Tadagala 4 (Tada To Nagala) - June 26-27, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010
Legend (in CTC circles) has it that the Tadagala trek is strangely jinxed. Evidently, a successful finish, requires the organizers/trekkers to somehow pay their pound of flesh to the Nagala gods before the trek starts . Hence, if we undergo a rough time getting to the start of the hike, the gods are appeased and favour us with their good graces as we journey through about 40km of harsh terrain. Well... that's how the story goes anyway. :-) We were going to find out soon enough! So, you readers : If you're laughing/snickering... muaahahaha!! Almost every trek you take WILL end up being tougher than expected! But at the end, you'll also feel more fulfilled, more satiated, more alive and happier than you can possibly imagine! Welcome to the wonderful world of CTC! :-) For the record, last weekend's (June 26-27, '10) trek was the 5th attempt at crossing the Nagalapuram range - starting from the Tada end, traversing about 40 km of unfriendly terrain, and emerging at the Nagala end. It was also only the 3rd time that it was successfully completed, and I had the good fortune of being part of an awesome team that completed it.

But... I'm getting ahead of myself.
"Let's start at the very beginning... a very good place to start". (Remember this song anyone? Although the first sentence might not be very familiar to all, the song is probably one of the most recognized songs in movie history... "Do Re Mi" anyone?!)
So here I was, waiting eagerly for Friday. I had just done the social trek to Nagala the previous weekend with my family (wife and 2 kids). It was wonderful, but all it did was whet my appetite for the real deal! Then my kids fell sick by Wed... dysentery. My daughter got a high fever by Thu (103.8 F) ... I developed a sore throat and low-grade fever ... crap! Fri morning came and went. Booked a Fasttrac call-taxi for 7:15pm. By 5:45pm, it was raining, weather was gloomy, and I was still feeling sick and blah. I took a cold shower, shrugged off the blues and decided that I AM GOING! First battle of the mind - WON! :)

7:15pm : Ring ring... "Saar, naan Velachery le irrukken. Varathukku 1/2 hr ayyidum". Shit! (Taxi delayed... 1/2 hr late). Told him to come anyway. Chandra Babu (Chandu) and Ananth were waiting for me to pick them up. Mad phone tags to ensure that we're still on track. Managed to pick everyone up and head out by 8:10.

8:15pm : Adayar... Unusually severe traffic jam. Koyambedu by 8:30?? No way! Thankfully, in addition to my half hour padding, Ananth had also padded by a half hour. So we managed to reach Koyambedu bus station by 9:10pm, and boarded the 9:30pm bus to Tada. Good... So we're finally off!

11:45pm : Travelling on a NH, we made good time and reached our destination a little before midnight - a bus stand (forgot the name, V...?). Cool! All enthu now. Interesting sights... bare-bottomed drunk face down on floor, 5-6 frogs looking for meals, a rat, a few stray dogs snarling/barking and squaring off for competition. Awesome! We were psyched! Figured we'd get a few hours of sleep before the B'lore team arrived around 5am. That's when the real attack started. Bloody mosquitoes that were hiding behind the bus stand discovered us! Shit! I proudly produced my Odomos tube and after some initial bravado, almost everyone decided to use it. Yay, problem solved... ya? No! These were hard-core desi "machchar", just like we were hard-core trekkers! Double shit! Anyway... we tried to get some sporadic sleep patterns in before the B'lore team arrived.

4:45am : B'lore team's here! Yay! Lots of noise. Some rather risque posing. Hugs all around. By daybreak, the first share autos started arriving.

5:45am : Bleary-eyed and tired from sleep deprivation, we set off towards the trek starting point. A quick word about these share autos - DAMN! These Piaggios are tough! All 26 of us fit ourselves into 3 autos, luggage and drivers included, and these babies grunted it all the way up to our start point about 30 mins away. Someone informed me that he was once in an auto with 17 others, hanging out precariously, and it still chugged away!

6:20am : Drop off point. Autos headed back. We headed to our breakfast nook, enjoyed some yummy coconut polis, filled up fresh water from the stream, signed our waivers (yeah... if you die, you're forbidden from coming back later to ...errr... "talk" to your buddies!) and commenced our journey.

7:00am : And so we began. The first few hours in Tada is mostly uphill, and it starts almost immediately. It's funny how quickly the chatter dies down when people start climbing! :-) About 1.5 hrs of this through streams, a small temple, and generally rough terrain, with small pit stops along the way and then...

