Write up by Satish:
I know i'm REALLY late and I'm sooooooooooooooooooo sorry about this. No excuses really.... I have become extremely lazy. And I can see some of you have completed a cpl of treks after our adventure :P, but here's my write up.... I just couldn't let this go... better late than never..
I had an awesome time and it was one of the best days of my life, all thanks to you guys... especially Vadi and Durai for organizing this...
One day ‘no food’ trek, scaling Nagala’s western peak of 800 meters:
The Night before…
I couldn’t sleep the night before the trek. The plan was to go to bed by 10 PM, so that I could wake up by 3:30 AM to make it to Koyambedu for the 4:45 AM pick up. After a couple of easy / social treks, this was my big day. I was put on shortlist, but thankfully a few of the participants dropped out and I got the call. This was my first difficult trek with CTC. How would I fare with the big guns was something that kept me awake. I ended up sleeping at 12:30 and after a restless sleep, got up at 3:30 AM.
I met up with Rohit and Gautam at Koyambedu. The rest of the gang arrived in four cars and we set off on our mission. Five of us piled on each car, making it a total of twenty trekkers for one of the most challenging trek of our lives.
We stopped in Uthukotai for breakfast. Most of the restaurants were closed but we managed to find a place that served hot Idlis and Vada curry. A few had an extra Pongal to compensate for the lack of food during the trek. I stuck to a light breakfast of 3 idles and 1 vada. It was a pleasant surprise to bump into Thilak, who was on his way to Nagala’s eastern entry to lead a ladies trek. I also knew that a group had left for a night trek the day before. Just went to show how Nagala had truly become the home ground of CTC.
We reached base camp at around 8 AM and distributed the rations that we were to survive on for the trek. With two ‘5 star’ bars, one orange, one banana, a biscuit packet and two bottles of water, we set out to scale the peak. Before we got started, Vadi gave out a warning that this was generally a two day trek that we were attempting to complete in one day. This was going to be a tough trek and anyone with any medical condition or difficulty during the trek should immediately inform the trek organizers. The group could then be split into two to account for any dropouts, but the trek will be completed at all costs by those who were capable. I realized that this was by no means going to be easy and prayed that I don’t screw it up and be a burden to anyone
We took a group photo against the wonderful backdrop of the lake and set out on our journey. We set a steady pace with Vadi leading and Durai as sweeper. We reached the welcome stream in twenty minutes. I quickly wet my hair and took a sip of the sweet Nagala water and again quickly set off with the group. It took us just another twenty minutes to reach the second pool. This was pretty good pace. The group had split a bit by now and a few of us reached first. Again, it was a pleasant surprise to find a few more familiar faces from CTC who had camped there for a night trek. We said our hellos to Brijesh and Sabish who were busy cooking Maggie noodles. Vadi decided to take a quick dip in the pool. Meanwhile Jesu, Omi, Romesh, Ponpandi and a few of us decided to be on our way because we knew Vadi would anyway catch up with us. This was new territory for me; the furthest I’ve come till date was the second pool.
We tried to set a brisk pace to the third pool. The plan was to take a quick dip while the rest of the group caught up. Omi seemed to be visibly slowing down a bit. I think the extra Pongal and Idli that he had for breakfast to compensate for lack of food during the trek was weighing him down a bit. Jesu, Romesh and I reached the third pool and were eager to take a dip before the rest of the group showed up. This is probably my favourite pool of the lot. Wide open space with sunlight streaming down, this was one pool that didn’t have much of tree cover but was just too beautiful. Jesu and I quickly stripped down to our swimming trunks and dived into the cold and crystal clear water. The quick swim and some time under the mini falls invigorated both the mind and body. Although I wanted to spend more time here, the rest of the group had caught up and were ready to push on. I had to force myself to part with the cool waters and resume on the trek.
We reached Mini Kutralam (our next stop) in pretty quick time. I decided to just sit for a bit and have a ‘5 star’ bar and relax. A few who hadn’t taken a dip in the previous pools decided to take a shower under the waterfall. We were told this was the camping spot during a two day trek. I could see why, it was a beautiful spot to rest, amid the spray of water and coolness of the waterfall. We were even blessed to see a beautiful mini rainbow under Mini Kutralam . Vadi advised us to fill our bottles as it would be a while till we reached the next water source and the climb was going to get tough from here on.
