then take it away. The light drizzle paints a nice Northern-Europe-summer weather.

We alight at the camp site, just in time to see a bunch of guys fully kitted and on a war path. Harness, helmets and selfies. They are ready to Kill it! And we’ve barely touched base. But then again, languid is a style, and we are acing it this Sunday. We reach and immediately set upon our first task – Poha. Or polishing it off. Suraj has already betrayed this is his first time rappelling and he doesn’t know the technique. I’ve rappelled when I was 13, so safe to say, I’m no one to show him the ropes. But I’m confident someone here will.

We have a small huddle, and Mr. D introduces himself. He’s filling in for someone who can’t be here for personal reasons. Then after telling us said reasons(Weren’t they personal D?), he asks us to introduce ourselves. We learn that we have a physically blind participant! Woah. It’s his second rappelling attempt too! Shortly after we’ve forgotten what the first guy said, I expect the safety briefing. Or a discussion on how to do it. Shanjali laughs. What does this mean? Is there an inside joke? I don’t follow.

What also doesn’t follow is all of us getting harnesses. Of which there are only 12. There are 18 of us. So, all that about – ‘only 15 people in a group’ that I’ve been hearing has been for my ears only? In tour-operators-with-payment-gateways we trust. Three of us, one of the girls and a couple are the only guys who haven’t suited up. Surely now we will get a little hands on training.

No. Now we march. Into the mouth of hell. Rode the 600.  (Tennyson) Very fittingly, we are lost in 15 minutes. Our makeshift guide / Mr. D doesn’t know where the waterfall is. And the walkie talkie is at the waterfall. So we wait. Ours not to question why. Finally, a local points us in the right direction. Down a slipper path, where the firmness of our soles and the softness of the tush is tested.

It’s arguably the funnest part so far. A good 35 minutes later, we arrive at the waterfall. And it’s beautiful. Green hills all around, and the rushing sound of water falling 400 feet. The mist can get thick enough to turn everything around us white in seconds, and the rain makes it all the more beautiful. Then it rains. And then some more. And the 15×15 feet, slippery, moss covered, inclined patch that 35 of us are on, is turned into a gloomy, cold, wet island, cut off by the windy twigs on one end and a nice long fall on the other.

The other group have already started their descents. We are waiting for our instructions. Yeah, not happening. I was just joking. We are received by the guy who will drop us over the edge today, Mr. T (For Talwalkars, cos he is built like a rock. Like one of those big rocks, the kinds you use to crush smaller rocks. If one of those has been having a Whey protein every day of it’s big rock life.) He’s out there on the edge. I mean, literally on the edge, with no safety line, just strapping on people and sending them over. You’d have to be a different kind of brave to be out there, wedging yourself on a rock overhanging 400 feet into green nothingness and hauling rope up for 18 people a day in This weather.

Anyway, this is the part where we wait. And wait we do. Our line is moving quicker than our better prepared friends. But we do the math, and figure that we are here for a while. It’s 11 when we get there. Even at 15 minutes per person, it’s going to take till 3:30 to get us all down. And that’s a big If.

Reality Kicks in.
We have nothing to do here but lie and wait. I think it was Milton who said that. So we do. It’s sitting, shifting, standing, waiting. Raining. Raining. Cold wind cutting in for kicks and things are slowing up. While things look slow but steady for the guys to our left, I notice that we are not being efficient. A pulley used for our belay line is not being used anymore. Straight off the carabiner. That’s odd, no? As I stare at it(What do you do when you’re wet, cold and have nothing to do) I see a big knot come up. Odd place to put a knot. But no one seems to think on it, so I put it out of my mind.

But it’s taking us longer now. The anxious are standing in line. Even the blind person and his friend. For hours they’ve been standing. Metres from the edge. For the ones without harnesses, there is even less to do. We huddle, we talk about the dip in the wind, then we talk about it’s sudden rise. The rain is constant, so we talk about how cold we are. In fact not much out of the ordinary is happening when Mr. T suddenly leaves his spot and comes to check on the line. As I watch him again, he starts to use carabiners to put a slack on the rope and fasten it a little further down. I follow the slack and see it frayed. What is going on here!

