Venkateswara Pongal Special, Jan 2011

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

It all started with me having to go to Peter's house to setup the new GPS device. But unfortunately Peter had left his laptop in the office. Instead I could catch up with sleep for more than 2 hours in the couch. Around 1:30am we started from Palavakkam (Peter, Sinu and I), picked up Nithya and Jisha in Thiruvanmiyur. Pradeep joined us in Tidel.

By then Nagin had started in his car via Poonmallee route. Guru had been organizing the crowd in Koyambedu. Peter drove us to Tirupathi in a record 2.5 hours. There again we slept inside the Fortuner until Madhu called us to find out where we were. Arun or someone (that time I was not acquainted with all the names) was very eagerly taking attendance of everyone and organizing stuff. It was still freezing cold outside. Bangalore brethren also joined us by then. We started de-car-ing the food items out and distributed everything. Met Sai after a long time (last time it was when we did Vavul+Vellari in March 2009). There were more chocolate bars and bread loafs - more than the prescribed quantity. We stuffed our bags with all we could take and started walking out of the parking lot. There were 3 SUMOs waiting for us. The drivers helped us roping the bags on top of the cars before we eventually started. 34 people + 3 drivers in 3 SUMOs. It was a fun ride. The driver drove with one hand on the wheel and the other holding the bags on the roof. He also DJing the car stereo which was blaring 'romantic' telugu songs from a USB Drive + FM Transmitter.

Adithya, Gokul, Arun and Vinoth were reciting the jokes from lollu sabha and about sam anderson. Yes, a bit old. We eventually reached a village near Talakona. Started walking towards the mountains from there. Peter kept checking the map print-outs which had nothing but green all over it and some icons here and there. Once we got into the woods the terrain became totally rocky and thorny. As soon as we spotted some water trickling on the surface we set to eat breakfast. Shumon and Suchi brought some vegetables (onions included) which disappeared into our mouths as soon as they were placed between bread slices.

We had to walk for a long time in the dry river bed. Around 10 were leading in the front and were not joined by the rest for a long time. We waited for a regroup while Durai, Siva and Vinoth were chopping bamboo to make some ‘spears’. Then they went about looking for cobras! After a while they came back claiming they spotted hundreds of reptile eggs under a tree. What they saw were not reptile eggs, they were dried shells of some wild fruit. Gaurav kept telling us that he was scared to death after seeing a snake. Along the way we also saw hooves and paws(?!) of animals along the streams. Eventually we regrouped and started walking again until we found a fresh water stream where we had to take an acute turn. That was the lunch-spot for day one. Peter came up with a skull of a deer with exotic horns. Everybody took pictures with it. Then there was a power nap for 30 minutes. Not feeling like taking a nap, Aditya and I started walking further until we came to a cross-streams. Despite fearing for a stampede by a herd of wild-buffalos, I could still have a nap on the rocks. Regrouped again and started walking further. Around this time we spotted a herd of wild-buffalos for real. They were looking shy and scared :) Somebody must have snored during the nap.

We started walking again on the rocky riverbed until it was almost sunset. The stream took lots of turns. We missed to notice a small branch of the stream which would take us to the promised water-fall campsite. Peter came rushing forward and stopped us, to make a retreat. The sun was totally set by then, but the moon sprinkled the light over us through the trees. People in the front reached a big boulder, not far from the water-falls, but had to stop for yet another regroup. When we all caught up eventually, not all of us had the energy to climb up, so we set the camp there itself.

It was soup then noodles. But finding firewood and making the fire was essentially hard. Durai, Vinoth, Gokul and I were trying our hands on it. Suchi (for Sucharita), Jisha and Nithya were getting the ingredients ready. Others were busy finding out places to sleep. There was a lot of smoke, since the wood was relatively not-dry. It was so smoky, it brought streams of tears and loads of mucus; totally clearing the sinuses. Talking of sinuses was not unappetizing because two pots of soup and two pots of noodles disappeared as soon as they were ready to be eaten. Without further ado, we stretched ourselves on the uneven rock-bed.

