Mission Dead or Alive/8 – DOA/8 – December 25 – 27, 2009

Monday, January 11, 2010
Part of Mission Dead for Sure/3 - DFS/3
Participants: DFS/3 - Peter, Arpitha, Ford Bala, Gowri, Guna, Vel DOA/8 - Aditya, Ajay, Alfonso, Balaji Seshan, Balakrishnan Vinchu, Kannan, Karthick Sundararajan, Naveen, Roseline, Sagar, Vel, Vikram
Organized by: Peter
Image Galleries: Kannan | Naveen | Vikram

PhotoStory by Naveen

Day 1 – Dec 25, 2009
It was a cold winter morning, 3am to be precise. Unlike our earlier jeep rides, this time no one dared to hangout and take the wind. Winds were freezing and we had covered every side of jeep with sheets (ofcourse except the windshield) and shivering like pneumonia patients. We pause in a village where hot chais were gulped and someone took a murukku and in quick succession the whole jar of murukkus worth 60 bucks went in thin air.
The 2 jeeps dumped us in a remote village in the northwest corner of Venkateshwara forest and by 5am we were lugging our backpacks in darkness towards the invisible mountains. Not a soul stirred in the sleepy village but Arpitha didn’t want to give up, with her high-pitched low voice she woke up the lonely dog and hens starting a ruckus. Like devils, we gathered near the haunted Puliyamaram(tamarind tree) in village outskirts and distributed the food stuff. Less food for the 11 people who had some desire to return alive(DOA) and more food for the 6 people who wished death for sure (DFS).
Starting with a brisk walk, we cross thorny bushes, climbing moderately and made our first stop over a dry waterfall.
Climbing more, surprisingly we entered into WWW zone. Its not internet but definitely lots and lots of webs of various sizes spun by colourful spiders.
Soon we land in a large flat rockbed typical of Venkateshwara and reach a fantastic drop and clearing which looks like tree-lined avenue leading into the unknown…
Signs of some human presence where visible where fires had burned and pealed the rocks showing strangely tile-shaped patterns on the rocky floor.
Not to miss the gigantic elephant dung…and the mushrooms growing over it!
Around 9am, we hit the first water point, take a quick dip and have our breakfast of cream buns.
We took a shandy dry stream and suddenly Aditya wanted take bath in the clear waters. Its not a surprise for me since its hardly deep to wet even the shoe soles.
As we moved further, the water got murky, muddy and smelly. Few said that the place was a watering hole for the wildlife. But i suspect that few elephants had extreme diarrhoea…
An old jeep track crossed the path and a marking declared the place as Gadela basecamp. Now who could camp in such a smelly place?
The stream widened further and flowed in open stretchs.
Karthick removed his new vibram-soled shoes to cross a stretch. The proud me declared that vibram can do it, took a step, promptly slipped into waters and Karthick had to drag me out. Never voice your ego atleast until you had achieved it.
Either it was the recent rains or suspected elephant diarrhoea or whatever cause, if you can selectively blind the yellowish color then you can enjoy the several small step waterfalls.
Everyone crossed this beautiful waterfall and highlightingly yellowish pool from the right side except our daring Ajay who scrambled for several minutes over the rocky left edge.
At one final moment, he was trying to jump quite a distance but from a very narrow rock edge where he is struck like a lizard. The funny point, was he didn’t know that the water was just knee-deep there. And for good 10mins, Gowri, Aditya and me watched his Pink panther comedy show.
Its 12 noon, bit sunny, we rested a bit, ate polli and drank from a tiny side stream with bit clear water. Continuing further down the stream around 2.30pm we hit a big surprise, amazement, shock, dilemma, question mark…all together. Gals and Boys, we have made a new discovery – DOA8 Falls !!
A 50m high vertical Twin falls plunged down into a narrow gorge. There is no way to climbdown this steep vertical from any side. It was decided to climb the mountain on right side and soon we lost our first gadget, the walky talky. We got down into another stream which eventually dried and led to an another dead-end – a steep cliff with a fantastic wallpaper view.
Peter and few went in search for a way out of this dead-end. About an hour later, they returned finding way to a waterfall below but since it was already 5pm and falling lights, we decided to camp at this wonderful cliff edge and few others went again to fetch clean water from the waterfall.
Did anyone forgot that it was Christmas? Nay, never. Soon came Viki dressed as Santa Claus and everyone sang jingle bells.
But all eyes were set on the nice French Chocolate cake home-made and brought by Roseline .
Soon after, smoke came out of kitchen, piping hot soup was served. After a pause, I started developing version 4 of CTC’s proprietary Aval dish. This time no vegetables were used but plentiful of groundnuts and spiced like lemon rice.
