Nagalapuram/6, Oct 11-12, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008
Friday 9pm, 24 brave souls traveling in 6 cars kicked off the sixth mission to the Nagalapuram hills, 2 hours North of Chennai, a beautiful green jewel in the middle of the hot and dry Southern Andhra plains. Unlike the previous 5 Nagala treks, this time we started from a different stream to enter the mountains. Both our usual entry stream (Nagala/1/2/3/4/5) and this new stream (Nagala/6) are the two main rivers which are draining the Southern part of the Nagalapuram mountain range (clearly visible on Google topomaps) and most likely to have running water. Around 1am Saturday morning we dropped Vinod's car near the first stream through which we would be leaving the hills eliminating the need to walk back 5km to the second stream from which we would be entering the hills. At the same time we noticed a (transmission gear?) leak under one of the other cars and had to drop it along the way. All 24 members continued in 4 cars, some hanging on the outside of the Scorpio.

After a few kilometers the tar road came to an end and we proceed along red, sandy dirt roads towards a cone-shaped hill, a clearly visible landmark in a nearly full-moon lit night. A dam is built next to this hill to collect water from the stream along which we would be starting our trek. As we reached the dam, the road became too rough (sprinkled with small rocks) to proceed further with our cars so we decided to stop and set up our camp for the night.

We rolled out our thermocol mats and crashed. The night was calm, breeze and peaceful, a myriad of stars shining bright above us.

We got up around 6:30am on Saturday morning and started distributing the food – parotta's, bread, jam, apples, pears, snacks, cup noodles, glucondy. Balaji had supplied us with a lightweight kerosene stove which would prove necessary as due to heavy rains all forest wood would be wet and unusable for setting up a fire to cook our dinner. Everyone got ready and we started trekking along the rocky, red cart track beyond the dam. As we walked the 2km to the base of the mountains, more and denser bushes started appearing on both sides of the track. We finally encountered a wide stream, sprinkled with small, round boulders. To our disappointment however it was totally dry, no sign of running water. Many of us had brought water bottles, mostly empty and without running water we would not last very long. We left the track which seemed to be diverting and proceeded along the dry, rocky stream.

After a while we encountered a small, concrete dam where to our relief we found crystal clear, running water. Yes! We were saved! We proceeded further upstream through lush green vegetation and encountered our first (of many to come) obstacle – a semi-circular pond enclosed by high vertical rocks and waterfall flowing down from a 15m high.

There was no easy way to climb up. Under unanimous approval we all jumped into the pool, the cool water tingling on our skin. Wow! The water felt so rejuvenating for mind and body. We splashed for around 15 minutes and then decided to climb over the left-side hill to reach the top of the vertical falls.

We proceeded up-hill along a medium slope through bushes and small trees. When we reached above the vegetation we further climbed along steep rocks and were treated by some amazing views on the surrounding valley and nearby dam.

Camera's started clicking all around. 3 mission members were visibly struggling to overcome this initial climb under the morning sun and we made a wise decision to send them back to the cars as this was only the beginning. This is another reminder for everyone out there to think twice before joining a "difficult" trek without any prior trek experience or physical workout.

We now proceeded horizontally over a rocky, grassy 45-degree slope and after some time started a steep descent towards the stream above the falls. We encountered the usual ingredients – loose rocks, thorny bushes, trekkers holding on to small trees while slipping down, shoe soles coming off. We hit the stream near a small pool and had our breakfast while bathing inside the clear, cool, running water. Yummy! Parotta's with jam, pickle, ketchup never tasted so good! Several liters of fresh Nagala mineral where gulped down along with lemon, orange and "frucon" glucon-D under the peaceful, shady, green forest cover surrounding the stream. Life is good in CTC!