8:20am : The lead stops and everyone gathers up. What happened? The pic explains it all. Ravi was sitting with the GPS unit opened up, trying to get it to work again! If that unit hadn't started up again, we would have been the 3rd "failed" attempt at Tadagala! Fortunately, that wasn't the case. Remember what I said earlier about paying our dues early?! Yeah! So we all picked up and continued on our merry (?) way. :-) At certain points, we were literally rock-climbing. It was quite precarious, even for experienced climbers. But our team was up for the challenge!

9:30am : As part of the lead group we made our way to a clearing near the top, and decided to wait for the rest of the team to catch up.

9:40am : I received a text msg from Chandu - "Please come back we lost the trail". Shit! Unfortunately, the last section was so steep that everyone was totally focused on climbing and lost track of the person behind them. Fortunately, it was also a section where there wasn't too much room for error. And even better, it was at the beginning of the trek when we still had some reception on our phones! ("good graces of the Nagala gods"!) :-D Anyway, two of us went back down to help the others find their way. It was almost 10:30am by the time everyone had regrouped at the clearing! A little lesson on the dangers of spreading out too far!

10:30am : We're off again! At 10:55am we took a short break as we came across our first "jamun" tree. Herbert climbed up and started attacking the berries voraciously as others jumped in. Someone advised against it, 'cos they make you thirsty. Most people took that advice and shoved it... you know where! hehe

11:10am : We reached our first real recreation spot! A diving pool! Water! To drink, fill up as well as splash in! :=) Although better pools awaited us later, we were starved for some fun. So we played around for about an hour before setting off again around 12:15pm, batteries recharged.

1:15pm : About an hour after leaving the pool, we regrouped for lunch. All the horseplay had taken it's toll, and we were ravenous. We had jowar rotis with an assortment of podis (medium, hot and very hot) instead of the usual pickles. Some colourful commentary followed, regarding the expected after-effects of the different "gunpowders"/podis. :=D This was followed by some mouth-watering "pedas" from Ramzan. As we were a bit slow, lunch break was relatively quick, and we took off climbing soon after.

2:15pm : Time for another break. In case you're wondering why so many breaks, remember that climbing can sap your energy and will very easily. 30 mins of climbing is much harder than hours of walking! If you don't believe me, next time you're in the gym, put your treadmill to the highest incline and walk 15 mins! :-) We started climbing again at 2:30pm and soon reached another wondrous spot!

3:00pm : We arrived at the beautiful "Doorway to Nagala"! It's like an arch cut through the rock, and there's a pool of water on the other side. Everyone ooh'ed and aah'ed as we climbed through the arch. The beauty of the pool was too much to pass up and many decided to cool off here, while some decided to go a bit further and rest in the shade. Thunderclouds had started gathering by now and we could hear sporadic bursts of thunder. After much debate, we finally decided to continue. However, by the time we left, it had started to drizzle, making it much harder to traverse over the slick, rocky surfaces. After about 20 minutes of slipping/sliding/falling, we came upon an open area and unanimously agreed to set up camp for the night. Some people literally shouted with joy! :-)
~ 4:00pm : Now began the arduous task of setting up camp. It wasn't easy given the steady drizzle, but eventually, the makeshift tents were up. Amazingly, the team even managed to get a fire going, despite the damp wood all around. Some of us were low on energy, but others picked up the slack and made sure nothing was amiss. Ravi and Ananth started telling jokes as others gathered around and contributed.
~ 6:30pm : The most delicious vegetable soup started spreading its aroma from the pot, and that was enough to give a jolt of energy to everyone. This was followed by what must be the best "aval" ever! Thanks head chef Anala! Even though I was groggy from 2 days of no sleep, I couldn't resist eating some of that delicious food! I don't remember when I passed out, but I did... and the next thing I know, it's about 9:30pm and I see a full moon adorned with passing clouds. Took a few pictures and promptly passed out again.

4:30am : My biological clock woke me promptly at 4:30am. There was utter silence, except for the soft whispers of the early morning breeze under the bright moonlit sky. It's simply too beautiful to describe in words! I figured I might as well finish my "business". :=) Then I spent the rest of the morning till sun-up, taking pictures of the moon and the moonlit terrain.

5:30am : Slowly, the camp begins to stir... Most of us got going pretty quick. In fact, we wrapped up and left by 7am, which was pretty impressive, considering how tired everyone was! But then, we all did get a good night of rest. In hindsight, it was a really smart decision to camp here, AND we were lucky the rain gods didn't get busy during the night!