But just the same, he goes right back to his job. Sending people down, business as usual. At around 3, someone shows up with a bag of packed rice boxes. The suspect contents of it are warm, and for people who’ve not eaten since 9, it’s keeping us on our feet. At this point there are 7-8 of us left. And Mr. D brings it up. He’s telling us that’s its late. He’s telling us the route up is a 2 hour climb through thicket. He’s telling us that we might be out of time to send people down. He’s telling us we are going to be left behind.

“Does any of you NOT want to do it?”
Yes, I woke up at 5:30, drove 90kms, and endured 4 hours of cold wetness to say – No, it isn’t my cup of tea. I don’t even fancy waterfalls. Heck, I don’t even like tea.
None of us back down. The blind person and his friend are sent down in the reverse order. On this suspect rope. Our harnesses are not yet up.
We tell them flat out, we didn’t come here to turn around. That’s when Mr. T tells us the rope is torn.

Wait, what?
Yes, the belay-rope bringing up the harnesses(4) and the helmet(1) for the 5 of us, tore.
More so, it’s the second time this has happened today. Remember the pulley? The carabiner?
Suddenly going down doesn’t seem as important anymore. Did these guys just let a blind person and 4 other people down with a belay rope that was torn?
Suddenly, the wind blowing through our wet clothes wasn’t the coldest feeling I was having. What is with these guys? Thinking back, it was probably the cold and the hours of waiting that made us blind to this crazy racket. That and not giving anyone any headsup about anything going wrong. Or a basic intro into how it all works. Which lines are for pulling and what happens when things go wrong.

They discuss with the other team and tell us they can send us down on their line. Phew. Atleast those guys weren’t cutting corners. We agree.
Shanj’s health looks like it’s deteriorating, and it’s 3:45. We decide to send her first. And follow on.

Very soon, it’s easy to see why this line is taking so much time. They’re using a 10mm rope. They also seem to use more carabiners. It definitely sounds more safe, if you ask me. When she’s mid way, at 4:05, Mr. T. says that’s it. They aren’t sending anyone else in. Mr. D joins in.

The logic is sound. It’s taking longer on the other rope. With 4 more of us. It’s going to be round 6 when we are all down. A 2 hour hike through the jungle thicket with no torches(Yes, they didn’t have torches) puts everyone at risk. They were happy that one of us could make it but would have to call it quits.

There was no real point. And nothing we could do either.
To rappel down put everyone at risk.
To rappel down slighting people who send people down without secure ropes, is putting yourself at risk.

We turned around. And walked. Up the slippery path.

Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred. –

– Lord Tennyson

I think the similarities are uncanny. A group of well intention-ed people sent into hostile territory with no clear directions, instructions or purpose. Their numbers alone ensuring no chance of success. And they’re left to see what happens. It could have gone a lot worse for us in my opinion.

Down below, all 25 had been waiting for 5.5 hours. With no food and no water. There wasn’t someone who oversaw the last part of the descent, arguably the more dangerous part. Nor was there a mat to catch someone’s fall. After Shanj touched base, she sent up a harness and a helmet, but to no avail. Mr. T. was busy packing it all up and Mr. D. was smiling at us and chalking it up to the gods. No sir. God didn’t do this. Mr. T explain the technicals and Mr. D tells us that nobody wanted this to happen.

But I think the guilt lies a lot closer to home. It’s that oft-used phrase – Ho Jayega.

  • Teen aur log? Ho Jayega.
  • Tour Manager aa nahi sakta? Main hoon, Ho Jayega.
  • Rope Kat gayi? Tension mat lo, Ho Jayega.

But that isn’t adventure. The thin line between Risk and Adventure is in being prepared. Taking as many precautions as possible. To account for the regular and the unforseeable. To jump into the unknown with no plan or safety line is not adventurous, that’s flat out risky. I can’t let someone onto a kayak in the middle of a sea, toss them a paddle and see how they get on with it. And neither should these people. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when you’re caught with your pants around your ankles or your ropes cut.

It’s a pretty obvious choice if you ask anyone sane. Do you want to be in the team that starts early, heads straight to the launch point, takes on the right amount of people and does not use torn rope? Or do you trust muscle mike and a guy who sheepishly laughs away their bad planning and last minute fall backs. Ask Suraj. He still doesn’t know the right rappelling technique. He does know a bowline knot, from his years of sailing, and he knows when someone going off a cliff has been tied a slipknot instead. That’s a fun word. Slip. Not. (Try. To.)

