Peter Van Geit
Ladies Monday, July 5, 2010
I sit at my desk, staring at the monitor, fingers resting atop random keys. Images of rocks and trees flash in mind. The voice of waterfalls and rain echo in ears. A melancholic mood sets in. Post trek blues?? Probably, yes. It was beyond my dreams to take a breath of fresh air. To lose track of time, to be away from the crowd, yet not alone. To fill my heart with happiness, till it threatens to burst. That was what happened last weekend. An easy trek for the regulars, a tight slap for me. It woke me up from the urban slumber and gave me a glimpse of nature brimming with life.
I had my fears. What sort of a group is CTC? (I joined CTC to register for this trek) Does it tolerate new born trekkers like me? It was to be a ladies trek. Would that mean a group of bat-girl-like-ladies springing from one mountain peak to the other? Once in a while when I dare, the seven floor climb up the stairs to our cafeteria leaves me panting. Will I be able to walk in the uneven terrain for hours? I hate carrying backpack even for a short while, during the trips to my home town. How will I manage to walk with the backpack all the while? My experience closest to swimming is, wading in the rainwater puddles of Chennai roads. What do I do while others swim and dive in the pools? I sleep till eight. How can I be at the pick-up point by 4:30 am? It looks like midnight to me. Half the week was spent in deciding and the other half in collecting the essentials. Shoes, cap, LED torch, sprain relief spray… I didn’t have any. And what was this sleeping mat supposed to be? By the time I got everything (it was a small list anyway) stuffed (including the poor sleeping mat) into an unlucky backpack, there left a few hours daring me to catch some sleep if I can. Hardly I caught and phew!!! I was at the pick-up point. (Thanks to Nithya, an early riser, my room-mate and a fellow first-timer).
All my fears were proved wrong. The CTC guys were awesome. They nurture the new born trekkers. The ladies were of all sizes and shapes, but all were pleasant and friendly. I did make it through the trek. (There were hands to hold on, to help across a stream or up a climb). And the backpack seemed more like a survival kit than a burden. Water, Food, dry clothes, light.. And at the pool, I got a swimming mentor. The trip started half an hour late than the scheduled time, thanks to the cab driver. We had breakfast at a hotel on the way, celebrated the birthday of then-stranger-Alex (I had to ask his name to sing ‘Happy Birthday Aaalexxxxxx’…), and picked up lunch from the village near the western entry. There was this group of media persons, all fun-to-be-with and cool. We had a roll call under the lonely tree. Each one was to carry own lunch packet, an apple and the share in uncooked food. There was no room in my backpack. So I pulled out the ill treated sleeping mat and rolled it to a bundle and let it hang from the backpack. All set for the trek. Somebody said start. Someone else led. We followed, clueless of what is waiting.
The first part of the trek was the emotionally trying one. Flat yet stony terrain, the scorching sun and the hill which seemed to move away as we approach. In ten minutes I concluded it was a bad idea to trek. Slowly came, the bushes. Sun continued to shower his ‘mercy’ on us. And they said, just a short walk and we will reach the mango trees. It kept us walking. We were relieved at the cool shade the trees offered. Trees are precious, indeed. Another short walk, we met the stream for the first time. They said ‘have a dip and you would feel better.’ And the dip!!! What is heavenly if that was not!! We filled our bottles upstream and the water tasted sweet. Feeling refreshed we resumed the trek. It was beautiful all around. We made our way among the trees, jumped from rocks to rocks, crossed back and forth the same stream (whenever it was the easier way), climbed up or down to navigate around huge rocks. And after what they claimed to be a short while, there came the first pool. It was beautiful, perfect with a small waterfall - a small natural water slide. The swimmers plunged in right away. Others inflated the tubes and got in. I was reluctant at first but finally waded through the pebbly pool where the water half as deep as my height, looking at the waterfall longingly. But one had to cross the deep parts of the pool to reach it and I am no swimmer! Someone asked me to take a tube and go. These guys don’t know me. I jump in puddles, but that is all. Worse was the next suggestion. ‘Lie on you back. Head down, you will float. I will take you to the other end.’ I will float??? Then why do ever people drown? This guy must be crazy. But I did float and felt like the slender insect which drifts on the surface of water. (Surface Tension!!!). It was rocking at the falls. Leaning on the rock with water flowing all around me, holding me in a lose hug, and the sun kissing my eye lids. Why couldn’t those moments last forever!!
After what seemed to be a short while, we came out of the pool and had the lunch we brought. I was drying my hair when it started to drizzle. It turned to rain in a matter of seconds. Suddenly the mood changed in the group. We were told about the flash floods. When it rains the stream would get flooded all of a sudden and it was not safe anymore. We hastily moved from the pool, to reach safe height. It wasn’t really an easy climb uphill. It was steep, looked almost vertical to me. It was slippery; the small rocks we used as footsteps came lose. The plants we held on for grip came uprooted. The bags socked and weighed down on our damp shoulders. We were to hurry as it was dangerous to be in low area. And it was raining the most beautiful rain I have ever seen. It was the best part of the trek. We panted, puffed, struggled, helped, slipped, screamed, took help and made it to a safe height. And the view from the top!! It was worth twice the climb. Rain on top of the trees, rain drops on tips of leaves, on tiny tender branches, rain, rain everywhere. Like in the wall papers and photographs we usually come across. The difference was that I could reach out and touch them. I could hear my heart roaring with happiness. The rain is considered a spoilsport usually. But it was a welcome companion then, a naughty one, indeed. It stopped after driving us up the hill, drenching our bags thoroughly and watching us smile at the scenic view. We couldn’t make it to the preplanned camp site. The new camp site found (did they already know it) was just perfect. It was a small clearing with the hill to the east, the stream a short walk to the west, and the trees all around. Bala was the fire man, first the barbeque fire and then the camp fire. The twigs were wet. But with patience, prayer, all inflammable things they could lay their hands on like cooking oil, ghee, coconut oil, puncture repair paste, bits of dry paper, matchbox etc, sincerely blown lungful of air, the noise we created in the name of song etc, the twigs finally gave in. Sheethal put the small pot of water over the barbeque grill, added sugar, tea leaves and milk powder in that order, stirred the contents and exclaimed ‘the color has come’. The tea took its time to boil, and did taste good.