After this re-energizing breakfast we proceeded upstream – the terrain was as usual – a 20 feet river bed winding in between the surrounding mountains, sprinkled with small and bigger boulders, running water in the center. Sometimes the surrounding mountain slopes where gradual covered with lush green forest, sometimes the river was cutting through narrow patches of 100+ feet high, vertical, reddish rocks. I can't stop thinking that there would be no safer place to be in case of a nuclear attack ;-). Once in a while we encountered full-width, deeper water pools which required us to climb over them hanging onto the surrounding near-vertical rocks, back-packs feeling heavy, clinging onto tree branches and holes in the rocks, trying hard not to slip down.

After some time two more trekkers felt unable to continue and Vivek volunteered to take them back to the cars. Our headcount had reduced to 18 at this time. The remaining group proceeded further upstream along the river winding its way through the surrounding hills. The rocks were very slippery due to the intermittent rains. Some trekkers were about to lose the soles of their shoes and tied ropes around them trying to prevent them from falling apart. Luckily some had brought their slippers along as backup shoe-ware. We passed some very strange tree root and branch formations, some branches being twisted along their full length. The stream became steeper and steeper as we penetrated deeper inside the Nagala mountains. Boulders became bigger, tougher to climb over and running water finally disappeared underground. Huge vertical rocks appeared on both sides of the stream.

We finally reached a spot where the last running water appeared from underneath a huge rock and we decided to break for lunch here and refill 3 bottles per head before attempting to climb our target peak. We had bread with jam, snacks and Glucon-D.

Towards noon we finally approached the base of the central 800+m peak in Nagala. Here we took a diversion from the main river (going west) and proceeded uphill along a small side-stream going North to attack the peak from the front rather than the steep back from where the main river originates. After a while, the side-river became less steep and the forest less dense as we gained in altitude.

Finally, we reached grassland sprinkled with rocks and small trees. We could not yet see our target peak which lay hidden behind local hills. We started the ascend Northwest towards the central peak conquering several smaller hills on the way, each one bringing us higher and closer to our target. The long grass was wet due to the rains and soon our shoes were soaking wet.

This rough terrain combined with wet climate is what drastically reduces the life-time of a typical sport shoe. A tougher, weather proof boot with thick sole is definitely more recommended for these trail-less treks. Here and there we encountered some bare rock formations with less surrounding vegetation which offered us a clear view on the surrounding valleys.

We re-discovered the mysterious hut in the middle of the no-mans valley which we had first seen in Nagala/4. The climb through the rocky grassland became steeper and steeper as we approached closer to the central peak.

We finally reached the 800m hill top in the late afternoon which peaks out high above the surrounding hills. We re-discovered the viewpoint we had visited in Nagala/4 but this time continued further towards the Northern end of the 500m long (100m wide), flat peak where we discovered a 300m vertical drop. From this place the views were simply amazing – the entire Nagalapuram mountain range was lying below our feet – a 180 degree panorama of hills covered by light green grass and dark green trees and with numerous streams in between them. Dark raining clouds and mist was moving above the mountains.

Far away we could see the bald, reddish rocks of the 600m peak which we conquered in Nagala/2. From the peak we could also see both dams where the main Nagala streams (both originating from behind this central peak) are flowing into the surrounding plains. The wind was blowing strong and the dark-orange, late-afternoon sun appeared below the dark clouds above us. At these moments you feel alive, more alive than you can ever feel in your day-to-day lives. You feel like being on top the world, closer to heaven. Words fall short to explain this feeling.

As the end of day approached and the weather was pretty rough at the top, we decided to start our descent and search for a flat space near the Eastern base of the hill to set up our camp. We found some flat patches of grassland in between the trees and quickly raised 2 large 15x15 feet plastic sheets acting as tents. The corners of the sheets where tied to the surrounding trees 2 feet above the ground and a 4 feet central pole was placed underneath in the center ensured that rain water got drained towards the edges. Additional rocks were tied to the 4 inner sides to provide additional stability against wind and rain. Benefit of these thin, plastic sheets is that they are extremely lightweight – e.g. 2-3 kilograms, each providing space for 10 people compared to 3-4kg tents, each providing space for 3 people only. Under the sheets we rolled out our thermocoil mats providing a reasonably comfortable place to sleep on given the uneven underground. As darkness fell, it started raining heavily and everyone took shelter below the sheets. Our backpacks got covered under a third sheet.

