(Warning: Long post)
A few weeks ago, chopper aka Vasudeo Gharpure was in India, and Vasant Vasant Limaye aka Balya had organized a get together at his residence in Pune. Many of us could meet there and we had a pleasant evening. The conversation turned to having a night out at Garudmachi, and I agreed to to enlist people for the same on 26th and 27th January.
Before I proceed, an Introduction is in order for both Balya and Garudmachi. I met Balya for the first time in July 1977. It was my first hike ever, and we were going to Peb. I distinctly remember four people from that hike. Ajit Ranade was a fellow fresher, and I think this was his first hike too. Three senior hikers that I remember were Chopper, Balya and Sanjay Thaurdesai aka TD.
Balya was a legend in IIT even then. He was known for his climbing & organizing skills. He was a great cook, and a leader. He would catch crabs on a hike and roast them on wood fire, or would tie live chicken to people’s rucksacks and cook them for the dinner. And he was so witty.
Convert your passion into your profession, and you never have to work is a often used cliche. Balya is one of the very few who actually manage to do it. Balya started a company, High
Places Management Private Limited, hpmpl, that specializes in outdoor based management training. In this regard, Balya pioneered a whole new business line. Their client list reads like a whose who of the India industry. Garudmachi is their campsite, specifically developed for these outdoor management programs.
Garudmachi is situated at the edge of the western ghats. As you can see in the first photograph, It’s on a narrow shelf half-way up a 2000 feet cliff.
Easily approachable from Pune (75 km) and Mumbai (via Kolad 140 km), the site is breathtaking.
The Garudmachi Outdoor Development Centre (ODC) is spread over 25 acres. It has comfortable tents as well as dormitories. These can easily accomodate about 100 people at a time. It has a permanent tower like structure created for rock climbing & rappelling. It also has a permanents erected burma-bridge. All these are used for the management development sessions.
On the other side of the road is a modern Management Development Centre (MDC) spread over 15 Kms. It has all the modern facilities for corporate conferences, including stay, conference rooms etc.
Back to our story. I started a email blast. I sent mails to almost every IIT mountaineer who had ever climbed with Balya. The plan was very simple. Reach Garudmachi in the evening on 26th. Cook our own dinner on wood fire, a la IIT Trek style. Keep talking till we fell asleep. Wake up next day morning. Walk around. Have brunch and return.
People were quite excited. The star attractions were, Garudmachi, Balya and a chance to meet up with everyone. In spite of everyone’s busy schedules, 30 people confirmed their participation. These included some better halves, who were also keen on attending the outing and meeting others.
People started arriving around 5 PM on 26th. There were a few dropouts. But by 7.15, around 23 people gathered from Mumbai & Pune. The Mumbai folks (us) were the last to reach. By the time we reached, the cooking on wood fire in the classical aluminum vessels had already begun. It was funny to control the heat by pulling out the wood from fire. 🙂
While the cooking was in progress, Balya called all of us to a nearby shed. This was equipped with a screen and a projector. Balya showed us a film, Garud Bharari, which was about a contest between 4 groups of outdoor experts who work at Garudmachi, either on a regular basis or at the time of programmes. And then, there was a Q&A sessions with Balya, where we got some insights into Garudmachi & it’s running.
There are about 70 people, employees, who run Garudmachi. In addition to these people, they have a bunch of 70 outdoor experts. Garudmachi really provides a career avenue for outdoor enthusiasts. The safety is given utmost importance, and by god’s grace and their preparedness, their safety record is impeccable.
Then we were back in the dining area. It was a full moon night and the atmosphere was just magical. It was a little cold, not too much. And so even after dinner, we sat in front of the tents and made merry. It was almost 1 AM before we turned in.
I was woken up by people talking outside our tent. It was six AM and people were already awake. Tea was served and people were sitting and chatting. We joined them.
Balya told us that we will go for a small trek, a climb of about 20 minutes to get a look around. By 7, two of his outdoor experts were already there as our guides and we started. As we reached the road, our guides started herding us to the edge of the road.
As planned, we climbed a little and then stopped to look around. There was some haze and everything was not very clear. However, we could very clearly see the Tata Electric Tank.
Then we started back. When we reached the road, our guides signalled a safety vehicle to proceed to the campsite. It seems that vehicle was on a standby there, just in case there was any accident. I was impressed. As compared to this, we took on too many risks while trekking in our IIT days.
On return, we had a sumptuous breakfast, and people who needed to leave early left, with the promises of meeting again.
Those who left behind went for a rappelling lesson. Balya himself was our trainer. He showed us the whole drill, and actually persuaded Geeta, Vinita & Ratna to do it. When he was talking to Geeta, I was almost certain Geeta would break into tears. Surprisingly she didn’t. All of the rappelled, and were very thrilled that they did it. So thrilled in fact, they all of them did it again. In fact all of us rappelled down twice.
Finally, it was time to return. We returned via Ganpati Pali. Did a Darshan, and were back home by 5 PM. Next 2 days, Geeta couldn’t stop talking about her rappelling adventura.