“I could have been in her position,” says Ajay Kolhe softly when he thinks of Shanti Shenoy, the 21-year old Borivli resident who fell 300 feet to her death while trekking in Thane on Saturday.
But Ajay, who fell 30 feet from a hill in Sahyadri — the same ranges that proved fatal for Shenoy — lived to tell a remarkable tale.
The 30-year-old Thane resident was found in a semi-conscious state, 31 days after falling from a cliff in the rocky Ulhas valley on September 2.
“I am an amateur trekker, but had never been an avid enthusiast like my sister Manisha who encouraged me to go on the trek,” says the civil engineer.
Manisha, 30, a lawyer, was just back from a Leh-Ladakh trek and wanted Ajay to experience the Ulhas valley trek, a tricky one.
On September 1, his group reached the spot between Karjat and Lonavla from where they would start.
“We set off in the morning and Ajay walked ahead of the others. We assumed that he went to answer nature’s call and walked on. But after a while we realised we had lost him,” says Dattatray Malekar, 59, who was leading the group that day.
Ajay, wanting to be adventurous, had gone in a direction opposite to the one given in the instructions. He lost his balance at a rocky edge and fell 30 feet.
“When I opened my eyes, I was lying on a rock at the mid-point of the valley; my head was spinning and my hand hurt. There was a thunderous waterfall across and my calls for help fell on deaf ears.”
Dazed, he lay there the whole day. “Gathering strength, I walked horizontally, holding the grass since it was impossible to go upwards.”
Then, things got worse: it rained continually for three days.
By then a rescue mission had begun. Several trekkers and local tribals had started looking for him and on September 3, a missing person’s complaint was filed with the Lonavla police.
Ajay trudged on, to nowhere in particular, surviving on water and roots, till he saw a sign of civilization. “I was in a dense forest and I could see the highway far away and decided to walk towards it.” With each passing day, the trek became difficult and Ajay, weaker.
Finally, on October 3, more than a month after he went missing, he was found lying in a nullah by local tribals in Lonavla.
When his father saw him, relief was mixed with disbelief. “My son had turned half his size; his eyes were red, he was unrecognisable,” says Tanhaji.
He was admitted to a local hospital and brought home a day later. “Doctors told me a human cannot survive for more than 24 days without food and water in such conditions. So I lost hope after three weeks. But then this miracle took place,” says Tanaji.