Moderate Trek Friday, February 11, 2011
True freedom is in knowing that there are no rules. A bunch of anxious first time trekkers with a mix of second timers lead by a couple of experienced trekkers set out on going somewhere. I for one, had no idea where I was going. The only task I had was to get myself from Chennai to Bangalore and meet the rest of team at Majestic circle. I had no fear cause I knew…If you don’t know where you are going, any road is good enough.
Majestic Circle, apart from taking me in circles to find platform number 23 it was far from being ‘Majestic”. There was platform number 24 and no platform number 23. Later, when l finally discovered platform 23, I realized the rest of the gang from Chennai had gone through a similar initiation. At 10:00 pm, all of us were assembled and 2 trekkers from Chennai were missing. The bus to Dharmasthala was scheduled to leave at 10:15. The rest of us got our back packs loaded into the bus cargo. And now, we got to know that two trekkers from Chennai were somewhere near the Hosur and from there was no way they would be able to get to Majestic circle within one hour. I guess hero’s are not born but they are made. Arasu took the lead. He had to manage the bus crew, the impatient passengers, and also direct the Chennai trekkers how they could to Majestic ASAP.
By around 11:15, the missing Chennai trekkers boarded the bus to everyone’s relief. We were on our way to the third “Going Nowhere” series of treks. On Jan 14th night, 14 of us were on our 300 km journey to Dharmasthala. To name the gang. Jayanthy, Nayeem, Rekha, Sriram, Vimal and myself, Raj from Chennai. Ravi, Sourav, Veena, Gopal, Arasu, Lakshmikanth, Srinivas and Jinu from Bangalore. We could not have started the journey on a more difficult day than the one we chose. Roads were getting repaired and what a bumpy ride. Most of us couldn’t sleep and in the morning when we reached Dharmasthala, we had body ache and were tired from the journey. We were relieved to get off the bus at Dharmasthala. There were lots of travelers and at 5:30 in the morning, it was busy. The mood was upbeat and everyone was going somewhere. I thought we were going to start our trek. I saw Ravi get into another bus and I thought, ‘oh no, not another bus journey’. All of us followed the lead and managed to get our back packs and boarded the crowded bus. It was a 30 minute journey and we got off at some village near Ujire. I thought, here we are and we are going to start our trek from here. But Ravi had other plans. We hired 2 of those Mahindra all terrain and load-as-much-as-you-can jeeps. The jeep that I got into, while crossing one of those old British Raj bridges, noticed sun kissed misty waters. We were mesmerized by what we saw. So a few of us stopped the jeep and armed with cameras took the first few shots of this trek.
After a while the jeeps went off road and we arrived at a house, a make shift transit house for trekkers. We could sit on the parapet wall and we could use their out-house toilet. All of brushed our teeth and breakfast was served. It was a yummy spread. Native idli’s, different from the iddli’s you get in Tamil Nadu. Soft, spongy, rice cakes with coconut chutney and channa kurma. Both combinations were super and to finish it off, we were served hot tea and coffee. We got our water bottles filled up and we set off on our trek at about 8:30 am.
Ravi had his GPS and in a few minutes we saw a stream flowing, so Ravi thought we should go along the stream. We had a few hiccups cause we noticed more than one trail. We enquired with the locals and got on to the right trail. Within the first 10 minutes, we were climbing slopes that was about 45 to 60 degree. We were going, and going, and going, and there were no easy slopes to relax our tired muscles. The initial enthu of conquering the mountains came down to, “ my God this is difficult and they called this moderate trek.’ Going ahead of the pack was Sourav, carrying maximum luggage and he was going with such ease. In the first 30 minutes, the entire team got split into a few groups depending upon fitness levels. One group was very clear that they are going to have fun no matter how difficult the climb. A few huffing and puffing, few others laughing, and a few who stopped every few minutes to catch their breath and of course, rest their over worked muscles. By about 11, all of us had pulled out our Electrol packs to have a drink and recharge ourselves. We saw some of the most fascinating streams and the forest was different from what we see on the Eastern Ghats. There was no sign of the forest department planting teak trees or marking trees. The first water hole we reached with water cascading down some boulders was tempting for a dip and a few jumped in. Some of us just sat down to relax and refill our water bottles. I still had the water I filled at the breakfast place. When I tasted the water from the stream, I emptied all the water I had and refilled my bottles with water from the stream. Chill and so tasty for once we could have good water to drink instead of all the acidic mineral water that we are forced to drink. We were told that the water fall, our first destination was just a little distance away and that’s where we would break for lunch, and most certainly have a bath at the waterfall.
