Pleasure in the pathless woods

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Mission PX/2, Nov 26-28 - a recount by Durai

“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, 
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal”
Lord Bryon

Every time when I go into the wild, I re-collect Lord Bryon’s enchanting lines which energize me to take the pathless mountains, live amidst the lovely woods, respire the pure oxygen, drink the cold crystalline water, get drenched in the unpolluted rain, bathe in the ice cold waterfalls, admire the mammoth peaks, enjoy the blissful melody of birds, lie under the skies, gazing at it even as it is busy with its chore of accommodating the twinkling stars!

Promenades along the Palar dam, gentle drizzles welcoming the CTCians, dark rain-bearing clouds engulfing the mountains, a herd of cattle staring at us, avid pelican’s frisking waters, misty mountains revealing its beauty, the aroma of wet soil, the over-flooded streams caught inside the scenic Dam, the rhythm of birds flapping their wings adding melody to the fresh and colorful morning – I swear “I saw and felt heaven on earth”.
Whilst marching ahead on the jeep trail along the wide river we were successful in crossing a side stream with sheer team work; but we could not even attempt to cross the over-flooded main stream; the flow and currents were terrific and we would have miserably failed if we tried to cross it.

Undaunted by the never-allowing ferocious river which denied us from crossing it we decided to climb the dense and bushy parallel peak and trek along its ridges to explore the valley and get drenched in its beauty. The temporary waterfalls overflowing from the mountains would be the best scene which a trekker would be dying to get at the start of the trek to quench his thirst not for water but to trek more; nevertheless the thirst for trekking is insatiable!

Heavenly hike to scale the 1,200 Mts peak

The western side of the valley had no trails; all it had to offer us was  dense bushes, thorny plants everywhere, a 70 degree steep climb, loose and slippery soil, and yes, the icing on the cake, the non-stop rain! We started our hike slithering, crawling and rolling inside the dense bushes; some of the brave soldiers who dared to wear half sleeved shirt and trousers had love bites (between bushes and trekkers to be clear) throughout their body.
We started the climb from 350 Mts altitude and for every 50 mts hike my heart started beating harder and harder - despite the strenuous climb I was still able to listen to my heart which was pounding to remind me “there is pleasure in the pathless woods… society where none intrudes” enjoying the adventurous climb to the fullest of the extent; I can sense from the expressions of my seasoned fellow trekkers that this “the best climb” they have had in the recent times.

Spell-bound with the Palar Dam’s beauty:

As we hiked to a decent height on the mountain we were lucky to observe the mist slowly clearing away and exposing to us the hidden beauty of the “Palar Dam”. The beauty of the Dam and the small mountains which formed the natural boundary to the Dam are beyond my expressions; my eyes were hesitant to blink and it’s a gift to the trekking souls. I heard one of the trekker confessing “man, wish I had this view at my backyard to see this throughout my life”. “There is rapture in the lonely shore….” kept ringing in my ears over and over again.

After negotiating with the bushes and finding our way to reach the peak we were invited to the witness one the best views our eyes would have ever seen. The rain bearing clouds above the winds mills, the fully decorated Palani temple, the majestic view of the peaks below us, the greenish valley with few waterfalls tweeting out, all these mesmerized us and made us feel that we are living on a place people call it as “heaven”.

Camping on 1,200 mts peak – a delight:

We pitched our tents before the darkness started to engulf the entire Palani range. The drizzles were cold and the heavy wind banged the trees making it to dance to the tunes of the nature. My heart was thoroughly enjoying the music of the wind and the dance of the trees sitting on top of the 1,200 mts peak.

Sleeping under the dark rain bearing clouds un-knowing when it will drench us completely I enjoyed the soupy noodles with few like minded CTCians. Still during the nights I feel like sleeping above this beautiful peak with my heart admitting “There is society, where none intrudes”.

Woke up in the “Heaven” – still a miracle:

It was around 5.30 a.m I could hear inside our tarpaulin tent “We are in heaven, we are in heaven” before my heart could realize my mind feared if something happened to us in the night. Rolling onto the next trekker’s sleeping mat I crawled through the tent and went outside only to be taken by surprise on what I saw – yeah, I also jumped in delight echoing the words “We are in heaven, we are in heaven”.

Would it be suffice if I say the “clouds were beneath us and surrounded the entire valley”.
I am unable to stop my heart to confess here “if there is something called as ecstasy, it is before me; if there is something called as paradise, it is before me; if there is something called as dreamland, it is before me; if there is something called as heaven, it is before me” my heart cried with happiness and my soul flew along the clouds while my body danced in blissfulness.  My heart again never failed to recollect “What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal”

Walking over the ridges – a trek I would repeat 1000 times:

Finding an animal trail we kept walking on the ridge braving the sharp edged shoulder high grasses and thorns. We were able to see the magnificent beauty and heights of some of the adjacent peaks penetrating into the sky. The deep and thick woods gave us the required energy to trek through the ups and downs we encountered while the melody of the birds never allowed us to feel exhausted.
One after the other we kept encountering small and beautiful streams inside the valley and kept marching ahead while at few places we also had quick dips to drench ourselves completely into the chilling water.

Encounter with a 200 mts. (plus) cascading waterfalls:

As we crossed a heavily flooded stream we could hear thunderous sound towards the upper stream, I was taken by nature’s beauty when we saw a waterfalls cascading down as if, directly from the sky I never moved from that place for quite some time and admired with my jaw opened to witness the beauty of the waterfalls.

