Post Trek Write up - PX - 5

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"It is the hottest fire, that forges the hardest steel"
In CTC, I believe that can be changed to "It is the steepest climb, and tallest peak,and coldest night, that makes the hardiest trekker", for this was one trek that had in it everything that one has to endure to call himself a tough guy.
Steep climbs, huge boulders, slippery terrain, loose rocks, lack of water, and biting cold is enough to fray many a temper and jangle quite a few nerves. Come out unscathed and you will stand proud. And so it was with P/X - 5.

Having missed the previous 4 Palani treks for various reasons ranging from inexperience to injury, I was determined to make it this time around and was careful to keep myself free from injury and anything else that might make me miss out on this iteration of the Palani exploration series. I had also heard and read about the challenge and beauty of Palani from various sources in CTC and was itching to get a taste of the action myself.
The assembly point was Dindigul at 6 AM on Friday morning. Having taken the train, Manimaran and I reached pretty early. We met up with a few others who had made it to Dindigul ahead of schedule and waited for the rest of the team to arrive, only to discover that the rest of the team had bypassed us all and gone ahead to a place called Batlagundu. When we got there, we found that they had gone ahead yet again to another hamlet called Devadanapatti and were waiting there. We reached soon enough and were greeted by Brijesh offering us hot vadai's to eat and Gayathri's incessant chatter. Within minutes the rest of the team had arrived and introductions, food distribution and everything else was taken care of. Mani and I set off to get a few share autos to ferry us to the Manjalar dam. We opted to take a tempo mini truck to ferry us instead. 2 tempos were hired and in true CTC style we piled into them and making a huge ruckus, set out for the short trip to the trail. By this time we had attracted quite a crowd and the local police too had taken an interest in our activities. We passed ourselves off as tourists wanting to see the manjalar dam and set out from Devadanapatti having raised hell in the sleepy little hamlet.

Soon enough, we reached the trail and started walking through the forests to reach the falls. Through out the walk, Brijesh kept us entertained with his Tamil and his singing. Within the hour we had hit the stream proper and we came in sight of the falls. Being summer, there was very little water in the stream and the falls too was little more than a trickle of water and not at all like what we had seen in pictures and on the internet. We were disappointed but not disheartened. On we went, climbing boulders, hopping stones in the stream and sliding down steep inclines and in one case even crawling through a small tunnel. Dropping our bags a few minutes short of the falls, we made the last sprint towards the water and at long last set eyes upon the famed falls. Unfortunately it was a very thin slice of water dripping down. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a swim at the gigantic pool and a few minutes at the falls enjoying the feeling of the cold water pounding on our shoulders.

The plan for day one called for climbing along the ridge on one side of the falls and setting up camp at the head of the falls. Filling up our water bottles, we headed out to start what was to become the most thrilling/insane/crazy climb of our lives. The first part of the climb was easy enough. We had to climb a sixty degree incline for a couple of hundred meters to get to the top of a ridge. This was done easily enough and huffing and puffing, we made our way to the top of the ridge. We had thought that once we got to the ridge, a trail would be found that would lead us to the peak. Unfortunately though, we were at a dead end and we had to make our own trails. And so we got up and started climbing again. This time on steep 75 degree inclines, with slippery, loose ground and grass that came off in you hands when you gripped them. And it just kept on going. And going. And going! Halfway through, we had run out of water as well, what with being baked by the sun all day long. Everytime we reached a resting point, we thought that we were done with the worst of the climb. Only to look up and see that the climb extended for another 50m vertically. In between all this, Ram's bag had taken a tumble down the slope. Shocked, he could only sit down and stare at it despondently as it rolled along merrily, like a rolling stone gathering no moss and taking everything in its wake. It came to rest some 60 m below us and Peter was able to retrieve it. Somehow in the fading light we reached the top of the climb, and looked what lay in front of us. 