What followed was rather a quiet night with sound sleep. I slept longer than others, which resulted in totally missing out on the tea prepared by Durai and co. Aditya further fueled the frustration by praising the tea I did not have. We packed the things and climbed up further. Within minutes we reached the waterfall, which looked like a 50-feet shower. The water accumulated on a pond which was frigging cold. But it could not stop us from jumping into it, standing under the falls and taking photos while we were at it. It was slightly windy that the feeble shower shifted here and there. We spent time there until we felt content and the pool was totally muddled.

Did I mention it looked like 50 feet? Yes. So we could not climb onto it then and there. We had to retreat a little before we went up to the right of the falls. The climb was slightly tough and a lot thorny. On top there were a few Amla trees and Sinu collected all the berries she could. People complain it being sour and making you thirsty, but it is a lot of energy with a weird taste.
From there it was another eventful climb with tougher rocks and thornier trails. Few times we got stuck hopelessly in treacherous bushes. Terrain was full of mud and loose rocks offering no grip or balance. We split up and conquered that small peak, by flanking it left and right. Eventually we made it to the top and had our lunch there. 'Snake man' Gaurav had pickles and he was generous to offer them too. So, chappathi and pickles it was.

The stream made a three-way split, where we had lunch. Two of them looked so narrow and bushy and low. We could have crossed them only by crawling. We had to take a right which led us to a trickier path. We met with the jeep trail initially, which was riddled with elephant dung. Took group-photos in the middle of the peaks and started again. After a while there was no way for us to cut through the trees. The boulders were sharp. The ground was slightly wet and slippery. And the trees were, of course, thorny. I totally was disconnected from the group and somehow made it the ground below. Durai took another route and led the others to safety. Arun, Madhu and Sinu followed me inadvertently. But the loose rocks were making the job harder. I had to save my camera by moving to the other side of the stream. Believing it might take longer for everyone to land and we might take some rest here, I stretched myself on a rock for a 'power nap'. The stream also fooled me, sounding like human voices, making me trust I was among people.

When I eventually woke up no one was there. What does it feel like when you are alone in a beautiful but treacherous place? Well, it sucks, totally. Frantically shouting 'hey's and 'hello's and all sorts of weird noises, I ran here and there. Eventually it all came to senses. It was a Y or T shaped intersection. We came in from the right wing. I was sleeping in the stem part, which leads to the source of the stream, but there were no foot marks. I climbed up to the hill on the side opposite to from where we came in. Nope, I could see or hear nothing. Had to climb down again and walked downstream, thinking even if I couldn't catch up with them, I could at least head to a village nearby.

But, there were footmarks on the path I chose. Fresh water splashed by footwear. Then I could see Sai walking slowly. A little further Pradeep was tying Prasanna's knee with a blue towel. Guru, who was supposed to be sweeping, was actually sweepingJ. Anil, Rohan and Jagan were also in the group that was in the rear. Thanks to them walking slowly, I could make it backJ.

There was a regroup again, because we had to make yet another climb to our right - from the seemingly friendly stream. It was bamboo trees initially, then an easy looking terrain. It was getting darker. Anil was so tired he had to hold on to someone for the uphill and downhill. It turned out that someone was Azhagar. It was a total sunset when we came down and there was a fresh stream running down. It looked like people found a campsite somewhere nearby. That campsite was V6.

V6 was not an official name. CTC stumbled upon it when they came to Venkateshwara for the 6th time. Peter recalled that they camped somewhere up and came down looking for water. The stream and the gorgeous pool along with it would have been a sweet surprise. V6 falls and pool give you enormous fun and joy, as long as you know swimming and are willing to jump into it. It was dark when we reached there and the wind starting to freeze things up. I took a dip in it, but had to join the kitchen committee for cooking. Soup and Noodles – this time we did not have to savor anything for the next day so there were two bowls of soup and noodles and ketch up. With all that hunger we would have gulped anything that was available.
Water was all over the place, hence very little space for sleeping. Ashutosh, Subbu and I could find some land only in the middle of the downstream. We were so tired and sleepy; we slept like logs without worrying about flash-floods or wild animals. Water was in so much abundance there. Strangely yet, it made us felt right at home.

