CTC Turns 4 - Mission PX/1 repeat, Feb 18-19

Monday, February 27, 2012
Organized by Raj Jacob. Write up by Gayatri

It has been a little over 90 days since my last trek. I guess lack of trekking for so many days resulted in my low morale, making me crave for the next possible rendezvous (with nature). Planning for a repeat of PX1 with improvisations (short-cuts) was on for over the last so many weeks and I was eagerly looking forward to this one. My anticipation for a repeat of PX1 had only intensified over the last few months, ever since PX1 happened, as I’d never gathered enough courage to do a difficult trek before (excuse being that gradual improvement in the difficulty level is more sustainable).

Wiki describes Palani Hills as an eastward extension of the western ghat ranges that run parallel to the west coast of India, while I would call it a valley of answers and a visual delight!
The group had twenty four of us – seventeen from Chennai, four from Bangalore, two from Palani and one from Pondicherry. The Chennai team met up at Koyembedu, KPN bus stand at around 9.15 p.m. and the bus left at around 10.00 p.m. I’m sure those hopeful of catching up with sleep prior to the rigor of a difficult trek lost all hopes of sleep with my constant and energetic (means loud!) conversation with a few till past midnight! Respite came to all and sundry in the bus with respect to sleep post 2.00 a.m. (around the time I decided to shut up and retire for the night, myself).
Dawn came too soon to my utter disappointment, but with it our growing proximity to breakfast made me immensely glad. Hot idli/pongal/vada/dosa touched our taste buds and soon filled our stomachs. After finishing our morning ablutions, we set off in a minivan.

Getting off at the starting point (beside a dam), we paid the van driver and set out at 9.45 a.m., walking towards our grand destination. The walk lasted for approximately 30 seconds, after which we had to climb onto a parapet wall and thereafter use the steps to reach the top. A group snap was captured here before we continued on our path.
The first one hour was a flat trail, with scanty greenery that steadily gathered density as we marched forward. We hit the first source of water and stretched our legs, resuming our journey ahead after refilling the bottles with the nectar-sweet stream water. Now came that part of trail that completely took me by surprise. Huge boulders, each one bigger than the next, as slippery as a wet tiled floor greeted us; if the size of the boulders was intimidating then what of the amazing grip it offered?! After one hour of such pleasurable struggle and a reasonably decent pace of progress, the team gathered at 12.15 p.m. realizing that we’d ventured into a more challenging trail that did not have possible outlets. To make this find more interesting, Ankush who retraced a few steps to gather his lost sleeping bag went missing for more than 45 minutes. So did Karthick who went ahead in search of an exit route. 

Ela, Rajesh and I were patiently waiting at the so-called inflexion point – we had not caught up with the rest of them, neither were we the last as Ankush & Karthick were supposed to join us after accomplishing their mission. Seconds ran into minutes and minutes almost into hours
(a couple at least). Captain of the ship, Raj arrived on the scene and told us that we had to retrace for 10 minutes to get onto a reasonably penetrable trail. But where were Ankush and Karthick? None had spotted them anywhere! We waited for some more time before Rajesh & Gothan went in search of Karthick. After they disappeared into the wilderness of the path ahead, Saravan kumar appears from no where and clarifies that both Karthick and Ankush were with the captain and that we had to retrace and reassemble. So off we all went with the two hours of wait giving us adequate rest to face the forthcoming challenges in the trail.
Refreshed and recharged, we all marched ahead at 2.30 p.m. The trail was quite steep with lot of thorny bushes at regular intervals. Crossing a particular boulder is vividly embedded in my mind. There was a tree beside which was an impossibly large boulder. The thought that this had to be crossed seemed so ridiculous to me that I was going around in circles trying to find out alternative ways. I laughed out in disbelief when I realized it was not a joke, rather a quite serious and tough task ahead of me. Ela just jumped up, grabbed the tree and did a monkey thing! While I was impressed, even amused, it terrified me to think of how I would be able to manage this mighty feat with a height of 5 feet. Imagine my plight when it was brought to my notice that I was to go next?! I looked helplessly at Ela. It was Karthick who made the grand gesture of bending over and letting me place one foot on his back for balance (I honestly felt humbled). The problem did not end here as Ela had to pull me onto the boulder. Actually this made me feel quite ashamed of myself, so to make up for it I volunteered to pass on the bags to more even grounds so that others can also be subject to a bitter-sweet similar fate.

