Peter Van Geit
Moderate Trek Monday, May 16, 2011
It is often said that there is a time for every desire to be fulfilled and that patience always pays. Both adages came true in my wait for my first trek with CTC. I have been a member for over three months now and some engagement or the other kept me from enrolling for a freshman trek and finally when my opportunity came this last weekend at Nagalapuram (east), what a first trek it turned out to be! This one trek made me realize what I had been missing all my life.
3:00 AM on Saturday, when it was midnight for most of Chennai, under a harsh, winking neon light above the Tidel park stop, I connected with one part of the vibrant community, headed by the trek-machine, Peter himself, and we headed for the hills. Sleep, which took over during the van ride after being vehemently denied an opportunity the previous night, thanks to the feverish excitement, later gave way to a beautiful sight – the sun rising gently over the fields by the roadside and spreading its orange glow through the cool, mildly misty air. My friend Vikram (A veteran of more than 10 treks with CTC) nudged me and asked me to look ahead, for the hills of Nagala were looming in the distance. Those are the mountains we would be climbing, said he. As a child, I have travelled on roads and by trains often and have wondered how it would be to keep going beyond the villages, beyond the last house and reach the base of the mountains in the distance. I would find out that day.
7: 00AM on Saturday, we were finally off the vehicles and after loading our backpacks with all the essentials and the safety briefing, we set out for the hills. Ratings of moderate, requirements of good physical conditions etc that were mentioned in the initial mailers cast a few doubts in me about my ability. With Brijesh in the lead, we joined the first group and took the winding dusty road till the reservoir wall from where we got a breathtaking view of the Nagala range.
Down the embankment, through the barren trees and just beyond the old temple, our path through the jungle beckoned. Breaking our way through the vegetation, we joined the stream with its merry laughter a little while later. None of the mineral water companies or water purifiers that I meet in my routine life could provide the refreshment that the natural flowing water from the stream did. The deeper we were treading into the forest, the more it was revealing its own beauty, the beauty of the mountains, the rock patterns and the beauty of the stream. Every stretch of trek, after all the arduousness, culminated in a beautiful refreshing, alluring, all-welcoming pool and I realized later that this was the pattern all through the trek. Our first stretch of trekking led us to the rejuvenating first pool.
To settle down in comfort is the easiest thing to do. To shed all inhibitions and keep an open mind is the way of the explorer and the way to enjoy all the beauty that lies with nature. Perhaps it was with this thought that even non-swimmers unwound themselves by jumping into the welcoming waters of the first pool and surrendered themselves under the gushing waterfall at the end.
One destination is nothing but the beginning of another journey and after the regenerating experience at the first pool, we proceeded on a climbing path. This was a briefer stretch than the previous one, perhaps because the effort was spent in the ascent and the reward came quicker in the form of the sliding pool. The trek-machine, who, I thought, was behind us all the time, suddenly materialized at the sliding pool and showed us the way it is done. With a smile from the pool below, he beckoned us all in. I clutched my mat as tight as I could and let go…Wheeeee…and Splashhhh!!! A rush of excitement and a wave of refreshment hit me as I sloshed in the pool. Just a couple of hours in the trek and I was enjoying it immensely already.
With the appetizers over, the main course was rolling towards us in the form of tougher climbs, lots of boulders and more rough terrain. In fact, it was time to negotiate obstacles. With a sheer drop below, and a narrow ledge holding us above that, we proceeded onwards, holding onto roots and dear life. Other obstacles required us to negotiate blind turns around boulders, not sure of how firm a grip our feet have. Of course, the experienced CTC volunteers were there at every step, watching our step and at times, placing our step for us. Just when we thought the obstacles are over, we had to descend down a steep gorge to join the main stream. As usual, the trek-machine was there to see us through.
After a brief nap under the trees at the point of joining the stream beside another gurgling pool, having conquered fear and fatigue so far, everyone was looking forward to reaching the camp site. When challenged by the elements and when the destination feels far away, it is best to keep the head down and those weary legs pumping onward, not to think of the destination but to enjoy the journey. That afternoon, we were challenged further by areas like the ‘Purdah point’ etc on our way to the camp site and finally as the sun was descending, we were descending down towards the alluring campsite and the picnic pool.
Tired souls choose flat rocks for beds and stretched their overworked legs and as darkness descended, firewood was lit and steaming hot soup and Maggi were bubbling in the pots. After a lovely dinner and when the last of the torch lights went out, the beauty of the night sky revealed itself. At the bottom of a funnel created by the mountains, on a warm rock, beside a gurgling river, under the night sky studded with so many stars that I could never see in my city life, I realized that long cherished dream of being close with nature.
