Trekkers rescued after five-hour search

Three trekkers who were lost in the night at Mahuli fort, rescued by police, Pune trekker and villagers

Three young trekkers from Colaba, Mumbai, were rescued by local villagers at Mahuli fort in Thane district late Sunday night.

As per the Shahpur police station sources, Varun Mani, Nikhil Merchant and Arjun Thakur (all 26-year-old) had gone for a trek to Mahuli fort along with their dog. However, they got lost and were trapped near a waterfall. They contacted their relatives in Mumbai, who immediately informed the Shahapur police station.

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API Choudhari and PI Sanjay Dhumal conveyed the message to local villagers in Asangon. Local guide Gurunath Agiwale and Vilas Thakur, along with 6–7 villagers, started a rescue operation at around 11 pm. After putting in superhuman efforts, they were able to track down the trio, and brought them down safely at around 4 am.

About the incident, Varun’s mother Neelam Mani said, “My son works as a naturalist at Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh. He is a regular trekker. On Sunday he planned a one-day trek to Mahuli with his school friends. They left early in the morning and I received no calls from them till evening. To find out if they have reached, I called them up, but my son’s number was not reachable. Then I contacted his friends and I got worried when he told me that they were lost somewhere on the fort and were not able to find a route to come down.”

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Neelam, naturally panicked, and tried to contact all available sources and with the help of her friend, she put up a note on one trekking group site. Sarfaraz Baghdadi of Treks and Trails, Mumbai, responded to her request and they along with Pune-based trekker Onkar Oak, carried out the rescue operation.

“Though my son is used to stay in the jungle at night, his friends weren’t and when they told us that they were tired, had no food or water, and were forced to sleep in the open, I strongly opposed the idea. I didn’t want them exposed to the possibility of an encounter with wild animals, reptiles or any such incident,” said Neelam.

Remote location
Varun and his friends had gone to Mahuli for the first time and thus were not able to explain their location to the rescuers. Secondly the language barrier with the villagers was also making it difficult. Finally, Onkar Oak played mediator between them and roughly zeroed in on the location.

“I have been to the fort several times so I started questioning them about the location. Fortunately they were smart enough to use the compass and they informed me that they were in the south-west direction of a Ganpati temple at the base of the fort. This was a valuable piece of information and I directed the rescue team in that direction,” said Onkar.

“I also instructed the trekkers to switch their torches on and off and have at least one mobile in a working condition. Otherwise it would have been really difficult task to find them,” he added.

It wasn’t easy to reach the spot for the rescue team, what with overgrown vegetation, a pitch-dark night and the rainy season.

“Mahuli is a big fort and despite searching for hours we were not able to locate them. We were shouting and making a noise to get their attention. Finally at around 3 am we heard a faint sound, much below, where we had reached. We rushed in that direction and after struggling, made way through wild bushes and rocky patches, and managed to reach them. They weren’t injured but were panicked, so we guided them till the village and then they left for Mumbai after reporting to the police station,” said Gurunath, a local guide.

The trekkers and their relatives praised the efforts by the local police, villagers and trekking groups.

“I was constantly in touch with Onkar and he kept me assuring that nothing would happen to my son. That took the pressure off me. These guys really did a wonderful job and I must thank them,” said Neelam.

Originally published on The Golden Sparrow

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