Mission PX/3, Jan 26-29

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Palani Exploration 3 (PX3)
Sharing from Bharath

Day 1

The Beginning

To the amusement of the local Palani folks, 24 CTC members with big bag packs, tarps, aluminum utensils and lot of noise came down from Chennai, Coimbatore and Bangalore to start PX3 with Peter. All the bags were dumped on the top of a van and so was Vishal Ramdass, to keep a check on falling bags. Few of the members knew each other and the rest of us were new, but the usual Musthy and Galaata of CTCians caught on, as we drove to the dam near the base of the hills. After a brief photo session at the dam we started walking towards the mysterious mountains of Palani. We could hear only the sounds of few migratory birds through the still waters and the sky was overcast. With the calmness of the place, the thrill of exploration was building on.

We hit the stream and started walking along. The stones on the stream started becoming larger rocks and the jumps became tougher. After an hour the continuous jumps over the rocks was tiring and the bag pack seemed to become heavier. The rocks became boulders and we had to use our hands to climb them. Normally, the only continuous exercise my hands get is typing the computer keyboard. Now climbing using my hands with my entire weight and bag pack was, understandably, a bit of a task. I found my shoes were not so perfect for rocks as well. Not a happy thing to find out during the first few hours of a 4 day exploration.

The Stunts Started

We came to a point were only monkey men (seasoned climbers) can cross without help. Peter, Senthil and few of the trekkers (monkey men?) cross this spot and vanished in to the forest and few experienced trekkers stayed to help us climb it with the rope. A small shrub was tied with one end of the rope and the other end was left on the slippery rock. I have never pull-ups and never lifted my weight, and rope was a far cry. If I don’t do it, then I have to exit the trek. But there was no time to even think. I just recollected how Vikram and Aishwarya Rai climbed the mountain in the movie Raavan and climbed the slope. Phew, it was not so tough after all. I quickly followed others who were heading in to the tougher terrains. The forest was growing thicker and we started using the roots and branches of trees to slide on the rocks…you can say Mogli style.

Some of us now encountered a stretch of rock which was slant and had no grip. The stream was on the lower side and trickling fresh water on the other side. The tricky part was that there were only few dry patches and the entire rock was covered with green algae. This was again a new medium to be. As I stepped on to cross, I was locked in a posture, since any further movement would slide me in to the chill water rushing 12 feed under me and I will need a rescue. You now know, I don’t know swimming. We were wondering what to do and Amith came by and decided to use the rope; this time to cross this slippery surface. After 15 to 20 cautious steps, holding the rope, a 5ft slide on the rock was essential to get to the next side. In this Jackie Chan stunt, my shoes and pants literally swept most of the algae on the rock and at the end I smelt like a dirty fish tank. Well I decided to deal with the smell later and pushed off to catch up with others. The sight of all the members lined up to cross a stretch gave me some relief.

The relief was short lived as we were asked to drop the bags and slide through a 20 ft tree to get to the other side. Of course the rope was there as well. In few seconds I reached the front of the queue and Peter’s green eyes were looking at me. I had to invoke the name of Bear Grylls to face this challenge. I took the rope and slide down holding the tree and the entire team was cheering me up! Ha… was not so tough.

With these three rope stunts we were given a lunch break. As I was munching the sweet coconut poli, I started recollecting my ex-one-week-gym-master’s talk on biceps and triceps. At that moment, I could strongly feel that I too have them and I had just over used them a bit.

Amith’s moment between life and Death

Well the hunt of a campsite will not start until we do another rope stunt, this time beside a cold waterfall which was gushing through a dead-end. We climbed its height from its side and reached above it and landed on a level where water was flowing wide, shallow and swift on the smooth rocks towards the falls. Amith, who was going before me stepped on the water and instead of crossing the water, fell down and started moving along the water. 10 meters ahead was the falls and he was swift as the water under him. Here I was witnessing a terrible incident. In a few seconds he stopped himself by resting on a grass patch under the rock I was standing. He passed on the rope he had in his bag and we pulled him up. I was so glad to not have witnessed an incident of someone falling off a waterfall, a stripped down version of the one in Apocalypto.

First Day Campsite

Phew! We again used ropes to cross this stretch and finally had to climb on a tree to get to the next level. The top of the tree lead to the wonderland, our campsite, for which most of us were waiting for. Camera shutters became busy as celebrations broke out for the success of Day 1. We were at an altitude of 900m. After a refreshing dip in the water a huge campfire was put on and Soup and Maggie was served to fill up the hungry souls. We all zipped into the sleeping bags with the campfire ON all night under the sky lit with stars. The night was filled with cold breeze and chilling thoughts of elephants and wolfs.

Day 2

Chit Chatters of the early birds in the campsite woke me up and some kicks on the ass were required for the rest to wake up. Peter started calling “Come on Guys…Lets MOVE!” I was ready with my full armed T-shirt to save myself from the thorns. Peter mentioned some thing about Day 2 trek which got me excited a lot.