At 5.10 p.m., we reached another water point (waterfalls actually) where we had 20 minutes time to romance the ice-cold water. Many guys just ran and jumped into the water. The shock of the ice-cold water making them go numb all over was evident in their pained stares, yet they drenched in immeasurable joy!
We started at 5.30 p.m. and reached the campsite at 6.30 p.m. after battling with a difficult terrain of loose rocks, thorny bushes and slippery soil at an incline of 75-80 degrees. The campsite was incredibly beautiful, unlike any other I’ve seen. It was mostly flat surface with the stream cutting across it, enough of water for cooking but not too much to come in the way of camping! We just took a few minutes to settle down and immediately and unanimously commenced our dinner preparations. It was an amazing team effort – work was judiciously split and involved collecting fire wood, setting the fire, washing potatoes, mixing masala and making noodles. Potatoes were grilled and the noodles had CTC Palani Team’s special masala!!! Till around 9.30 p.m. none of us were conscious of the cold weather as the fire and piping hot food kept us diverted, busy and warm. Ram & Vinod were involved in slicing the potatoes, while Sundar and Rajesh were involved in grilling them. Nachiketa and team were busy getting the noodles ready. Anavarathan Raj was busy keeping the fire going at both places. What was I doing?! Well, the most important of them all – moral support!!! Also, I was deeply involved in eating and distributing food to deserving candidates and ensuring that no one eater was monopolizing the food supplies. Ela was walking around providing general gyan on any query pertaining to implementation of the cooking plans. All others were totally engrossed – in eating! Though few of us knew each other from previous treks, the entire group behaved like one family.

We all retired for the night and the captain kept a night fire going which burned through the night on account of the selfless effort of Saravana kumar and Gowtham. I survived the night and in fact slept for close to 4 hours thanks to the 1.50 kg sleeping bag of mine. The burden of carrying it around was well worth the effort. Dawn came and with it came the hope of another exciting day of trekking, of yummy food and of experiencing the magnificence of the perumal peak. We were up and ready by 7.30 a.m. Our uphill climb started at 8.00 a.m. and ended in forty five minutes upon reaching the road (jeep trail). I’m sure all of us together could have made abnormal profits in selling lemons that we picked up on our way to the road!!! We took a 5-minute break and proceeded towards our first waterfall for the day. Reaching at 10.15 a.m. we were all overjoyed at the prospect of a break and jumped at the opportunity to have food – milkmaid, jam & butter with bun, apart from chapattis. I was magnanimously involved in spreading the jam/butter/milkmaid on bun for the folks and managed to steal one for myself while creating a contrary impression. We left at 10.45 a.m. from the water point and targeted reaching the village at 11.45 a.m. The trail was constantly at an incline and without breaking anywhere we reached the village on the dot.
We had a tea break for 15 minutes after which the entire group split into two – one, that was to head to the perumal peak (18 of us) and the other that was to head back to palani after exploring the village (6 of them). I was part of the team that went to perumal peak. We had to work against time – the climb and descend had to be completed within 3 hours as the Chennai team had their bus leaving Palani at 7.30 p.m. (given that it would take 1.50 hours to travel to palani from the exit point of perumal peak).
The trail to perumal peak was at an incline with a lot of dry bushes/leaves. The steps were slippery but it added flavor to our ascend. Vaidi kept us all going through the challenging terrain with his running commentary & sense of humor which made us burst out laughing despite the testing climb/descend. After 2 hours of climbing we reached the top. I was astounded by the scenery that welcomed me. There were mountain ranges surrounding the peak. Few of the valleys between these mountain ranges were clearly visible, so were the dark patches on the neighboring mountains, being shadows cast by the mighty sun.  As though possessed I walked to the far end of the peak and sat down mesmerized. My eyes drank in the serenity of the place, hungry for more. Sun shining brightly on me did not irk me in the way it normally did, as I had lost myself to the present moment. During our onward journey to Palani, I had this question that kept haunting me – are humans as lonely as they are social? I felt something whisper the answer into my ears at the peak – even in loneliness we are social as we have nature staring back at us all the time, wherever & whenever!!!
The descend was incredibly steep with almost no trail, thorny bushes waiting to kiss our skin and right angled ‘drops’. It took us one hour to reach the bus stop (4.45 p.m.), but to our dismay learned that the next bus to Palani was at 6.00 p.m. Meanwhile, we had some snacks and freshened up a bit. The ride to Palani was fun – there was no place to sit and the bus was crowded, so for the first time in my life, I sat right beside the footboard and enjoyed the curvy & bumpy ride while feeling the cold breeze against my cheeks. We reached Palani and boarded the bus at 8.00 p.m. as we’d requested the guys there to hold the bus for us. Could things get more eventful than this? It sure did – the bus to Chennai broke down and was only partly set right. Hence we were stranded at Trichy KPN office for over an hour. That is when we had to take a call – to wait for a replacement or to take a cab to Chennai. Those who had to get back to work took a cab and left at 3.00 a.m., while those who were more flexible with timings chose to stay back and wait for the replacement.

I went feeling a bit low, I came back feeling ecstatic!
Raj Jacob was incredible and his organizing was impeccable (nothing surprising but always worth mentioning). Anavarathan Raj had a soothing effect on those who were relatively inexperienced/first timers, his words of encouragement and patience in navigation went a long way in helping them see the finish line. My fascination revolved around the team’s behavior as one family. I totally admire the first timers for their determination and grit in completing this trek. The time spent with each other  amidst the exaltation of nature will always be cherished by me. My best trek ever!



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