Cooking amid a dozen-plus dead-hungry trekkers is a bit of challenge. Everyone wants to add or not add whatever they want. Ford Bala wanted to reserve curry leaves for next 10 days! Some wanted to cook the aval which is not required and another wanted to dump all the ghee in one shot. Peter was asking me to make the cooking interesting by giving a live commentary of what I’m doing!! Now is it not pure luck that the dish came out edible and again extra lucky that it was delicious as said from the stuffed mouths of the fellow trekkers.
With the hungry tamed, we lit a campfire at the edge of the cliff and the night photography session started. I was never good in this part. So after an hour, I drained my batteries, left several people skin-burned in attempt to do long exposures near campfire and got around 50 nicely blurred shots. (dont ask me!)
With half of the group down, the night birds started a game of UNO swinging their bodies to hit songs blaring from a mobile. At climax, we even managed to coaxed Ajay to dance to Michael Jackson tunes.
The bravehearts slept near the campfire just few steps away from the cliff edge while others took shelter in corners away from cold winds.
Day 2 – Dec 26, 2009
On day 2, we woke up with wet sleeping bags. Obviously we blamed it on the mist.
The remains of the campfire were used to boil the Channa which we had soaked the previous night. We were trying a new breakfast dish instead of our usual rusk. Boiled Channa mixed with sprouted green gram sprinkled with lemon and salt.
After a first bite, here is the reaction…
After a group pic of us munching the grams, we moved on by 8am.
From the Cliff, we can see the rocky mountain opposite projecting like a piece of sliced cake, splitting the valley below around its both side into two narrow gorges.
Just 45mins, we climbed down the Cliff and first went to the right side gorge to discover a superb waterfall with a big pool and cave. The water was much better today and after almost of day of no splashing, everyone got down into the water for a refreshing bath. The swim to the waterfall was quite long and I guess it was the 2nd largest pool in CTC history next to DOA4 pool which was 3 times larger than this.
The Cave at the right side was very unique, its wide and not much of height but goes deep inside, fully filled with water and no landfall. Few of us swam inside and perched in the rocky edges of the cave and wondered at the beauty that we saw. Words fails to describe….rays of lights sparkling over the waving waters and the brilliant view from inside the darkened space was surreal.
We didn’t spend much time; just 30mins then we retraced and went into the left side gorge. Away from urban living, these wild forests have a way to restroke our childhood passions. Here is proof where 2 fully grown adults where jumping like kindergarten kids over a heap of dirt.
As we venture into the gorge, the rock formations on both sides grew impressive. Gowri stretched out his arms and looked up the mountains in awe. I was lucky to capture his innocent candid expression…
And who couldn’t be awed at these massive giants….
Barely 10 mins from the Mega Cave pool in the other gorge, we reached what looked like the insides of fortress, a fully enclosed area with high mountain walls.
As I approached the group ahead, I imagined the abrupt end to be another pool and was wondering why they were waiting and what prevented them from jumping into the waters.
Fortunately i stopped at the edge and a shocking chill ran across my spine. Its not a simple waterfall or pool or was there any enclosed space, we were on top of a 100+m drop and its the DOA3 Falls where we had actually planned to camp on Day 1.
One can’t realise the immensity of the feeling of where we are until one see this wonderful waterfalls from its facing up from the gorge beneath. The next couple of shots were from Ravi Ghosh DOA3 album.
Tugged inside folds of mountains, the DOA3 Falls was a sight to behold
We went around the corner to get a top view of the waterfall. With an inclining edge, it was too risky to stand, so I laid down and crawled to the edge. And then Alfonso held my leg as I projected my upper body out of edge…
and took this thrilling shot of my life…
It took a bit of effort to keep my head from spinning as i took in the view of the scary depths and nature’s gigantic creations
The gorge beneath the falls was a straight-cut lane as if some one used a ruler to design its sides.
And getting into this narrow dark gorge is one of the targets of the mission. Did we achieve it? Continue to read the adventure to find it out yourselves…
Just like yesterday we can’t climb down this steep gorge, so we retreated back and climbed across the mountain into the stream above the Mega Cave pool.
During the climb, Guna spotted a Gooseberry tree and brought down an entire branch with several dozens of berries. Our vitamin-conscious minds, filled bags and packets with plentiful of gooseberries.
Half way through the stream, we had news that the group ahead had hit a deadend and they will return back after dipping in a waterfall. So we relaxed above the Mega Cave pool and never known to be idle, soon wild costumes were made, poses were posed and an extensive photography session unfolded…here is a glimpse of our Tribal Hunter.