It seemed to be a no-man’s land and there was no evidence of any man-made trail’s leading to this place. We quickly bouldered to reach the base of the waterfall to be completely awe-struck in the mightiness and magnificence of this cascading waterfall. Yet, another great exploration and astounding discovery by CTCians. Indeed, a discovery to be proud off not only by the PX/2 team but by all the CTCians for being pioneers in exploring these sort of natural hot spots even in this 21st century.

With heavy heart we left this natural beauty just to penetrate into the dense forest and the tall grasses and after hours of hard core trek we went to a hamlet in the Palani hills. The villagers were initially taken by amaze and they felt hard to believe us that we trekked all the way from Palani to reach this hamlet, with an old lady in the village informing us that even the villagers dare to take this path to reach this place from Palani.

My heart confesses and records “if there is heaven, it can’t be more beautiful than the magic clouds which I saw below the peak we camped; if there is purity, it can’t be better than the fresh oxygen which went through my nostrils; if there is melody, it can’t be as mesmerizing as the hum of these birds; if there is something called as beauty, it will shy away from the face of these mystical mountains”.
I self-realized that my heart was precisely correct that “I love not man the less, but Nature more”

Surviving the cold second night at 2200m

As Durai had to exit on day 2 (unable to take leave on Monday) let me (Peter) finish the third day of our mission (in my less poetic/more scientific style ;-)

After hopping on a jeep to reach a nearby town we were lucky to immediately catch the only bus that day to Kodai where we would continue the remaining part of our trek the next day. The evening at 2200m altitude was getting very cold, windy and rainy. After taking dinner at Kodai, 7 members bought rain jackets to keep themselves warm that night and we arranged a cab to drop us 12km from Kodai along a small winding ghat road in the beautiful pine forests. We set up three tarp tents for the remaining 13 souls around 8pm, a little away from the road. Most of us did not sleep much due to the very low temperatures at this higher altitude in this rainy winter month.

The ascent of the 2500m peak

We got up early morning, dropped the tarps and some extra luggages near some tree (to reduce weight for the climb) and started walking uphill through the pine forests towards our destination - a peak at 2500m altitude. We were walking intermittently on old jeep tracks and forest slopes. Soon we were under full leech attack (navigator happy – no better sweepers ;-) and were moving fast over a thick carpet of pine needles, broken branches and fallen trees. The jeep track appeared and faded away numerous times as it got totally overgrown by the forest at some places. Many trees fallen over the track made it inaccessible at some places.

Later that morning the sky was clearing up - we could see deep blue making way for the clouds and a nice warm sun was slowly by surely coming through. We halt around 9am to cook aval with milk powder, ice cold stream water and sugar as everyone was getting hungry after the quite challenging gradient of the slope we were climbing on. The higher altitude definitely made us out of breath faster than usual. The atmosphere inside the pine forest is hard to describe - very beautiful, very peaceful, very different from the lower altitude type of forest, old jeep tracks winding through, many trees fallen down, rotten due to frequent rains, small streams everywhere flowing down.

We proceeded our climb along a slope straight towards the peak crossing a few streams, zig-zagging across a few dense patches till we hit open rock/grass lands. Beautiful views of dense forests in the valleys below us covered by the usual patches of morning clouds slowly dissolving. Near the peak, at 2500m one of the highest in the Palani range, we discovered a wooden hut with solar panels, UPS, RF antenna and transmitter. We quickly checked out the place - no one was around. With little sleep the previous night and still defrosting from the cold, we lazed under the sunny skies with splendid views in front of us for about 1 hour on top of the hill.

We could see a big lake in the valley below us. In front of us we could see a large forest stretching out until the horizon with clouds hanging above. As we were getting ready to start our return to Kodai we just went behind the hut to take a look for any trails when we discovered another amazing view to the Northwest of the range showing a huge waterfall (very wide and around 50+m fall) around 3km away at 240 degrees from our peak. The bright white patch was clearly visible in the vast range of shades of green and made a very tempting target for a future PX/3 mission. Later at home I could confirm on the topographic map the exact location of the falls dropping from another large lake. 

Time to say goodbye once again...

After taking in this magnificent view for at least another half an hour it was time to say goodbye to this green heaven. We started our return initially along an old winding jeep trail and soon short cutting sections of the jeep trail by descending directly along the slope. The slopes were dotted with a variety of trees - the ones with orange bark (used for coloring agents), eucalyptus and pine trees. To our surprise the leeches were in-habiting only the pine forests giving us a break in the forest at the higher altitudes…

As the time passed noon we started feeling hungry and the weather started changing - clouds came in, it started raining and soon we felt cold and drenched again. Several team members were limping, feet hurt from the rough terrain in the last two days and attacked by leeches on the third day, arms and hands with many cuts from thorns and long sharp grasses. We took a slightly different/parallel path down the slope back to the small, winding ghat road which would take us back to civilization. While trying to keep ourselves warm standing in the cold rains we were finally happy to hear the afternoon bus approaching around 3:30pm.

After climbing up the ghat road the bus reached Kodai half an hour later where we immediately jumped into a restaurant, changing back to warm/dry clothes and eating to our hearts lust. We were extremely hungry and exhausted after the 6 hour up and down the 2500m peak... After filling our stomachs the team dispersed - some went for a hot shower in a nearby lodge, some remained near the kitchen fire and a few enjoyed a 30min cycle ride along the 6km Kodai lake completely hidden by dense white fog.

5:30pm !!! Highly time to catch our KPN sleeper bus. We all reassembled and went off to the KPN bus stand - throwing our smelly, wet back packs in the luggage compartment and lying down on our heavily soft sleeper berths beneath our warm woolen blankets. The ride to Chennai was comfy and memories were plenty as we browsed through the many pics captured by our cameras....

Happy trekking,
Durai Murugan



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