Nagala 10 – The race between body and mind - Dec 25 - 28, 2008

Friday, February 13, 2009
There are times in life when the body challenges the mind for a brief period of time and a persistent individual wins when the mind gets the better of the body. But when this struggle is prolonged the ordinary soul crumbles. Only the toughest of the tough survive such ordeals. This is a story about 8 such people – arguably the toughest of the tough, who braved all odds to win the battle of minds and experience an adventure of a life time.

It was a cold December morning in Delhi. The daytime temperature was 12 degrees – a welcome change from the searing heat of Chennai. I was checking mails sitting in my hotel room and there is this mail form Peter unveiling plans for a four day trek challenging all the tough people out there. I would be travelling to Mumbai the following week and was not sure of my schedule after that. Chances were I could prolong my stay in Mumbai. With a big sigh I closed the mail wishing I could join the trek.

It was another routine Monday morning. Mumbai was warmer than Delhi and I was due to leave for a high profile meeting soon. I had only enough time to do a quick mail check in my hotel room. I logged into my inbox and I find a reminder mail from Peter. Today evening would be the deadline to register for Nagala – 10, the toughest trek organized by CTC so far.
I thought for a moment and decided to follow my instincts. Come what may I would do this trek at any cost. The adventurer in me got the better of the business executive.

I was back in Chennai on Wednesday 24th December after a hectic day and delayed flight. I reached office early and started clearing all the pending work. I checked my mails and found out that the start time for the trek had been advance to 9 pm Wednesday. Boy, I had very little time to prepare myself. As usual I made a plan in my mind as to what time I should leave office; things I needed to pack etc. Peter had extensive research and preparation for the trek and sent out a detailed mail on preparing for the trek. The mail was complete in all aspects on how to prepare for the trek. It even had photos of the ration each of us would be carrying on the trek.

The day passed by soon and it was seven in the evening. I boarded the train at Mylapore, reached home, had a quick bath, packed my backpack and in no time I was ready to go. I started walking to the pickup point near Tidel Park. As I was trying to cross the signal at Madhya Kailash I heard a familiar voice call out my name. It was Vikram standing at the signal with his bike. Lucky me I don’t have to walk all the way now – I said to myself. I hopped on to his bike and we rode off to the pickup point. By the time we parked the bike at Thiruvanmiyur railway station Peter had reached Tidel Park and Guru was waiting there as well. Perfect timing, we thought. All of us bundled into Peter’s Scorpio and we drove off to the next pickup point – Nathan’s Café at Koyambedu. On the way we were coordinating with Arun who was coming in from Bangalore and Tamal who would join us at Koyambedu with his car. The traffic started building up as we drove towards Koyambedu and so was our excitement.
Arun was waiting for us in Koyambedu along with Ram who had come to see us off, Tamal had also reached and was waiting with his car. Guru and me would accompany Tamal in his car while Arun joined Vikram and Divya in Peter’s car. So we started our journey towards the starting point of our 4 day adventure. But we would later learn that adventure was waiting to greet us earlier than we had anticipated. The plan was to drop all of us in Nagalpuram and from there Peter and Tamal would proceed to Tada to park Peter’s car there so that we could have a mode of transport when we exit from Tada at the end of the 4 day trek. Nani who was coming from Vijaywada would be picked up on the way. After getting off the highway the road got worse and Tamal’s car was taking a beating on the bumpy roads. By the time we reached Nagalapuram it was close to 1 am. We unloaded the luggage from the cars and started to settle down for the night while Peter and Tamal proceeded towards Tada which was a good 3 hour drive from Nagalapuram. We put down our sleeping mats on the flat ground in the deserted place and tried to get some sleep after taking a quick bite of the parottas that Vicky had bought in Koyambedu. Being a bad sleeper I couldn’t sleep because of the strange sounds around us compounded with the intermittent snoring of some of my comrades. I had also seen a couple of big snakes crossing the road while we were driving. I was hoping that they had a good dinner and none of them were roaming around us hungry.

It was around 2.30 am and my mobile suddenly came alive with a message. The message was from Peter and it read, “We are sleeping in Nagalapuram police station. They want sub inspector to see us in the morning. They are suspicious about trekking. No worries. Me, Nani and Tamal are fine and comfortably here. Give us a ring at 7 am. Goodnight”. It so happened that that Tamal had approached a policeman to ask directions to the nearest petrol pump to refuel and the policeman took in Tamal, Nani and Peter under suspicion. I woke up Vikram and Arun and informed them. Not too good a start we thought to ourselves. We were not sure when the sub inspector would come and when we would be able o start the trek the next day.
I replied to Peter saying we would wait at the same place and lay down trying to get some sleep but in vain.

Soon it was early morning and we could see people from the village crossing us on their way to the forest to collect firewood. All of them shot out suspicious and strange glances over us. What’s wrong with these people haven’t they seen people like us before? Sometime later a couple of locals walked up to s and asked us why we were sleeping there. Why, what’s wrong in sleeping here, we asked. This place is not safe because it is a graveyard, came the reply.