As we try and make the most of our day, Suraj and I find a stream and follow it till it thunders down rocks into whatever fate awaits it below. Mr. D eventually finds us and copiously explains his side of the story. As we walk back, him limping from a motor accident he’s recently come out of, it comes out- ‘I hope that couple doesn’t kill me. They were the first to register.” He laughs.

In his mind, he’s completing the sentence. Koi na, Manage Ho Jayega.

Sharing some pics of the country side nonetheless –


Day 16 Clouds

Day 16 Clouds

Day 16 Clouds.

I once wrote a note on rain. It was an opinion piece on rain in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Apart from our differences in weather, a friend’s response to my early morning question today, brings us to the topic of discussion.

In a group on Whatsapp, I voiced – ‘It’s raining. What (TF) is this about?’
To which I got a prompt and succint answer – ‘Clouds.’

I think it’s a fair assessment of the situation.

Today morning I found myself at Tarkarli. In this lovely MTDC property that opens onto the beach, it was 5 o’clock and time to wake up. I round up all the essentials and put all the things coming onto the kayak together. Gopro-s, energy bar, mobile in it’s all new mobile pouch, glares, hat, hydration bag, shoes. Today’s a short run to Vengurla. Just 28 kms. Having averaged 7+ km/hr for the last 15 days I think I can have this wrapped up before anyone in Bombay was in office. I step out and notice that the nice chaps at MTDC had washed my front porch. They’d even throw a bucket or two on my tiled roof. Wait, what? It had rained. Hmm.
Interesting. As I explained to my friend on whatsapp shortly after, this could mean some inclement weather on the water.

Tarkarli MTDC Resort
Maharashtra Paddle Hard

I walk over to my parent’s and they’re absorbed in watching the news. Weather reports. As we leave it to the real experts, our boatsmen, to confer. My mom’s first response is – go get some rest. Now Pavlov was a smart chap. So I down my 4 eggs and start on my museli. Every once in a while the MTDC chaps follow your instructions to the letter. But it wasn’t today. The milk is bad. So I get down to mom’s advice.

For the first time in days, I wake up at 7:30. Wow. What a godly hour. Heaven must smile down on people who wake at this hour. Not us silly chaps who wake up at 4 and 5 in the mornings to embark on missions of solitude. There’s a rainbow outside. So barefoot, I make for the beach. I catch the dying glimpses of a lovely rainbow running between Malvan beach and Sindhudurg.

Breakfasts at Tables!
Breakfasts at Tables!

I head for a second breakfast. Sleep between breakfasts is a luxury. As everyone readies for the day, my driver and I bring the kayak out of parking and plonk it down opposite my cottage. As a crowd assembles to enquire about it, I start my stretches. I’m not departing from Malwan, a few kms from here, for a number of reasons, transport of the kayak back through the one way streets here being one, the other is the big set of rocks that later diverts my safety boat right around Sindhudurg and then back down. I can’t afford the delay. Shanj convinces dad to let me head out before he boat gets here. Good call.

Smiles All Around
Smiles All Around. All so close.

So down by the water, another crowd assembles. The good people at MTDC come down to see me off. I put my paddle together. Pose for a couple of tourist photographs. Answer some questions. Slip on my earphones. I have music today! Gorillaz – Feels Good. Perfect.

Through the breakers, in the clear, I switch the count on my Suunto. Put on navigation. Rp very kindly drew my course last night when I didn’t have the connectivity. As I stare at the map, I smile a little. He’s drawn me hugging the coast since I told him I keep 2-3 kms off the coast. Only south of Tarkarli, I can make a straightline dash down to Vengurla and save myself a few kms. I’ll work off the end-point navigator.

Now, clouds. White, wispy clouds that part just the right amount to stream sunlight down in bundles. Malwan’s very own search light from heaven. The water is calm and brilliantly blue-green. Every cocunut tree that lines the coast slants and drapes the coast in a rich, newly washed green. The beach stands still as I paddle furiously past houses of every color Asian Paints could never think of. Green, Red, Yellow. Bright. The fisherman / women occupants of these picturesquely perfect houses come down to see me in white and black. Thinking back, could they have the envy I had at that moment? I contemplate changing the #gettogoa to #movetomalvan.