As dawn arrived over the mountains, a few fit trekkers joined the trek-machine on a smaller trip to the 50m falls further up. Another arduous trek was rewarded by a beautiful pool with magnificent mountains towering above, sending a rush of water down from the top. We all joined the main group after this short extended trek and by 9: 30 AM the whole bunch started on the way back. More boulder hopping and rough terrain awaited us on the way back. The stream and a couple of friendly canines were our constant companions.
Climbing down ropes, ferrying bags across pools, and just as fatigue was setting in, we trooped to the dead end pool. Bad news hit us in the form of an injury to Vijay, one of the trekkers. Incidentally, Vijay was the person who helped me across a couple of obstacles the previous day, lent me his pack of electrolyte and this morning, happily clad in his Ronaldinho jersey, helped me across the picnic pool. The concern was allayed when we learnt that the trek-machine had reached out to Vijay and was helping us across.
The rest of the journey was a mix of feelings, happiness that the trek was complete, sadness that we’d be leaving the natural setting to get back to our city lives. By the time we reached the vans, darkness and fatigue has set in well. At the end of it all, I felt as much as nature is beautiful, it is also quite unforgiving and I realized this with the numerous falls I had trying to hop across boulders. But all the wounds, the fatigue, the fear at times provided a physical and mental challenge I have never experienced before. The thrill I felt at having persisted and completed the trek was unparalleled. On the whole, the trek has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I am looking forward for more. People from various walks of life, all ages befriended each other and were united by the common thread of excitement. Excited lenspersons were clicking away at will, enchanted by the mountain-view. Great team work was shown by the people in helping others across, through the difficult terrain, the obstacles and the pools and when one of us was injured. Kudos to everyone!
The true beauty of a journey lies in the memories it leaves. Almost a week has gone by and the memories are heavily loaded in my head. I wish CTC all the very best and I hope Peter along with the numerous volunteers at CTC provide many more such exhilarating experiences. I would like to thank Peter for organizing this trek firstly and Naveen and Brijesh for volunteering, for, but for their volunteering, I wouldn’t have made the trek. I would also like to thank my good friend Vikram for being beside me all through the trek right from the prep stages and last but not the least, thanks to every other member who walked along in this trek
Day I On May 07, 2011 04:00 a group of brave trekkers were all ready to beat the heat by splashing into the pristine pools at Nagala. We all started off in 5 cars, 2 mini-buses and a few motor bikes lead by Peter, Brijesh & Naveen. We took our usual route through Tiruvallur and stopped for a tea at Uthukottai by 06.15 am. In less then half an hour we reached the less familiar eastern entry of the beautiful Nagala hills. Once we parked our cars and distribution of ration was over, we started trotting towards the mountains and got into the first pass after crossing a dam which was dry owing to summer season.
We reached a temple after crossing the dam by 07.45 am and took a sandy trail and proceeded towards the right. Peter had put a pink ribbon to mark the change in direction on the trail. We reached the banks of a stream and started climbing on the opposite side of the stream. Most of us were excited and were shooting photographs at those points which offered some spectacular views along with the morning light. After crossing one more hill, we reached the first pool. As team-1 we started proceeding to take the challenge of the seven obstacles. Team-2 took a path along the stream and proceeded towards the dead-end pool along the stream. Crossing the seven obstacles was like taking a pre-qualification test for joining the Army. From this point there were no more trails. It was all boulders, gorges, water-falls, pools etc. The trail offered some spectacular views of mountains, valley’s, streams and the water falls. Two dogs accompanied us almost throughout the entire trek. At some points when the dogs refused to swim across the pools, our CTC friends built confidence for the dogs to swim across and follow us :P The sliding falls on the way was real fun... We were playing around there for at least 30 minutes and it was awesome.
By 2 pm we reached a mini-picnic pool with an attached water fall where we had lunch and a few splashed in water. Most of us had a good siesta and we started proceeding towards the dead end pool by crossing two other pools. Where the water was deeper than 3’ swimmers helped to ferry the back-packs and the non-swimmers helped themselves with floats and life jackets under supervision of swimmers. The plan was to cross the 200 m gorge by swimming across and climb over the 6 m water fall using ropes. Since it was becoming dark we preferred to cross the gorge by climbing over the mountains on the right side to reach the picnic pool. All of us reached the picnic pool by 06.00 pm. It was a beautiful place with berths made of plates of rocks with a large pool (15 m x 15 m) and attached water falls. Some of the volunteers made some lip smacking soup and soupy noodles for dinner. After dinner people found their own comfortable places to sleep. Myself and Vijay took an upper berth I had one of the most beautiful sleep with stars and moon shining above and fingers of cold water playing symphony on keys of stone (Coldplay :D). The sleep there was divine. Day II Morning, we woke up along with singing birds and we had some hot tea made by some of our friends. Myself and Vijay had to swim at least 100 m towards upstream to attend nature calls: D. By that time we could hear Peter calling everyone for a trek towards the 50 m fall. It was a trek which was upstream from the picnic pool. By the time we swam across, all of them had left. Without wasting much time self along with Vijay started running up the hill. At a certain point we were lost as we could not see anyone beyond us. We started making noises and finally we could hear Raki and Peter calling us down hill. This place was just behind the water-falls of the picnic pool. Thereafter, we started running over the boulders and falls with good challenges for a trekker. It was about 9.30 when we reached the 50 m fall. Vijay helped me climb a boulder where I could have slipped and broken one of my bones :) Swimming lessons for Vishal there was fun :P. I still remember the discussion on photography that I had with Muthu ... Some of you guys wanted me to arrange a small workshop... Where are you guys ???
