To do or not to do

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again

The smaller rocks beneath my feet roll down and my heart thuds loudly against my ribcage. The sun is shining right into my eyes as I gaze up to look at my best friend holding out his hand to pull me up. Do I dare let go of my steady hold on the mountain and take his hand? “He can’t pull you up, it’ll put you both at risk.” The guide says from my left. Geez man, thanks. I glance down. The cliff doesn’t even drop straight into the mystical, clear, blue water; large jagged rocks are scattered at the bottom, gleaming at me. I glance up. My friend has climbed a few more steps. He waits there looking at me, concerned. I gulp, close my eyes and lift my foot.

Above the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, next to a beach, we’ve been trekking a mountain for the last twenty minutes. This was supposed to be the last trek of our trip and I was praying it wouldn’t turn into the last one of my life. Okay, that’s clearly an over-exaggeration. But it’s hard to climb hills when you have two left feet and are prone to doing gravity checks ever so often. There was an option to use the boats to reach our final destination- Om beach. But we were promised that at the top of this mountain awaited the most beautiful sight we would ever lay our eyes on.

Right before the world came to a stop, right before the virus took over the world, right before the ‘new normal’ set in, before we could even realize that it was most probably going to be our one and only time off together, my friends and I, drew up a plan and were even able to execute it. Something that rarely ever happens in a group of friends as lazy as mine. Luck was on our side, a pocket-friendly trip organized by the TrekkersTribe was found and it was decided. We were going for a small vacation in Gokarna, the land of flawless beaches. But do I dare ask my protective parents to let me go for an overnight trip to a beach with a group that had a 1:2 ratio of girls to guys? With my heart in my throat I video-called them, stalled, hesitated, then finally asked. And they said… yes. How did that happen? Where was I when they transitioned into the “chill” kind of parents? Not that I was complaining. No sir.

So, even as we left on a sprightly February morning, I caught myself from getting too excited about it, for I’ve noticed that whenever I truly want something from the bottom of my heart, the universe does its best to ruin it for me. And I didn’t want it to happen this time. After all, my folks had finally, after twenty-four years of my life, agreed to let me go have some fun. Shrouded by trees on all sides, a hillock in the distance, and ten tents for two people each, Sweet and Beautiful Cottages was our stay. We arrived early in the morning, sleepy from the train and the bus rides, and flopped onto the beds, only to be woken up by the invigorating aroma of breakfast. The itinerary was packed and for the next day and a half we… walked. A lot. As someone who walks only if it is the last option available, I’ll admit I complained a bit. Okay, I absolutely annoyed my friends a little too much over it. But honestly? It was amazing. I realized the guides knew what they were talking about when they suggested we walk as much as possible. It’d help connect with everything around us.

Our group boarded the bus for the first stop. Yana Caves. It broke down mid way. We could see the giant structure we would soon be witnessing up close. But until then- photoshoot time. The driver went around to check it, everyone alighted the bus, and phones were fished out from pockets. Four hundred and seventeen clicks and a ten-minute ride later, we were down again, in the middle of a forest, looking around confounded, for the rocks still stood farther away. Then came a spine-jolting ride in the form of an open tempo over untrodden paths as it need-for-speeded us to the magnificent structures. A temple dedicated to Lord Shiva lies just beneath those rocks. The place is associated with the famous mythological story of Bhasmasura and the boon given to him by Shiva, which ultimately backfires. Entering the caves was like entering an alternate reality, of twisted stones and swirling patterns. They allowed only some rays of the sun to shimmer in between them, casting an angelic gleam to the rocks, while we stood there looking up at all of it and realizing just how small we were.

The thundering of the Vibhuti Falls reached us even before we could see it. The cool and misty air was much appreciated after all the wandering we had done in the sun. The falls gushed into an inviting little pool at the bottom of it, into which fellow travelers had already begun diving. I could almost feel how pleasant it was. I stepped onto the very last piece of a boulder and dipped my feet. I hesitated. Do I dare take a jump into that alluring water, just realizing I had no beach-body whatsoever? This thought had never popped into my head ever in my life before. It did then. My friends jumped into the pool, splashing water onto me. I looked around and realized how nothing else mattered other than having purely delightful fun. And I dived right in. The plunge pool was filled with the laughter of ecstasy and sudden shrieks when little fishes came around tickling our feet. I think water has this magical power. It spell-binds us while rinsing off whatever wears us down, and we’re left wondering what could ever be there to worry about when there exists such beauty in this world.

Back in our accommodation, we had a scrumptious lunch. At sunset, it was time for a stroll to a nearby hillock. To sit, breathe, and watch the mesmerizing voyage of the orange-red sun to meet the sparkling sea, quiet and still as if waiting. It was a moment of respite and rest. It was followed by walking to the ancient Mahabaleshwar Temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is considered as holy as Kashi hence, called ‘Dakshin (South) Kashi’. It was an experience of intangible awakening. With our heads and hearts lighter than the air, we ended the night on Kudle beach. Although filled with people, it still offered us our own little space where we sat close together under the blanket of the velvety night sky, listening to the waves crashing along the shores, catching snippets of conversations from other groups that had settled down as well and were sharing ghost stories among themselves; and watched some stand with their feet in the water as life breezed by. I looked up, stars were winking at me. I grinned. It didn’t matter that my legs were aching already. It had been a wonderful day.

The big day arrived- it was time to scale mountains and get to the flawless beaches hidden between them. The bus dropped us off at Bekelon Beach, from where the journey would begin. I felt like Moana the moment the sea came into my view. Water was calling out to me. TrekkersTribe, our guides, and the experts got us all thrilled with the much-needed instructions, motivational words, and not-so-much appreciated dad humor. And we were off, following the trail, avoiding thorny bushes and looking out for snakes. Paradise beach came quickly enough. I thought, well, this is easy. Too soon. I almost slipped and took down five more people with me while we made our descent for the next beach, Half Moon. It turned out to be our favorite because it lay secluded and serene. It was the one where we spent the most time in the water. As we sat with the calm ripples tickling us, we saw a little family at the other corner, a Bluetooth speaker on the dad’s shoulder, and a little kid singing and dancing along. I forgot a world existed out of that beautiful space. I forgot the challenge that was about to arrive in a matter of minutes.

But arrive, it did. So here I am, hanging at the edge of the world with my hands groaning from having to hold my weight for so long. Do I dare let go of my steady grasp on the mountain? I glance down. At the cliff’s bottom are large jagged rocks. I glance up. I gulp, close my eyes and take a step. I find my footing, pull myself up, and let go of the breath I was holding. I continue this, ignoring the thumping in my chest and the sweat running down the sides of my face, finally reaching the top.

I did it.

In my head, I’m jumping up and down with joy.

“Took you long enough” a fellow trekker says, laughing gently.

I really did it!

“Ah, you know, I was trying hard to not die and-”

“Guys look around.” says our guide.

There it is, the glorious sight, the reward of all our efforts. The sea stretches to the horizon. Now and then a wave breaks the greenish haze that lies over it. I feel I have a front seat for one of the most resplendent views the world has to offer.

And I’m glad I dared to grab it.

Hi guys, I’m Prachi

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When a quote triggers a thought, it begs to be penned down. And that is what I do — read, muse, write.