A tent with the tarpaulin sheet was up and bags were safe from further drenching. The rain did make an attempt to come back. We fiercely protected the valuable cooking area holding the other tarpaulin sheet over our head like a roof. The cooking smell filled the air soon. We sat around the fire, singing songs. I did actually sing! Where else am I allowed to shout at the top of my voice!! By the time our singing energy went down, a “Yummy” (Thilak!) meal was ready. Moon had risen above the hill, but still hidden behind the clouds. With the stream’s pleasant music, soft moonlight and dry clothes (I had it in a plastic cover. Thanks for the tip in prep mail), I had a goodnight sleep. Some of us were playing the ‘Mafia’ game it seems, but I was sound asleep. It was a pleasant morning, next day. We had a good breakfast (again yummy!) and started towards the second pool. We passed by the first pool, gave it nothing more than a loving glance. It was a more difficult way, but seemed easier as we got used to it. The second pool was bigger with a bigger water fall. Half the pool was shallow and the other half deep. There I got my swimming mentor, Sangeetha. I realized it is quite possible to swim I am not sure how it looked, but I did try to swim. I started from a distance and swam towards her. It felt good each time I reached her. It was like being a kid once again, learning something new.
I was still afraid to venture into the deep waters and gave same longing look at the waterfalls. Another guy offered to accompany. ‘You wanna go there? Come…’ I said, I don’t’ swim. He said he doesn’t either. Marvelous!! This must be a crazier guy. I even forgot to pray on the way. There was a gap between two rocks through which one has to climb/ crawl to reach a flat rock. From there it is a nice slide down. It was a difficult climb. Water was streaming through the gap. It was slippery with no foothold. There were roots hanging down. Alas! I was not strong enough to pull myself up holding the roots. I kept slipping down. He helped me climb. It felt good when I made it. I was crazy perhaps but when I stood under the gushing water, I thought I heard the waterfall say, ‘We love you’. And yes, sliding down the rock into the water, it was a nice plunge.
Third pool was even bigger and deeper, with a bigger waterfall. Guess I was awed and before I knew it, decided not to get in. No amount of coaxing or encouragement did any good to make me even wet my feet. The jump from the rocks must have been awesome; I could see the smiles in the bright faces. For lunch we had the softest chappathis ever possible. It was getting cloudy when we started back, but didn’t rain. On the long walk, when we waited at the first pool, halted at the campsite, took a last dip in the stream (where we first met her), all the while I knew, I would be coming back. Feeling light, moving when I hear ‘MOOOOOV’, stopping when I hear ‘HAAALT’, drinking the cool stream water, sleeping under the stars, breathing in the pure air, smiling at fellow trekkers because I am genuinely pleased to meet them, being scared for life, shouting as loud as I can, being among mature, strong and kind human beings. Should I say I loved it!! Dear Nagala, I will be back soon, for you have stolen my heart.
Did something different, exciting, remarkable, and something memorable! It was indeed a victory over my deskbound life with my heart in a safe deposit locker and my eyes all hypnotized to my 12 inch monitor. I am so glad that I was part of this trek and it would not have been possible but for the CTC ians who exponentially increased my ability to gear up. From the time I got into the bus at 5:30am on 26th June till the time I got off I have had great fun. I have made some great friends in just two days and enjoyed their company, with whom I rambled out to explore, climb the rocks and run the ponds. I must specially thank Peter, for holding my hand when I freaked out and bringing me back to land safely..
Special thanks to Thilak for carrying my 10 kg bag in the rain, and but for his magnanimity I would have preferred living in the first pool I guess. Neetha for the diverse menu let me admit I’ve never loved upma so much at home as I did yours. Bala’s lovely mushroom barbecue and for the roti making lessons. Can’t forget Neetha’s hard work to get the woods burning to cook.. Karthik -it was so scary when you asked me to jump of the rock, I thought I was gonna be left alone in Nagala but of course they brought me back safely.. Lovely entertainment in the campfire by Suman with her dance, Leo, Samyak, Sowmya and others with their singing..
It was lot of fun on the way back home with little Sailee Shah and her logical reasoning games and Samyak, Sowmya with their melodies.. Also can’t forget the UFX guys trying to video tape our amazing adventure on the rock-lined trails of Nagala. Leo’s entertainment.. btw when can v c it?? The dip in the hippo pool was marvelous. I bet will sure pull my guts and get geared up next time to jump in the 3 rd pool.. : Cant forget thilak’s ghost stories at the dhaba.. Last but not the least hats off to SHEETALLLL she is unbelievable and a gr8 organiser. I’m sure it has warranted lot of time and co ordination and she was a great motivator.. Did everything to keep the group alive.. Hats off to neetha,bala to have carried the vessels, groceries etc.. Thanks guys for climbing the trees risking your lives for putting up the tent in the rain... Only thing I missed was the MAFIA game hope I learn to play it in our next gtg.
I never could have done this without the help of all of u.. Thanks for the great trekking experience.. and feels great that this weekend has been a mix of adventure, fun, friends and everything that I could have wished for..
Peter Van Geit
Ladies Monday, July 5, 2010