Jaya Biswas

After a lengthy week of sheer monotony at office, one couldn’t even think of staying at home doing nothing, especially when you were staying alone in a city like Mumbai. Thankfully, my weekend trip to Shahapur turned out to be an entertaining jaunt. We still had a sliver of twilight left as I set out with two friends to this less-frequented village en route Nasik. Having wrapped up work early, on a Saturday evening, we headed for the Big Red Tent, a camping ground in Shahapur. The Mahauli mountain range made a splendid appearance on the left. But we had more interesting view on the right as ‘the three idiots on the run’ giggled at any handsome guy who passed by on his bike. We sang tacky Bollywood numbers and clicked pictures much to the delight of our driver, a smart aleck, who was so amused by our antics that he had conveniently switched off the radio. Realization hit when he requested if we could also take a picture of him driving. Though irritated, we obliged. And it did the trick. Our cabbie turned out to be the best possible entertainer-cum-guide taking us to the best possible dhabas and chai stalls during our three-hour-long drive. The milestone indicating Shaha­pur brought us to reality. There was a stunning change in the view around with welcoming lush green trees of unknown varieties. The mud road meandered through brinjal, corn, potato and tomato fields. The orchid garden with freshly made flower beds and pollution-free air breathed in an added energy. We screamed in delight as we alighted from the car. Having paid the driver who would have rather stayed and was keen on taking us back the next day, we had to bribe him with extra tip and send him packing. To our surprise, a young woman in her late twenties came forward and introduced herself as the co-owner of the vast acres of land that assembled the camps. She took us around the campground flanked by a plant nursery on the serene banks of the Bhatsa River. The highlight of course was the private, zipped-up tent well-equipped showers and loos, complete with toilets, washbasins and every typical bathroom appointment, right down to the toilet paper. The next steps were learning how to build our own tents and light a campfire. We were taught how to make our little habitat complete by hanging sheets. To prevent the sheets from flapping, we had weighed them down with our hunter shoes filled with stones. Oh yes, we were supposed to prepare our dinner on a small clay oven provided to us by our hosts. Our barbequed potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms and cottage cheese, with generous dollops of butter and salt and pepper sprinkled over, the food turned out to be edible, probably because of all our hard work that went into handling the mini clay oven. Post dinner we resumed our chat session. As it was late October, the cool night breeze was bothering us. But we were certainly not in a mood to waste our time inside our tent. We bumped into a wildlife photographer on a shooting spree, an ad man looking for solitude and a bunch of interns on their first camping trip. As we strolled further we saw two more groups camping on the ground. A big telescope camera placed exactly in the middle of the lawn caught our attention. When probed, our hostess informed that camp next to us belonged to a group of students studying astronomy. They had come to capture the meteor showers predicted by the meteorological department late in the night. We were thrilled at the prospect. However, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of vulnerability sitting on the lawn surrounded by tall stalks of grass and black silhouettes of hills around. Was anyone watching? Would some creepy-crawlies dare to come out of the grass to investigate us? I was scared. We waited with baited breath; it was like being privy to a secret world that most people don’t get to experience. Tired after our night walk, I lay on the ground admiring the green grass and blue sky; I burst out singing the Hutch song. Suddenly, I saw a flash in the sky. I had never seen another shooting star of such brilliance and magnitude, which kept getting brighter as it crossed from one corner to the other. We were in awe of what we had just witnessed. I had never seen anything like that before. What I felt was inexplicable. The streak lasted less than a second, bright and dramatic like nature’s Roman candle. The meteor shower continued for hours and by the end of it, we lost count of how many each of us had spotted. The night was all about contemplating things we so rarely see and how we had been lucky to be at the right place at the right time. Perhaps it was the overwhelming episode that kept steaming through my subconscious as I sat there, trying to relax and enjoy the night sky. By then, the temperature was freezing outside … so we decided to retreat into the cosy comforts of our sleeping bags.