Mission PX/3, Jan 26-29

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

[Write up by Vasanth]

We all know Lord Muruga and the fairy tale behind why he sits atop the beautiful Palani hills. Reasons marred, he chose right. The beauty of the backdrop is proof enough. But there’s more to those hills and mountains than being a holy shrine. Yes, this part of Western Ghats that raise high above the actual Palani Malai we all know and go to is a trekker’s paradise and the fact that it is in one of the most remotest and untouched mountains makes it all the more inaccessible and equally dangerous adventurous. This is a brief recount of the ~ 100 hours a bunch of banshees spent in the Palani Hills, braving weather and waters at single digit mercury levels, climbing boulders rocks and peaks, walking non-stop and to top it all, surprising Peter with the attitude and action shown on field! (Weren’t you impressed Pete? You said it on day 1 camp site)


Highlights: 2 Dropouts; Multiple Rope Climbs; Numerous Waterfalls; And The Stunning Campsite

It was 5:30 AM when I reached the base of the Palani hills. By 6:30, familiar faces started appearing and we all grouped in the tea stall. Peter was already feeling the pinch of letting participants book their own tickets as there were SMS’ doing rounds telling some are still arriving from Dindigul, an hour away from the base. We stepped out and had breakfast at a nearby hotel. By 9:00 AM, we were all set and started boarding the van to a nearby dam. We started to walk from the dam and the path grew from as innocent as a trail to small rocks to stream to big boulders. We kept a steady pace and the stream posed difficulty from the very initial stage. We found ourselves crossing her from all directions. We walked and walked and grouped at a flat rock in another 2 hours. As time went by, the trail was getting more difficult and since the instruction was pretty clear (walk along the stream; Never away), we took all possible combinations to climb up and stayed within the vicinity of the stream and the navigators ahead were confident that no one would be lost. 

Thankfully, there was enough water (this had been one of the best part of the trek) and we quenched our thirst and kept going. It was 12:00 PM and when I looked back, I heard someone say there was a dropout! That’s too early with all those warnings. Better luck next time buddy. I felt the pain too but that’s what this group is expected to be mind-wise, STEEL. And then came the use for the ropes which was too early on a trek. Generally, ropes go unused or be used close to the end of a trek. But mind you, this was not a Kutti Pappa trek J On crossing a steep rock face with the help of the rope tied to a tree, thanks to Vishal for waiting by, I heard about another dropout. Thanks to Vishal again for the little speech and preach to this poor (or lucky?) soul. It was 2:00 PM and I did a bit of a math; We started by 9 and it had been 5 fast hours of trekking so far with the group. To reach the base, you need another 5 hours which will be 7 and it’s definitely going to be dark. I hoped he’ll reach the base safe and soon. Please read through if he made it successfully, in the day 2 section. 

Back to insanity sorry … the group. The stream kept proving she’ll only be more difficult and had not planned to make it easy for us with steep rock faces and huge boulders. And did I mention we crossed over 10 falls by now ranging from 3 meters to as high as 20 meters? We kept going steadily walking on the rock-side as high as 20 meters with only inches of space to hold on to. When I reached a place where a rope was tied to a tree and there was nothing to land beneath, I felt how difficult it could’ve been for the navigators to even think of climbing down this and make it safe for the others too; Thanks to Karuppu-Peter, Senthil. This place owes more explanation. To the left was the stream running full flow from a falls just 15 mts ahead and it had cut deep in to the rocks making the place to land very high. We were walking to the right and were expected to hang on to the rope, travel in air(!) and land away on a rock. Straight below was a deep rock face joining the stream. And slowly one by one descended and made it safely. Peter removed the rope, hugged the tree and slid through safely to the base. There lay another challenge ahead with a beautiful waterfall making it the dead end. We made a way on the side, climbed up another tree and went up above. 

This time, there was rock and rock and rock everywhere and another climb up, we were greeted by a 5 star campsite, complete with a Jacuzzi (only there was no heater), a sliding pool, a picturesque waterfall, a fireplace, an amphitheater with a planetarium up above and a presidential suite for all of us to stay under the sky. This had been my next best campsite (second only to the summer OG beach campsite besides the river) thus far. Some of us took a refreshing dip in the near-zero temp water, washing away all the pains and aches of the 8 hour walk. We started laying tarps and a campsite was set instantly with all those dry logs and elephant dung. It had been my surprise till now, how and where these elephants come from and that too at this height. More logs were burnt and we sat around the fire recounting memories from the day and from past treks. Peter exclaimed he was indeed happy with the progress made and was not sure if we would make up till there but the group showed no sign of stopping. We had network coverage too and all were calling loved ones and conveying updates. We did call up Damo, who dropped out at 2 PM and sad enough, he didn’t make it out. Peter kept assuring him with kind words and gave him the much needed boost to push the night through. We were to call him again and check tomorrow. A cup of yummy soup and a bowl of noodles later, thanks to the chief-chef Sankar and Senthil, we slid our tired bodies in to the sleeping bag and were happily looking at the sky filled with stars; Happy because there were lots and lots of stars and happy because with all those stars twinkling, there won’t be any rains J