There was no trail whatsoever from here, and the climb was steep. We had to overcome rough terrain to get to the fourth pool. Once we reached the fourth pool, it was pretty clear that nothing was going to stop any of us from completely giving ourselves to the waters here. We also realised that four members had fallen behind and we weren’t sure where they were at that point of time. Thankfully, Vadi was able to reach them over the phone and zeroed in on their location. After some deliberation, he decided to go back to get them. I was just amazed by this guy’s physical ability and leadership quality to help every single member to make it to the summit. Meanwhile, Durai took charge of the group and all of us decided to make the most of our time in the fourth pool while we waited for the lost souls to catch up with us. And what a time we had!!! We spent a good 20-30 minutes in the fourth pool, diving, jumping and hanging (mad lawyers ;) with Muthu capturing some great moments with his camera.
After our much needed time in the water, we got started again. This was it. The next leg of the trek was to be the toughest. After filling up our bottles at the 5th pool (the last water source), we set off for the summit. It was tough terrain. It was a combination of steep rocks and crevices which we had to climb using our hands and legs, and stretches of land which had tall chest high grass that cut into our skins. This was generally accompanied by loose rocks beneath the dense grass and bush that was invisible because of the overgrowth. Most of us who had worn shorts got to know first-hand what grass/thorns and dense bushes can do to our exposed skin. But after a point it didn’t matter, you just had to ignore the pain, the cuts, and the burns and just move on.
I tried to keep up with Vadi and the ones who were leading in the front. The group had spread out quite a bit by now because of the pace set by Vadi. Durai was doing his best to encourage the ones lagging behind to keep going. Every now and then we would stop to wait for the rest of the group to catch up. Vadi’s idea of a rest was to play a thappan kuthu song (popular demand being Osthe songs) in his phone and the mad lawyers would dance to the tune. I thought to myself, these guys are nuts!! Here I was trying to rest my legs every possible chance I got and these guys were dancing during the break! Jesu was enthusiastic to learn some of the brilliant dance moves of the mad lawyers. Gokul took it upon himself to teach the moves, which went something like this…. First raise your hand and emulate the motion of changing the bulb 10 times (unscrewing/screwing motion), then use the opposite leg to stub out a cigarette, then some weird move in between like milking a cow or something :P. Finally combine everything together, and voila!! You had the moves!! It reminded me of Wilbur Sargunaraj teaching Canadians to do the Bhangra. All of us had a good laugh thanks to the entertainment provided by the mad lawyers and resumed hiking once the music stopped. By now our leg muscles were burning from the exhaustion. Every step was painful. The sun was beating down on us and the dry terrain combined with minimum water and lack of food was beginning to take its effect. Some of the guys started experiencing cramps and had to do some stretches to avoid aggravating the problem. I ate the second ‘5 star’ bar that I was saving up. As we closed in on the summit, all of us were determined to ignore the pain and make it to the top no matter what.
We finally reached the 800 meter summit before the stipulated time of 2 PM. Twenty brave souls had set out to conquer the peak, without food and nineteen of us had made it! The view was breathtakingly beautiful. Although it was afternoon and the sun was out in all its glory, there was a cool breeze blowing across the mountains. We had a clear view of the dam and the lake from where we had started earlier in the day and we were very proud of what we had accomplished. While a few of us sat and took in the scenery, some decided to take a power nap, sleeping at odd angles on the rock precipice. I decided to eat my orange in peace and finish off a bottle of water. Never have I cherished an orange the way I did at that moment. After about twenty minutes of rest, out came the cameras and all of us proudly posed for the group snaps at the summit. I think only a couple of us from the group had scaled the summit, and for most of us this was a first. This was definitely a moment to cherish for me.
At about half past two, Vadi and Durai decided it was time to move on and start our descent. We had to make it back on time to avoid trekking in the dark. As in any other trek, the decent was much harder. Gaining a secure foothold on the loose rocks that were covered by grass was proving to be tricky. Every now and then, I would see someone lose his balance and those around him come to the rescue. Om especially had accidently slipped his footing between some boulders and got some nasty cuts in his legs. Someone suggested hand sanitizers for the cuts. It was alcohol based after all. And I thought to myself, who the hell brings hand sanitizers to a ‘no food’ trek?! Anyways, there was a serious chance of dislocating an ankle by one small misstep in this terrain, and I was beginning to regret wearing sandals instead of proper trekking shoes.