More than an hour passed. At the sametime, the rest of the group had swimmed through 3 big pools for 30mins into a narrow gorge and enjoyed under the 50m high DOA8 waterfall which we had discovered yesterday. Ignoring it as just another waterfall, I missed a great opportunity and exciting moments were lost. Lesson learned – Never underestimate anything without seeing it with your own eyes and judge by your own self.
After a lunch of chappatis, we climbed out of DOA8 stream and came back to our yesterday campsite above the cliff. Yes, yes, after half-day of trekking we were back to square one! From here we climbed more higher for 1hr to reach the grassy mountain tops. Our target was to get down into the DOA3 valley. The mood was upbeat with Karthick Sundararajan corrupting our minds with Vettaikaran songs. Our innocent Mexican brother Poncho picked the lines pretty quickly and went gaga singing “En uchi mandayila surrungudhu…”. With all enthusiasm, we started descending into the DOA3 valley, or rather better described as our first attempt to do so!
Half-way down, Gowri noticed a nice rock formation on the opposite mountain range, where rocks had got strewn as if a Horse was galloping up the hill.
As we all agreed and gaped at the amazing coincidence of a natural formation, Gowri started swinging to the hot beat blaring from our mobile player. Shouldn’t we be in more firm ground to dance rather than at this mountain side? Gowri replied back coolly, Naveen its not possible that we could come back to this exact same place with such nice view, so lets enjoy the moment and dance now. Mark these words readers…
Few steps down, we heard that the GPS went missing. Peter and few went up searching. Several minutes passed and then everyone started scanning the whole mountain side near to them. Peter came back and we were almost about to conclude that the GPS was lost. Now, Balaji Seshan woke up from his 30min nap, casually picked up the device which was lying few steps away and declared its recovery. Now there is no need to say who the whole group was staring at.
Then we continued our descent. Almost when we can see the valley below, we hit a steep vertical drop. So we climbed back and you know what, we reached exactly the same place where we were dancing. So Gowri, we did indeed come back precisely to the same place. And about the view, you will read how it will continue to haunt us….
Wall-shaped ridges are characteristic of Venkateshwara mountain ranges which are sometimes as high as 50m and its impossible to climbdown these steep verticals.
From here, started our ultimate challenge of the trek: We climbed up the mountains and made our 2nd attempt to climbdown through another slope but in vain. The 3rd attempt through a dry stream was very promising until we encountered the same kind of steep fall. Our chatters got silenced and cameras didn’t click as we went on a relentless pursuit to get down to the valley. Each attempt to descend and then climb up the same hurdles that we went passed was a real test of our stamina and will. Our water reserve was running low and the last refill was around 12 noon. Peter advised, “Guys, don’t think about thirst, control your mind!”
By the time we made our 4th attempt, the night had set in and we were walking semi-blind with our torches. Yes, we were exhausted but the pursuit had never slowed down. Finally Peter decided that we should continue tomorrow and descending at night is risky. So we set to camp at the grassy mountain top. With no water, there is no way of cooking our maggie soup or noodles, we took out the Plum cake which had luckily escaped from the yesterday Christmas party and divided the sugar-rich dessert for our energy.
We bundled into 3 groups, wrapped tarpaulins over our sleeping bags to protect ourselves from the cold winds, mist and went to sleep.
Its not finished yet, some like Aditya who was resting beside me have sleeping problem especially in these grassy mountain side. Lets say it as Tadagala effect! After a bit of chitchat, all went to deep sleep and snoring sessions. Sometime who knows when at the dead of night, Aditya woke me up urgently. I was like what? He silenced me and pointed in a direction and hushed, “Elephant, elephant…” Shaking off my sleepy eyes, all that i can see was shadows of trees which obviously can illusion as any shape for imagination. And from the way he was blabbering, I know this kid had some dream and now I’m a victim of parasomnia. Unfortunately the victim had to act also as the doctor to cure, so i patted him back to sleep and put the day to an end.
Day 3 – Dec 27, 2009
Day 3 dawned with parched throats and hungry stomachs. But the sleep had definitely recharged our spirits, so after a group pic recording our survival status, we started off as early as 6.30am!
By 8am, we reached a side valley where we found patches of clear water in shallow rocks possibly collected after a rain. We skimmed the surface, quenched our thirst, ate some rusks and refilled our bottles.
The 4th and 5th attempts, all ended in steep verticals. For the 6th attempt, we descended via a side stream with several steep drops.