Colours of Malwan
Colours of Malwan

A host of tourist boats ferrying people closer to the islands to my right go past us. Everyone waves. Happiest place ever. Overhead a flock of birds fly over. It’s leader knows RP’s route, because they fly right on ahead pointing the way. It’s 10 am and the sun is not to be found. The music is just right and I’m doing a great pace. I clock 7.5 kms in the first hour. Things are grand. As I pass past the last of the paragliders, I round the rock. By the GPS, it’s a dead left. By my corrections I need to adjust 60 Degrees.

Paragliders off of Tarkarli
Paragliders off of Tarkarli

As I do that, a sharp wind whacks me. I figure someone isn’t happy about my change of direction. I prepare myself for a little headwind. That’s a collossal understatement. Looking up, I see clouds stretch for miles. Lovely white clouds, blowing on a lovely collossal wind. I’m caught. I tell myself it’s a bad stretch, the wind will abate. 20 minutes later, I’m checking how far I’ve gotten. It isn’t flattering. I’m out in open water, and the wind, and with them, waves are falling right at me. I’ve come down hard from a wave on the trip, but not this repeatedly. Every minute I climb a big swell and fall off it. Apart from straining the back, it massively kills my speed as the bow of my kayak dips into the water. I’ve switched to a longer paddle to keep the going slower but surer. After two
hours, I’ve clocked just 13 kms. That’s a meagre 5.5 kms in the last hour. Luckily with the corrected course, I’ll shave off 2 kms. I have another 13-14 to go. The safety boat has caught up. On the boat, everything is wet. They’re having a tough time too, with Santosh bailing out more water than he’s covering.

Storm Clouds Approaching
Then Everything Turned Gray

I whip off my hydration pack and open my energy bar. Every 5 second halt brings me 90 degrees around and parrallel with incoming waves. Correcting it with the rudder is almost useless. I have to paddle. As the gopro goes out, I signal the safety boat. As I hang on and get the gopro out and the new one on, I spend a little more than 2 minutes. I stare at my GPS while Shanj brings the new one out of the bag. With every 10 seconds we drift 10 metres. I keep getting further away. I can’t afford stopping. As Shanj offers me a fruit, I refuse it, opting for a quick swig of juice instead. I take the paddle back in my hands. On the go-pro I’ve wasted 1 minute 40 seconds and my kayak is again 90 degrees to where I want to go.

Up Again
Down Again

I paddle away, and straighten course. The wind is not done. It’s just as strong and still bearing down right at me. Relentless. It’s akin to a bumping kart ride with the swells and the falls. Only I can’t get off after 15 minutes. And I can’t stop paddling. I’m well into the middle of the route. I’m wondering whether hugging the coast would have been calmer. But it’s a little late for that. After 3 hours are done, Shanj and the safety boat draw alongside. She’s wondering how far we are. I tell her the truth. We are about 10 kms away. But in the last hour I’ve done 4.5 kms. 4.5. It’s going to be a really long day.

I get back to paddling. I drink my hydration drink fast. I drink water fast. I pee fast when the wind dies for just a bit. Then it’s back to paddling. As the waves are coming in, I’m trying to weave past them as best I can. After 3.5 hours of it, I finally open my leg up for a bit. My toes hurt from changing directions. That’s definitely a first. When it’s finally under 7 kms, I breathe a little. That could be done in an hour normally. It doesn’t feel that far. My Suunto tells me otherwise. I’m averaging 5.7 km/hr after doing a 7.5 in the first hour. If I make it to the nearest rockface, I could probably find less wind. After about 30 minutes of paddling, it starts to pay off. The wind is a little calmer and Vengurla is 4 kms away. I switch to a shorter paddle and crank up the pace.

Kayak covered by waves
Lost in the waves

As we approach Vengurla, the safety boat asks me where the jetty is. I can’t be sure. Again, it’s a long beach. Great. As I battle it out, I pass the lighthouse. It’s a small white red thing, and I get the feeling the worst is over. Shanj confirms the jetty is right around the rock. This is good news. As we weave around the rocks, I see it. It’s a small jetty attached to the beach. As I take waves on my starboard side, I think about that one small stretch today that I will have the wind behind me. As I round the last rock, I finally get the wind. It lasts me 50 metres.

I’m now at Vengurla. Having done 26.5 kms in 4.5 hours.
If the heavens don’t part, we will paddle hard into Goa.