After about an hour or so into our descent, we came across a particular stretch of terrain that was even more steep and rugged than usual. Looking back, this was probably the toughest phase of the trek because we realized we had missed the trail and we were lost. There was disbelief on the faces of those around me, and I’m sure they saw the same look on my face. We were not so much worried about losing the trail but the thought of retracing our steps through what was the nastiest terrain of the trek so far was daunting to most of us and one that would test our will. Immediately Vadi took the lead and set out to find the trail. The rest of us gathered and decided to stay put till we heard from him. Most of us welcomed the break. I even managed to get in a three minute power nap during the wait. After about five minutes or so, a message was relayed back that Vadi had found the trail and so we got up to the feeling of creaking bones and sore muscles to resume the descent.
We set a quick pace for the rest of the descent. We even avoided stopping in any of the pools, unless it was absolutely necessary to fill our water bottles. Most of us were craving to take a dip in the pool to cool our skin from the burns and cuts to our body. But we had to skip that luxury because we had to cover maximum distance before it got dark.
Night fell early in Nagala and it started to get dark by 6 PM. This is where CTC’s sense of team work came to the fore. A few had not brought along an LED torch as stipulated in the mail. Those of us who had, made them walk in between two people with torches. We ended up walking in small groups of 4-5. The ones in front would warn the person behind to mind his step if there was any loose rock and the message would be relayed till the end.
On numerous occasions, the person in front of me, would get a cut or a nasty gash from thorn creepers and would immediately warn me so that I could avoid them. After a point, somewhere after the third pool, we were lost again. Although Jesu was confident of finding the way, it was not a risk worth taking in the dark and we took a collective decision to stay together and wait. I decided to switch off my torch for a second to truly see what the night felt like. It was pitch black. When I raised my hand to a few inches away from my face, I couldn’t see it. The worst thing that could happen to a trekker was to be lost in this place in the night, without a torch. We soon heard the usual CTC calling sounds and managed to regroup with the rest of the gang. Durai was doing a remarkable job pushing those behind to catch up with the rest of the group, and as usual Vadi came out of nowhere to lead us again. From there on, I stuck to Vadi and the few who were up front. His normal pace was express to most of us. After we crossed the second pool, we all relaxed a bit because we knew the trail was relatively easy from here and there was no chance of losing the trail. I had always wanted to do a night trek and to actually get to do it was a surreal experience was me. The sounds and feel of a jungle at night time is something which is completely different and one which needs to be experienced. We reached the welcome stream and there was no way I was going ahead without a dip. A few of us decided to take a dip. For those few minutes, all cuts, burns and the pains were forgotten and our bodies were rejuvenated. It felt like heaven. I also changed to a spare set of dry clothes that I had brought along.
Reaching Base camp…
Gokul and I got talking on our way back to the base camp. This time, all of us decided to take it a bit easy and set a more casual pace. A chance glance to the sky provided a breath taking sight. It was a moonless night and the sky was studded with a million stars!! I just wanted to gaze at the sky forever. Maybe it was the clear air, or the lack of any other light source, I was not sure…. I’ve only seen the sky as brilliant as this a handful of times in my life. Gokul and I tried to identify some of the constellations while we walked back to base camp. It looked like we had somehow ended up being the last in the group. I suggested we switch off our light for a moment to soak in the setting. Again pitch black darkness all around us. We stared at the sky for a few seconds, but what seemed to be an eternity. When I was about the switch on the light, I sensed many pairs of eyes glaring at us from the bushes that surrounded us. I was not sure if they were from birds or animals, but whatever it was, it sent a chill went up my spine. I hastily switched my torch back on and told Gokul that it was time we quickened our pace
We reached base camp to congratulatory handshakes and back-slaps that can only come through a tough trek taken together with a great bunch of guys. Durai and Vadi wasted no time in calculating the expenses for the trek and accounts were settled down to the last rupee. The individual cost per person for the trek came to just Rs. 332! This was by far the cheapest trek I have ever taken part in. While the accounts of others were being settled, I decided to lie down on the grass and gaze at the beautiful stars glowing bright like LED bulbs in the sky. Rohit did the same a few feet away as he was talking to someone on the phone recounting the day’s incredible experience… further away, the mad lawyers started dancing again, this time I think to the tune of Kolaveri from someone’s car stereo… and I thought to myself, did this day just happen or was it all a dream….