I got up and walked a little distance from where we were sleeping and I could see fresh burials there. All those strange glances were making sense now. One of the guys invited us to his place for breakfast. We thanked him but refused the offer saying we were ok and our friends were getting us food. We called up Peter and learnt that the sub inspector would be there anytime. He asked us to be patient. Soon the sun was out and it was getting hot. We decided to move closer to the dam and wait there till Peter comes. We hauled the entire luggage to the picturesque dam and settled down to wait for Peter. Soon the cool water and beautiful scenery lured us in and we were bathing in the water discussing movies and actors and ratings.

As we were talking movies standing neck deep in the cool waters of the dam, we got a message from Peter. He had convinced the sub inspector of his trekking and not only that, the sub inspector had expressed interest in joining on one of our treks. That was great news! We got out of the water and started to get ready for the ‘real thing’. Within minutes Peter’s Scorpio came roaring in. we were asked to get ready soon and Peter went back to park the car in the nearby village. By the time he returned we had our breakfast of idlis and vadas bought by Peter and started on one of the greatest treks CTC had ever embarked on. We started walking towards the temple and to a nearby falls. The first one we would encounter of the many that were waiting for us. After reaching the falls we took a dip in the cool water and Guru did his first dive into the water starting off his diving mania of the trek. After sometime in the cool waters we had some snacks and started trekking up hill on a steep terrain. This was just the beginning of things to come. Our original plan for day one was to camp on top of the 800m peak. Due to the delay in the police station we had lost half a day and were behind schedule. Soon it was evening and we were searching for a proper place to camp. We were walking through the forest in the dark and out of nowhere we reached a picture perfect place which was like a scene out of a fairy tale.

It was a small clearing in the middle of the forest. There was a beautiful waterfall whose waters formed a small pool. The sky was clearly visible with numerous bright stars and there were fire flies flying around. There was enough place for us to cook and settle down for the night. We went around collecting dry wood for the cooking fire and Peter brought a couple of big ‘trees’ for the camp fire. We cooked dinner which consisted of mushroom soup and MTR instant pulav. But that was not all. Arun has a surprise for all of us. He took out two fruit cakes out of his back pack and did some icing on it with the jam we had.
Christmas couldn’t have been celebrated in a better setting. Peter and Divya had the honor of cutting the cakes and we gobbled it up in no time. As the trees fed the fire we settled down for the night around the camp fire slipping into our sleeping bags and blankets. The night was silent and cold. The only sound that could be heard was that of the waterfall interrupted now and then by occasional snoring by some happy souls.

Dawn broke and we woke up one by one stiff from the cold of the night. Tamal woke up early and prepared some nice green tea for all of us. Nani had a bath in the cold pool. We packed our stuff and got ready to continue our adventure. The immediate task was to conquer the 800m peak behind which we had camped for the night. Like valiant soldiers we started the uphill climb towards the 800m peak. The climb was steep and the thorny bushes made it even tougher. We were relentless in our pursuit and did not mind the obstacles that lay on our path. We had just one goal in our mind and soon it was in sight - The 800m Peak. Soon we reached the top of the peak and were walking through the grassland huffing and puffing towards the best view point on top of the peak. As usual Peter reached the view point first and called out to us to come and enjoy the views. Amazing and breath taking would be too simple words to describe the sights from the peak and of course we had no words to express the feeling we had standing there looking down at the valley and feeling the mild wind blowing at us. Fortunately there was cell phone signal for a while on top of the peak we called and messaged as many people we could to tell them of our first triumph of the trek. After a brief photo sessions and a cute little dance performance by Vikram for songs like ‘summer of 69’ and ‘waiting for tonight’ we got ready to continue on our journey.

Peter gave us two options for the next leg of the journey. We could take a scenic route towards our right that would have some great pools and falls along the way. But the chances were we may not be able to make it to Tada if we took that route. We would have to push ourselves harder than ever before if we really wanted to make it to Tada. The other route was a virtual shortcut which would involve climbing and then descending one of the hills nearby and we had better chances of reaching Tada if we took that route. Initially the team was divided on which route to take. After some debating we decided to do it in true CTC style. We would take the scenic route and reach Tada as planned come what may. We also decided that we would wake up early and make up for the lost time. Peter was skeptical about us waking up early. “Let’s see” he said. We continued on our journey and reached a small but beautiful waterfalls late in the afternoon. The pool at the base of the falls was not very deep and the water falling down from the rocks was like cascade. After a refreshing dip in the falls we continued on our journey and came across a wide pool in our way. We had two options now. Bypass the poll and climb onto the cliffs by the side and get down on the other side of the pool or just swim across the pool. In order to save time we decided to swim across the poll. Our luggage would be transported by the small flotilla we created by tying some sleeping mats together. A rope was secured to transport the non swimmers.

Peter and Guru displayed their diving skills and were soon joined by Vikram. After spending some exciting time we moved on with our journey. Soon it was dark and Peter had a great place in mind for setting up camp that night. Soon we reached the awesome camping site. It was a large waterfall with a vast pool. And there were fire flies here as well. We settled down and started cooking. While hot chicken soup and bhel poori was being prepared Tamal set out with his fishing line and succeeded in catching a fish. The thought of having fish for dinner drove Arun and me to the pool with a towel. We would dip the towel into the pool and when some fish passed over it we would pull it out. This way we caught two fishes. Ghee rice was the main course for the night and soon our stomachs were full. We found ourselves place to sleep and lay down gazing at the stars. Nani set his alarm for 5 am. We had promised that we would wake up early the next day to make up for the lost time. As usual the night was cold and still.