Where we stopped for refilling was such a lovely sight. Huge boulders, slopping up and water cascading.Some of us thought this was the place for a lunch break. It was about 1:00 pm and we had just a little more to climb to the waterfall. Back on our feet we trudged along and the climb began. Along this path we met two trekkers accompanied by two guides and they told us that they were in search of another team that’s missing. They periodically set of crackers just to let the missing people know. Although we were to follow another trail we decided to follow the guides who suggested a path where there were no trails. It took us another half hour and we could see the water fall. The water fall was cascading from high above and it was a steep cliff above us. It was about 200 metres high up. We were relieved and knowing that we had reached the waterfall and that we don’t have to climb anymore was a welcome relief. We thought we have reached the climax of going nowhere. We had some polli chappatis to snack, drank some water and yes, all of us got ready for a shower at the water fall.
Some of the first to get under the waterfall were Arasu, laksmikanth, srini, and after that everyone followed. Jayanthy was not feeling too good from the start and she had taken pills cause she was feeling feverish. Once there nothing could stop her. She too got into the cold but clean water for a shower. Half an hour later we were all refreshed and ready for our lunch. Some more poli chapattis, some fresh water to wash it down and finally we could stretch our legs to relax our tired body. Some of the most beautiful things that happened since the previous night was that we were total strangers when we met and today we were sharing our food, water, encouraging each other during the climb and there was so much bonding. It was so beautiful.
So what next…we thought we were going down a bit and then take another trail to get to the top. The guides talked us into something else and we decided to follow their suggestion. They wanted us to take a short cut to the top cause they said it would get dark before we reach the top. It made sense and we decided to go the unknown path. Back packs strapped we started our climb and this time the climb was even more steep compared to the morning trail. The time was 3:00 and we had to hurry to get to the top before sunset. We climbed and the steep climb was close to 90 degree and added to the difficulty was that there were no trails. We had to follow who ever we could see ahead of us. I could see some stopping every two minutes to catch their breath. At some corners I noticed some of us were crawling on all fours. Ahead of us were the guides and Gopal, and the rest of us were struggling to keep up. Following Gopal were myself, Rekha, Jinu and Veena. We had to break out through bushes and the climb was so steep Rekha and Veena could not climb with their back packs. Jinu and I took turns passing their packs to each other so that they could climb. At a point we had no idea how to get ahead. There was no trace of how we could get ahead. To our right, was the cliff and to the left were bushes with large boulders. We didn’t see a path at all. We shouted for some clue from the guides and Gopal. We could hear their voice nearby but we just couldn’t see them nor could we make out a path. We decided to figure out a way ourselves and along the cliff we just had space enough to land our feet, leaning forward on the boulders, without looking back at the steep drop we moved sideways. With our back packs we were scared we might lose our balance. Once we crossed this dangerous, point we still couldn’t see any sign of a path. Holding on to bushes for our dear life and with no other alternative, we had to push on. A little beyond we finally saw the guide and Gopal perched on a boulder above. Rekha and I somehow got ourselves up. Now we told the guide that others would surely need help especially some of them would not be able to carry the packs and cross that steep cliff. Rekha and I didn’t want to stop cause we still hadn’t actually crossed the dangerous cliff. Jinu and Veena were right behind us. Gopal and the guide stayed back to help the others, while we moved on. After some risky climb we managed to get back to normal trekking. We decided to wait for the others at that point. It took more than half hour at that point for everyone to finally cross that dangerous point. One by one we reassembled, took stock of the situation and while a few took a break, few others started to start trek back to the top.