A surprise at every turn

The day started with a big challenge as the terrain was completely unfriendly. No more just simple rocks and boulders. There were heaps and heaps of huge boulders showered all over the valley forming caves and hills. Ropes had to be used again to get over boulders. After a while the terrain started becoming flatter and wider. I was prepared to Witness the beautiful transition which Peter had spoken about. Now I could see it. As the valley opened up, beautiful vegetable fields and huts showed up at 1000+m. The sudden transformation from wilderness in to the civilization was enthralling. The bean fields are a wonder worth looking at. Each green tendril growing up towards the sky looking for the grip to hold on and grow, and it looks like an enthusiastic kid trying to grow up. Every creeper is given a separate thread and the farmers take care of every single plant. As we barged into the farms through the electric fencing, the farmers alerted each other and came running to us. After knowing that we were just trekkers, they were cordial and gave us water and their lunch. They invited for dinner and promised to serve chicken. If Peter was not around, the trek plan would have been altered for that compelling offer. After a short warm break on the farm we moved on to the roads and hit a small village. We found a small shop and in few seconds we made the inventory of the shop obsolete. Our team started plundering the shop and most of the items were whipped out. The villagers will have to wait until those items are brought from the main town.  After that heavy snacking we pushed off to our next destination.

With some help from the villagers we managed to find out our next spot, a picture perfect water fall, where we took a dip and then lunch. The joy of sharing chappathies and pickles, sitting on a wet rock is always great; especially when we have option of 5 different pickles. Once we climbed up the waterfall, contrasting to the earlier terrain, there were no boulders or rocks. The valley was smooth with no grips and was slippery. Until then we had to jump like monkeys over the boulders and now we had to crawl like lizards. To add to the scene, skeleton of monkeys were lying down and snakes were popping out from the cracks. We reached a valley where it was neither a stream nor a waterfall. Water was just sliding in one stretch in 25 - 35 degrees for about 400m which only a vertical panoramic short could capture in a camera. Peter was visibly excited to look at it.


Campfire Fun

As the light was going down, Peter hunted for a campsite and discovered an excellent campsite which was surrounded by high raised peaks. To celebrate the day’s journey we all decided to set up a huge campfire. With the help of 2 ropes we pulled a dry tree from the valley to the campsite. It was great fun to stand like ants in the huge valley and pull up the tree from the valley.

Yummy Dinner and the Cold Night

After 2 days, for all the hungry and tired bodies, Senthil and team server hot steamed rice with Shankar’s variety rice mixes of Tamarind, Ginger, Pudina, Coriander and Garlic were like a Divine Intervention. The sumptuous dinner was good enough to put us to a good sleep. The night was very chill as we were about 1300 m. The killer was the breeze and the dewdrops from the trees. In spite of the sleeping bag and tarpaulin sheet it was very cold.  The Campfire was ON the entire night keeping all of us warm.

Day 3

It’s very difficult to get out of the sleeping bag especially after a very cold night, unless you have a hope of a campfire in the morning. Thank god, the campfire was on. After burning out the entire tree, new firewood was collected by the sleepless folks. After a quick oat meal we packed our bag for another exciting day.

The end of my quest in PX3

The terrain was filled with giant boulders that made us look like ants. These terrains can never have a trail and never can be tamed. These are absolute impossible terrains. As streaming ants we reached a spot where a water fall was gushing between the sky and the mountain from about 80m straight down. The rocks were wet from the water sprinkled from the fall. Each one of us found a rock, sat and just kept watching the water fell from such a height straight down. I thought the beauty was worth all the effort of past 3 days. I did not want to see any thing more.

Peter and few other trekkers went to explore if we can go further up, but since it was too steep they came back and said we have to retract to the campsite and take another route. After relaxing before the magnificent water fall we reluctantly started to go back. There was a steep ridge opposite to the falls with bare rock for about 30 m and then the some grass. We could not see what was beyond the grass level, but there was a peak above us. Since none of us dare to suggest any thing about that impractical option before us, Peter relayed on his intuition and went on it, alone.

A New Journey Began

After about 30 – 45 minutes he came back with a smile on his face. We were all glad to see him smiling but were dead scared looking at the bare rock. We finished our tasty and light Kakra and Cheese lunch and started heading towards that deadly climb. I did not dare to walk on it. I was crawling like monkey, like most of the others. Once I reached the part where some grass was there to hold, I remembered the magnificent falls. I got up and looked around. I could not believe what I saw! The water was not falling from between the sky and the mountain any more. Beautiful green terrain above the falls was reveled. The falls which I thought is flowing from the sky was just a deception. I was thrilled as I climbed further. A whole new view of the mountain unfolded before me. The fall which I was awe struck an hour back has become insignificant as I climbed further. New mountain ridges have come into my perception as I climbed through the grass. After a while the grass was about 3 to 8 feet high and it was misty and cold. A gentle breeze added to the beauty of the place. It was calm and mysterious.