7:00am : Started moving again. This was probably the toughest 4-5 hour stretch. My camera battery died, so I lost chronological tracking. Eventually, we reached our resort destination - Slide pool / Magic pool - "trickling" in between 10:30am and 12:00am, no pun intended!

Well... what can I say. It was gorgeous beyond words! Everyone had a blast! Many tried things that they had probably never dreamed they would do, including yours truly - moi! You couldn't wipe the grins off our faces . :=D First came the slide pool, an amazing natural water slide on smooth rock about 8-10m long / 45deg angle. After crashing in, we waded across this slide pool, and come across another waterfall about 10-12m high (about 3 storeys). We walked to the edge and crept onto the rock face at different heights. The really daring (or foolish? :-)) among us leapt off the highest points into the magic pool ... about 12m below! I was one of them, and DAMNNN.. WHAT A RUSH!!! WOOOHOOOO!!! :=D Others chose different heights to jump in from, depending on their swimming ability and confidence levels. Those of us sitting on the side of the pool were receiving free fish pedicures - ticklish little buggers! It was undoubtedly the pinnacle of our trek.
And then ... "it" happened... a sobering reality check. After some goading, Balasenthil took off from the 12m height. Unfortunately, he started tipping forward, and made almost horizontal chest contact with the water. The shock knocked him out cold. It was a scary sight to see him floating face-down for a couple of seconds. Fortunately, Max and Vetri - our strongest swimmers - dived in and got to him within 2-3 seconds... and within 15-20 seconds, he was back up, asking, "How did I get to the side??" :-) Funny, but in retrospect, it could have been worse. Believe it or not, the incident didn't dampen the team's collective enthusiasm for more than a few minutes! Sourab - a non-swimmer - witnessed Bala's fall and still jumped off from the secondary 8m platform. Even the eternal "waiter" - Sudharshan - finally jumped in from 8m, after waiting for more than an hour at the 10m rock shelf! Hell ... even Balasenthil himself, went back up to the 8m platform and dived again... proving once and for all that fears are conquered in the mind... not body! :=D All in all, I think the collective adrenaline rush was more than most of us experienced in a lifetime!
After about 3-4 hours in this blissful dreamland, we started packing up. Most people knew the route from there. So we started heading towards the Nagala dam in smaller groups. I went along with Udai, Herbert, Vikram and a couple of other guys... chatting along the way. We saw more pools, along w/ signs of "civilization" - paper plates, water/alcohol bottles, plastic wrappers, cigarette boxes - and knew our dream run was nearing its end. We stopped at the "burning tree" pool - a shallow pool that's one of the destinations on our social treks. From there, Dominic and I decided that we didn't want to wear our soaked shoes any more than was necessary... so we headed back to the dam 20 mins away. Ananth had arranged for "private transportation" to pick us up from the dam at 6:15pm and take us to Oothukottai.
If you think our fun stopped there, think again! 3 of us - Ramzan, Sandeep and Arun decided to put in one last swim in the dam! They swam out to a lone dead tree in the middle of the pool and climbed up to pose for some neat pictures. Then our "transportation" arrived! I was psyched when I saw the open lorry! We all piled in, full of energy yet again. As we started moving through the 3km stretch of rocky road, all our joints got the loosening of a lifetime! It was dark (~ 7pm) by the time we reached our destination in Oothukottai - Hotel Saravana Bhavan - small place unrelated to the chain, but the food was great. We thulped veg biryani and brinji with onion raitha and pudina chutney and drank gallons of cold water and ice cold Pepsi, Slice, etc. Dominic scared the local villagers as he screamed and shouted every time Germany scored (Germany beat England 4-1)... so much so, that even the hotel owner asked him, "You from Germany?"! :-) We even had a surprise visitor in a Black Monster SUV... yep, none other than Peter himself, returning from the ladies trek w/ a truckload of happy faces! By now, we had taken over the road and were shouting unabashedly. Even the locals didn't try to dampen our unbridled enthusiasm. :=) Ananth even managed to arrange for 2 Sumos to take all Chennai-ites back home. No buses to deal with! Sweeeeet!!
And the ride home was mostly uneventful... except for another reminder of "Speed thrills, but kills". We had to stop for a few minutes near Red Hills, as a bike carrying 2 guys had collided w/ a truck. Details unknown, but both bikers were critical. Wear your helmets bikers... and stay safe! Lets keep our adventures in more natural surroundings ... like the mountains, rivers, beaches, etc!

Looking forward to many more CTC
adventures in the future!

Written by: Hari Rao

Organized by: Ravi S Ghosh

[Also see travelogue by Tarakarama]

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