A few minutes of climbing up brought us to scenic grass lands surrounded by mountain peaks. There was one huge rock which looked like a good place to take pictures and yes, relax our aching muscles. It looked like pride rock from the movie Lion King. From pride rock, it was just another 20 minute climb to reach the top. The final bit of distance to reach the top was not difficult at all. But then we had a surprise waiting for us. To get to the p
oint where the waterfall was cascading down, we had to climb down a steep drop. Our descent down was close to 90 degree and it certainly was a struggle to most; but the thought of reaching our final destination for the day was motivation enough to keep us going. Finally all of us made it. Unloaded our backpacks quickly and rushed to the edge of the cliff. We finally wanted to feel elated that we did conquer the mountain. It was 6:00 pm and in the setting sun, we had our final photographic moments. There were another team of trekkers and we had invaded their privacy. The guides who had helped us get there suggested that there was another place a little downstream to the east where we could camp for the night. Since we had to see the top of the cliff where the waterfall was cascading, we had come to this point. By around 6:30 p.m., we reassembled and moved from there to head east. We had to climb the steep slope once again. There were some mild protests but to reach our promised land, we had to do the climb. Once we reached the top getting our promised land was not difficult. The descent was a 45 degree incline and all of us made it without any difficulty. We had a 20 feet stream to ourselves, surrounded by dense forest, we had the perfect spot for camping. We quickly dropped our backpacks and one group got busy collecting wood for the bonfire. Dinner was one big surprise and Veena had it all planned. Assisting the master chef Veena were Ravi and Rekha. Cutting and cleaning vegetables. Rinsing vessels and preparing the fireplace with rocks were Jinu and Gopal. Entertainment was by Lakshmikanth, Arasu, Nayeem and Srini. The others were being helpful in whatever small way possible. Before we realized it was pitch dark and we were all huddled around the cooking, waiting for our dinner. Kichhidi rice was getting ready and to go with it was some spicy soya. By about 9:30 dinner was served. Who ever wanted a second serve got it and there was nothing left of the Kichidi rice nor the spicy soya. Dinner done, all of us moved to the bonfire. Everybody found a place to spread their mats and sleeping bags. Gopal had brought his tent and four guys decided to sleep in the tent. The night was beautiful. The sky above was filled with stars. It made me wonder how come we don’t see this many stars in the Chennai skies. We had finished for the day and most had dozed off. We were sure we had to catch up with sleep, cause tomorrow was another day and we had to have all the strength needed to trek back. 16th January 2011. It was 6:00 am in the morning and it was still dark. One by one all of us got out of our sleeping bags. We had to get ready to leave but before that each of us had our own agenda. Arasu and Jinu wanted to capture the sunrise. Rekha, Ravi and Veena had wanted to make some tea for everyone and also make some quick eats for breakfast; although we all had Cream Bun and Chocolate Bun in our backpacks. The mood was light and relaxed, cause most of believed it was going to be easier than the previous day. We imagined that we are going to be climb down and therefore it wouldn’t be as difficult as climbing up. Only Ravi knew that its going be as difficult because he wanted to take us to a old and ruined fort, which was on a peak higher than where we were and it was a half-day-trek away. Tea time and breakfast time was fun and as usual we all ate as much as we could get our hands on. 2 or 3 cups of tea. 2 or 3 helpings of the boiled mixed nuts. In the meanwhile, a few from the team located a stream that dropped into a pool. To most it was an irresistible temptation to miss.
A few of us stayed back to take of our things while the rest of the team had a good time at the pool. Somehow time was moving fast and by the time we got our backpacks on it was 11:00 am. The guides had told us to follow a trail and they had said it would take us about 7 hours to reach the plains. The trek right from the start was difficult. We had to climb. Just as we thought we had reached the top, we saw the next hill to scale and we were climbing for about 2 hours with little relief of walking not-so-steep hills. We could see the fort that looked so far away and I wondered if we could reach it by lunch. Keeping our sights on the fort all of us walked with quick steps. We didn’t want to get late and if we did, we won’t be able to catch our buses back. For the most part, it was grassland only. So the trail was clear and it was relatively easy. We reached the fort by about 2:00 pm and all of us were hungry, thirsty and tired. Most of us had finished the water we were carrying and we had no idea where we would find the next stream to fill our bottles. We pulled out our ready to eat Chappatis. And to eat the Chappatis with, we had srikhand and Veena had brought the best tomato chutney I had ever had. We stuffed ourselves and shared some water to quench our thirst. I didn’t drink any water because I was afraid we might have a difficult situation and I wanted to save my bottle for that.The fort was the size of a football field and it was at an altitude of 1500 metres above seas level. We could see just one peak that possibly was higher. At least, now we were sure we wouldn’t have to climb any mountains. From the fort we had a total scenic view of all the hills around us. With no other hill near the fort, it seemed like a very strategic spot, like a watch tower. All of us had rest for about half hour, and we resumed our trek towards the plains. Our sights were on a jeep trail that we could see from the fort. We had to get into thickly wooded forest valley. The descent was not so steep and once inside the woods the temperature dropped abruptly. It was so cool and deep down the valley we could hear a stream flowing. We had some comfort that we won’t have too much of a problem for want of water.