Highlights: Long, Flat Walk and a Snack Break at a Village; Rock Climbs and a 3 Star Campsite with an Awesome Fireplace

Many had a good sleep and a few restless souls waited by the fire for the day to break so that they can continue the trek. Or maybe, the 7 degree weather kept ‘em up? ;) Well, it was a cold, cold night and with constant winds, it only got colder. Hot tea with rusk was for breakfast and it tasted great. We called up Damo and were relieved to know he made it to the village. We began packing up as the Sun started her duty promptly, shining up above. We proceeded along the stream and it was a relatively easy walk. Along came a check dam in ruins and a couple of snake skins. Sure it’s a snake land with all the comfort needed; enough water, rocky and shady shelter and some small prey inside the forests. Further, we found the stream turning and leading to civilization. There were electric fences going through fields to keep the animals away. Soon we reached a village where we had a nice snack break with cool drinks and fruits. There was a debate about blacklisting Peter for doing a kilometer’s hike on a cab but later we decided to let him go with a warning.  

After an hour’s time, we started proceeding towards the stream following a proper village trail and were given strange gaze by villagers working on bean-fields. A few dogs were in a dilemma if to bark or if not to, looking at the size of the group. And there was this granny telling there’s nothing ahead and we’ll have to take a different route. We ignored and in less than 10 minutes, she proved right. We were back in the same way and took the trail down to the stream where there was a wide waterfall. I let a leg in the water to take a dip and my leg was numb within seconds. It was past noon and the sun was shining bright but the water was so very cold and a mighty few (‘Emperor’ Prem, ‘Vibrator’ Vishal and Ram) braved the chill and took a dip. Others rested on rocks nearby, relaxing and having yummy lunch with all varieties of pickles. We then packed up and moved ahead of the falls and rested again on top of the falls waiting for Peter and co to return, who went up in search of a trail but they never turned up. Soon, we continued to proceed along and the stream slowly began showing the same kind of face as day 1; Rocky and steep. We then went up ahead to a house and crossed it to get down to the stream again.

Rocks, Stream, Boulders.. Rocks, Stream, Boulders.. Rocks, Stream, Boulders..and rope climbs at times. Day was falling fast and I saw the emperors sitting, as if they own that part of the world, with no care. I was surprised why they would be sitting there while others were proceeding ahead. Senthil was telling they have gone ahead in search of trail and might get back. With bated breath and heaving head, I needed to rest and sat along. I got to know about them better in the next half hour and they had taken to each other quite well, that they carved out as an organizing group and were real confident in navigation. With these people, you are never lost; take my word, if you are hiking with them the next time. In an hour, we decided to trek along as there was no sign of the group returning back. We were pretty fast and covered some of the most treacherous trails of the day. At one point, Masi stopped from above a huge rock and was rushing the guys down to make it faster and not to take a particular rock. On reaching him, I was told there was a snake in a dugout underneath and that’s why he rushed up. 

Another tenth minute, we met up with the rest of the group which was busy carrying logs to the campsite. We joined them in collecting wood and there was this huge log, Sankarji was so adamant in carrying up that we had to tie ropes to it and had 10 people pulling it from atop. This log proved its worth till the next day warming us up through the night. I was doubtful if all the logs we collected will be used up but by the next day morning, all were burnt. So was the need and so was the cold night. On to the camp site now. This one was a make-shift camp but had all the needed ingredients; water and shelter under trees. Soon, the stove was lit up and a parallel team had a nice camp fire setup with logs around it to sit. I started a fire near the next group and picked woods and logs from this place at which the group 1 came out objecting and it was all fun through dinner time. We had ‘variety’ rice on the menu (Tamarind, Tomato, Pudina, Curry leaves et al) and the chef team consisted of Arun, Masi, Barani and the usual chieftains. Laying the tarps after a heavy meal, we slid inside the sleeping bags hoping for a good night and a better tomorrow.