A vertical wall of rock with little or next to nothing in the name of grip or hand holds. Exhausted, we lay down where we were and refused to go further. Talk inevitable turned to helicopters and rescue missions. Parched throats and tongues aggravated the situation further and the few oranges and lemons we had helped wet out throats. The view from the spot where we were included a magnificient view of the dam and all the water it held. It was agonizing to see all that water and not be able to reach it. "Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink". Only then did I understand the meaning of that verse and how the sailors at sea must have felt. Somehow in the darkness, a new trail was found and the group thrust forward with new energy. Finally, we came to the last bit of the climb, through paths fit only for mountain goats. A rope was strung around a sturdy tree to help us climb the last bit. This was the point where many a trekker's spirit broke. Tempers frayed, Nerves were on edge,and not a single guy was unaffected. Masnamuthu who was sweeping kept shouting for us to push on, but those above shouted back at us to stay! It was a right royal comedy on that trail. I too let my temper get the better of me and I am ashamed to admit, snapped at a few of my teammates. I do apologize for it and can only hope to control myself the next time around. However we reached the peak late at night and sat down, thankful to have lived to climb another day. Peter, Brijesh and a few others set off in search of water and a path to the campsite at the head of the falls. The wait was interminable and lasted well over an hour. Finally though, the water arrived and no sweeter nectar had ever passed or ever will pass through our  throats. I was so happy and relieved that had an impossible favour been asked of me, I would have readily given it. After a few more minutes of walking, we finally reached the campsite at 2 AM. Somehow, soup and noodles were cooked and eaten, and we all fell into a deep sleep. 

Sunrise the next morning brought us a stunning view of the campsite and the surrounding valley. We were right on the very edge of the falls. And the water, Freezing!!! One step in the water and your leg would freeze. It was a good thing that I had brought along toilet paper instead of using the stream water for the loo, haha. Anyway, we set out nice and early on the second day through the trail along the forest. This part of the trek was the easiest. The boulders though huge, were not insurmountable and we kept hopping from one stone to the other, falling at times, and barely staying on top at others. We stopped at a few points to admire the forests around us. We even spotted a bison! On the whole, this day was uneventful. The boulders kept going on and on, with few pool in sight. Water was never a problem as we stayed on the stream at all times. Finally after a long day of bouldering we reached the last climb of the day to get to the road to Kodai. Dinner was eaten at Kodai after which the hunt for a campsite began. As CTCians we never stay in the comfort of rooms, and beds and clean sheets and this time too we preferred to rough it out in nature. A van was hired to take us a few miles out of Kodai towards level ground. On the way we saw a majestic bison! But before anyone could react and take out their cameras, it bounded away from sight. Camp that night was in a "restricted" area in freezing cold. Huddling together to make the most of each other's body heat, we somehow slept fitfully.

The next morning we began bright and early. We walked through the shola forests on a gentle trail towards the stream and hopefully a place to cook breakfast. Soon enough, we came upon the water and set about cooking upma. As ever Brijesh's enthusiasm for water was infectious and a few of us jumped in. Only to jump out almost immediately!! The water was deadly cold. Pins and needles were felt all over as soon as we put so much as a toe into the water. Shivering, we ran out of the water and jumped up and down to get the blood flowing. Upma did help get the juices flowing again. Everyone complimented the cook, only to discover that the upma had expired a year back!!! But  there was nothing to be done as we had already consumed most of it. With that we set out again. Hopping from stone to stone, and boulder to boulder, drinking in the clear mountain air. Soon enough we reached a small pool which had the coldest, chilliest water. The usual CTC watersports ensued. But the trail was not done yet. 

A little further on was the majestic 300m high falls. What an infinity of awesomeness! Words cannot describe the sight before our eyes. The wind was so fierce that it was dangerous to even stand up and spread your arms out lest you be blown away. Group photos were taken and lunch too was cooked. A short rest later was the final steep climb up to the road back to Kodai. Though we were tired after having trekked for the better part of three days, we managed to climb up the slope fast and without incident. We reached the road and hailed down a passing tempo and convinced them to take us to Kodaikanal. Half way to Kodai though, the tempo refused to go any further as it was overloaded and a few of us had to get down and push. The useless fellows who stayed back in the tempo did not even stop and wait for us when the tempo could finally get going again. But I have a plan, and I shall get my revenge on them :).

We reached Kodai at around four, and waiting there for us was the dessert of P/X-5. Cycling around Kodai lake! We picked up cycles for rent at usurious rates and set off whizzing around Kodai. After the climb, it seemed like a breeze.  

All good things come to an end, and so did this. As the time came to head to our respective buses and modes of transport back to Chennai, we wished with one voice that this had never ended. Farewells were exchanged and we headed back home . The pain may last long, but the memories will last a lifetime.

Peter Van Geit was simply superb in his motivation and handling of the group and the trek, and so was Brijesh in keeping our spirits up with his Tamil. I have nothing but admiration and awe for Gayathri for her speed, stamina and her cheerful nature. When all of us brokedown , she was still soldiering along without a single word of despair. And of course for being the only rose amidst a sea of thorns. :) 

This was a great group and an awesome trek. I'm sure that whatever hill I climb now onwards, literally or metaphorically, will pale in comparision to what we have just accomplished,


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