We had trekked for an hour and yet there were no streams in sight and all we could hear was the sound of water flowing. We broke out of the woods and we were on a hill from where we could see the Jeep trail and we knew we can’t be too far from reaching some village. Another one hour of trekking and we reached a village. We had to take directions and enquire how far we were from the nearest bus stop. The time was about 5:00 and in another hour we knew the sun would set and once it gets dark, it would be difficult if we didn’t get to the nearest bus stop. Another 20 odd minutes and we reached a shop where the villagers told us that we could take a jeep to take us to the bus stop. However, the charges for the jeep ride was unreasonable and there was only one jeep. So we dropped the idea and continued our trek. There were a few who were a little behind cause they had stopped to photograph a peacock they had spotted. To their surprise, there was an autorickshaw that was going back after dropping some people. They hired the auto and when they passed by they took as much luggage as possible so that we could walk without that burden. A few more people got in. There were about 8 of us packed into the auto. Hanging on to whatever we could hold, we had a bumpy and risky ride. I was particularly scared the auto might topple because of the overload and the way the auto driver was driving. It was a half hour ride and we reached the nearest bus stop. The rest had to trek to the bus stop and it took them about an hour and half to get there. We had missed one bus at 7:00 pm while waiting for the rest. The next bus was expected at 8:00 and we weren’t sure if that would be too late to catch our bus at 10:00 p.m. at Dharmasthala. The rest joined us at about 7:30 and we tried to work out other options to move from there. Jeep was too expensive. We even considered a tractor but by the time anything concrete evolved it was about 7:45 and we thought we might as well wait for another 15 minutes for the bus. At 8:00 pm, we boarded the bus and in another half hour we all got down at a busy intersection. We had to make enquiries for transportation to Dharmasthala. Bus was not in sight so we checked for jeeps, vans and finally we had to take a decision. We were surely going to miss our bus cause we were late by one hour even if we stared immediately. For the Chennaites, it was a situation where we were worried about the bus back to Chennai and if we didn’t catch our bus at Dharmasthala, we would miss the bus back to Chennai. We finally decided to take whatever transport and the only option we had were the autos. We could try and if for whatever reasons we manage to catch the bus we will go and if we don’t make it we will worry about it then.
We got into 2 autos, 7 in each auto and we told the auto drivers our plight. They went as fast as they could while in the auto Ravi was trying to reach the bus crew. Since the mobile signal was poor, we were getting feeble signals. We managed to contact various transport authorities and finally we got in touch with the transport authorities at Dharmasthala. They told us that the bus had left at 10:30 p.m. Our hearts sank. In the meanwhile, the rest of the team were making their own enquiries. Srini managed to speak to the auto driver and true to our belief that since nothing went wrong from the beginning, nothing would go wrong till the end. The auto driver said he knew someone at the bus depot. The auto driver had actually managed to speak to the bus crew. Since the other team were ahead of us, they managed to convince the bus crew to wait for a few minutes. The trekkers from the first auto managed to board the bus and when they called us from the bus we were about 10 minutes away from the bus. Passengers in the bus were protesting the delay and the crew couldn’t wait any longer. We were I guess 10 minutes too late. We reached the bus depot and before we could get off the auto we saw the bus leaving. We weren’t sure but that was the bus. Infact we were a few seconds too late. The rest of the trekkers inside the bus did not see us reach, so they resigned to having missed us and we were left behind to feel sick in our stomach that we just missed the bus.
As our last desperate attempt we called Srini and told him that we were at the bus depot. What happened next seemed like a miracle. The bus took a u-turn and came back for us. We were so relieved and until we boarded the bus, we hadn’t thought about dinner. Yes, we were hungry and we tried to sleep. We were on the out skirts of Bangalore at 5:00 a.m. By 6:30 am, we reached Majestic. We all said our goodbyes. Five of us from Chennai were leaving on the same bus, so we went our way and the rest took different paths leading back to their lives. However, what we were taking with us, were memories and a bond that was amazingly strong. Some of the comments from experienced trekkers was that, this was the best group they have trekked with. Although this was the end of the trek, to us it was the beginning of a friendship. We are so sure that as a team, we will do another trek sometime soon. Going nowhere actually seemed like a good ploy to get us somewhere in relationships, Thanks to Ravi Gosh for conceptualizing such a trek. Writeup by: Raj Jacob and arranged by Ravi & Jinu Organizer:Ravi S Ghosh
Location: Bandaje Arabi and Ballal Rayan Durga, Ujire, Karnataka