The next day Nani woke us all up by 5 am we jumped out of our sleeping bags with all enthusiasm and started to get ready for the tough journey ahead. But it was still dark and we were waiting for first light to leave while we sipped on the green tea Tamal had made. Soon it was bright enough and we started the day with a rock climbing exercise. This would prove to be the most decisive day of the trek and the one that brought out the best in us. We were still behind schedule due to the delay we encountered on day one and there was no other go. We had to stretch ourselves like never before in order to make it to Tada. After the rock climbing we were climbing up a steep hill with dense thorny bushes. Behind us we could see the majestic 800m peak with different views. The weather was hot and we were sweating profusely. We were also running short on our water reserves. All the while Peter kept telling us – it’s all in the mind. You are actually not feeling thirsty. It’s just an illusion. We believed in him and kept pushing our selves. After sometime we descended into a valley and decided to fill up our water bottles just incase. After quenching our thirst we started on the most testing leg of the journey. I actually lost count of the hills we climbed and descended and to be honest I vaguely remember the sights and sounds and the places we crossed. By late evening I was walking like a possessed person just following Peter wherever he went not giving a damn about the rocks, thorns and dense bushes on the way. By late evening Peter announced we had entered the Tada range and by that time we were again low on water. The plan was to find a camping site with good water. The air around us was still and we trained our ears in all directions to try and hear any sound of running water we could find. Soon we picked up a faint sound and headed in that direction to reach a clear running stream with ample space for setting up camp. This was the source of the Tada waterfall. The first thing I did was get down on my feet and drink from the stream. After a satisfying drink we set out to find firewood for cooking. The menu consisted of delicious soup and maggi noodles. I would not have eaten so much maggi in my entire lifetime. The night was the coldest we had encountered so far in the trek. After settling down to sleep we had to cover ourselves with plastic sheets to protect ourselves from the dew. In spite of that we were shivering as the dew penetrated through the plastic sheet and made us cold.

The next morning Nani woke us up again by 5 am and we were getting ready for the final lap of the amazing race. The previous day Peter had told us that we had ample time and it was enough if we started by 7 am. Tamal was trying to light a fire to make some tea and accidentally burnt the whole bottle of petrol. This woke up Peter early and as always we were running behind him in no time. After a short time we reached a beautiful falls with a clear pool at the bottom. The water from the pool was flowing through a natural arch and was falling through a vertical drop. We christened it the leaf pool. We jumped into the pool to refresh ourselves and soon Peter and Guru were displaying their diving skills with some amazing dives. After having a good time we resumed the trek and were walking along a picturesque stream. Suddenly I spotted something green moving on the ground in front of me. It was a snake (which experts later identified as a bamboo pit viper) and without winking an eye I picked it up. It was one of the beautiful snakes I had ever seen. After a photo session with our in house photographer we let go of the snake and continued our trek. By mid afternoon we reached another picturesque falls and jumped in to refresh for the last time as we were nearing the end of the race. After having fun in the water we continued trekking and reached an amazing view point. We sat there on the edge of a rock and watched people below us (who were nothing more than a moving dot from that altitude) bathing in the Tada falls. I was feeling like I was high up on cloud nine, it was an amazing feeling.

So we continued on the last leg of our journey and the climax was as thrilling as the whole trek as we had to negotiate some large boulders and scary vertical drops. But with Peter’s help and guidance we crossed all these obstacles with ease and before long we were back on flat land in Tada after four days and it was strange to be back amidst civilization. The next challenge was to hitch a ride back to Nagalapuram as our vehicles were parked there. As we were walking towards the main road we spotted a Sumo and it turned out to be an engineer’s vehicle who was working on one of the many constructions that were underway in Tada. Nani used his skills of persuasion to convince him to drop us at the nearest point where we could get a share auto. Next on, was a short ride by share auto to the bus stand. As we were riding towards the bus stand the evening sun lit up the Tada hills with a magical glitter and the hills seemed to bid us farewell. At the bus stand Nani helped us hire a sumo that would drop us at Nagalapuram and himself took a bus to Tirupati. Back at Nagalapuram we changed into some fresh clothes and drove towards our prize – dinner at Chennai deluxe. After some spicy soup and chicken biriyani we headed back to our homes and Arun left to Bangalore. After reaching home I hit my bed with a sense of triumph and fulfillment that I had never experienced before – we had won the race by conquering the body with the mind. As I drifted into a sleepy hollow I could hear Peter’s words echo in my ears – “Its all in the mind.”

Write-up by: Baskar

Trek organized by: Peter

Participants: Peter, Divya, Vikram, Arun, Baskar, Guru, Tamal, Nani

Image galleries:

GPX trail (can be used for Geotagging)
KMZ file (click to see trail in 3D in Google Earth)

Other write-up on Nagala 10 is here



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