At one moment, my sleeping bag unhooked and rolled down precisely into crevice under a pile of massive rocks. The shallow depth was powdered with fresh rock dust probably from the effect of falling rocks and definitely a place where one shouldn’t be beneath. I quickly retrieved my Quecha and proceeded to next the steep drop.
The adventurous gang we are, thought ropes were making it easy, so after a few got down they removed the rope and let others to themselves.
Guna, Gowri, Viki and Kannan went Tarzan style and got down grabbing roots.
Around 9am, after several steep vertical climbdowns, the side stream went vertical with a steep waterfall. During every attempt that we made, at the last dead-end vertical drop, we can see the Galloping StoneHorse in the opposite mountain. The Horse had galloped a few kms from an approaching view and to now well-passed-beyond-us view. The blessed view has now turned into an unlucky haunting view.
Peter along with Gowri and Guna went in search, determined to find a way to get down from the mountains.
Meanwhile, all others couldn’t tolerate their hunger anymore, we teared open a noodle packet and started eating it uncooked, sprinkled with raw masala. Ford bala got a bit overwhelmed and went searching to hunt for a pigeon, crow, rabbit, rat! or whatever thing he can get. But before that he checked with me if I’m ready to cook. Ofcourse, i said but where will you find these birds or rodents when we hadn’t come close to even a cockroach during the last 2 days in this vast jungle?
About an hour passed and thankfully before our minds could go any crazy, Peter returned with the good news that they finally found a way to descend into the valley. Instantly the team spirit rose and with happiness, we trekked along a grassy slope underneath a rocky ridge..
And there again Gowri sighted the Galloping Stone horse…
Here we are at the declining slope leading to our salvation – the V-shaped valley beneath.
On the way down, we encountered a baby Russell Viper
Sliding down a slippery mountain side…
At 12 noon, we touched down the valley and ended our 24-hr long mountain-hopping saga!
We took a much-needed pretty long break, bathing in the stream, eating our chappaties, taking a bit of nap etc.
Ajay and Aditya, even managed to pay respects to the almighty…
thanks to someone who dedicatedly brings white and red paint in here and marks these places, OMG!?
With only half-day left for the DOA8 team to exit, we dropped our plan to enter into DOA3 valley and visit the dark 300m gorge under the DOA3 waterfalls.
So we recommenced at 1.30pm and started to exit via the stream through a narrow rocky gorge which leads east out the mountains. Initially the stream flowed like a pathway inbetween the gorge and we found some interesting limestone(?!) formations over the rocky layers of the gorge.
As the gorge took a curve, one side of the mountain base had eroded beautifully shaping it like arches of a Castle.
And ofcourse the hallways of the mountain castle are flooded with water from the scenic waterfalls 
Amazed at the beauty of Nature, we indulged in some posed photography.
The gorge ended with the stream widening into a big pool…
through which we ferried across our bags…
It was 2.30pm, we moved on to exit the mountain range walking beside the stream over boulders. Crossing massive rock formations…
quickly sloping mountain sides covered with green carpet and natural plantations…!
When we had cleared a good distance from the mountains, around 4pm the DOA and DFS teams decided to part. We handed over our excess food and pickedup the wishlist from DFS in case they survive when the DOA9 will meet then 4 days later. Karthick and Viki got directions from Peter to exit and the other GPS device.
Now we are 11 people left to ourselves to run out to civilization and there is no time to relax, we have to cover 9kms before it gets dark. The group picked up a pretty fast pace and went literally running across the stretch through boulders over a dry stream and cutting across bamboo forest. Strangely I can sense more wildlife at this fringe of jungle than the deep insides.
By 7pm we had completely moved away from the mountains, forest and were fast moving towards the village. Our trail was severely barricaded with new thick thorny fences erected to protect farmlands and we had to crisscross to reach the village. Reaching the village we got a tractor and got dropped in the highway around 9pm.
The tractor fellow was so friendly and innocent that he refused to take any money from us which we anyway tugged into his pocket.
Then we did our usual grand finale plundering a road-side dhaba emptying all chicken, egg rack, dosa, roti and what-nots.
Altogether to summarize, it was 3 days of pure adventure with an energetic & jovial team, lead by Peter who with his untiring spirit and relentless pursuit proved that motivated souls can overcome even the challenges of Nature. The efforts of our exploration, we discovered more deep secrets of Venkateshwara with the discovery of the stunning DOA8 twin waterfalls, 500m long DOA8 gorge (longer than DOA3 gorge), Mega Cave pool…new campsites, new possibilities to explore and new treks for the year 2010.
Last but not the least, we survived indeed to share this story of adventure to all !!
Posted by: Naveen



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