As all branches lying on the ground were wet it was impossible to start a camp- or cooking fire with these. Luckily we had foreseen this and taken along a new, lightweight kerosene stove to prepare dinner – Maggie cuppa noodles and tomato soup. Diwakar took charge in the kitchen and did an excellent job to satisfy the hungry stomachs of the team after a long, tiresome day. Soon, everyone was ready for bed and we slept off while heavy rains kept thundering down on the plastic sheets above us. The surrounding trees provided protection against the wind and the temperature was pretty much comfortable at an altitude of 500m. Soon our group was deep asleep deep inside the mountains far away from the "civilized" world.

The next morning we got up around 6am and fully packed and ready for the long trek ahead by 7am. We trekked in a big arch along the Eastern and Northern side of the peak to meet the 2nd main Nagala river originating from the back of the mountain. We were likely to find running water here and would continue our trek along this river for the rest of the day till the point where it flows out of the Nagalapuram range. After some initial uphill climbing through rocky grassland to the Northern base of the peak we continued a steep descent along a smaller, dry stream which would eventually bring us to the main river. The wet boulders sprinkled on the bottom of this stream were dangerously slippery. Dense vegetation and thorny bushes surrounded the stream. 100m above the main river we reached a large rock formation and an opening in the vegetation providing an unrestricted view on the very dense, dark green forest in the valley through which the main river flows. Patches of mist were floating above the valley. The sight of this beautiful, peaceful valley was quite breath-taking.

We climbed further downhill along steep rocks until we reached the bottom of the valley and were happy to hear the sound of running water. The presence of drinking water allowed us to quench our thirst and proceed comfortably with our trek. We found a nice, comfortable spot on the rocks near the river and had our breakfast – bread with jam. After this we proceeded downstream along this new, unknown trail walking sometimes over the boulders inside the stream, sometimes through the trees and bushes surrounding the stream, wherever we could progress fastest. We periodically crossed the river as the slopes at the inner bends of the stream are typically steeper than on the outer bends. Sometimes we could see the surrounding hills above us through the thick forest, sometimes the river was carved deep inside the hills and we could see hundreds of feet of vertical rock, eroded over tens of thousands of years by the water running through the stream, sometimes leaving remarkable rock formations.

At several points along the river we encountered beautiful waterfalls tumbling down steep vertical drops in the river bed through which it was impossible to proceed further. At these points we either climbed down along the steep mountain slopes bordering the waterfalls clinching onto rocks and trees or in some cases we had to climb over a nearby hill to pass these obstacles. Our hands and legs received numerous cuts and scratches as we made our way through dense, thorny bushes while leaving and re-entering the stream. Whenever we got above the thick vegetation around the river we were treated on magnificent views on the valley and surrounding hills. Ideal spots for a quick break and some photo sessions.

The beauty of first waterfall we encountered along this main river hidden deep inside these hills was simply beyond description. The water was tumbling down along a 20 feet drop over an 80 degree sloping flat rock formation, a huge rock on the right side from which the 20feet root of a tree came down into a small clear pond at the bottom. This was a scene straight from paradise.
In no-time the entire gang got into the pond and posed for a group snap in front of the falls. As usual, the water was so cool and refreshing and made us feel so relaxed. Still we had a mission to complete and soon we resumed our trek downstream.

At one particular location along the stream the water was flowing down over a large rock with several gradual drops eventually falling down into a large pool beneath. The sight was quite amazing. We could climb down over the rocks alongside this step-wise waterfall.

Shutters again clicked generously. As it got closer to noon, we started wondering when we would eventually meet the point where we had left the river during mission Nagala/4. As we were encountering frequent obstacles, progress along the stream was slow. We finally met another steep narrow, vertical drop in the river through which we could not proceed further.