Highlights: The Magnificent Falls; Rock/Bush Climb the Peak Opposite the Falls; Bus Journey to Kodai; Van Journey to return Valley

It was indeed a cold morning but with all those rocks and trees around, the wind part was missing, making it a good night to sleep through, at least for me. The night owls (Nobal and Sankarji) were up as usual guarding the group from as early as 3 in the morning. And what surprises me is these are the guys that will be ahead in the group in spite of all those sleeplessness. Well, that’s what makes this group a survivors group isn’t it? With all ‘duties’ performed for the morning, we were raring to go and face the day, head held high, God help us. The stream continued and continued with same kind of rocks and was proving more difficult with the passing minute. There were places where you would climb up and see down only to not believe your own eyes that you climbed it and asking yourself silently, Did I do this? Or Have I gone mad? Will someone talk some sense in to this group? Et al. There was this huge rock (I am tired of this ‘huge’ thingy. How many times had I said ‘huge’ in all these pages?), letting a tree grow by its side which was the only hope to reach above it but the catch is there was exactly 1 feet gap between which we’ll have to slither through making us to leave our bags behind. 

Another 10 minutes of monkey stunts, we were at where it all started; Yes, the lower part of the magnificent falls. And that’s how and where the stream running through the valley forms. There were two heads from where the water fell and the place was 270 degrees rock with the only opening where we came from. Prem and Vishal missed no minute and were at the bottom of the falls, drenched in the ice cold water and instantly shivered. Now, why would this water not freeze at this temperature? Isn’t water’s freezing point 0 degrees? Vishal never stopped shivering even after the 10 minute camp fire at the base of the falls. That’s how he got his name; the Vibrator. Peter went around in search of a trail to get around the falls but in vain. We enjoyed the view of the falls with a lot of group snaps. Slowly, it dawned on us that there was no way out of this place except the way we came from. As we started retreating, the ever awesome Peter reached for the opposite peak in a final attempt to look around for an escape route and did he come out with a thumbs-up after almost 30 mins! The first glimpse of the peak would make one say no to a climb with rock faces angling at over 60 degrees but that should be a normal person talking. 

Welcome again to insanity PX3 gang. With a liter of water filled in, we set foot on the rock and started climbing and climbing and climbing and climbing…at every stoppage the falls flowing opposite us slowly started growing smaller but showing her full face all the time. The falls at the bottom proved to be so small that the ones up above were growing height wise gradually. The cliff’s steepness never stopped and the grass under our legs gradually came to hip level and rose above our heads at places. We stopped at regular intervals taking to the height of the falls and it only kept growing higher and higher. We grouped at places and took snaps of the falls. One peak’s highest point turned in to another one’s starting point and it went on till there was a sudden stretch down to the valley for the full height we climbed and beyond that were the settlements we crossed all these days and way beyond was the starting dam itself. After all these three days of tiring walk, we were still in the vicinity of the place where it all began. Yes, we were at such an altitude that the whole valley is visible and provided a 360 degree view of the neighboring mountains and peaks. We took to the ridge and continued to walk towards what appeared to be the highest point of the peak. There was a rock on the way and it needs a special mention. 

This rock was relatively flat and ran for a cool 20 meters with no grips and both sides of it opened up to a super half-a-kilometer free fall. How cool is that? I am sure no one let his eyes off the rock on climbing it. After crossing the rock the same three questions I had earlier in the day, propped up in my mind. Another 30 minutes of ridge-walk lead us in to the dense forest that rose against the falls. There were trees cut down and a road-like pavement had been made for god only knows what. This pavement gave the full face view of the falls and how do I describe it? Mighty, Magnificent, Glorious. Short of words and I’ll never be able to explain how we felt. And this is the lean season. Just a thought of how will this be in peak monsoon sent a sudden chill through my spine. I think this would equally be a jog or maybe even dwarf it, who knows? Enough of the falls, there’s bus to catch, so start moving was the command. Walk, walk and walk in to the forest which was so dense even at this time of the year makes one wonder if it would give way in monsoon. And it should be leech-rich too like all the rain forests of the OG. It was a long and tiring walk and with comforting words like ‘we are close by’, ‘another turn, we are there’, ‘there you hear a car honking’, ‘can you see the road there?’ from Arun, I pushed through and reached the road. Yes, we did make it. 