Everyone returned to the picnic pool by 10.30 am. Most of the guys preferred to get down to the picnic pool by diving from the water falls. As a non-swimmer, I took the difficult path through the hills on the left side. Well... Sometimes it is good experience to trek alone, especially where there is no trail. I returned to the camp expecting some yummy noodles... In CTC, noodles can never for you ... was happy with cream-buns and took my last dip in that lovely picnic pool with my life-jacket on.
By 11.30 all of us left the picnic pool on return trail. When I started off, Raki and Vijay were left behind along with two other fellow trekkers. I left the camp, and they said they ‘d catch me up quickly. I trekked till the gorge where people already started fixing the ropes for ferrying the back-packs. Other fellow trekkers climbed down a rope through a tunnel which lead to the poll down a 6 m water fall. At this point, I sensed something was wrong as both Vijay and Raki did not return even after 20 minutes of delay. I got information from two other fellow trekkers that “man in yellow shirt was injured”. Now I knew it was Vijay who was injured.
Eight Obstacle We informed Peter about Vijay and he back backtracked to find Vijay who was at least 20 minutes from the Gorge (in fast pace). I joined with Peter along with Shankar. He had slipped some 3 m and his left foot was injured. Luckily he was able to catch the trunk of tree which helped to reduce the damage to his feet. Even at that time his left foot was swollen and we progressed at snail’s pace till the gorge.
At the gorge we climbed down the rope and Raki climbed down after taking the rope to the intermediate point down the tunnel . Vijay was extremely co-operative and he offered to jump 3 m over the float on the water so that no one needs to go back to get the rope. While we moved forward downstream, Peter went back to take the dog which came along with us via the hill on the left side (Dog refused to swim). I was carrying Sinu’s bag as it was left behind. Luckily I observed that Peter’s mobile was ringing in her bag. Peter called up Brijesh and informed about our location and he asked one the cars to wait for us near the dam.
After a few hours of walking in a very slow pace we finally manage to reach the dead-end pool by 5 pm where met Brijesh. Brijesh had just sent the other towards the base-camp. Once we crossed the dead-end pool Brijesh moved ahead to guide other fellow trekkers. We were walking in the same slow pace offering support to Vijay and finally darkness started setting in by 7 pm and we dint even cross the first pool by that time. Our progress was becoming slower and slower and Peter decided to carry Vijay. Initially we tried to offer support to carry Vijay. As it was not working out properly Peter decided to carry 76 kg Vijay on his back and started running across the boulders. At 7.30 we could hear Brijesh a who was waiting along with his friend Subesh. Now we reached the first pool at 08:00 pm after hours and hours of turtle walk. Brijesh and Peter took turns to carry Vijay on their back and ran up and down the hilly terrain. They were drenched in sweat. We had to carry Vijay for 3 more km and finally reached the dam by 10.00 pm. Vijay crawled up the dam and we had an Alto waiting for us. Sinu, Josephine and others were waiting on the dam for us. Peter and two others went in the car to bring back Peter’s Fortner to take all of us. After 20 minutes, I could see Fortuner’s head lams glimmering at a distance and we asked Vijay to crawl down the dam. Peter drove the ups and down the terrain as if he was driving in a city road
All of us started from the parking place and we decide to meet in-between at a highway dhaba for dinner. I should say, the dinner with Parathas, chicken and fish was divine: D. Later Peter took Vijay to Apollo Hospital for first aid at 1 am. As the response was not good from Apollo, he had to take him to Malar hospital where they found that there was a fracture on the middle digit of his left foot and treated him.
Peter reached home at 4 am after dropping Vijay at his hostel in Velacherry. We really appreciate Peter and Brijesh for their camaraderie and boldness that they exhibited. All these incidents have a great influence in our lives. Being a part of CTC can change the way you live your life... No wonder, most of senior CTC member are involved in some kind of social work. .... it was a wonderful experience in CTC .... firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Van Geit
Moderate Trek Monday, May 16, 2011