I climbed up along the rocks aside this waterfall and after reaching the edge was relieved to see a familiar sight – this was the furthest place where we had reached during Nagala/4 and were we started climbing up a nearby mountain to set up the camp. The group was happy to be on familiar terrain again and after a very steep climb over the nearby hill we reached the other side of the waterfall.

A bit further the valley became wider and took a 90 turn towards the East. A deep square pond was located in the corner of the valley from which a 40 feet vertical waterfall came down. Time for another refreshing dip in the water. With the help of a long rope we got everyone, including non-swimmers to the bottom of the falls in the pond for yet another group snap. Next to the pond lay a large, horizontal rock platform on which we had our lunch. The rain clouds had vanished and the sun was again shining bright above us from a steel blue sky. While diving Ashok lost his spectacles in this deep pond. Remy, one of the two French participants, took a deep, long dive and was able to recover his specs.

It was close to 2pm now and we still had to cover a stretch which had taken us 11 hours during Nagalapuram/4, mainly due to 3 larger ponds along the river which took significant time and effort to overcome.

The first pond (third one in Nagala/4) was located just before the square pond where we had taken our lunch. Instead of getting everyone through this deep pond using a rope and the time-consuming effort to swim all heavy back-packs to the other side, we climbed up along the steep rocks at the left side until we reached the grassy base of the mountain.

From here we proceeded horizontally until we had passed the pond after which we descended back towards the bottom of the valley.
A similar effort was undertaken to overcome the 2nd pond, a 300 feet long, very narrow, very deep gorge surrounded by 30 feet vertical rocks on both sides. The 18 member team again climbed up along the steep valley side until we reached the top of the rocks above the gorge from where we could proceed horizontally along a narrow path while enjoying the beautiful views on the narrow valley below.

After descending back down to the valley floor we proceed at a brisk pace along the river hoping we could exit the mountains before nightfall. Darkness always makes it more difficult to stay on the right trail.

To our great surprise we reached the 3rd pond (1st one in Nagala/4) by 3pm, much earlier than we had expected. At the same location we had reached the main river during our 1-day Nagala/3 trek after overcoming many obstacles along the side-river which joins the main river at this point.

This was also the same pond which we had considered as a dead-end during Nagala/1. The river here takes a slight turn towards the East and is just 20 feet wide and cuts 300 feet (Yes – 300 feet!) deep inside the surrounding rocks. This is the only pond which is nearly impossible to overcome along the sides as the rocks are simply too steep and too high.

Therefore we had to swim straight through. It took us less than 30 minutes to transport all luggage using a craft made of 3 rolled up thermocoil mats to the other side of the pond. For non-swimmers we put a 60 feet long rope allowing them to cross the 20 feet deep pond.

After conquering this last obstacle it took us less than 2 hours to reach the dam where the river exits the mountains and enters the surrounding Andhra plains. We met another group of youngsters (around 10 of them) near the temple which had come to Nagalapuram for a 1-day trek. They were quick to recognize us as CTC. Looks like we have become quite famous. The four car drivers proceed ahead of the group to retrieve the 3 cars parked at the starting stream/dam on Friday night. We could not resist a last dip in the stream just before the temple after which it took us 1 hour up-and-down to bring all cars back around 7pm. A little after 9pm we were celebrating another successful Nagala mission at Hotel Chennai Deluxe near Koyambedu. Dinner never tasted so good!

Participants : Peter Van Geit,Vikram J,Diwakar,Palanidaran,Nafees Ahamed,Sai Krishnan,Rama Mohan Reddy,Veerapathiran Y,Kutral Ramesh,Vinodha Jeyanthilal,Rajesh CV,Uday Tipnis,Claudy Rayan,Sanjay Bhattacharya,Vinod Hari,Venkatesha R. Hathwar,Mohan Kumaresh,Bastien,Rémy BERETS,Ashok Rajendran,Vasanth

Image Library:
Mohan Kumaresh
Venkatesh Hathwa



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