And came the bus that took us to Kodai in another 40 minutes where we ate like we never saw food in three years emptying the hotel of their one week’s inventory. Then we headed to the bus stand in search of a van to take us to the return valley. After an hour’s spending and a bit of shopping around, we boarded the van and reached return valley crossing places like Silver Cascade, Perumal Malai etc, a 15 kilometer ride from Kodai. We went in to a tea stall there are continued our bash and since the vendor had only tea to offer, we let her go with just a tea each. She was talking of a scary story where a couple drowned in the falls the day before. An elderly gentleman was suggesting us to sleep in the hut nearby but with SPB, Mano et al screaming at best over the speakers, thanks to a village function, Peter was in no mood to stay there which would also had proved a violation to have stayed with civilization on a trek, let alone the speakers. Well, here we are walking back in to the forest with the small hand of the clock crossing 9. Exactly after 30 minutes (I’ll tell you later why I am so sure it was EXACTLY 30 minutes), Peter stopped at a place which appeared as if he came there the day before to clean it up and set up a camp site. Yes, it snugly fit in all 21 of us on a single line though some preferred to stay close the camp fire. Soon there was a camp fire and many chose to stay home inside the bag. Another day in the forest came to a close and we closed our eyes to the world to get ready for a racy final day.

Highlights: Top of Another Falls; Climb Down to Exit

Day broke brightly when I woke up and there were people around the camp fire. A peek at the breakfast menu made me brush up quickly and rush with the bowl to the kitchen. The chef team had made cornflakes and milk as sweet as they are; the best breakfast I had in this trek. Filled up, we started moving towards the stream which was running down from where we camped. After a rigorous walk downhill for close to an hour, we were at the stream and started proceeding along till we were stopped by the top of another falls which ran down as far as the eye reached draining in to the valley. Peter went around to check out for any exit points but came back with thumbs down. The I-don’t-take-no-for-an-answer folks Sankarji and Prem decided they’ll venture down and see if he was really right and proved the mighty Peter wrong! Peter always considers if everyone can make it through and will only approve a trail as a go or no-go. This time he decided not everyone can make it and said no but these two stone-age descendants were able to make it down. Well, the rest of us walked back to the camp site and planned to exit from there. On the way up climbing, I was hit by a tree which should’ve stirred my sane part of the head. Just kidding; No tree hit me. I decided I’ll exit and walk back to the village and take a detour. I had my personal reasons which included a bit of shopping for home to secure permission from wifey for the next trek (and yes, I have permission now J). I made it out in EXACTLY 30 minutes. Now you know why I said so previously. 

The rest of the story from Vishal’s words:

We wanted to explore the mighty return valley , as shankar ji and prem got their heroics successful after getting down directly via the 50 m drop by using the rope and rolling down tactics. We got down via the village trail that was going to palani and we stopped at a point where we wanted to see the base of the falls coming from the return valley . Arun and Bharani continued to follow the village trail and got down ahead of us . Peter leading in front , karan , amit ,nagin and set of guys behind us got down through so called THORNOMANIA, which was full of thorns . I still dont know how the elephants survive these thorns . There was a point where no one could stand up , everyone was sitting and crawling with their bagpacks,pots surviving the thorns . After 1 hour of survival we saw a ray of hope , WATER flowing from the valley . Soon Peter , masanamuthu and Senthil went up stream to see the return valley falls . Nagin tried to follow them but was unsuccessful as they were ultra fast and all of us were resting at the drop where each step was slippery. We had a quick lunch Chappati and Pickle. We saw shankar and prem sleeping ahead of us . Then we got down to meet them where the sliding and rope climbing was fun . 

Soon we decided we should reach the exit dam by 500pm so we started getting ready after seeing a MONKEY'S Skull , boosting our confidence hoping to see more action . Peter , senthil ,muthu was leading in front . Nobal ,Prem myself were following them climbing the rocks then at 230 we had a small regroup where we allowed peter to take rest . The group wanted to go ahead as their MINDVOICES were saying "ONLY IF WE COULD MOVE NOW we can catch up with the mighty giant peter" Myself,prem peter slept for sometime asthe group moved ahead . After 1.5 km of downstream walk we had a small channel where everyone had a refreshing dip Which was awesome . We saw many villagers drinking and were asking about the permission. Still 1 km ahead we saw the dam 's scenic view and jeep trail where eveyone changed thier clothes and had photo snaps.

After having a dip we heard from a lady that peter is 1 km ahead of us . Soon we decided to leave(5:30pm). after that we all came in a lorry to the exit town. Then Prem ,bala,raghul and myself went to temple which was nice . then others were having dinner at timepass bar. At 7:30 we exactly met in the same old place where we had breakfast 4 days back.

After dinner we had icecream - Protein Blast :-)
Thn everyone parted .

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