The morning started with a small incident. Chandru, on the way to attend an important call from Nature, fell on the stream and cut his chin.
Once again we made both hot-tea and cold-tea. Hot tea complimented the bread very well. Ughh, that bread could not have been eater in any other way. What followed was the fun of a lifetime.

Here we have to relook at the architecture of V6. There were two humongous boulders, one on top of the other. Bottom boulder had so many places to stand, on all the sides. The stream takes a turn to the right, towards the base of the top boulder, gathers up there, falls for about 10 feet from there into a small pit, from where it falls another 10 feet into the deep pool. When Arun Mathew laid himself between the two falls, he could effectively stop the water flow. All these places are reachable, so you can jump or dive from wherever into the big pool. The boulder was a natural amphitheatre where water was the audience and you can fly and land on the audience. No offense will be taken!
Easily, it was a paradise for swimmers. But even non-swimmers like Guru and Jagan tried to enjoy it. Jagan tried wild summersaults and fell in the water in awkward ways. He even dared to do that in the darkness of the earlier night, but no one seemed to help him. Help him to swim back to safety after jumps after 8pm. Crazy, right? No one would have helped him.

After more than 3 frenzy hours in the water, we reluctantly departed V6 and started going upstream. The way was full of scenic gorges and creeks and swamps. There was a mini pool on the way, few people took dips and the rest took photos. There was a cave like split on the boulders, so it had to be in the background of few more photos, with us making weird poses and noises.

Eventually we reached a tall and beautiful cascade of milky water, aptly named as ‘Angel Falls’. After a swim-like walk across that and a hearty bath, we had a lunch of chocolate bars or jam sandwiched by bread or chappathi. A steep climb from the base of the falls to the top of it, took us to a viewpoint which was marvelous and dangerous.

A brisk walk from there into the forest with everyone singing fast-paced tamil songs, took us to a narrow split between two peaks. That was feared to be the last source of water, so we frantically filled our bottles from the faintly trickling spring. The climb between the peaks was the toughest of all the three days, but even then people tried doing crunches and jump-ups immediately after reaching the top. I could feel my heart pumping thrice faster than the usual.

We found and followed the jeep trail which would take us to Tirupathi. Along the trail Ashutosh and Arun spoke about many matters considered intellectual – physics, astro, maths and few more topics that would make you sleepy in a classroom. Yet what they talked about was still gripping and interesting. It was getting dark, but we had to stop abruptly when we spotted a house with a bright yellow light-bulb. People feared it could be a forest dept check post, and it was indeed. We tried to keep ourselves silent and when we regrouped, Peter attempted to take a detour to avoid being spotted. It was a little late, for the sentry had found us lurking in the darkness. We confronted him but he was more than happy to guide us out of the wilderness.

It turned out that the guard was acquainted with the group who trekked on New Year weekend led by Ramjan. He told us the way from there to Akasaganga across the Papavinasanam dam construction. It was another 2km walk. We reached Akasa ganga before 8pm but the last of the buses have already gone. It was getting colder. The gypsy-turned-traders who lived there were sitting around small fires in groups and making beads and chains. They befriended us immediately and we gave them whatever food items we were still carrying. The oldest lady from them told us the stories of her life, while one of her grandsons lent his bike to Durai or Siva or Guru, so that we can fetch some transport from Tirupathi.

Old lady had lived in all places of South India before settling down in Tirupathi. Her relatives are all over the southern peninsula. Everybody lived in Akasaganga bus stop was either her child or grandchild or in-laws. She knew four or five languages but preferred tamil to speak with us. They regretted the fact that we missed the buses by not a big delay. (We could hear the buses honking, when we were taking photos across the reservoir). There was a little argument with another lady, who was rocking a child in her lap, because she did not like the old woman speaking about the dead relatives. The granny retired for bed. It was close to 10pm.
Three jeeps from Tirupathi arrived then. We did bid farewell to the people who provided the warmth from those little campfires, telling them that they can expect the same hospitality from CTC if they ever visited Chennai. We would have to do a sanity check on that promise anyway!

We reached Tirupathi a little after 11pm. About ten of them had to catch the last of the buses to Chennai or Bangalore or Hyderabad. The rest started our journey back to Chennai on our cars. The adventure was still not over for us, as Sinu was driving the car almost all the way to Chennai.



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