The Enchanting Palani Mountains

As I waded through the tall grassland I was going up to 2000m and the enormous Mountain Range of Palani was unfolding before me. The water fall I saw was only a fag end of a huge falls which was about 300m high in front of my eyes. From those boulders filled valley now I am on top of the Palani mountain range witnessing the grandeur and it was magical. As I could not comprehend what I was seeing, I just let go the logic and started singing a song to myself.

We further went to the peak and sat there looking at the sky, the mountain range, the water fall, the dam, the farms and villages and the song bird fluttering alone at 2000 m calmness. We walked to the nearby peak which had eucalyptus trees only at the top and was covered by think mist. As I was walking to this incredibly scenic peak, I was whispered to the trees “What are you guys doing here? What is the Plan?” The place was an absolute beauty and we had a breath taking view of the grand 300m water fall in the back drop of Palani mountain range. The view was simply astonishing and I did not want to move from there.

The schedule was calling us and we had to get to the roads to catch a bus to Kodaikanal. After walking through the fresh, green, still, misty pine forest we got to the cement road leading to Kodai.

The first bus to Kodai had to stop looking at all of us lying on the road and all the passengers were amused to look at our rugged and stinking look. We tightly filled the bus and the driver and passengers were curious to know from where in the heaves did we land in the middle of the road and where were we heading to. We were just 15km away from Kodai. When we told them that we are coming from the base of the mountains by walking, they decided we were in some kind of military training, parsing the forest. The 15km bus ride was more difficult to endure than all the trekking as we were squeezed in the bus and the road had only bends. After 3 days of life in wilderness, it was such a relief to walk on Kodai roads looking for a restaurant for a meal. All of us hogged every damn thing we could dream of and started for the exit valley.

Night Trek to Campsite

We took a van and reached a village looking for a safe campsite. A tea shop was a cozy, warm hut in the village and served us hot tea. Many of us had a secrete desire to sleep in the hut for that night. The music in the village was too loud for any of us and we started our night trek back in to the forest, for about a kilometer to find a campsite. Peter found a campsite which had a view of Palani Hills and the dam. After a brief chat over the campfire all of us withdrew inside our sleeping bags. This time we put all the tarpaulin sheets in one stretch and slept in a row having a small campfire set on a side. At 1300 m it was warmer than the previous two nights.

Day 4

The Morning was warm but as there were no streams close by, all the water reserves went in the pot to boil milk and cornflakes. We had to wait for our next spot near the stream to address the call of nature. We packed our bags and trekked through the thorny terrain of Elephant Valley to the view point. In an hours time we were in the familiar water front and the boulders. We jumped along the stream to reach the cliff from where the stream became a splendid water fall in exit valley.

The view of the valley from the water fall was striking. When we had to look at how to get down the fall, the terrain was a bit dizzy. While all of us were relaxing at the view point, Peter and few others explored for a way down the fall and came back feeling it could be very risky to get down as a big group. Shankar and Prem took it as a challenge and started descending through the falls and were able to get down. As we found it risky, we started heading back to the mountains and go down in a different route. This valley trek was the longest and very challenging to decent as the terrain was thick, thorny, steep and complex. We rolled down the grass, thorns, rocks and trees. Keeping the fellow trekkers on check was essential as there was a high chance of getting lost in the valley. I enjoyed that patch and found it interesting as unlike boulders this terrain had a variety of challenges. I had to crawl through bushes, slide through brown soil, swing on branches and save myself from thorns.

After the tiring trek we landed below the falls. We used rope to cross the swift stream on the slippery rock. After all the adventure, we were hungry like wolves and pulled out all the food items we had, since that was the last meal on the mountains. We made Chappathi Rolls with Tomato Sauce, Pickles and Cheese slices; we made crushed cereal paste rolled it with Cheese and we also finished all the chocolates and fruits. After the king’s meal, all of us had a power nap on the rock.

Way back to civilization

After the nap we started the long trail back to the dam. The entire way back was the toughest since it was a long stretch without any rest through the monstrous boulders. We had to use rope at some places. We were sweating like pigs, so took a dip in at the end to save the people who were scheduled to travel in the bus with us.

The green paddy fields were a welcome site and we hit the Kodai road. We stopped the first lorry which came by and got on it. It was a damn exciting ride to Palani in an open lorry. We all had our dinner at Palani and head back to our home.


On the way back I was contemplating all the great experiences I had in the four days in those mysterious Palani Mountains, the rocks, the chill water, cold breeze, the hot sun, the grass, the flowers, the farms, the tribes, the campfire and the picturesque landscape. Beyond all this was the spirit of fellow trekkers, their passion for trekking, their sense of fun, their words of encouragement, their mettle to face the challenges and above all their ability to share and care in the most difficult situations. Some times in our life we feel we are out of place, but with the fellow trekkers on a CTC trek we always feel “This is the Moment”.

Thank You Peter and the fellow trekkers for making those four days so special!

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